So, June was the wettest and dullest June since records began in 1910. Well, not for me. While most of the UK was suffering downpour after downpour, the main problem for participants on our two FSC trips over to the Western Isles was avoiding being burnt to a crisp; factor 50 and sunhats were essential as vivid blue sky, turquoise sea and white shell sand beaches made both weeks outstanding. Of course, in true Hebridean style, for a couple of days the sunshine was accompanied by strong chilly winds, so fleece and windproof were often worn in addition to sunglasses!
We had some pretty amazing wildlife experiences too, and some of the highlights must be:-
- Watching what is probably the only wild snowy owl in the UK, a lovely pure white male bird. It’s not often even the leader gets to tick a new species!
- Displaying and mating red-necked phalaropes at one of their few breeding sites in the UK. A garganey at the same site was an unexpected bonus out here.
- Hearing and even managing to see corncrakes, a real Hebridean speciality. Those of us travelling in the front of the minibus had a very close sighting as we nearly ran one over – it virtually flew across the windscreen!
- The Hebridean soundscape of corncrake and drumming snipe – unforgettable.
- Breeding waders everywhere in amazing numbers. Calling adults and scurrying chicks wherever you looked – redshank, lapwing, oystercatcher, dunlin, ringed plover, snipe, curlew and common sandpiper.
- Hunting short eared owls and hen harriers just about everywhere – we have never seen so many.
- A mad 20 minutes at a small lochan one evening when we just kept finding more birds. We were watching a whooper swan and bar-tailed godwits along with the usual waders and duck, when first a sanderling appeared, then a couple of ruff, then a very elegant greenshank in summer plumage, and finally 3 brick red curlew sandpipers.
- Both golden eagle parents with their chick at a nest on the ground – we were well away at an official watch point, but had excellent views through our telescopes.
- A second year glaucous gull on the same lochan every day.
- Fantastic display of orchids on the machair, with one morning devoted to finding the unique Hebridean marsh orchid. I, for one, am still confused! All look like hybrids to me!
- A carpet of Adder’s tongue ferns.
- 20+ common dolphins swimming to greet the ferry as we passed Rum.
- Steaming through rafts of Manx shearwaters off Rum, tiny storm petrels and at least one Leach’s petrel.
- 3 otters in as many minutes on an evening otter watch that went to plan – they often don’t!
- A grey seal eating a massive conger eel, so thick that the seal struggled to take bites out of it. Several gulls were attracted to the commotion in the hope of a tit bit, but one young gull got so close it almost became part of the meal when the seal lunged at it. A very close escape. An otter also appeared to see what was going on.
- Other Highlights :
- Stag chasing an otter – a first for all of us!
- Jeff spotting a small heath butterfly – unfortunately for the butterfly a spider spotted it just as quick and jumped on it.
- Great views of divers. A red throated diver carrying a fish flew right overhead and 9 great northern divers off one headland alone – one of which, in stunning full summer plumage, kindly did a fly-past for us
We also met with Mr MacDonald on South Uist to hear all about crafting and the community, while Lisa brought us up to date with the SNH/BTO South Uist Wader Project and hedgehog problem.
The first group picture 2nd – 9th June
The second group picture 16th – 23rd June
St Kilda – about 60 miles out to sea
Hogharry Bay, Balranald
Jeff Clarke (who accompanied Martyn Jamieson on the second trip)
Sea bindweed on Traigh Prionnsa (translates as Prince’s beach), Eriskay.
Tradition has it that they germinated from seeds dropped from Bonnie Prince Charlie’s pocket when he first landed in Scotland at this point. They grow nowhere else – well, not this variety anyway.
A couple of pictures from Berneray
John O’Dwyer who was on the first trip has posted some pictures here which he has kindly let us have permission to link to: