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

HOLIDAY HIGHLIGHTS

I S L A Y

11-17 March 2001

Leader: ††† Ian Rowlands
Guests: †††† Maureen & Howard Walker, Ian & Julie Webster, Michael Baker

Day 1††††††††††††

We are all meet at Kennacraig for the journey across to the island on a rather grey misty day but fortunately it is calm not like the forecast of gales.† Soon we are heading out from the sheltered waters of West Loch Tarbert seeing our first birds.† Itís cold up on deck but there are Goldeneye to see, some lovely Eider, very large numbers of Red-throated Diver in flocks Ė some of them already in breeding plumage Ė and plenty of Great Northern Divers.†

As we head out into more open water, the Great Northern Divers peter out, a little bit of light drizzle begins and we retreat to the observation lounge where a combination of the Sunday papers and viewing for birds out of the windows keeps us occupied for the journey.† As we pass the Isle of Jura and head in towards Islay, itís still calm and out at sea there are odd Kittiwakes and Gannets and still a few Great Northern Divers.† Gradually Islay looms into view and we pass the three distilleries along the southern shore Ė first Ardbeg, then Lagavulin and finally Laphroig.† The water is liberally sprinkled with sea birds.† There are plenty of Guillemot and Razorbill, nice Black Guillemots just coming into their breeding plumage and a lot of Shags out on the water.†

We embark at Port Ellen where there are a few precautions because of foot and mouth.† The spitting rain carries us on our journey to Bowmore and we cross the rather bleak moorland and bogs where people are cutting peats.† There is mile upon mile of rough grassland and deep dark areas of heather.† Hills loom up in the mist beyond but we cannot see a great deal until we get our way through the busy Ďurbaní capital of Bowmore and down to the shore of Bridgend Bay.†† Working our way along the shoreline, there is a little flock of fifteen Pale-bellied Brent Geese and we take a short diversion up beyond Foreland House.† As the weather begins to clear, there is a wonderful panorama looking north to Loch Gruinart to the farmland and the moorland and south back down Loch Indaal where the deeper waters hold lots of duck. Howard picks out a ring-tail Hen Harrier and a Grey Heron flaps by.† We proceed on our way to Port Charlotte and along the shoreline to the delightful hotel where we check in and are grateful for a warming pot of tea.†

We have a little stroll along the shore where, right by the hotel, the waters of Loch Indaal lap up on the weed-strewn rocks.† There is a Great Northern Diver offshore and a few Shag but otherwise it is rather quite and there are none of the gulls that we would regularly expect here and nothing on the rocks.† We take a little drive up to St Kiaran's Church where it is cold and around the church we are hoping that we might see Barn Owl.† There is a bit of cool breeze but the waters of Loch Indaal are calm. Itís quite a pleasant evening but there is nothing doing (and we arenít ready or indeed warm enough to wait until it gets really dark) so we head back for the hotel and a nice warming bath.† Everybody meets down in the bar for a few beers and we have the first of what are destined to be a number of delightful meals at the hotel before we head for bed and ready for the joys of tomorrow.

Day 2 †††††††††††

A couple of stalwarts, Ian R and Howard, are up early making a pre-breakfast foray along the shoreline below the hotel.† There is a flock of fifteen Purple Sandpipers roosting up on the rocks very close by and Great Northern Diver again.† These are going to become familiar birds. Looking out over the water towards the other side of the island, it is a beautiful sunny day.† Itís cold but clear with a bit of a northerly breeze and we are ready for breakfast.
After a good breakfast, we check out the Purple Sandpipers Ė Michaelís bird of the trip Ė before we work our way up to the viewpoint at Foreland House again.† In the fields, Hares are everywhere and Roe Deer too.† There are big flocks of geese as we drive by Sunderland Farm and the bright sunlight gleams off the Barnacle Geese.†† There are a few Woodpigeon in the fields and we follow the road along until it overlooks the vast inland freshwater loch, Loch Gorm.† In bright sunshine the moorland all around looks dramatic and it is a beautiful scene whilst out on the water Ian W is able to pick out Goldeneye and Greylag Geese.† We work our way up to the Church at Kilchoman.† The church is all boarded up now but there is a wonderful 9th century Celtic cross carved in blue stone.† We admire that, whilst looking through the flocks of Ravens, Crows, Rooks and Jackdaws until Ian W picks out two pairs of Chough.† The Choughs work their way from the cliffs to the dunes and we can see their red legs and red bill as they probe in the turf Ė a reward for our endeavours.† Flocks of Common Gull sail in the wind and the Ravens are being mobbed by parties of Jackdaw.† Fulmars are already up on nesting ledges on the cliffs above, cackling away, and sailing out to sea.† But we are more distracted by a couple of sparring bulls going head to head in the field nearby, much to the interest of all the cows in the field with them!††

