Sunday, 1 July 2018

Hebridean & St Kilda Odyssey..Pt6..Harris & Homeward Bound

3rd June.  We needed cash today and began to realise it might not be that easy to get!  I suspect the cashpoint in Tarbet hasn’t paid out since Bjorn left with his Viking friends!  Getting cash involved a journey to Stornoway, not a thriving metropolis on a Sunday, so an 80+ mile round journey was involved.

Harris

Anyway, our journey allowed us to check out the mountains again en-route and we were not without some decent bird sightings.  There were no new birds for the list today, but we were happy to see once again birds such as Red Throated Diver, Grey Heron, Common Buzzard, Hen Harrier, Great Skua, Arctic Tern, Cuckoo, Wheatear, Hooded Crow, Raven, and Twite, to name but a few.  Early morning mist had quickly cleared so we viewed the mountains again in sunshine and good light.
The bustling pub where we ate a late lunch in Tarbet didn’t seem to be affected by the observance of Sunday as a Holy Day!  When we visited Scalpay an island now connected to Harris by a road bridge, we did see just how seriously religion is taken on the islands as the church car-parks were full and the narrow twisting roads jammed when all went home.  Scalpay retains an appearance of a close working community and I’d like to explore the area much more in the future.  It has the oldest lighthouse on Western Isles

We returned to Spinners Cottage to find that Karen had prepared some treats for us.  In my case a plate of strawberries and meringue which I cleared off rather quickly!  We enjoyed a good chat and views over the bay on what was our last evening on the Outer Hebrides.  We had a very early start in the morning in order to catch the ferry from Tarbet to Uig, Skye.

Approaching Skye

4th June.  We were off after a very early breakfast having said goodbye to Karen and Mac.  Of all our accommodation during this trip Spinners Cottage was the most welcoming and comfortable, so it was hard to say goodbye, especially as we were now on a homeward path.   The ferry crossing to Uig, Skye was done under a rather murky sky and I thought rain was on the way.  I remember a very good sighting of a Great Skua in front of the ferry.  As it happens we completed our trip without seeing a drop of rain.  The sun was back by afternoon, but in truth we were cream crackered and glad of a rest at the hotel.  We did add Mistle Thrush to our trip list today and had a drive over the Skye Bridge.  We noted the Gavin Maxwell museum, but gave it a miss as neither of us are great fans of his.  We also noted that one of the small islands used to support the bridge was where Gavin Maxwell’s last home was.  He would not be happy to see it now!  I’m told that there are many wonderful spots on Skye, but time and tiredness ensured that we did not see them, although we had good views of the Cuillins.

Approaching the mainland 

5th June.  If I remember nothing else of Skye, I shall remember Grumpy George and his parrot.  Grumpy George has a shop at the Armadale ferry port, Skye, yes you’ve guessed, called Grumpy George’s.  We looked inside, spent some cash and met George (who wasn’t at all grumpy) and his 40 years old parrot.  The parrot had broken her leg 20 years ago so was a bit shaky on it.  George was a real character, swore quite a bit but in a manner that you had to smile at, and had some stunning photographs of birds taken on Skye.  We looked at some of the images on George’s laptop and had a chat before saying goodbye and making for the ferry.   The short crossing to Mallaig brought us sightings of several Harbour Porpoise and the odd Bottle-nosed Dolphin.   Common Buzzard flew along the Skye shore.

We were soon driving away from Mallaig on the ‘Road to the Isles’, only we were driving away from them.  A wonderfully scenic route was enjoyed as we headed towards Fort William, eventually having great views of Ben Nevis in the sunshine.  We stopped for a bite to eat at the monument commemorating the Jacobite uprising and took walk to look at the view of the viaduct on the Fort William to Mallaig steam railway line.  Harry potter fans won’t need telling about it.  Long -tailed Tit was added to our trip list at some point.

Jacobite monument and Loch Shiel

Ben Nevis

We only stopped at Fort William for petrol before heading towards the road taking us through Glencoe and Rannoch Moor which must be one of the most exciting drives in Britain.  We stopped for photos in what was now real heat.  A few clouds drifted across the area making it for stunning views under great lighting conditions.  I could have photographed along this route all day.  We eventually arrived at our accommodation at Strachur overlooking Loch Fyne by late afternoon.  I found I could look over the loch from my bed and even whilst in the shower.  Midges were numerous by evening.





