Friday 7th June 2019
After making our pickups we were on our way northwards when we picked up the first RED KITES and COMMON BUZZARDS of the tour, the former reaching double figures by the time we had reached our first stop in West Yorkshire.
We parked up at Anglers Country Park near Wakefield, where on arrival there were a few EURASIAN TREE SPARROWS around the carpark. Walking a short distance towards the sailing lake, we could hear the loud distinctive song of a GREAT REED WARBLER emanating from the reed-bed. Almost immediately we caught sight of this monstrous Acrocephalus warbler and most of us had scope views before it dropped down. It seemed like an eternity before it appeared again much to everyone’s delight!
Other species here included COMMON CHIFFCHAFF, EURASIAN BLACKCAP, GREAT CRESTED GREBE and COMMON SWIFT before it was time to crack on with our journey.
We arrived at our base close to Glasgow early evening and checked in with some time to relax before meeting for a pre-dinner drink in the bar.
Our evening meal was a little disrupted with sightings of COMMON EIDER, BLACK GUILLEMOT, EUROPEAN SHAG, COMMON GULL and RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS out on the river.
After a good meal we retired after a long day travelling and headed to get some well deserved rest.
Saturday 8th June 2019
All of the group met before breakfast for a little exploration which was reasonably productive with a EURASIAN BULLFINCH in the small compound close by plus a leucistic HOUSE SPARROW thrown in for good measure. COMMON EIDERS showed well as did several BLACK GUILLEMOTS, EUROPEAN SHAG and both COMMON and ATLANTIC GREY SEALS.
After a good breakfast we skirted the shores of Loch Lomond and later stopped for a coffee break in Tyndrum before continuing our journey through the highlands.
Some time was spent in a favourite spot overlooking lochs and moorland where the first bird we laid eyes on was a cracking WESTERN OSPREY hovering over us before drifting off west.
A pair of RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS were seen whilst MEADOW PIPITS and the occasional WILLOW WARBLER sang nearby. We were delighted to see a pair of summer plumaged BLACK-THROATED DIVERS out on the loch with a stunning GREAT NORTHERN DIVER close by too! We enjoyed brilliant scope views before it was time to head onwards.
After a quick fuel stop we had lunch near Fort William on the beach whilst COMMON GULLS (MEW GULLS) came in for the leftovers and EURASIAN OYSTERCATCHERS foraged on the shore.
The scenery was stunning as we drove towards Mallaig and arriving earlier enabled us to bird around the harbour where a pair of GREAT BLACK-BACKED GULLS were rather entertaining.
We boarded the ferry on time and with a heavy thunderstorm over Skye heading our way, we took the opportunity to have our evening meal which went down well.
With the rain cleared and a long crossing in front of us, we spent the time up on deck where good numbers of COMMON GUILLEMOTS and RAZORBILLS were seen plus BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE and a couple of NORTHERN FULMARS. Passing the islands of Eigg, Rhum and Canna, we began seeing more and more birds such as MANX SHEARWATERS, ATLANTIC PUFFIN, GREAT SKUAS and a single ARCTIC SKUA but the highlight were cetaceans with HARBOUR PORPOISE, SHORT-BEAKED COMMON DOLPHINS and two MINKE WHALES!
Dolphins in particular gave stunning views alongside the boat, at times with around 70+ individuals. We docked just before 21.00hrs and headed straight in to the hotel to check in before some of the group partook in a nightcap at the bar before retiring for the evening.
Sunday 9th June 2019
After waking to early rain we met for breakfast at 08.00hrs and heard that some of the group had ventured out and found LESSER REDPOLL, GREAT NORTHERN DIVER plus a single EUROPEAN OTTER.
After a hearty breakfast we loaded up and made our way to North Uist. As usual we made lots of stops along the way noting several fantastic SHORT-EARED OWLS including a displaying bird plus EURASIAN WIGEON, TUFTED DUCKS, dark-phase ARCTIC SKUA, RED-THROATED DIVER and a cracking male HEN HARRIER.
Just before we arrived at Balranald RSPB reserve, a single adult WHOOPER SWAN was seen feeding in the loch beside the road which was good to see. We grabbed a parking space and wandered along the beach and it wasn’t long before we heard the distinctive ‘crekking’ call of a CORNCRAKE. Luckily, the bird flew and was picked up briefly on the ground before vanishing.
On the opposite side of the track were good numbers of EURASIAN OYSTERCATCHERS, drumming COMMON SNIPE, COMMON REDSHANK and NORTHERN LAPWING plus a lone COMMON MOORHEN. Whilst watching the latter species, two CORNCRAKES flew past before vanishing into the vegetation where they didn’t show again.