We work our way down to the splendid gleaming sand of Machir Bay.† The Atlantic breakers offshore roll in creating a lovely mist in the air and we are able to walk down the beach checking the shore line in search of any small birds.† Itís not as bracing as we quite feared and it is lovely to stroll along to the far end of the beach on the sand and in the sun Ė itís both Howard and Julieís favourite place of the holiday.† Lots of Common Gulls are roosting but a scrupulous check fails to reveal anything rare amongst them.† There are Oystercatcher on the beach and parties of Barnacle Geese sailing around the whole time.† They seem restless as if they want to make their way back towards Greenland.† Buzzards are on the wing, there are Pied Wagtails and Choughs are carrying nest material past us and off to the little ruined crofts nearby.† The hotel had filled our big pump action flasks and we are ready for a coffee in the sunshine here and a flock of Twite are around.† Alongside the west and the north side Loch Gorm the flat farmland fields here are usually good for birds.† The gorse, as expected, has quite a few Stonechat which perch up nicely for us to admire.† Parties of geese are everywhere and we are soon getting blasť about Barnacle and Greenland White-fronted Geese.† Nothing unusual can be picked out amongst them but the sunlight really shows off all their features.† Groups of Rock Dove Ė real pure Rock Doves here Ė with their white rumps, scatter hither and thither as we go and in the fields there are quite a few Lapwing disturbed by the odd Buzzard which flaps lazily overhead.† It is nice to see a few winter thrushes and we get some good looks at Fieldfare and Redwing.†

We work our way in a complete circuit of the loch, back over the moorland and down once more to the shores of Loch Indaal at Bruchladdich.† The war memorial here is on a slightly elevated point and below it some sheltered picnic tables in the sun provide a great spot to have lunch.† There is still a bit of a cool breeze but we enjoy our sandwiches and fruit and Maureen picks out a couple of wintering Robins in the shelter of one of the gullies.† There are a few primroses in flower at this slightly warmer spot and Rock Pipits pick amongst the weed on the shoreline.† Offshore there are the familiar Great Northern Divers.†
With lunch over, we head southwards so, passing Port Charlotte, we have a quick comfort stop at the hotel before we take the road that winds up and over the Rhinns.† This is a rolling landscape of rocks and coniferous plantation, farm fields and moorland.† Roe Deer dot a number of the fields and Buzzards are on the wing but we make our way on to one of the farms nearby.† We are well away from the livestock but with the foot and mouth, the local farmer is a bit concerned as to what we are exactly doing nearby.† With his Geordie accent we soon know he is not local and he stands there looking brawny with nothing but a t-shirt on in the cold weather.† He is anxious but friendly and we talk him round and soon are able to pick out an adult Golden Eagle with good sunlight on it on top of a nearby hill.† It sits there not doing very much but shows well in the 60x lens of the Leica telescope. A fabulous party of Choughs suddenly break out nearby.† In fact there is a group of 23, which call above our heads and swirl in the blue looking for all the world as if they were high in the Pyrenees Ė a wonderful end to our special moment there and Julieís Magic Moment!†

