Uists Birding tour June 5th-11th 2023

Uists Birdwatching Tour

Saturday 4th June – Saturday 11th June 2022

Tour leader – Chris Mills Norfolk Birding

Participants:- Jane Kenney, Sally Leach,  Paul & Wendy Scarborough, Richard & Jane Wicks

A beautiful Hen Harrier ♂ these were seen almost daily!

Accommodation

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

Food

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 4th June

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 5th June

This morning we drove up towards Mallaig for a ferry crossing at 1pm, stopping off en-route at Tyndrum for a full Scottish Breakfast. Birding started here with a selection of commoner birds, but also including a pair of most welcome Spotted Flycatchers, a singing Willow Warbler,

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, Oystercatcher, Common Gull and Shag. Then a quick stop and short walk along the river also gave us several Grey Wagtails

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

Highlights on the boat were balanced between birds and cetaceans! Birds were good with numbers of Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills, Gannet, Kittiwake and asmall group of Manx Shearwater plus 2-3 Black Guillemots.

Cetaceans were excellent with several Porpoise, a lovely group of c150 Common Dolphin, plus a distant Minke Whale!

As we reached and travelled across North Uist, it was a pleasant, quiet and dry evening and we were soon enjoying our first Short-eared Owls and Cuckoos!

We arrived and settled into the accommodation, it was a lovely, warm sunny evening, and outside we enjoyed the lovely sounds of bleating Lapwing, Redshank, several drumming Snipe and even our first Corncrake calling.

Lapwing were tending their young around the edge of the garden accommodation! 3+ Snipe drumming overhead.

Day Three – Monday 6th June

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.

We heard 2-3 Corncrake on the way there, but none looked to be in low vegetation, so I headed on to Balranald.

It was good conditions with sunshine and little wind, so I was hopeful we might glimpse our first Corncrake! One bird was very vocal and seem to be closer, we stopped and started scanning, I couldn’t believe our luck when I very quickly noted the Corncrake’s head and bill just above the vegetation as it proclaimed its presence! We soon had everyone on to it and bit by bit as we sat quietly it came closer with nice views and Corncrake well and truly in the bag!

After the Corncrake we enjoyed 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

We headed back for breakfast stopping off at Solas for the Coop shop. Just as we left here a lovely Hen Harrier came across the road affording great views, also another Short-eared Owl alongside the minibus hunting and our first Wheatears were along the roadside.

We had a late breakfast and then headed out along the Loch Portain road. It wasn’t too long before another Hen Harrier put in an appearance as it flew directly overhead! Several Shelduck, plus a pair with young were on the Loch, we then stopped halfway along the road and pulled into scan the ridge. A large bump along the ridge heightened my interest, I got the scope on to it, it was a perched Golden Eagle! We settled in the sun with the scopes on this bird, and around us were several Stonechats, singing Skylarks, 2-3 Twite and a pair of Wheatears. Also above the ridge Raven & Hooded Crows

The weather was glorious, wall to wall sunshine, so we headed up to another vantage point where we had lunch, overlooking a bay. From here there was a Great Northern Diver, Black Guillemot, a pair of Twite nest building, 2-3 Cuckoos noisily chasing each other around. There was a couple of Arctic Skuas that passed by flying over the distant hills, so we headed back up eventually to a higher point hoping to get better views. At this vantage point we could also see back down the ridge, we had the 2 Arctic Skuas closer and better views, one a dark morph bird the other a nice pale morph adult.

A complete surprise a few minutes later as I yelled out Osprey!! It flew past us heading overhead and North East and it’s seems that this same Osprey was seen over St. Kilda 2-3 hours earlier!

But today kept delivering even more birds as 2 adult Golden Eagles soared high over the ridge, one was mobbed by a Merlin, followed a few minutes later by a White-tailed Eagle!! An amazing first full day on North Uist!

Corncrake giving itself up!
Corncrake came closer giving pretty good views!
Hen Harrier a super ♂ overhead
This migrant Osprey was a great surprise

Day Four – Tuesday 7th June

We started the day after breakfast by heading South, it was another fine and dry day. Just after Lochmaddy we made a stop along the old road. A Short-eared Owl was hunting nearby and a super Hen Harrier was being mobbed by a Golden Plover.  Next we started scanning the pools and Wendy spotted a pair of Divers, we quietly stopped and stayed in the minibus whilst we were afforded great views of a pair of super breeding Red-throated Divers.  A great start to the day!

