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Trip to the Uists and Benbecula

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Old Sunday 12th May 2019, 18:10   #1
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Trip to the Uists and Benbecula

The true story of My and my better half Margie's adventure in the Outer Hebrides a daring adventure of Eagles, Harriers and Wind , the weather was quite blustery too and the next time I suggest driving all the way in one go shoot me!!! Over 2000 miles driven and some amazing birds and scenery seen, will put up the first two days tonight then add the rest over the next couple of days or so. The pictures we took can be seen by clicking the link at the bottom, then click on the individual pic to see full size, be better to view on a laptop rather than a phone.

Day 1.5 Friday the 26th of April through to Saturday 27th of April

Due to the timing of our ferry crossing from Skye to North Uist, we had to leave West Sussex at 6.30pm driving through the night to arrive at Uig ferry Terminal for 13.45 on the Saturday, this left us 5 hrs for unexpected stops and to have plenty of breaks, So with nothing but a Kia Rio, a couple of suitcases and two new sunhats we were on our way, This is A fib we actually took practically everything we own!! all went well, with several Red Kites up the M40, until some knob decided to shut the M6 for the night in two places!! The first of which involved driving around half of Stafford, still we got through it and the rest of the drive was fairly uneventful though we had several Red Grouse along the A82 once passed Loch Lomond and loads of Red Deer were seen.
Arriving on Skye we had a couple of Bacon rolls from a café which also had a Hooded Crow conveniently in a tree opposite so decided to set up the camera and start birding, with time in hand we decided to take the scenic root up the east coast of Skye, as we proceed marvelling at the scenery I spotted a couple of interesting dots on the water ,which on closer inspection turned out to be a couple of Great Northern Divers looking fine on a dead calm sea. As we drove across the top of Skye we were hoping for Eagles, we stopped regularly to scan but no luck, several Wheatears and Mippits were seen and at a likely looking spot we managed a Dipper although unfortunately it spotted me first, so no picture!!
We arrived at the Ferry Terminal and after a cup of tea and a very nice fruit scone we had a wander about, the harbour was fairly quiet with 3 Eider and a very distant Black Guillemot, a couple of Hoodies showed well ,several Pied Wags were knocking about and a Reed Bunting made a brief appearance. There were some nice purple flowers in one of the fields possibly Orchids if anyone can offer an ID.
Once on the Ferry we were quickly outside hoping for some quality seabirds ,it was a little quiet although we had 8 Bonxsies through ( groups of 5 & 3) several Gannets, as we left the port there were several Black Guillemots, and Great Northerns were regular through the crossing, got me first Shag of the trip (Hurrah) but the highlight were the Puffins, loads, mostly in pairs ,but some small groups as well. There were also a few rafts of Auks the majority of those close enough to ID were Guillemots.
Arriving at Lochmaddy we made the short drive to our cottage at Claddach, well-appointed but the bonus was the view from the bedroom window, with open fields leading to the mountains beyond, got to be Shorties I’m thinking!! As we were being shown around I kept being distracted by the sounds of Curlew, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Lapwing, Meadow Pipit, Skylark all calling and displaying in the garden and fields beyond, a Wheatear appeared on a fence post and a Stonechat on the balcony out the front, a group of Common Gulls could be seen in the middle distance. After dinner, pretty zonked with only about 2 hrs sleep since Friday morning ,I decided to have a scan from the bedroom window before an early night, a pair of Ravens cruised past and then I picked up the predicted Short-eared owl, pics, aren’t great as it didn’t come very close, as I was following it’s distant meanderings I noticed a lump on a distant ridge, I hummed and hahed but curiosity got the better of me and I set up the Scope ,Golden Eagle!!!! Couldn’t believe it sitting there bold as you like on the ridge, awesome end to the day, and from now on when Margie suggests a little “bedroom action” I will grab me bins!!!! The only downside was no Wi-Fi as it has gone down and not getting fixed til after we have gone home!!

Due to the amount and the phaffing about resizing for this site I've put the photos on my Onedrive


Click the Link for Hoodie Heaven and much more (there are not that many really)

https://onedrive.live.com/?id=6356FB...56FB2BA7828F28

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Old Sunday 12th May 2019, 18:28   #2
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Harriers and Eagles Oh Yeah!!!

