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Friday, 9 August 2019

Hebridean Adventure, 2019 - Pt.2 - 29th May to 2nd June, 2019

Welcome to the second part of my report on the holiday that Lindsay and I spent in the Outer Hebrides earlier this year - you can find Pt.1 here:- I know it's been a long time coming, but I ran into a few obstacles along the way! I'd prepared most of this post before those obstacles hove into view.

Wednesday, 29th May        the Sound of Harris, Loch Euphort, and Balranald

Our original plan had been to wait for a better weather day, and make a last minute ferry booking to take the car over to Harris, with the sailing itself being a major attraction. We failed, as the ferry was fully booked for vehicles. I then had the idea that it would be great for us to book as foot passengers and have an out-and-back without getting off at the other end, and this we did - at a fraction of the cost of taking the car with us!

Before we set off for a relatively early sailing, however, I did have time to take a turn round the property.

Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) - garden, near Clachan Sands
Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii) - from garden, near Clachan Sands
Our ferry departed from Berneray at 10h25 for the one hour sailing to Leverburgh. Although nothing really outstanding was seen, it was a very pleasant journey.

Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) - Sound of Harris
Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) - Sound of Harris
Razorbill (Alca torda) - Sound of Harris
Great Northern Diver (Gavia immer) - Sound of Harris
Gannet (Morus bassanus) - Sound of Harris
Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea) - Sound of Harris

Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) (juvenile) - Sound of Harris
Black Guillemot (Cepphus grylle) - Sound of Harris
The return journey was equally enjoyable. Please let me know if you think I've misidentified the diver, below!

Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) - Sound of Harris

Gannet (Morus bassanus) - Sound of Harris

Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) - Sound of Harris
Red-throated Diver (Gavia stellata) - Sound of Harris
Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) - Sound of Harris
Black Guillemot (Cepphus grylle) - Sound of Harris
Eider (Somateria mollissima) - near Berneray
The ferry had us back on Berneray for 12h40 and, having made up a picnic, we set of southward on North Uist, taking a long dead-end road we'd not visited before, which led alongside Loch Euphort. Here we found a very pleasant spot to have our picnic.

Loch Euphort, North Uist
We then headed off towards Balranald. Just before the left turn which heads for the camp site and the RSPB visitor centre, there is a small lochan and the Whooper Swan was there again, as was a Common Sandpiper - both into the sun.

Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos) - near Balranald, North Uist
Whooper Swan (Cygnus cygnus) - near Balranald
A trip down to the beach by Balranald revealed some birds while I helped Lindsay look for shells.

Sanderling (Calidris alba) - Balranald beach
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) - Balranald beach
Eider (Somateria mollissima) (male - Balranald beach
On our way back to base, on the Committee Road near the southern end, I spotted a Meadow Pipit attacking a large moth. I stopped to investigate, and the pipit departed. The moth, although still alive was probably beyond redemption. I moved it out of the road, not wishing to disturb it further.

Fox Moth (Macrothylacia rubi) (male) - Committee Road
At the northern end of the Committee Road, Lindsay spotted a very distant Short-eared Owl at the woodland edge. I was so focused on the owl that I totally missed seeing the deer nearby until I processed the images some weeks later!

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) - from the Committee Road
We moved a few hundred metres down the road until we were opposite the owl, but it just didn't cooperate!

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) - from the Committee Road
There was, however, an unexpected bonus when a splendid male Hen Harrier flew across the road in front of us.

Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus) (male) - from the Committee Road
Just before reaching base, we had another pleasant surprise, with a Cuckoo on the roadside posts.

Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) (female) - near Clachan Sands
The fun was not over yet - as we approached the property, a Short-eared Owl flew low over the garden! By the time we stopped, it had disappeared - but not a bad 'garden tick' to have.

That night we enjoyed another simple, but splendid, seafood supper.

Thursday, 30th May                   Grimsay, Baleshare, and Malacleit 

Today was to be a Lindsay day, and we felt in need of a gentle start,. The day started rather wet, cold, and very windy, so it was quite late in the morning when we set off southwards.

The Committee Road yielded little but a Raven (no usable photos) and a male Hen Harrier (another 'record shot').

Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus) (male) - from the Committee Road
We'd timed our departure so that we'd arrive at the Namara sea-food café at lunch time.  There were no White-tailed Eagles seen this time, but the lunch was superb - I had scallops with black pudding, but I don't remember what Lindsay had. Afterwards, we went round the corner to the Kallin Shellfish shop and bought the makings for our meal that night.

Lindsay fancied a return to the beach on Baleshare to have a stroll and look for shells. There were only a few distant Sanderling here, so I spent most of my time with Lindsay.

