1st- 8th June Uists Birding Tour

Tour leader – Chris Mills Norfolk Birding & Assistant guide – Steve Lewis

Participants:- Chris Brock, John Havercroft, Rachel & Nigel Harris, Paul and Wendy Scarborough & Eve Wee

Accommodation – This birdwatching 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 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 & bought breakfast provisions & foods for making up packed lunches

We ate out on four evenings at three different pubs/restaurants.

On two of the evenings we cooked and ate at the accommodation and on the final evening we had fish and chip supper at the Berneray Bistro.

Transport to and from Scotland – Transport was from an agreed meeting point near Junction 25 of the M1 and North with an overnight stay in Glasgow, prior to the ferry journey on to the Uists.

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

Day 1 Saturday 1st June – I collected several of the group from Nottinghamshire and we met up with the rest of the group in Glasgow at Braehead, Premier Inn.

We had an enjoyable evening meal and then headed off for an early night, ready for leaving early the next morning at 6.30am.

Overnight Premier Inn Braehead, . Glasgow.

Evening meal in restaurant at Premier inn

Day 2 Sunday 2nd June – We left Glasgow at 6.30am and headed towards our breakfast stop at Tyndrum.

The journey passes through some spectacular mountain scenery and a few birds were noted en-route from the minibus – Hooded Crow, Buzzard, Raven plus Willow Warblers could be heard singing from many bushes. Just South of Tyndrum we stopped along the A82 where the first notable bird of the trip was recorded, a couple of lovely singing Wood Warblers with one bird providing good views in the lower canopy. Also, here an example of range expansion with Nuthatch noted as well.

We arrived at Tyndrum and enjoyed breakfast then had a quick walk around the nearby grounds, and added Siskin, Goldcrest & Whitethroat.

Plus, House Martins collecting mud for nests and several Hooded Crows.

A couple of short stops in Fort William proved well worthwhile, with Goosander, Red-breasted Merganser, Curlew, Rock Pipit, Common Sandpiper, Red-throated Diver noted on the estuary area. Then the river bridge gave us a performing Dipper, plus Grey Wagtail.

We then headed onwards for Mallaig harbour with the weather deteriorating. A quick stop just before the harbour and we noted a superb flock of c200 Manx Shearwater feeding close inshore, also a couple of Black Guillemot.

The crossing provided a good selection of birds, and we were soon watching may Manx Shearwaters as raft after raft occurred, probably around c1000 Manx Shearwaters in total. Also, on the crossing several Puffin, small numbers of Guillemot & Razorbill, plus 1-2 Black Guillemots, Gannets were noted close, plus Shag, Cormorant, Eider and Red-breasted Merganser.  As the ferry headed out into deeper waters, some other birds appeared. Several groups of Kittiwake, Gannets, plus asingle Great Skua, a few Fulmars, a nice flock of rather late c60 Common Scoter plus for those who had been patient and stayed out on deck, 2 Common Dolphins!

The ferry arrived late afternoon and we had took advantage of the Calmac onboard restaurant to have an early dinner onboard the ferry, so we were just left with the final leg of the journey up to the accommodation.

We dropped in at the Coop store on Benbecula and got provisions for breakfast and packed lunches. The supermarkets are generally well stocked, and we got everything we needed.

En-route we had our first views of asuperb hunting Short-eared Owl, but the drama really got going as we watched this Owl a skua appeared, initially being over moorland it was assumed to be an Arctic, but as it turned sideways on, there was an extended long central tail, slim grey wings and a yellow wash on the face, clearly an adult Long-tailed Skua! Wow…what a wonderful bird to have seen before even reaching the accommodation!

We then offloaded the luggage and got everyone into their rooms and settled into our fantastic accommodation. Then followed cups of tea and an admiration of the view and the birds from the curtain glass walling in the lounge area! It had a been long time since we left Glasgow and a long day, so everyone chilled or stood out in the garden and enjoyed calling and displaying Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Dunlin and Snipe.

Overnight Self-Catering Cottage – Clachan Bay, North Uist

Day 3 Monday 3rd June – The weather forecast was good for today, so I suggested we start reasonably early and head out to try and see Corncrakes. At 6.30am we had tea and biscuits, then we headed out.

It is always a wonderful experience along the Uists lanes, breeding waders abound, and we stopped several times to let waders and young get out of the road and back to their noisy, concerned parents!

We 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 we suddenly screeched to halt as there was a large raptor sitting atop a rise, a White-tailed Eagle, in fact 2 White-tailed Eagles!!

