Outer Hebrides

Monday 10 - Sunday 16 June 2002

Phil Read


These wonderful, remote islands always provide a wealth of wildlife, but to see them at their best you need fine weather. Sadly, and unusually, we were denied that on a number of days this year.


Monday 10 June. Wind: Easterly, light. Showers then dry. Max. temperature: PS 15C.

The weather was kind to us for our afternoon and evening cruise to Lochboisdale. As always this trip provides an opportunity to see large numbers of seabirds at close quarters. The large flocks of Manx Shearwater waiting for dark before going ashore on Rhum are the main attraction but we also saw hundreds of auks and seemingly thousands of Kittiwakes.

Tuesday 11 June. Wind: Southwesterly light. Occasional showers. Max. temperature: PS 15C.

Before heading to the RSPB reserve at Balranald we stopped off at a couple of the best birding spots on Benbecula. "Coot" Loch held a variety of freshwater duck including Shoveler and Wigeon and we had our first experience of the abundance of breeding waders. "Stinky" Bay with its abundance of rotting seaward provides a tremendous food source for a variety of species. Highlight of this visit was a very white Iceland Gull.

The RSPB reserve at Balranald is the best place to look for Corn Crake during the day as they seem immune to the continual comings and goings of visitors and with patience can be seen as well as heard here, although the long vegetation makes viewing frustrating.

An afternoon moorland walk gave us views of Short-eared Owl, breeding Curlew and Red

Grouse for Dave and Theo.

Wednesday 12 June. Wind: Southwesterly moderate. Showers the continual rain. Max. temperature: PS 12C.

We headed south in rather unsettled weather which made viewing of the plantation at Loch Druidibeg difficult and the hoped for passerines were few and far between. We all enjoyed close views of breeding Golden Plover, resplendent in their fine summer plumage, alongside the minibus. Moving over to the west coast the poor weather didn't prevent us looking out to sea and watching a pair of Great Northern Divers in full summer plumage.

Due to the weather we retreated to the warmth and comfort of the café at Kildonan, only to find most of South Uist had the same idea. Duly refreshed we visited one of the most picturesque and best lochs for wildlife. Unfortunately the poor weather prevented us from seeing much of the scenery although a fine White-tailed Eagle flying over our heads was ample compensation.

Thursday 13 June. Wind: Southwesterly light. Early showers then dry. Max. temperature: PS 15C.

A much brighter day for our tour of North Uist. To add some variety to the holiday, and to keep the archaeologists amongst us happy, we visited the impressive chambered cairn and stone circle at Langass. This area also provides magnificent moorland landscapes and interesting breeding birds. The Red-throated Divers which can be viewed at close range from the minibus are always a delight and the piratical breeding Arctic Skuas are always worth watching. After a short comfort and shopping break at Lochmaddy we headed north for more archaeology and moorland birds including a pair of Golden Eagle.

Berneray is no longer an island, since the building of the causeway to North Uist, but still a fascinating place to visit. I was interested to see some of the old white houses being restored to once again become family homes.

Friday 14 June. Wind: Southerly moderate. Continual rain. Max temperature: PS 12C.

The weather took a turn for the worse for our day in the south. The continual rain preventing much birding to be done outside the minibus so we decided on another "island" visit. Like Berneray, Eriskay now has a new causeway linking it to South Uist. We enjoyed a tour around and boosted the shop profits while we were there.

The bad weather necessitated another visit to the Kildonan café and this time we took in the museum as well.

The weather improved by evening allowing a post-dinner trip around Benbecula which included views of Pintail and the ever present Iceland Gull.

Saturday 15 June. Wind: Southwesterly light/moderate. Early drizzle the dry. Max temperature: PS 15C.

A damp start did not prevent us venturing on to the moors on the east side of Benbecula where we were rewarded with views of a least three Hen Harriers, Short-eared Owl and Black-throated Diver.

Lunch was spent at a picnic sight on the west coast of North Uist before we headed to Balranald again for another try at the Corn Crakes. The resident "star" teased us repeatedly by calling at very close range, but out of view in the long vegetation. Some of us obtained a variety of views, but generally frustratingly brief. Suddenly Theo announced that someone (not one of our group) was locked in the Gents toilets and couldn't get out. Corn Crake hunting was abandoned whilst Dave tried to ring the warden for help. Eventually Gordon and Ron coaxed the unfortunate gentleman out through a small window and we were able to continue on our way.

