Outer Hebrides Birding Tour – May 14th-21st

Uists Birdwatching Tour

Saturday 14th May – Saturday 21st May 2022

Tour leader – Chris Mills Norfolk Birding

Participants:- Chris Brock, Chuck Butler, Alison Gordon, Brian Leeman, Mandy Myers, Graham Weaver & Carol Shepherd

This stunning ♂ Ruff was just one of many highlights of the trip!


The tour was based on 5 star self-catering accommodation on North Uist. 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 a dedicated bathroom at first floor. Further details can be seen by visiting  http://www.clachanlodge.com/ClachanLodge-Gallery.htm


Whilst on North Uist we visited the Supermarket on North Uist on Day One & bought our own 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. We cooked in on two evenings, enjoyed the wine, the beer, the birds and the incredible view!

Transport to and from Scotland

Collection and transport was from agreed meeting points and an overnight stay pre-booked at a Glasgow, Premier Inn. Transport was via our own 9 seater minibus, so there was ample space for luggage, scopes & cameras etc.

The Tour

Day 1 – Saturday 14th May

We all met up in Glasgow at the Premier Inn at Paisley near the airport on Saturday 14th May. We had a nice evening meal and then off to bed for a 6.30am start.

Day 2 – Sunday 15th May

This morning we drove up towards Mallaig for a ferry crossing at 1pm, stopping off en-route at Tyndrum for a full Scootish Breakfast. Birding started here with a selection of commoner birds, but also including a pair of most welcome Spotted Flycatchers, some super Siskin on the feeders, plus House Martins collecting mud and several Hooded Crows.

Next stop was in Fort William where we stopped off first to grab some breakfast essentials etc. A scan of the estuary behind Morrisons, proved fruitful with highlights being Goosander, Eider, Red-breasted Merganser, Oystercatcher, Common Gull and Shag. Then a quick stop and short walk along the river also gave us a family of Grey Wagtails, Treecreeper and Willow warbler.

We boarded the ferry early afternoon and sea-watched until late afternoon, when we then took an evening meal on the Calmac ferry and arrived on South Uist at Lochboisdale harbour 5.40pm.

I then headed us North, through South Uist, Benbecula and arrived at our accommodation at Clachan, North Uist at around 7pm.

Highlights on the boat were good numbers of Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills, Gannet, Kittiwake plus a lovely raft of c300 Manx Shearwater, a single Great Skua, also a breeding plumage Great Northern Diver, and perhaps most surprising a 2cy Little Gull. We also noted several Porpoise. As we approached the islands there was also several Black Guillemots, and just before arrival at Lochboisdale we had our first Eagles, two distant soaring White-tailed Eagles.

As we reached and travelled across North Uist, it was a pleasant, quiet and dry evening so  I stopped off to check some roadside Lochans, and we were treated to a lovely breeding plumage Red-throated Diver, with great scope views, set to a backdrop of a displaying and singing Golden Plover and a breeding plumage Greenshank!

We arrived and settled into the accommodation and whilst sipping a glass of wine we were immediately treated to a flyby Hen Harrier – straight through the garden! Also a single Twite was perching on the fence line and coming into the edge of the garden, plus two fluffy Lapwing chicks – welcome to The Uists!

Whooper Swan 2-3 seen during the tour

Day Three – Monday 16th May

We started with an early morning pre-breakfast drive to Balranald, on the way we were soon watching our first of many Short-eared Owls, plus a ringtail Hen Harrier passed by, 2-3 Cuckoo were on roadside wires, a species still numerous here and seen daily as we were moving around the island.

At Balranald the wind was blowing quite hard and it wasn’t the ideal conditions for seeing Corncrake! We heard a 2-3 Corncrake, but couldn’t quite get close enough to enable us a good chance of seeing them.

We did enjoy the lovely array of breeding waderswith Snipe, Redshank, Oystercatcher, Dunlin and Lapwing allaround in good numbers. On nearby pools we also noted a Whooper Swan and a Little Egret. As we scanned another of the Lochs near Balranald, Carol suddenly spotted an Otter swimming across, and it gave good views for several minutes as it dived and came up munching on its prey!

Another roadside stop gave us a nice group of  Red-breasted Merganser, also here Curlew and Common Sandpiper.

We had breakfast and then decided we would have a try for the Snowy owl on Scolpaig. It was a quite a steady walk to the North side of the ridge, and as there was no sign, we climbed higher. We also spoke with two other birders who had been unable to find it. Despite several hours of searching, it seemed to have moved on (it wasn’t seen again during our stay!). We did have a White-tailed Eagle, Raven & Hooded Crows above the ridge, plus lots of displaying Meadow Pipit, singing Skylarks, a pair of Wheatear, Stonechat, Ringed Plover & Curlew lower down.

