Outer Hebrides and Mull – Birdwatching Tour 31st May – 8th June 2019

Tour leader – Chris Mills Norfolk Birding

Participants Jenny & Bob Baker, Jan Binnie, Elaine Birkin, Dan Martin, Shenagh Gilliard and Peter Leach.

© Corncrake – Chris Mills Norfolk Birding

Accommodation The tour was based on 5 star self-catering accommodation and 4 star Bed & Breakfast. The accommodation on North Uist is extra special! A fantastic architect designed & re-fitted house with amazing moorland & machair views to the sea. It has a very large lounge, diner & kitchen area with 2 fridge freezers and 4 en-suite rooms at ground floor plus 2 twin rooms with dedicated bathroom at first floor. Further details can be seen by visiting  http://www.clachanlodge.com/ClachanLodge-Gallery.htm

Food – Whilst on North Uist we visited the Supermarket on North Uist on Day One & bought breakfast provisions & foods for making up packed lunches. –

We ate out on three evenings at two different pubs/restaurants. The Lochmaddy Hotel and Stepping Stones Restaurant. On three of the evenings we cooked and ate at the accommodation. Whilst at Strontian on Ardnamurchan at Heatherbank B&B accommodation, we ate in the evenings at Heatherbank on the Thursday and Strontian Hotel on he Friday.

Transport to and from Scotland – Transport was from an agreed meeting point and overnight stay at Glasgow, Premier Inn.

Transport was via our 9 seater minibus, so there was ample space for luggage, scopes & cameras etc.

Day 1 Friday 31st May We all met up in Glasgow at Stepps, Premier Inn on the Friday evening. We had an enjoyable evening meal and then headed off for an early night, ready for leaving early the next morning at 4.30am.

Overnight Premier Inn North west Glasgow. Evening meal in restaurant at Premier inn.

Day 2 Saturday 1st  June We left Glasgow at 0430am in a grey drizzle and low cloud, but this soon gave way to sunshine. We had a long journey up to Uig ferry terminal on Skye.

The journey passes through some spectacular mountain scenery and a few birds were noted en-route from the minibus – Hooded Crow, Buzzard plus Willow Warblers could be heard singing from most bushes.

As we headed North, I came to a large Loch where I had previously seen Black-throated Diver, and told everyone to look hard. The sharp eyes of Jenny, had us pulling into a layby and we were all really chuffed to scope a pair of Black-throated Divers with 2 young.

We arrived at Kyle of Lochalsh a little ahead of schedule, had a wonderful full Scottish breakfast at “Hectors Bothy”! It was now dry although overcast.

We then headed onwards for Skye, halfway through the journey, in one of the big Glens, we noticed a “big” raptor in the sky. We pulled over and soon everyone was looking upwards at a White-tailed Eagle. Although the bird was high, it was obvious, with the short tail and big plank like wings, a great bird to have seen before we had even boarded the ferry! We also had brief views of a high Golden eagle, but better views on the Uists were to come!

We arrived at Uig just after midday and had around 60 minutes before the ferry was due to leave, so plenty of time to scan the harbour area etc. Several Black Guillemot were just off the quayside. There was also several Eider and 3 Red-breasted Merganser all in superb breeding plumage Several Hooded Crow were on the rocky shore and a few Red-breasted Merganser were also out on the sea.

The boat boarded on time and we were soon heading for Lochmaddy and North Uist. We prepared for the ferry crossing and took up positions on the starboard covered area, before switching on to the port side later in the journey.

The crossing was lovely with good numbers of auks, Puffin, Guillemot & Razorbill, plus smaller number of Black Guillemots. Gannets were noted close, plus a few Arctic Terns also Shag, Cormorant, Eider and Red-breasted Merganser.  As the ferry headed out into deeper waters, some of the more sought after birds appeared. Several groups of Kittiwake, Gannets then a Great Skua, a few Fulmar and eventually a single Manx Shearwater. I eventually found a single Storm Petrel though it was tricky and none of the group managed to get views of it as it is floated distantly over the sea.

The ferry arrived at Lochmaddy and we headed off to the Coop store at Solas to buy provisions for breakfast and packed lunches.

