Jump to content

Highlands and Islands tour. Miles and Miles of smiles.


Recommended Posts

Galana

I am not sure if this is a valid Safari but I have been asked several questions in my “Birding Big Year 2021” regarding my latest trip to West Scotland and the Hebrides so perhaps some background details may help others plan a trip when able.

Obviously for United Kingdom residents a lot of this is Old Hat and visiting Scotland is just a matter of loading the car and heading north up the M1, M6 or even A1 depending on where you live.

But for others not so conveniently placed perhaps some basic details on how it is done will help visitors so here goes.

Scotland is part of the United Kingdom so normal Immigration and Customs procedures apply for entry into the United Kingdom according to which Country’s Passport you are travelling on. Do check entry requirements and whether a Visa is required and for how long.

Getting there by air.

Most overseas visitors head for London, to see the sights, but it is possible to enter at many other UK airports. There are two main international airports in Scotland at Edinburgh, Glasgow, and other airports in Aberdeen, Inverness and other provincial areas. And of course the Outer Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland are served by internal flights from Glasgow.

We are discussing The Hebrides here so let us not spread the net too wide.

Three Airports from nice smooth tar in Stornoway (Lewis) and Benbecula (for that island and both North and South Uist) to the fun of landing on the beach at low tide on the island of Barra.

Of course you are going to eventually (literally) come down to earth and need a car to get about whether you land at the splendour of London Heathrow or dodge the gulls on the beach on Barra.

Rental cars are readily available.

Getting there by surface transport. Again a car is going to be needed but it is perfectly feasible to drive from Europe in your own car where there are good international ferry links to the island of Great Britain from several countries such as The Netherlands, Belgium, France and Spain as well as  the Tunnel from France to Kent. Just select a port convenient to your trip.

Or come by train as good connections exist into London where you can take further trains to Scottish stations.

A mention here of two unique and enjoyable train possibilities that may enhance your experience.

A daily overnight sleeper express leaves London Euston for Fort William, Inverness and Aberdeen. Colloquially called “The Deerstalker Express”, but officially titled “Caledonian Sleeper” and operated by Scotrail, you can board in London at about 22.00 and wake up in Scotland in time for a morning arrival at your destination.

https://www.scotrail.co.uk/plan-your-journey/travel-connections/caledonian-sleeper

And Scotrail also promote a “Rover” type ticket that gives unlimited train, ferry and bus travel on a certain number of days in a given period. I have used this to good effect to make a huge circular trip from the Scottish border via Glasgow and on to Oban for a Ferry to Barra, island hop ‘up’ the Hebrides chain to Tarbert, and then 'over the sea to Skye'. A bus to Kyle of Lochalsh and then back on the trains for John o’Groats before heading back south via Inverness, Perth and Glasgow with a side trip to Mallaig on the fabled West Highland line.

https://www.scotrail.co.uk/tickets/combined-tickets-travel-passes/spirit-of-scotland

Still on Ferries, of which Scotland has many, Caledonian MacBrayne . www.calmac.co.uk    “CalMac” do many “Island Hopscotch” ticket for when you eventual forsake public transport for a car to get to those birds and beasts which is why you are here reading this.

Before moving on to my trip a final mention of roads. There are Mways in Scotland, mainly in the central belt around Glasgow and Edinburgh, and many normal highways such as the A9 to Inverness.

Whilst many roads are excellent between cities and the main centres that you will need for ferry ports such Oban, Uig (Skye), Mallaig and Ullapool you will eventually find yourself on the classic Single Track road with only one lane and passing places at intervals. Do use these thoughtfully. They are passing places not parking places and locals will take a dim view of you stopping to look at scenery or, Heaven forfend, a darn bird. But we do it carefully and respectfully anyway where light traffic permits and the beauty of the islands is that traffic is light most of the time.

Respect local drivers. They have work to do. YOU are on holiday.

I don’t think I have missed much but will cover other points such as lodging in the body of the report. Just ask.

 

Route.JPG.be722f389359615d9992983e11c2177f.JPG

This was the route of our June trip (side trips not shown) which was later than ideal but forced upon us by the Covid restrictions. I prefer May so that nesting is in full swing and the ground cover not as rank so spotting is easier for such specials as Corncrake and Phalaropes. Just my view. The lighter nights, longer days gives more viewing time too. N.B. Ignore the time flag. We took four weeks.

 

 

 

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Replies 81
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

  • Galana

    30

  • Dave Williams

    10

  • Soukous

    7

  • TonyQ

    7

Top Posters In This Topic

Popular Posts

On we go. So as you can see our journey started from home in Ramsey, Isle of Man, at an ungodly hour to catch check in time for the 08.30 boat (or “The Packet” as we call it) to Heysham in Lancas

Oops. My editing skills (sic) went awry and I forgot to mention Mulls other wildlife attraction. Mull is getting a good reputation as a place to watch European Otter Lutra lutra. They can be seen

I am not sure if this is a valid Safari but I have been asked several questions in my “Birding Big Year 2021” regarding my latest trip to West Scotland and the Hebrides so perhaps some background deta

Posted Images

Soukous

Good job Fred

Link to post
Share on other sites
TonyQ

Well done for starting so promptly- looking forward to this!

