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Tuesday 20 July 2021

2021 Hebridean Adventures, Pt.3 - 27th to 30th May, 2021

At last, it seems that Blogger has sorted out the header image issue - not before time Blogger!

The the third, and final, part of my account of our early summer visit to the Uists. If you missed them, you can find Pt.1 here:-, and Pt.2 here :-

Some of you may be pleased to hear that this post is a little shorter than the previous two!

Thursday, 27th May          North Uist, Benbecula, Berneray

          windy, with sunny spells

A post-breakfast wander up the lane from the cottage gave some photo opportunities, although nothing particularly exciting was seen.

Redshank (Tringa totanus) Clachan Sands, North Uist
Hooded Crow (Corvus cornix) - Clachan Sands, North Uist
Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) - Clachan Sands, North Uist
My prime objective for the day (although not Lindsay's, but she has infinite patience!) was to have another go at photographing Red-necked Phalarope at Griminis on the isle of Benbecula, so this is where we headed. We did well, in that a pair of birds appeared and came to a reasonably close distance. However, I had a focus malfuntion for the second bird and missed the best shots. Red-necked Phalarope are unusual in that the males take on what might usually considered as 'maternal' duties in the avian world. They are also a little less colourful, although the state of plumage of this pair left me a little uncertain as to which was which. I'm fairly sure that the first was a female and the second was a male, but I'm happy to be corrected.
Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus) (female) - Griminis, Benbecula
Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus) (male) - Griminis, Benbecula
Whilst there, a kind eagle-eyed gentleman pointed out to me a distant Snipe on a post. I had difficulty in spotting it with binoculars, but he was seeing it with his naked eye! This is a heavily cropped image with the lens at 500mm. Unusually, it was the only Snipe I saw on the Uists this stay.
Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) - Griminis, Benbecula
And, of course, there was the inevitable Meadow Pipit.
Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) - Griminis, Benbecula
Having stopped off at The Wee Cottage Kitchen for lunch, we called back at base to freshen up and look around. On the nettles at the edge of the garden I found a good number of Garden Tiger larvae. Although not rare, this is a species of moth that I have never seen as an adult, and I was tempted to take a few to bring home and rear. However, I hadn't the wherewithal to transport them safely during the two long days that it would take us to get home. I will be better prepared the next time!
Garden Tiger (Arctia caja) (larva) - Clachan Sands, North Uist
Also on these nettles there was a single caterpillar of a different species that I have not been able to identify - there are so many relatively plain green caterpillars! Any help would be appreciated.
unidentified larva on nettles - Clachan Sands, North Uist
There was also something strange (to me, anyway) going on with the underside of the nettle leaves. I have absolutely no idea what this was, and it looks a little sinister, but the pattern it makes is quite attractive.
I have no idea! - Clachan Sands, North Uist
We'd been based here for five days, and still not visited the local beach, so off we went. The beach was fabulous, and deserted by birds as well as humans, so we didn't stay long.
Clachan Sands beach - North Uist
Berneray was calling to us again so that was next on the itinerary. On the machair by Borgh there is a memorial to a giant of a man. The script on the memorial is just about legible as nature is taking its toll - I suspect that it will be cleaned up soon, but I'd prefer to see it left.

Macaskill Memorial - near Borgh, Berneray
The machair attracts numerous birds and they are relatively confiding if you stay on the road and momentarily use your car as a hide.
Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) - near Borgh, Berneray
Skylark (Alauda arvensis) - near Borgh, Berneray
Rock Dove (Columba livia) - near Borgh, Berneray
When on Berneray, we like to stop by John's Bunkhouse to look over the water for birds. On this occasion the tide was well out and there were distant Godwits - too far away for me to determine whether they were Black-tailed or Bar-tailed, but I suspect the former. However, a couple of passerines joined us beside the car.
Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) (female) - by John's Bunkhouse, Berneray
Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola) (male) - near John's Bunkhouse, Berneray
Shortly after arriving on North Uist from Berneray we spotted an owl ahead of us and managed to find a place where we could stop briefly and grab a photo before the owl departed.
Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) - North Uist near Berneray
Back at base, I went out for a short stroll up the lane before our evening meal, and was well-entertained by two Short-eared Owls. Sorry folks - here they come again!
Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) - Clachan Sands, North Uist
After dinner, I was out again. It was rather poor light but I did see another owl and managed to get a passable shot.
Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) - Clachan Sands, North Uist
Thus ended an eight-owl day - my first eight-owl day for too many years!
Friday, 28th May          North Uist, Baleshare, Berneray

          Breezy, but warmer, with sunny spells
A tour of the garden before breakfast revealed that the Garden Tigers were still visible, with one presenting itself slightly more favourably for photography.
Garden Tiger (Arctia caja) (larva) - Clachan Sands, North Uist
My usual post-breakfast short stroll didn't result in much, other than a Hooded Crow.
Hooded Crow (Corvus cornix) - Clachan Sands, North Uist
Lindsay had requested a visit to the island of Baleshare for our last full day on the islands. I was happy to oblige. Baleshare is to the south west of North Uist and is linked by a short causeway to that island.
I made sure that our route to Baleshare took in the back road near Lochmaddy from which I'd previously found Red-throated Divers - albeit at some distance. This time I managed to get a shot on which you can actually detect the red throat!