Sunday 16 June. Wind: Southerly light/moderate. Dry and bright. Max temperature: PS 14C

We were blessed with calm conditions for our return ferry crossing. As usual hundreds of Manx Shearwaters were the main attraction and a Pomarine Skua a nice surprise. Four Risso's Dolphin passed close to the ferry but surprisingly few Harbour Porpoise were seen in the mirror-like waters of the Sound of Mull.



Red-throated Diver: Excellent views from the vehicle of breeding birds on Lochmaddy Moor. Also seen most days in flight and one from the return ferry.

Black-throated Diver: A pair flew over Langass on 13th. One on a breeding loch east Benbecula on 15th.

Great Northern Diver: A pair in superb breeding plumage off Peninerine on 12th.

Little Grebe: Seen on "Coot" Loch, Benbecula and Loch Aonghais, N Uist.

Fulmar: Common on the crossings. Seen daily around the islands.

Manx Shearwater: One of the highlights of the ferry trips are the close views of large flocks, both in flight and on the sea, of these birds which breed in huge numbers on the Inner Hebrides.

Storm Petrel: Six distantly from the outward ferry.

Gannet: Seen daily offshore, with flocks seen from the ferry.

Cormorant: Recorded daily in small numbers.

Shag: Recorded daily in small numbers.

Grey Heron: Recorded on most days. Small breeding colony seen near Petersport on 11th.

Mute Swan: A common breeding bird. Large flocks on Loch Bee.

Whooper Swan: One summering bird at Peninerine on 12th.

Greylag Goose: This wild goose is a very common and visual breeding bird.

Shelduck: Common breeding bird. Many family parties seen.

Wigeon: A drake on "Coot" Loch on 11th.

Gadwall: Three on "Coot" Loch.

Teal: Two on Loch Aonghais.

Mallard: Common breeding bird.

Pintail: A male on "Coot" Loch on 14th.

Shoveler: Up to six males on "Coot" Loch.

Tufted Duck: Widespread breeding bird. Many family parties seen.

Eider: Common breeding bird around the rocky shores.

Red-breasted Merganser: Recorded daily in small numbers.

White-tailed Eagle: We all enjoyed superb views of a huge female, flying over being mobbed by a "tiny" Buzzard, on South Uist.

Hen Harrier: An excellent series of records involving nine individuals. Single males at Balranald on 11th, Loch Eynort on 12th, Lochmaddy Moor on 13th and Griminsh on 15th. A pair North Uist on 13th. Two males together with a female on the east side of Benbecula on 15th.

Common Buzzard: The commonest and most visible bird of prey.

Golden Eagle: One distantly from the ferry in the Sound of Mull on 10th. A pair distantly and another pair much closer, both on North Uist on 13th.

Kestrel: One being mobbed by Arctic Skuas on Lochmaddy Moor and one at Newton on 13th. One Committee Road, North Uist on 15th.

Merlin: One, seen from the minibus by Theo, on North Uist on 13th.

Peregrine: One South Uist on 12th.

Red Grouse: One seen by Theo and Dave at Committee Road on 11th.

Corn Crake: Heard in a number of places along the west coast but only seen at Balranald on 11th and 15th. Most of us managed a number of sightings but views were generally frustratingly brief in the long vegetation.

Coot: Only seen on "Coot" Loch.

Oystercatcher: Widespread and very vocal breeding bird.

Lapwing: Widespread and very vocal breeding bird.

Golden Plover: We all enjoyed excellent views of this handsome bird on its moorland breeding grounds.

Ringed Plover: Common breeding bird.

Bar-tailed Godwit: Migrant birds were seen on three occasions. Two Balranald on 11th. 15 North Bay, South Uist and one on Rubha Ardvule on 12th.

Whimbrel: One North Bay on 12th.

Curlew: One or two seen most days on the pre-breakfast walk. One bird seen on breeding grounds on North Uist.

Redshank: Very common and vocal breeding bird.

Common Sandpiper: Recorded most days on the rocky shores of lochs.

