Friday, May 10, 2024

πŸ“– 🏴󠁧󠁒󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Lewis/Harris ~ 6th/8th May 24

Dazza and I began our next Scottish Islands adventure on Sunday, the 5th, making an overnight stop in Fort Augustus, located at the southwest end of Loch Ness, on the Caledonian Canal. Fort Augustus is a delightful village that emanates the charm and mystery of Scotland's most renowned loch.

View out towards Loch Ness from the Caledonian Canal at Fort Augustus

From Fort Augustus, we drove over to the Isle of Skye and then continued our journey to the Uig Ferry Terminal, which is located on the north coast of the island. The ferry to Tarbert on the Isle of Harris takes around an hour and 40 minutes, and the sea conditions were fair. 

One of many Puffins during the crossing.

There were several Black Guillemots around Uig Harbour as we set off. The crossing was pretty quiet except for the occasional Gannet and Kittiwake. However, many Puffins were spotted on the water, along with Common Guillemot.  

Outer Hebrides

The Isle of Lewis and the Isle of Harris make up the main island in the Outer Hebrides. Lewis is located in the northern part of the island. During our trip, we stayed in Balallan on Lewis for three nights in a converted bothy. The name Balallan means "Allan's Town" and it is a crofting township within the parish of Lochs. Balallan is notable for being the longest village in Lewis and also in northern Scotland.

Beautiful white sands at Seilebost ~ A tidal channel separating Harris from the Island of Taransay.

Lewis & Harris is actually the third largest island in the British Isles after Great Britain and Ireland and covers an area of over 810 sq miles (2,100 sq km). From a birding perspective, It's a huge Island to cover in just 2 full days, especially if you factor in a visit to Stornoway the Island's main town. Birding wise we decided on Taransay Sound in the south of Harris and the Butt of Lewis in the north, along with several stops while touring around.

Several Little Terns at Taransay.

Taransay boasts of having vast stretches of shell sand beaches and machair, which is a fertile low-lying grassy plain found on the northwest coastlines of Ireland and Scotland. The most prominent examples of this terrain are found on the islands of North and South Uist, Harris, and Lewis. During our walk, we watched Little Terns fishing in the tidal channels along with Arctic Terns and looking across the sound good scoped views of Great Northern Divers, Red-throated Divers and Common Scoter. We were lucky enough to record a single Black-throated Diver in summer plumage and several Long-tailed Ducks. Apparently, Corncrake can be heard from the machair but not during our stay. Waders included Golden Plover, Grey Plover, Dunlin, Curlew, Whimbrel and Ringed Plover.

A surprise as a Hen Harrier flies in off the sea at the Butt of Lewis.

To the north at the Butt of Lewis lighthouse, there is an opportunity for sea watching. However, after a beautiful day on the 7th, it was challenging today due to rain and a strong breeze. Below the lighthouse, we noted several Seals and despite the poor conditions we managed a short sea watch, the highlights were Great Skua and Hen Harrier, which we were surprised to see coming in off the sea. 

Whimbrel one of eleven we watched feeding.

We had lunch sheltering in the car overlooking the grass-covered cliffs and adjacent to a clifftop freshwater pool. Eleven Whimbrel were busy feeding along with a half dozen Dunlin and a few Ringed Plover and Redshank. More surprisingly we counted seven White Wagtails


We enjoyed the stunning scenery of Lewis & Harris, but for birding purposes, it's too vast to fully appreciate during such a short visit. Driving around we noted many Wheatear, a few of which may well have been of the Greenland race, which pass through. Because of its location only a few Swallows were seen. Sand Martin and House Martin are scarce here, along with many of the common species from home such as Blue Tit & Great Tit etc. 

Great Northern Diver

From our accommodation which overlooks the west end of Loch Eireasort we watched what the locals call 'real' Greylag Geese plus Pink-footed Geese, Great Northern Divers, Red-throated Divers and Shelduck were also seen. A Cuckoo would perch occasionally singing at the back of the house. In the evenings and early mornings, we could hear winnowing Snipe and distant calls of Golden Plover. There are also 'real' Rock Doves all around the coast and Raven and Hooded Crows are residents. Weatherwise we encountered a beautiful day on the 7th and rain and wind on the 8th, so a typical mixed bag, the norm for Scotland. Today May 9th, we take the ferry to Uist, where hopefully we can get our real birding heads on!