Red-throated Diver (Gavia stellata) - near Lochmaddy, North Uist
I also managed a shot of a male Wheatear, and suddenly realised that I'd previously been seeing mainly females of that species on this visit.
Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) (male) -near Lochmaddy, North Uist
When we got to Baleshare we found little in the way of bird activity on the beach, which is where Lindsay wanted to walk, but I found the sands fascinating and reminiscent of the sands around the East Friesian Islands off the north coast of Germany.
There were a few gulls flying around. Gulls, especially sub-adult gulls, are not my strong point. I cannot go further than to say that I think that this is an immature Herring Gull.
Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) - Baleshare
During our travels, we had been told of the ruins of an ancient dwelling in a lochan in the far north of North Uist beside the road to Berneray. We have passed this lochan (Loch an Sticir) many times and never noticed the ruins as ruins. We decided to investigate. Searches on the internet came up with the following information:-

Dun an Sticir (fort of the skulker), is probably 16th century remains of a small tower or hall raised on the foundations of an Iron Age broch. It stands on an island in Loch an Sticir, reached by a causeway via two other islets. Here lurked the riever Hugh Macdonald (Uisdean Macghilleasbuig Chleirich), factor to North Uist in the 1580s. In 1586 he hatched a treacherous plot to murder his cousin, Donald Gorm, 8th Chief of the Macdonalds of Sleat, but was captured and perished in the dungeon of Duntulm Castle on Skye.

Sometime between 2,000 and 2,500 years ago, a great circular drystone tower house was built, which functioned as a well-defended family residence, and as a conspicuous demonstration of power. The walls were 3.5 metres thick walls, within which were chambers and galleries, but the only opening to the outside world was a single small doorway. The causeways were narrower than they are today, and may have included a "rocking stone", which could alert the occupants of the broch to the approach of unwelcome visitors.

This site has never been archaeologically investigated: many details of the above reconstruction of the hall and other buildings, such as roofing material, are therefore conjectural.

The causeway did not appear to be in good condition, as can be seen in the second image below,  and I did not fancy getting my feet wet, so I was not able to get to the islands to investigate.

first island and its causeway - Loch an Sticir, North Uist
In the image below of Dun an Sticir, you may just be able to see, on the left, the small entrance to the 'fortification'.
Dun an Sticir - North Uist
It was only after we returned home that I read that this lochan was tidal, so it looks as if I might have been able to visit with dry feet at another time!
Making my way back to the car, I stopped for an obliging Linnet on a gorse bush.

Linnet (Linaria cannabina) (male) - Loch an Sticir, North Uist
I also found my first (vaguely) photographable moth of the holiday in the form of a Common Heath. My puting out of the portable moth trap, that I'd had early for my 75th birthday, on the first night on North Uist resulted in a totally empty trap the next morning!
Common Heath (Ematurga atomaria) - Loch an Sticir, North Uist
As we were near to Berneray, we made a brief visit. The spot near John's Bunkhouse produced the obligatory Meadow Pipit with a meal.
Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) - by John's Bunkhouse, Berneray
Being our last evening before setting off homeward early next morning, a last wander along the lane from the property was essential. I'm delighted to say that I was able to bid a fond farewell to the Short-eared Owls. These images are far from my best from the holiday, but are rather important to me.
Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) - Clachan Sands, North Uist
Saturday, 29th May          North Uist to Stirling via Skye
          raining and cold start to morning, warm with sunny spells in afternoon
An early start had us at the ferry terminal at Lochmaddy before the prescribed time of 06h45 for a 07h30 departure. In spite of the rain, I stayed outside on the open, but covered, deck looking for anything of interest. I missed getting a shot of the very brief and extremely close porpoise, but did manage a few other items.
Razorbill (Alca torda) - from Lochmaddy (North Uist) to Uig (Skye) ferry
Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla) - from Lochmaddy (North Uist) to Uig (Skye) ferry
Guillemot (Uria aalge) - from Lochmaddy (North Uist) to Uig (Skye) ferry
I took some shots of the strange rock formation on the headland at the entrance to Uig bay as we approached the ferry terminal

headland near Uig, Skye
As we passed through the island of Skye, the traffic in the opposite direction started building up steadily and, by the time we reached the mainland via the Skye Bridge, the traffic was at a crazy level and nose-to-tail all the way back until we left the Scottish Highlands. It seemed that every layby and car park on the route was full. It was the bank holiday weekend and every man and his dog were making for Scotland. Fortunately, we found a hotel that looked closed (and probably was!) and stopped in their car park to investigate. A gentleman from the cottage next door asked if we had stopped for food. He turned out to be the proprietor and opened up for us so that we could have a most enjoyable lunch - our thanks to the Onich Hotel.
We found ourselves at the Scottish Antiques and Art Centre in Doune just before closing time and stopped for coffee and cake. We'd stopped here on the outward too and I'd been surprised by the presence of two Oystercatchers on the roof. However, this time I was even more surprised to find that these birds had nested on the ground in the car park and there was a newly-hatched Oystercatcher chick in an area that had been roped off just outside the regularly used entrance to one of the buildings. There was still one egg left to hatch and so one adult bird was in close attendance although not always sitting.
Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) -The Scottish Antiques and Art Centre, Doune
Our accommodation that night was again at the Travelodge near Stirling with our evening meal purchased from the M&S Food store at the service area.
Sunday, 30th May          Stirling to Ashby de la Zouch
          warm and sunny

Our journey south to home was uneventful. A stop at a motorway services soon after entering England, to pick up sandwiches for lunch was disappointing as, unlike in Scotland, the majority of people were ignoring social distancing rules and many were not wearing masks.

We were home again in time for tea!

Although the weather had been unseasonably cold, and it had been windy for much of the time, resulting in poorer bird numbers and more difficult photography, we had had a good time, living on a diet which largely consisted of seafood. My photographic efforts were not helped by a misbehaving camera. To compensate, I was taking many more photos than usual in the hope of getting a good one. We look forward to returning next year.

My next blog post will be back to local matters and may even include a dragon or two. In the meantime, take good care - it's still out there! Best wishes - - - Richard