We arrived at my favoured spot at Balranald. We could soon hear the Corncrakes delivering their highly audible ‘”crex, crex” call! There was one close to the right of the minibus and another to the left side!

It took a little time, we got out quietly and after a few minutes and scanning, the head of a Corncrake was showing intermittently! After a lot of directions and a bit of effort, everyone got on to the Corncrake as it appeared and disappeared, then the second one appeared and gave slightly better views. It was good that everyone had got satisfactory views, especially as the rest of the week looked very windy and not ideal for getting great views of them!

The Uists are amazing for breeding waders and now with Corncrake well and truly under the belt, we were able to enjoy the chorus of Snipe, Redshank, Oystercatcher Lapwing, Dunlin and Ringed Plover all present in very good numbers, the air filled with their calls!

After a couple of hours, we had heard 4+ Corncrake and we had enjoyed the wonderful drumming and singing of Snipe overhead. With Snipe and Redshank sitting on posts – this was an experience never to forget!

We then checked the nearby pools, and there was a Shoveler, Tufted Duck and Little Grebe, plus a summer plumaged Ruff. As we were watching these birds a head appeared and rolled over in the water,an Otter was feeding and diving, it wasn’t easy as it moved quickly through the surface weed, we briefly located a second Otter, but again it was a brief sighting as it soon disappeared.

Very satisfied we headed back for a leisurely breakfast back at the accommodation, though again the journey was stopped this time for a stunning male Hen Harrier!

After breakfast we headed to the Committee Road, we were soon stopping before we had reached the Committee Road, an Eagle was heading along the ridge, we stopped and got out, a Golden Eagle! It moved along the top of the ridge before dropping below and giving reasonable scope views as it moved lower down, another great bird on our first full day on the Isles.

We reached the viewpoint on the Committee road, and were rewarded instantly with a pair of Hen Harrier, hunting over the moorland. Up at the top of the hillside we didn’t have to wait long before another Hen Harrier appeared, another male.

We stood for some time admiring a perched female Hen Harrier, there was also 2 Kestrel hunting nearby, a Cuckoo called from the wires plus Raven and Buzzard appeared and nearby Meadow Pipits were feeding young. It was all action as then a Peregrine also went overhead.

It was mid-afternoon and quite warm now, so I headed over to Griminis area. We checked out the ridge, which gave us another male Hen Harrier hunting up along the hillside, but no Eagles.

We then headed to Griminis harbour area, from here we had several Common Eider, our first Great Northern Diver a breeding plumage bird, plus a non-breeding plumage Red-throated Diver, several fishing Little terns, Red-breasted Merganser and plunge diving Gannets at the head of the Loch. Plus another Cuckoo flew across us.

We rounded the day off with a circuit of Loch Sandaray, we soon found a Whooper Swan, this one of their favoured Lochs. Plus, the wet grass gave us really amazing views of a Snipe and its chick…such amazing camouflage! Also, nearby on the way back a quick stop produced 4 Common Sandpiper.

We finished the day with a meal at Lochmaddy Hotel, North Uist.

Overnight Self Catering Cottage – Clachan Bay, North Uist

Day 4 Tuesday 4th June – We headed out after breakfast at around 8.30am, we hadn’t gone too far when a raptor appeared on the horizon, it was clearly big and we pulled over a White-tailed Eagle was being mobbed by a Raven, it proved an opportune stop as well as a male Reed Bunting was also singing from the fence line nearby. We started to move off only stop again shortly afterwards for a super male Hen Harrier hunting along the moorland edge, shortly followed by a nice adult dark morph Arctic Skua!

We then stopped briefly at the Committee Road again but it was fairly quiet today, so we headed on round to Loch Paible.

At Loch Paible, we had a walk out through the dunes and viewed the freshwater pools, there was another single Whooper Swan present, and the pools held a good selection of shorebirds with 100 Dunlin, c20 Sanderling, 7 Bar-tailed Godwit, 40 Ringed Plover, Oystercatcher and Redshank plus perched Little Terns, and several Arctic terns passed overhead. We then enjoyed some lovely close Eider as we walked past them.

The weather was squally with sunshine, rainbows, showers and a cold wind, and it was fascinating watching the Sand martins hawking inches off the ground and feeding on insects from the seaweed, virtually skimming the sand in their quest for food!

We watched the Sanderling and Dunlin busy also feeding on the kelp beds, our attention suddenly taken by 2 calling Whimbrel flying over along the shore, late migrants heading North! The skies were now heavy with black clouds, and we just made it back in time to avoid a deluge of rain and wind!