Link to post
Share on other sites
Kitsafari

woohoo! Thank you for doing it so quick.  will keep in mind the May dates....

 

The GPS we had used during our cornwall trip was a total disaster - once it brought us to a sheer cliff on a river when the GPS showed a bridge; another time it took us through a trail narrower than a one-lane road surrounded by tall grass on both sides and we prayed like crazy no car came from the opposite direction. next time, we will download the GPS first from home. hopefully that will work better. ;) 

 

Looking forward to more.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Galana

On we go.

So as you can see our journey started from home in Ramsey, Isle of Man, at an ungodly hour to catch check in time for the 08.30 boat (or “The Packet” as we call it) to Heysham in Lancashire, England. There is no need to discuss at length the drive via the M6 to the Scottish Border where the M6 segues into the M74 leading on to Glasgow and the Erskine bridge over the Clyde and a pleasant drive up Loch Lomond side to our first stop at Crianlarich at Ben More Lodge. We are in the Highlands.

A pleasant and homely place somewhat ‘motel’ like with rooms in a terrace of chalets but meals in a central restaurant. (Our introduction to the awful conditions under which the UK has operated due to Covid which we had escaped on the Isle of Man.) How does one eat a meal wearing a face mask?

1-DSCN4818.JPG.a04ce564b2b7fb3f0589a47c8d38acfb.JPG

1-DSCN4813.JPG.6ce3a27248116ce30c897151724aff98.JPG

As we like to take self catering cottages on these trips a brief stop here balances our itinerary of traveling mid-week on The Packet, for lower fares, with most rented cottages operating on Saturday to Saturday bookings.

We prefer Self Catering rentals as it combines flexible meal times, ideal for those silly early starts for wildlife watching, with the benefit of being able to come at go at our own pace rather than be thrown out of a B&B or Hotel each day. On the rare occasion of inclement weather, we can just sit and read in comfort and not have to pace a windswept promenade until being allowed back in by a landlady.

Plenty of good cottages are available in most of the places on this trip (booked either direct or through several good agencies) but if this is not your thing then there are good clean rooms in a B&B or a posh Hotel if you wish. There is something to suit everyone. We had two nights here so did a circular drive over Rannoch Moor through Glencoe and back down the Appin coast before another pleasant night at Ben More. Booked in advance through www.booking.com

Saturday found us driving to Oban for fresh provisions for our weeks stay on Mull and as we were early Calmac kindly let us board an earlier departure than the boat we were booked on (They are a lovely flexible and friendly company) so we ‘stole’ an extra two hours birding on Mull. As our Cottage is owned by Pennyghael Estates where else could we spend those two hours than Pennyghael flats at the head of Loch Scridain. An early sighting of a Hen Harrier confirmed the wisdom of this.

1-DSCN4913.JPG.7ef7dfbce0579939672983fcb167e0a4.JPG

At the appointed time of 17.00 we let ourselves into the Torrans Cottage which was lovely. Set back from the road to Iona with views over Loch Scridain to Ben More which is Mulls highest peak. We have no internal photos but that view should make up for it. 1-DSCN4850.JPG.d698353aaeef20f810f6470fd58ff61b.JPG

1-DSCN4851.JPG.1b3fa6a8e3a158b241ce3fcab71895fd.JPG

We had regular visits from much wildlife including a friendly pair of Stags....

1-DSCN4877.JPG.05b95c619012321562fc3baf94b4189c.JPG

1-DSCN4886.JPG.73ac43ff4d1bfcf4cfbe70a7752383b8.JPG

and some goats on a daily mission. We never knew where they came from or went to, but at six every morning they went up the mountain track and returned each evening around twelve hours later.

Mull is the epicentre of wildlife activity with many small ‘safari’ operations in minibus taking visitors around the island to the main wildlife viewing spots so do take one of these, bookable in advance, if only to have one day learning the lie of the island. The driver guides are very knowledgeable and a packed lunch is often provided.They are listed in most tourist magazines and will do pick ups from your Hotel if asked if you don’t have your own transport.

