OUTER HEBRIDES – ISLANDS ON THE EDGEFriday 27th May 2016
Friday 27th May – Saturday 4th June 2016
We left Essex at 5.40am and after making all our pickups, were soon on our way northwards. After we stopped for breakfast at Peterborough several RED KITES were good to see plus the usual COMMON BUZZARDS. A surprise were the three PEREGRINES seen tussling over a field close to Ferrybridge on the A1!
After breaking our journey several times, we reached Glasgow just before rush hour and despite heavy traffic, reached our base for the night just after 5pm.
After unloading we had time to relax before meeting for a pre-dinner drink in the bar. Dinner went down very well but was interrupted several times by a flock of eight COMMON EIDER, RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS and a few BLACK GUILLEMOTS flying past.
We headed off to bed after a long day travelling and very much looked forward to the next day.
Saturday 28th May 2016
Some of the group met before breakfast and we took a look at the River Clyde where up to five BLACK GUILLEMOTS showed well plus SHAG, 25 COMMON EIDER and ROCK PIPIT amongst others. It was then back for breakfast before loading up and starting the second leg of our journey.
With the ferry from Mallaig to South Uist not leaving until 5.30pm we could take it easy and the first stop at Tyndrum produced several SISKIN in the carpark whilst we enjoyed a hot drink in the warm sunshine.
We made another stop at a roadside loch which was very fruitful with four summer plumaged BLACK-THROATED DIVERS displaying which eventually moved further away and were joined by a cracking GREAT NORTHERN DIVER! Other species here included RED GROUSE, DUNLIN, MEADOW PIPITS, GREY WAGTAIL and SAND MARTINS.
Lunch was enjoyed sitting on the beach at the northern end of Loch Linnhe where a flock of OYSTERCATCHERS fed plus COMMON GULLS foraged on the shoreline. It was then an easy drive north and we arrived at Mallaig with plenty of time to spare so we headed into town for a coffee.
The ferry boarded promptly and at 5.30pm, we were underway with perfect sailing conditions. We took an early opportunity to have our evening meal on board so we could concentrate on birding later.
By the time we got on deck, there was plenty of room and we noted the odd COMMON GUIILEMOT but it wasn't until around one hour into the journey that Steve spotted two COMMON DOLPHINS coming close to the boat. Not everyone got to see them unfortunately but we needn't have worried, as later they became so common that we hardly gave them a second glance! The first of two MINKE WHALES were seen breaching close to the boat plus a few HARBOUR PORPOISE showed well.
The birding during the journey was good with three GREAT SKUA, KITTIWAKES, MANX SHEARWATERS, PUFFINS, RAZORBILLS, GUILLEMOTS, FULMARS, SHAG and GANNETS.
By the time we had docked at Lochboisdale we had tallied around 200 COMMON DOLPHINS, 2 MINKE WHALES and around 30 HARBOUR PORPOISE!
We disembarked the ferry and made the short journey to our hotel where we quickly checked in before meeting in the bar for a drink and a chance to complete the bird list after another good day.
Sunday 29th May 2016
Most of the group met outside the hotel in the glorious morning sunshine where we noted a few GREYLAG GEESE, SHELDUCK and OYSTERCATCHERS. The highlight was a superb SHORT-EARED OWL seen hunting on the opposite side of the harbour. A couple of TWITE flew over calling as did a LESSER REDPOLL.
It was then back for breakfast where we tucked into a hearty feast which would keep us going for a couple of hours at least! Afterwards, we loaded up and headed north noting several TUFTED DUCKS, TEAL, a brief sighting of a male HEN HARRIER and a male NORTHERN WHEATEAR perched close to the road.
Our first destination was Loch Eynort and after parking, we took a stroll through the woodland finding HEBRIDEAN WREN, CUCKOO, WILLOW WARBLER, DUNNOCK, BLACKBIRD and CHAFFINCH. Reaching the other side of the wood, we scanned the loch and found BLACK GUILLEMOT, ARCTIC TERN, GREY HERON plus our first WHITE-TAILED EAGLE of the tour. This immature bird circled over the loch before drifting away southwestwards.
The warm conditions brought out several insects including LARGE RED DAMSELFY plus SMALL and GREEN-VEINED WHITE BUTTERFLIES. Another scan produced a cracking adult WHITE-TAILED EAGLE that drifted right over our heads and gave superb views.
We then popped down to Kildonan to use the facilities and whilst most of the group were engaged a male HEN HARRIER flew past and showed well in the sunshine.