We then headed out on to the nearby machair and into one of the prime breeding areas for the waders, where there was breeding Little and Arctic Terns and point blank views of Ringed Plover, Redshank, Oystercatcher, Dunlin and Snipe, including many birds with young chicks.

We headed back to the accommodation for what was a late lunch and set off for a couple of hours down the Loch Portain road. The next couple of hours were quite something to behold, as we started with cracking views of 2 pale morph Arctic Skuas, then not too long after we had set up from a view point, we had an Eagle Bonanza!  Firstly 2 White-tailed Eagles appeared, followed shortly by a Golden Eagle, mobbing the White-tailed joined then by a 2nd Golden Eagle, we then realised there were now 3 White-tailed and 2 Golden Eagles,so 5 Eagles in the sky at once!!

One of the Golden eagles and 2 White-taileds soared for a considerable time and we were able to scope them for a prolonged period.

Very satisfied we headed on towards the Northeast end of the road, that overlooks the sea and the small islands, it’s a nice vantage point with a great offshore view. We had soon noted another Arctic Skua, plus a Black Guillemot, when Steve spotted an Otter, it was feeding on crabs and periodically surfacing, and we got reasonable scope views.

It had been an all-round great day & we headed back to the accommodation with a lovely spaghetti Bolognese and a few glasses of wine back at the accommodation, a big thanks to Rachel for organising.

Overnight Self Catering Cottage – Clachan Bay, North Uist

A lovely evening with a lovely group!

Day 5 Wednesday 5th June – We headed out after breakfast towards Langass Lodge, but as we headed South, I stopped off to check for Black-throated Divers.

A quick roadside stop gave us a pair of Greenshank, up on a small Loch, presumably a breeding pair.

Then further South several quick checks from the roadside, eventually gave us nice views of 2 summer plumage Red-throated Divers. Next stop at my usual chosen location and we could see 2 diver sp. from the road that looked very promising. We parked up on the old road and then I headed over to the Loch to confirm our suspicions! Steve came over and we were soon watching a pair of stunning summer plumaged Black-throated Divers, it was then we also realised they had 2 fresh chicks in tow!

We got the group very carefully into a position where we could all watch quietly from a distance with a scope and not disturb them. These are the  ‘monochrome’ Rolls-Royce of the wildfow, covered in such an amazing array of plumage intricacies. Also, from here a stunning, full summer plumaged Golden Plover sat atop a mound, occasionally calling and trying to rival the Diver for the smartest dress!

A great start to the day, we headed onwards to Langass, a heavy shower had just struck up, so we took the chance of coffee and cake!

After the skies had cleared a little, we took a short walk out through the heather and woodland at Langass. This offered up some commoner species, Song Thrush, Robin, Goldcrest, Greenfinch, Siskin and Willow Warbler. Of interest was also lots of Garden Tiger moth caterpillars along the path as we walked out.

Once up at the vantage point, it wasn’t too long before a scan produced an Otter swimming across the Loch, it was moving rapidly through the kelp and disappeared pretty quickly unfortunately.

Next a stop at Loch Coot! So aptly named as this is about the only place you can see Coots on the Uists, we were soon admiring 2-3 Coot and 2 Moorhens! We then stopped off to look for Red-necked Phalarope, but after an hour of scanning and searching we drew a blank, we did have some Arctic terns, a nice hunting Short-eared Owl, several displaying Curlew and Gadwall, Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Shoveler and Little Grebe.

We then headed to one of the nearby bays and had lunch, here there was an excellent group of shorebirds, 30 Dunlin, 20 Sanderling and several Turnstone many in breeding plumage.

As we were due to have a late afternoon dinner, we headed down one of the Eastern Valleys at the North end of Benbecula, initially it seemed rather quiet. But soon we were watching a pair Wheatears feeding a youngster, then a Short-eared Owl appeared hunting, followed soon by a male Hen Harrier! Plus a White-tailed Eagle was soaring over the distant ridges.

We then headed for dinner at Stepping Stones, and then early evening we headed to Grimsay Harbour where we took the boat trip out of Kallin Harbour, Grimsay. We headed out through the sea lochs with views of Arctic Skuas, several Red-throated Diver, Black Guillemots and Shags. There was a melee of Gannets and Terns feeding but were a bit too far out for us to take in, we had a nice immature White-tailed Eagle perched, before we reached the breeding pair on the cliffs.

Nothing quite prepares you for just how close and wonderful the views are of this pair of White-tailed Eagles, with the male coming down to collect “bait” from the water’s surface! This affords amazing views and a great opportunity for photography!