We had lunch back at the van and from here we noted a distant male RUFF plus COMMON BUZZARD, EURASIAN SKYLARK and CORN BUNTING. Suitably refreshed we drove up to Aird un Runair passing a GREAT YELLOW BUMBLEBEE along the way and after parking, we spent the afternoon exploring this fantastic area.
On the beach we had fabulous views of DUNLIN, SANDERLING and RUDDY TURNSTONE all at close range and in their resplendent summer plumage.
ARCTIC TERNS showed well plus NORTHERN WHEATEAR, CORN BUNTING, COMMON RINGED PLOVER, EURASIAN OYSTERCATCHER, BLACK GUILLEMOT and an unexpected non breeding plumaged CURLEW SANDPIPER.
With a few spots of rain starting to fall we made our way back to the main reserve and headed south. Making a stop at a lovely lochside area on Benbecula, we were delighted to watch four female RED-NECKED PHALAROPES at close range as they picked midges of the water.
The midges were also annoying us too but it was well worth the uncomfortable feeling to see these magnificent birds. At least two SHORT-EARED OWLS were hunting and after getting our phalarope fix, we moved further up the road where we watched a SHORT-EARED OWL eating a Rabbit in a field and allowed some good photographic opportunities.
The drive back was interrupted when a first-year GOLDEN EAGLE flew right past us being mobbed by COMMON GULLS, EURASIAN CURLEW and NORTHERN LAPWINGS.
Close to base, another SHORT-EARED OWL was seen before we arrived back around 18.30hrs. After a shower and time to relax, we met for a pre-dinner drink whilst completing the bird list and then enjoyed a lovely home-cooked meal whilst overlooking the loch.
Afterwards, a couple of the group went for a wander and were lucky to see two EUROPEAN OTTERS.
Monday 10th June 2019
The weather had improved no end compared to the previous morning and those who headed out before breakfast we rewarded with several COMMON SANDPIPERS, LESSER REDPOLLS, TWITE and GREAT NORTHERN DIVER.
Breakfast was once again lovely and afterwards we made our way off South Uist onto the island of Eriskay to get the ferry to Barra and made a stop overlooking the bay where several ATLANTIC GREY SEAL and EUROPEAN SHAG could be seen in the azure blue waters.
With our boarding time approaching, we drove the last mile or so and had some time before joining the ferry which left on time.
The crossing produced a pair of adult WHITE-TAILED EAGLES perched on a distant island and a GREAT SKUA drifted past. Other species of note included BLACK GUILLEMOT, GREAT CORMORANT and a very nice flypast from a breeding plumaged RED-THROATED DIVER.
Reaching the island of Barra we headed the short distance to Loch an Ali where we soon located the long-staying adult PURPLE HERON on the edge of the water and over the next hour we had lovely views although a little distant. LESSER REDPOLLS flew overhead and there was a steady stream of gulls moving through.
Delighted with the heron we drove through Castlebay and headed down to the island of Vatersay where we had a welcome cuppa in the community centre and here we bumped into moth guru Phil Sterling who took us to see some BELTED BEAUTY MOTH caterpillars which is a scarce UK species.
Afterwards we took a walk to the beach noting several TWITE plus NORTHERN WHEATEAR, MEADOW PIPIT and PIED WAGTAILS on the flower rich Machair. The view was magnificent with lovely blue skies and a white beach and bright cobalt sea.
We were keen to head to the north of the island, not only to try for Corncrake but also to see a plane land at Barra Airport where the runway is actually the beach.
After a lunch stop at Craigston where we watched an ICELAND GULL on the beach, we moved on towards the airport but as we were driving, the plane came in early and we missed the landing!
We hoped we could watch it take off but waited for ages with the distraction of NORTHERN RAVENS, plenty of TWITE and HOODED CROWS to watch, only to find out that there was a strike at Glasgow Airport and they wouldn’t be flying till 16.00hrs.
Later the plane was loaded, it taxied down the beach and took off which was great to see.
With a little time left on Barra we drove north making a stop where a CORNCRAKE was crossing the road behind us. We reversed to see it creeping through the undergrowth and down the road we could hear three more. Eventually we had good views of one as it stuck its head out of vegetation before vanishing.
It was then back to the ferry and the crossing was great with lots of ATLANTIC GREY SEALS, BLACK GUILLEMOTS, GREAT SKUA, COMMON GUILLEMOT, COMMON TERN, RAZORBILL, ARCTIC TERN and more RED-THROATED DIVERS.
After disembarking we drove straight back to the accommodation where we had time for a hot shower before meeting for a drink and completing the bird list.
Our evening meal was delicious and went down well before we headed off to bed.
