i n t e r n a t i o n a l !


O U T E R   H E B R I D E S

26-31 MAY 2002

North Uist landscape – Pete Cairns

North Uist

Leaders:  Craig Round and Phil Benstead

Guests:      Chris & Pam Stratford, Pam & Bill Jones, Andrew & Drew Lyburn, Graham Coster, John Duerden, Ian Cook, Jean Clarke, Alison Harper and Julia Pearson

Day 1

On a bright, sunny day we all meet up without a hitch at the rendezvous at Kyle of Lochalsh and after introductions and luggage loading we head over the bridge into Skye.  Craig takes us to an excellent spot where we have prolonged views of a superb displaying Golden Eagle which is set against a backdrop of the majestic Cuillins (both a rare site at this time of year!) and we watch as the bird soars, engaging in it’s rollercoaster display – a thrilling sight.  In fact we enjoy ourselves so much here that we almost forget we have a ferry to catch and all too soon we are driving to meet it, on our way overtaking a single Painted Lady butterfly – our only record of the week.  Arriving at Uig we quickly join the queue and whilst filling out our boarding cards are able to enjoy our packed lunches and meet Julia before driving onto the surprisingly spacious ferry.

Conditions for the crossing are almost perfect for whale-watching (being almost flat calm) and sure enough we manage to spot three Harbour Porpoises and a single Minke Whale.  The crossing also reveals a number of seabirds with close views of Puffin, Gannet, Guillemot and Black Guillemot, as well as more distant views of Arctic and Great Skua and Manx Shearwater.  Before we know it we were steaming into Lochmaddy and driving onto North Uist, taking a detour up the Newtonferry road stopping at a few plantations and checking out Loch an Sticir.  We have no problem hearing and seeing over-flying Twite but cannot find any perched birds, although we do catch up with many of the passerines found in the rare wooded patches of the Outer Hebrides including Greenfinch, Redpoll, Song Thrush, Blackbird and Robin.  The best is still to come on, the drive back to the hotel, with a very close female Hen Harrier, a hunting male Kestrel and Short-Eared Owl.  Arriving at the hotel we were quickly settled into our rooms and met up with Ian who had flown onto the islands.

Day 2

Today we spend the day taking in the key sites on North Uist and enjoying some splendid weather to go with it. We start off at Langass Hotel where Craig opts to walk up over the ridge to the plantation in the hope of finding some migrants and a good view of the island, the latter is found but sadly there are few migrants.  Meanwhile Phil and Drew take a more leisurely approach, revealing Greenshank, a single Whitethroat, a rare pair of Chaffinches and an equally rare single Woodpigeon!  A Red Admiral also flies around the hotel gardens in the bright, sunny weather.  Moving on we head for the Committee Road where whilst trying to eat our lunch we are continually disturbed by Hen Harriers, Short-eared Owls and another Kestrel, whilst on nearby Vallay Strand we all managed to see a nice Greenshank before heading for Balranald.


After hearing a very elusive Corncrake and searching in vain we head for the Visitor Centre (and it’s glorious toilets), where we quickly get very good views of a pair of Corncrake.  The female quickly makes herself scarce but the male entertains us for an hour, occasionally ‘craking’ in full view, it’s a fantastic sight and enjoyed by all.

Corncrake – Mark Hamblin

After sating ourselves on brilliant views of this amazing species we move onto the headland in the vans, stopped briefly en route to scan the picturesque bay and finding our first full summer plumaged Great Northern Diver.  Stopping at the headland we quickly locate a male Shoveler, four Teal on the pool and Sedge Warbler and Reed Bunting present in the small adjacent reedbed.  A selection of waders includes summer-plumaged Sanderling on the beach feasting on invertebrates amongst the smelly piles of wrack washed up on the beach.  Glancing out to sea it becomes apparent that a considerable passage of Manx Shearwaters is taking place, over 400 being seen passing behind  the island of Causamul in a short period of time.  Tearing ourselves away we head for a brief visit to Loch Scolpaig, spotting a single Whooper Swan and a Whimbrel en route, but when we arrive the loch is quiet, so we head back to the hotel looking forward to another of Peggy’s wholesome meals.

Day 3

Over breakfast on the third day it becomes apparent that there is some wet weather on the way and for the first hour the rain lashes down, but as we reached the South Ford area it miraculously clears as we prepare to get out of the vans and start birding.  First stop is the South Ford which produces some good waders including Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit and Grey Plover.  Nearby gardens hold at least three Corncrake which give excellent views from the vans.  Moving on to Ardivachar we check through all the attendant gulls but find only commonly occurring species, although we do see our first Corn Bunting and watch a pair of Shelduck with a mass of newly hatched ducklings.  Today we are fortunate in that no red flags are flying over the rocket range at West Gerinish and we are therefore able to get in to this fantastic bit of machair.  Searching the flat sandy machair fields around Loch Bee we find a couple of Greenland race Wheatears and nests of both Ringed Plover and Lapwing. At the southern end of Loch Bee we find a single Golden Plover and Jean draws our attention to a superb male Garganey sleeping on the bank and whilst watching this we also have a pair of Wigeon and a Whooper Swan before Craig surprises us all when he locates an excellent sub-adult Golden Eagle flying over the loch mobbed as it drifts south past a variety of birds.  Our final site of the day is on the west coast where despite putting in plenty of time we fail to connect with Otter or the much hoped for Sea Eagle.  We do however see a number of birds whilst searching, including Short-eared Owl, Red-throated Diver, Great Northern Diver and the splendid garden here produced Redpoll (1) and Siskin (1).  Somewhat disheartened, but vowing to return, we head back to the hotel.

