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«Outer Hebrides, June 2007 Trip Report OUTER HEBRIDES Sunday 3 June to Saturday 9 June 2007 TRIP REPORT LEADER Phil Read INTRODUCTION Unbelievable ...»

The Travelling Naturalist Outer Hebrides, June 2007 Trip Report


Sunday 3 June to Saturday 9 June 2007



Phil Read


Unbelievable weather, stunning scenery, abundant wildlife, delightful company: What more could

you ask for?

Thank you all for a wonderful trip.

Phil Read June 2007


Sunday 3 June It was typical Oban weather, pouring down with rain, as we gathered on the quayside for our afternoon cruise to the Outer Hebrides. Thankfully the weather improved slowly as we left Oban and sailed past Mull and eventually became dry as we reached the Minch. The calm conditions should have been good for “fin spotting” but all we saw were five Harbour Porpoises and one Common Dolphin near the ferry.

However the expected Manx Shearwaters appeared in good numbers and provided excellent views alongside the ferry. Members of the auk family were worringly scarce on the voyage, are the west coast birds now suffering food shortages like the northern birds? but a sprinkling of the delightful Black Guillemots were in Castlebay to greet us as we reached Barra.

For the first time we were breaking our journey with a night stop on the lovely island of Barra staying in a hotel overlooking a typically dramatic Hebridean beach.

Monday 4 June A glorious day soon broke after the clearance of overnight fog so before exploring Barra we ventured over to the adjacent island of Vatersay, now joined by a causeway. After admiring the beautiful beaches and improving our tern identification we headed back to Barra. We concentrated on the north and west coast but also paid a quick visit to some rare Hebridean habitat, mature deciduous trees. Here, alongside the expected Willow Warblers, was a pair of Chaffinch, a real surprise.

After a delightful lunch overlooking the Sound of Barra and watching aircraft take off on the famous Barra airfield (actually a cockle strand, only useable at low tide, obviously!) we headed for the ferry.

This was a lovely cruise in glorious sunshine to the Isle of Eriskay. The highlight of the trip was being joined by four Bottle Nosed Dolphin which swam alongside the ferry for a while.

Leaving Eriskay, by another relatively new causeway, we headed north to Benbecula, our base for the week.

-1The Travelling Naturalist Outer Hebrides, June 2007 Trip Report (The Sound of Taransay) Tuesday 5 June Our hotel is ideally suited for pre-breakfast walks with the beach nearby, carpets of flowers including orchids on the machair and a few bushes by the hotel. A few Sanderling and Dunlin were on the beach but the surprise of the walk was a male Sedge Warbler singing and in display flight over the aforementioned bushes.

After breakfast we headed north to the RSPB reserve at Balranald. The Corncrake here are relatively people friendly and gave most of us clear if rather brief views by the information centre.

A stroll to the coast gave us an idea of the nature of the flower covered machair and close views of Corn Bunting.

Those who missed the earlier Corncrake were delighted when one appeared near the road as we stopped in a passing place at Hougharry.

We decided to make the most of the glorious weather with another machair walk. The flowers were everywhere, the waders and terns fascinating and the view at the end simply stunning.

Returning to the hotel via an area of moorland we watched a fine male Hen Harrier then a Golden Eagle flew near the road before being driven off the area by the local Lapwings.

(Looking south from Aird an Runair, North Uist) Wednesday 6 June Another glorious calm day as we headed south to South Uist. We mixed up the day with visits to the eastern moorland and the western beaches, easy to do on an island as narrow as South Uist. At our coastal lunch stop we were surrounded by birds including two large flocks of migrating Sanderling.

-2The Travelling Naturalist Outer Hebrides, June 2007 Trip Report After lunch we visited one the most attractive Hebridean lochs where birds were plentiful and the scenery magnificent. Two Golden Eagles were rather distant but there was plenty to see on the loch itself including at least eight Red Throated Divers and three Otter doing what Otters do best, playing.

(Loch Eynort, South Uist.) Thursday 7 June The wonderful weather continued as we headed north to explore an area of machair alongside yet more glorious white shell sand beaches. The botanist amongst us were delighted to find our target for the morning, Hebridean Marsh Orchid. This is one of the rarest flowers in Britain, only found at a few sites on the machair on the north coast of North Uist.

After lunch, and a spot of retail therapy, we ventured on to the moors again visiting some interesting archaeological sites and admiring yet more stunning scenery.

Friday 8 June The weather was becoming rather repetitive now, another calm and sunny day, so we ventured out for another walk, this time to the moors on Benbecula. Raptors showed well with excellent views of Short eared Owl and both male and female Hen Harrier. A pair of Black Throated Diver was a magnificent site although the distant view was spoilt by the heat haze, not normally a problem on the Hebrides!

Lunch was taken on Lochmaddy moor which, apart from a Golden Eagle flying practically over the minibus, was virtually birdless. One wonders if the recent extensive road widening had disturbed everything here, hopefully only temporarily.

An afternoon stroll at Locheport enabled us to study Twite at close range and the surprise of the day was a female Merlin dust bathing in a pile of rubble alongside the road.