A super end to another wonderful day and given the on/off showers all day, it was amazing and pleasing that we stayed dry on the boat!

Overnight Self Catering Cottage – Clachan Bay, North Uist

Day 6 Thursday 6th June – Today we headed towards South Uist, to take in the picturesque mountain Valleys on the East sides of the Isle. First, we stopped off again to look for the Red-necked Phalaropes, but after an hour of scanning in a cool Northerly breeze, we had no joy, but we had  Ruff and a pair of Curlew with chicks, plus a Short-eared Owl hunting. We continued on to the Loch Druidibeag valley on South Uist. A stunning valley with steep mountains above, interlaced with small, wooded copses and interconnected lochans.

We took up a vantage point and I located the White-tailed Eagle eyrie, which although distant, we could see an adult White-tailed Eagle and a well grown dark chick.

A pair of Lesser Redpoll circled overhead calling and eventually dropped on to the bushes close by and we got lovely views of a stunning male. A pair of Twite also flew over calling but throughout this trip they had been elusive and difficult to pin down.

Over the ridge to the end of the valley a ringtail Hen Harrier was soaring, steadily gaining height, mobbed by a Short-eared Owl! Interestingly, they circled higher and higher until they were almost dots in the sky with the Short-eared Owl still occasionally mobbing the Hen Harrier.

A small area of woodland held a Raven perched calling from the top of the trees giving us nice views, plus Willow Warbler was singing from the trees, also Linnet, Wren, numerous Meadow Pipits, Pied wagtails were feeding young, and a Wheatear was up on the rocks nearby.

We then headed out the valley and made our way further South and down to Loch Aineort Valley, another lovely valley and a big expansive Loch. We stopped off at a good vantage point just short of the valley end. Initial scanning gave us several Red-breasted Merganser, Red-throated Diver, several Grey Herons and Common Tern.  Suddenly the birdwatching became more mammal watching as firstly 2 Bottle-nosed Dolphins appeared mid-water, their big dorsal fins and large size easily identifying them, it appeared to be a mother and a calf of a few years as she was clearly a little larger. We had stunning scope views as they moved up and down the middle of the Loch. As we were enjoying these, suddenly Steve noted an Otter and then as we watched the one Otter, we realised there were 3 Otters, a mother and 2 cubs and shortly after this a 4th Otter swimming in the nearer kelp alone away from the other three, what an amazing hour!

It was now around 4pm and we had a fair drive back to the accommodation, it had been a great day. A fantastic end to a wonderful day.

Overnight Self-Catering Cottage – Clachan Bay, North Uist

Day 7 Friday 7th June – After breakfast we headed for Balaranald, just before we arrived, we had an immature White-tailed Eagle sat on the grassland. At Balranald we headed out towards the headland, it had been a rather windy week and I had hoped to do this walk in calmer conditions, but a blustery NW wind was blowing, and this was our last chance, so we walked out and braved the conditions. The sea itself, and the birds were rather spectacular!! Albeit it wasn’t easy to watch them, we managed to find refuge lower down behind some rocks and from here we marvelled at Gannets, Manx Shearwaters, Fulmars, Arctic terns and Kittiwakes as they sheared into the wind moving North. Also 2 Arctic Skuas came past close, affording nice views. As the tide dropped waders started to appear on the rocks, there was numbers of Ringed Plover, Dunlin & Sanderling with quite a few nicely plumaged Turnstones, amongst these there was also a single Purple Sandpiper, though it never perched in view for long, and was mainly noted in flight.

As we walked back there was a stunning Arctic Tern perched close by on some low rocks and gave everyone the chance to get some pictures and take in the full beauty of these amazing birds.

As big black clouds gathered, we headed back to the minibus, but got caught a little short this time and got rather wet! I drove us around to look at another bay and Loch, whilst we all warmed up and dried off. The shore held more of the same in terms of waders, but an Eider with a family group was just along the shoreline.

We decided on another circuit of Loch Sandaray and had a nice surprise as there was 2 Whooper Swans with 2 fresh cygnets, the first I had ever seen! Though, Whooper Swan is increasing it’s range further South into Iceland and Northen Scotland,  only 24-29 pairs bred in UK in 2021, albeit over half of these were on Shetland, with 1-2 pairs on the Outer Hebrides.

We then headed back for lunch at the accommodation, as we pulled into the driveway, I spied a large raptor above the ridge. A Golden Eagle and then a second Golden Eagle appeared soaring low over the hillside, everyone bolted out the minibus and we got our best views of this iconic raptor as they soared along the lower ridge, mobbed by Hooded Crows, Oystercatchers and Lapwings!