Day 4

Today will be spent on North Uist and Benbecula and we continue our good fortune with the weather being mostly sunny.  After breakfast we move on towards Balranald, en route we stop to watch a superb, close male Hen Harrier before stopping at roadworks near the Westford Inn.  Whilst stopped here Chris draws our attention to a singing Chiffchaff in the garden so we abandon the vans and go to see the bird.  It is singing lustily from the small trees in the pub garden around the back and we watch it for a short time before being called back by the patient road-mending crew.  At Balranald we quickly get good views of five Corncrake before heading up to the point for what is to be one of the highlights of the trip.  Arriving at the headland we have no time to settle in as first of all four Pomarine Skuas and then three Long-tailed Skuas fly past heading north about half a mile away.  Unbelievable– we see both species in under three minutes!  Conditions are evidently suitable for light passage and a further 16 Pomarine Skuas are logged over the next one and half hours as well as one Great Skua and 7 Arctic Skuas - four species of Skua in a day (without getting wet!) is a rare thing and one we all greatly appreciate.  We are also all amazed by a close migrating Black-throated Diver in full summer plumage which flies north just past the headland and other passage birds include a single Whimbrel and Bar-tailed Godwit.  Dragging ourselves away after lunch we finally head for Benbecula.  At Culla Bay we connect with the three Common Scoter seen last week and moving swiftly on we are soon watching two Black-tailed Godwits and are lucky enough to see a fantastic female Red-necked Phalarope on a nearby pool.  Our final stop is at “Coot Loch” where the bird of that name performs well to all!  All in all a very satisfying day.

Day 5            

Another sunny but rather blustery day greets us at breakfast and despite the extremely gloomy forecast, it remains this way all day.  We have been really very fortunate with the weather during the whole of the week, it being a stark contrast to the dreadful week before. 

Our first stop is a return visit to South Uist where Craig quickly locates the much needed Otter – a dog feeding actively and giving reasonable views to all over a lengthy period. 

Otter – Pete Cairns

Also during our stay here we manage to spot male Hen Harrier, a feisty pair of Merlin and two excellent displaying Golden Eagles, although eventually we have to admit defeat with the White-tailed Eagle and head for the west coast and the headland of Rubha Ardvule.  This fantastic site is at its best, with good light from behind and a light swell offshore making it very atmospheric and a good point from which to look at southward bound seabirds. Occasional parties of Manx Shearwater are the main focus of interest and we all get to grips with differentiating Guillemot and Razorbill in flight, while Gannets literally skim the rocks at the tip of the headland – superb!  From Rubha Ardvule we travel to Verran Island and drive from there northwards along the sandy machair tracks to Stilligarry before arriving at the plantation on the shores of Loch Druidibeg. The weather is fantastic affording superb views across the Loch to Hecla and Beinn Mor, which dominate the landscape, and after birding the plantation and finding no migrants or the hoped for occasionally resident Goldcrests we drove down to the picturesque old port of Loch Skipport.  As we imagine bygone days of sailing craft we are interrupted by splendid views of an over-flying female Merlin before driving on to Benbecula.  At the phalarope site Bill stuns us all by finding a very close sleeping male Red-necked Phalarope long after we had assumed that no birds were present and the bird eventually wakes up and shows very well before calling and flying off.  A rather fitting end to a very enjoyable day.

Day 6

The final day dawns with yet more sun and electing to re-visit Balranald for the last hour or so of birding on the Hebrides, we are rewarded with absolutely superb, prolonged views of a male Corncrake strutting around calling by the Visitor Centre.  Eventually though we have to head for Lochmaddy and the ferry, seeing two close Red-throated Divers as we sped past their lochan.  The crossing is again smooth, although the sea is not as calm as last time, and many seabirds are noted but the small raft of Manx Shearwaters flushed by the ferry and seen at close range are undoubtedly the highlight of the journey. On Skye we take the northern coast road taking in the impressive mountain scenery and during our journey to Kyle we managed to pick up a number of species that we had nor recorded previously including Great Tit, Mistle Thrush, Rook, Sand Martin and Whinchat (taking the weeks list of species to just over 100) as well as a nice, small flock of Golden Plover.  Arriving at Kyle a quick car count reveals that all are present and we go our separate ways after a splendid week’s birding on the magical Outer Hebrides.

It’s decided that the Bird of the Week is the Corncrake, the Place of the Week is Balranald and the Magic Moment is arriving at the headland at Balranald just in time to see four Pomarine and then three late Long-tailed Skuas fly past.


Red-throated Diver
Black-throated Diver
Great Northern Diver
Little Grebe
Manx Shearwater
Grey Heron
Mute Swan
Whooper Swan
Greylag Goose
Tufted Duck
Common Scoter
Red-breasted Merganser
Hen Harrier
Common Buzzard
Golden Eagle
Ringed Plover
Golden Plover
Grey Plover
Black-tailed Godwit
Bar-tailed Godwit
Common Sandpiper
Red-necked Phalarope
Pomarine Skua
Arctic Skua
Long-tailed Skua
Great Skua
Black-headed Gull
Common Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Common Tern
Arctic Tern
Little Tern
Black Guillemot
Rock Dove
Collared Dove
Short-eared Owl
Sand Martin
Meadow Pipit
Rock Pipit
Pied Wagtail
Song Thrush
Mistle Thrush
Sedge Warbler
Willow Warbler
Great Tit
Hooded Crow
House Sparrow
Reed Bunting
Corn Bunting


Red Deer
Minke Whale
Harbour Porpoise
Grey Seal
Common Seal


Painted Lady
Green-veined White
Red Admiral