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Scotland: Perthshire, the Highlands and Outer Hebrides, 11-26 June 2017 2017 (1 Viewer)

3Italianbirders

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We had been to Scotland once before, 12 years ago, but only for a few days and had always planned to go back. As you may have noticed in my several posts in the RFI and Scotland forums, we tried to plan it as carefully as possible, and what started out as 10-day trip quickly evolved into a two full weeks. So many places to bird so little time! As it turned out, we could have done with a few more days, as we drove over 1800 miles and stayed in seven different places, and when we got back home we were more tired than when we left. It was well worth it though, as we totalled 123 species, with several lifers and other memorable sightings.

We had pre-booked B&B accommodation in most places, plus a self-catering cottage on North Uist and a hotel belonging to a well-known budget chain near Edinburgh airport. We flew Ryanair from Rome Ciampino to Edinburgh and back and also booked our car rental through Ryanair, which proved much cheaper (one free additional driver was what clinched it) than booking direct with the rental companies or through other travel websites such as Expedia and Skyscanner.

We dipped on the three Scottish specialities (3 Cs), Crested Tit, Crossbill and Capercaillie, but had already seen the former two (Crossbills - Common ones - sometimes visit our feeders in winter) and weren’t realistically expecting to see Capercaillie. We also very nearly dipped on our small-bird targets, Redpoll and Bullfinch (although we had already seen them, they are always nice to see), but bagged them both on our second-to-last day, the former thanks to Gordon Hamlett’s tips. What we didn’t see, although we hunted high and low, was Twite, but everyone told us that they are easier to see earlier in the season.

We also did fairly well mammal-wise, despite not seeing a whale (but we had our fair share of those last year in Canada).

As for literature, besides Gordon’s book, which I highly recommend to anyone planning to birdwatch in the Scottish Highlands, we used an old copy of the trusted Collins Bird Guide, plus the Collins App for iOS.

We met many birders, who gave us invaluable advice and also provided good company in between the sightings. Unfortunately we don’t know any names, but if one of you bumped into three Italian birders (two adults and a tween girl) in the second half of June, then that’s us and you are most welcome to get in touch should you come to this part of the world. One name we do know (although we weren’t introduced, but learned it afterwards from the local Bird Recorder) and it is Steven Kirkup, with whom we spent some time watching the White-winged Black Tern on Benbecula.

Unfortunately the report is not as thorough as we normally like them to be, as we were a bit lazy and didn’t write down as many details of sightings as we normally do. I am also very late in posting this, so apologies for that, too.
 

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3Italianbirders

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June 11
Edinburgh - Aviemore


We land ahead of schedule in Edinburgh (around 1pm), pick up our rental car and drive the M90/A9 to Aviemore. En route the usual suspects: Buzzard, Kestrel, Herring and Black-headed Gulls, Wood Pigeon, Black Wagtail, Swallow, plus an unexpected Hooded Crow (but it could well have been an hybrid), and a very welcome Peregrine Falcon perched on a post along the A9 before Kingussie. near our B&B just outside Aviemore, the first Oystercatchers and Lapwings.
 

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3Italianbirders

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June 12
Aviemore, Forvie Sands, Blackdog


Before breakfast we walk for a while in the Craigellachie NR, ticking off the first Osprey, Wren, Song Thrush, Willow Warbler, Common Sandpiper, various Tits and Great Spotted Woodpecker.

Since the forecast for the Cairngorms doesn’t look too promising we decide to head to the coast and pay a visit to Elvis the King Eider. Driving along, the first Rooks, always a welcome sight for us southerners and the first Yellowhammer.

We had been to Forvie Sands on our previous trip in 2005 and the place looks just as fantastic as it did then, with the bonus of a King Eider showing very well. Plus 4 species of terns (Common, Arctic, Sandwich and Little), waders, Sand Martins, various gulls including Great Black-backed, and both Common and Grey Seals. A local birder tells us about the Black Scoter at Blackdog, so with a last look at the scenery we decide to head south and give it a try.