There are boat trips too. Several leave from Tobermory for viewing Dolphins and even whales but two worthy of mention for wildlife/bird enthusiasts leave from Ulva Ferry. “Lady Jane” takes a small pre-booked party of up to 12, you can share Covid permitting, along Loch na Keal towards the head of the Loch where fish are thrown out to attract the attention of the local White-tailed Eagles who will swoop in to provide excellent action photographs of these huge birds. http://www.mullcharters.com

 

Our trip was with Colin Morrison of Turus mara.   www.turusmara.com who has two boats and will run trips of varying length (and cost) to several locations including Staffa for Fingal’s Cave and then to the Treshnish Isles. Here one is landed on island of Lunga for a few hours to allow fans to mingle with the local seabirds in season including some very precocious Puffins who seem to regard their visitors with a permanent fixed smile but otherwise go about their busy daily routine as though we are not there. The island is fully accessible by a network of footpaths from which one can meet up with many species of nesting birds including the notorious Great Skua (or Bonxie) who will not tolerate a close approach and will violently demonstrate their disapproval in a way that leaves no room for doubt. A hat is advisable.

Our trip was great and even blessed by a pod of bottle-nosed Dolphins bow riding the boat on our return trip.

1-DSCN5263.JPG.c73cf2bd46164ae721cefcbb39ab146f.JPG

Fingal's Cave on Staffa. Did they HAVE to play that tune for us. Da dada dara! I could not get it out of my head for the rest of the day.

Puffin land.

1-DSCN5279.JPG.a27c2005a6c9611c0571f24f6f793849.JPG

1-DSCN5297.JPG.5ec35e96fcc455b9d58221b59106c7a6.JPG

1-DSCN5314.JPG.0b06a112c94e8e4235321625de64033f.JPG

RSPB have an Eagle watch trip for controlled access to a nesting pair of White-tailed Eagles so do arrange this if interested. Tobermorey is worth a visit if only for the excellent seafood served at MacGochans but there is no shortage of good places to eat and drink throughout the island. There are several stores for the purchase of fresh provisions in Salen, Craignure and Bunessan so you won’t be short of food if self catering. Many first timers take a trip to Iona to visit the famous Abbey (and even seek out Corncrakes calling) but there is not much more to be specific about for Mull except perhaps a warning to keep an eye on your fuel tanks. There are only a few, five I think, petrol stations on the island.

Enjoy Mull. We do and have already re-booked for 2022.

Next we go to Pine Marten bliss.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Dave Williams
1 hour ago, Galana said:

Next we go to Pine Marten bliss.

 

I certainly hope so!

 

Interesting and informative read so far Fred. Keep it coming!

Link to post
Share on other sites
TonyQ

Toranns  Cottage has a beautiful setting, and good neighbours!

I think the trip to Lunga is a wonderful experience.

Edited by TonyQ
Link to post
Share on other sites
Galana

Oops. My editing skills (sic) went awry and I forgot to mention Mulls other wildlife attraction.

Mull is getting a good reputation as a place to watch European Otter Lutra lutra. They can be seen fishing in many kelp beds in most Lochs and indeed the highways carry many warning road signs of their presence.

They are not threatened in any way and often relax provided the watcher is quiet and are fascinating creatures.

Best seen early in the morning before the land wakes up, another good reason for your own cottage and transport, but depending on tides most folks will get  lucky viewing from time to time. One trick to get close is to time your movements to when they have dived and be ready to 'freeze' when they surface. Repeat until you are in a good place to just watch and enjoy.

This year there were stories that otters were scarce and shy mainly due to disturbance by careless viewers and I have to say our photographic success was limited mainly to a female with two cubs.

Seen at first off shore when they were playfully teasing some basking seals....

DSCN5569.JPG.e5f045d0b2c587b01751172660438b04.JPG

DSCN5574.JPG.cfb03bbe11eff4e0fd270ee8d02c34cd.JPG

DSCN5575.JPG.08db24b5f82a27d817fd879e24f1ae9d.JPG

We caught them closer in as they got ejected by the Seals for misbehaving.

 

DSCN5630.JPG.cc341fa08d3ba635d67861ccf7a17195.JPG

DSCN5639.JPG.f88ef3f45686853838b3cd3e011f7aad.JPG

Sadly this as all we got as she took them into hiding when some thoughtless watchers tried to head them off.

But keep still and you will fine.

Link to post
Share on other sites
ExtraordinaryAlex

Glad you had such a great trip, makes me feel nostalgic for the west coast. I used to live on the mainland near Oban and can confirm it's definitely a great place for seeing otters. We used to spot them on our drive occasionally. Ditto sea eagles, though they are less popular locally due to fears (justified or otherwise) of predation on lambs. If you're looking at heading back Jura is an absolutely magical and undiscovered gem (walking up the west coast watched only by deer and seals is as close as I've been to a walking safari in the UK) but there is only one place to stay there so your options are limited. 

Link to post
Share on other sites
Galana
3 hours ago, ExtraordinaryAlex said:

but there is only one place to stay there so your options are limited. 

Would that be with Zoe? Years since we stayed with her.

 

Link to post
Share on other sites
Galana

Pine Marten central.