Pursuing the road down to Portnahaven, we are at the southern tip of the Rhinns and Atlantic breakers roll in offshore.† There is a rocky island with a lighthouse just beyond us and in the more sheltered inlet Common Seals are hauled up basking nearby.† There is a Shag diving in the water and quite a group of Purple Sandpipers, maybe twenty or more, scurry around on the rocks showing their down-curved bill with faded orange base and little faded orange legs.† We work our way back via Easter Elister Farm where the loch nearby has a Tufted Duck on it.† The Port Charlotte hotel is our haven once more in this cold clear weather and a welcome pot of tea warms us up.† For the enthusiasts, we head out to see whether the geese are coming in to roost round at the head of Loch Indaal at Bridgend Bay.† We have a stroll along the shore where we get good views of a flock of Scaup and also see Pintail, Teal and Shelduck in one of the weedy inlets.† As the light fades we arrive, walking through the gorse, out to the hide that overlooks the bay.† There are quite a few Barnacle Geese on the shore and a few parties drift in but plainly it is not going to be till much later, maybe gone seven o'clock, before they come in.† Perhaps tonight we are not quite so determined to wait and see them! We have a very welcome dinner at the hotel and luxuriate in the lounge.† We run through our first bird checklist and all sleep well tonight to the winking of the nearby lighthouse and the sound of the waves.† Maybe the glass of Ardbeg and 17-year-old Bowmore helped too.

Day 3††††††††††††

We are getting used to this glorious sunny weather and today we are determined to head to the southern parts of the island.† There is a cool northerly breeze blowing and maybe we can get out of the wind down there.† We should not complain though as the visibility is stunning and we can see the Paps of Jura very clearly.†
We work our way round to Bowmore itself where offshore from our first viewpoint, it is rather breezy but we do see some female Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Eider and Great Northern Diver again.† We are getting familiar with these.† Then into Bowmore itself where, a postcard stop soon turns into a Bowmore distillery shop buying spree and at one stage we are all in there stocking up on whisky and glasses Ė not so surprising after all perhaps!† We take the road out along south from Bowmore where on the moorland Howard and Ian W are spotting Buzzards are on the wing, out of the window, and just as we reach the edge of Port Ellen we walk down the side of some woodland to Kilnaughton Bay.† Itís out of the wind here and quite a tempting place to loiter on the edge of the sand.† A Buzzard perches up very nicely in a tree nearby and out of the wind on the beach here, there are Pied Wagtail and Rock Pipit and offshore quite a group of Eider, Goldeneye and a few Shag.† In fact there is quite a lot of Buzzards on the wing, maybe six or more busy displaying over the nearby moorland slopes.† They really think it is spring.† Relentless taskmaster that our leader is, we get back into the van and take the road up over the Oa moorland and see parties of Rooks and Crows as we go and the farmland nearby dotted with geese.† In fact one of the farms that the road weaves around has quite a few Peacocks.† They must feel very out of place.†

We are on the look out for Golden Eagle at a favourite spot and as soon as we draw up Howard immediately spots one soaring over the hills!† We get great views as it soars with Ravens but soon it sweeps away and off into the moorland after about 10 minutes of us watching it.† Michael and Maureen follow it on the telescopes but lose it as it disappears into the heather.† So we decide to opt for a cup of coffee (but itís disappointing to discover that we haven't got quite enough coffee Ė we must go to the Co-op later and buy some!).† We are soon distracted by yet another close Golden Eagle being mobbed by a Buzzard, allowing a tremendous size comparison.† We all learn how to separate the two raptors on their shape and jizz, which is not tough when you get this sort of view!† This too sweeps away into the moorland and disappears into the same place as the first one so perhaps there is some interesting pair behaviour going on.†

To our south and west we can clearly see the outline of Northern Ireland because it is so clear.† We then turn around and head back to Port Ellen where after a loo stop, yes, we do visit the Co-op and stock up on tea and coffee so we won't be caught short again!†

We take the rather sheltered coast road through the south east of the island.† The hills and hollows take us by the distilleries of Laphroig, Lagavullin and Ardbeg and everywhere Buzzards are on the wing, until we reach the roadside shelter of Loch an t Sailein.† Here the warm sun beaming down on us enhances the sheltered atmosphere of the sea loch.† Itís a very quiet road, in fact it is a completely quiet road, there is no traffic and the offshore rocky skerries have moaning Common Seals hauled out on them.† Itís calm still and sunny and soon Ian picks out an Otter on the far shore.† We get it in the telescope and it is busy eating something and everybody gets great views of it Ė what a bonus!†† Along with the Otter, we are able to watch Buzzard and Red-breasted Merganser and itís a very enjoyable spot, even for Julie who inadvertently manages to test the waterproofness of her boots in a nearby puddle Ė twice!† Michael picks out Curlew, Grey Heron and some more Seals in the water and we decide to opt for a walk along this quiet road through the hazel, silver and downy birch woodland.† There are a few small birds to be seen in the sun.† There are Coal Tits singing away nicely.† We see Blue Tit and Great Tit and a nice party of Long-tailed Tits.† Bullfinch dash for cover and do not show well Ė although later Maureen and Ian R see some from the front seats of the van Ė and while the leader retrieves the minibus everybody else manages to see Treecreeper.†