I knew that the previous year the beach by Malacleit had been one of her favourite places, so a return was needed. At that time, we had visited when the tide was well out. This time, however, it was nearly high tide, with little beach exposed.

There were very few birds around, but there was what seemed at first to be a very confiding Dunlin bumbling about. However, I soon realised that it was in very poor shape, with blood on its breast and almost closed eyes - it might even have been blind. I don't know if it had been attacked or whether it had come to grief in the storm the preceding night. I wanted to help the poor bird, but had no idea what to do in such a sparsely populated area, and we had nothing we could put it in to take it anywhere. I left it to fend for itself, but still guiltily wonder if I could have been more proactive.

injured Dunlin (Calidris alpina) - Malacleit beach
On a happier note, there was also a Wheatear on the grass above the beach.

Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) (male) - Malacleit
It possibly sounds as if our food was boring if I tell you that we had seafood again that night. I can assure you it was not, and one of the delights of the Outer Hebrides is the absolutely wonderful seafood - to which Lindsay and I are extremely partial!

Friday, 31st May           a byway, Grimsay, Griminis, and Balranald

Unlike the previous day, this day would prove to be one of the most productive days of the week, although it started off rather wet and windy.

The A867 road south-westward from Lochmaddy has, at some time in the past, been greatly upgraded. Running to the north of this road, for some 5 km, are the remains of the original road. We'd not taken this route before, so decided to explore. It proved to be an interesting diversion, and will certainly be included next time we visit the Uists.

We'd not gone far before we reached the edge of a lochan and briefly spotted a pair of divers on the water in the distance. However, they almost immediately disappeared behind a promontory. We waited for quite some time and eventually saw them fly away. I didn't get time to raise my binoculars so they weren't identified, although I suspect that they were Black-throated Divers.

Whilst waiting for the divers to reappear, I noticed a small flock of Hooded Crows on the far hillside. I had only ever seen single Hooded Crows before this so was quite surprised. I guess there were about 20 of them. Here's part of the group.

Hooded Crow (Corvus cornix) - near A867, North Uist
There were several Meadow Pipits and Stonechats along the way, although the latter weren't successfully photographed.

Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) - near A867
Near the far end of the road, we had the pleasure of seeing a distant male Hen Harrier, carrying prey.

Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus) (male) - near A867
After exploration, it was time to head for Grimsay and an excellent farewell seafood lunch at the Namara Café.

From Grimsay, we headed down onto Benbecula to have another attempt at the Red-necked Phalaropes by Griminis. It was relatively windy with on-and-off showers on the way there. This is a location where the form is to stay in one's car beside the road and wait for the action. At first we just had distant sightings. However, within half an hour or so, a female of the species came relatively close, giving me my best shots to date - all from the comfort of the car! This is a species where the usual sex roles are reversed, with the females having the brighter plumage and the males incubating the eggs.

Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus) (female) - by Griminis, Benbecula
It was soon time to head to Balivanich for a 'comfort stop' before heading north for Balranald and another attempt at Corncrake. The weather was showing a distinct improvement!

As we gained the access road to Balranald, the Whooper Swan with the red-stained head was in the water and fairly close in.

Whooper Swan (Cygnus cygnus) - near Balranald
At the visitor centre, I first visited the 'ablutions' and as I emerged a kindly gentleman asked if I was looking for the Corncrakes, as there was one putting on a show just round the back of the building. Sure enough, there was one showing well, and croaking its heart out!

Corncrake (Crex crex) (male) - Balranald
Eventually the Corncrake disappeared into the vegetation, and so Lindsay and I set off for the beach where I helped Lindsay look for shells. I did, however, take some shots of a Dunlin.

Dunlin (Calidris alpina) - Balranald
Returning to the Visitor Centre, it was getting late in the afternoon and I felt the need to have another attempt a Corncrake. Another person was already there, and we soon had great views of a bird out in the open for a short while. I don't suppose that I'm ever going to get better than these shots!

Corncrake (Crex crex) (male) - Balranald
The Corncrake disappeared and it was time to depart. I noticed a bird alight on a distant fence, which my companion immediately identified as a Corn Bunting. I managed to get a little closer without disturbing it, and got a few shots.

Corn Bunting (Emberiza calandra) - Balranald
Heading back homeward for a late evening meal, the Whooper Swan was now out of the water.

Whooper Swan (Cygnus cygnus) - near Balranald
The journey back to base was uneventful - until we approached the property, when we added a male Hen Harrier to the 'garden list' as it flew low over the garden!

That night we had a quick seafood meal and then spent time packing as we had to leave early the next day.

Saturday, 1st June

We were up early as we had a ferry to catch back to Skye at 07h30, which meant we had to check in before 06h345.

The sea voyage was a pleasant one, with a few sightings during the journey. Perhaps the most exciting sighting was the Common Dolphins which passed in front of the ferry. Sadly, I only got a rubbish shot, but I include it here 'for the record'.