Well our week on Mull has come to a close and it was time to go. No rush though as our transfer is not that far and we do not have to be there before check in time at 5pm.

We left the island on the Fishnish-Lochaline Ferry which, whilst operated by Calmac is not bookable and you just turn up and go on the next half hour service with the crossing of the Sound of Mull taking just 20-25 minutes. In passing I should mention that there is a third ferry serving Mull between Tobermory and Kilchoan on the Ardnamuchan peninsular which is handy in cutting out a long drive around if you are going that way.

Lochaline is a nice little village with a handy well stocked Spar shop and 24 hour fuel run by the local community on a Credit Card basis, Not cheap but there again if your need is high and the next one is in Strontian over 20 miles distant who cares about cash? The harbour is a good place to see Otters around ferry times as they like to fish in the disturbed wash from the boat. Birding is good too. On the road one can also stop off at Rahoy Woods reserve for some birding and Dragonfly spotting. Redstarts, Treecreepers and Flycatchers are there are also the lovely Golden-ringed Dragonfly and its rare cousin the Beautiful Demoiselle Damselfly.  Note the capital B. That’s its name as well as an apt description.

Keep a look out for both species of Eagle as you cross the hills of the watershed down to Loch Sunart.

On descending down to Loch Sunart why not take a side road along the shore, westwards, where other birds can be found including a large colony of Common Terns and a good chance of White-tailed Eagle. The road is private at a turn around point but one can walk further to see a large habituated herd of Red Deer in the grounds of the large House of the Laudale Estate..

Our route however continues around the head of Loch Sunart where the river enters which is a reliable site for Goosanders and many waders on the tidal Saltings. We now find ourselves in Strontian which has fuel (with attached mini market) and several shops in the village square. Strontian gave its name to the rare mineral Strontium as it was mined nearby. Also take time to visit Ariundle Woods Reserve which is a superb surviving example of the ancient Oakwoods that once cloaked much of the British Isles. A great place for Cuckoos in spring and many other birds.These woods lay on our route over Resipol to the small settlement of Pollock almost on the shore of Loch Shiel and a centre for many walks. The public road is a dead end and our new home for the week lies off a turn into Glen Hurich at Kinlochan. Stag Cottage, advised to me by @Davewilliams , is quite charming and remote.

1-DSCN6002.JPG.1d3b51c54fd993cf2b7658d0c2469a52.JPG

1-DSCN5952.JPG.96e56db06986f2f1f4898d3dd52e1f29.JPG

1-DSCN5955.JPG.1b4d23fabe25ec73996be815f95d7dcd.JPG

1-DSCN5953.JPG.dc1589bf426251c76f59b87cbc2f41fb.JPGIt has two bedrooms, a large dining/kitchen, a well fitted bathroom and a large lounge and would you believe a piano? As the cottage is quite remote guests need to know that the nearest shop, restaurant and pub (delete as required) is six miles away over the mountain on single track road. We were there in lovely weather but it can turn nasty quite quickly.

We did tour around a little bit as we know the area but our main occupation was sitting by the window.

 

1-DSCN5949.JPG.38ea7c1b158d5e390d7b7802b89f5b54.JPG"The window" on the right!

1-IMAG0157.JPG.84b8e42e706cd495b9c74274ae87647b.JPG

1-IMAG0159.JPG.57d45f5c19884a911d2167036c6aba44.JPG

The window in action. Watching me watching them watching me..

We tried neither the piano nor the TV as our main source of entertainment was the wildlife action taking place outside our windows. The best TV one could want right there and live. We were there mainly for the Pine Martens but foxes, voles and badger do appear in addition to many birds.

1-DSCN5959.JPG.2678972bfb72040529659d7582ebcd4e.JPG

A word about Pine Martens Martes martes A largish mustelline the size of a domestic cat and whilst active day and year round it is accepted that your best opportunities will come after dark and putting out some food, they love eggs and peanut butter, sweet jam, whilst appreciated, is not good for their teeth. They can be quite bold and unafraid if one keeps quiet but close contact whilst tempting is not a good idea as they are wild and can bite.

At Stag Cottage the martens are regular visitors so we went prepared with the usual Trail Cameras expecting some decent captures at night and whilst the cameras worked well they proved almost superfluous as to our total surprise and delight the Pine Martens were quite visible at most times of day. Notes left by previous guests had suggested names for some of them, based on the pattern of their bibs, so I will refer to those in the captions. As you will expect I have an enormous set of photos and even drastic editing will fill pages here. As an example I can manage four weeks in Africa on one 16GB card but I had to scrounge an extra card off Dave Williams when he called mid week.

 I shall stick to the stars of the show for Mats sake and see how it goes.

I will start you off with a video. Unedited and just as it happened which shows an adult female and her two twelve month kits. They seemed to have found a food source in a trench cut in the lawn but I have no idea what they finding so delicious.