All collected together again, we follow the road and down to Claggain Bay past parties of Fallow and Red Deer.† Soon we are out of the wind and in the sun right down on the shoreline.† Itís a lovely place to have our lunch and nice to be away from any livestock and enjoy feeling free.† Off on the water there are Guillemot, Razorbill, Great Northern Diver and Black Guillemot and we have a little photo session of the group especially when Ian R braves the water and goes paddling.† "Itís not cold" he claims but even he gets a wet foot too as he misjudges putting his shoes back on.† We work back to the loch where we have seen the Otter and watch as a white Seal watches another go under as the water rises above it.† There is no sign of any Otters so we reward ourselves with a visit to the Ardbeg distillery.† The beautiful white buildings, painted green around the edges are very attractive and the former malt house with its high vaulted ceiling makes the perfect place for a little more shopping.†

We work our way back along the road to Port Ellen and then take the back road that goes north towards Bowmore.† This covers an area of very† bleak moorland and wide open grassy fields where there are parties of rather nervous looking Greenland White-fronted Geese.† Suddenly Ian W spots what might be causing the nervousness as a Golden Eagle swoops by incredibly close over the van and over the goose fields.† We get out and admire the Eagle as it swoops and disappears behind a house, andwe decide to retrace our steps to get better views.† We get there and follow the Eagle in the telescope when a second drifts into view.† They are both, three or four-year-old birds and have obviously been feeding recently.† They drift lazily in the wind up and down the hill slopes being mobbed by a couple of Peregrines no less.† What a fantastic sight, gorgeous sunlight, wonderful backdrop and tremendous views Ė a firm favourite at the end of the week for Ian, Maureen and Michael!

We follow the road north and it brings us to Loch Tallant where the sun gleams off the reeds all around.† It is out of the cold north west wind but it is kind of quiet with not many birds to be seen although Howard does pick out a Little Grebe on the water.† After a warming cup of tea, we make our way back to the hotel along the calm sunny shore of Loch Indaal.† There are Pale-bellied Brent Geese on the way and from the hotel, as we have a brief pause on the balcony atthe car park, we pick out a Red-throated Diver.† We are back earlier than last night and there is a good chance to relax and enjoy the evening sunshine before another wonderful evening meal.† We are intrigued by one of the waitresses at the hotel and Michael guesses correctly that she is from Ontario.

Day 4††††††††††††

Pre-breakfast Ian W knocks on the leaderís door to say that he had been for a walk and found a Snow Goose Ė good job somebody is looking!† So we phone around everybody and, before going in to eat, we get in the minibus and just a little to the north of Port Charlotte there it is gleaming close in the bright sunshine Ė a pure white, wild Snow Goose from North America!† As we study it, it potters amongst the other geese and then it alone flies a short way to another field Ė great to see it in flight just as we were discussing the black wing tips and no surprise that itís Magic Moment for Ian W, who found it!

We are just delighted to discover yet more glorious weather in fact the forecast looks astonishingly good for all week.† Islay is notorious for being a slightly damp destination of ours but we are certainly catching some fine weather albeit that it is rather cold.† The sea this morning is calm and silky, scattered with bird silhouettes Ė mostly Red-throated Diver but there are also Common Scoter and plenty of gulls.†

After breakfast we drive north to Traigh an Luig to scan out over the water of the bay.† Slavonian Grebes can be seen quite easily albeit distant and there are maybe ten of them amidst a very large flock of Scaup.† Many of the Grebes are actually in their breeding plumage and they look wonderful in this weather.† We follow the road out along to Bowmore where it is still calm but very quiet.† There are fewer birds in this part of Loch Indaal than in previous years but on the shoreline there are a few odds and ends.† There is a party of twelve Turnstone with one Purple Sandpiper and some more Great Northern Diver but sadly no Scoter can be seen from here.

