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(includes a boat trip to the Monachs)
Dates: 2nd - 7th July
Certainly one of the most exciting aspects of this tour is the opportunity to visit the (now) uninhabited Monach Isles which lie around 4 miles west of Balranald, North Uist. The trip out, gives us the opportunity to spot Basking Sharks, Storm Petrel and Great Northern Diver whilst the islands themselves hold large numbers of Grey Seals and breeding Arctic Terns. Back on Uist we should get some good views of Short-eared Owls during the day as well as 8 other species of birds of prey including Golden Eagle, White-tailed Eagle, Hen Harrier amd Merlin. Black-throated and Red-throated Divers breed whilst Great Northern Divers also regularly over-summer in small numbers. Otters are virtually guaranteed whilst the machair is at its best in July with lots of flowers in full bloom. We shall also look for various species of orchid such as Lesser Butterfly Orchid and Pyramidal Orchid as well as various insect-eating plants that inhabit the moorland. We shall also try our hand at a spot of moth trapping with species variety at a peak around now as well as looking for various butterfles including Large Heath and the localised subspecies of Grayling. This is a trip for the true naturalist that enjoys looking at a variety of wildlife and enjoying some stunning scenery.
Day 1: Once we've all met up and dropped our things off at the guesthouse we'll spend the rest of the day exploring Benbecula. If we're lucky there may still be one or two Red-necked Phalaropes around although this is by no means guaranteed as some years all the females have disappeared by late June. We should be able to find a selection of breeding wildfowl including Teal and Shoveler whilst waders will include Dunlin, Redshank and Snipe. Short-eared Owl are a regular sight at this time of year and can be found during the day if still feeding young. Black-throated Diver and Red-throated Diver both breed on Benbecula and with a bit of luck we should be able to find both as well as Golden Eagle and Hen Harrier in the moorland area. As well as searching various sites on the west side we'll also visit the east side of the island including Peter's Port where we sometimes find otters as well as Black Guillemot, Arctic Skua, Rock Pipit and Twite.
Day 2: This morning we'll head south to North Loch Eynort where we'll take an easy walk through the wooded garden to a viewpoint where we'll search for various birds of prey, otters and Red-throated Divers. This is a great place to linger as the divers breed on small lochans in the surrounding hills whilst both White-tailed Eagle, Golden Eagle and Hen Harrier also have territories in the area and are a strong possibility. Black Guillemot, Red-breasted Merganser and Arctic Terns are also likely to be seen. Plant wise we should be able to find the carnivurous Round-leaved Sundew and diminutive Pale Butterwort. By contrast we'll move from the acidic moorland across to the alkaline grasslands of the machair that cloke much of the western shores of Uist and Benbecula. We'll cross Bornish machair to the headland of Rubha Ardvule where a short walk to the point should provide views of Eider, Arctic Tern, various waders and some passing seabirds. Manx Shearwater are regularly seen passing here on their long feeding trips from Rum whilst Bottle-nosed Dolphins are fairly regular and part of the small pod that travels up and down the coast from Barra to Benbecula. We'll continue up the western coast stopping off at various sites to look at some the plants that should include Lesser Butterfly Orchid and a good selection of machair flowers.
Day 3: Today we'll take our boat trip out the Monach Isles. Seeing the islands from the water is a great way to experience the Outer Hebrides and the journey out to the low-lying Monachs gives us the opportunity to search for Basking Shark and Harbour Porpoise. We may also see Great Northern Diver off Benbecula as well as Storm Petrel and Manx Shearwaters if we're lucky. Once at the islands we take a small inflatable to the shore and begin to explore the main island of Ceann Iar. This is where the last people lived on the islands and signs of past occupation are evident from the old school house and ruins that are scattered around the inner area of the island. A small freshwater pool sometimes attracts breeding wildfowl which have included Gadwall. Fulmars should be easily seen along with Arctic Terns and various over-summering waders that should include Bar-tailed Godwit and Knot. Although Grey Seals aren't breeding at this time of year there are always some present and if the beaches have been undisturbed we may find large groups hauled out. This a great trip and opportunity to visit an island, only seen in the distance from North Uist by most people.