Glencoe

6th June.  We added Sparrowhawk to the trip list on the drive home via Loch Lomond, Glasgow and Carlisle.  Yes, the trip had ended, but the sun still shone!

Tired and travelled, but still not without our vital spark

On reflection, I feel this trip to have been one of the best I’ve ever undertaken, and I now understand why folk are so drawn to the Outer Hebrides.  We’d learned much about the islands and their history.  We covered over 1,600 miles by car and with added boat and ferry journeys circa 2.000 miles in total, visited 13 islands with many more seen in passing and ended with a bird list of 111 species (we didn’t count an uncertain Pomarine Skua sighting) and mammal list of 10 species.  Someone commented to me whilst on South Uist that we were a bit late for the birds.  Not entirely sure what he meant, but perhaps he thought us ‘twitchers’, we aren’t.   Some standout highlights for me were the St Kilda experience, the visit to Mingulay and evenings at the foot of the mountains on South Uist.  Too many bird highlights to mention, but the Golden Eagle experience, the Red-necked Phalaropes and the breeding plumaged Red-throated Divers and Great Northern Divers are up there among the best.  My thanks go to everyone we met and talked to, and who helped make this trip such a wonderful experience.  Of course, special thanks to Sam, my travel companion and great friend.

I hope all who have stayed with the odyssey have enjoyed it.

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Hebridean & St Kilda Odyssey..Pt 5..St Kilda

'Whatever he studies, the future observer of St Kilda will be haunted the rest of his life by the place, and tantalised by the impossibility of describing it, to those who have not seen it.' James Fisher, Naturalist. (1947)

 
St Kilda Wren Troglodytes troglodytes hirtensis. Courtesy of Samuel Hood

2nd June.  Sam and I had booked our trip to St Kilda with Sea Harris in February and even at that time we weren’t soon enough to get onto the priority list so were put onto the standby list.  That meant we were dependant upon there being two days of good enough conditions to allow two trips to run on consecutive days.  In these circumstances and bearing in mind the difficulties involved in getting to St Kilda we hadn’t built our hopes up only for them be sadly downed.  We’d convinced ourselves that our trip to the Outer Hebrides would in any event be a great one and so it was, so a trip to St Kilda would be a bonus.   As it happens, we hit a period of great weather for our trip to the Outer Hebrides and so the standby trip did run.  What follows is an account of our adventure with images that can speak volumes as to how exciting this trip is.

We were up for breakfast before 6:00am. Looked out of the window and saw little because of mist!  I wasn’t downhearted as it was still early, and in any event one of my all time top experiences has been out at sea on the Pacific coast of Canada in thick mist which was burnt off by the sun in time for us to see amazing wildlife and scenery.  We were down to the harbour at Leverburgh in plenty of time to meet up with the crew of our boat The Enchanted Isle and we were soon to learn that young guys Darren and Iain had been brought up on the Outer Hebrides and were keen to share their knowledge.  Once into our lifejackets we were off on what was to be just over a 2.5-hour sea crossing of the 44 miles to St Kilda.  It might make good reading to say we faced high winds, that we were buffeted by a giant swell and that we faced the biting cold and trauma with stout hearts.  In fact, the Atlantic was like a mill pond, there was no wind what so ever and we felt quite warm even out on deck of the small craft.  It was ideal conditions for watching seabirds despite the mist which on occasions cleared to show the sun breaking through only for it to disappear again and mist to once again descend.  It was peaceful, dramatic and so good to be out there on the ocean.

Great Skua.  Courtesy of Samuel Hood

Sam and I spent most of the time on the outer deck, despite our comfortable airline styled seats inside.  About half way out we watched 5 or 6 Rock Doves following the boat, with one making several aborted attempts to land on the boat.  We guessed they may be lost in the mist and the crew said they had never seen Rock Doves out here before.  Sam commented that he now had some idea how crews in mist and under attack during the war must have felt.  I knew exactly what he meant.  Every now and then we would enter an area where the mist had lifted, and sun light broke through, only for us to enter the mist again.  Birds would fly away and just disappear into the mist.  We had some good bird sightings including several Storm Petrels which where seen lifting from the ocean.  Other birds included numerous Fulmar, Gannet, Shag, Eider, Kittiwake and other gulls, Arctic Tern, Black Guillemot, Guillemot, Puffin and Razorbill and then nearer to St Kilda Great and Arctic Skua.  We eventually saw the island of Hirta emerge from the mist, and we were nearly at our destination.

