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Islay and Jura (1 Viewer)


Botanical Birder
Islay and Jura 29th Oct-4th Nov 2009 Pt1

29th Oct. After a train journey up the east coast in full sun where I spotted several skeins of geese, possibly Pink Footed Geese, I was met at Edinburgh by drizzling rain which continued off and on as I travelled onwards to Glasgow. We were soon heading past Loch Lomond, Loch Long and Loch Fyne on our way to catch the ferry from Kennacraig to Port Ellen, Islay. I had recorded my first Common Buzzards, Ravens and Hooded Crows on the journey from Glasgow and during a short stop at Loch Long the only Peregrine Falcon and Lesser Black Backed Gull of the trip. There was a number of variable hybrid Hooded and Carrion Crows on the shore here. The rain became heavier as we approached the west coast and darkness set in very early. Happily I managed to eat my scampi and chips and drink my red wine on the ferry before the waters became choppy, which made walking in a straight line impossible, and no, the red wine had no role in this. After the two+ hour crossing we were soon at out hotel at Bridgend on the island, and as my room was above the bar I was entertained until almost midnight by pop music, as I prayed for quietness and for drier weather for morning!

30th Oct. The morning was cloudy, but in the main dry. I was fully aware of Islay’s reputation of perhaps being the best place in Europe to see geese and I remembered Peter Scott’s comments about it, but I hadn’t been prepared to see quiet so many and this trip definitely provided my best ever geese watching by far, many of them at very close quarters. The Barnacle Geese (up to 40,000 on the island I believe), were of course the most numerous and we began to see large flocks of these within minutes of leaving the hotel as we travelled the edge of Loch Indaal. There were also a number of smaller flocks of Greenland White Fronted Geese and these again provided my best ever sighting of this species that I have only ever seen at distance at Loch Ken in Dumfries. Smaller numbers of Greylag Geese were also seen. Geese were to be seen in their thousands throughout the next three days on Islay.

We were making for the RSPB Reserve at Loch Gruinart and before arrival we began to see our first flocks of Redwing and Fieldfare, which again were to be seen in large numbers throughout the trip. Eider Duck were seen on the sea as were numbers of Red Breasted Merganser, another bird often seen over the few days we were on the islands. The reserve at Loch Gruinart provided us with some good sightings of more geese of course, but also Grey Heron, Shelduck, Wigeon, Mallard, Gadwall Pintail, Shoveller, Teal, Tufted Duck and Goldeneye. Our first small flock of Whooper Swans was also seen here. Around lunch time the rains returned so we sought shelter in the hide and the reserve centre which provides a good large window view across the reserve. Waders seen were Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Curlew and Snipe. I have to say, the trip as a whole did not bring sightings of too many waders. The rain became steadily heavier and some discussion took place about a visit to a distillery! I had already made it known I don’t like whisky unless mixed with dry ginger and that comment was met with some s******ing. I don’t know why! Anyway I opted to return to the area near our hotel for a walk in the woodland with some others whilst others couldn’t resist the pull of malt whisky.

In the event I never made it to the woodland as I was tempted by another guy to walk back to the hotel around the edge of Loch Indaal, a walk of four miles. As it happened I was easily tempted as I was feeling a bit tied to the vehicle and as the rain had eased it seemed a good idea at the time. Well, we all make mistakes and this turned out to be one of mine. No sooner had the vehicle left us and the rain came down heavily and never ceased to do so throughout the walk. It was being blown in off the sea and loch by strong winds and my face was stinging from the force of it. It wasn’t all bad though as I found a Slavonian Grebe on the Loch edge, the first of only two seen throughout the trip and we had the pleasure of walking close by flocks of Barnacle Geese as they lifted and flew over our heads. Snipe were seen also. I wasn’t so keen on the cattle I had to walk through although they seemed as cheesed off with the rain as I did! Four miles began to seem one hec of a long way, and was I pleased when our friends returned from the distillery and picked us up after three miles. I was soaked to the skin by a mix of rain and perspiration caused by my waterproofs. Young Sean, a staff member at the hotel took my clothes to the drying room. In fact it would have probably been easier just to peg me up in them so wet was I. Anyway I’m sure it will be an experience I shall look back on with fondness. I had a cappuccino before diving into a hot bath.