You will need this to access as it is unlisted.

https://youtu.be/HRoM8ZeMWMs  

Now for some portraits:-

First of all meet "Fang."

DSCN7113.JPG.4c5b1e47b4fadf3f680aa5da74aa28e8.JPG

DSCN7119.JPG.87802e38f19b94badcd614bc52ad84fb.JPG

DSCN7142.JPG.a2c71893d8b93904d4a3f74fcaf27d18.JPG

He was a regular at table and is easily recognised by his right jaw. I don't know how he got the disfigurement but it could be a car accident, a deliberate hit or an abcess of some sort. He is about four years old and copes quite well. Indeed some of the tribe were in awe of him so perhaps it is a battlescar?

1-DSCN6013.JPG.e19887eefc224c72e10d25895655a42c.JPG

 Oops. I may have exceeded a limit as the rest won't post.

I will log out and restart.

1-DSCN6048.JPG

1-DSCN6076.JPG

1-DSCN6620.JPG

1-DSCN6651.JPG

1-DSCN6654.JPG

1-DSCN6662.JPG

1-DSCN6673.JPG

1-DSCN6875.JPG

1-DSCN6876.JPG

1-DSCN7174.JPG

1-DSCN7335.jpg

1-DSCN7338.jpg

1-DSCN7341.jpg

1-DSCN7342.jpg

1-DSCN7357.jpg

1-IMAG0025.JPG

1-IMG_0051.JPG

1-IMG_0063.JPG

Link to post
Share on other sites
Galana

Oh heck they posted anyway from the 'chosen files' window.

If you need info just say. The last Marten was from my Trail camera and it show "Domino", named for the two bib spots.

The previous sequence of five is her on our last afternoon when I stepped outside to see how she would react.. After the usual check out stare she backed away to a safe distance, hers or mine and ambled off?

A few bin ends.

1-DSCN7241.jpg.873ebc1a0ab2e8f34fb922d54a808ede.jpg

This Field Vole lived by our door and enjoyed fallen peanuts.

 

1-DSCN7309.jpg.f7de6c377fe1b43f7f940dddc1eceaba.jpg

Domino kept a wary eye on our car.

 

1-DSCN7315.jpg.d33ddf60c645fa8e4b1cc8edfb043443.jpg

Here she approached me quite unconcerned. I love the gait of all Mustelines.

 

1-DSCN6355.JPG.c863625047ba9fac92573597bef2c815.JPG

1-DSCN6368-001.JPG.c88c95a835a97685d347d9d3ee4c9510.JPG

1-DSCN6378.JPG.f6150f0f74620f5db27849c9d6893852.JPG

1-DSCN6482.JPG.a5741f2d575ae8d8eb54d60b57c4eec2.JPG

1-DSCN6525.JPG.54f3a88456a2fe4d9c7c374999583dc2.JPG

I was never sure if Domino was this one as there is a similar marked one often seen solo.

This is the female with the two kits who features in the video..

 

And finally, for now, we had four separate sightings of other Pine Martens away from Stag Cottage. One near Resipole camp and on the day we left Stag for Mallaig we met two kits together as we drove along the main road on the lake side near Strontian but did not manage a photo but I did get a windscreen shot of a large male who crossed the road as we neared Mallaig. A bit fuzzy but I got him.

1-DSCN7406.jpg.87363981f51f4fef96f8ad10a3cb24fd.jpg

To actually see a wild Pine Marten in daylight is rare, it has happened to me only twice before so to see four this trip was a welcome bonus which may indicate an increased population. They are certainly spreading south and are now estabished in Galloway and parts of Northern England  and Wales.

 

"We" are now near Mallaig but I can go back to Stag Cottage for any questions.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Dave Williams

Surpassed your previous standards here Fred. Some cracking and detailed Pine Marten captures as well as an ECB or two to show you haven't forgotten your past of course!

 

Link to post
Share on other sites
Galana
3 hours ago, Dave Williams said:

an ECB or two to show you haven't forgotten your past of course!

So true. One has to keep in training.

And of course cooperative subjects help. I don't know how many fails I had of the resident Vole but he/she was extremely fleet of foot.

A challenge for your visit. Full frontal, unobstructed and pin sharp.

1-DSCN7253.jpg.a529812391a80a3c4eb2ab1289655850.jpg

 

1-DSCN7255.jpg.34e2af87dad9290d703eb20eb85f0e3c.jpg

Link to post
Share on other sites
Galana
Posted (edited)

Our weeks stay at Stag cottage was blessed by fine weather and enhanced by a mid week visit from Claire and Dave who actually brought our lunch but regrettably could not stay for the afternoon ‘Pine Marten show’.