After some problems with the motor of the dinghy which was to take us ashore, we eventually landed at Hirta with help from guys from another boat and their dinghy, where we were met by Ciaran the Seabird Ranger.  Someone mentioned the mist spoiling the view and Ciaran suggested that had there been wind it may have shifted the mist but could have spelt rough seas and seasickness so the view then would also have been spoilt in such circumstances!  That killed off further comment and we got on and enjoyed our hours on Hirta!  I have now seen a report which suggests a couple of weeks beforehand a ranger had to deal with a difficult case of all aboard being severely seasick, bruised and battered during a quite horrific incident where the nurse had to be sent for.  I’m glad I read that after our trip and not before.  I didn’t feel the mist (which was lifting by now) spoilt the experience anyway, rather it added much to the dramatic effect and atmosphere.  Sam knew Ciaran from his time spent on Fair Isle, so we got the chance to photograph Ciaran’s Snowy Owl pellet, although we never saw or expected to see the Snowy Owl that was currently on Hirta, but keeping out of the way of the skuas high up in the hills.

Snowy Owl Pellet.  Enlarge the image and see the bones more clearly.

Fulmar

Sam managed to capture an image of the St Kilda Wren Troglodytes troglodytes hirtensis and there were several of this sub species singing as we explored the village remains.  I was only vaguely aware of the history of the St Kilda community and my intention is to educate myself about the details and the book St Kilda- The Last and Outmost Isle is due for delivery as I type, as is a CD of music inspired by old St Kilda songs.  Interestingly we heard a Cuckoo on the island and later Ciaran confirmed that they are rarely recorded at St Kilda.  There were plenty of wild/feral Soay Sheep too.  There is some evidence to suggest that this ancient breed of sheep arrived with the first settlers on St Kilda around 4,000 years ago.  We walked high above the village which gave a good view point on the remains of the village and it was here that we ate our very nice packed lunches.  Sam later encouraged me up the area called ‘The Gap’ where we rested, I needed to by then, and watched birds including Great Skuas and Arctic Skuas.  The mist rolled in at times and as it hit the sheer cliff where it tended to rise before us, giving a very interesting ghostly effect.  It would not have been safe to walk to the very top of the cliffs as mist kept falling, that’s my excuse anyway.  We had been warned by Ciaran not to attempt such a walk as the area is treacherous in misty conditions.  I began to wonder how many people had fallen off these sheer and vertiginous cliffs.  Before we had reached the top of the gap we had found the situation quite surreal as we heard a Geordie accent coming from afar and listened to the bleeping of a reversing truck in the village area where there was work being done on the army post.  We didn’t allow this to spoil our experience.  I spoke with the Geordie voice later when I bumped into a bloke from South Shields.  I mean, you go to the Islands of St Kilda and there is another Geordie there!



Village remains


Interesting structures high above village that I need to research

I'd made it and had a sheer drop off the cliff behind me!

We took another look around the village including the graveyard and the museum and even had a quick look in the shop.  I was hoping to buy myself a St Kilda hat or something similar.  I was disappointed with the hats, they were awful and in tones of light blue and pink and every bit of clothing had a Puffin on it which made me think I was in Seahouses!  Not sure why they don’t use St Kilda Wren or at least a Fulmar or Skua.  They got no money from me although I’m sure they wouldn’t care as one bloke seemed to purchase half the shop.  He either liked Puffins, had lots of money or perhaps both.

Oystercatchers on the village walls

Over four hours on Hirta flew over and we were then treated to a slice of homemade ginger cake and a mug of coffee on board the boat before the best part of the trip, a slow boat trip around the islands and stacks with a very interesting commentary at times from Iain.  One minute we were looking at stacks in mist, then suddenly in sun.  I have to say such an adventure will take some beating as these cliffs and stacks are an amazing sight.


Hirta

We saw thousands of Gannets, Fulmars and auks and numbers of Great and Arctic Skuas at close range.  By now the mist had lifted somewhat but there was still enough to give a real atmosphere.  We had spoken to a couple visiting from New England and they were greatly impressed and said they had been mindful of Game of Thrones as they went past the cliffs and stacks.  I had earlier mentioned a Lord of the Rings atmosphere, so we had been thinking along similar lines.