31st Oct. We had an early morning walk planned, but in fact stayed in the vehicle, as yes you’ve guessed, it was raining still. We drove along the edge of Loch Indaal again and watched the flocks of Barnacle Geese, White Fronted Geese and Greylag Geese and on return and over breakfast I spotted in the hotel grounds my first Song Thrush of the trip. One of our party was keen to find the two Richardson’s Canada Geese that were reported on the island. I couldn’t help feel he was going to require some luck! (We never did find them). The good news was that the forecast suggested that the rain was to come in the form of heavy showers today and that was how things turned out.

We were soon heading for the cliff top reserve at the Oa. On the journey birds included numbers of Raven, Common Buzzard, Stonechat, House Sparrow and Reed Bunting. At the start of the walk towards the American Monument (which commemorates American servicemen lost during the First World War) on the cliff top, we had a fleeting glimpse of our first Hen Harrier, a ringtail. There were many more Common Buzzards, Ravens and Hooded Crows throughout the walk, but none of the hoped for Choughs. The showers came as promised and conditions underfoot were wet in the extreme. There were large flocks of Redwing and Fieldfare about which were seen well, as were the large flocks of Twite which fed close to us. Linnets, Meadow Pipit and Rock Pipit were also about. The light was wonderful and the Antrim coast could be seen very faintly through cloud and mist. After taking in the excellent views from the clifftop we walked back to the vehicle and I managed to miss the first Merlin of the trip as I lagged behind talking to a guy who was visiting from Leeds. Despite the heavy shower this morning, this was to be the best day weather wise we had on Islay and at last we were seeing the island at its best.

After lunch we were to take the drive via Bridgend to the bay at Port Wemyss. The journey was to bring us some excitement and a great sighting. Over the hills to the east two large birds were seen and it didn’t take to long to realise these were Golden Eagles. It didn’t take long for us to jump from the vehicles and everyone had great sightings. They put on a fine display of circling over the hills as we watched for around ten minutes. They gave fine views. Red Deer, Roe Deer and Islay Brown Hare were seen on the journey and once at the bay both Grey Seal and Common Seal were found. It was a little disappointing that there were not the expected numbers of divers around, but we did have a fine close up sighting of Great Northern Diver. Other birds included Cormorant, Shag, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Curlew and Turnstone.

We returned to the RSPB Reserve at Loch Gruinart in the hope of seeing the geese come into roost, but the majority had beaten us to it. On inspection the fields were covered with thousand upon thousand of geese, of course in the main Barnacle Geese. This was an amazing sight in itself especially as the flocks occasionally lifted. A volunteer at the reserve advised us of Hen Harrier roost, but I felt we visited too late and nothing was seen but Common Buzzards, although our only Goldcrest of the trip was heard calling.

It was of course Halloween and the hotel was holding a party in the bar so my room was throbbing along with the music so I felt it best to stay downstairs for a drink myself. It was entertaining to say the least as I almost accosted by Miss Piggy, a member of staff in a Miss Piggy mask. I had earlier watched Miss Piggy slurping from a bottle of wine. Then Count Dracula joined us complete with blow up doll strategically strapped to his body, and the description I shall leave to your imagination. Thankfully the party moved on at 11.30pm and I could get some sleep!

Photos below show The Oa cliffs with the Americam Monument and the bay at Port Wemyss overlooking the Atlantic.


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Botanical Birder

1st Nov. It rained and at times it rained very heavily! In the afternoon we were due take the five minute ferry crossing from Port Askaig to Jura, but before that we visited the area around Loch Gruinart. There was at least some shelter there to take our lunch. I saw my first Red Throated Diver of the trip today and my first Great Crested Grebe. In the main it was a morning for watch the geese again. Some in the party took a walk to find Chough which apparently roost in one of the barns nearby. I just couldn’t work up the passion for another soaking so missed out on the two Choughs that were found in bedraggled state. I’ll just have to live with the disappointment! The disappointment was eased when we found a Cattle Egret (a UK tick for me) and another ringtail Hen Harrier on the way to the ferry crossing. A flock of twenty Brent Geese (pale-bellied) was also seen today. We were soon on Jura and driving along what appears to be its one road. I’d been looking forward to spending time on the much wilder island. We were soon catching good sightings of some the islands 5,000 Red Deer. Once at the Jura Hotel at Craighouse we watched the bay for Otters. With no luck on this occasion, but as the hotel front windows overlooked the bay I thought that there would be every chance of Otter sightings at some point. I went off to bed that night in peace and quiet.