Tuesday 11th June 2019
The day was much breezier with overcast conditions as we met for breakfast and afterwards we headed to Loch Eynort to check the area for raptors and the plantation is renowned for passerines.
On arrival we could hear several EURASIAN WRENS of the Hebridean race singing and we had good views as they flitted around the gardens. The sheltered conditions encouraged a few birds out with WILLOW WARBLERS, EURASIAN SISKIN, COMMON CHAFFINCH, EUROPEAN ROBIN and GOLDCREST either seen or heard. A SPOTTED FLYCATCHER called constantly but remained hidden from our gaze.
We spent time scanning the valley and below us, good numbers of COMMON WHITETHROATS were seen. Out on the loch were plenty of ATLANTIC GREY SEALS plus GREAT CORMORANT and RED-BREASTED MERGANSER.
Eventually patience paid off when a pair of adult GOLDEN EAGLES were seen to the north and to the south we picked up an immature bird being mobbed by a pair of MERLIN!
Another pair of GOLDEN EAGLES were seen a little closer and we had good scope views as they soared in the sunshine.
A stop was then made for a welcome cuppa and the obligatory slice of cake before we headed north. With rain starting to fall on South Uist, we made the decision to visit North Uist hoping to get better views of raptors.
This proved a good move as whilst we tucked into lunch, a superb WHITE-TAILED EAGLE flew past calling at close range and was joined by another bird carrying what looked like a Rabbit. They dropped down behind the ridge, unfortunately out of view, but after a while they flew out giving lovely views. Several ARCTIC SKUA were seen hunting over the moorland and a male HEN HARRIER was spotted hunting up the gullies that crisscrossed the area.
With rain starting to fall again we headed up to Loch Sandaray where seven WHOOPER SWANS were present plus DUNLIN, COMMON REDSHANK, LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULLS and lots of NORTHERN LAPWINGS and EURASIAN OYSTERCATCHERS.
Time was running away with us so we popped into Balranald RSPB reserve for facilities and as we were driving off, the rasping call of CORNCRAKE was heard nearby. After some careful manoeuvring of the minibus we had stunning views of a calling bird just feet away, superb!
Eventually it wandered off so we drove the short distance to Loch an Reivil where immediately we picked up a drake RING-NECKED DUCK feeding out on the water with a large group of TUFTED DUCK.
It was then time to head back to base but along the way we had a couple of flyby EURASIAN TEAL plus a lovely SHORT-EARED OWL close to our hotel.
We met for a pre-dinner drink and our evening meal was delightful and rounded off by an adult WHITE-TAILED EAGLE circling over the harbour, a great end to the day!
Wednesday 12th June 2019
Overnight the wind had really picked up and we awoke to gusts of around 40mph which was going to make the day challenging to say the least!
After breakfast we drove to the headland at Rubha Ardvule for a spot of sea-watching and as we drove across the machair we saw plenty of waders including DUNLIN, EURASIAN OYSTERCATCHER, COMMON REDSHANK and NORTHERN LAPWINGS.
Parking up we manoeuvred the van so we could stand alongside for a little shelter. The seaweed on the beach held good numbers of DUNLIN, SANDERLING and COMMON RINGED PLOVERS and with patience, a summer plumaged LITTLE STINT was picked out as it fed with the other waders.
Over the sea we watched lots of NORTHERN GANNETS, ARCTIC TERNS and distant parties of auk sp. much closer were at least two GREAT SKUA that gave superb views. Two GREAT NORTHERN DIVERS were in the bay, one in summer and one in winter plumage which was good to see and a single RED-THROATED DIVER flew south.
Several TWITE foraged on the shoreline and gave good views including their bright pink rump!
Slightly chilled, we headed to a nearby cafe for a warming drink before driving to Loch Druidibeg. The wind was bitter as we scanned the loch for a reported Osprey but with no sign we drove to the end of the road to find no parking spaces so we headed to the main carpark for lunch.
After a while the WESTERN OSPREY flew past and was hassled by a male HEN HARRIER before it drifted over the ridge towards the sea. Either the same or a different male HEN HARRIER gave superb views as it flew past and dropped from view.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent in the northwest corner of South Uist where we found a pair of ARCTIS SKUA plus a lovely flock of DUNLIN, SANDERLING and RINGED PLOVER.
On the coast we tried to find shelter by sitting behind a wall and this gave a chance to scan the sea. Several MANX SHEARWATERS were seen plus a close pale morph ARCTIC SKUA. Our first WHIMBREL of the tour flew south and on the beach were 47 NORTHERN RAVEN, 20 RUDDY TURNSTONE plus good numbers of DUNLIN and SANDERLING.