We then headed on to Benbecula, and headed for one of the Lochs I’ve visited many times, we were fortunate as on arrival one of the Red-necked Phalaropes  had just emerged from the vegetation and over the next 45 minutes it eventually came really close, giving stunning views.

We then visited another area, Loch Coot, one of the few Lochs that hosts, of course Coots!  Plus Moorhen and a good selection of other waterbirds, numerous Little Grebe, plus single Teal, several Gadwall, Shoveler and a good find a Garganey.

We had our lunch in the sunshine overlooking Stinky Bay! Lots and lots of Common Eider here, plus some nice summer plumage Sanderling and Dunlin along the shoreline, Ringed Plover and a Shelduck with a creche of a dozen youngsters! Also Gannets fishing offshore.

We then headed onwards to South Uist and headed along one of the beautiful mountain valleys, complete with all the Lochans. We reached a parking area and sat up scopes, we were soon able to watch a White-tailed Sea-Eagle at an eyrie complete with a single chick, it was distant but nice scope views.

Here there was also more Wheatears, Stonechats, Twite, Meadow Pipits all around us, plus Buzzard, Raven & Hooded Crows along the nearby ridge. The nearby Lochans held Common Sandpiper, Shag, Cormorant, Grey Heron, Shelduck, Eider, Red-breasted Mergansers and Cuckoo.

As we drove North the tide was high and a lovely flock of 40 Bar-tailed Godwit, with 5 Red Knot amongst them swirled over one of the causeways.

We then took a lovely walk out on the Rheuval track, we didn’t find the Divers that were our main quarry, but did have lovely views of a Hen Harrier for several minutes as it quartered the hillside above us, a nice group of 10+ Twite, several Curlew and a distant White-tailed Eagle being mobbed by a Peregrine.

The day rounded off at the accommodation with a Short-eared Owl hunting from the lounge window.

A pair of these superb breeding plumage Red-throated Divers
This Red-necked Phalarope gave stunningly close views
Stonechats seen commonly each day
Twite were seen regularly this one gave nice close views

Day Five – Wednesday 8th May

The weather was still fine and dry and we headed out after breakfast to Loch Paible, a shallow sea Loch with muddy edges and always an attractive area for passage waders – an initial scan with scopes gave us the expected Redshank, Dunlin, Lapwing, Oystercatcher, and numerous Ringed Plovers.  We then started more carefully looking through the Dunlin and Sanderling, and Paul picked out a nice adult plumage Little Stint, I then also found a winter plumage Curlew Sandpiper as we watched these, 3 Black-tailed Godwits also dropped in and nearby a Corncrake was also calling.

We walked out on to the shoreline and then out on to the beautiful sandy beach, there was more nice views of the shorebirds, lots of Ringed Plover, some nice close views of 20+ Eider, floating close by and calling! Offshore a summer plumaged Great Northern Diver was in the bay.

We then headed around to Loch Sandaray, there was a Short-eared Owl hunting on the way there. At the Loch a selection of Great black-backed and Herring Gulls loafing on the islands, in amongst these we found a nice 2cy Glaucous Gull! It looked a pure Glaucous Gull rather than one of the Viking Gulls that had been seen previously on South Uist and the Viking Gull we say in mid-May.

We next headed to RSPB Balranald, where we lunched and then headed out along the machair and shoreline. A single Corn Bunting was singing and a Corncrake could be heard calling. The bay still held groups of Dunlin, Sanderling, and several stunning looking Turnstone almost in fully acquired breeding plumage.  As we walked out we got nice views of 2-3 perched Arctic Tern, though the numbers of birds in the colony area were very small and concerning. We also had nice views of both Great Skua and then a closer dark morph adult Arctic skua as they sped along the shoreline.

A quick look on the sea, proved quiet so we headed back to the accommodation where another Short-eared Owl performed on the drive back.