During this part of the trip and on the journey back to Leverburgh we had wonderful sightings of birds, their flight reflected on the ocean in stunning lighting conditions, as once again the sun at times shone through mist.  Sam and I were out on the open deck for most of the return trip across the ‘mill pond’.



 Gannet. Courtesy of Samuel Hood



It had been an amazing adventure and I’m pleased we had chosen Harris Sea Tours to take us as everything was so well organised and the boat and crew excellent.  We were buzzing when we arrived in the harbour and quickly sorted ourselves out before we went for dinner in the local restraunt.  It was an OK meal and we got talking to the couple on the next table to us, Linda and Charles (hope I remember the names correctly) from Burton on Trent.  They invited us to join them and we ended the evening chatting away as if we had known each other for years.  I don’t think either Charles or Linda had any great desire to go to St Kilda, but their love of the Outer Hebrides shone through everything they said, and they explained that it was a regular trip that they made.  They certainly understood our excitement about our visit today.  Charles had recently faced a very serious medical operation and they had not known whether they would make this trip at all.  Thankfully they did, and I do hope they are able to return many times in the future.  They were lovely sincere people and our meeting of them added greatly to today’s experience.





As we drove back to Spinners Cottage we watched a Short-Eared Owl and once back to Geocrab watched the Otter again in the bay before completing our days bird list.  And so, to bed, hardly believing we had been to St Kilda.  Sam has dreamt of going since he was a ‘wee’ lad and as for me, I just didn’t think I’d ever get there.  Now I have had time to reflect, today’s trip has entered my top ten list of ‘experiences’ with the natural world.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Hebridean & St Kilda Odyssey..Pt4..Harris and Lewis

31st May.  As I loaded my luggage into the car early morning I welcomed the overcast sky and lower temperatures.  I had hoped that the hotel would offer us an early breakfast, but that didn’t seem to fit in with their arrangements, so we had a cup of tea before leaving.  We were soon heading for the ferry at Berneray which would take us to Leverburgh, Harris.  We saw our first Arctic Skua of the trip along the way as well as Short Eared Owl and were to see more of the former before the day was out.

The ferry trip was rewarding, and the sun was soon out again and the temperatures rising.  Birds seen included Red Throated Diver, Great Northern Diver (we were to see 30+ today), Fulmar, Gannet, Shag, Red breasted Merganser, Great Skua, Arctic Skua (with some fine displays of kleptoparasitism), Kittiwake and other gulls, Arctic Tern, Puffin, Black Guillemot 50+, Guillemot, and Razorbill.  We also had a close sighting of White Tailed Sea Eagle as it rested on a small rocky islet.   As we neared Leverburgh Common Dolphins and Grey Seals were seen and Sam had a distant view of Basking Sharks, a lifer for him.  We ate lunch at Leverburgh and noted a cash point inside the shop which on reflection I should have used.  You’ll understand why later, in blog 6!

Interior of St Clements Church

We were in no rush to get to our next accommodation so took a drive around areas of Harris.  We initially found St Clements Church that we looked around.  A very old building with a very interesting graveyard.  Next it was into high ground where we stopped to take photographs and got talking to a Swiss couple who I seem to remember were moving through the islands in a southerly direction.  The gentleman described parts of Harris and Lewis as being like the surface of the moon’.  I don’t think he meant that as a compliment but did explain that he thought the coastline beautiful.  The couple had visited the Shiant Islands and had really enjoyed the visit.  We explained that we hoped to visit St Kilda and simply didn’t have the time to visit the Shiants too, although it was somewhere we had considered and would like to go to one day.  We all stood and watched a close by Cuckoo before going our separate ways.

Harris Upland

I think it was Hobrgodost Bay where we next stopped to take in the sounds and view of the turquoise waters washing into the rocky and sandy bay, whilst we were being careful not to fall off the edge of the cliff which was in places covered in Thrift.  We stayed there sometime and had good sightings of two wonderfully plumaged Great Northern Divers which showed really well, but just a little too far away to produce good photographs.  We saw our first and only Whimbrel of the trip at another bay where the bird called as it flew low across the sands in front of us.  Our bird list was doing OK today and included several other waders in Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Lapwing, Dunlin, Redshank, Curlew, Common Sandpiper and Snipe.  There was also the now expected Common Buzzards, Hooded Crows and Ravens along with the likes of Wheatear and Twite.