2nd Nov. We were up for a pre breakfast walk to look for Otters, and again with no luck. By now I was expecting rain and I wasn’t disappointed, although the mist and cloud soon broke up to lend a wonderful atmosphere to the island. Some of the skies over the next couple of days were magnificent, the light was wonderful and if nothing else the rain, which came only in showers now, brought out the colours in the landscape to great effect. There were numbers of Red Breasted Merganser in the bay this morning along with Eider Duck and Common Seals.

The morning and early afternoon were taken up with the drive along the eastern side of the island where we passed wonderful bays, the Paps of Jura at times their tops covered by cloud and at other times perfectly clear under blue skies and Loch Tarbert which attempts to cut the island in half. It was a fascinating drive with many stops and many Red Deer including numbers of impressive stags. We drove to the end of the public road and at one point almost burnt out the vehicles clutch. We found both ringtail and male Hen Harriers, both giving short, but good views. As I turned from the male bird a male Merlin flew past over the moor on the other side of the road. Again we saw numerous winter thrushes and Common Buzzards now were with us almost constantly and of course there were numbers of Raven and Hooded Crow. I also managed to get my eye on my first Goldfinch of the trip. There were loads of good photographic opportunities and I thought that given more time on Jura there would be some excellent walking to be done.

Having returned to the hotel for lunch we were driven around the bay and most of us walked back. I saw another Merlin at the start of the walk. It was good to be able to step out and walk some of the past few days meals off! The skies were wonderful with storm clouds meeting blue skies and as the afternoon went on the sun caused areas of the sky to look a bright yellow as it also shone across the water. The afternoon shower was only short lived. Still no Otters though!

3rd Nov. I decided to skip the pre breakfast walk and stay in bed as I had heard heavy downpours during the night. I couldn’t rest however, thinking what might be being found by those few who had gotten out of bed so I joined them. It was just as well I did as an Otter was performing in the bay. This was our first of the trip and everyone had excellent views as it ducked and dived whilst apparently almost constantly eating. It lay on its back on several occasions and handled what seemed to be fish and crabs. I was surprised at how long these animals are when seen at full stretch in the water. Our watch carried on into the breakfast room until the Otter finally disappeared. Mallards, Grey Herons and Red Breasted Mergansers were also about.

Now today I had been tempted to join the small party going to visit Barnhill (where George Orwell wrote 1984) and the Corryvreckan whirlpool. Once I heard we were not guaranteed to see the whirlpool in action I decide against this as it meant repeating the journey of the day before with the extra march over very wet moorland. I decided a change would be better and went along the western side of the island where a walk along the beach was planned. I’m pleased I made this choice as before the day was out we had found three more Otters, one of which finally came onto the shore giving great views. We had some magnificent Red Deer stags in close up to, none of which seem to be especially concerned about our presence. One of them was a special beast indeed with seven points on each antler. We were later told that there numbers of similar size on the island.

The walk along the beach was a refreshing one with wonderful lichens and some interesting plants I have yet to identify. Kestrels and Common Buzzards were around in number. I reckon we saw thirty plus Common Buzzards today and that is probably well underestimated. We also had another excellent sighting of Great Northern Diver on Islay Sound. There were more Common and Grey Seals about too. One bird which surprised us was a lone Arctic Tern as it seemed so late for this bird to be still about. Gulls seen were Black Headed, Common, Herring, Great Black Backed and Kittiwake. Black Guillemot was also seen, and the shoreline gave me good sightings of Rock Pipit and more Stonechat. As we watched one of the Otters the ferryman told us he had seen two White Tailed Sea Eagles the previous day. This made us decide to return in the afternoon. Some of the rainbows seen today were magnificent. On our return for lunch we had a sighting of one of the birds of the trip as a Golden Eagle flew directly towards us from the hills and flew quite low over our heads giving great views.