Razorbill (Alca torda) and Guillemot (Uria aalge) - from ferry, Lochmaddy to Uig.
Common Dolphin (Delphinus delphis) - from ferry, Lochmaddy to Uig.

Puffin (Fratercula arctica) - from ferry, Lochmaddy to Uig.
Manx Sheerwater (Puffinus puffinus) - from ferry, Lochmaddy to Uig.
We landed at Uig on the Isle of Skye at 09h16, and set off on the long journey south. We stopped at Dornie for a visit to the 'All The Goodness' coffee and bake shop there, which had wonderful cakes as well as excellent coffee. From here there were great views of the iconic Eilean Donan Castle.

Eilean Donan Castle
Lunch was taken at the Artisan Café, near Tyndrum, that we'd found on the journey northward, and we arrived at the Scottish Antiques and Art Centre at Doune just in time for tea and cake before it closed for the day. 

That night, we stayed once more at the Travelodge outside Stirling.

Sunday 2nd June

We had a relatively early start, and had an uneventful journey home, arriving just in time for tea.

It had been another superb stay on North Uist, in spite of the cold and windy weather, and we look forward to returning there. 

Thank you for dropping by. I'm not sure when my next post will be, or what the subject will be either. I've potentially got some difficult times ahead!


  1. A superb post Richard with a whole host of lovely photos. Love the Corncrake shots. Never seen or heard one but your photos of this species are excellent. I think your juv Cormorants are in fact Shags.

    1. I guess the Corncrakes were the real stars of this visit to The Outer Hebrides, Marc. I can't see myself ever getting an opportunity like that again.

      Thanks for the heads up on the Shags. I guess I got fooled by the sloping (rather than peaked) forehead. Caption duly ammended.

      Thanks, and my very best wishes - - - Richard

  2. What wonderful shots. I am rather envious of the Corncrake. It's am elusive bird for one with such a distinctive call.
    Good luck for the future.

    1. Where we were staying, I was hearing Corncrakes all round us every morning and evening, but I never saw one there this time. They can be exttremely frustrating!

      I seem to be making a bit of progress, thank you, Adrian.

      Best wishes - - - Richard

  3. Hi Ricahrd! Awesome photos of fine birds! Hope you are OK!

    1. I'm slowly starting to feel better, thank you, Anne. However, I have an appointment next week when I think they will decide whether or not I need surgery. Fingers are crossed!

      My best wishes - - - Richard

  4. Hello Richard
    amazing how you report back, hope it goes back up with you? ... your pictures are fantastic again a huge super selection Great the Kuckkuck I've always heard him but never get in front of the lens
    Best wishes and greetings

    1. Thank you, Frank - I'm slowly improving in health. The Corncrake was by far the luckiest episode of the whole visit. I don't think I'll ever do as well again.

      With my very best wishes - - - Richard

  5. This post is a bit big for our slow WiFi but got there in the end. I have never heard of a corncrake let alone seen one, great photos!!! Love the little wren. I so want to see a Puffin......

    The little owl here is becoming a regular, long may it last. I got a nice shot of it last night with the moon rising right behind it.

    I hope the appointment next week goes well and no surgery is needed. I will be thinking of you. Very best wishes to you both. Diane

    1. Sorry to give you problems with your wi-fi again Diane - I assure you that it's not intentional!

      In a moment I shall visit your blog to look for that Little Owl - I'm sure it will be a real treat for me.

      Thank you for your very kind wishes. Take great care and have a great week ahead - - - Richard

  6. Hi Richard
    Wow, wow, wow. I love the Corncrake, it's a winner. And the rest, beautiful photos.

    1. Thank you for those very kind words, Bob. I'm delighted that you like the Corncrake - it was a very special experience for me. With my best wishes - - - Richard

  7. WOW! What a superb post of fabulous birds and images of them Yes the Corncrake is the "Star". I have never seen one although been around several calling. Yes I would s=agree that is a Red throated Diver and the first photograph of the Owl has a deer in it, possible two, did you know that? I could go on and on and the birds but I am so glad you have such a wonderful trip. I am back from my travels at least for a little while so thank you for your comments during that time when I could not comment. Have a fabulous weekend.

    1. Hello, Margaret. I'm delighted that you enjoyed this post. I did mention in the text that I only noticed the deer when I processed the photos. I did, in fact, take a whole sequence of photos on this occasion, and at one point it did look as if there might have been a second deer, but the evidence wasn't conclusive!

