Thursday, 5 June 2014

Outer Hebrides 19th-24th May 2014

My fourth spring visit to the Uists, timed specifically to see Skua passage
was a complete and utter failure! With winds from the north-east for the
duration it felt more like winter than Spring! And not a single Pom or
Long-tailed Skua did i see.

That said, there's always a chance of a good bird at this time of year and
past visits have yielded Snowy Owl, Subalpine Warbler, Hoopoe and
Greater-Sand Plover. This visit was no different and i managed three
unexpected birds...

I took the ferry from Oban this time and there were several, confiding Black
Guillemots breeding in holes along the harbour wall.

A brood of newly-fledged Rock Pipits were being fed by the adult bird and i
managed to get very close.

Juvenile Rock Pipit

Hooded Crow

The sea out to South Uist was unexpectedly calm and viewing conditions were good.
I sat out on deck with a few other birders for the most part and highlights were:
2 Minke Whale, 30 Common Dolphin, 10 Porpoise, 20 Great-northern Diver and
around 1000 Manx Shearwater.

Canada Goose with young in the Sound of Mull

Minke Whale

Common Dolphin (was pleased with this one!)

Manx Shearwater

I arrived late in the evening and found a quiet spot to park the campervan and 
bedded down for the night. Over the next five days i travelled up and down the Uists
taking in the superb abundance of Waders, both breeding and passage birds and
some of the islands' scarcer inhabitants.

Arctic Skua mobbed by a Common Gull

Oystercatcher, one of the commonest Waders breeding on the Machair

'Drumming' Snipe


Short-eared Owl mobbed by a Lapwing


A Pleasant surprise came in the form of this superb male Ruff  which landed on 
the road down to Balranald RSPB. 

A couple of days later and i saw this lek by the roadside with the white Ruff
seemingly winning and holding off the black male.

Lekking Ruff.

Both Iceland (2) and Glaucous Gulls were seen, all immature birds.

Iceland Gull

Glaucous Gull

Glaucous Gull feeding on the remains of a young Minke Whale.

Corncrake is a must-see bird on the Hebrides and with the weather being so cold,
wet and windy it wasn't the best for seeing them. I only saw three.


News broke on the 20th of a pair of White-winged Black Terns on a Loch near Balranald.
What beauties! Even better, later in the day they were joined by another! Also present
was an immature Little Gull which is scarce on the Uists.

Lapwing with chicks

Male Hen Harrier

The commonest passage wader was Sanderling and they could be found in almost
every bay.


Twite are still common birds



Redshank chick taking it's first and last steps.

An immature Great Black-backed Gull devouring a brood of Eider chicks

Not on the menu that day were these Oystercatcher chicks

Birds of prey feature very strongly on the Western Isles and i saw double-figure numbers
of Eagles. These Golden Eagles were photographed over the ferry terminal at Lochboisdale.

Immature White-tailed Eagle

Great northern Diver the commonest of the three Divers

Another surprise Bird was a Short-toed Lark present in a sensitive area on South Uist.
News was not released due to the high number of breeding waders in the area.

Short-toed Lark

Loch Eyenort's most famous resident was this extremely tame Robin which flew into
my van several times looking for food!

My last night of the trip i parked the van at Rubha Ardvule and awoke early to do
a little sea-watching in the hope of pulling out a Long-tailed Skua before i left.
The sea, as expected with the winds was quiet and a drake Long-tailed Duck and 
a few Divers moving north the only birds of note. There were several hundred 
waders in the bays and i began checking through them. I found two 'Little Stints', a 
summer-plumaged bird and a greyer bird which i dismissed as a first-summer.

Naturally, with camera to hand i took photo's of both birds and informed a group of
other birders that arrived of their presence. It wasn't until later in the evening on 
mainland Scotland, that i began to sift through the images i'd taken and really look at

I began to doubt the initial id of Little Stint and felt it may be a Semi-palmated 
Sandpiper. With no mobile reception where i was camped that night i couldn't
contact Steve Duffield. Later the next day, when i arrived home, i emailed some images
to Steve who confirmed my suspicions. Semi-palmated Sandpiper in summer plumage,
ouch! I was a little mad at myself for not picking up on this when i first found it but
my last experience of Semi-p in Britain was around ten years ago at Drift in Cornwall
and prior to that i'd seen them in the states at Cape may in 1994. Never mind...
a great bird!

Semi-palmated Sandpiper

Little Stint

Little Stint with Dunlin

The ferry journey back to Oban was in complete contrast to the outward one, with
just a few Poropises seen. Eagles showed better however, with two Golden and
a White-tailed form the ferry.

Back on the mainland i rounded the trip off with some forest birding. Spot Fly, 
Redstarts, Tree Pipits and this cracking Wood Warbler.

Wood Warbler, Strone Hill.

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