From here we travelled up to Benbecula and along the way we stopped for a roadside WHOOPER SWAN and another SHORT-EARED OWL. After a stop off for supplies we tried an area that is reliable for Red-necked Phalarope, but it being a lovely day it was very busy with no room for parking!
We then opted to visit nearby Stinky Bay, its name deriving from the large amounts of rotting seaweed deposited on the beach. This seaweed contains lots of insects that many waders find irresistible and we were not disappointed with excellent views of around 50 TURNSTONE, 200 SANDERLING, many of which were in summer plumage plus around 150 DUNLIN. Whilst enjoying lunch we also watched the local COMMON EIDERS fishing offshore.
With the nearby lochs still busy with birders, we drove south stopping at Loch Bee but the heat haze made viewing difficult so we carried on heading southwards. The short journey produced a nice WHIMBREL feeding close to the road before a stop was made at Kildonan once again for facilities but this time we took advantage of a well-deserved cuppa and a slice of cake.
We then travelled westwards and headed out to the headland at Rubha Ardvule. The track produced many RINGED PLOVERS, LAPWING, REDSHANK and COMMON SNIPE plus a pair of displaying DUNLIN close to the track. Once at the headland, we spent some time admiring the view but of course looking for birds at the same time.
A winter plumaged and a summer plumage GREAT NORTHERN DIVER were in the bay plus lots of COMMON EIDER and a brief TWITE in the parking area. With time getting on, we headed back to base after a good day with some great birds and amazing weather!
After a wash and brush up, we met for a pre-dinner drink to complete the bird list before enjoying our evening meal in the sunshine.
Monday 30th May 2016
The day dawned bright and sunny but with a slightly increased breeze compared with the previous day. We met for breakfast which was fantastic and afterwards were soon on our way northwards.
A quick stop was made to phone an Essex birder who had been watching our intended target earlier in the morning and after some precise directions we crossed the causeway onto North Uist.
There were several birders when we arrived but the Black-billed Cuckoo hadn't been seen for quite a while. We searched the area but the bird was quite mobile so we drew a blank. We did however see SHORT-EARED OWL and HEN HARRIER hunting in a garden plus HEBRIDEAN SONG THRUSH and SEDGE WARBLER.
Just as we were about to leave, a local birder came up and said he had just seen it in a garden down the road. We quickly dashed down to find no sign once again so off we headed to Balranald RSPB reserve. Imagine our frustration when we found out later it was seen 10 minutes after we left close to where we parked!
The track to Balranald yielded several WHOOPER SWANS close to the road plus the usual GREYLAG GEESE and TUFTED DUCKS.
We took our packed lunches to the beach which was simply stunning in the bright sunshine and tucked in whilst a WHEATEAR fed close-by. Afterwards we walked a small circuit in the hope of hearing and seeing Corncrake.
Two birds called close to the path but remained unseen in the windy conditions so we concentrated on another field to the north where almost immediately we had two CORNCRAKES in flight that gave great views before vanishing into the iris beds.
Despite hearing at least three more birds we were feeling the cold so off we went to get a well-deserved cuppa.
We drove back past the dreaded cuckoo site to hear once again that it had just been seen but despite another brief look we missed out again.
Leaving North Uist, we stopped off on Benbecula and visited a shallow loch where almost immediately we located a male and female RED-NECKED PHALAROPE on the nearby pool. They moved out of view briefly before the brightly-coloured female came back and gave excellent scope views of this rare wader which more than made up for missing the cuckoo!
A small flock of WIGEON were seen in flight and then everything was disturbed by a likely PEREGRINE FALCON but we just couldn't locate the culprit.
After getting our fill with the Phalaropes we headed back to base noting a close SHORT-EARED OWL along the way. We arrived back slightly later than planned but still had plenty of time for a shower and brush up before meeting before dinner.
Our evening meal was well received and some even managed a third course!
Tuesday 31st May 2016
We awoke to find cloudier conditions with a brisk northerly wind blowing. After breakfast we revisited Loch Eynort where it was calm and warm when sheltered from the wind. HEBRIDEAN WRENS, GOLDFINCHES and CHAFFINCHES zipped around us and a scan of the loch provided us with a BLACK GUILLEMOT plus lots of COMMON SEALS including some individuals that were leaping out of the water like dolphins!
The alarm calls of RAVENS alerted us to a lovely first year GOLDEN EAGLE being given a hard time by at least five RAVENS before it drifted off to the north. A short while later a sub-adult was seen flying through the glen opposite and eventually it landed on the hillside where we had scope views. The bird disturbed some GOLDEN PLOVER from the hill which a couple of the group managed to get on. A male HEN HARRIER drifted down the hillside and several RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS were seen on the seaweed covered rocks.