The Scoter flock can easily be seen with our scope some distance off the coast, but it’s too far away to pick out the western “intruder”. Still we enjoy the many Gannets and get good views of a group of Bottlenose Dolphins, much to the delight of our daughter.

Back in Aviemore, we pay an after-dinner visit to Loch Morlich, but the pickings are scarce, apart from a female Goldeneye with chicks.
 

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3Italianbirders

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June 13
Aviemore, Cairngorm


Back to Craigellachie before breakfast, then off to the Osprey Centre. No Ospreys and no Crested Tits, but we have a nice chat with the RSPB wardens and buy souvenirs from the shop. We head towards Cairngorm, where we see Tree Pipit and Ring Ouzel from a lay-by just passed the tree-line, and Common Snipe and, second lifer for the trip, Red Grouse from the funicular car park. It’s too late to go up the mountain so we leave that for tomorrow and drive to Loch An Eilein, where we don’t see any new species, but we DO see two splendid red squirrels in the trees around the car park!


June 14
Cairngorm, Carrbridge


Up Cairngorm we get lucky as soon as we step onto the restaurant viewing terrace: a splendid Snow Bunting in full breeding plumage just a few meters away. Then we join one of the guided walks and we see Mountain Hares, Ptarmigan and Dotterel, plus various Meadow Pipits and another Ptarmigan as we approach the restaurant (aptly named) on the way back. A truly enjoyable morning!
Since it is our last day in the area we decide to look for the forest species, based on recommendations from other birders at Cairngorm we walk around the Forest Lodge in the Abernethy Forest. But we have no luck, so we decide on a complete change of scenery and drive to the moor at the end of the little road that heads west from Carrbridge, south of the river. There we tick Golden Plover, Curlew and Greylag Goose.
 

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3Italianbirders

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June 15
Aviemore, Dunnet Head, Scourie


We set off very early for the long drive that will take us north and then around the top of Scotland, via Dunnet Head. En route we stop at Chanonry Point, hoping to see more dolphins, but there are none in sight, Plenty of terns and gulls though, and we do see a Red Kite along the way. Further on, we eat our sandwiches in the Mound carpark at Loch Fleet, where we add to the list Wigeon, Shelduck and Red-breasted Merganser.

Finally, in the early afternoon we get to Dunnet Head. There is a light drizzle, but the view of the cliffs is breathtaking: apart from the birds (Razorbills, Guillemots, Puffins, Fulmars) on the cliffs themselves, there’s thousands in the water, while Great and Arctic Skuas, Gannets and Kittiwakes whizz past. A veritable feast for the eyes! Sadly we have to leave as we still have a long way to go. And what a drive! Moors, cliffs, huge deserted beaches, unfortunately we can’t stop. We reach our B&B in Scourie and after dinner, as we settle for the night we hear a Tawny Owl calling just outside the window (the owner had told us that he had seen a huge owl in the wood behind the house). Another perfect (if long) day.
 

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3Italianbirders

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June 16
Handa Island


It’s Handa day! The weather looks promising but rain is forecast for later on so we pack our rain gear (which has been lugged across two continents for three years without ever seeing the light), snacks and water and drive to Tarbet. The crossing is uneventful and we soon dock at Handa. After the customary briefing from the warden we set off along the trail that goes round the island. Great and Arctic Skuas are everywhere, sometimes just a few metres from the boardwalk, sometimes in pairs, sometimes with chicks (tiny brown puffballs at this stage). We can’t decide if Arctic Skuas are more stunning in their dark morph or in the light one. Common Snipes fly past and Meadow Pipits are everywhere. We get to the cliffs and the sun is shining on the thousands of birds, perched, in flight and at sea. Among all the rest we also spot several Guillemots of the Bridled form, which we hadn’t seen before. Skuas bathe in the loch just behind us and Great Black-backed Gulls patrol the cliffs. Dark clouds are fast approaching and we start to head back towards the shelter and the landing beach. The cliffs get even more spectacular against the darkening sky. It starts to drizzle, then to pour, good thing we brought the rain gear! It’s a long, wet walk back around the western coast of the island, but we are still exhilarated by the fantastic views and sightings of the previous hours, so we really don’t mind. But we do enjoy drying up in front of a steaming cup of hot chocolate (plus requisite cake) at the dockside cafe in Tarbet.
 