Bay

We arrived at our accommodation at Spinners Cottage, Geocrab by early evening and we were warmly greeted by our hosts Karen and Mac.  We watched an Otter and Common Seal from the dining room window and took a walk around the bay this evening before completing our bird list for the day and having an early night.  As my head hit the pillow I didn’t have much time to ponder on fact that the geology surrounding us had its origins 3,000 million years ago!

Inlet at Geocrab

1st June.  It was going to be quite a long drive today as we headed for the Butt of Lewis, the most northerly point of the Outer Hebrides.  We planned to take in a little culture and history on the way but first we enjoyed the scenic route through Harris and the mountains and into Lewis.  One of our first stops was at the Standing Stones of Calanais.  This site is 5,000 years old and is the centre of several smaller sites around similar age.  The stones are impressive, and we found a real live middle-aged Druid with drum etc doing her thing.  This lady seemed quite determined to get into any photograph I was taking but she misjudged the level of my determination to make sure she didn’t!  The centre and restraunt ensures this is a busy site, a little too busy for my liking although I enjoyed my cup of tea.  We enjoyed much more our next stop at dun Charlabhaigh, the Iron Age Broch where we had the site to ourselves.  However, the best site of all was The Blackhouse at Arnol.  I had just read about Blackhouses on The Shiants in Adam Nicolson’s book Sea Room.  The Blackhouse we entered was still inhabited in the 1960s and I think we were both able to appreciate the more recent history, much more than the ancient monuments that we had seen earlier.  This is a very authentic site, with peat fire and smoke which stayed on my chest the rest of the afternoon.  I laughed when I read a critical comment from a visitor who expressed the opinion that there wasn’t much to see in the Blackhouse.  They must have expected fitted carpets, hi fi and TV!  The site includes the new house built to replace the old Blackhouse.  I understand that it was very damp and in any case the family packed up and returned to the Blackhouse to live!  We took a short walk to the nearby RSPB reserve at Loch na Muilne which holds Red Necked Phalarope.  It was bleak even in the sunshine, but Sam managed to spot one Red Necked Phalarope before it disappeared into loch growth.

A section of the standing stones

Broch

Blackhouse interior

We eventually arrived at the Butt of Lewis and its ancient cliffs.  We spoke to a guy from Liverpool who said it was the windiest place in Europe.  Now I’m not at all sure that is the case, but I understand it was once in the Guinness Book of Records as the windiest place in the UK.  In any event it was sunny and warm today with not a breath of wind in the air, just as well as we were perilously close to the edge of the cliffs at times.  Fulmars nested amongst the Thrift.  We watched at least 6 Harbour Porpoise below us and Grey Seals.  Birds seen included Red Throated Diver, Great Northern Diver, Fulmar, Manx Shearwater, Gannet, Shag, Eider, Great Skua, Arctic Skua, Kittiwake and other gulls, Arctic Tern, Black Guillemot, Guillemot, Razorbill and Rock Dove.  Well if true Rock Doves do still exist I guess this is a spot to see them!  We were so wrapped up in the wildlife we gave the Lighthouse only a cursory glance.  Anyway, we had made it to the northern tip of the Outer Hebrides.

Rock formation at Butt of Lewis

Grey Seal

Fulmar amongst the Thrift

The return drive brought us Red Deer at a stop in the mountainous area and birds once again included Common Buzzard, Raven, Hooded Crow and Cuckoo.  Merlin was also seen again, along with numbers of waders.

A return via the mountains

In the evening we once again watched from the dining room a dog Otter in the bay as it fed and then marked its territory.  One of the best sightings of Otter I’ve ever had.  We watched for about twenty minutes.  The Common Sandpiper called as it flew around the bay.  I learned tonight too that the name Spinners Cottage stems from the fact that years ago the place was used for accommodating the female spinners in the area.  Geocrab is pronounced with a hard G and geo means cleft /chasm in a cliff, whilst the area was once re-nouwned for its crabs.

We went off to bed quite early again as tomorrow was our day for St Kilda, and yes it was definitely on!  I’d left all the details at home, but Karen had kindly sorted it all out for us on our arrival so all we had to do tomorrow was turn up at Leverburgh with our gear and packed lunches.  The weather was set fair and I gave an inward sigh of relief having heard about some difficult crossings to St Kilda!

