It was with great anticipation and excitement that this trip was started, with day one getting as far as Oban before ferry travel to the Isles. To break the journey up a visit was made to Arkinglass garden situated on the banks of Loch Fyne in Argyll some 40 miles inland from the coast. What makes this garden special is its situation, the collection of Rhododendrons and the two Champion trees (Silver and Grand Fir) within its boundaries. Truly amazing they all were, with award winning Fish and Chips in Oban to complete the day, at journeys end.
A little spare time allowed some last minute shopping for forgotten items as well as stocking up on groceries for the islands. With the weather set fair it was a superb crossing to Castlebay on Barra with Gannets, Gulliemots and many large rafts of Manx Shearwaters from nearby Rhum. The highlights were the six Basking Sharks and a small pod of Common Dolphins.
It was like landing at a small kingdom set back in time with Kismul Castle in the bay, soon arriving at our luxury caravan at Glenriver it was so elevated giving us views all the way down into the bay. They always say Barra and Vatersay are the Hebrides in miniature and so it proved with hidden coves , white sandy beaches, ultramarine seas, mountains , wild flowers and miles of machair. Its one unique feature is the lowtide airplane landing strip on the beach. Anyway with brief views of Otter it was a start but many of the early migrants were in with Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler, Cuckoo and Wheatear being seen. It was great to see Sand Martins and Swallows had made it this far north and west.
There was obviously a major passage of Sanderling, Turnstone and Dunlin heading northwards to their breeding grounds all in their resplendent breeding plumage. A rather unusual sighting in the form of a Purple Heron showed up during the stay on Barra. With great weather it was easy to see why the locals refer to this as Barrabados on a sunny day only the palm trees were missing.
"The highlight on Barra was seeing a pair of Golden Eagles in Craigston valley."
The highlight on Barra was seeing a pair of Golden Eagles in Craigston valley with one going into a stoop 20 feet above the ground and passing within 200 yards of where I was stood , a truly magical moment. It was a pleasure to meet the two best birders on Barra – Ian and Bruce who are responsible for putting Barra on the UK birding map.
Finally leaving Barra via the ferry at Ardmhor and going across to South Uist to explore the Uists and Benbecula. The first day out was meeting up with a gang of fellow birdwatchers and going out with Steve Duffield a local guide. Well inspite of varied weather many eyes made light work
- some of the highlights were a Golden Eagle mobbed by a Short Eared owl, White Tailed Sea Eagle mobbed by an Osprey, male Hen Harrier, Black, Red and Great Northern Divers, Arctic Skua, Corncrake, with the day completed with three otters together.
ome of the sites visited were Loch Drudiberg, Bornish, Lioncleit, Stoneypoint, Peterport, Loch Eyneort. One of the highlights was finding a Wren making a nest in a wooden fencepost, with the Hebridean Wren being a distinct subspecies.
Over the next five days more Otter sightings, loads of summer plumaged waders , lots of local breeding waders – Lapwing, Snipe drumming, Sanderling, good numbers of Bar Tailed Godwits, Red necked Phalarope ( x 3 ) Corncrakes at RSPB Balanrald. Another highlight was a boat trip out from Kallin aboard The Lady Anne with skipper Nick Ingledew all three species of Divers in good numbers with a pair of White Tailed Sea Eagles coming in at the back of the boat to take fish thrown over board to them , these were promptly taken back to the nest for two extremely hungry chicks.
The upside to this was a visit to Kallin Fish to get Scallops, Crab, Salmon and Langoustines for supper before going back to cook them- can one ever have too many scallops !
It was great to spend some time with Bill Neil a local artist with a passion for nature who had had many commissions particularly his artwork on Bumblebees, I parted with some of my hard earned cash for one of his pieces. It was quite staggering to see the numbers of Mute Swans on Loch Bi with this site being internationally important for this species.
One main highlight was the male Hen Harrier which flew past the window nearly every evening whilst I was sat eating my tea only 25 metres away from my accommodation. I even went outside and it had just melted away every time just so frustrating hence why they are called the grey ghost. Many seals both Common and Grey were seen at several locations during the trip , but one of the funniest sightings were a pair of red deer stags sitting so stationary in someone’s garden at Lochmaddy that I thought they were stuffed or garden ornaments, they did however get up and gently saunter off.
Sadly it was time up on the Uists and time to cross to Harris via the ferry from Bernaray the weather closed in and somewhat spoilt what would have been a crossing which is usually rich in wildlife. Over the next two days the weather remained mixed, but every Hebridean cloud has a silver lining with visits made to Harris distillery (my absolute favourite Gin), various cafes and art/ culture locations. It did fine up enough for walks at Hushnish and Luskentyre beaches and the following day to the lighthouse at Scalpay with Red Throated Divers, Black Gulliemots and Fulmars being seen.
Wow what a change in the weather as the ferry set sail to Skye from Harris, many different seabirds of various species being seen on the crossing. Stunning scenery, stunning weather and a wealth of wildlife being seen from mammals- otters, seals, deer and a real mix of birds from Eiders and divers right up to majestic Golden Eagles soaring over Glendale. After a couple of nights camping on Skye it was time to head off home with the scenery right through all the Glens and into the Trossachs and Loch Lomond being awe inspiring.
The Scottish islands never fail to deliver and without a shadow of doubt and I only just felt I scratched the surface of the Hebrides. I will be returning whether as a tourist or to guide a group of Greenspaces clients in future. Maybe would go a little later (mid June) to see the Machair in its full glory.