Corncrake, North Uist by Chris Townend

Tour Dates: Monday 16th – Sunday 22nd May 2022 (Lochmaddy to Lochmaddy)
Tour Price: £1,299pp
Deposit: £350 per person
Conservation Donation from Wise Birding: £50 – £100
Minimum Number: 4 people
Maximum Group Size: 7 people

Target Species
Birds: Corncrake, Red-necked Phalarope, Arctic Skua, Red-throated Diver, Black-throated Diver, Great Northern Diver, Black Guillemot, Short-eared Owl, Hen Harrier, Golden Eagle, White-tailed Eagle, Purple Sandpiper, Arctic Tern, Little Tern and more!
Mammals: Otter, Common Seal, Grey Seal, Harbour Porpoise

Tour Summary
This tour is focused on seeing all the speciality breeding species on the Uists as well as any rarities that often appear on the islands during this peak time for migration. Corncrakes are in full voice at this time of year with many of the males disputing territories and the vegetation is still short so birds are easier to see. In some years, tame males arrive and can even be seen calling in the open with little fear of people! The other star of this tour is the stunning Red-necked Phalarope. In a typical year, there are usually only a couple of pairs nesting in the Outer Hebrides and Uist and Benbecula give us the best chance.
Other species we hope to find during the week include Hen Harrier, Merlin and Short-eared Owl. We will also take a boat trip around the island of Ronay where we should find one of the most impressive birds of prey, the mighty White-tailed Eagle. We can also expect three species of Diver during the week with both Red-throated and Black-throated Divers breeding and the superb Great Northern Divers in summer plumage before heading further north to breed. At this time of year, rarities do sometimes turn up on the Western Isles and previous exciting species during May/June have included Bluethroat and Red-backed Shrike as well as rarer American vagrants such as Lesser Yellowlegs and Semipalmated Sandpiper.

ACCOMMODATION: 6 nights North Uist
6 nights in a comfortable hotel near Lochmaddy
Included Meals: Half-board

DAY 1: Arrival Lochmaddy
After disembarking from the ferry we will then spend the rest of the day birding around Benbecula, wedged between North and South Uist. Many of the lochs around the south-west of Benbecula’s are located adjacent to the fabulous machair grasslands and are rich in nutrients and birdlife. Breeding wildfowl on these lochs should include small numbers of Gadwall and Shoveler whilst Garganey are also regular and sometimes breed. Waders can also be found in good numbers with Snipe, Dunlin and of course the rare and beautiful Red-necked Phalarope. The timinig of our tour should coincide with newly arrived birds from their migration and when social activity between birds is at its highest. Nearby, Stinky Bay is always worth a look and regularly holds good numbers of waders including summer plumage Sanderling, Turnstone and Purple Sandpiper. Phalaropes also occasionally fly to feed here and although not a daily occurrence, if they do feed here we often have superb views! Eiders also gather in the bay, and are alwasy worth checking for the rarer borealis subspecies known as Northern Eider. We will check the local moorland for hunting Hen Harrier and Short-eared Owl whilst Great Northern Diver and Red-throated Diver should be easily seen along the coast. Corncrakes are also fairly common on the west side of Benbecula and with a bit of luck we should be able to find one or two. Other species we could see include Whimbrel, Curlew Sandpiper, Peregrine and Golden Eagle. Overnight near Lochmaddy

White-tailed Eagle by Chris Townend

DAY 2: Balranald
This morning we will travel to Balranald and the headland of Aird an Runair famous for its location as a prime seawatching spot. If the wind is in the right direction and strong enough we have a chance of picking up Long-tailed Skua as well as Auks, Fulmars, Terns, Manx Shearwater, Kittiwakes and waders. The Balranald area is also the last stronghold for Corn Buntings in the Outer Hebrides and we are sure to see and hear them. The area is also another excellent site for Corncrake and we regularly pick them up along the access roads with birds occasionally seen crossing the road! During the afternoon, we will travel to the north-west of the island where we will check roadside fields and lochs for wildfowl, waders and gulls. Our final birding will be along some great moorland habitat where we have good chances to find Hen Harrier, Golden Eagle and Short-eared Owl whilst Merlin, Peregrine, Greenshank and Arctic Skua also occur. Overnight near Lochmaddy