Red-necked Phalarope: We all appreciated the wonderful views of two beautiful females at their traditional site. Long may they remain here.

Common Snipe: Numbers seemed to be significantly less than in recent years. Is the hedgehog to blame?

Sanderling: Migrant birds seen on two occasions. Three "Stinky Bay" on 11th and one at Ardivachar on 12th.

Dunlin: Only a few migrants seen on the beaches. Noticeable decrease in the number of breeding birds.

Great Skua: Four from the ferry on the outward trip. Two chasing a Kittiwake near Barra on the return crossing.

Pomarine Skua: One dark phase bird flew past the ferry on the return crossing.

Arctic Skua: One on the outward crossing. We enjoyed excellent views of birds on their breeding grounds on North Uist.

Common Gull: Common breeding bird regularly observed harrasing breeding waders.

Lesser Black-backed Gull: By far the less common of the breeding gulls.

Herring Gull: Very common breeding bird. Large flocks of non-breeding birds.

Great Black-backed Gull: Recorded daily in small numbers.

Iceland Gull: One very white individual was present at Stinky Bay throughout the week.

Black-headed Gull: Common breeding bird.

Kittiwake: Very common from the ferries with a number of large flocks, containing hundreds of birds, on the outward crossing.

Little Tern: Seen most mornings on the pre breakfast walks breeding on an offshore island.

Arctic Tern: A common breeding bird, mainly on the west side of the islands.

Common Tern: Breeding birds seen on most days but far less common than the Arctics.

Guillemot: Very common on the crossings.

Razorbill: Very common on the west side of the Minch, few on the east side.

Puffin: Many seen from the ferries but mainly in ones or twos.

Rock Dove: This wild pigeon was seen daily.

Wood Pigeon: One at Grogarry Lodge on 12th.

Collared Dove: A few seen on two days.

Cuckoo: Heard most days. Seen well on North Uist on 11th and 13th.

Short-eared Owl: One Langass on 11th. One North Uist on 13th. One Benbecula on 15th.

Skylark: Delightfully common and vocal.

Swallow: Far commoner than usual. Recorded daily at a number of sites around the islands.

Pied Wagtail: Recorded in small numbers.

White Wagtail: One at Liniclate on 12th.

Meadow Pipit: Common and widespread.

Rock Pipit: The Hebridean race was seen around the rocky shores.

Wren: We saw the distinctive Hebridean race in its usual moorland habitat.

Dunnock: Only seen at Loch Eynort and near Rueval, Benbecula.

Blackbird: Recorded daily.

Song Thrush: The large, distinctive Hebridean race was seen daily.

Robin: One at Committee Road plantation on 11th.

Stonechat: Surprisingly scarce but seen well on Benbecula on 15th.

Wheatear: Common breeding bird.

Willow Warbler: Breeding birds watched carrying food at Loch Eynort. Heard singing on North Uist.

Hooded Crow: The only sighting was of one near Newton on 15th. This alleged pest has been all but eradicated from the islands.

Raven: Widespread around the islands.

Starling: Common and widespread.

Corn Bunting: Excellent views of singing birds around Balranald.

Reed Bunting: A fine male near Rueval on 15th.

Greenfinch: Seen at Loch Druidibeg and Loch Eynort.

Twite: Recorded in small numbers. This bird, so easy to seen when in large flocks during the winter, becomes rather elusive during the summer months.

House Sparrow: Very common.


Common Seal

Grey Seal

Western Hedgehog: Both our principles and consciences were tested when we found a live hedgehog during an evening walk on Benbecula. This alien species was stupidly introduced to South Uist in the 1970's and has since spread north. Feeding on the eggs of wading birds they have flourished and become a serious pest. Pam's presence resulted in the creature living to fight another day.

Red Deer



Harbour Porpoise: Two distantly in the Sound of Mull during outward crossing. One in the Minch and one briefly close to the ferry in the Sound of Mull on the return crossing.

Bottle-nosed Dolphin: Two off Barra on the outward crossing.

Risso's Dolphin: A pod of four passed alongside the ferry during the return crossing.

Minke Whale: One briefly on the outward crossing. Pam also saw an unidentified whale, probably this species, during the outward crossing.


Green -veined White

Red Admiral

Painted Lady


Highland Darter

© The Travelling Naturalist 2002