The supermarket is well stocked and we got everything we needed. We then settled into our fantastic accommodation, offloaded the luggage and got everyone into their rooms, followed by cups of tea and an admiration of the view and the birds from the curtain glass walling in the lounge area.

We stood out in the garden and visible from the lodge were calling and displaying Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Dunlin and Snipe. It was also possible to hear a distant Corncrake calling.

We set out early evening for a meal at Lochmaddy Hotel and it wasn’t too long before we were getting super views of the first of three Short-eared Owl!

We had a good meal in the Lochmaddy Hotel and on the drive back we were spoilt with great views of 2 Short-eared Owl, Hen Harrier, 2 Cuckoos, a Greenshank and Twite.

Overnight Self Catering Cottage – Clachan Bay, North Uist. Evening Meal in Lochmaddy Hotel.

The beautiful and wonderfully positioned Clachan Lodge, North Uist. Our home for the next 5 days, we saw Golden Eagle, Hen Harrier, Short-eared owl, White-tailed Eagle and heard Corncrake calling without leaving the grounds!
© Short-eared owl seen daily – Chris Mills Norfolk Birding
© Hen Harrier seen in very good numbers this year
© Redshank are a super abundant breeder – Chris Mills Norfolk Birding
© Lapwing and their young were in many locations – Chris Mills Norfolk Birding

Day 3 Sunday 2nd June The weather forecast wasn’t great for today, so I suggested we head out after breakfast.

It is always a wonderful experience along the Uists lanes, breeding waders abound, and we stopped first at Solas and drove down the track, the area was full of wader chicks and concerned parents! Snipe, Redshank, Oystercatcher Lapwing, Dunlin, Ringed Plover all present in very good numbers, with plenty of chicks in attendance.

We then headed to Griminis, and whilst we didn’t find any Otters, there was a late group of 3 Barnacle Geese, plus Little Tern, Red-breasted merganser, & Bar-tailed Godwit.

We next headed straight to the areas where I had seen Corncrakes previously. Our journey was interrupted several times! First a Short-eared Owl, another and then another! Then a male Hen Harrier crossed our paths, then another!

We arrived at my favoured spot at Balranald. We could soon hear the Corncrakes delivering their highly audible ‘”crex, crex” call! It was slightly windy and it was proving difficult to immediately see any of the three birds calling. I eventually settled on a specific area and we quietly sat in the minibus and suddenly a Corncrake appeared it’s head visible above the long vegetation. This happened quite a lot over the next forty minutes, emerging and disappearing and throwing it’s head up and delivering it’s call – it was an amazing experience, especially if you never seen one before! We headed further down the lane and another Corncrake was calling. This one eventually giving full views, as it crept along a dyke calling.

Whilst watching the Corncrake we took in the wonderful chorus of breeding waders, the Uists is unsurpassed in this respect – Snipe, Redshank, Oystercatcher Lapwing, Dunlin, Ringed Plover all present in very good numbers, with plenty of chicks in attendance.

After an hour we had seen at least 3+Corncrake and we had enjoyed the wonderful drumming and singing Snipe overhead. With Snipe and Redshank sitting on posts close by – this was an experience never to forget! We also found a single Whooper Swan on the nearby Loch.

We then took a quick a look on the sea, and were greeted by a close group of Common Eider, plus Red-breasted Merganser.

We had a late lunch at RSPB Balranald, then headed mid afternoon to the Committee road area, scanning produced at least 3 male Hen Harrier. A pair of adult White-tailed Eagles also showed over the hillside, mobbed by a Buzzard.

The weather was now quite good and with the weather forecast not looking great over the next couple of days, we decided to continue birding into the early evening. We headed south to Balranald, searched several nearby Lochs and found a few additional species to our trip list, Gadwall, Teal, plus Wigeon and Shoveler. Another Short-eared Owl was hunting in the area.

We now headed to one of the other lochs. Just as we arrived the quarry species, Red-necked Phalarope flew in! Over the next hour we were all able to enjoy and study at least 4 Red-necked Phalarope. This year one of the pairs were frequenting an area close to the track and we were able to get lovely scope views, it was wonderful watching them pirouetting and picking insects from the surface. We had cut it fine as a storm was approaching and just as the rain started a flock of 65 Black-tailed Godwits dropped out the skies, presumably dropping out of the weather system.