It had now clouded over and was drizzling so we headed back to the accommodation and had a late lunch! We then headed back out, looking out North on to the large low-lying bay of Grenitote. The tide was low and there was a good selection of shorebirds, notably a sum plumaged Grey Plover, a group of 30+ Red Knot, a few Bar-tailed Godwit, several Whimbrel, plus plenty of looks at and sounds of all the breeding waders Curlew, Dunlin, Redshank, Ringed Plover, Oystercatcher and Lapwing.

Also 1-2 Arctic Skua were flying around distantly over the bay.

A little later, our attention was drawn to a Corncrake calling rather well from a garden behind us, time to try again! The garden, as is often the case with Corncrakes, was a mixture of tall weeds and rusting farm vehicles!

Just briefly for around 20 seconds the Corncrake appeared in gap between the rank vegetation and the fence. Three or four of us had it in view, but not everyone unfortunately, its presence now rumbled, it had disappeared into a much more extensive area and that was game over for today!

These beautiful birds were seen daily during the trip
Short-eared Owl always a pleasure to see those up close and personal!

Day Four – Tuesday 17th May

We started the day with a scan again over the Grenitote bay, the tide was in and we scored well with some nice views of 2-3 Arctic Skua plus a close fly by Great Skua. Also fishing Little Terns just offshore, with a 1-2 distant Arctic Terns and several Twite nearby giving their ‘zwinging’ call and vying for our attention! The next roadside stop was to scan Scolpaig ridge, just in case the Snowy owl had reappeared in the sunshine! No owl, but my attention was drawn to a Short-eared Owl mobbing something sat on the hillside, a scan with the scope proved it to be a Golden Eagle. Just as everyone got on to the Golden Eagle it took off, fortunately it came towards and gave very nice overhead views!

We next headed round to Loch Sandaray in blazing sunshine, there was several singing, Sedge Warbler, a calling Corncrake but well hidden from view, and a really nice flock of Whimbrel calling and dropping into the nearby field. There was two Whooper Swans on the Loch and as we approached the shallow Southern bay, there was a nice mixture of waders, some close Dunlin plus a Ruff in absolute full summer dress, a fine figure!

After lunch we headed out on the Loch Portain road, it was relatively quiet on the drive down for raptors, but Common Sandpiper, Shag, Cormorant, Grey Heron, Wheatears, Shelduck, Eider, Red-breasted Mergansers, Cuckoo, Buzzard and a nice Arctic Skua overhead were all seen as birded along the track with a series of stops.

From the North end of the road and from a sheltered headland we scanned the sea and islands, there were two very smart summer plumaged Great Northern Divers, several Black Guillemot, very nice views of Cuckoo, Stonechat, Lesser Redpoll and Twite flew over. More views of Great and Arctic Skua, Arctic Tern plus cracking views of two White-tailed Eagles.

Golden Eagle this superb adult went close over our heads
White-tailed Eagle sat before being hassled by the local corvids!
White-tailed Eagle escaping the attentions of a Raven
A super close obliging Short-eared Owl just metres from the minibus

Day Five – Wednesday 18th May

It was a damp start today, with overnight rain and we had a later breakfast and start, letting the weather settle before heading out. The overnight rain, and now drier conditions proved successful for seeing Short-eared Owls, as we saw 3-4 Short-eared Owls in quick succession as we drove out from the accommodation, including one that I ‘squeaked’ in for nice close views!

A ringtail and a Hen harrier, also out hunting, no doubt after sitting out the overnight rain. It was still cloudy, but much drier, and I was hopeful of Eagles from the Committee Road. Though the eagles let me down, we were treated to more excellent views of a hunting Short-eared Owl. We then headed out on to the Machair near Bailemhor, here as usual we were treated to the very special breeding waders of the Uists, with very intimate views of Snipe, Redshank, Dunlin, Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plovers – staying in the vehicle allows great views of the birds without causing too much disturbance. There were a few Little and Arctic terns, but it was concerning to see so few birds in the colony areas, hopefully there are more birds to arrive!?

We next headed to RSPB Balranald, where we lunched and then headed out along the machair and shoreline. A nice close Corn Bunting was singing from the ground, and another Corncrake could be heard calling. The bay was heaving with shorebirds, hundreds of Dunlin, Sanderling, and lots of stunning looking Turnstone almost in fully acquired breeding plumage.

We checked through the shorebirds using the minibus as a shield in a now gusting Easterly wind!

