|Ultimate Scotland 2009 Tour Report 21st June- 2nd July|
After a brief tour of the Sheffield area the group of 7 headed north up the A1. Before long we made or first stop in North Yorkshire. The air was filled with the calls of Lapwing and the bubbling of Curlew, punctuated with the 'tick tock' calls of Snipe. Scanning the rough upland pasture we found not 1 but 2 female Black Grouse, the second incredibly well camouflaged. Wheatear and Sand Martin as well as several Oystercatcher were seen. We continued north and on into Scotland calling at Annadale Water services. Whilst having lunch we saw a family party of Mute Swan with 5 cygnets, plus several Tufted Duck. On further in to Scotland and a quite a few Buzzard, Lapwing, Curlew, Black- headed Gull & Common Gull were seen. A break in Dunkeld by the River Tay produced Goosander, as well as 2 Dipper, 2 Common Sandpiper, more Oystercatcher and lots of Sand Martin. The group reached it's destination at tea-time and quickly settled into our accommodation, although we sneaked out for half an hour to stretch our legs. This proved worth the effort as we recorded our first prize bird- a pair of Slavonian Grebe, with a single chick. Also in the area were Buzzard, yet more Common Sandpiper and Oystercatcher as well as 5 Goldeneye. We returned to our accommodation for a wash & brush up before a meal and a drink in the 'Winking Owl' in Aviemore. Most then headed back to the b+b for an early night, before and early start tomorrow. Bird Of The Day- Slavonian Grebe.
start as the group gathered for a pre breakfast walk around Garten Woods.
Initial impressions were it was quiet, but we soon began recording the
ubiquitous Chaffinch and Siskin, as well as Treecreeper
& Spotted Flycatcher. 2-3 Common Sandpiper were
seen & heard by Loch Garten itself. We then heard and saw, albeit
briefly our first Crested Tit, then another, with 2, presumed Parrot
Crossbill over, giving their deep 'Gyp Gyp' calls. Towards Loch Malachie
we saw 2-3 more Crested Tit, some quite low in the trees offering
excellent views. Loch Mallachie was disappointing with just single Wigeon
& Goldeneye with the distant bubble of Curlew.
Returning we had a hearty breakfast. Given the weather we headed up Carn
Ban Moor, despite the spectacular scenery the bird list failed to match
the scenery or the effort of climbing to 2600 feet above sea level. The
Wheatear and Meadow Pipit failed to impress, as did the
squally shower at our highest point. We beat a hasty retreat and within
an hour were back at van ready for our very late lunch. A brief stop at
Loch an Eileen although very pleasant failed to add to our tally. Our
final port of call was the Rothemurchus Fish Farm. Within a few minutes
an Osprey appeared, plunged and caught a fish- an excellent finish
to an otherwise frustrating day. We also had lots of Tufted Duck here,
plus at least 8 Herons in the heronry as well as Sand Martin
& Sedge Warbler. A welcome shower was topped by an excellent
meal in the 'Winking Owl' and a well deserved glass of beer. Bird Of The
Day- Osprey successfully fishing.
Our final morning in the Cairngorms began with a pre-breakfast walk around Forest Lodge, this was rewarded with 5 Crested Tits, including a family party. As well as the usual Siskin and a pair of Crossbill spp. We drove back via a moor which produced many Curlew and a pair of Little Grebe and a family party of Stonechat. After breakfast we headed back into Abernethy and to the RSPB Osprey Centre. Here the adult Osprey showed well, as did the juv birds. Leaving here we drove north towards Inverness. On the way we called off at a large upland loch, a traditional site for Black- throated Diver, a pair duly performed at fairly close distances. Scanning upwards produced another Osprey plus 3 Buzzard. The edges held 30+ Common Gull, which really are common up here with 5 Common Sandpipers also. The far bank held a noisy 150 Greylag Geese. The moorland produced a single Golden Plover though, but did hold hundreds if not thousands of Meadow Pipits and lots of Red Grouse. A Spotted Flycatcher in a roadside wood was a surprise at this altitude. We continued N to Inverness. It was a stunning drive to Portree. Lunch was taken on the banks of the Caledonian Canal in glorious sunshine. Continuing on we passed by Loch Ness before heading west down the spectacular Glen Shiel. We passed the Kyle of Lochalsh and onto the Isle of Skye via the now, not so new bridge and up to Portree our base for the night. We checked into our hotel and wandered around the very attractive harbour before eventually deciding where to eat- Portree isn't that big! Bird Of The Day- Black- throated Diver.