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3Italianbirders

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June 17
Scourie, Ullapool, Stornoway, Butt of Lewis, Callanish, Balallan


We catch the morning ferry to Stornoway and the crossing, in pretty stormy weather, is truly memorable, with all the cliff-nesting species of the previous days, plus uncounted Gannets in all plumages, some very close, always majestic, and Manx Shearwaters, a lifer for us. We dock at Stornoway, stop at a supermarket for some food shopping and then drive to the Butt of Lewis, where Lesser Black-backed Gulls nest on the cliffs, Black Guillemots swim just below us and the wind is so strong it’s impossible to stand up straight. Something that could well be a Rock Pipit (one of our targets) flies past, but we can’t be sure. We drive south along the west coast, and when we reach the RSPB Loch na Muilne we decide it will be a waste of time to try and scan the loch for Phalaropes as it’s impossible to set up the scope, plus it has started to rain. So we opt for one of the few tourist things of the trip and drive to the Callanish stones, an impressive sight in the evening light. We have an excellent dinner in the cafe and then drive to our accommodation in Balallan.

June 18
Balallan - Lochmaddy


Today we take it easy, as we have a late afternoon ferry to Berneray, so we have almost the whole day to drive around Lewis and Harris to look for eagles. And eagles we do see: the first is a Golden Eagle, soaring above the ridges west of the car park at Bogha Glas, stop no. 4 on the Outer Hebrides Bird of Prey trail. After leaving the car park, the road climbs a hill and as soon as we start descending a White-tailed Eagle flies across the road in front of us. Fantastic! We then drive along the little road on the western side of Loch Seaforth, which provides magnificent views but no other significant sightings. After a pit stop in Tarbert for take-away pizza, we tackle the Harris hills in the rain, which clears when we get to the beaches on the western coast. Here we finally manage to see well a Rock Pipit, which will remain the only certain sighting of this species of the whole trip. From the ferry from Leverburgh to Berneray many Gannets, Black Guillemots, Divers, terns, seals and more. While we are preparing dinner in our accommodation near Lochmaddy an otter swims by in the loch just below the window.
 

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3Italianbirders

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June 19
North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist


This will prove to be another memorable day, with several stops and new and unexpected species. We start off with the Committee Road, another stop on the Outer Hebrides Bird of Prey trail, where we see the first of the many Short-eared Owls we’ll see on the Uists. For us, unaccustomed to this magnificent bird of prey, it’s a real treat. We drive up and down the road a few times seeing 3 different individuals, plus a Buzzard, and the usual Oystercatchers and Lapwings.
Heading south we see Red-necked Phalaropes, Gadwalls and Little Grebes in roadside pools in Benbecula, and while we’re there a totally unexpected White-winged Black Tern flies over the pools. It disappears for a while and then we observe it again for a few minutes. There are other birders with us and they tell us where to go for the “nordic” gulls that we are eager to see, so our next stop is Ardivachar Point on South Uist. Sure enough there are loads of gulls on the beach below us and it only takes a few minutes to single out the two nordic visitors, an Iceland Gull and a Glaucous Gull. We drive back north and stop at the RSPB Balranald just to have a look. As soon as we park the car we can hear a Corncrake calling literally one metre away in the dense vegetation between the car park and the visitor centre. We book ourselves on a guided walk for the following morning and head home tired, ravenous but happy.

June 20
North Uist

We join the guided walk at RSPB Balranald and as we walk along the beach we spot a Bar-tailed Godwit and two otters. Also a few Corn Buntings, a routine sight for us back home, so it’s somewhat strange to see them here. We eat our sandwiches on the beach, then decide to drive to the eastern side of the island to look for eagles. The drive is spectacular but we only see two eagles in a galaxy far, far away.

June 21
North Uist


Another RSPB walk, this time to look for otters and eagles. We see neither but instead spot a few Hen Harriers, a Buzzard, Kestrels, deer, seals and various divers. Also a fantastic hairy caterpillar and carnivorous plants.