We then took a walk through the mature woodland where the usual suspects were present before heading out onto the moor. It wasn't long before an adult WHITE-TAILED EAGLE came into view where it showed well. Out on the loch was a smart looking RED-THROATED DIVER plus a scattering of GREY HERONS around the edge.
The walk back through the wood produced a SPOTTED FLYCATCHER perched on top of a small pine and a WILLOW WARBLER was spotted on the opposite side of the track. We then went down to Kildonan for a coffee and comfort stop before heading to Loch Drudibeg, where, on scanning the area, apart from STONECHAT and MEADOW PIPIT it was rather quiet with the birds keeping their heads down in the now strong breeze.
Carrying on eastwards we parked up at Loch Sgiopiort where another WHITE-TAILED EAGLE flew past as we wandered down to the loch. The views were magnificent as the cloud started to clear and the sun came out.
With the birds few and far between we took the chance to look at some plants which included COMMON BUTTERWORT, LOUSEWORT, HEATH SPOTTED ORCHID and ROUND-LEAVED SUNDEW to name just a few. We enjoyed our lunch with a view and then drove northwards onto Benbecula where a scan was made from the causeway. Apart from the usual COMMON EIDERS and OYSTERCATCHERS it was quiet so we moved on towards Lochdar.
A roadside loch produced two WHOOPER SWANS and further along we found a pair of COMMON TEAL close by before we visited the shop and cafe at Hebridean Jewellery. Nearly everyone took the opportunity to do a spot of shopping whilst some just had a hot drink.
Afterwards we checked out the adjacent loch where we found DUNLIN, WIGEON, REDSHANK, LAPWING, OYSTERCATCHER and a few RINGED PLOVER.
With some time spare at the end of the day we headed back to Stinky Bay where the first bird we saw was a cracking pale-phase ARCTIC SKUA that was terrorising the waders before perching on rocks offshore. A LITTLE TERN flew through and a scan through the multitudes of SANDERLING, TURNSTONE, RINGED PLOVER and DUNLIN yielded a fine summer-plumaged CURLEW SANDPIPER which was great to see.
Offshore we found a group of GREAT NORTHERN DIVERS feeding with COMMON EIDERS before it was time to head back to base after a good day.
Dinner was once again fantastic and we all managed to finish our meals.
Wednesday 1st June 2016
It was still breezy when we looked out this morning but at least it was bright and sunny. After a filling breakfast we headed southwards and over the causeway to the island of Eriskay. After arriving at the ferry slipway we spent some time scanning out over the water where we could see lots of GANNETS feeding in the choppy conditions.
The ferry came and after boarding, we were soon on our way southwards to the island of Barra. There were quite a few birds seen during our crossing which included KITTIWAKES, BLACK GUILLEMOT, COMMON GUILLEMOT, RAZORBILL, SHAG, CORMORANT and a distant adult WHITE-TAILED EAGLE.
We arrived on Barra and headed northward to check out the machair at the north end of the island. The sight of the wildflower rich meadows was superb although the birding was rather quiet apart from a calling TWITE.
Our route took us down to the beautiful island of Vatersay noting a few NORTHERN WHEATEARS on the way and after parking we walked up through the machair and could hear a CORNCRAKE calling from a nearby patch of nettles, although despite a good look, we just couldn't find him!
From our lunch spot we saw RINGED PLOVERS, OYSTERCATCHERS, COMMON EIDER and a pair of SHELDUCK. The good weather kept any migration to an absolute minimum but the blue skies and beautiful view more than made up for it.
We tried again for the Corncrake but he remained silent although some sheep in the nettle patch wouldn't have helped. A pair of TWITE perched on the fence briefly before flying northwards and along the road, we had good views of a pair of WHIMBREL feeding on the sandy soil.
We headed up the west side of the island and made several stops, but overall it was still rather quiet although a little further on we came across a pair of RED-THROATED DIVERS on a roadside loch which gave good views.
It was then back down to the ferry for the sailing back to Eriskay. The crossing was pretty breezy and we had some close views of several BLACK GUILLEMOTS along the way before disembarking the ferry.
We headed straight back to South Uist for a welcome coffee stop which was enjoyed in the warm sunshine. Afterwards we drove out to the west to check a couple of bays but apart from RINGED PLOVERS, REDSHANK, OYSTERCATCHERS and lots of STARLINGS it was quiet.