Purple Sandpiper, Berneray by Chris Townend

DAY 3: Loch Eynort
This morning we head south to the wooded area of Loch Eynort. The gardens here regularly hold small numbers of migrant warblers and flycatchers whilst the tidal loch is good for Red-throated Diver and Otters. The scenery here is also very impressive and the moorland and hills are superb for birds of prey with all 8 resident species present. With patience and scanning we should find both White-tailed Eagle and Golden Eagle. The nearby headland towards the end of the Loch is another good location for passage waders and seabirds so we’ll carefully check both, north and south bays as well as walking out to the point. It is an excellent area for Otter here and both Seals are present and sometime Bottle-nosed Dolphins. Overnight near Lochmaddy

DAY 4: Berneray
Today we head north to the small island of Berneray that is connected to North Uist via a causeway completed in 2001. Loch Bhrusda, a freshwater loch, lies in the centre of the island and at the northern end is a small pool that regularly attracts interesting waders such as Little Stint, Ruff, sometimes Red-necked Phalarope and rarities too! Terns also congregate here with large colonies of Arctic Terns nesting nearby as well as smaller numbers of Little Terns. We will take a walk across the machair to the north-west side of the island where we will overlook the Sound of Pabbay. This is a great area for seabirds, maybe Common Scoter and a chance for Harbour Porpoise. We will then move on to the north-east side of the island to Rushgarry where we have more chances to check for waders and terns. During the afternoon, we will leave Berneray travel to the north side of North Uist at Grenitote. Here, we will drive down to a tidal area and scan the machair as this is one of the most frequent sites for Snowy Owl in Uist at this time of year! Of course, they are still very uncommon and irregular but the site is always worth checking. Regradless of any owls ,we should see good numbers of waders that may include summer plumage Grey Plover and Knot. We will then finish the day with a trip across the Committee Road where we should find Short-eared Owl and Hen Harrier.
Overnight near Lochmaddy

Female Red-necked Phalarope by Chris Townend

DAY 5: Loch Druidibeg and Loch Bee
Loch Druidibeg is a great spot to see Black-throated Diver, Golden Eagle and Hen Harrier. Cuckoos are usually present and a small plantation regularly attracts migrants. Other birds we will look for include Merlin and Red-throated Diver as well as Twite and with luck, Otters too. We will then head to Stilligarry and take a loop walk across the machair to the coast and back via a Sand Martin colony on Drimsdale machair. During the walk we should find a good variety of wildfowl and waders as well as Great Northern Diver along the coast. Nearby, Grogarry Lodge is always worth a visit as the trees sometimes hold migrants. We will then continue our journey to Loch Bee. This large loch holds nationally important numbers of Mute Swans but also attracts plenty of other wildfowl and waders. Lapwing, Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Snipe, Redshank and Oystercatcher all breed as well as Wigeon and Teal. White-tailed Eagle often venture over to the loch to hunt whilst Peregrine are also likley to be seen. We will then head around the west side of the loch to Ardivachar. This whole area regularly holds lots of migrant waders and will keep us busy as we check the wader flocks at nearby North Bay and Balgarva. Both Arctic and Little Terns should be present and Corncrakes are also a possibility here. Overnight near Lochmaddy

DAY 6: Flexible day
This morning we will take a short boat trip around the island of Ronay where we should have an excellent chance of seeing White-tailed Eagles and some great photographic opportunities! The afternoon will be spent focused on any key species that we are missing. Overnight near Lochmaddy

DAY 7: Lochmaddy Ferry
After breakfast we will return to Lochmaddy to catch the ferry back to the mainland where the tour concludes. Overnight near Lochmaddy

Please note this is a flexible itinerary which may need to be adjusted slightly dependent on arrival / departure times, weather conditions and the most recent information from our local guides

Leaders: Wise Birding leader & Steve Duffield
Included in cost: Accommodation in twin en-suite rooms, breakfast and evening meals, ground transport, Ronay boat trip and services of leader.
Not included in cost: Travel to and from Lochmaddy, travel insurance, lunches & drinks.
Single Supplement: £175
Transport: Minibus throughout.
Difficulty: Easy – Moderate
Most birding will be done within close vicinity of the vehicle. However, we will take daily walks of around 3 – 4Km. Walking is easy going with leisurely walks, mostly on relatively flat ground though undulating around Loch Eynort.
Climate: Unpredictable! Be prepared for all weather with four seasons often experienced in one day!
Tour Start Point: Lochmaddy, North Uist.
Tour End Point: Lochmaddy, North Uist.

Typical Western Isles scenery by Chris Townend