We decide to take the road across country through Kilinallen and in the farmland it feels like spring with Lapwing skydiving, Buzzards sailing overhead, Raven nearby and plenty of geese in the fields.† There are some unwelcoming signs posted by farmers, obviously nervous about foot and mouth.† We keep to the road and work our way along stopping and scanning but the tide is still very high.† Way in the distance out on Loch Gruinart, there are lots of distant Dunlin and Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Redshank and Shelduck but nothing close in.† So we turn around and head back on the road on the western shore of Loch Gruinart out towards Ardnave.† Again we are obliged to keep in the car, even when we get out to the loch at the end but we have been told we can come here and it is nice to see twelve Icelandic Whooper Swans sitting out on the water.† There are Tufted Duck and Wigeon and a pair of Choughs show very well as they bound along the road towards us overhead.†

We leave this farmland area and take the road back out of the moors alongside Loch Gorm where we feel more welcome and again there are geese and Ravens, very few raptors but the Fieldfares are there again with the Redwing and Lapwing.† We seek the sanctuary of Machir Bay.† It is beautiful again as we arrive.† There is the usual gull flock on the beach and we have a little bit of a stroll just in hope that there might be some Twite around. High and distant over the cliffs, we see a Golden Eagle and a few Buzzards and we get some exercise on our stroll along the beach and it is beautiful to be out in the sunshine.† We get back to the vehicle and it is time for lunch.† Lunch is very welcome although we are distracted by fantastic views of Choughs feeding on the grassland very close to us Ė great views in the telescope.†† A party of Twite bound around and there are Pied Wagtails.

We are reluctant to leave but we go back along the road to the rocky foreshore at Bruichladdich where we have sought shelter before and we do so again below the war memorial.† Everybody Ė especially Julie and Maureen! Ė are keen to do some more Cormorant and Shag identification and along the rocky foreshore we have some practice.† At the war memorial a Cormorant flies by Ė confidently identified by all.† Ian and Howard scan out to sea and there are some Great Northern and Red-throated Diver with an elusive Black-throated Diver.

We tootle along back to the hotel for our now traditional reviving pot of tea after which Julie and Maureen opt for some down time as the rest of us go back out.† Julie is keen to catch up with Blue Peter but the rest of us want to get down to look for some Hen Harriers!† We break the journey first at Bridgend Bay where it is warm and sunny and the low tide exposes lots of mud. †In the good light we see about 40 Knot and quite a lot of Bar-tailed Godwit as well as Curlew and Redshank.† On the smelly, weedy pool close to us there are Teal, Wigeon, Pintail and Rock Pipit and with the light beginning to drop, we work our way past Lyrabus Farm and out to Gruinart Flats.† Itís kind of quiet as we scan around hoping for Hen Harriers but in the evening light, in the distance, a male Hen Harrier drifts in and settles on a fence post.† Itís a fair distance away and perhaps as the weather has been so good the feeding has been easy since it does not seem to need to hunt.† Over the course of the next half an hour, two female Harriers drift in and roost in roughly the same place.† Eventually the male Hen Harrier goes out hunting and in the telescope we get some pretty good views albeit it at the back of the flat area of moorland.† A few Buzzards drift around and we head back for the hotel.† We experience a fantastic sunset on the way home Ė gorgeous sunshine and glowing hills over on the east side of the island.† A little patch of firey rainbow appears in a hilltop burst over the moors and the calm water picks up much of the sunlight as it fades.