As you have seen we could subtitle this bit ‘Mainly Martens’ but other creatures came by from time to time. The bird feeders were in constant use from Siskins, Great, Coal and Blue Tits plus Wood Pigeons, Spotted Flycatchers, Swallows, Thrushes, Blackbirds, Warblers, Long tailed Tits  etc., but it was the Woodpecker family that stole the show most days.

DSCN6926.JPG.b893dc8c983192f342fe21d79be5ff72.JPG

 

 

1-1-IMG_0067.JPG.e64cc900c2c0fcd723447478989b57c4.JPG

 

 

1-DSCN5991-001.JPG.16e732245018cd56870131851231c31a.JPG

 

But all good things must end if only to be replaced by other good things and so we left Stag Cottage tidy to drive over the hill and along Loch Sunart and on via Acharacle to Mallaig for the Calmac Ferry over to Skye.  As usual we had allowed plenty of time and even after a mini diversion down to Loch Eilt for possible Black-throated Divers and having stopped for that Marten sighting we were in time to be allowed on the Ferry just departing. A major benefit of Calmac’s booking system is that you can print your tickets and boarding cards at home which coupled with very friendly harbour staff makes such last minute changes so simple. We now had an easy ride to the north of Skye in lovely weather with our regular stop at the Coop in Broadford for ‘cheap’ fuel and the adjacent Supermarket. Shops will be closed in Uist tomorrow so stock up now.

We had planned to meet @Soukous for a drink and/or lunch at the Ferry Inn in Uig, rather than the horrible place on the harbour whilst waiting for the 14.30 Ferry to Lochmaddy in North Uist. However it was not to be as the Inn was closed and the other place was simply displaying the one word unambiguous sign “SHUT”.  And there was no sign of Martin either.

 

 

North Uist is part of the Outer Hebrides archipelago that runs from Lewis south to Barra and Mingulay about 40 miles west of the Scottish mainland over a channel of water called The Minch. Lots of Ferries serve the islands from Ullapool, Uig, on Skye, Mallaig and Oban. The group of central islands, Berneray, North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist and Eriskay are linked north to south by motorable causeways so are easily explored by car without ferries so anywhere on this group will serve as a base although of course it would add considerably to journey times.

These islands are steeped in history so you may like a couple of sites/sights you could visit as a change from birds and beasts.

Most Anglophiles will know the haunting Scottish “Skye Boat song” recalling Flora MacDonald’s assistance to Bonnie Prince Charlie’s escape after his defeat at Culloden with the lyrics “Speed bonny boat like a bird on the wing, over the sea to Skye” etc., If you have not here it is.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n1CTxa-FuKc

Contrary to what s implied in the lyrics the boat was not crossing from mainland Scotland to the Isle of Skye but from South Uist to Skye to avoid the pursuing Redcoats.

The heroine of the song and reality was 24 year old Flora MacDonald who lived on South Uist as the daughter of Ranald MacDonald (no doubt an ancestor of The Burger King) and her birthplace in Milton and subsequent home are commemorated with monuments. Her grave is on Skye.

 

 

Another noteworthy event was the wreck of S.S. Politician in 1941 on a rock off Eriskay with a precious cargo of whisky. Obviously a great temptation to the local population despite the efforts of the “Excise men” and this gave rise to both Compton MacKenzie’s novel ‘Whisky Galore’ and a subsequent Ealing Studios comedy film of the same name in 1949 plus a remake in 2016.

There is a nice pub on Eriskay called “The Politician” that in addition to nice food and drink has a collection of artefacts from the true story. What better place to keep the event alive than a Pub?

 

 

And so on to our next home. Lochside, Hosta, North Uist. A place we have used for many years and which I describe as “The best equipped bird hide in Scotland” or variations on that theme. Built owned and managed by a man I now call a friend, Duncan Griffiths, this is a simple wooden chalet with a Turf roof within which are a lounge suite, one of the most comfortable beds I know, a well equipped kitchen complete with Combi Microwave and washing machine and a room with shower, washbasin and WC. As the name indicates it is on the shore of Loch Hosta around which many waders and wildfowl nest and receive regular visits from Raptors such as Golden Eagle, for the many rabbits, Hen Harriers and Short-eared Owls. I call Duncan a friend as when he got to know my wife was a lady who abhors the modern habit of sticking a tea bag in a mug of hot water he provided a personal china teapot exclusively for our use. I took no photos this trip but you can see the location in the heavy cropped picture taken one evening from the St.Kilda viewpoint on the hill behind.

 

1-DSCN7765.JPG.70b985360d4b30cf54643c7473f1bf63.JPG

It is our habit to take a post prandial trip there most evenings if the weather is kind to ‘admire the view’ and the fact that it is also a great place to see Eagles, Hen Harriers and the almost ubiquitous Short-eared Owls is pure coincidence. One evening we counted twelve Owls and the views are nice too.

 

 

1-DSCN7762.JPG.8057fdf0ed51447e0d34b2352d552cb7.JPG

St. Kilda on a clear July evening.

