Scotland, Outer Hebrides, Uists and Barra - 10th - 17th May 2008 with Western Isles Wildlife

Published by Stephen Duffield (steveduffield AT

Participants: Stephen Duffield, Valerie Nuttall, Allen and Janet Bethel, Sandra Gould


Photos with this report (click to enlarge)

Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl
Corn Bunting
Corn Bunting


North Uist: Sound of Harris;

Balranald: Committee Road; Loch Euport; Griminish; Lochmaddy; Oban Trumisgarry / Newton; Scolpaig; Loch Paible; Loch Portain.

Benbecula: Gramsdale; Loch Mor / Loch Fada; Coot Loch

South Uist: Loch Eynort; Grogarry Lodge; Loch Druidibeg; Ardvule; South Ford; Ardivachar; Loch Bee; Reuval; Howmore.

Barra: Brehvig; Vatersay; Eoligarry, North Bay; Loch Tagusdale; Allasdale.

Daily dairy:

10th May: As there had been a report of a Snowy Owl at Balranald earlier in the day we decided to waste no time and shot off in the evening to see if we could find it. On route we collected a 1st yr Iceland Gull at Gramsdale, Benbecula which was showing well outside the fish factory. Once at Balranald we scanned the machair fields and with a little persistence managed to spot the large, female Snowy Owl. She was crouched in a corner of a ploughed field at the south-west end of the nature reserve where it was periodically being mobbed by a variety of gulls and waders. Whilst watching the owl we also saw 3 Whimbrel and a female Hen Harrier.

11th May: We headed north this morning via west Benbecula where we called in at Coot Loch and Loch Fada / Loch Mor. Coot Loch held Gadwall, Shoveler and Little Grebe whilst there was a male Garganey on Loch Fada. We briefly stopped on the road at the Westford Inn where we spotted a male Whinchat feeding along the fence. The Committee Road was quite active with 4 Short-eared Owls, a distant female Hen Harrier and a male Merlin calling. A couple of herds of Red Deer were also seen. At the north end of the Committee Road we stopped at Claddach Vallay and got good looks at Cuckoo and Twite, down to a few metres as well as a displaying Short-eared Owl. Our next destination was Grenitote where a male Snowy Owl had been reported the previous day but our search drew a blank on this occasion although we did see a female Merlin and a few Bar-tailed Godwits still in winter plumage. We had lunch at the picnic site at Grenitote in the lovely sunny weather before heading to Loch Portain / Strome. We stopped quickly to look at a family of Ravens before having a wander at Strome where we picked up 2 Otters feeding in the tidal channel and a single Wood Pigeon in the wooded garden here. Langass was our final destination although it proved fairly quiet apart from a couple of singing Siskin.

12th May: We headed south this morning and called in at Grogarry Lodge where we managed to see a singing Wood Warbler and 2 Wood Pigeons. Loch Druidibeg was quiet although we did have excellent views of a Whooper Swan at the roadside. Our next port of call was Loch Eynort, a large sea loch stretching almost across the width of South Uist and opening out into the Minch. The area was full of Common Seals resting on exposed rocks and we had brief views of an Otter once we had walked through the wooded garden which held Lesser Redpoll, Goldcrest, Hebridean Song Thrush and a blackcap (only heard). Once we were in the open we saw a female Hen Harrier, 2 Red-throated Divers and Black Guillemot. We then headed for Ardvule, a peninsula on the west coast where in the calm conditions we saw 6 Bottle-nosed Dolphins quite a distance off-shore. Birds included Manx Shearwater, Great Northern Diver, Razorbill and a distant Great Skua. We walked back along the shoreline to the car to catch up with Purple Sandpipers and had a close encounter with a Peregrine Falcon as it hunted the waders we were watching. Lunch was enjoyed along the coast at Stoneybridge whilst a summer plumage Great Northern Diver fed close in-shore. We travelled back north from here to Balgarva where we saw 7 pale-bellied Brent Geese on the salt-marsh. Nearby Ardivachar Point had a selection of waders, Great Northern Diver and a male Hen Harrier. Little Tern and a Whooper Swan were at Ardkenneth and a Short-eared Owl was showing well on a post by the main road.

