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Scotland Hebrides and West Coast : Special Birds, Special Mammals 2022


TonyQ
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The Hebrides are a group of islands off the west coast of Scotland. Ardnamurchan is a fairly remote area on the west coast of mainland Scotland.  We were based on North Uist while visiting the Hebrides, and our main focus was some special birds. When we went back to the mainland we hope to see a particularly special mammal.

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Short-eared Owl

This trip was inspired in particular by @Galana who not only provided excellent trip reports but also very generously provided us with detailed practical information – thank you. Also thanks to @Soukous and @Dave Williams for very useful information about aspects of the trip.

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Puffin

 

Outline of itinerary

 

09.06.22 Drive to Fort William (o/n)

10.06.22 Drive to Skye (o/n)

11.06 22 Ferry to North Uist

18.06.22 Ferries and drive to Ardnamurchan (West Scotland)

25.06.22 Drive to Lancashire (North of England)

26.06.22 visit RSPB Leighton Moss and drive home

 

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Pine Marten

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Edited by TonyQ
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Great start @TonyQ Owls, puffins and a pine marten a tantalising taster!

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Delightful start!  Great and unique shots.

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Yes, a wonderful start.  Looking forward to more.

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Really like that picture of the SE Owl, Tony.

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offshorebirder

Wow!   Don't add another location to my bucket list please!

 

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@Biko@Zim Girl@Atdahl@offshorebirder@Atravelynn@Treepolthank you for reading along!

 

 

An early start from Birmingham (to beat the traffic on the M6)– 71/2 hour drive time to Fort William. We stopped a couple of times for a break on the way. Firstly, at Tebay Services where we could sit outside drinking good coffee listening to Curlews calling in the valley and watching House Martins repeatedly visiting their nests. We made a second stop a few hours later.

Arriving at Fort William we had a small apartment for one night overlooking the loch, and we had a very nice seafood meal on the pier.

 

Next morning we drove towards the Isle of Skye. On the way we had special advice from @Galana on a place to look for (and find)

 

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Black-throated Divers – with chicks.

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We waiting patiently and they actually came pretty close. A real treat for us and the first time we have seen them in breeding plumage.

 

We continued on and drove across the bridge on to Skye. We were staying in Broadford for a night in a lovely little cottage – (Pipers Cottage which we got through Airbnb).

 

Our stay wasn’t quite as relaxing as we hoped because of issues with the ferry (CalMac) from Skye to North Uist. On the day we arrived on Skye, the ferry we would be catching had some trips cancelled because of some technical problems, and we heard they would be working overnight to try to tackle these – but we wouldn’t know until the morning if they were successful. Added to that there were really big storms that night, and forecast for our travel day. A number of routes had already been cancelled. We did a fair bit of checking the internet to see where we might stay if we couldn’t get away the next day!

 

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However we were still able to go for a very nice relaxing meal at the Claymore Restaurant, part of a pub which was only a short walk from where we were staying.

 

Next morning we found that our ferry had not been cancelled and was expected to go on time (14.30), so we were very relieved :). We drove up to Portree on the way to the ferry terminal at Uig. Cloud was very low streams were very full as it rained. When we got to Portree, we found that the road up to Uig was closed! They were running a half marathon.:unsure: The volunteers marshalling the race didn’t know when the road would open, so we decided to take a long route around the coast on very minor roads to get to Uig. We could have shortened this a bit by going over the hills in thick cloud with limited visibility, up a rough track – we decided on the slightly longer route and were relieved to get to the ferry in good time.

 

The crossing was a bit rough, we were not allowed on deck, but it was comfortable inside. We were very pleased to see the approach to North Uist.

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We had rented a cottage on North Uist (Google Maps shows it as Balranald House, but it is "Cottage"!)

Balranald Cottage

https://balranaldcottage.co.uk/

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Our neighbours

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Our main focus on Uist was birds, with a few that we particularly wanted to see. We thought staying near to RSPB Balranald Nature Reserve would be a good location – and we were right! (Just north of Balranald is Hosta, where @Galana stays when he visits.) So even though the ferry was a bit late, we still had time to make a quick trip to the reserve - it is always good to get out to look around when in a new place.

 

North Uist is quite a long way north (from our perspective) -  level with parts of Alaska and parts of Norway and Sweden. At this time of year it doesn't really get very dark so we have potentially long days available.

 

We did go back to the cottage and admired a setting sun at about 10pm

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Edited by TonyQ
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Gosh. I feel the frustration in your journey north. It puts our tribulations from Harris to North Uist in perspective (but all is worth it to get there.)

Pleased to see the results of my 'guidance' with the Black-throated Divers..Splendid birds.

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Lovely close encounter with the BT Divers.

Looking forward to reading this TR in case we decide to venture further north in future.

When we met I meant to ask you if you knew about Tebay services.  We always stop there when going north.

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@Galanathank you

@Zim Girlthank you- we think North Uist is an excellent birding destination, and there are some good walking places as well (in particular on South Uist). We have used Tebay quite a few times - much better than most service stations and just about the right distance from Birmingham to make a stop worthwhile. We also used the place they own just outside Glasgow as well - also good.

Continued

 

The “main” road on North Uist is roughly circular. For most of the way it is a single-track road with passing places. It was often very quiet with little traffic. You do have to be aware of other vehicles so that you can pull in to passing places for oncoming vehicles, or pull over to allow people to pass.