1-DSCN7776.JPG.70277ec91a03b95559c9202531dfc8db.JPG

1-DSCN7917.JPG.7e09a779a58a7dd47e9347c0677bbe96.JPG

Taking a sundowner with a friendly Short-eared Owl.  What a great place.

 

 

There are several excellent species of bird to be found on these beautiful islands including both Eagles, four Divers, and the tricky little Red-necked Phalarope together with a host of seabirds and wildfowl plus of course the much sought after Corncrake.

I have rabitted on a bit much already now so I think I must hold the actual details of the trip over until next time.

Edited by Galana
Corrected typo.
Link to post
Share on other sites
Zim Girl

Marvellous Pine Marten sightings and really nice picture of the SE Owl.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Galana

Thanks @Zim GirlThere are more SE Owls to come on Big Year when I do Part two.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Galana

I am getting a bit ahead of myself so perhaps a pause is called for.

Perhaps a few more details of logistics for the Uists and Outer Hebrides will help? I have been a few times and ‘know the ropes’ and some good locations such as RSPB Balronald, The Committee Road, Langass woods, Stinky Bay Benbecula, Borgh on Berneray so I don’t use a guide although a member of the Outer Hebrides Birds is now a firm friend and we generally have a cup of tea and cake as well as a day out together now and again when I visit.

To check recent sightings visit www.outerhebridesbirds.org

A donation would be a nice gesture

Two other ways to get help.

Guides by the day. Some have a good reputation and charge accordingly but one or two other do this part time. A chap with an Art Gallery on South Uist is also a keen guide if he has time.

Boat trips are available, you can even go to St.Kilda if you wish and have a deep pocket.

Two reputable firms are ‘Lady Anne’ from Grimsay www.uistboatrips.com between North Uist and Benbecula   and

Uist Sea Tours out of Lochboisedale on South Uist. www.uistseatours.co.uk

Neither are what you may call expensive.

Also check out the RSPB centre at Balranald as they do guided nature walks several days a week, free to members, but these are currently suspended due to Covid.

 

Getting around North Uist is not difficult. It is basically a circle road around the coastline with a couple of variations to the east and a diagonal road through the middle. The Committee Road so named as it was a local initiative to create work in hard times for islanders which by chance opened up a route into the ‘interior’ where both Hen Harrier and Short-eared Owls thrive. A simple early drive along the north of the circle will  yield a few camera ready sitting owls for your pleasure.

Of course there are many ‘spokes ‘ on that wheel well worth exploring so do try them. Chat to folks with binoculars that you may meet at Balranald staring into long grass which seems a local pastime in spring.

 

I end this with an old ‘crib’ from 2014.

Best Sites for Wildlife in the Outer Hebrides

  • Lewis

  • Butt of Lewis A chance of White-billed Diver (mostly late April), scarce migrants and rarities.

  • Port of Ness-Skigersta A good chance of White-billed Diver (mostly late April).

  • Loch na Muilne RSPB Reserve, Arnol One of two regular Red-necked Phalarope colonies in the British Isles. However, the birds nest here in very small numbers, if at all, and are by no means guaranteed.

  • Shiant Islands Black Rat and Puffin (about 75,000 pairs).

  • Harris Red-throated Diver. Also a chance of Great Northern Diver.

  • North Uist

  • Balranald One of the best places in Britain to actually see Corn Crakes.

  • Aird an Runair Seawatching. During spring the possibilities include Manx Shearwater, (European) Storm and Leach’s (Storm) Petrels, and Long-tailed and Pomarine Skuas. The skuas especially may be very close in, given suitable weather conditions.

  • Committee Road (single-track road which runs north-south) Hen Harrier, Golden Eagle, Merlin and Short-eared Owl.

  • RSPB Golden Eagle Watch During the summer the RSPB usually set up a watchpoint to view Golden Eagles. Ask for details at Balranald.

  • Monach Islands About five miles west of North Uist The largest group of Grey Seals in the world, plus seabirds including Guillemot.

  • Benbecula

  • Coast Road Arctic and Little Terns, and Arctic Skua. Also a chance of Long-tailed Duck and Red-necked Phalarope (from the road between Loch Fada and Loch Mor, or in nearby Stinky Bay).

  • South Uist

  • Loch Druidibeg NNR Waterbirds and raptors.

  • Rubha Ardvule Seawatching. During spring the possibilities include (Northern) Fulmar, Manx Shearwater, (European) Storm and Leach’s (Storm) Petrels, and Long-tailed and Pomarine Skuas.

  • Loch Eynort White-tailed and Golden Eagles. Also a good chance of Otter.

South of South Uist lie the islands of Eriskay, Barra, Mingulay and Berneray, where similar species occur, and rarities are regular, especially on Barra.