Saturday 9 June The weather didn’t let us down on our last day and conditions were ideal for our sunshine cruise back to Oban passing by the Inner Hebrides of Canna, Rum, Muck and Eigg on the way. Again “fin watching” was disappointing but we did manage to see seven Harbour Porpoise and a Minke Whale put in a very brief appearance.

–  –  –

BIRDS Red Throated Diver Gavia stellata Three on Loch an Duin, Barra. Seen on larger non breeding lochs throughout the Uists including eight at Loch Eynort. The very atmospheric call was heard on a number of occasions.

Black Throated Diver Gavia arctica A pair in stunning summer plumage were unfortunately difficult to see clearly through the heat haze on a loch on Benbecula.

Great Northern Diver Gavia artica The only sighting was a bird in summer plumage off Aird an Runair, North Uist on 5th.

Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis Seen on Loch nam Feithean, North Uist and Coot Loch, Benbecula.

Northern Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis Seen on both crossings and from the shore, extremely closely at times.

Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus Hundereds seen from the ferry on the outward crossing. Only a few on the return crossing.

European Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus Five rather distant views on the return crossing.

Northern Gannet Sula bassana Seen well from the ferry. A few seen offshore most days.

Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo Seen daily.

European Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis Seen daily.

Grey Heron Ardea cinerea Seen daily. Breeding birds seen on Benbecula.

Mute Swan Cygnus olor Very common breeding bird.

Whooper Swan Cygnus cygnus Two summering birds on Loch Scolpaig, North Uist.

Greylag Goose Anser anser Very common and widespread breeding bird. Many family parties seen of these truly wild geese.

Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna Seen daily. We all enjoyed watching the antics of the “wee ones” on the sea.

Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope Only sighting was four on Coot Loch, Benbecula.

–  –  –

(Corn Crake, Hougharry, North Uist.) Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus Only seen at Balranald and Carinish, North Uist.

Eurasian Coot Fulicia atra Only seen on Coot Loch.

Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus Very common, and very vocal, breeding bird.

Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula Common breeding bird. Groups of passage and non breeding birds seen on the beaches.

Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica A flock of sixty-five were watched at close quarters in “Stinky Bay”, Benbecula.

Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata Breeding birds seen on North Uist. A few sightings around the coasts.

Common Redshank Tringa totanus Delightfully abundant breeding wader. Often seen guarding territory by perching on fence posts.

Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos Only a few sightings of this breeding wader.

–  –  –

Seen daily. A “strange” gull at Stinky Bay on 9th had many of the features of this species but very pale primary feathers. My best guess is that this bird was a partially leucistic example of this species but a hybrid of some sort cannot be ruled out.

(Aberrant Great Black Backed Gull, Stinky Bay, Benbecula.) (Aberrant Great Black Backed Gull, Stinky Bay, Benbecula.)

–  –  –

Sedge Warbler Acrocephalus schoenabaenus A male was present singing and display flying in the bushes alongside the hotel all week.

Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilius Breeding birds seen well on Barra. Heard singing at Loch Druidibeg, Loch Eynort, Lochmaddy and in a few other suitable locations around the islands.

Hooded Crow Corvus cornix A few sightings of this heavily persecuted species.

Common Raven Corvus corax Seen daily in small numbers.

Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris Some debate remains of whether the Starlings on the Uists are of the Shetland race zetlandicus. Whatever, they are certainly common and widespread and appear darker than mainland birds.

As usual the birds around the hotel were excellent mimics with Curlew and Corn Crake amongst their repertoire.

(Hebridean Starling, Benbecula.) Corn Bunting Emberiza calandra We enjoyed excellent close views at Balranald. Also seen near the cemetery at Clachan Sands. This species has a relic resident population on the islands.

(Corn Bunting, Balranald, North Uist)

–  –  –

Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus Only seen briefly near Rueval on Benbecula.

Common Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs A pair, presumably breeding, on Barra. This is a very rare breeding bird on the islands.

European Greenfinch Carduelis chloris Only seen near the hotel and at Loch Druidibeg.

European Siskin Carduelis spinus One seen by Brenda in “Archies garden”.

Twite Carduelis flavirostris Seen around the islands in small numbers. Excellent views at Loch Eport.

Common Linnet Carduelis cannabina Present round the hotel.

House Sparrow Passer domesticus Very common particularly around the crofts.


European Otter Lutra lutra Three were watched for a long time, although rather distantly, “playing” in Loch Eynort.

Common Seal Phoca vitulina Common in many of the east coast lochs. Also seen in the west.

Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus Seen during both crossings and on the west coast. Heard calling in the Sound of Barra.

Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis One showed close to the ferry but rather briefly on the outward crossing.

Bottle-nosed Dolphin Tursiops truncatus Four, presumably from the local resident population, were watched at close quarters alongside the Barra to Eriskay ferry.

Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena Five seen from the ferry on the outward trip. Seven on the return.

Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata One surfaced very briefly near Muck on the return trip.

Red Deer Cervus elaphus A few seen on the moors.

Brown Rat Rattus norvegicus European Rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus


–  –  –


Four-spotted Chaser Libellula quadrimaculata Common Blue Damselfly


(The following is a sample of the many flowers seen. My thanks to Naomi for help in compiling this list.)

–  –  –


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