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Hebridean & St Kilda Odyssey..Pt3.. S & N Uist & Benbecula

28th May.  Our hotel at Lochcarnan, South Uist was well situated for our exploration of not only South Uist, but also Benbecula, North Uist, Berneray and Eriskay, islands all joined by causeways.  We were soon heading off towards RSPB Balranald on the coast of North Uist finding our first Whooper Swans of the trip along the way.  On arrived at the reserve quite early and there were few people about as we checked out the information centre.  I was pleased to note that there was no cafĂ© or gift shop to be seen and I don’t recall seeing any staff.  It didn’t feel like a reserve and in my opinion that is the way it should be!  We were soon listening to Corncrake and photographing the sub species of Starling and soon watching and listening to Corn Buntings.  We then set off on the almost three miles of farmland, coastal and machair path.  I have to say that at the end it seemed more than three miles in the heat and we were pleased to have the cooler atmosphere near to the ocean for a good part of the time.  A wonderful and rewarding walk.

Starling

Corn Bunting

I thought this a wonderful reserve with fine views and excellent machair areas.  From the coastal path we were able to watch Great Northern Divers 10+, Fulmer, Gannet, Shag, Grey Heron, Shelduck, Eider, Red Breasted Merganser, Kittiwake and other gulls, and Arctic Tern, and find our first Rock Pipits of the trip.  In the bays we found our first Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Turnstone and Dunlin of the trip, along with Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Common Sandpiper, Redshank, Curlew and Snipe.  As we rested at times on the machair we were able to photograph Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Wheatear and listen to Cuckoo, Skylark and Meadow Pipit.  Both Grey and Common Seals were also seen along the coast line.  We weren’t the only photographers and we got chatting to Alex, a visitor from Hamburg, Germany.  Alex was carrying a heavy load of equipment and was probably happy to stop for a rest and chat.  We found that he had visited Northumberland and had friends living there.  He told us he really had a desire to photograph Slavonian Grebes and we told him of our close encounter and photographs of them in Sweden at a nest site to which he showed great interest.  I think Alex was surprised by Sam’s knowledge of German common names for birds which helped the conversation along, although I have to say Alex spoke perfect English.  After a long chat we all moved on, but we bumped into Alex again whilst awaiting a ferry and he asked us again about the Slavonian Grebes in Sweden and give us his email address, so we could send him details.  Afterwards we walked past an Arctic Tern breeding area where the noise and threatening flights towards us reminded me a little of the Farne Islands.  I seem to remember that we saw Wigeon, Teal and Tufted Duck in the area too. We ended the walk feeling that we had passed through and excellent reserve and it restored some of my confidence in the RSPB.

R
Ringed Plover

Dunlin

Wheatear

After lunch on our drive back we stopped at Committee Road in the wild upland area and Sam got out his Swedish army stove again to make us cups of tea.  This area is renowned for raptors, but initially we found little.  Then Golden Plover was heard, and Kestrel seen hovering.  Kestrels are not at all common in the Outer Hebrides.  As we left we had a decent but short sighting of our first Hen Harrier (male) of the trip, as it flew and dropped behind the hills.  Time didn’t allow us to return to the area.  We visited Dun An Sticir which is two small islands in a loch which are connected to the mainland by a rather tricky rocky causeway.  It is an area of historical importance with some remains of a Broch on one of the islands.  We explored parts of Benbecula too.

In the evening we returned to the heathland and mountain area that we had discovered the previous night and as well as the scenery and birds, enjoyed sightings of Red Deer and watched the full moon over the mountains before watching a wonderful sunset again and listening to birdsong and watching Short Eared Owls at 10:00pm.  Later we realised we had seen 7+ Short Eared Owls today.  Sleep was welcome.

Red Deer

Full Moon over mountains

Hebridean Sunset

29th May.  We began today again under sun and clear skies and found a rather nice wetland site as we set off to further explore the Uists and Benbecula.  We were watching the site when someone told us there were Red Necked Phalarope visible from a little further along the road.  As you might imagine we didn’t hang around and sure enough we soon had good close sightings of 5 Red Necked Phalarope.  This was a UK tick for me as I had missed them in Shetland.  A car stopped, and I initially thought the guy was going to complain about where we were parked, but no, it was the land owner who talked about the birds on his land.  We were able to put him right on how many Red Necked Phalaropes there were.  The guy was clearly proud off his patch.  Almost as rewarding as the phalaropes were breeding plumaged Black Tailed Godwit, Dunlin and Ruff, also new for the trip list as was the Little Grebe that was heard and the Shoveler seen.  Other birds seen included Grey Heron, Mallard, Teal, Moorhen, Redshank, Snipe, Curlew, Ringed Plover, Cuckoo, Skylark, Swallow, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Wren and Hooded Crow.  We decided to visit again in the evening.