Also vocal and displaying around us were Dunlin, Snipe, Redshank and Oystercatcher. Plus a small group of Arctic Terns.

The rain arrived and it was time to head off for an evening meal!

Overnight Self Catering Cottage – Clachan Bay, North Uist

© Red-necked Phalarope Chris Mills Norfolk Birding

Day 4 Monday 3rd June The weather was cool, grey and overcast, with a blustery SW wind and we left around 9am. I decided to head to the Loch Portain area, I was hopeful that this would be a little out of the wind. On the way out we had a lovely flotilla of young Shelduck escorted by their parents. Also 2-3 Wheatear, Stonechat

and we had good views of Twite, lots of Meadow Pipits and 2 Cuckoos.We arrived at the NE end of the island, and headed out up the track and found ourselves comfortably out of the blowing wind! From here we were able to scan the seas and had a really nice 2-3 hours, with a steady passage of Manx Shearwater, numerous Kittiwake, groups of Arctic terns plus Razorbill, Guillemot and several Black Guillemot. A Great Skua passed by, then followed by 2 Arctic Skua. Nearby on the cliffs there was nesting Shags, and just below them in the kelp an Otter was spotted, as we watched this Otter, we realised there was a second Otter and we all had prolonged good scope views. We also had a Peregrine briefly soaring high above the crags, but in the strong winds it soon disappeared and a pair of Red-throated Diver flew over.

We headed back to the accommodation for lunch, out of the wind. By early afternoon the weather had improved a little, it was still windy but brighter. We headed for the Committee road, at the northern end of the road we had nice views of a male Hen Harrier.  We headed up to the main parking and vantage point. Patience proved to be key! It was quiet for nearly an hour with Buzzard, Kestrel and brief views of a distant White-tailed eagle.

Then suddenly, in a crazy few minutes, we had a White-tailed Eagle, 2 Golden Eagles, being mobbed by a male Hen Harrier. The Golden eagles eventually came across the valley and disappeared, but not for too long! They reappeared, initially one was mobbed by a Merlin! Then we had great views as they interacted with a pair of Buzzards, the 2 Golden Eagles for over 2 hours attacked the Buzzards at above the wind blown pine plantation on east side of road. We were not sure exactly what was happening, but maybe they were trying to dislodge a female from a nest to predate young?  It was amazing action that nobody had ever witnessed before.

We prepared food and had a nice relaxed evening at the accommodation. Overnight Self Catering Cottage – Clachan Bay, North Uist

© Golden Eagle pair, female below, amazing views of 60 minutes
Chris Mills Norfolk Birding
© White-tailed Eagle mobbed by Herring Gull Chris Mills Norfolk Birding

Day 5 Tuesday 4th June Better weather arrived this morning, although the wind was strong, the skies were blue!

We then headed to RSPB Balranald and took the walk up to the beautiful headland of Aird an Runair. This walk is a mosaic of the beautiful machair and rocky shorelines and sandy bays of North Uist. We were soon listening to 3-4 Corn Bunting and one showed well at close range. The walk produced stunningly close views of breeding Arctic Tern. We settled on some rocks and watched the Arctic Terns coming and going, washing and feeding in the freshwater pools, occasionally harrying the gulls as they passed over the colony!

Along the weedy shoreline there was stunning views of a lovely mixture of migrant and breeding waders, the Dunlin were calling and displaying, plus a stunning group of Turnstone in their breeding browns and brick orange tones. Ringed Plover were on the flowered sandy meadows, Curlew, Rock Pipit andseveral Wheatear. We scanned offshore and picked up a few Gannet.

After lunch, we headed south of Balranlad and firstly came across a Whooper Swan, before heading out on to a track to the machair. This area had held a Calandra lark the evening before! Sadly, there was no sign today. However, there was a wealth of breeding waders and much activity, with Lapwing, Redshank, Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Snipe in great numbers with many young. The fields also hosted some breeding Arctic and Little Terns and these were back and forth tending to their mates and young. The reedbed also held a singing Reed Bunting and a Sedge Warbler

Out on the beach we located two superb breeding plumaged Great Northern Divers. There was also a nice small group of Sanderling and Dunlin.