Some folk rose early for a stroll around the harbour which produced Black Guillemot and Eider with Cuckoo & Common Sandpiper seen. Post breakfast we met at the harbour for a 2 hour boat ride out of Portree. The main focus was to experience gobsmackingly close views of White- tailed Eagle, which promptly performed within 10 feet of the boat (lured by a tasty fish), not before a large pod of Dolphins put on a great show as they took a break from feeding to play with us and ride the bow waves- awesome, this and the White- tailed Eagle was a highlight of the tour. This trip also produced Fulmar, Shag and Raven. We drove north to Uig in time to catch our ferry to the Hebrides. Here we saw another Golden Eagle above Uig as well as more Black Guillemot in the harbour. The ferry journey was very smooth and offered great seawatching. Before long we were picking up Arctic Terns, Kittiwake as well as Gannet with quite a few (c100) Manx Shearwater, although the highlight were a total of 10 Storm Petrel and a couple of Great Skuas hanging off fishing boats with a Great Northern Diver just away from our destination Lochmaddy. Our accommodation was literally 100m from the ferry terminal, so disembarking we quickly arrived and settled in to our place. It was a glorious evening so we went a walk around Lochmaddy, down several lanes and into countryside. Many Common & Arctic Terns were seen in the bays and inlets, with several Red- throated Diver.Sedge Warbler were heard from scrub as well as several Twite over, which are still numerous here. Returning to our base we cleaned up and had a pleasant meal in the Lochmaddy Hotel and an early night before an early start looking for Corncrakes in the morning. White- tailed Eagle was clearly Bird Of The Day.
Our first full day on N. Uist began early with a pre- breakfast drive to Balranald, an RSPB reserve. On the way we had several Raven at Bayhead and 2 Short- eared Owl from the car plus a family party of Whooper Swan inc. 6 juv's. On the road to Balranald we heard several Corncrake, although tantalizingly close they were well hidden, with at least 4birds surrounding us. 3 Corn Bunting flew from the building, again a bird clinging on here. The chorus of waders in the early morning has to be heard- Dunlin, Lapwing, Redshank, Snipe, Oystercatcher & Ringed Plover, all displaying and singing. Although a highlight was a female Merlin that landed on the ruined church and proved very approachable. After breakfast we returned to Balranald. We returned to our spot where we heard Corncrake, then we saw one as it skulked through the Iris beds, but this one passed below a large rock with no cover. We all maneuvered ourselves to get the best views as it carefully made it's way across the meadow and was in view for full minute! Down to the centre and on to the headland for pleasant walk. The colony of Arctic Terns were somewhat aggressive and mobbed our group. Feeding on the foreshore of the receding tide were 12 Dunlin. Of note were 12 genuine Rock Dove over. In the bay were c30 Eider, with many juvs in crèches. The headland produced a few seabirds including loads of Fulmar, 100's of Gannet feeding offshore with c150 Manx Shearwater past and 2 Great Northern Diver in the bay showing well and 3 Great Skua >N. The foreshore also produced lots of Ringed Plover and c100 Turnstone. Further around was around a small loch that held breeding Shovelor and Tufted Duck. Later in the day we made our way to the N end of the island to a Golden Eagle viewing area- sure enough lunch in the far from salubrious surroundings was interrupted as we had excellent views of yet another Golden Eagle as it flew low over the hillside, although this was eclipsed by a stunning pair of Hen Harrier, with day total of 4 birds here. By early evening we were tiring, so a gentle walk to a sea loch, this produced Black- throated Diver and at least 40-60 Common Crossbill, with males, females & juv's low in the trees offering excellent views, although the highlight for most was a dog Otter that performed brilliantly 100m away, completely unconcerned by our presence. We also picked up Red- breasted Merganser here. Returning to our b+b we reflected on a long, but brilliant day. Some went for a stroll around Lochmaddy before the meal and had more Twite. Corncrake was Bird Of The Day.