 

 

Link to post
Share on other sites
Soukous
21 hours ago, Galana said:

We had planned to meet @Soukous for a drink and/or lunch at the Ferry Inn in Uig, rather than the horrible place on the harbour whilst waiting for the 14.30 Ferry to Lochmaddy in North Uist. However it was not to be as the Inn was closed and the other place was simply displaying the one word unambiguous sign “SHUT”.  And there was no sign of Martin either.

 

Mea culpa. I dawdled a bit en-route, thinking I had much more time than I actually had, and almost missed the ferry. :rolleyes:

Link to post
Share on other sites
janzin

The Pine Martens are gorgeous!  This whole report is quite fascinating to me as I never would have even considered this area for wildlife and birds but maybe someday a trip is in order :)

 

Link to post
Share on other sites
Galana
1 hour ago, Soukous said:

thinking I had much more time than I actually had, and almost missed the ferry. 

Ah. It's those Scottish miles. Much longer than English ones.

 

17 minutes ago, janzin said:

maybe someday a trip is in order

Shhh! It's a hidden secret, or was.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Soukous
1 hour ago, Galana said:

Shhh! It's a hidden secret, or was.

 

I'll count on your discretion regarding Slavonian Grebes :D

Link to post
Share on other sites
TonyQ

Lots of useful information @Galanaand great photos

Link to post
Share on other sites
Galana
Posted (edited)

Our week on North Uist and its near neighbour went all to quickly and we failed to find any Otters at all. We did our usual 'beat' of Committee road, Cheese Bay. Benbecula and the northern part of South Uist punctuated by "Corncrake Watch" at Balranald, as it was only 3 miles from our cottage, with modest success with birds at each place although Corn Buntings, and Black-throated Divers eluded us. The islands were exceptionally busy with visitors and being later in the year than normal the lush growth made nesting ground birds hard to see. Apart from Eagles and Divers my biggest failure was Little Terns and male Ruff in their magnificent spring headgear. We shunned the idea of a seawatch at Aird an Runair which would have provided lots on breeding waders in summer dress and may have yielded passing Skuas but we felt that the 'seaside' crowds would not help this.

So we contented  ourselves with encounters with the "Greater spotted Martin" @Soukousand a nice light lunch at Langass Lodge. And this visit was rewarded by a nice sighting of a family (3) of Red-throated Divers on a nearby loch.

Make no mistake the birding was far from disappointing but 'quiet' but we did have fun with 'pole sitters'..

1-DSCN7865.JPG.9519d870ea811befc3c9bebdc6447d69.JPG

1-DSCN7870.JPG.1a08e3e90c9d3087c293a4e52e383054.JPG

1-DSCN7950.JPG.999dccbc994274e9cdad3e1bf772e940.JPG

1-DSCN8224.JPG.2c5d30c35724b60496fc4221f1a6fb39.JPG

 

as well as correctly Identifying the many juvenile Wheatears...

1-DSCN8005.JPG.5cf40340d56b934955806ee90685d62e.JPG

 

and of course two target birds of

1-DSCN8563.JPG.8bd49412c8b99f97dee0e724f9719736.JPG

Red-necked Phalarope  and

 

the star of the show for many birders for whom any visit would not be complete.

 

1-DSCN8671.JPG.3607445aefc00aacfed27c5694cd6826.JPG

Male Corncrake.

 

I think that about wraps up the Outer Hebrides, next year we will add Harris and Lewes and travel at the end of May and into June once more.

I will finish with another 'bon mot' of information.

Most folks pronounce "Hebrides" as 'heb rid eez' although some jokers inadvertently get it right when they say 'Hee Brides'.

That is technically and historically correct as it is the acknowledgement of the islands, like many other place names being linked to the Goddess and Saint Brighid translated into the modern Bride or Bridget. She was an Irish Abbess or nun  who came to the islands around 500 AD. Tradition has it that she came ashore with an Oystercatcher on each arm (obviously a keen birder) at Kilbride on South Uist. Cille Bhride.

Later Cille became Keel (Chapel) and shortened to Kil a a prefix for Bhride or Bride. The remains of this chapel can be found in a birial ground nearby.

 

Our journey is almost done with one final stop on Speyside but first we have to get there and the boat goes in the morning..

Edited by Galana
Spelling
Link to post
Share on other sites
Kitsafari

a lot of useful details and great shots of the charming martens! 

that's a lovely shot of the sun glow on the sea/lake.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

Safaritalk uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By using Safaritalk you agree to our use of cookies. If you wish to refuse the setting of cookies you can change settings on your browser to clear and block cookies. However, by doing so, Safaritalk may not work properly and you may not be able to access all areas. If you are happy to accept cookies and haven't adjusted browser settings to refuse cookies, Safaritalk will issue cookies when you log on to our site. Please also take a moment to read the Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy: Terms of Use l Privacy Policy