Eventually I found a Purple Sandpiper amongst the masses, the vast flock of Sanderling and Dunlin in a bewildering array of plumages from almost winter to fully summer plumage, great to observe and immerse yourself in. Out on the sea there were 2 very smart breeding plumage Great Northern Divers, and then an Arctic Skua passed by scattering everything, including the gulls and my attention was drawn to a white winged gull in flighty, that initially I thought might be a 2cy Glaucous Gull, I then changed my mind to a hybrid, it settled and I then thought it may even be an Iceland Gull, in the end after studying some images it concluded as a hybrid Glaucous x Herring  ‘Viking’ Gull, though a less than obvious one!

As we walked out we got nice views of a perched Arctic Tern, though the numbers of birds in the colony area were again small and concerning.

We next headed for Benbecula, and we searched a series of Lochs and Lochans, the perfect start after a little patience was 2 Red-necked Phalaropes, with the brighter given us lovely scope views. With the wind blowing we had to be patient, as they were undoubtedly staying in the vegetation where they could be seen picking flies from the vertical reed stems.

Whilst watching we also noted 2-3 Ruff, an Arctic Skua flew past, and the other pools gave us a nice flock of Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits, numerous Little Grebe, plus single Teal and Wigeon, and several Gadwall.

Dunlin were in breeding plumage and singing from the machair
Redshank also in their spotty breeding plumage
Turnstone migrants in their summer dress heading way North to breed
Whimbrel in small groups – presumably Scandinavian migrants

Day 6 – Thursday 19th May

Today looked our best bet to try for Long-tailed & Pomarine Skuas, which the dates of the tour had been specifically built around, although the winds were fairly light and more South than West. We had been a little unlucky to miss a good day just before we had arrived, but that’s migrant skua passage!

We arrived early and there was a brisk SSW wind, a couple of hours from 630-9am gave us more Arctic and Great Skua, but it was clear we weren’t in for a passage of the hoped for Long-tailed or Poms, so we enjoyed a few flyby Great Northern Divers, including one tantalising large, winter plumage bird flying South that was a candidate for a White-billed but just out of range to get the detail required. There was Gannets close by, Fulmar, Kittiwakes and Arctic Terns passing by regularly enough to keep our attention. As we walked past we also noted 2 Purple Sandpiper fly in and land up on the rocks, one giving much better views and closer than the previous visit.

We headed back for breakfast, the wind had strengthened and was gusting to over 40mph, it was clear that I needed to try and find sheltered spots, to stand any chance of watching comfortably. We started off in the sheltered harbour of Griminis, which proved a nice couple of hours with Little and Arctic Terns, a nice fly-by White-tailed Eagle, 2 cracking summer plumage Great Northern Divers, Black Guillemot, Whimbrel, Curlew, Red-breasted Merganser, but the real stars and showing brilliantly were two Otters, a mother and cub showed well on and off for over an hour! Here’s a short video of them

With the wind still blowing strongly, we headed back for lunch and then headed out towards Loch Portain. This was the other obvious location to get out the gusting wind, it was nicely sheltered, and we had a similar selection to the previous visit and yet another close fly past White-tailed eagle and amazingly another Otter.

The day ended with a dash across the island to Loch Paible where earlier a Broad-billed Sandpiper had been found. Unfortunately, just before we arrived something had disturbed the feeding Dunlin and we were left scanning through around c1000 Dunlin that were spread from close to around half a mile away! Despite a couple of hours searching and plenty of eyes, we couldn’t find it, though there was a plethora of Dunlin, Sanderling and Ringed Plover, no shortage of birds to study!

A superb ♂ Hen Harrier hunting right past us
Corn Bunting perched very close on the machair at Balranald
A superb ♀ breeding plumage Red-necked Phalarope

Day 7 – Friday 20th May

Our last full day on the Uists, was modified due to changes to our ferry crossing enforced by Calmac issues (yet again!), this necessitated a drive down all the way to Eriskay, followed by a ferry to Barra.

The day started with wind and heavy showers, and so we left the accommodation late morning. Heading South through North Uist, I made the first stop at some Lochans, at a location where before I have seen breeding Divers. After several scans with nothing to report, my final scan produced the one I was looking for! We were soon watching the Rolls-Royce of breeding plumaged Divers, a superb Black-throated Diver.

We then got news that 2 Red-rumped Swallows were being seen on South Uist near Dalabrog, as it was still raining it made sense to use the time to head South in this direction. A Peregrine went over the minibus on the way, I think two of us managed to see it as shot quickly overhead! A ringtail Hen Harrier and 2 Short-eared Owls were also out hunting just as the rain eased.

Just as we were arriving at Dalabrog the rain was starting to abate. We were still trying to work out if we had reached the right location when I noticed a bunch of hirundines low over the nearby water, second bird was one of the Red-rumped Swallows! We all jumped out and watched the Red-rumped Swallow for the next hour as it came really close and just below us feeding on insects low over the water. As it dried and warmed up they both slowly starting feeding further away, so our timing had proven very fortunate. We also had Reed Bunting here, plus Sedge Warblers singing, few Swallows & Sand Martins.