We prepared food and had a nice relaxed evening meal at the accommodation. Overnight Self Catering Cottage – Clachan Bay, North Uist

After dinner, the wind had dropped a little, and although it was grey and cool, three of us decided to head out at 1030pm to look for Long-eared Owl. At just after 11pm, we could hear young begging, but there was no sign of the adults. We drove up and down the track several times, and eventually at around 1130pm one of the adult Long-eared Owls came across the track, briefly perching on a post, where we had a brief but good view.

© Balranald Bay, North Uist Chris Mills Norfolk Birding
© Eurasian Curlew Chris Mills Norfolk Birding
Common Snipe – 2m from the minibus Chris Mills Norfolk Birding
© Common Snipe juvenile also just 2m away! Chris Mills Norfolk Birding
© Ringed Plover a common breeder on the machair. Chris Mills Norfolk Birding
© Arctic Tern over the breeding colony area Chris Mills Norfolk Birding
© Little Tern over the breeding colony area Chris Mills Norfolk Birding

Day 6 Wednesday 5th June We revisited Benbecula today and started off with a couple of stops along the old road just south of Lochmaddy. There was a nice pair of Red-throated Divers and 2 Black-throated Diver also flew over. An Arctic Skua flew over and we noted both, though we were pretty much getting multiple Hen Harrier and Short-eared owls sightings each day both the owls and harriers each day!

We arrived at Stinky Bay and Loch Blaithasbal on Benbecula, the latter held good numbers of duck with Gadwall, Wigeon, Little Grebe, Tufted Duck and Shoveler. Plus nearby a couple of Linnets, feeding close to several Twite and several Skylarks.

At Stinky Bay, there was a nice small group of Sanderling and Dunlin, some sporting beautiful summer plumage. In the harbour area there was Eider and Shelduck with young, plus Grey heron and Red-breasted merganser.

The weather improved a bit after lunch and we headed off along the Petersport road, where we started immediately with great views of 2 male Hen harrier!

Also another Short-eared Owl, along this wild but beautiful meandering road we had several Stonechat, Wheatear, Twite & Meadow Pipit. Plus good views of a Cuckoo. Plusan Arctic Skua flew over, followed a little while later by a more distant Great Skua.

We next headed to the north end of South Uist and to the Ardivachar peninsula and shoreline. This proved to be full of shorebirds, many more than we had seen elsewhere – 70 Dunlin, 70 Sanderling, 150 Bar-tailed Godwit, 2 Whimbrel, plus a nice find and an addition to our list was 2 Red Knot. There was also a smart Great Northern Diver on the sea and a Great Skua gave good views as it flew overhead. There was also the largest gathering of Ravens, with 12 feeding amongst the kelp on the shoreline.

On the way back more, close up views of Short-eared Owl this one sat on the ground with it’s prey.

Overnight Self Catering Cottage – Clachan Bay, North Uist

Day 7 Thursday 6th June We were up early at 5.30am and we arrived at the ferry back to Skye at 7am. We watched Arctic Tern feeding side by side, plus Common Sandpiper before boarding the ferry. We had breakfast then headed up to seawatch off the side of the boat. The weather was overcast, cool with fresh breeze blowing.

The crossing produced, good numbers of Puffins, Guillemot, Razorbill and Black Guillemot, Arctic tern, Fulmar and small groups of Manx Shearwater. We were lucky this time on the way back and for those with scopes we had prolonged views of at least 3 Storm Petrel that flew parallel to the ferry for around 30 minutes, eventually coming close enough to see the white rump.

From Uig, Skye we set off on the long winding journey down towards Ardnamurchan and Mull. After a couple of hours I stopped off in the lovely wooded valley at the head of Glen Shiel. We had a good walk around the area and it proved very productive with 2+ Spotted Flycatcher, initiallyDan andI got reasonable views, but it was another hour before one decided to sit out in the open!Also here Treecreeper, Blackcap, Garden Warbler, Siskin and Redpoll, seen along with some commoner woodland birds. A Grey Wagtail showed very well sat along the river edge.

The head of the loch produced a group of distant roosting Goosander. A Wood Warbler was singing intermittently and eventually gave itself up and everyone had good views as it sat in the top of a tree calling.

We continued south stopping off for a coffee in Fort William. It was slightly wet, showery rain, but it stopped long enough to search along the river. We eventually saw the Dipper, but much more showy were 2-3 Spotted Flycatchers, performing right in front of us.