We were soon heading back to the same area. White Tailed Sea Eagles on the mind, but to be honest I wasn’t really confident about seeing any. Then I got my eye on two large birds flying in front of us and over the Sound. They were quickly confirmed as White Tailed Sea Eagles as we quickly got ourselves in a good position to watch them. I had great scope views. I seem to remember the birds were tagged L and D (or was it H?). We watched them for about thirty minutes as they flew together over the Sound then eventually landed and perched in the trees on Islay. Our intended walk was forgotten by now as we also found an Otter and Red Deer. One of the Red Deer stags came down to the Sound to drink and taste the seaweed. It wasn’t perturbed by us at all. I felt that I could almost have touched it. Any walk along the beach was in any case out of the question now as the tide was high. It had been an excellent day and I’d hardly been wet at all! Again there were some wonderful skies and lighting conditions.

4th Nov. Today was our day to return to the mainland and onwards to home. An early breakfast was had and we were off at 7.00am towards the ferry for Islay. On reaching Islay we made for the ferry to the mainland which left from Port Ellen. The crossing was smooth and some good views were had especially of Jura. Birds seen on the crossing included Black Throated Diver (the first of the trip), Manx Shearwater (the first of the trip), Kittiwake, Guillemot, Razorbill and Black Guillemot. On one side of us the skies were dark grey and stormy, and on the other bright with white cloud and large blue areas. This seemed to sum up the weather on the trip. The crossing on this mill pond in daylight was very enjoyable after the initial crossing had been taking in heavy rain, wind and darkness. We were soon heading for Glasgow and I managed quick sightings of some wildlife on Loch Fyne which included a very brief view of another Otter and a Little Grebe.

It had been an excellent trip despite the odd soaking. In my eyes the weather had added to the atmosphere. If it had been drier I’m not so sure we would have seen many more bird species. Perhaps a few woodland birds would have been added to the list as we never ever made the woodland area. My only disappointment was not adding Chough to my UK list. Another time perhaps, but in any event I’m not complaining. Islay and Jura are two very different islands so I would find it impossible to really say which one I preferred. Each one has its strong points, but I did really appreciate the wildness of Jura and a bedroom on it that was not over a noisy public bar!


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Botanical Birder
A few more photos from Jura.


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Botanical Birder
Bird and Mammal List

Red Throated Diver
Black Throated Diver
Great Northern Diver
Great Crested Grebe
Little Grebe
Slavonian Grebe
Manx Shearwater
Cattle Egret
Grey Heron
Whooper Swan
Mute Swan
Pink-footed Geese
White-fronted Geese
Greylag Geese
Brent Geese
Barnacle Geese
Tufted Duck
Eider Duck
Red-breasted Merganser
Hen Harrier
Common Buzzard
Golden Eagle
White-tailed Sea Eagle
Peregrine Falcon
Black Headed Gull
Common Gull
Herring Gull
Great Black Backed Gull
Lesser Black Backed Gull
Artic Tern
Black Guillemot
Wood Pigeon
Feral Pigeon
Collared Dove
Rock Pipit
Meadow Pipit
Pied Wagtail
Grey Wagtail
Song Thrush
Mistle Thrush
Goldcrest (H)
Blue Tit
Carrion Crow
Hooded Crow
House Sparrow
Reed Bunting

Brown Hare
Red Deer
Roe Deer
Common Seal
Grey Sea

delia todd

If I said the wrong thing it was a Senior Moment
Staff member
Opus Editor
Superb report Brian.

I was there a few years ago but a bit earlier in October. The geese really are amazing aren't they.

You'll have to come on our Easter Bash... you're bound to get Chough then:-O I mean... how on earth can you go to Islay and not see them;)



Botanical Birder
Cheers Andrew and Delia.

Yes Delia I did think I would have ticked Chough. I suspect it was the water in my eyes that was the problem!:'D;)


Once a bird lover ... always a bird lover
hi Brian

Thank you for your super report, and all the time you have taken to type it up, and explain all your wonderful findings. o:)o:):-O:-O

To see so many BoP's was quite an experience. I remember seeing a Golden Eagle in the distance once while up north in central Scotland but that was years ago now.

