The Portland Naturalist

The Portland Naturalist

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Outer Hebrides - Day 3

Today was the day we had set-aside to visit Benbecula, but we couldn't resist popping to Aird an Runair first thing, as the forecast westerly winds seemed promising for Skuas.

Witin minutes we were seeing flocks of Pomarine Skua totalling some 51 in a couple of hours.  We finally saw some Long-tailed Skua from here too, or be it 2 rather distant birds.  Other highlights on this watch were a fly-past Golden Plover, the Iceland Gull still present, and our first Black-throated Diver on the islands, associating with a Great Northern Diver

On our way back to the B&B to check-out, we came across an amazing little spot near Balranald, with FIVE Corncrake - 3 in view at once, and 2 others calling nearby.  Remarkable!  So much for our pessimism about seeing the species!

So, off we went to Benbecula, taking in yet another roadside male Hen Harrier near Knockintorran, and the wonderful scenery of Grimsay and the causeway on the route.  We headed straight to a site where we'd been tipped off about apparent presence of Phalaropes.

It took a little while to locate them, but eventually we found 3 stunning Red-necked Phalarope, two males and a female.  At one point they were seen to mate!

Also at this spot we found our only flock of Linnet of the trip. On our way to a lunching site mid-island, we witnessed a Buzzard feeding on something on the ground - judging by the cloud of Lapwing mobbing it, we suspected the prey to be a Lapwing chick.

After lunch by the scenic Loch Olabaht, we headed to the main town of Balivanich to try and find a site by a Co-op, someone had mentioned was good for Otters.  We spent some time here in a nice sheltered spot watching over a bay, and got great views of summer-plumaged Great Northern Diver amongst other things.

We eventually discovered that the Co-op was in the far south of the island at Creagorry, so went back off down there! 

We took a little walk around by the rocky channel, but the tide was fully out - not the best for Otter-finding.  The main highlights here were loads of Eider (some calling - my first experience of this) and a Common Heath moth (one of very few lepidopterans seen on the trip, the only other identifiable one being Green-veined White).

Back north we went onto North Uist, to try and check-in to our new B&B at Knockintorran.  This turned out to be on the shores of Loch Sandary, which not only still held a Whooper Swan, but also a long-staying male Scaup.

After dropping our stuff at the wonderful Ben View B&B, we decided it worth having an evening seawatching session at Runair, after our promising morning stint.

Almost as soon as we pitched up at the car park, a flock of 4 Long-tailed Skua past close to the rocks, so we rushed down there in anticipation.  The Skuas were streaming past!!!  The Pomarine Skua were particularly spectacular, with flocks of 26, 23 and 22, being the largest, many passing over the rocks, and one flock of 6, over our heads!  We were awe-struck, and stuck to the spot till  dusk.  Our final day total of Poms was 202. 

Long-tails were less numerous, and generally more distant, but it was still extraordinary to see tight flocks of these stunning birds shearing past, the biggest being 19, which powered up to a positively stratospheric height!  We finished on 59 for the day.

A particularly ridiculous moment came when a tight flock of 22 Skua turned out to be 11 Poms and 11 Long-tails! You couldn't write this stuff.

After yesterday, I could not believe today could match it, but it was better! What a place.

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