This 2cy Glaucous Gull was at Loch Sandaray
Redshank also in their spotty breeding plumage
Stunning breeding plumage Dunlin on the machair
Lovely views of the breeding Ringed Plovers on the machair

Day 6 – Thursday 9th June

The weather eventually started to crack today, in stayed mainly dry but a strong SE wind had blown up overnight and was forecast to get worse as the day went along.

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 Great Northern Diver, Black Guillemot, Curlew, Rock Pipit but the real stars and showing brilliantly were 3 Otters, looking like a mother and two cubs, brilliantly spotted by Jane out on rocks distantly but decent views through the scope.

We then headed out on to the Machair near Bailemor, 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 breeding Little and Arctic Terns but again it’s concerning to see much lower numbers than previous years. In the dunes we also found another Corn Bunting singing.

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.

We then headed towards Balranald for coffee, toilets, and lunch. I decided to take in Loch Sandaray as it was on the way, this proved very fruitful as we discovered the Ruff in resplendent plumage was still present! Plus the only Wigeon of the trip were a pair present still on here.

After a late lunch, the weather was deteriorating with rain showers now accompanying the gusting wind, so I headed to Langass, where we had a quick look at the 5000 year old Burial chamber, plus the stone circle of Pobull Fhinn.

The path behind Langass Lodge offered up Buzzard, flyover Siskin, Raven and lots of Garden Tiger caterpillars! It was now raining and we took refuge in Langass Lodge where the coffee and cake can be highly recommended!

The final drama today was back at the accommodation, when all the breeding waders erupted into the skies, I shot outside to see what was happening, to discover a Sparrowhawk, the only one of the trip, sadly it had just killed a fully fledged Lapwing!

Short-eared Owls seen daily during the trip
This superb ♂  breeding plumage Ruff still present after 3 weeks

Day 7 – Friday 20th May

Today started with strong SW wind and later in the day showers!

We headed out after breakfast towards Loch Portain. This was the obvious location to get out the gusting wind, it was nicely sheltered, and we had a really good morning sat comfortably out of the wind in the remote bay.

Out over the sea 2 Great Skuas, were seen regularly, plus a single Arctic Skua, 3-4 Arctic Terns were back and forth, plus there was 2 Black Guillemot feeding in the bay. Out in the bay there were several Shag and Red-breasted merganser. Paul then located a Diver out on the sea, which turned out to be a moulting Black-throated Diver, the white scapular patches just coming through, frustratingly it was in between two large islands and it drifted out of view, not to be seen again.

Around us a pair of Twite were feeding and carrying nesting material, at least 3 Cuckoos were calling and seen perched and in flight.

Next up, came 2 adult White-tailed eagle both flying past us and then perched out on the distant rocky islands

As we left the area we stopped for a while in another watchpoint, though the strong wind made it difficult to do anything other than scan from the minibus.

The benefit of this was a super breeding plumage Golden Plover decided to land very close by and gave lovely views as it wandered along the close moorland calling.

We had lunch booked in the Berneray Bistro and we headed over there and had a cracking male Red Deer stag close by as we drove over. The Berneray Bistro was excellent with a  lovely selection of local seafoods (I exclude the farmed Salmon from that list!).

We then visited Eilidh Carr at the amazing little Coralbox Gift Shop, she also has Webcams running on the bay there and you might get lucky and see an Otter! Take a look – https://www.coralboxwebcam.co.uk/

After lunch it was raining heavily and the wind was reaching gusts of over 40 mph so we headed back to the accommodation and it left plenty of time for everyone to get organised for a very early start tomorrow morning.

Fingers were crossed the ferry was going as we were put on an amber warning!

This stunning breeding plumage Golden Plover came very close
A fine Red Deer Stag on the way to Berneray

Day 8 Saturday 21st May

It was a very early mooring alarm call at 3.45am! We drove South Uist, of course even in the strong winds we managed our final Short-eared Owl of the trip! We then caught the return ferry to Mallaig arriving at just after 9am.

It was a bouncy ride back and just Paul and I braved the outward deck for seawatching, though this did provide 6-7 Storm Petrels, and also prolonged views of hundreds of Manx Shearwaters right alongside the ferry affording great close binocular views for a couple of hours, also plenty of Puffin, Guillemot, Razorbill, Kittiwakes, 2 Great Skua and several Fulmar.