After our good start to the day we took a walk to a rocky inlet which on reaching we felt looked ideal for Otters.  We found a comfortable spot to sit and we waited.  We watched Common Seals and enjoyed the sight and sounds of birds in an otherwise silent area, but we saw no Otters.  Another scenic area brought us sighting of Red Deer and a very attractive view of the mountains.  During our drive we had a very nice sighting of a male Hen Harrier as it carried prey away before dropping again and eating it in our view.  The bird eventually disappeared after showing well again in flight.  We found that we would visit wild areas and often not have much luck with the likes of Hen Harrier and Short Eared Owl but suddenly find them near buildings including our hotel and on this occasion the Hen Harrier had been hunting near to the community centre.  Red Throated Diver was also seen on a loch today.

In the early evening we returned to the Red Necked Phalarope but didn’t have quite such good sightings as in the morning.  We did enjoy some great sights and sounds on this very warm evening including calling Cuckoo, singing Dunlin in display flight, drumming Snipe, calling and displaying Redshank and calling Curlew.  Then a highlight, a very distant White-Tailed Sea Eagle being mobbed by a Common Buzzard was picked up by Sam.  Although distant there was no doubt what we had, so we drove closer to the area that it was flying but sadly didn’t re-find the bird, but we had had our first White Tailed Sea Eagle of the trip.

We returned to our now regular evening haunt beneath the mountains.  We saw the Shetland ponies again and on our return enjoyed another amazing sunset and watched Short Eared Owls.


30th May.  We decided to spend our time on South Uist today and began by exploring the raptor viewing route we had found on our first evening.  We met the Shetland Ponies on the way and this is where I think I lost my ‘super cool’ sun glasses.  If your passing by this area and see a Shetland Pony wearing sun glasses, they will be mine!  I was a bit concerned as you really do need sun glasses on the island because of the very intense light, but I coped in the morning.


Heath Spotted Orchid

We didn’t climb really high, but we did have a decent walk into the foothills and although no raptors were found apart from Common Buzzard we weren’t disappointed in what we did find which included some very nice Heath Spotted Orchids, our first Twite of the trip, Wheatear, Stonechat, Four Spotted Chaser Dragonflies and Large Red Damselflies, oh yes, and a Frog.  I really enjoyed this walk and we talked to a couple exploring the area, the man being a retired Geologist who had worked in Edinburgh.

Four Spot Chaser Dragonfly

Large Red Damselfly

Large Red Damselfly

I was a wee bit concerned about my eyes, so we asked an assistant in the restraunt where we had lunch if she knew where we could get some.  She didn’t, but suggested we try ‘The’ Eriksay shop, which seemed to suggest it was the only shop and thankfully this shop did have a selection of sun glasses, a pair which I now possess.  Maybe not as cool as my lost pair, but they served the purpose.

As we returned we stopped at a sandy bay.  We found a blind hill in the road suddenly came to an end and there was a drop to the beach.  I wonder how many unsuspecting tourists have ended up on the beach?  We watched a few birds from this area including Lapwing, Redshank and Ringed Plover and most importantly Hen Harrier.  We saw both male and female Hen Harrier today.

Whooper Swans

As we were later driving along Sam suddenly said ‘Whooper Swans with cygnets which brought little response from me, but an ‘aye’ he had to repeat his words three times before it sunk in as my brain had interpreted it as Mute Swans.  Anyway, we both now have our first ever sighting of Whooper Swans with cygnets, five of them!  Just near this spot we drove up a rather beautiful glen and found a small patch of woodland which held both Common Flycatcher which we saw and Redpoll, which we heard, both new for the list.

Short Eared Owl

Hebridean Sunset

We eventually arrived back for dinner having watched Red Deer coming off the mountains in a line with some fine stags amongst them, and yes, later enjoyed more Short Eared Owls and another beautiful sunset.  The midges were out in force tonight!  Tomorrow was to be an early start as we make our way to Berneray to catch the ferry for Leverburgh, Harris and more adventures.