13th May: An early morning start for Barra produced 3 Short-eared Owls on route for the ferry. From the ferry we had a number of Great Northern Divers, Razorbill, Guillemots; good views of Black Guillemots and plenty of Gannets. Grey Seals were hauled out on a small island not far from Barra with lots of Eider. On Barra itself we first visited Eoligarry where we spotted a Golden Eagle over the island of Fuday and 2 summer plumage Black-throated Divers showed well on the sea. We also had Red-throated Divers and lots of Arctic Terns from here. A male Whinchat was in song and 2 Sand Martin were seen hawking over a reed bed that held good numbers of displaying Sedge Warblers. At Ardmor / North Bay we saw a couple of Cuckoos; had brief views of a Turtle Dove and heard 2 Blackcaps in song although the star of the show was another Golden Eagle at close range being mobbed by a Raven and 2 Hooded Crows. Our next stop was Brehvig which is one of the few places on the island where there are mature trees. This spot held a couple of Whitethroats plus another Blackcap was heard in song. We carried on our circuit of the island with our next destination being just around the corner at Gleann. Two more Whitethroats were seen here plus a number of Common Redpolls. At the end of the road we paused to listen to the distant liquid call of a bird approaching our position. Although not a familiar sound in the islands it became clear that the call was coming from the Outer Hebrides first Bee-eater! In a desperate struggle to see this Mediterranean stray we scanned the sky above but just two of us briefly glimpsed the bird as it dipped over a hillside to the north-east. Our only hope was that the tired migrant would need a rest and so we returned to Brehvig where we were rewarded with a good view of this stunning bird through the telescope as it perched on a treetop. We watched the Bee-eater for around 10 minutes until it dropped from view and was not seen again until being picked up in Lochmaddy on North Uist by a lucky visitor later that evening. We headed back round to North Bay and then down the west side of the island stopping for lunch at Allasdale. After lunch we continued towards Vatersay with a stop at Loch Tangusdale where we had a male Pochard. A Corncrake remained frustratingly invisible despite sounding very close to the road to the west of Castle Bay. After a walk on Vatersay we headed back for the ferry seeing 2 more Golden Eagles and 2 Red-throated Divers on the reservoir at the north end of the island. As we sailed out of the pier at Ardmor we spotted an Otter clambering around on rocks lying to the east; a fitting end to a very eventful and exciting day.

14th May: Our quest for Corncrake continued with an early morning start for Balranald. On route an Otter ran across the road leading across the North Ford causeway. At Balranald Corncrakes remained frustratingly elusive although we did see a male Ruff and the female Snowy Owl at Aird an Runair. We returned to the B&B for breakfast and were back in the field for 10:30 touring west Benbecula where we all managed to get a look at a calling Corncrake close to the roadside at Loch Fada. Other species here included a Black-tailed Godwit and Arctic Terns. On Coot Loch we spotted a male Gadwall and on east Benbecula a female Merlin. We then headed onto North Uist and looked for a Green-winged Teal without much success although we did see a nesting Buzzard, 2 Red-throated Divers and Black Guillemot at Loch Euport. On the west side of North Uist we were driving round to Loch Sandary when to our surprise a Corncrake slowly stalked across the road in front of the car in the middle of the afternoon. We watched the bird sneak along a fence line towards us and then disappear into a clump of grass where it remained until approached closely. The bird then walked fairly slowly out in full view and into a nearby garden where it hid in a clump of Pampas Grass allowing us a truly incredible encounter. Shortly after this we stopped at Loch Grogary where we had a male and female Garganey before continuing on to the lovely location of Griminish. At the latter site we spotted a Chiffchaff and 2 Red-throated Divers, plus a couple of Little Tern. Ben Risary plantation provided us with 2 Short-eared Owls and a male Hen Harrier whilst a further Short-eared Owl and female Hen Harrier were spotted along the Committee Road. On the southern half of the road we were treated to the site of 3 Golden Eagles including an immature sat on a standing stone. It perched here for at least an hour and was mobbed by a selection of birds including a Short-eared Owl. The views were superb and rounded off another excellent day.

15th May: This morning we headed off around Loch Bee and managed to pick up Grey Plover in the South Ford off Hebridean Jewellery and a couple of Little Terns. To the west of Loch Bee we had a couple of Corn Buntings singing on the machair, one of which had been ringed the previous winter at Balranald in North Uist and proved to be the furthest travelled of all Corn Bunting movements known in the Uists. On Loch Bee itself besides the large gathering of Mute Swans we had a single male Scaup amongst a flock of Tufted Ducks. Tea break was had up on a the relatively small hill known as Reuval which afforded us excellent views of the surrounding countryside and good views of both Peregrine Falcon and a male Hen Harrier. We enjoyed a packed lunch on the coast at Stoneybridge with a Great Northern Diver before we drove south to Daliburgh where we saw more Corn Buntings, Sedge Warblers and another male Hen Harrier. Loch Eynort was our final destination to look for raptors and it didn’t disappoint with 2 adult White-tailed Eagles, a Golden Eagle and a male Hen Harrier. This was all supported by a cast of numerous Willow Warblers in song and 4 summer plumage Red-throated Divers.