We drive back to South Uist to have another look at the gulls, which we duly see again. The drive back north is also very productive, with several Hen Harriers and a couple of SE Owls. We have a very nice pub dinner and then head home.
 

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3Italianbirders

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June 22
North Uist, South Uist


As usual, we start the day with a drive along the Committee Road. As we reach the end of it we realise that we have left my phone back at our accommodation, so we do a u-turn and soon we spot something perched on a hillock some 500 yards from the road, mobbed by some Lapwings. The something turns out to be a Golden Eagle, which we watch at leisure for a while.

Our destination today is the Loch Druidibeg - Loch Sgioport area in South Uist, where we hope to see more eagles. Unfortunately there is a low cloud cover and a slight drizzle, not really bird of prey weather. We do see a few kestrels and more Hen Harriers and SE Owls on the way there and back though, and the scenery at the end of the road in Loch Sgioport is breathtaking. On the way home we stop AGAIN at Ardivachar Point for the gulls, then just a few miles from Lochmaddy in a small loch by the side of the road we stop for a drenched looking Whooper Swan. The wind is howling by the time we get back and we hope that our ferry back to the mainland the following morning will not be cancelled.

June 23
Lochmaddy - Skye - Onich


We say goodbye to our hosts and, soon after having turned onto the main road, we see a White-tailed Eagle sitting on the edge of the loch by the road, A few minutes and several hundred photos later, it takes off, only to land again a short distance away. A fantastic farewell to the Western Isles! The ferry crossing is less eventful than the other two, despite the gale-force winds (we’ll learn that the next day the ferries will be cancelled) but still enjoy our last look at the ocean. We dock at Uig, have lunch in Portree and then drive through Skye towards the mainland. Unfortunately we don’t have time to stop anywhere other than for a few photos of the mind-boggling scenery as it’s a long way to our B&B near Fort William, where we’ll spend the night.

June 24
Onich- Pitlochry


Gordon Hamlett had recommended a pit stop at Creag Meagaidh on our way from Fort William to Pitlochry, and this is where, on a very windy morning and between showers, we stop. Unfortunately we don’t have time for any of the longer walks, but a few steps from the car park to the feeding station at the start of one of the paths provide enough entertainment: between the siskins and the chaffinches there are several Redpolls, showing off their bright red patches when a ray of sunshine between the clouds hits them.

Our next stop is Killiecrankie, where we take a brief walk in the luxuriant greenery but fail to see any new species. We still have over an hour to spend before we can check in at our B&B just outside Pitlochry, so we drive around some tiny woodland roads in the neighbourhood, with the windows down to make sure we don’t miss any “strange” calls. Sure enough after a while we hear the unmistakable call of a Bullfinch: and there it is, a female with fledglings, hopping about in the lower branches beside the road. But the Bullfinch show it’s not over: turning into the drive of our B&B, we hear the call again: this time it’s a splendid male, foraging in the undergrowth. Bingo! This is a perfect way to end our birding holiday, so we decide to relax, have an early dinner and pack our belongings in preparation for the drive to Edinburgh the next day and our flight home.

June 25
Edinburgh


We drop off the car, check in our hotel and take the tram into town. No binoculars. We do the tourist things, and return to the hotel in time for an early dinner, since we have to get up at 3am the following morning.
 

