Outer Hebrides (Lewis, Harris, Uists), trip report, June 2011

OPSBirds Home

Thursday 16th June – Stornoway, Lewis – Arrived at 4pm and drove NE up the B895 to the ‘Bridge to Nowhere’, Tolsta. Stopped in the sandy bays along the way where there were all three species of diver: 2 non-breeding Great Northern Diver, 1 non-breeding Black-throated Diver and 1 Red-throated Diver. Two adult Whooper Swan were in a small loch by the ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ (and 5 others seen around the islands). Also here a family of 5 Twite.

Whooper Swan, ‘Bridge to Nowhere’, Lewis. (Photos by Mike Concannon)


Then drove round to the Butt of Lewis – exhilarating place, even on this calm day. Fulmar and Kittiwake nesting just feet away and 5 Puffin and 4 Manx Shearwater past (along with Razorbills, Guillemot, Arctic Tern and Gannet; all of which are everywhere around the islands).

Hebridean’ Starling (subspecies, virtually spotless) is common in the islands.

Fulmars, Butt of Lewis. (Photos by Mike Concannon)



Friday 17th June – Drove to Leverburgh to catch ferry (at 11am) to Uist, and stopped at lay-by just south of Ardvourlie, overlooking Loch Shipoirt; fantastic view. A distant Golden Eagle showed over mountains to right, and then another came into view overhead as it drifted from behind the viewing area. It was (relatively) low and being mobbed by 3 Golden Plover and 3 Dunlin.

The ferry from Harris to Berneray, North Uist is a spectacularly good hour. The shallow water that the ferry carefully navigates is absolutely full of life. The pick of sightings were: loads of Black Guillemot and Grey Seals, 2 Harbour Porpoises around the boat, a distant juvenile White-tailed Eagle powering low over the sea, Arctic Skua, Great Skua, 5 Red-throated Diver and 2 Grey Heron (a surprise here). There were also swarms of jellyfish, some of which were large (which accounts for a Leatherback Turtle being reported off the coast of Balranald).

On North Uist we went to RSPB Balranald where 5 Corncrake were heard (including ‘George’ in the Vistor Centre garden), but only the beak and half a head of one were seen. Also Corn Bunting, 2+ Great Skua, dark and light phase Arctic Skua and lots of Arctic Tern.

A Hebridean’ Song Thrush (subspecies, generally greyer looking) was in the garden next to the Westford Inn. (Drove the ‘Committee Road’ in the rain, but nothing seen.)

Great Skua, on sea. (Photos by MC)



Saturday 18th June – This was a big day of birdwatching and sight-seeing, where we toured from Lochmaddy (North Uist) to Eriskay on the southern tip of the Uists, and back. Starting at 7am, we took 13 hours to do it !

Our first Short-eared Owl was on Benbecula, and 3 others were also seen from the main road there and by Loch Bee. A Whimbrel was off the causeway to Benbecula.

Short-eared Owl, Loch Bee, South Uist.

(Photo by MC)



A walk around Loch Druidibeg NNR was scenic and good for nesting waders: Oystercatcher, Redshank, Ringed Plover, Common Sandpiper, Dunlin and a Moorhen (heard). Also, a Little Tern seen here and a Whitethroat was singing by the roadside near there. (Beware the kites on poles with silhouettes of Harriers on them used to keep birds off crops. Doh !)

Loch Druidibeg view and Oystercatcher mobbing us (loudly !). (Photos by MC)




At Loch Eynort we had a picnic at the end of the road on the north side. An adult White-tailed Eagle drifted along the mountains on the south side of the Loch and landed on a hillside, where it stayed in view but at a distance of 1+ mile. Several Red Deer were spotted on the hills. There is a copse of trees here and so we had Willow Warbler, Robin and 2 Cuckoo (heard). (Apparently it is a good walk through the copse and along the north side of the loch, where WT Eagles can be seen.) There were about 50 Common Seal around this loch ! We were just about to leave, when I spotted an Otter in the loch ! (We had been searching lochs all trip for them, and before that had searched Skye and Western Scotland unsuccessfully on similar trips over the previous two years.)

Otter and Common Seals, Loch Eynort, South Uist. (Photo by MC)


White-tailed Eagle, at distance (!), Loch Eynort



A Great Skua flew in and landed on the sea, just offshore at Eriskay – with its beautiful white sandy beaches and tourquoise seas. I went for a paddle – it was bloody freezing !