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Rather than do a day by day account of North Uist, I will discuss sightings in particular areas as we visited some of them a number of times

 

The Committee Road

 

Across the island, roughly north-south from Botura to Ardhesker is a very minor road known as the Committee Road. This was constructed to provide employment in about 1846 to provide employment during a famine. It goes across some fairly bleak looking moorland, and is a great place for looking for birds. Near the highest part of the road there is a parking place where you can scan for birds.

 

It was a fairly short drive from our cottage to this road, and we visited it a number of times, especially the northern half. Here are some of the birds we saw there

 

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White-tailed Eagle- a really big bird

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not possible to confuse with anything else with that wing shape!

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Curlews were quite common - this one was very close to the road

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and one flying past

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A view of the road from tha parking area showing the environment

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Sometimes the weather wasn't quite as kind!!

 

Edited by TonyQ
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A bird we were very keen to see was the Hen Harrier - quite rare in England because of persecution but quite common on Uist. The Committee gave good opportunities to see these

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A male hunting

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A female (or juvenile) hunting

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Heavy crop with a vole

We also saw a number of Short-eared Owls up here

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resting on the ground - from a distance they look like a rock

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Hunting

We thought the Road area was a great place for repeated visits

 

 

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One of my 'go to places' on North Uist. Excellent for Red Deer and Red Grouse too.

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Thanks @Galanawe didn't see any grouse on the island - we will have to return:D

 

RSPB Balranald Nature Reserve

 

The reserve visitor centre was about 5 mins drive from our cottage – though it frequently took longer with numerous stops to look at birds. The visitor centre is a small converted cottage. The road leading up to it was a great place to look for birds. Many times we were slowed down by Oystercatcher chicks on the road

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Wet Oystercatchers

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Skylark in the grass - the wildflowers at this time of year are beautiful

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Corn Bunting

 

One of the birds we particularly wanted to see was the Corncrake - very rare in most of the UK (we have seen one once before on Iona) but Uist is still a relative stronghold. We looked for them many times, and heard them very regularly

                         

We knew there were quite a few around, but they were difficult to see - but persistance paid off - and it was fun trying (all photos from car)

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A first glimpse - they are small, they can move quickly, and the plants are tall!

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Calling amongst the greenery

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And luckily a clearer view as one called from a rock - we were delighted with our sightings. Being so close to the reserve meant it was easy topay repeated visit.

 

There was also a track that was a fairly long walk to the beach. The area also had another beach that was easier to drive to. We made many visits to the reserve during our stay

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Sand Martin - the nested in the sandy banks

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Ringed Plover

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Turnstone

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Dunlin

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Sanderling

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Arctic Tern (in the rain!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by TonyQ
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A smaller island to the south is Benbecula. It is reached by a causeway over the water – it is about a 30 minute drive from our cottage. There was a particular bird we wanted to see - and again @Galanagave us detailed instructions!

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Red-necked Phalarope

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Also, on the coast we saw many Eider

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And when crossing the causeway on our return, we were greeted by a wet Rock Pipit

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Good to see you made progress. I know just how that Rock Pipit feels.

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South Uist

This is a long fairly narrow island connected by a causeway to other islands. The countryside is a bit wilder here, with a variety of habitats. It took about an hour to drive to Loch Druidibeg. I believe it is a good place for walking. We went twice to this area.

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Part of the Loch

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Hen Harrier crosses the Loch

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Stonechat on fence

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"Wild" ponies live on the moorland

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A White-tailed Eagle flew overhead - I think it is carrying a rabbit/hare. There is a nesting site close to this Loch.

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Common Sandpiper amongst the seaweed

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Red Deer were seen a number of times

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Isolated houses between the hills and Loch

 

Edited by TonyQ
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North Uist

The circular road in the North gave access to many sites, and the north-east section was particularly enjoyable. We drove along here many times

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Redshank sitting by the side of the road

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Wheatear

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When driving, you always have to watch out for sheep on the road!

A minor branch from the road went up to the St KIlda Viewpoint (you can see the islands of St Kilda!). On the way up we came across some Common Gulls that were taking advantage of some supplementary feeding of cattle

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From the viewpoint - good for Hen Harriers, Kestrels and Ravens

 

 

Edited by TonyQ
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I think that one of the reasons that the North is so good for some species of birds is the method of agriculture. Not many crops are grown because of the climate, so there is a lot of rough pasture for cattle and sheep, as well as moorland and many small lochs

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Local hardy cattle

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Red Deer

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Red Deer

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Whooper Swan

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Red-breasted Merganser

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Hebridean Wren (a subsepecies Troglodytes troglodytes  hebridensis)

 

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For me, the star bird of the trip was probably the Short-eared Owl. This north-eastern section of the circular road was particularly good for seeing this bird - we saw it pretty well every day along here.

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This shows the size of the "main road" in the background and some of the typical rough pasture

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Hunting

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Even though we saw them frequently, we never tired of watching them

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16 minutes ago, TonyQ said:

good for Hen Harriers, Kestrels and Ravens

Not forgetting both species of Eagle, Short Eared Owls and Buzzards. I spend most of my post dinner evenings up there, drink driving laws being what they are.;)

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The road also has very easy access to the coast

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