Day 2 Sunday the 28th of April

Well after that cracking start I thought we may have peaked to soon ,however undaunted we decided to head out, was reasonable weather wise so decided to head up the Committee Road in search of Raptors. After less than half a mile , I saw an interesting looking bird doing some acrobatics in the distance, pulling in got me bins on it ,yep Skydancing Male Hen Harrier, which treated us to a good half an hour performance as he moved along from ridge to ridge, never coming that close but great views in the bins and scope. I also had a couple of Buzzards and a Sparrowhawk at this point although all were high in the sky.
We followed the road for another mile or so when Margie gave a shout “another Harrier”!! we pulled over and sure enough got bins on another Male Harrier, this one seemed agitated and Margie’s “there’s a female as well” was no surprise, what was a surprise was when another Female appeared followed by another Male ,suddenly we realised we were watching a territorial disputed which put politely got quite heated, eventually it all seemed to settle with one pair disappearing North and the other East with surprisingly neither staying in the area which they were sparing over!! Add in loads of Wheatear and Mippit sightings, all in all a successful drive.
At the bottom of the road we turned left and headed round the island stopping when we saw anything of interest ,some Red-breasted Mergansers on a small loch, displaying Curlews in a field ,Wheatears ,we called in at RSPB Balranoid but the carpark was full , we stayed briefly to use the facilities and long enough to hear a Corncrake calling but couldn’t see it.
On leaving we decided on the spur of the moment to visit the St Kilda viewpoint , we drove up past the telescope to the top where the distinctive MOD radar installation is , was quite windy but 3 Buzzards hanging in the breeze kept us interested and I tried to get some pics of the mobile Wheatears and Mippits, Scanning the Buzzards again I noticed a bird further out from the viewpoint heading in ,” that looks bulky I suggested” we then spent 5 minutes trying to decide if it was an Eagle or not ,”head looks Golden “ I said “could be the light” said Margie the bird came closer and closer by now I was convince it was an Eagle, suddenly one of the Buzzards mobbed it ,removing all doubt, very grateful to the Buzzard but it could have done it earlier would have save a lot of agonising! We enjoyed stunning views of this bird for the next ten minutes as it rode the wind sometimes right over our heads!!!! A big flock of Ravens appeared squabbling and cronking as they to spiralled up in the wind and then the icing on a very delicious cake, yet another Male Hen Harrier came through, although he didn’t hang around for long, superb!!
We decided to head back to HQ for lunch, on the way back I saw a sign for Loch Sandary have seen lots of reports from here so decided to check it out, lots of Golden Plover on the lakeside with some in fantastic summer plumage, a Whooper Swan was on the loch but not a lot else. After lunch, another scan from the bedroom window produced two Arctic Skuas flying by, from the bedroom window!!! 😊 And an almost certain but very distant pair of Golden Eagles flying above the mountains.
We decided to drive the Committee Road again, not as much about this time, at the end we turned right and followed to road up to Berneray ,not much to see although as were pulled into a layby near the ferry terminal to have a scan, a female Merlin came piling by and plunged into the grass in front of us!! It flew up and landed on a post 40 feet away, scrabbling around I managed a few record shots with the camera, although nothing very focused but the only decent ones showed the back of it’s head!! Damnit!!We headed towards Lochmaddy, on the spur of the moment we headed down the road signed Loch Portain, more lovely scenery, Wheatears, Mergansers, Grey Herons and Hooded Crows, we followed it to the end and drove slowly back pulling over regularly to scan, on one occasion I picked up a very distant large Raptor drifting east being mobbed by some gulls, although distant it had the unmistakable shape of a White-tailed Eagle!! We headed back past Lochmaddy and as we headed down the road to Claddach, I once again picked up a Raptor flying along the ridge parallel to the road, more difficult to stop as this is a larger road we eventually found a pull in and got bins on the beast, the White Tail was immediately obvious and as the mobbing Great Black-backed Gull looked tiny all doubt was removed ,I suddenly realised that on it’s trajectory it would cross the road couple of miles further along ,so pedal to the metal ( or so much as the law allows obviously) we sped up the road pulling over just before the junction, just slightly to late although we got some ok record shots of it’s departing rear end!!That was about it for the day fair to say fairly happy with proceedings at this point!