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3Italianbirders

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Checklist

1. Mute Swan
2. Whooper Swan
3. Greylag Goose
4. Canada Goose
5. Shelduck
6. Mallard
7. Gadwall
8. Shoveler
9. Eurasian Wigeon
10. Tufted Duck
11. Common Eider
12. King Eider
13. Common Scoter
14. Common Goldeneye
15. Red-breasted Merganser
16. Red Grouse
17. Rock Ptarmigan
18. Red-throated Diver
19. Black-throated Diver
20. Little Grebe
21. Northern Fulmar
22. Manx Shearwater
23. Northern Gannet
24. Great Cormorant
25. European Shag
26. Grey Heron
27. Osprey
28. White-tailed Eagle
29. Golden Eagle
30. Red Kite
31. Hen Harrier
32. Common Buzzard
33. Sparrowhawk
34. Common Kestrel
35. Peregrine Falcon
36. Corn Crake
37. Common Moorhen
38. Oystercatcher
39. Common Ringed Plover
40. Eurasian Dotterel
41. European Golden Plover
42. Northern Lapwing
43. Dunlin
44. Common Sandpiper
45. Common Redshank
46. Common Greenshank
47. Bar-tailed Godwit
48. Eurasian Curlew
49. Common Snipe
50. Red-necked Phalarope
51. Great Skua
52. Arctic Skua
53. Black-headed Gull
54. Black-legged Kittiwake
55. Glaucous Gull
56. Iceland Gull
57. Common Gull
58. European Herring Gull
59. Great Black-backed Gull
60. Lesser Black-backed Gull
61. Little Tern
62. Sandwich Tern
63. Common Tern
64. Arctic Tern
65. White-winged Black Tern
66. Puffin
67. Black Guillemot
68. Guillemot
69. Razorbill
70. Rock Dove
71. Wood Pigeon
72. Collared Dove
73. Common Cuckoo
74. Short-eared Owl
75. Tawny Owl
76. Common Swift
77. European Green Woodpecker
78. Great Spotted Woodpecker
79. Skylark
80. Sand Martin
81. Barn Swallow
82. Common House Martin
83. Rock Pipit
84. Meadow Pipit
85. Tree Pipit
86. White Wagtail
87. Grey Wagtail
88. Eurasian Wren
89. Dunnock
90. European Robin
91. Stonechat
92. Song Thrush
93. Blackbird
94. Ring Ouzel
95. Northern Wheatear
96. Sedge Warbler
97. Willow Warbler
98. Common Chiffchaff
99. Goldcrest
100. Spotted Flycatcher
101. Great Tit
102. Coal Tit
103. Blue Tit
104. Eurasian Nuthatch
105. Eurasian Treecreeper
106. Eurasian Magpie
107. Jackdaw
108. Rook
109. Hooded Crow
110. Carrion Crow
111. Northern Raven
112. Common Starling
113. House Sparrow
114. Common Chaffinch
115. Linnet
116. Redpoll
117. European Goldfinch
118. European Greenfinch
119. Siskin
120. Eurasian Bullfinch
121. Snow Bunting
122. Yellowhammer
123. Corn Bunting
 

Sandra (Taylor)

Registered User
Supporter
I've so enjoyed reading this report from you 3 Italian Birders. We have trips to Scotland coming up soon - to Mull, Strontian & Boat of Garten - but I'm sure we won't have half the birds you've seen,even armed with GH's book.

We have Italian friends in Padova so I'm going to refer him to your report to see there are such people as 'Italian Birders' !!

Many thanks for taking the trouble to circulate this.

Sandra
 

3Italianbirders

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Italy
Thank you Mike, Gordon and Sandra.
We sure want to go back for those other bits - and we need to find Twite as well!
Sandra, the Italian birding community is small but committed and our trip would pale compared to the birding holidays some people we know usually take!
 

ClarkWGriswold

Carpe Carpum
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Wales
Been looking forward to reading this all day and it didn't disappoint. Sounds like you had a fantastic time.

Thanks for sharing.

Rich
 

3Italianbirders

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Italy
How did you manage to avoid seeing Coots?

David

actually, that's a very good question. We even went back and had another look at the photos in case we had overlooked one or two . it wouldn't have been surprising given that we hadn't included in the checklist Meadow Pipit, of which we must have seen at least one million. :-O
So, no, we don't recall any Coots, but then maybe we haven't been to the right places?
 

Moadib

Well-known member
I really enjoyed reading that, fabulous report, and thanks for sharing it. So glad you enjoyed Scotland, and you got around incredibly during your trip, very impressed! Ring ouzel, red-necked phalarope, dotterel amazing birds - but happy you got a lifer in red grouse! They're pretty common here, but often overlooked for that reason - really lovely birds.
 

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