16th May: Our final full day took us to the northern end of North Uist via Lochmaddy although first we checked Loch Mor, Benbecula for phalaropes and despite them being conspicuous by the absence we did get excellent views of a calling Corncrake by the roadside. Lochmaddy produced Twite, Red-throated Divers, Arctic Terns and a Razorbill. We moved on to Oban Trumisgarry / Newton where we had a distant Golden Eagle being mobbed by 2 Hooded Crows. A Wood Sandpiper flew off from the back of a tidal loch before we could get good views and disappeared over the moor. Other species here included 2 Kestrels and Buzzards. In the north-west corner of North Uist we visited a Golden Eagle eerie where we got pretty good views of an adult perched on a hilltop to the south of our position. Nearby Griminish produced Little Tern and Red-throated Divers whilst at Balranald we heard more from the Corncrakes. We called in at Loch Paible and spotted a selection of waders, a distant falcon that was probably a hybrid falconer’s bird and a lone Barnacle Goose taking our weeks total to 112 species.

17th May: Called in at Loch Mor for a last attempt at Red-necked Phalarope as Sandra and Val were heading to the airport but there was still no sign. Alan and Janet both headed south later on in the day to catch the ferry to Oban.

Species Lists

1. Red-throated Diver
2. Black-throated Diver
3. Great Northern Diver
4. Little Grebe
5. Northern Fulmar
6. Manx Shearwater
7. Northern Gannet
8. European Shag
9. Grey Heron
10. Mute Swan
11. Whooper Swan
12. Pink-footed Goose
13. Greylag Goose
14. Brent Goose (pale-bellied)
15. Common Shelduck
16. Mallard
17. Gadwall
18. Northern Shoveler
19. Eurasian Wigeon
20. Common Teal
21. Garganey
22. Tufted Duck
23. Pochard
24. Greater Scaup
25. Red-breasted Merganser
26. White-tailed Eagle
27. Golden Eagle
28. Hen Harrier
29. Common Buzzard
30. Common Kestrel
31. Merlin
32. Peregrine Falcon
33. Corncrake
34. Common Moorhen
35. Common Coot
36. European Oystercatcher
37. Ringed Plover
38. Grey Plover
39. European Golden Plover
40. Northern Lapwing
41. Sanderling
42. Purple Sandpiper
43. Ruddy Turnstone
44. Dunlin
45. Common Sandpiper
46. Wood Sandpiper
47. Common Redshank
48. Common Greenshank
49. Black-tailed Godwit
50. Bar-tailed Godwit
51. Ruff
52. Eurasian Curlew
53. Whimbrel
54. Common Snipe
55. Great Skua
56. Arctic Skua
57. Black-headed Gull
58. Common Gull
59. Herring Gull
60. Lesser Black-backed Gull
61. Great Black-backed Gull
62. Iceland Gull
63. Black-legged Kittiwake
64. Little Tern
65. Common Tern
66. Arctic Tern
67. Black Guillemot
68. Common Guillemot
69. Razorbill
70. Rock Dove
71. Wood Pigeon
72. Collared Dove
73. Turtle Dove
74. Common Cuckoo
75. Snowy Owl
76. Short-eared Owl
77. Bee-eater
78. Skylark
79. Barn Swallow
80. Sand Martin
81. Rock Pipit
82. Meadow Pipit
83. Pied Wagtail
84. Hebridean Wren
85. Hebridean Dunnock
86. European Robin
87. Northern Wheatear
88. Common Stonechat
89. Whinchat
90. Hebridean Song Thrush
91. Blackbird
92. Blackcap (H)
93. Sedge Warbler
94. Wood Warbler
95. Willow Warbler
96. Common Chiffchaff
97. Goldcrest
98. Hebridean Starling
99. House Sparrow
100. Hooded Crow
101. Common Raven
102. Chaffinch
103. Linnet
104. Lesser Redpoll
105. Common Redpoll
106. Twite
107. Goldfinch
108. Greenfinch
109. Eurasian Siskin
110. Reed Bunting
111. Snow Bunting
112. Corn Bunting


Red Deer
Common Seal
Grey Seal
Bottle-nosed Dolphin