An early morning run to Balranald and the headland produced a further 6 Corncrake, with one bird in flight as flew from the Iris beds by the centre, over the road and into cover, with a bird later in the day calling from Griminish. a Pair of Short- eared Owl put in an appearance by Langass Lodge. A brief seawatch from the bay produced 20 Fulmar, 30+ Gannet, Kittiwake, 300+ Meadow Pipit (day total- everywhere), 4 Great Northern Diver together, with a day total of 9 birds as well as 20 Shovelor (many juvs) on a lochen, with Sandwich Tern through, plus the usual 9 (family party) Whooper Swan and loads Redshank. After a welcome breakfast we headed south to Benbecula and South Uist. Our first port of call was a known Red- necked Phalarope site. This year the loch was wet, but quite large. Scanning proved daunting until a single bird popped up about 30 feet from us giving amazing views to all. Scanning further round produced 3 Black- tailed Godwits, 3 Wigeon, and possibly a second (or our original) Red- necked Phalarope. We also had plenty of Common Gull & Common Tern here. Dunlin also put on show with a bird displaying by the road, with lots of Snipe adding to cacophony. A Merlin also flew through- this proving to be an excellent halt. Following this we moved to the coast and the attractive Stinky Bay- An Arctic Skua flew through, although of note were the 200 (inc. crèches) Eider, with 2 Rock Pipit & 10 Shelduck inshore. Offshore were 150+ Manx Shearwater, 2 Great Skua and 6 Black Guillemot. On our way back we detoured down several minor roads, these brought us to some amazingly secluded and quiet spots, although complete with birds. By Loch Skipport we had Cuckoo and several Crossbill, with Red- throated Diver over, 5 Raven, several Twite, and White- tailed Eagle over An excellent spot for a late lunch. Those with surplus energy had a walk around Lochmaddy upon our return and had good numbers of Arctic Tern and a Sparrowhawk. Another successful day and a great meal in Lochmaddy, complete with musical accompaniment.Red- necked Phalarope was Bird Of The Day.
Our final morning on the Hebrides, before the ferry back to Skye and an overnight halt again in pretty Portree. An early morning walk around Lochmaddy produced lots of Arctic Tern, 14 Crossbill over, 5 Rock Pipit, 2 Sedge Warbler, 2 Black Guillemot and several Hebrides Wrens. Having checked out of our accommodation we headed briefly to the NW side of N. Uist, towards Cheese Bay before catching our ferry. Here we had 2 Arctic Skua, lots of Greylag Geese, many Mute Swan and Redshank, 2 Red- breasted Merganser 12 Raven together and lots of Wheatear, although the highlight was an adult Golden Eagle low over the road in front of us, hotly pursued by many Oystercatcher and Lapwing. The lunchtime sailing proved disappointing for seabirds with the usual Guillemot, Razorbills, Gannets and Puffins, no petrels this time, although we did have brief views of either a Minkie or Fin Whale as it breached . Having disembarked we headed to Portree and a late lunch by the harbour. The group then headed to the western side of Skye and a small sealoch, which in the glorious sunshine offered a pleasant walk for an hour. Here we had Buzzard, lots of Common Sandpiper, 4 Greenshank which was a surprise, quite a few Hooded Crow, Raven, lots of Meadow Pipit, Stonechat and Twite. We drove back to Portree and our accommodation, a superbly appointed country lodge with bathrooms as big as lounges! We hit Portree and had a curry, which went down a treat . Golden Eagle was Bird Of The Day.
An early start for some as they explored the grounds of the accommodation. Here we added Bullfinch to our list with 11 Crossbill over as well as 20 Lesser Redpoll, Spotted Flycatcher, Siskin & Tree Pipit,. After a hearty breakfast, (Kippers for some) a day of mainly driving as we headed up the west coast to Scourie and our final base. Despite the 4 hour drive, we had several prolonged stops which offered some excellent birding and breathtaking views. Following the coast road we passed Loch Carron, here we had a few Mute Swan, several Buzzard & 2 Red- throated Diver although the highlight were 2 Otters feeding within 100m of the layby where we parked in. A slight detour over the highest road in the UK brought us out on the Applecross road, although we stopped short of the town to search for Ptarmigan at a known site. Climbing up a short incline we did see 2 heads on a nearby brow which were indeed Ptarmigan. We had quite a battle to see them again as we had to climb above them and come in from the side. Scanning the rocks for them proved hard, but despite this one keen eyed group member saw the same 2 birds. Our group quickly gathered and after a while once we all 'got out eye in' the two birds showed well, albeit distantly, before dropping out of sight- Excellent and worth the climb. On the ascent here we had several Hooded Crow and several Wheatear & Stonechat. Continuing further north and west the traffic lessened and the views grew wilder. Before long we arrived in Scourie in the very NW. From the hotel car park we had Treecreeper, Sedge Warbler and Raven. We settled in to our comfortable rooms and enjoyed a beer in the lounge before an excellent evening meal and bed as we looked forward to our day on Handa. Ptarmigan was Bird Of The Day.