Day 5††††††††††††

It is another glorious sunny day and we set off a little apprehensive as we have mixed reports about the possibilities of going to Jura. The ferry shows no warnings about lack of access and the crossing is in fabulous weather.† There are Black Guillemots, auks and Eider on the narrow stretch of water with the fast tidal race between the two islands.† When we land however there are very unfriendly signs that reveal the siege mentality of the islanders during Foot and Mouth!†

Sticking to the vehicle we follow the shore along seeing Red Deer on the hillside and work our way around to the Jura House gardens.† Itís a little bit difficult as we can find no where to go walking and we work our way around to the shelter of the small community of Craighouse.† We stop on the shore beyond the houses where there are where there are lots of small birds busying along here in the shelter out of the wind.† There are Wren, Grey Wagtail, Song Thrush, Dunnock, Blackbird and then offshore, Great Northern Diver, Red-throated Diver and Shag but we are at a bit of a loss what to do because many of our usual walks perhaps are not open to us.† Keen to get a great view of the Paps we follow the road along.† Itís a rugged island with more moorland and deer then Islay and we can see the steep scree slopes of the high peaks of the Paps clearly Ė though even with the scopes we canít pick out a Ptarmigan!† More surprising however is the fact that we see a dead Woodcock on the road nearby Ė Howard would have preferred to see a live one but the intricate plumage is still very interesting to see.† We work our way back down to the same jetty where we saw the small birds and grab a coffee.† Ian W picks out an incredibly close female Sparrowhawk on the rocks here.

Having exhausted the possibilities, but had a sample of Jura, we opt to get back into the van and drive back over moorland to the ferry point.† We arrive fortuitously close to a ferry coming over and we are soon back on the mainland perhaps a little relieved not to be on Jura anymore but interested to have seen it.† We take the road along to the north close to the ferry point, which goes out to Bunnahabhain where we weave our way along the humps and hollows along the east coast of Islay looking over towards Jura.† Looking north in the clear weather, it is astonishing to be able to see the snow on Ben More on Mull and we can even see the Garvellach islands in the Sound, all very sharp in this cool northerly wind.†

Stopping at the viewpoint and looking over towards Jura we see a high and distant Golden Eagle displaying, an immature bird perhaps not on territory, before we follow the road down to Bunnahabhain itself.† We park and scan out along the shore but it is unusual to have the wind blowing into the bay here normally it is quite a sheltered spot.† We deserve a little bit of a walk and soon the path takes us through the highly aromatic casks and warehouses of the old distillery, past the holiday cottages and on a little grassy path to the rocky headland.† The tide is already high but we get a great view of the rusty shipwreck around the corner and it is nice to stretch our legs.†

We passed some sheltered spots way back, so we opt not to have lunch here and instead go back to Ardnahoe Loch.† There is a bit of a fish farm out on the loch but it is a quiet, still and sunny spot and we can park right down on the gravel on the shoreline.† There is a Grey Heron, Buzzard and Kestrel but otherwise it is very peaceful and we sit by the lapping water enjoying our sandwiches.† Well, we sit peacefully until a lorry arrives to deliver fish food for the fish farm Ė our one spot of peace and quiet!† The delivery men are very friendly so we move the van a little while they deliver the fish food and then decide to move ourselves!†

We return to Port Askaig for a comfort stop, admire the Black Guillemots offshore and then drive to Redhouses Woollen Mill, a very ancient woollen mill just close to Bridgend itself and the prime spot on the island for Dipper.† In fact when we get there the tumbling burn immediately reveals a Dipper to us plus some Grey Wagtails.† We coax everybody into the mill itself, where the entertaining owner and his endearing little dogs gives us a tour.† It is such a ramshackle place and seemingly chaotic, you wouldn't think they produce some of the finest tweeds for Scotland, including fabric for the Scottish parliament but itís fascinating to have a look around, if a bit noisy.†

We drive down to the beach again at Traigh An Luig.† We park in the dunes and in the rather biting wind stroll the length of the beach.† Itís great to be out in the sun and we walk hoping to find some Snow Bunting which fellow birdwatchers at the hotel had spotted earlier.† We do pick out a Sanderling and there are plenty of Ringed Plover and Oystercatcher but no sign of the Snow Bunting.† After a good walk we are ready for another little bit of shelter along at the war memorial where the soothing lapping waves and afternoon tea have us very reluctant to leave Ė especially as itís both Ian W and Maureenís Place of the Trip!† There are Shag, Red-throated and Great Northern Diver out on the waters of Loch Indaal in the sun.†

