Trip Report for our Venture to
Scotland: June 8 – 19, 2014
June 8: Arrived in Glasgow
June 9: Inversnaid RSPB Reserve, Loch Lomond, Aberfoyle; drove to Oban for the ferry to Barra
June 10: Barra and ferry to Eriskay in afternoon; drove to South Uist
June 11: Lochs Hallan, Eynort and Sgioport, South Uist, cross to Benbecula and visit to RSPB Reserve at Balranald,
North Uist in late evening
June 12: Lochs Mohr, Benbecula and Loch Sanderay and Balranald, North Uist; ferry to Uig, Skye
June 13: Trotternish Peninsula, Skye, Dunvegan, Struan Road and Hinnisdal; drove to Portree
June 14: Portree, Staffin Road, River Lealt and Torvaig, Skye; drove to Inverness
June 15: Lochs Ruthven and Ness, Farr Road and Findhorn Valley; drove to Nethybridge
June 16: Loch Garten, Poorhouse Wood, Lochindorb, Anagach and River Spey
June 17: Inverlaidnan Estate; Carirngorm Mountains via funicular and Avielochan
June 18: Milton Pool, Inverlaidnan Estate, Loch Garten RSPB Reserve, Slochd Pass, Chanonry Point and Udale Bay RSPB
Reserve on Black Isle, Inverness
June 19: Nethybridge River walk, Stirling Castle and drove to Glasgow
Every time I visit Scotland I keep my fingers crossed for good weather and yes, the sun was shining when we left Glasgow heading north to Loch Lomond and the very beautiful Inversnaid RSPB Reserve. After navigating the maze of roads around Glasgow we were soon driving on single track roads through birch woodland interspersed with small patches of open moorland. It’s a challenge to get to this reserve as the main road follows the western side of Loch Lomond and Inversnaid is on the east shore. Oak woods dominate this reserve with our target birds being European Pied Flycatcherand Wood Warbler. We had great views of the former as a female was using one of the nest boxes along the main path. We heard the silvery trills of several Wood Warblers, but they never came down towards the path for us.
It was a long drive to Oban for our ferry trip over to the Outer Hebrides, so we left Inversnaid for a quick lunch in Aberfoyle en route. A little deli/bakery came to our rescue with an excellent selection of tasty pies so we ate them as the rain started and then started our 2.5 hour drive towards Oban. We left it a little close (I was sweating a little!) but made it. We were the last in line, but the first on the ferry- phew! The ferry trip was spectacular as we sailed through the Sound of Mull, past the Ardnarmuchen Headlands and then out to sea. We ate a very nice meal on the ferry as we would arrive late on Barra, but it was a challenge to drag ourselves inside from seawatching from the upper deck. Northern Gannets sailed past us, along with lots of Northern Fulmars and a steady stream of Common Murres and Razorbills. Rafts of Manx Shearwaters sat on the water near the boat and one of the highlights had to be the fly-by of 4 Great Skuas.
Sailing into Barra is very atmospheric with Kisimul Castle in the center of the harbor surrounded by the houses of Castlebay. It had been a long day but a good one, so we turned in for the night, despite the fact that it was still quite bright outside! Barra is not a large island, so we decided to have our first try for the Corncrake before breakfast. It must have been an omen as there was one singing in the field next to the hotel – not that we even glimpsed this individual! A Common Cuckoo was also singing nearby. We did not find a Corncrake before breakfast, but our after-breakfast run towards the airport produced plenty of singing males which all remained well-hidden. One even crossed a nearby path unseen! Thankfully, with additional perseverance, we had in-flight views of one, followed by a singing male that sneaked out of the long grass and sang for us from the roadside.
“Crex Crex” it called before flying over our heads into the next field. Yay! I could now relax for a little bit. Lunch (as recommended by other travelers) was at the Airport Café, crowded and busy with a run on crab sandwiches and amazing views of small aircraft taking off and landing on the sandy beach – only during low tide I might add! We took the afternoon ferry over to Eriskay under sunny skies. There were a few birds en route, the best being a breeding plumage Common Loon (Great Northern Diver) and several rafts of loafing Common Eiders. We did not spend a lot of time on Eriskay (after stopping for a few photos) but continued on to our hotel on South Uist; a great day.
The next morning brought sunny skies again so we birded the sandy fields and machair near Loch Hallan (LOTS of Oystercatcher, Wheatear and Lapwing), before starting our quest for White-tailed Eagles near Lock Eynort. Alas, we did not find any here or on Loch Sgioport even though the birding was very nice. Probably one of the nicer sights was a Short-eared Owl slowly quartering the roadside fields. A couple of Northern (Hen) Harriers was also a good sight, as this species has been widely persecuted on the Highland grouse moors.
After checking into our Benbecula hotel, we joined an organized RSPB Corncrake walk. While the crowd of interested folks probably put paid to any more Corncrake sightings, we did see a lot of breeding Redshank, Lapwing and Snipe and a few of the also declining Corn Bunting. Still it was a very nice, if chilly, evening walk. Information we gleaned that night helped us find 2 Red-necked Phalaropes on Loch Mohr and 6 Whooper Swans on Loch Sanderary the next morning- great views of these over-summering birds that should have left by now. We had a lovely beach walk back at Balranald before driving to Lochmaddy for lunch at the new museum café and then the ferry across to Uig on the Isle of Skye. It was a gray crossing with not a lot of birds, except for a handful of Atlantic Puffins as we approached the Ascrib Islands off the northwestern tip of Skye.