Pics from day 2 including Eagles and Harriers at the link

https://onedrive.live.com/?id=6356FB...56FB2BA7828F28

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Old Monday 13th May 2019, 18:15   #3
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Owl Time!!

Day 3 Monday the 29th of April

With a boat trip booked for later in the week , we felt we had better check out the road to Eriskay, for timings, locations etc. With tiredness catching up with us we didn’t get up to early and began a leisurely drive south, more great scenery, a couple of sightings of Male Hen Harriers along the road eventually arriving at the ferry port, not much here Wheatear, Rock Pipit, a few Gannets and a Merganser, we got lost a couple of times and were held up by a couple of stubborn horses which wouldn’t move!! By now it was lunch time so stopped at the museum/café. Over a very nice Fish Finger butty, we decided what to do for the remainder of what had up to now been a pretty indifferent day, by recent standards anyway.
I decided that Margie hadn’t had her Culture fix, so we headed to the Hallan Roundhouses this turned out to be an inspired move ,situated on the Machair we had cracking views of Skylarks, Ringed Plover, Golden Plover, Wheatears all very close to the car, whilst looking for the Roundhouse we stumbled on a fabulous beach which was full of Sanderling, Ringos and Oystercatchers with at least 8 Great Northern Divers in various plumages just off the surf line! there also seemed to be a movement of Sandmartins with several parties heading south along the beach and just over the surf line very difficult to get pics of! We eventually found the roundhouse which were fairly underwhelming!! On the plus side I was able to wear my new awesome hat.
With the weather improving and a nice evening on the cards we decided to head for Balranald to have another crack at the Corncrakes, heard again but not seen, a Corn Bunting was giving it large on the fence,Twite posed nicely and a couple of Little Terns posed nicely on the beach ,add on a low flying Bonxie which caused havoc across the reserve and it was a great visit, arriving back at base a quick glance out of the bedroom window, Shortie!! A happy 20 minutes taking pics of a hunting SEO in bright sunlight, awesome!!

Once again the pics are at the link ,pretty happy with the Owl and the Twite. And yes don't worry there is a pic of the hat!!

https://onedrive.live.com/?id=6356FB...56FB2BA7828F28
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Old Monday 13th May 2019, 19:02   #4
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Sticky End

Day 4 Tuesday the 30th of April

Well woke up looked out of the window, male Hen Harrier being escorted off the premises by the local Lapwing, herd of 21 Red Deer mooching about, excellent start to the day!! After success the night before we headed back for a walk and Seawatch at Balranald, very windy, Corncrakes and Corn Bunting calling, a few Twite about, Rock Doves, Curlews, a couple of Whimbrel, Arctic Terns, Eider, Common Gulls, Hoodies, Dunlin, Turnstones and Sanderling on the beach. Very little going through on the sea a few Shags, Great Northern Divers, a Black Guillemot and several Gannets and Fulmars the best. We took a drive in fairly crap weather south stopping at Loch Druidibeag where we spotted a pair of Hen Harriers pretty much hunkered down.
Headed to the end of the road with a view to looking off the viewpoint parked up track blocked by a flooded puddle, no worries I will just jump this ditch, didn’t make it!! up to my thighs in sticky mud!! I’m not the agile Gazelle I used to think I was!! When Margie had stopped laughing (it’s usually her job to trip over her own feet) I stripped down to me pants, lucky had me waterproofs so my modesty was covered though my ego was slightly bruised!! The shoes are currently touch and go whether they survive or not, Margie has done her best, with that in mind we headed back to HQ to massage my bruised pride, to compound the bad news our trip to Mingulay which had been brought forward to Wednesday from Friday based on the weather forecast has now been moved to the final Friday of our trip !! The only bright side was in her hysterics Margie didn't take any pics of my muddy embarrassment!


Once again pics at the Link below ,not so good today with the very windy weather it was hard work. Also I'm not sure what is going on with the date stamp on the pics, they were all definitely taken on the days stated

https://onedrive.live.com/?id=6356FB...56FB2BA7828F28

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Old Monday 13th May 2019, 20:34   #5
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I am loving reading this! makes me want to go back so much! It's already been two years . I am especially envious of your Twite, given that we searched high and low for it!
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Old Monday 13th May 2019, 20:42   #6
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I am loving reading this! makes me want to go back so much! It's already been two years . I am especially envious of your Twite, given that we searched high and low for it!
Hi we had twite in several places but they were at Balranald most evenings we were there!
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Old Monday 13th May 2019, 20:45   #7
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Hi we had twite in several places but they were at Balranald most evenings we were there!
I think we went to Balranald most evenings too as we were hoping for Corncrakes (which we heard very well but didn't see - not for lack of trying), but then it was the second half of June so the timing was probably wrong. We also searched for them (Twite, not Corncrake) all over Scotland, but no joy!
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Old Tuesday 14th May 2019, 05:23   #8
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Great report of a place I'd love to visit!