With time getting on, we drove back to the hotel and arrived back a few minutes earlier than normal with plenty of time for a shower before dinner.
Our evening meal was very enjoyable once again and we headed off to bed.
Thursday 2nd June 2016
It was still bright and breezy outside as we met for breakfast and afterwards we headed northwards noting our first SHORT-EARED OWL of the day. A HERRING GULL was seen carrying a SONG THRUSH which was sad to see and by the time we had reached North Uist we had reached seven SHORT-EARED OWLS, WHOOPER SWAN and an adult WHITE-TAILED EAGLE!
At Balranald RSPB reserve we checked out the field that held the Corncrakes from our previous visit but there was no sight or sound except for a few LAPWINGS, COMMON SNIPE and REDSHANK.
We drove along the sandy track to Aird un Rhunair where we took a stroll to the headland. A surprise find was a PALE-BELLIED BRENT GOOSE feeding on the beach which gave good views and behind us, the ARCTIC TERN colony was busy with birds flying to and fro to the sea. Good numbers of DUNLIN fed amongst the seaweed and included some birds of the long-billed race alpina.
It was pretty breezy at the point so we headed back to try once again for Corncrake in a nearby field. As we drove along with the windows open, a CORNCRAKE called and we quickly located him standing in the field where we had reasonable views. He quickly disappeared so we moved on and parked up.
It didn't take us long to locate another three birds in the right field next to us and we had stunning views as a male and two female CORNCRAKES showed continually for almost one and a half hours!
It was hard to drag ourselves away but we carried on round the northern section of the island and down the Committee Road. A stop to scan the area only produced a few RAVEN plus STONECHAT and MEADOW PIPIT in the strong winds.
As we headed south, we spotted an adult WHITE-TAILED EAGLE sitting close to the road which showed really well in the afternoon sunshine.
With some time spare, we drove to Benbecula where we checked out a couple of lochs. REDSHANK, displaying DUNLIN, LAPWING and OYSTERCATCHERS were numerous but there was no sign of any Red-necked Phalaropes.
We then drove back to base where we arrived at a reasonable time. Meeting for a pre-dinner drink, we did the bird list and enjoyed our last evening meal on the Outer Hebrides.
Friday 3rd June 2016
We were up bright and early ready for the ferry crossing back to Mallaig. The ferry departed on time and we went straight in for breakfast which went down well. Quite a few birds were seen during the crossing including GREAT and ARCTIC SKUAS, PUFFIN, 50 MANX SHEARWATERS, FULMAR, KITTIWAKE, RAZORBILL and GUILLEMOT plus a couple of HARBOUR PORPOISE.
Arriving in Mallaig, we started the long drive south back to England. Notable species included GOOSANDER and COMMON SANDPIPER plus the usual COMMON BUZZARDS.
Despite the traffic being a pain, we arrived in Carlisle just around 6.00pm and after checking in, we enjoyed our evening meal before getting a good night’s sleep.
Saturday 4th June 2016
After a good rest we met for breakfast at the civilised time of 7.45am. Despite eating far more than usual during our time on the Hebrides, we still managed to put plenty away!
We were soon off and headed into Teesdale for a spot of birding on the moors. There was much low cloud which made visibility poor to say the least but this eventually lifted when we reached our first site.
We pulled into a favoured spot and soon located nine BLACK GROUSE in a nearby field which gave superb views. A scan of the area revealed a total of 20 BLACK GROUSE and it was great to see such a concentration.
Moving on to a site where we had previously found Woodcock proved fruitful with two WOODCOCK showing well in flight with one very close before it flew off. Other birds here included COMMON SANDPIPER, GREY WAGTAIL, COMMON SNIPE, CURLEW and OYSTERCATCHER.
We then visited another area and wandered along a stream noting singing GOLDCREST, BLACKCAP plus LESSER REDPOLL, GREY WAGTAIL and both MISTLE and SONG THRUSHES. Further along we found our main quarry, an adult and juvenile DIPPER feeding along the stream which were fantastic to see!
With some time spare we drove to another part of the moor where a few RED GROUSE including chicks were seen plus several sparkling summer-plumaged GOLDEN PLOVER.
Unfortunately it was then time to head for home which was quite a straightforward journey. During this we found five RED KITE, 23 COMMON BUZZARD and 12 COMMON KESTREL amongst others.
We arrived back in Essex in the early evening after a superb tour with fantastic weather, scenery, birds and wildlife plus most importantly, a lovely group to spend the time with!