      Thank you for your visit and your kind comments. My best wishes to you for the week ahead - - - Richard

  8. Hello Richard: I am sure that we have all face the dilemma you did in respect of the injured bird, and have felt a little helpless. I suppose one has to be consoled by the premise that it is wild nature, and that the bird will be absorbed into the food chain. There would have been many highlights for me as revealed in your photographs, but without a doubt the Corncrake would have been number one. Many would be happy with a certifiable sound, but to have the opportunity to see it so well, as you did, is exceptional. Glad to see you feeling a little better. A la prochaine. David

    1. Thank you for those comforting words concerning the Dunlin, David.

      Certifiable sounds of Corncrake were far from in short supply there. The sound was almost constant in the early morning and late evening at the property were were in - in fact I have a car sticker from the property which states "I Slept With Corncrakes". I saw one by the property last year, but not this year - and I spent a long time looking!

      I'm continuing to make progress. Will be back soon - - - Richard

  9. Hello Richard, what an amazing trip you and Lindsay had. So manny different birds and so special. Later on Dolphins and Puffins. But like everyone I am impressed by the Corncrake. Wow!!! I agree with David about the sick and injured bird, sad but it is nature and it will help other animals in the food chain. Reading your update for your health I can only wish you all the best. Take care.

    1. Thank you for your kind words and wishes, Roos, which are very much appreciated. My very best wishes - - - Richard

  10. Very beautiful photos Richard, amazing birds. I wish I was there too.

    1. Thank you, Caroline. It's an absolutely wonderful place to visit, and so few people there too! My best wishes - - - Richard

  11. Well, there is just so much to comment about that I simply won't do it.

    HA! Just kidding!

    What a great adventure you and Lindsay had! I know you didn't think much of that first set of images taken from the ferry, but it struck me that it felt as if I was flying low over the water right along with the birds. A unique perspective of species one might normally only see from a distance.

    The Wren at the opening is wonderful. They have such attitudes!

    I will follow the majority and confess the Corncrake images are quite special! Shots of most rails out in the open are, in my experience, pretty rare.

    All of your images are simply spectacular! Gini and I felt as if we were right there with you. My bride pointed out something which is obvious to us: "There is no such thing as too much seafood!"

    You and Lindsay remain uppermost in our thoughts and prayers as you recuperate. Try to resist the urge to expend energy creating and answering blogs. (I know. It's an addiction.)

    1. Thank you so much for those very kind words of encouragement, Wally (and Gini). I'm expecting to know a little more about what's in store for me after a hospital visit tomorrow. I think I'll probably learn whether or not I'm to have surgery. In the meantime, I've been taking it easy, but trying to get in a little gentle exercise around the house and garden. Photography for the past month has been confined to butterflies, and the occasional bird, in the garden. I'm looking forward to being released into the wild!

      Thank you again, and my very best wishes - - - Richard

  12. Hello again Richard: I was just reading about the appalling level of raptor persecution that goes on in grouse hunting areas in the UK so that male Hen Harrier must have given you quite a thrill. I suppose the offshore islands are a bit of a sanctuary for them.

    1. Hi David. There is, rightfully, a huge ground-swell against 'driven grouse shooting'. Sadly, it's a pastime that a few wealthy and unhealthy-minded people with a lust for maiming and killing living creatures indulge in. The owners of grouse moors have a vested interest in this activity as it generates a huge income for them, from participants and from government subsidies. Huge numbers of Mountain Hare are slaughtered, and raptors are killed (illegally), in order to maintain the best conditions for shooting Red Grouse. Many other creatures fall victim to traps that are set (often illegally) and poisons that are laid (usually illegally). Peat moorland is burned, upsetting the environment. The rewards are so high, and the penalties so light, that illegal practices continue. The matter of vicarious liability is a hot potato. I believe the tide is turning, and am hoping that the will of decent people will prevail over 'money'.

      You're right, it seems that raptors lead a relatively safe existence on the smaller offshore islands, and this is a significant factor in our wish to return to these places. We've already taken the decision that we'll not return to North Yorkshire unless matters change, and are even considering abandoning Speyside - there should be far more raptors and Mountain Hares there than there are at present. Not a day goes by without me thinking about the situation, and acting where I can.

    2. That should have been 'Heather moorland' not peat moorland

  13. Hi Richard,
    really a very nice 2nd report of your holiday trip.
    I see beautiful birds and birds that I have never seen. I also see a beautiful field owl on a pole :-) The blue harrier is really great to see! I also think the Eidereens is super. I only hear the cuckoo but you can also photograph it !!! Super! The waders are always nice to see.
    The Red neck Phalarope is really cool! The quail king is worth gold :-))))
    A wonderful blog that I enjoyed immensely.

    Greetings, Helma

    1. I'm absolutely delighted that you visited this post, Helma, and enjoyed it. Thank you so much for your kind words. Have a wonderful weekend, and take good care - - - Richard


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