After lunch we headed back out and up the Loch Portain road, though it was now a rather dull and windy afternoon, a quick stop at a usual spot gave us a summer plumage Red-throated Diver.

Then we soon ended up at the far NE vantage ppoint, which offered protection from the wind.

There was Black Guillemot, and several Arctic Skuas gave views flying across, as well as 2-3 Common terns, plus Shag, Cormorant and several Red-breasted Merganser.

We finished our last evening off with a nice Fish and Chip supper in the Berneray Bistro, before getting off to early nights ready for a very early alarm call, as Calmac had brought ferry forwards from 5.30am to 5am departure.

Day 8 Saturday 8th June – The drive to the ferry was quite eventful in the half light at 4am with Red Deer and Short-eared Owls all giving close encounters, one Red Deer a little too close for comfort!

The ferry journey then took us from Lochboisdale to Uig, as due to the predicted sea state Calmac had diverted us, which was a total pain and also as the sea wasn’t actually very rough after all!

The crossing gave up some more seabirds similar to the crossing out, but with many more Puffins this time and generally more auks, with good numbers of Manx Shearwaters as well though not quite the numbers we had on the outward crossing. Also 2 Common Dolphins briefly close to the boat.

It was then a long steady drive through Skye and then down to Glasgow, where we dropped off and said farewell to several of the group before continuing South and long journey all the way back to Norfolk!

Overall, it was another wonderful classic trip to the Uists, with 114 species of birds recorded. The total sightings of some of the iconic species were;  19 White-tailed Eagle, 5 Golden Eagle, 12 Hen Harrier, 29 Short-eared Owl, 20 Arctic Skua, add to this Corncrake, Long-tailed Skua, 1000+ Manx Shearwater, Bottle-nosed and Common Dolphin and 7 Otter sightings.

Systematic List of Birds recorded

1Red-throated Diver
2Black-throated Diver
3Great Northern Diver
4Little Grebe
6Manx Shearwater
7Northern Gannet
8Great Cormorant
10Grey Heron
11Mute Swan
12Whooper Swan
13Greylag Goose
14Canada Goose
15Common Shelduck
16Eurasian Wigeon
17Common Teal
20Northern Shoveler
21Tufted Duck
22Common Scoter
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
40Northern Lapwing
44Common Snipe
45Bar-tailed Godwit
47Eurasian Curlew
48Common Redshank
50Common Sandpiper
51Purple Sandpiper
53Arctic Skua
54Long-tailed Skua
55Great Skua
56Black-headed Gull
57Common Gull
58Lesser Black-backed Gull
59Herring Gull
60Great Black-backed Gull
62Common Tern
63Arctic Tern
64Little Tern
65Common Guillemot
67Black Guillemot
70Rock Dove
71Collared Dove
72Common Cuckoo
73Short-eared Owl
74Sky Lark
75Sand Martin
76Barn Swallow
77House Martin
78Meadow Pipit
79Rock Pipit
80Grey Wagtail
81Pied Wagtail
86Common Stonechat
87Northern Wheatear
89Song Thrush
90Common Whitethroat
92Common Chiffchaff
93Wood Warbler
94Willow Warbler
96Coal Tit
97Blue Tit
98Great Tit
101Eurasian Jackdaw
103Hooded crow
105Common Starling
106House Sparrow
107Common Chaffinch
113Lesser Redpoll
114Reed Bunting

Mammals & others recorded

Common Dolphin
Harbour Porpoise
Common Dolphin
Harbour Porpoise


Foxmoth caterpillars 

Garden tiger moth caterpillars 

Magpie moth

Green-veined white butterfly 

Other Insects

Moss Carder bee

Northern white-tailed bumblebee 

Spear thistle lace bug

Large red damselfly

Ctenicera cuprea – Click Beetle

Notable Wildflowers

Northern marsh orchid ssp cochinea
Hebridean marsh orchid
Heath spotted orchid 
Marsh cinquefoil 
Wild pansy
Field pansy
Sea Sand wort
Sea milkwort 
Blue waterspeedwell
Water cress
Common Storksbill
Broad-leaved helleborine
Eared willow
Scots pine
Marsh lousewort
Yellow flag iris 
White waterlily
Maidenhair spleenwort
Wall rue
Hard fern
Wild thyme
Mountain everlasting 
Bog asphodel 
Rigid eyebright 
Kidney vetch 
Round leaved sundew
Slender St John’s wort
Sand sedge
Heath milkwort