I had to be strict with waking up in time to be able to catch the first ferry from Uig to Lochmaddy, North Uist. I didn’t feel overly freshed by the 4 full hours of sleep after driving hundreds of miles. The place we have spent the night was actually a Willow Warbler ‘factory’. They were singing everywhere. I’m sure there is no better way to wake up than to the wonderful morning chorus of songbirds. I think that atmosphere and lack of anthropogenic noise added another hour to our short night relaxation.
As we drove through the beautiful montane area at the bottom of the Isle of Skye, I spotted two divers on the Loch Cluanie. This is a smaller loch with rocky shores and diverse vegetation. Dani quickly set up the Opticron MM3 60 GA ED spotting scope which was kindly provided by Opticron with the tremendous help of Chris Galvin. We were delighted by two Black-throated Diver In full summer plumage. For us it is a very rare opportunity to watch them in breeding plumage. Such a perfect and elegant design they have. From the shoreline of the loch the summer song of Common Sandpiper was heard, while Tree Pipits, European Stonechat, Willow Warbler, Dunnock and Lesser Redpolls were singing at the car park.
We arrived to the Uig Ferry Terminal in time but had a little uncertainty about our boarding without booking. I didn’t book the ferry as I didn’t know the registration number of the rented car and when I got the car online booking wasn’t possible for this ferry anymore. It turned out that during the booking process the care registration number doesn’t needed to be provided but leaving a text, ‘Rental Car‘ in the field instead. The staff in the ticket office was extremely helpful and they even helped redesigning the whole trip as there was no more slot for our car on the ferry we wanted to cross the sea with. However, a last minute lorry cancellation saved our trip and we could stay with our original plan. It is needless to say, we were not the only one birdwatchers in the terminal. A couple of hardcore twitchers, including Lee Evans, were hoping to get on the ferry and tick the mega Black-billed Cuckoo which was spotted a couple of days earlier.
On the ferry we had a comfortable viewing point from the rear deck and I started to document what we had seen during the 33.4 miles long crossing in just under two hours. Dani had a very good day with lots of life birds. We saw 2 migrating Red-throated Divers, Northern Fulmars, 2 Manx Shearwater, a couple of Northern Gannets, Great Cormorants, Eurasian Oystercatcher (at Lochmaddy), 1 Pomarine Skua, 2 Arctic Skua, Common Murres, Razorbills, Black Guillemot, lots of Atlantic Puffins, Black-legged Kittiwakes, Mew or Common Gull, European Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Arctic Terns and Common Raven at the Lochmaddy port. It was a great experience as felt like we were on a pelagic trip.
As we touched the mainland we decided to follow the twitchers to get a better chance to find the cuckoo. I had a racing feeling on the way to the house where the cuckoo had previously been spotted. After all I managed to see the Black-billed Cuckoo for a short but satisfying view but Dani couldn’t spot it. When one of the questionably ethical twitchers climbed over the private fences and chased the anyway lurking and elusive rarity away everyone, who stayed on the main road, was rather disappointed and upset. Luckily long minutes later the bird was again spotted and provided much better views than before. Dani could also see it well through the scope before the bird flew high up and landed some 500 meters away from the garden. That was the point we carried on exploring the Outer Hebrides according to our plan.
North Uist is wonderful. Based on the photographs or online maps one could think we were on one of the Caribbean Islands with those spectacular white sandy beaches and the turquoise to deep blue colours of the ocean. When I was standing at the beach I even forget about the water temperature which was just bellow 10°C.
In the small bay, pictured above, there was a nice activity of waders. A surprising 55 Common Ringed Plover, 4 Eurasian Oystercatcher, 1 Sanderling, 21 Dunlin, 1 Common Redshank were actively feeding on the shore while a single Common Eider was swimming behind the rocks.
The main attraction of the region was the Balranald RSPB Reserve which actually was much larger as I thought. To save time we drove to the last possible parking lot where we continued on foot. Before we did that we met one of the well know British bird photographer, Dean Eades aka BirdMad, who straight away pointed to the long staying juvenile Glaucous Gull roosted opposite to the visitor centre. Another perfect view of a life bird for Dani.
This peninsular reserve represents a variety of habitats from extensive rocky shores, sandy beaches, the blooming machair and little marshy ponds. There was so much to see and most birds provided excellent views. On the southern beach a larger flock of Dunlin (136 individuals), 33 Eurasian Oystercatcher, 1 Common Redshank, 44 Common Ringed Plover and 7 Sanderling was feeding on the bed of dead seagrass.
Heading towards the westernmost tip of the peninsula we walked by a unique Arctic Tern colony. The machair provides nesting site for these aggressive birds. Interestingly they are hardly visible on the ground and their true numbers became obvious when an intruder, like a frequently patrolling Great Skua enters the territory of the loose colony. In the middle of the tern colony, miraculously, a Common Gull pair nested with continuous tern attacks whenever they tried to settle down on the nest. From the tip we saw Common Loons and Black-throated Divers very close to the shore, a migrating Bar-tailed Godwit, 6 Ruddy Turnstones on the rocks, Black Guillemots flying offshore and a songle Rock Pipit. We also had a Peregrine Falcon flying next to the car park. On one of the small marshes a male Ruff in full breeding plumage was feeding in denser vegetation. Although we missed to see Corncrakes and Corn Buntings this reserve gave us a lot and makes me want to return once I have my proper bird photography gear.
Before we checked in the Wireless Cottage Bed & Breakfast in Lochboisdale, we had another stop at the Àird a’ Mhuile peninsula on the west coast of South Uist. I knew the weather was too good for seabird-watching from the shore, but it was worth to visit this remote little land with the Loch Àird a’ Mhuile in the middle. We didn’t spend too much time but had funny times with a couple of very confiding Atlantic Grey Seals. Here we saw 6 Common Shelduck, 12 Common Eider, 8 Northern Gannet, 46 Eurasin Oystercatcher, 1 European Whimbrel, 6 Ruddy Turnstone, 18 Dunlin, 27 Common Gull, 24 European Herring Gull, 6 Arctic Tern, 1 Peregrine Falcon and an unusually high number of 32 Common Raven on a possible carcass at the edge of the pasture.
Our cottage room was very comfortable with a shared but very clean bathroom. The owner is a charming eldery lady with a sense of humour. She could accept only cash but there was an ATM next to the cottage. The room for a night was £27 per person. Despite the name, there was no wireless connection in the room, but we after we got the wi-fi password it worked properly in the dining room. They are highly recommended. We had warm dinner in the restaurant of the Lochboisdale Hotel. It didn’t blow our mind but at least we didn’t eat junk food. We both loved the waitress though.
Falling asleep was just a fraction of a second…