With the weather not improving we headed for home making a stop at a small Croft where we heard a calling male CORNCRAKE and eventually we had great views as it skulked around the small Croft.
We arrived back in good time and had some time to relax before our evening meal which went down a treat!
Thursday 13th June 2019
The wind had dropped significantly but was still quite gusty when we met for breakfast. With plans flexible due to weather conditions, we opted to head to Berneray via Benbecula and North Uist in the hope that we may see plenty of raptors out and about.
We had only just left base when our first of 15 SHORT-EARED OWLS flew close to the road giving good views. Moving northwards we saw more which were taking advantage of lighter winds to hunt.
On Benbecula we stopped at a small loch and with patience, we located a female RED-NECKED PHALAROPE spinning on the open water.
Moving on to nearby Stinky Bay or Poll-na-Crann as it is also known, it was rather quiet because of disturbance from dog walkers, joggers and bait collectors so we decided to move on. We made a stop for coffee before heading up to Committee Road where we saw a WHITE-TAILED EAGLE plus two male HEN HARRIERS over the moorland.
With time moving fast we drove towards the island of Berneray and along the way, had excellent views of a male HEN HARRIER plus an adult and sub-adult WHITE-TAILED EAGLE over the ridges.
The weather on Berneray was stunning and we spent some time overlooking the water where both HARBOUR and ATLANTIC GREY SEALS were seen and further up the road were HARBOUR PORPOISE and SHORT-BEAKED COMMON DOLPHIN.
It was then back to North Uist where we spotted more SHORT-EARED OWLS plus a female HEN HARRIER which took a SHORT-TAILED FIELD VOLE back to its nest close by.
On the way back home we picked up two adult GOLDEN EAGLES and on Benbecula we saw probably the same 1st year bird as we’d seen previously during the week.
We arrived back in good time and met for our last evening meal on South Uist before retiring ready for an early start the following day.
Friday 14th June 2019
Light rain was falling as we loaded the van and made our way to the quay for boarding just before 06.00hrs. Once boarded we went straight to breakfast which really hit the spot. We spent time on deck scanning the open seas. Conditions were superb, with calm seas, light winds but overcast skies.
Good numbers of ATLANTIC PUFFINS, COMMON GUILLEMOTS and RAZORBILLS were offshore and soon our first EUROPEAN STORM PETREL of the tour was seen. Once we got our ‘eyes in’ there were plenty of them skimming the mirror-like surface of the sea and we estimated 50 birds were present.
SHORT-BEAKED COMMON DOLPHINS plus a brief MINKE WHALE were spotted along with HARBOUR PORPOISE as we crossed ‘The Minch’ and in the distance were a feeding flock of approximately 500 MANX SHEARWATERS!
Other birds of note included four GREAT SKUA, BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE and NORTHERN GANNETS before some decided to head into the lounge to warm up and relax before our long drive south.
Once docked we made our way south and had a stop for coffee in Tyndrum before continuing.
A lunch stop near Loch Lomond proved a good move as we found a SPOTTED FLYCATCHER on the nest giving great views and two of the group found a WOOD WARBLER flitting amongst oaks and birches.
With some leeway in our itinerary we stopped in a small village south of Glasgow where a drake Blue-winged Teal had been reported and once at the correct spot, there on the flooded river was a cracking drake BLUE-WINGED TEAL feeding with four EURASIAN TEAL. Although distant it looked good in the scopes.
Both COMMON and GREEN SANDPIPER were seen, the latter species probably on its way south after attempting breeding in Northern Europe.
We arrived in Carlisle for the night and settled in before meeting for our evening meal.
Saturday 15th June 2019
It was lovely and sunny when we awoke and a few explored the local area where several EURASIAN BULLFINCH, EUROPEAN NUTHATCH, EURASIAN TREECREEPER and COAL TIT were seen or heard.
By the time we had tucked into breakfast it had clouded over and was quite dull as we made our way eastwards towards Teesdale. During the journey we saw a family party of WILLOW PTARMIGAN (RED GROUSE) close to the road which gave good views.
We spent the next ninety minutes or so exploring the rolling hills and picked up a female BLACK GROUSE but there was no sign of any males. We did see plenty of EURASIAN CURLEW, NORTHERN LAPWING, COMMON REDSHANK and a few COMMON SNIPE.
More WILLOW PTARMIGAN (RED GROUSE) were seen before we made our way down to the nearby stream where WHITE-THROATED DIPPER and SPOTTED FLYCATCHER gave superb views.
We then began our journey home which was livened up by sightings of numerous RED KITES and COMMON BUZZARDS.
We arrived back after dropping everyone off at their respective destinations after a really successful tour, where we had been incredibly lucky with the weather and had some cracking birding all with a lovely group.