Corncrake, Heougharry, Balranald, North Uist
15th May. Up early from my overnight camp at the Quiraing so I could be first on / off the ferry and also to do a little birding around Uig. There were a few birds around my camp such as 200 Ravens leaving their roost for parts unknown, Stonechat, Northern Wheatear and Red Grouse.
Uig had quite a few birds that morning. Cuckoo, Hooded Crow, Great Northern Diver, smart looking Common Gulls and Black Guillemot. The tall grass held a few pairs of Sedge Warbler, the Hebridean race of Song Thrush and a single Grasshopper Warbler.
Common Gull, a much smarter bird in summer plumage.
Great Northern Diver, Uig
Another great find came in the form of a male Otter hunting just off shore, then bringing its catch to land.
Otter...only the Hooded Crows seemed to annoy it.
9:40am saw the ferry loaded and heading out into The Minch. I teamed up with a couple of Suffolk birders and we stayed in touch until I left on the 19th. There was not the huge number of sea birds I expected but we saw Guillemot, Puffin, Kittiwake, Razorbill, Gannet, Great Skua, Arctic Skua and Arctic Tern. The best bird of the crossing was called by one of the Suffolk lads (sorry boys, I forgot your names) when he found a dark phase Pomarine Skua flying past the ferry.
Pomarine Skua. Distant but the "spoons" are visible.
Cetacean interest came in the form of 2 Harbour Porpoise.
Once off the ferry it was Wacky Races to the camp site, pitch the tent and get birding but only after a bacon roll from the food van. The 14 mile journey from ferry to Balranald gave the first of many Short-eared Owls and Whimbrel. A surprise came as I was turning into the camp when I saw a 2nd winter Glaucous Gull sitting in the field.
Glaucous Gull, Balranald
I wanted to do all of the "specials" before the end of the day and the main Target was the White-winged Black Tern on Benbecula. First port of call though was the Corncrakes I could here calling at Heougharry. I saw 5 Corncrakes in 10 minutes. One of them performed like a Star.
Corncrakes Got Talent! Heougharry, North Uist
Nearby there were plenty of "true" Rock Doves, Corn Buntings and a fine Merlin. A pair of Whooper Swans and some summer plumaged Ruff graced Loch Nam Feitham.
There was not much to see on the way to Benbecula. There was no sign of yesterdays White-winged Black Tern but a roosting Red-necked Phalarope more than made up for it. Nearby Stinky Bay held a good selection of waders such as Dunlin, Turnstone and Sanderling, all in summer finery. A decent flock of Eider and a Great Northern Diver were on the water.
The last call of the day was the Raptor watch point on the Committee Road. There were several Short-eared Owls both hunting and displaying. Two large birds over the East ridge proved to be Golden Eagle being chased by a Raven. Finally a male Hen Harrier showed up and gave a good show.
Golden Eagle & Raven, Committee Road
Short-eared Owl, Committee Road.
Back at the campsite and it's relax time listening to the huge number of territorial waders including Ringed Plover, Oystercatcher, Snipe, Dunlin, Redshank and Lapwing. The best bird of the evening was not a wader but was, in fact, a 1st winter Iceland Gull which paid a brief visit to local cow fields.
Iceland Gull, Balranald Campsite
That's it for this post. The next few should be shorter.