We next headed down the lovely, rugged valley of Loch Eineort, we spent 2-3 hours at several locations scanning the hillsides and the Lochs. At least 2 Red-throated Divers flew over, one calling as it did so, several Red-breasted Merganser, several Buzzard were up along the nearby ridge, one coming to a nest site to feed young, we also spied a single White-tailed Eagle and a Golden Eagle, though the latter was high and distant.

A Cuckoo was calling and echoing along the valley, Common Sandpipers were seen on the Loch. Stonechat, Wheatear and Willow Warblers were all seen along the valley, Twite and Lesser Redpoll flying around calling nearby at the East end of the valley.

We had a nice evening meal in the AM Politician before boarding for the short crossing to Barra. The crossing was really good, with plenty of birds, at least 2 White-tailed Eagles, 2 Golden Eagles, 2 large rafts of 20+ Black Guillemots, diving Gannets, Kittiwakes, Guillemots & Razorbills.

Our final night was in the Isle of Barra Beach Hotel, amazing views but a rather quirky place, this was an enforced stay here due to the cancellation of our ferry by Calmac on the Saturday.

Great views of 2 Red-rumped Swallows found by Chris Rodger

Day 8 Saturday 21st May

We caught the return ferry from Barra at just before 8am to Oban. There was a similar mix of seabirds on the ferry back to our outgoing journey, but a definite highlight was prolonged views of hundreds of Manx Shearwaters right alongside the ferry affording great close binocular views for around an hour just before the Sound of Mull. Also briefly a small pod of Common Dolphins were alongside the ferry.

Transport back to Glasgow where I dropped off Mandy, Ali, Brian, Graham & Carol at Glasgow airport, then dropped Chuck off at Wetherby Services and finally Chris Brock back at Kings Lynn.

Systematic List of birds recorded includes travel to and from Glasgow

1Red-throated Diver
2Black-throated Diver
3Great Northern Diver
4Little Grebe
6Manx Shearwater
7Northern Gannet
8Great Cormorant
10Grey Heron
11Little Egret
12Mute Swan
13Whooper Swan
14Greylag Goose
15Canada Goose
16Common Shelduck
17Eurasian Wigeon
18Common Teal
21Northern Shoveler
22Tufted Duck
23Common Eider
24Red-breasted Merganser
26Golden Eagle
27White-tailed Eagle
28Hen Harrier
29Eurasian Sparrowhawk
30Common Buzzard
31Common Kestrel
32Peregrine Falcon
33Common Pheasant
36Common Coot
38Great Ringed Plover
39European Golden Plover
40Grey Plover
41Northern Lapwing
42Red Knot
46Common Snipe
47Black-tailed Godwit
48Bar-tailed Godwit
50Eurasian Curlew
51Common Redshank
53Common Sandpiper
54Purple Sandpiper
56Red-necked Phalarope
57Arctic Skua
58Great Skua
59Black-headed Gull
60Little Gull
61Common Gull
62Lesser Black-backed Gull
63Herring Gull
64Great Black-backed Gull
66Common Tern
67Arctic Tern
68Little Tern
69Common Guillemot
71Black Guillemot
74Rock Dove
75Collared Dove
76Common Cuckoo
77Short-eared Owl
78Great Spotted Woodpecker
79Sky Lark
80Sand Martin
81Red-rumped Swallow
82Barn Swallow
83House Martin
84Meadow Pipit
85Rock Pipit
86Grey Wagtail
87Pied Wagtail
91Common Stonechat
92Northern Wheatear
94Song Thrush
95Mistle Thrush
96Common Whitethroat
98Common Chiffchaff
99Willow Warbler
100Sedge Warbler
102Spotted Flycatcher
103Coal Tit
104Blue Tit
105Great Tit
106Eurasian Treecreeper
107Eurasian Jay
109Eurasian Jackdaw
111Hooded crow
113Common Starling
114House Sparrow
115Common Chaffinch
121Lesser Redpoll
122Common Bullfinch
123Reed Bunting
124Corn Bunting

Mammals & others

Red Deer were seen regularly on The Uists. Common Porpoise was seen in small numbers, a few Common Dolphins were alongside the boat on the return ferry. We were very fortunate with Otters to see 4 different individuals, including the Mother and Cub for a prolonged period.

Common Seals were seen daily on the Uists.

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

This tour will run again in June 2022 – please contact us if you are interested in joining the tour.



Mobile 07876 357677

The beautiful and wonderfully positioned Clachan Lodge, North Uist.

Our home for the 7 days, Hen harrier, Short-eared Owl, Twite and baby Lapwings from the windows!