Of all the great pix the one I like best is the Starling in a suit shiny enough for a gameshow host or used car salesman.

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Old Tuesday 14th May 2019, 07:03   #9
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Great report of a place I'd love to visit!

Of all the great pix the one I like best is the Starling in a suit shiny enough for a gameshow host or used car salesman.

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Cheers Mike I knew someone would say that!!! Plenty of starlings about up there !! And they look fine this time of year!!
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Old Tuesday 14th May 2019, 17:24   #10
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I was trying not to read this until Friday. When I could enjoy it with a glass of red. Obviously I failed

Cracking Paul. I need to bookmark this as I'm hoping to go there myself in 2 years time. Did you use any guide books? The whole place sounds amazing.

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Old Tuesday 14th May 2019, 18:30   #11
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I was trying not to read this until Friday. When I could enjoy it with a glass of red. Obviously I failed

Cracking Paul. I need to bookmark this as I'm hoping to go there myself in 2 years time. Did you use any guide books? The whole place sounds amazing.

Rich
Hi Rich

Hope to have it finished by Friday!! Not as such a lot of research on the internet, gives you clues to the best places, there is sort of one big road down the middle of South Uist and Benbecula pretty much any road off them leads to the Machair or the other way to the more rocky type areas , North Uist which I found slightly better for wildlife has a road all the way round it where pretty much anything can pop up at any time!
But your right it is pretty amazing, at least at this time of year which is the only time I've visited,


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Old Tuesday 14th May 2019, 18:40   #12
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I think we went to Balranald most evenings too as we were hoping for Corncrakes (which we heard very well but didn't see - not for lack of trying), but then it was the second half of June so the timing was probably wrong. We also searched for them (Twite, not Corncrake) all over Scotland, but no joy!

yes imagine time of year pretty critical, perhaps the Twite have paired up and are nesting by June so keeping a low profile, we were told best time to actually see Corncrake is May when they first arrive and the vegetation is fairly low.


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Old Tuesday 14th May 2019, 18:54   #13
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Perfect Day?