It’s a spectacular sailing into Uig Bay where we could see our hotel on the nearby hillside – not a long drive! Sooner or later we knew that we would get some gray, rainy weather and it was the “misty isle” that lived up to its name. Mist and clouds obscured the Quiraing and the Old Man or Storr, but despite the weather, we did make the best of the day with our only Tawny Owl and Spotted Flycatcher of the tour. Thankfully the weather did improve as the evening progressed and we could enjoy a little more of Skye’s spectacular scenery the following morning. The Old Man of Storr emerged from the clouds and we watched a very distant White-tailed Eagle over the far side of the Portree Harbor.
A lovely walk in Torvaig produced a very butterflies (Common Blue and Small Heath), as well as a family of Common Ravens on the cliff tops. It’s always hard to leave Skye, but we drove our way south towards Kyle of Lochalsh with lunch at the Sligachan Hotel with one of the finest selections of Scotch Whiskey anywhere I have seen – and no, we did not have any tipples at lunchtime! We did have a brief stop at Eilean Donan Castle and a spectacular tea time break in Glen Shiel on our way south towards Inverness and our hotel in Speyside. The Steadings near Loch Ruthven was a lovely stop with very nice rooms and delicious meals; also they had Common Redpolls and Eurasian Siskins on their feeders.
A pair of Eurasian Bullfinches was very obliging as they fed on weed seeds in the car park – beautiful! The Horned (Slavonian) Grebes that Loch Ruthven is famous for have become very difficult to see and we had to be happy with 1 very distant individual. A Yellowhammer was far more obliging near Loch Ness (not in the rain today!) and our final excursion of the day was a hike up the scenic Findhorn Valley. We did not see any Ring Ouzels this time, but a fly-over Osprey was a bonus – the scenery always steal the show, but we had to tear ourselves away and drive down to Nethybridge (via a fuel station or 1 or 2- that was lucky!) for our final 4 days of the tour.
We worked with Rob Jordan and the folks at Heatherlea for the following few days as they really know Speyside so we took the opportunity to stay in one place the whole time.
Rob started our journey through Speyside with stops at Loch Garten for Common Goldeneye and a little party of Crested Tits. These delightful birds are restricted to the old Caledonian forests of the Scottish Highlands and we were lucky enough to see them every day during our visit. Other highlights that day were a male Common Redstart, Arctic Loon (Black-throated Diver), European Golden-Plover and Red Grouse at Lochindorb. Speyside has 4 species of Grouse and today we were trying to see the hardest of the hard including Black Grouse and the elusive and rapidly-declining Capercaillie.
We started before breakfast at a known Black Grouse lek, but the birds were just tiny black dots in the distance. Thankfully more males appeared and we could get a little closer for some pretty nice views of about 6 Blackcocks. Our first attempt at Capercaillie was not as successful, so we decided to head high into the Cairngorms to look for Grouse # 3 – Rock Ptarmigan. We managed these relatively easily, but the star of the mountain tops; Eurasian Dotterel, took a little longer. Thankfully 1 bird showed extremely well and allowed for some extensive photography before it joined another to fly away across the high tundra. Some of us managed to see at least 3 Ring Ouzel as we descended on the funicular, but alas these were not seen by all of us. 2 pairs of Horned Grebes on a small roadside loch were a nice end to the day – much better views than on more popular Loch Ruthven.
The next day was also bright and sunny, which aside from our time on Skye, was typical for this tour- quite incredible really! Gray Herons were common throughout Scotland and our start at nearby Milton Pool had at least a dozen roosting in the adjacent trees, as well as our only Blackcaps (heard only) for the trip. It was then attempt number 2 for the elusive Capercaillie. We drove very slowly through the pine forests looking for any sign of movement. All of the searching was worthwhile when all of a sudden we saw a female just to the right of the car- and in full view. We all had great views before she flew off into the forest. Success and thanks to Rob for his perseverance. It was less than 5 minutes later when we had a female Scottish Crossbill- 2 of our “target” birds in rapid succession.
It was now time for a celebratory cup of tea atop our viewpoint. After a brief visit to the RSPB reserve at Loch Garten to see the famous Osprey nest and a little shopping, we headed north to Inverness and the Black Isle. The Dolphins did not really show that well today, despite the army of photographers and other interested people, but we did see a few Red Kites flying over the roadside. Our last stop of the day was Udale Bay, a small RSPB reserve where a good selection of waders and ducks were roosting during the high tide. It was then back to Nethybridge for our final dinner of the trip before heading back to Glasgow in the morning. We had only had a distant view of White-throated Dipper on Skye, so thanks to Rob’s information we checked out the Nethy River first thing in the morning and yes, great views of the Dipper.
It was then off to Glasgow via lunch in the Stirling Art Gallery below the impressive Stirling Castle before we finished the tour back in Glasgow. It was an excellent tour with plenty of great scenery, good company and plenty of birds. We finished with 138 species with Eurasian Dotterel being voted the best bird of the trip. Of course it had plenty of good company with Black Grouse, Scottish Crossbill, Corn Crake, and the ever-elusive Capercaillie.