Back on North Uist in the evening, 2 Short-eared Owl were found; one flying around the crofts by the Westford Inn (good food and real ale). Then we tried the ‘Committee Road’ once more, at 7:30pm. We found another 2 Short-eared Owl.

Short-eared Owl, Committee Road, Lewis.


Having scanned all day for Hen Harrier I was just about giving up seeing one when a fantastic male flew up from the ground. It was flying up to meet another bird, which turned out to be a Short-eared Owl. The Owl tried to keep above the harrier, but at a height of about 200m it was closed down and dropped its kill, which the harrier immediately dived at and caught, to my utter amazement ! This was worth the wait. The harrier then flew a short distance and a female Hen Harrier flew over to it, and received a food-pass ! Both harriers immediately departed in opposite directions and were lost over the hills. We set off for our B&B well happy, and half a mile later found waders a gulls mobbing something just out of sight. I climbed a small mound to get a view, and a male Hen Harrier (probably same) flew up from the grass about 50 yards away being heavily mobbed. Another half mile later, a male Hen Harrier flew across the road (probably same again). Superb. 

Male Hen Harrier robbing Short-eared Owl Committee Road, Lewis. (Photos by MC)

The Owl gains height, but the Harrier follows. Just as the Harrier catches the Owl, the latter drops its kill (seen in photo below the owl)


The Harrier swoops to catch the kill item, as the Owl hovers. Then it flies off, leaving the Owl to return to low level.


Blown up shot of above photo.



Sunday 19th June – Caught the 8:30am ferry back to Harris. The low sun shining ahead of the boat hampered viewing, but I picked up 10 Manx Shearwater, 3 Great Skua (one in close pursuit of a Gannet close to the boat) and more jellyfish swarms.

Arctic Tern and Gannets, from ferry. (Photos by MC)


On Harris we drove up the minor road from St. Clements chapel, Rodel – this is a lovely isolated area. After 2 miles there were some gulls mobbing something, and upon stopping we had a fantastic view of a Golden Eagle sitting on a rock just 150m from the road ! It ducked its head when the gulls attacked, they were getting so close. We then had a spectacular sight of the bird flying off, being mobbed. It showed a thick white tail band with thick blackish trailing edge, so was a juvenile (also moulting heavily).
Golden Eagle being mobbed, nr. Rodel, Harris.. (Photos by MC)


(Note thick white and black bands on tail in photo below, right. Oystercatcher and Herring Gull hassling.)



2 Siskin were on a peanut feeder on a wooden board-walk in trees near Stornoway and a Merlin flew across the road just SW of Stornoway.


Monday 20th June – We stayed in Stornoway, Lewis. First stop in the morning was RSPB Loch na Muilne (near the ‘Blackhouse’, Arnol). The lady in the Blackhouse visitor centre said that the Red-necked Phalaropes had chicks, but all we saw from the low stone walled enclosure laughingly called a hide, was 10 Teal (inc. 3 ducklings) and a Snipe drumming. (About 5 Snipe heard drumming around the islands, and many others seen.)

Snipe. (Photos by MC)



The day was spent sight-seeing. A Hebridean’ Wren (subspecies, apparently bigger) was singing from the thatched roof of a ‘Blackhouse’ in the reconstructed village at Carloway. (Others heard, but this was only one seen.)

Also here, a Moss Carder Bumblebee (Bombus Muscorum) was seen.

Moss Carder Bumblebee (Bombus Muscorum), Carloway, Lewis. (Photos by MC)



A Cuckoo perched on a roadside wire.

At 6pm we headed back to RSPB Loch na Muilne, where it was raining. I scanned the midge-infested Loch for about 20 minutes without seeing anything at all, and then finally a Red-necked Phalarope flew into a small pool and fed for about a minute before disappearing into the foliage.

In the evening at Stornoway, a flock of c100 Rook and 5 Jackdaw flew in to roost in the trees of Lewis Castle (a very promising looking site, which we did not have time to visit).

An amazing 5 days; well worth the hassle to get there. The historic sites are superb also (don’t miss the Norse Mill and Kiln).

90 species seen in total without trying to compile a list. (Strangely no Peregrine seen at all.)

Heaven! (Photos by MC)



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Last revised: 24 June 2011.