Howard and the two Ians opt to head up over the fields to scan for raptors at the back of Port Charlotte.† Gazing out over the plantations, where we have regularly seen Hen Harrier and Merlin, we brave the cold icy north wind and see Ö absolutely nothing!† We warm up at the hotel with a hot bath Ė remembered by Howard as his Place of the Trip! Ė and warm up even more at the bar before dinner with an interesting glass of their elderberry beer followed by a great meal.† After dinner and the bird checklist, we find ourselves back in the bar playing dominoes Ė well playing dominoes very badly in the case of some of us.† Howard seems to have the canny knack of getting the double six every time and winning.† More interestingly Maureen and Howard demonstrate their unusual "Guess the title of the book game" with books and a fishing rod Ė really itís beyond a complete explanation here and it would spoil the surprise on a future tour!

Day 6 †††††††††††

Our last full day and Ian W spends a spell in the conservatory reading his book Ė it seems like a nice thing to do for the day!† Weíre a hardy bunch though and although itís thereís a very cold north east wind, we set out after a slightly later than usual breakfast to see the waves of Barnacle Geese flying in to Bridgend Bay.†

We have a full band of takers for a distillery tour at Bowmore Ė perhaps we want to get out of the cold weather!† Here we have a fascinating tour around the distillery with a very entertaining host, new to the job Ė she certainly gives us the full tour experience.† We savour even more of the experience in the bar at the end where even Maureen samples a glass of the 12-year-old malt.† Itís her Magic Moment but pity the poor abstemious driver!†

There is a pleasant aroma in the minibus as we head south after our distillery tour and everyone is very mellow as we watch the Eider from the car park before driving the car-free moorland road down to Port Ellen.† We take a brief look along the back road for our Eagles again but there is no sign and boy is it cold.† At the coast where the wind still finds us, we drive checking various bays hopingto find a sheltered spot.† We wind our way back to Loch an t Sailein and finally find a spot where we can sit on the grassy shore and out of the wind it is very tranquil too.† The offshore skerries have Curlew and Red-breasted Merganser swimming by and Ian has got a feeling there is an Otter nearby.† Sure enough after a while we manage to pick one out on one of the nearer skerries.† It is a great view of a dog Otter as it rolls and grooms in the weed and we all interrupt our lunch to have a look through the telescope at it.† Also on the shore there is a Buzzard sitting amongst the weed being mobbed by gulls.† That too gives quite a bit of entertainment before it flaps away.† There is Oystercatcher and Mallard and Grey Heron and a lovely flock of 30 Curlew drift in.†

Itís a good spot but we leave and drive up on to the Oa for a final look for some Golden Eagles and yet again as soon as we arrive, we pick out a Golden Eagle soaring along one of the banks.† It lands and we discover there is another one next to it Ė a pair sat out on a grassy patch by the moorland above the lochs.† We get a little bit of display flighting from one of them in the biting wind and watch a Stonechat on the wire nearby.† Itís a tremendous sight and then suddenly a third bird flies in from the right.† There is no aggression between them and the first pair fly off south east and this new bird cruises along the ridge and lands.† We then discover it has landed next to yet another Golden Eagle.† We have unbelievably seen four adults altogether!† This pair mates and sits out in the heather, what an incredible sight.† Itís not surprising that at the end of the week a number of us vote this as both our Place of the Trip and Bird of the Trip!

Our Eagle spectacle over, we drive back down the road and head to the Machrie Hotel out on the golf course in the dunes where we coincide with our friends from the hotel.† This is an area where we can walk down through the dunes and out along the beach.† We cross the wind-swept dunes and immaculate golf course to the deserted unspoilt beach of the Big Strand. It is a fantastic sight to see such a large beach with no people on it!† We walk our way north which is a little out of the wind, seeing Ringed Plover, Oystercatcher, Wigeon and Raven.† It is a little quiet with no Twite or Snow Bunting but the sun is setting and it is a lovely atmosphere.† Back through the dunes, it seems like a bit of a long slog but we are soon revived in the warmth of the lounge bar at the hotel.† Surrounded by golfing trophies we enjoy our tea by a roaring fire before suitably warmed up, we remind ourselves how cold it is outside and drive all the way around to our hotel which is a fair way from one end of the island to the other.†