We arrived late afternoon in Strontian, Ardnamurchan, taking in some smart Eider and Red-breasted Merganser.

I settled the majority of the group into a comfortable stay at Heatherbank, as usual everyone was very comfortable at this lovely B&B with great views. Where we had a lovely evening meal.

Overnight accommodation Bed & Breakfast, Strontian, Ardnamurchan

© Meadow Pipit a very abundant breeder – Chris Mills Norfolk Birding
© Whooper Swan – Chris Mills Norfolk Birding
© Shelduck – Chris Mills Norfolk Birding
© Shelduck young – Chris Mills Norfolk Birding

Day 8 Friday 12th June We had a substantial breakfast and left around 820am. We decided to take our time getting to Mull and we stopped off firstly for a lovely family group of Goosander swimming fast down the river.

We then had a walk through the Rahoy Hills reserve. We couldn’t find Redstarts but 2-3 Tree Pipit showed well and we noted Blackcap, Garden Warbler, Willow Warbler, Siskin, Redpoll, Mistle Thrush, Long-tailed Tit, Grey Wagtail and at least 4 Spotted Flycatcher. It was also nice to find a Wood Warbler singing from this location, where I haven’t heard them for a few years. We then took the ferry across to Mull, we stopped off to look for a White-tailed Eagle, we could just see the female White-tailed Eagle sitting on the nest, we were patient and eventually the male White-tailed Eagle arrived and we had good views as he skirted the treeline and dropped into the trees. We eventually located him perched in the trees and we were able to get good scope views. We also enjoyed 20+ Arctic Terns, plus Eider and Red-breasted Merganser.

We had an early lunch, which was coffee and cake after the full English breakfast! We then moved on and stopped off along one of the steep sided valleys at the south of the island.

We had to be patient but eventually a pair of Golden Eagles both in flight and perched, provided great scope views. The sun had now come out and it was very warm, a bare area of ground along the moorland path had quite a few flowers and these were attracting a nice mixture of butterflies and we had lovely views of Marsh Fritillary, Small pearl-bordered Fritillary and Large Heath.

Further down the valley a little further on we stopped again this time a high White-tailed Eagle moved along the ridge. Shortly followed by another White-tailed Eagle and then incredibly 2 Golden Eagle! Along the shoreline there was several Common Sandpipers, 1-2 Wheatears along the boulders and numerous Meadow Pipits.

We stopped off at my usual vantage point, to look for Otters, it was now mid-afternoon and possibly a bit late in the day and there was no sign.

We headed for the ferry and arrived back in Strontian and headed straight for a lovely evening meal at The Strontian Hotel. After the meal we had one bird still to look for the Black Duck!  Initially, near the outflow we thought we had it, but it turned out to be a hybrid Black Duck. We then set off up river, but after 45 minutes we had frustratingly located several groups of Mallards, but no Black Duck. Fortunately we bumped into Ben Darvill of the BTO and he called to alert us to the bird. After finding a way down the river bank, there was the drake Black Duck sitting on a rock accompanied by a female Mallard! We all eventually managed to get reasonable views, though the midges on a warm still evening, were now proving a distraction!

Overnight accommodation Bed & Breakfast, Strontian, Ardnamurchan

© Spotted Flycatcher at least 6 seen during the trip Chris Mills Norfolk Birding
© Black Duck Chris Mills Norfolk Birding
© Black Duck hybrid Chris Mills Norfolk Birding

Day 9 Saturday 13th June We left Ardnamurchan at 8.20am. It was a reasonable journey and we dropped off at the Premier Inn, Glasgow and then Glasgow airport around midday. We all said our farewells and wished everyone well with their onward journey.

A fantastic trip with 133 species of bird recorded. Also some good mammal sightings with 2 Otters, Porpoise and Red Deer. Plus on Mull, lepidoptera were well represented with notable butterflies – Marsh Fritillary, Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Green Hairstreak and Large Heath.

Also Moths noted Speckled Yellow, Oak Eggar and Argent & Sable.

As always with this trip the raptors and breeding waders will live long in everyone’s memories.

This tour will run again in June 2020 – please contact us if you are interested in joining the tour.

chrismills@norfolkbirding.com www.norfolkbirding.com

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