Also briefly a small pod of Common Dolphins were alongside the ferry.

I transported most of the group back to Glasgow, but Richard and Jane stayed with me until I dropped them off at Newark railway station.

Day 8 Saturday 21st May

It was a very early morning alarm call at 3.45am! We drove South Uist, of course even in the strong winds we managed our final Short-eared Owl of the trip! We then caught the return ferry to Mallaig arriving at just after 9am.

It was a bouncy ride back and just Paul and I braved the outward deck for seawatching, though this did provide 6-7 Storm Petrels, and also prolonged views of hundreds of Manx Shearwaters right alongside the ferry affording great close binocular views for a couple of hours, also plenty of Puffin, Guillemot, Razorbill, Kittiwakes, 2 Great Skua and several Fulmar.

Also briefly a small pod of Common Dolphins were alongside the ferry.

I transported most of the group back to Glasgow, but Richard and Jane stayed with me until I dropped them off at Newark railway station.

The group enjoying a meal at the Lochmaddy Hotel

Systematic List of birds recorded includes travel to and from Glasgow

1Red-throated Diver
2Black-throated Diver
3Great Northern Diver
4Little Grebe
5Fulmar
6Manx Shearwater
7Northern Gannet
8Storm Petrel
9Great Cormorant
10Shag
11Grey Heron
12Mute Swan
13Whooper Swan
14Greylag Goose
15Canada Goose
16Common Shelduck
17Eurasian Wigeon
18Common Teal
19Garganey
20Gadwall
21Mallard
22Northern Shoveler
23Tufted Duck
24Common Eider
25Red-breasted Merganser
26Goosander
27Golden Eagle
28White-tailed Eagle
29Hen Harrier
30Eurasian Sparrowhawk
31Common Buzzard
32Common Kestrel
33Peregrine Falcon
34Merlin
35Common Pheasant
36Corncrake
37Moorhen
38Common Coot
39Oystercatcher
40Great Ringed Plover
41European Golden Plover
42Northern Lapwing
43Red Knot
44Sanderling
45Dunlin
46Little Stint
47Curlew Sandpiper
48Ruff
49Common Snipe
50Black-tailed Godwit
51Bar-tailed Godwit
52Eurasian Curlew
53Common Redshank
54Common Sandpiper
55Turnstone
56Red-necked Phalarope
57Arctic Skua
58Great Skua
59Black-headed Gull
60Common Gull
61Lesser Black-backed Gull
62Herring Gull
63Great Black-backed Gull
64Glaucous Gull
65Kittiwake
66Common Tern
67Arctic Tern
68Little Tern
69Common Guillemot
70Razorbill
71Black Guillemot
72Puffin
73Woodpigeon
74Rock Dove
75Collared Dove
76Common Cuckoo
77Short-eared Owl
78Sky Lark
79Sand Martin
80Barn Swallow
81House Martin
82Meadow Pipit
83Rock Pipit
84Grey Wagtail
85Pied Wagtail
86Wren
87Dunnock
88Robin
89Common Stonechat
90Northern Wheatear
91Blackbird
92Song Thrush
93Blackcap
94Willow Warbler
95Goldcrest
96Spotted Flycatcher
97Coal Tit
98Blue Tit
99Great Tit
100Eurasian Jay
101Magpie
102Eurasian Jackdaw
103Rook
104Hooded crow
105Raven
106Common Starling
107House Sparrow
108Common Chaffinch
109Greenfinch
110Goldfinch
111Siskin
112Linnet
113Twite
114Common Bullfinch
115Corn Bunting

Mammals & others

Red Deer were seen regularly on The Uists. Common Porpoise were seen in small numbers, a pod of 150+ Common Dolphins were seen from the ferry on the outward ferry, which also gave us a distant brief Minke Whale. We also saw a Mother Otter with 2 Cubs for a prolonged period. Common Seals were seen regularly, 1-2 Grey Seals were seen, and Rabbits were seen regularly. A Wood Mouse or also called Long-tailed Field mouse was retrospectively identified from photographs.

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

This tour will run again in June 2023 – please contact us if you are interested in joining the tour.

chrismills@norfolkbirding.com

www.norfolkbirding.com

Mobile 07876 357677

Clachan Lodge our accommodation on North Uist