A fortnight in the Outer Hebrides

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MattR
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A fortnight in the Outer Hebrides

Postby MattR » Wed Mar 16, 2016 9:42 pm

In Feb/Mar I deployed to MOD Ranges Hebrides as part of Excon for a Rapier Firing Camp. Knowing the Islands reputation as a haven for wildlife I made sure I deployed complete with binoculars, books and plenty of warm kit.

The trip didn’t disappoint. The journey out was an epic drive through Scotland to Uig on Skye before the ferry to the Uists. The ferry port in Uig was my first bird watching opportunity where I observed Redshank, Curlews and Turnstones on the shore and a solitary Great Northern Diver in the bay. Plenty of Herring Gulls and Greater Black Backed Gulls as well as the ubiquitous Hooded Crows in the town. As the ferry pulled out I observed a number of pairs of Black Guillemots off the coast as we set sail through the squalls.

Last time I visited the Islands was in July where I spent my time watching the Short-eared Owls hunt in daylight and searching in vain for Corncrakes which were heard rather than seen. This time both had departed south but were replaced by thousands of Lapwings, Oystercatchers and Redshank, numerous geese (Greylag, Brent, Barnacled) various ducks (mostly Widgeon, Tufted Duck and Mallard) as well as Mute and Whooper Swans and thousands upon thousands of Starlings. Late in the second week I had a fleeting glimpse of my first Hen Harrier of the trip, a male observed from a moving vehicle but a couple of days later was lucky enough to get a close up view of a female through my binoculars. A trip to Loch Druidibeg rewarded me with a fantastic view of a Golden Eagle (my first in the UK) soaring above the peaks and a walk up Ben Mhor saw numerous Red Grouse, Ravens as well as another male Hen Harrier (which presumably had an eye on the aforementioned grouse.) A trip to the nature reserve at Balranald led to more sightings of waders (mostly Turnstone and Redshank) but no sign of the Gyrfalcon that has been spotted there this winter. The coastline near the Range was teaming with gulls with Herring, Black Headed and Greater Black Backed a common sight. Glaucous and Iceland Gulls are regular winter visitors to the islands but I didn’t manage any confirmed sightings this time (I had eyes on a probable juvenile Iceland Gull but too far away to be certain). Another Golden Eagle sighting on the penultimate morning rounded off a memorable exercise. I’m back up in May when I’ll hope for another chance to see that elusive Corncrake.

roger dickey
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Outer Hebrides

Postby roger dickey » Fri Mar 18, 2016 2:12 pm

Nice report. takes me back to the old Blowpipe firing camps on Benbecula. The winds were always too high to fire for most of the time, so birding and field sports became the next priority. July was bad enough....Feb/Mar...!?

Steve Copsey
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Re: A fortnight in the Outer Hebrides

Postby Steve Copsey » Fri Sep 30, 2016 11:26 am

Afternoon Matt

The visit in May should give you Corncrake, but even then when the vegetation is short they can be elusive. The fields around the visitor centre at Balranald are good. I sat in the car on the entrance road for over an hour listening to a bird in the adjacent field. Eventually it appeared from a small patch of Iris that looked as if it couldn't hide a Sparrow! Good Luck.
Steve Copsey


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