Day 5 Wednesday 1st of May

Glorious day, no wind!! With perfect conditions we decided to head back to RSPB Loch Druidibeag for a Moorland Walk, On the approach road I spotted a bird on the water, pulling over a quick look through the scope confirmed it as a Red-throated Diver, distant but looking great in full summer plumage, whilst we were stopped a Cuckoo started calling as there was only one tree in the whole field of view I put the scope on it, bingo Cuckoo right on top again distant, as we stood there two birds came in calling ,Common Sandpiper! Great start to the day!!
We proceeded to the RSPB car park and started the walk about 1 ½ miles down the path we realised it was the wrong path!! The signage ain’t great!! Lucky for us though as we started back, I noticed a couple of birds on the Loch, more divers! No scope, but those bills looked heavy through the bins, pretty sure Black-throated, as we get closer we see the pattern on the back, confirmed!!!
We headed back to the carpark and actually start the RSPB trail , Wheatears and Mippits and a large flock 20+ of Ravens, we walk up to the small woodland, loads of Willow Warblers, Song Thrush, Dunnock and Wren, we do the whole 2.6 mile Moorland Walk difficult going on the Blanket Bog the views at the top are worth it though, the only bird of note is a Skylark, the fierce Hebridean sun has burnt me head!! Didn’t expect that! though bought 2 new hats for the trip and left them both in the fecking car!! But still a fantastic morning in superb surroundings.
We headed back to base for dinner, with a fine evening in store we decided on a Raptor Watch up the Committee Road followed by a Corncrake hunt at Balranald, We parked up at the watchpoint, Three Buzzards were above the trees calling spiralling about, suddenly one of them became agitated ,Golden Eagle ,Buzzards do not like Eagles ,there followed a right old dust up and considering the size difference the Buzzards did ok with the Eagle mooched off over the ridge, a couple of minutes later he’s back, no hang on a minute White-tailed Eagle flying powerfully east to west Buzzards have disappeared , return a bit later ,couple of Sprawks spiral up out of the same wood, to the left a male Hen Harrier appears over the ridge and promptly disappears again, turning around there is a Shortie hunting distantly along the far slope .
With time pressing on we head further down the round to see if we can find the Harrier ,yep there he is carrying a vole with a female in hot pursuit, they fly around the area calling, great stuff especially when she flies pretty much over our head followed a couple of mins later by the male! Wow!
Time continued to pass so we decided with the weather pretty perfect for Corncrake we would head for Balranald. We loitered in the car park, the occasional call being heard, Twite calling and chirping away ,I love those guys, such characters, a Corn Bunting is singing , a Reed Bunting pops up on the fence, Skylark are singing, Snipe are flying around, Curlews, Oystercatchers, Redshank, Lapwing all calling and displaying, suddenly a whole host of birds are up at the cemetery ,Starlings, Pipits, Skylarks, what’s occurring , Merlin a male hammering through , a few seconds to get some pics, typical arse end shots but you can tell what it is! What a day!! Suddenly Margie gives a shout there’s one on the road, Boom!! Corncrake right out in the open, I fire off a couple of shots as it slopes off into the undergrowth!!
As we head back to the house, we had a quick look for Owls back at Committee Road no luck, but a quick Skydancing Harrier was cool, Arriving back at the house it was inevitable there would be a Shortie hunting the fields in the back garden but the light was going and quite frankly I was to knackered to take pics!!! But still managed to be impressed by the sunset! Gotta be close to a perfect days birding!

Some record shots of all the main action at the link below ,pretty pleased with the Corncrake and the Twite posed well again ,if only the Divers had been nearer and the Merlin a bit slower!!!

https://onedrive.live.com/?id=6356FB...56FB2BA7828F28

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Old Tuesday 14th May 2019, 19:17   #14
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Hi Rich

Hope to have it finished by Friday!! Not as such a lot of research on the internet, gives you clues to the best places, there is sort of one big road down the middle of South Uist and Benbecula pretty much any road off them leads to the Machair or the other way to the more rocky type areas , North Uist which I found slightly better for wildlife has a road all the way round it where pretty much anything can pop up at any time!
But your right it is pretty amazing, at least at this time of year which is the only time I've visited,


Cheers
Thanks Paul. Looking forward to the rest.

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Old Tuesday 14th May 2019, 19:52   #15
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Smelly But Beautiful! The Beach that is!!

Day 6 Thursday the 2nd of May

Today we decided to go on an Otter hunt, Margie in particular was keen to see one in the wild, we had scanned for them pretty much every time we have stopped when the habitat looked right but no luck so far , we headed for Peter’s Port lots of good looking Otter habitat but no luck did find several Seals , a few Common Terns, Shelduck and some Rock Pipits but no Otters!
After this we head south relocating to the Machair and a nice sandy beach a few miles up the coast from the roundhouses, it may have looked nice but boy did it smell, imagine the Farne Islands without the Puffins, pooh!!!!! Similar birds to the Roundhouses beach though more Dunlin, than Sanderling, both Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits and a nice close flock of Eider including a few juveniles, in the evening we check out Baleshare Island following the the road to the coast picnic area , a few Golden Plover, a big flock of Whimbrel and a bigger flock of Dunlin on the fields/dunes all of which took to the air as a male Hen Harrier went through!! The beach is fantastic and very relaxing listening to the waves.
Another great day but another Otter blank, Margie is starting to mutter about the lack of Otters, getting her there under false pretences and the Otters have been dreamed up by Uist’s Tourist board etc etc!!

Some pics at the link you can see the beauty but are spared the stink!!

https://onedrive.live.com/?id=6356FB...56FB2BA7828F28


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Old Wednesday 15th May 2019, 06:44   #16
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Cracking corncrake pix!
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Old Wednesday 15th May 2019, 07:48   #17
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Cracking corncrake pix!
Thanks Mike
Lucky.Margie spotted it as it crossed the road !
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Old Wednesday 15th May 2019, 08:31   #18
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Now I am REALLY envious! Not only Twite, but also a Corncrake out in the open! Well done!
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Old Wednesday 15th May 2019, 17:25   #19
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Now I am REALLY envious! Not only Twite, but also a Corncrake out in the open! Well done!
Was the only clear view we got, they seemed a bit subdued, maybe because of the cold north wind? But think may is the time to see them for sure

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Old Wednesday 15th May 2019, 18:44   #20
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What the Duck!!