A pre- breakfast walk by some produced several Lesser Redpoll, Siskin, Treecreeper and Crossbill although the main event would involve a short boat ride from Tarbet to Handa Island where we were to spend the day. Having collected our packed lunches we drove the 15 mins to Tarbet and parked in the small car park (where we had 9 Twite over). We then booked on the small ferry to take us over to Handa. The short crossing was smooth despite this life vest were donned. From the 'tin bath' as the small boat was nick- named we had Shag, close Red-throated Diver, Eider, Guillemot, Black Guillemot and Razorbill. We beached safely on Handa, a bit like the D- Day landings without anyone firing back save for the Arctic Terns on the rocks below us. After our introductory talk and a reminder to stay on the paths and that there were no loos on the island we began the steady climb to the top of the island and the sea bird cliffs. Here we had 2 Crossbill over. Surprisingly we had Snipe here as well as Sedge Warbler. Every few minutes a Great Skua would pass or circle by- a taste of things to come. The path took us past the Great Skua bathing pool and a pair of Arctic Skua nesting by the path who by 10am were exhausted after harassing every visitor and photographer in the blazing heat. After the close encounter a further 100m brought us to the high cliffs of Handa, here 1000's if not 10's of 1000's of seabirds were nesting, the sight, sound and smell (in the heat) was amazing. Here we spent sometime getting our breath back, enjoying the spectacular birds as well as the spectacular weather. After a while we continued and followed the path anti clockwise around the island. We passed cliff after cliff, covered in 1000's of seabirds, Guillemots, Kittiwakes, Fulmars, Razorbills with a sprinkling of Puffins on top. The air constantly filled with patrollingGreat Skuas looking for a meal. We had our lunch here overlooking the mass of seabirds and out to sea where pods of Dolphins could be seen feeding. The path began to drop as we headed for the SW side of the island- here the cliffs gave way to crags and inlets where Oystercatcher called loudly. The return path to the boat brought us past more Arctic and Great Skua nests, most seemed ambivalent to our presence. After a short wait we were back on the boat and heading back to Tarbet reflecting on great day. After a beer in the bar we enjoyed another excellent meal as we looked forward to our last full days birding. Arctic Skua mobbing our party was Bird Of The Day.
After our excellent day on Handa we decided to explore the area around the hotel and further up the coast towards Durness and Cape Wrath. Around the hotel we had 11 Crossbill. The Sedge Warblers could also be heard from the car park and in the bay were many Common & Arctic Tern, plus Shag and loads of Herring, Greater & Lesser Black- backed Gulls around the fish farm/ jetty. A noisy party of 30 Greylag Geese were also present. Driving S to a roadside loch produced 15 Teal and a reeling Grasshopper Warbler. A short drive brought us back to to Scourie where we parked by the natural harbour and looked from the council hide, which is actually quite well appointed, this produced loads of Kittiwake, Red- throated Diver, Black Guillemot and several Reed Bunting plus Ringed Plover actively displaying. Here we bought lunch and drove further north towards Durness, stopping several times to scan the wild exposed countryside. A roadside loch produced several more Red- throated Diver and Goosander, but failed to produce Black-throated Diver as last year. We approached Durness and had lunch to NW by the beautiful Balnakeil Bay in glorious sunshine. Here we had c40 Arctic Tern although several Red- throated Diver, which were close in the glorious sun were firm favourites as were the Black Guillemots. We continued along the coast before following the road down Loch Eribol, stopping for a welcome ice cream as well as lots of Twite! Not before exploring Smoo Caves, a slight diversion from birding although this gave opportunity to enjoy genuine wild Rock Doves. From Sango Bay a short seawatch produced loads of Fulmar. Guillemot, Gannet, Sandwich Tern as well as things like Hooded Crow although the highlight were 3 Great Northern Diver in a variety of plumages. Skuas were also in evidence, with both Great & Arctic Skuas flying past. At the end of Loch Eribol we found Goosander which were a bonus. We retraced our steps back to Scourie and our hotel for our final supper. Afterwards we enjoyed some local ale in the lounge and reflected on the past 11 days- Aviemore and the Cairngorms seemed a very long time ago. Red- throated Diver was Bird Of The Day.
Some eager folk made an early start with pre breakfast birding which turned up trumps with a Glaucous Gull as well as Great Black- backed Gulls, 60 Herring Gull, 2 Red- throated Diver plus Peregrine over with Crossbill, Sedge Warbler and Lesser Redpoll in the hotel grounds. After breakfast we packed (neatly) the van and began the long drive south. We stopped many times to stretch our legs with lunch south of Aviemore, where we stopped to pick up a crate or two of fine Cairngorm Brewery ale. We did pick up Red Kite albeit briefly by the van as we drove past the Black Isle. Typically lots of Oystercatcher, Buzzard and Curlew were seen as we drove S and the mountains gave way to hills, which gave way to farmland, rising slightly again in Southern Uplands, Lake District & Pennines. We finally managed to pick up 20 Canada Geese, which were new to the tour. At our various stops we picked up Common Sandpiper, Heron, Hooded Crow, Mute Swan, Sparrowhawk and Shelduck. We finally arrived back in Sheffield in the early evening and dropped off the participants- a long day, but another excellent tour- here's to next year!
All photos kindly provided by Duncan Bye & Brian Chambers © 2009