It is a fine evening and in the sunshine Howard, Maureen and the two Ians work their way back for a last look at the geese flighting into roost. We see a Sparrowhawk on route and at Bridgend Bay it is not too cold.† Leaning against the hide we are out of the wind and there are fabulous groups of cackling Barnacle Geese streaming across the sky like something out of a Peter Scott painting.† Like cream in a cup of fiery orange-coloured coffee, the sunset seems as if it has been swirled around with a spoon Ė it makes a tremendous backdrop as these raucous cackling flocks wiffle in, side-slipping through the wind and dropping down on to the beach to roost.† There is one Pink-footed Goose nearby with the Barnacles and we also see Buzzard, Raven, Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit and make a check through the thousands of gulls that are there but pick out nothing unusual.† Itís not a good winter for rare gulls in Scotland this year.† Itís a nice end to our last day on the island and we make our way homeward and though it is getting dark we manage to pick out Moorhen on one of the boggy lochans nearby another new bird for the list.† By the time we get back to the hotel we are tired and hungry and ready for a lovely meal and soon to bed.†

Day 7 †††††††††††

Our final day and there is still a good stiff cold strong north easterly wind blowing and after breakfast we pack and are waved off by Janey at the hotel.† We stop at Bridgend where Ian R has to buy a present for someoneís birthday.† Iím sure he always wanted a plastic Eagle Owl Ė well, heís going to get one now.† All good fun and Maureen nurses the owl as we make our way past flocks of Barnacle Geese down to the ferry.† With this foot and mouth outbreak will they allow a plastic owl to break quarantine off the island?† We certainly get some strange looks as we drive on the ferry and it is sunny and breezy but very pleasant and we slip out of the harbour past Shags, Cormorants and Eider.† We are all confident on our Shag identification now and head past the distilleries once more along the south coast and off towards Kennacraig.†

We warm up regularly in the observation lounge and a few brave souls venture outside to enjoy the last of the sunshine and the stunning views of Islay and Jura as we leave.† Yes, foot and mouth has made it a little more difficult than usual but we have managed to explore much of the island and enjoyed some stunning birds.† We are a bit reluctant to leave this wonderful Hebridean scenery and there are fantastic views of North Ireland as we sail Ė we can see Rathlin Island offshore and all the way along the coast of Donegal.† Soon we are entering the waters of West Loch Tarbert and docking at Kennacraig once more.† We make our sad farewells, board our cars and head for journeys homeward.†

SPECIES LIST

Red-throated Diver
Black-throated Diver
Great Northern Diver
Little Grebe
Slavonian Grebe
Fulmar
Gannet
Cormorant
Shag
Grey Heron
Mute Swan
Whooper Swan
Pink-footed Goose
Greenland White-fronted Goose
Greylag Goose
Snow Goose
Pale-bellied Brent Goose
Barnacle Goose
Shelduck
Wigeon
Teal
Mallard
Pintail
Shoveler
Tufted Duck
Scaup
Eider
Common Scoter
Goldeneye
Red-breasted Merganser
Hen Harrier
Sparrowhawk
Common Buzzard
Golden Eagle
Kestrel
Merlin
Peregrine
Pheasant
Moorhen
Oystercatcher
Ringed Plover
Lapwing
Knot
Sanderling
Purple Sandpiper
Woodcock (dead!)
Bar-tailed Godwit
Curlew
Redshank
Turnstone
Black-headed Gull
Common Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Kittiwake
Guillemot
Razorbill
Black Guillemot
Rock Dove
Woodpigeon
Collared Dove
Skylark
Meadow Pipit
Rock Pipit
Grey Wagtail
Pied Wagtail
Dipper
Wren
Dunnock
Robin
Stonechat
Blackbird
Fieldfare
Song Thrush
Redwing
Mistle Thrush (heard only)
Goldcrest (heard only)
Long-tailed Tit
Coal Tit
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Treecreeper
Chough
Jackdaw
Rook
Hooded Crow
Raven
Starling
House Sparrow
Chaffinch
Greenfinch
Siskin
Linnet (heard only)
Twite
Redpoll
Bullfinch
Reed Bunting

MAMMALS

Otter
Red Deer
Roe Deer
Fallow Deer
Brown Hare
Rabbit
Grey Seal
Common Seal