Yes, you got the full wack of Scottish weather. England is so much drier and warmer IMHO, but as you say it added to the enjoyment of the time you had to visit the Reserves and areas to see wildlife.

Hopefully the ellusive Cough will around in the future for you, so you can add it to your tick list.

I would love to have a close up view of Red and Black Throated Divers anyday. That is my wish LOL

Glad you enjoyed your time at the East Coast, and up in the bonnie Isles at the top of the world.



Well-known member
Dispite the dreadful weather, Brian, you got to see a great many birds & animals. Some of your photo's show what the weather was like. I enjoyed reading your report.
I didn't know Carrion & Hooded crows inter bred? I have never seen a Hooded crow live. photo's yes.


Well-known member
A great report of your trip, Brian! Such a pity with the weather but as you say it does lend an atmosphere and your photo's prove the point. They are delightful! Great bird species and mammals you saw, especially the Eagles and Otters! Pity about not seeing any Chough, Wales have a few you know!

Glad you had such an excellent sounding trip to Islay and Jura!:t:

Sandra (Taylor)

Registered User
Excellent report Brian - never been to those islands, although we were told by a passing RSPB man not far from the lighthouse on the Point at Ardnamurchan that the white-tailed eagle we were watching was probably one from Jura.



Botanical Birder
Thanks for your comments Kathy, Val, Pam and Sandra.

A fantasic area to visit at this time of year and to be honest as a 'wet birder' I didn't mind the rain too much and would not have wanted to miss some of the cloud formations and lighting that arose from it. I've made my mind up to visit as many Scottish Islands as I can. I already have a booking made for the Orkneys and Shetlands in June of 2010. I was on Mull and the Isle of May about 3 years ago. Mull remains my favourite.

Interesting point you make about the WTSEs Sandra because I'm still not sure if they actually breed on Jura or simply visit. I'm sure someone will be able to clarify that. I'd assumed theywere visiting only. The ferryman did point out where he thought they roosted on Islay.


Sandra (Taylor)

Registered User
Interesting point you make about the WTSEs Sandra because I'm still not sure if they actually breed on Jura or simply visit. I'm sure someone will be able to clarify that. I'd assumed theywere visiting only. The ferryman did point out where he thought they roosted on Islay.

Yes, Mull is our favourite island too. My report of our recent holiday there will be posted on BF shortly.

Not sure if the man (maybe not from the RSPB - he worked at the Glenborrodale visitor centre) meant they bred there or just flew over from the island.

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Jane Turner

Well-known member
I spent a week on Jura (in Barnhill) this August - we were rained on every day and I never did quite get dry. I dragged the kids to see the Whirlpool, but it wasn't whirling. The standing waves were good though. There were Otters and WTE in the garden - the Eaglet wasn't long fledged and spent a lot of the time crashing about on the cliff edges. One evening the Eagles sat in [on] a small Rowan Tree at the bottom of the garden.

Thanks for the thread and the memories!


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Botanical Birder
I spent a week on Jura (in Barnhill) this August - we were rained on every day and I never did quite get dry. I dragged the kids to see the Whirlpool, but it wasn't whirling. The standing waves were good though. There were Otters and WTE in the garden - the Eaglet wasn't long fledged and spent a lot of the time crashing about on the cliff edges. One evening the Eagles sat in [on] a small Rowan Tree at the bottom of the garden.

Thanks for the thread and the memories!

lol I did dry out eventually Jane. Thanks for the added photos. I was told by those who ventured to the non whirling whirlpool that the views were excellent.

Jane Turner

Well-known member
It was an astoundingly wet walk to Corryvreckan. The only time there was a clear path, rather than an open bog, the path was a flowing stream! We didn't get rained on on the way out, but a thunder storm with hail made up for it on the way back.

I'm steadily working my way through Scottish Islands - I think North Uist is my favourite.


Botanical Birder
One member of my party spent much time on his back apparently, such were the tricky conditions on the walk and they spent much of the time in heavy rain on at least one direction.

I've just been considering future options for Scottish Island visits. As I'm visiting Dumfries in May I have a boat trip to Ailsa Craig in mind, although I appreciate that is a bit of rock rather than something worthy of the term 'island'.
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