Wednesday 21 May 2014

Outer Hebrides 2014: Birding is cool!

Here we go again! Up to the Outer Hebs for our annual pilgrimage hoping for spoons and long-tails blown in on a northwesterly wind.

Wednesday 14 May - Birding is cool

The night before our trip, we headed to York venue, Fibbers, to see my new fave Aussie artist, Courtney Barnett perform a fantastic set. The others may have been nonplussed, though Tony was very taken by the support, Honeyblood, but I loved every moment of Courtney's set. We hung out after and it was fantastic to meet her; she even signed my T shirt! I told her we were heading to Scotland to look for birds and she thought that was very cool! She is going to be a big star.  

Me with Courtney Barnett. Birding is cool. It is official.

Thursday 15 May
Headed up to Oban via our Wood Warbler spot which proved successful with a couple of these vibrating beauties seen trilling away in the newly-leaved oaks above Loch Awe. Shortly before, Steve had shouted 'raptor' and Tony pulled up on the verge, releasing me out of my nap to snap a collosal adult White-tailed Eagle hanging over the loch shore, which banked down to the water's edge and out of sight. Wow! At Oban, Steve caught up with his hoped-for Tysties (Black Guillemots) and we then proceeded to embark on the Calmac heading for South Uist. Getting on to the ferry was hindered by a seemingly abandoned black car which had been left in one of the lanes......

From the boat we got a small pod of porpoising Common Dolphins, herds of Manx Shearwaters and a few other bits and pieces. We arrived five hours later at Lochboisdale, South Uist. On the way down to the car deck, a distressed woman was saying how she couldn't find her car on the car deck. Left it in the car park in Oban by any chance?!!

Friday 16 May
The wind was nicely in the south west so we had high hopes for skua passage, particularly late morning when the wind would swing to due west ahead of a front. We headed straight up to Balranald interrupted only by a belting Otter munching its fishy breakfast on the grass next to the Benbecula causeway. Soon after arriving we picked up a Long-tailed Skua over the sea, followed by two more a little later. Hordes of waders zipped around, mostly Dunlins, Sanderlings and Turnstones all in bright summer finery, while Arctic Terns screeched overhead.

 As the front approached Steve picked up a flock of birds heading north - 8 in all; Long-tails - nice! A real thrill, though sadly moving fast and too far out for a photo. The front arrived and I had a look at the Minke Whale that had sadly beached and died just before we turned up. It wasn't clear why it had beached. It had plenty of scratches, but presumably they were inflicted as the bird was in shallow water. A sad sight.

We had a look for the Greinetobt Snowy Owl which hadn't been seen for a few days and giggled at a man who had just reported it, but showed him through our scopes that it was just a white rock! We couldn't laugh too loudly though as we had tried to string a white bucket in the heat haze last year...

Back to Balranald after the front had gone through revealed a showy Corncrake, followed by a first summer Glaucous Gull eying the dead whale greedily, while three Pomarine Skuas lumbered north off shore. Unfortunately the epic skua movement was not to be, but we were content with our lot and headed south.

Saturday 17 May
Today was a Benbecula fest, with a good look round the firing range which didn't reveal any Dotterel, though some corking Golden Plovers and Whimbrel. A smart Golden Eagle showed on the ground from the range observation station overflown by a pair of adult White-tailed Eagles. Another Golden pair and a fine male Hen Harrier were seen later near Druidibeg. Enjoyable views of the Red-necked Phalaropes at the usual site before news of a Lesser Yellowlegs at Daliburgh sent us scurrying back towards our digs. Nice views of the bird were had, hampered only by rediculously heavy rain. We sacked it off after this and went and watched Hull get robbed by Arsenal in the FA Cup Final.

Sunday 18 May
A long day round the islands started in fine style with a drake Garganey at Smerkleit where we had had a Green-winged Teal last year. Not much else of note, except Iceland and Glaucous Gulls at Ardivachar, lots of eagles of both species, Merlin on the range, two Black-throated Divers, Long-tailed Duck at Ardivachar, 48 Ravens at Ardivachar on the beach (!!) and fantastic flocks of waders on the beach at Ardivachar. Three Sanderlings were colour-ringed; I will submit the details shortly.

Iceland Gull with Eiders

Dirty big Glauc

Monday 19 May
The ferry back was long, with highlights being 18 Great Northern Divers on the way into Castlebay, Barra, a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins near Barra, two pods of Common Dolphins, prolonged views of Minke Whale north of Mull and best of all, a lone bull Orca north of Coll. Sadly for Tony and me, we missed this, probably the best sighting of the trip as we were on the other side of the ferry. Gutted!

Manx Shearwaters. One flock was being repeatedly attacked by a pair of Bonxies, which seemed to be trying to catch the shearwaters.

So, 13 hours on boats, 950 miles in the car and stacks of great wildlife and laughs. See you again next year!

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