Day 7 Friday the 3nd of May

Our anniversary today, someone forgot, and it wasn’t me!!!! After the smelly beach yesterday, suckers for punishment that we are, we thought we would visit Stinky Bay, how bad would it be!! In the end we missed it and ended up in Cula Bay, which was not that smelly hurrah! Great Northern Divers in the bay, good views of Wheatears, we walked out to the point but not much going through some Turnstones and a couple of Cormorants, our good luck seemed to be fading ,bitter wind and showers didn’t improve matters we turned back, as we headed back I scanned the bay some Eiders flying across what’s that with them, the lights not good but I’m thinking Long-tailed Ducks, typically they land on the far side of the bay and me scopes in the car, Margies had enough and heads for the car, I bite the bullet and walk right round the bay , eventually getting great views of about 40 Long-tailed Ducks, with bonus three Arctic Terns fishing along the beach,
I return to the car and we head out, half a mile down the road I notice a large Gull mooching over a sheep field , that looks like a white winger I think, slams on the breaks,2 seconds later am out of the car taking pics of a Glaucaus Gull which doesn’t hang around and disappears over the dunes!! Lucky there weren’t anyone behind us!! We stop at Charlies Bistro for brunch very nice Scrambled Eggs and Smoked Salmon!! With the weather not doing us many favours we decide to head to Lochmaddy and spend some time in the Museum there, nice cake and quite interesting geological information and that’s about it for the day as the wind starts a howling.


A few pics at the Link a bit Long-tailed Duck heavy but so many different plumages! A few of the Gull and the Arctic Terns as well, not much quality to day ,howling wind , cold showers and poor light are not conducive to good pics.

https://onedrive.live.com/?id=6356FB...56FB2BA7828F28

Cheers Paul
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Old Wednesday 15th May 2019, 19:14   #21
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Day 8 Saturday 4th of May
Open the curtains Golden Eagle low over the house, time I get out with the camera it’s further away but still got some usable shots, great start to the day!!
Despite going to both the Roundhouses and Lochmaddy Museum Margie still wants more culture so we head to the Langass Burial Chamber unfortunately due to a tunnel collapse she can’t go inside so we head up the hill in search of the standing stones, The view from the top is impressive and we follow the path round to the stones, Stonehenge it ain’t but still quite impressive and the walk there was refreshing in the north wind , the day is saved by a cracking male Hen Harrier which appears on the way back.
We head down the road to Loch Euport some great Hebridean Sheep down here including a feisty looking Ram and a Cuckoo are the highlights, no Otters again despite perfect looking habitat and some serious intense scanning, Margie is grumbling, conspiracy theories abound ,there are no Otters it’s all for the tourists etc etc. On our return our garden Wheatear poses nicely, I decide to go on an owl hunt the committee road is pretty dead with only the one Skydancing Hen Harrier!! I return back to base and of course there is a Shortie in the back field lights bad but I get a few shots!!

As usual some shots at the link, another grey day doesn't help with the pics but the Harrier showed ok!

https://onedrive.live.com/?id=6356FB...56FB2BA7828F28

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Old Wednesday 15th May 2019, 19:36   #22
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Langass Loch is a good Otter site.....

John
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Old Wednesday 15th May 2019, 19:55   #23
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Langass Loch is a good Otter site.....

John
Stay Tuned :)
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Old Thursday 16th May 2019, 06:16   #24
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An enjoyable read of a great area!
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Fav Birds - Hen/Pallid/Monty Harrier, Gyrfalcon, Great Grey Owl, Hobby, Golden Eagle, Merlin, SE Owl, Pom Skua, Hawfinch, Wryneck, Redstart, Shrikes, Roller, Bee-eater's, Nightjar, Smew, GN & BT Diver, Spotted Redshank, any Warblers (especially yank ones)!
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Old Thursday 16th May 2019, 12:06   #25
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Stay Tuned :)
A really enjoyable read, which camera do you use
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