Day 4: We'll make our way to Balranald RSPB today which often produces superb floral displays of various clovers and vetches at this time of year. This rich source of nectar also attracts insects such as the Great Yellow Bumblebee which finds its last stronghold in the Uk in the Uist machair. This area is also the last haunt of Corn Bunting in the Outer Hebrides. This species has shown a dramatic decline despite attempts to conserve this isolated population. Balranald is still very good for Corncrakes and although July is not a good time of search for them due to the height of the vegetation and lack of calling birds, this is as likely place as any to bump into one. Leaving Balranald we'll travel around the north-west of the island calling in at Scolpaig where we may find Manx Shearwaters off-shore and if we're really lucky maybe a Basking Shark or dolphins. Otters also occur here and can sometimes be found in the freshwater lochs and a few Twite can often be found nesting in gorse bushes here. Golden Eagle also have a territory nearby and are a strong possibility. Conituining around the north side we'll stay vigilant for Hen Harrier and Short-eared Owl which both breed in the rough grass and moorland habitat along with Greenshank and Merlin. We'll cross the Committee Road which takes us through the moorland back south although a couple of stops en route may porvide more botanical interest in the form of Early Marsh Orchid and Greater Sundew. We may also see Arctic Skuas crossing the moor here as a few pairs breed in the centre of North Uist but move to the coast to hunt.
Day 5: Today we'll venture to the south and start our day at Loch Hallan before moving on to the coast at Kilpheder. The lochside is good for marsh loving plants as well as Common Twayblade which is common here. The reedbed holds breeding Reed Bunting and Sedge Warbler whilst the loch usually holds a variety of wildfowl. The nearby coast is good for Harbour Seals and often holds a few over-summer Sanderling whilst off-shore we may find Great Northern Diver and Eiders. A little further south we'll take a look around the shore at Smerclate which is another good spot for Bottle-nosed Dolphins, before continuing across the causeway to Eriskay. This little island can be alive with butterflies on a warm sunny day and is one of the best spots to look for Grayling and Dark Green Fritillary. We should also find the striking Six-spot Burnet moth as well as Pyramidal Orchid, Sea Bindweed and the rare Lesser Water Parsnip. Eriskay also supports a pair of Golden Eagles which we may be seen soaring over head. Leaving Eriskay we'll head back north making a couple of short stops to look for raptors before our final site of the day along the Loch Skipport road. This is a good area to look for Large Heath as well as birds of prey such as Hen Harrier and Golden Eagle. Black-throated Divers breed on the adjacent Loch Druidibeg and Red-throated Divers occur on small lochans on the moors. At the end of the road is the delapidated pier at the tidal Loch Skipport. Twite often breed in overhanging heather in the cutout for the road and otters may be found in the loch. We may also see White-tailed Eagles that are steadily increasing and becoming a more regular sight in the islands.
Day 6: Our final morning is flexibe but in this diverse set of islands we'll be sure to visit a new site before we say our goodbyes.
Dates: 2nd - 7th July
Cost: £740 per person
Accommodation is provided in some of the best local guesthouses for 5 nights.
All meals are provided with evening meals taken in local hotels. If you have special dietry requirements please let us know when bookng.
Group size: 8 (maximum)
Booking: Please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Where to meet: The tour begins and ends in Uist. If you arrive by plane or as a foot passenger off the ferry we will be there to meet you and take you to your accommodation. If you arrive early and are already in the islands on the first day then you'll be picked up in the morning and we'll explore local habitats and wildlife whilst others arrive during the morning. On the last day we'll continue to search for wildlife until everyone has departed on their various flight / ferry connections.
Getting here: It is possible to reach the islands by both air and ferry. Flybe operate regular flights from Glasgow to Benbecula although the earlier you book the cheaper the fare. Alternatively Calmac operate ferries between Uig, Skye - Lochmaddy, North Uist and from Oban - Lochboisdale, South Uist. Once on the islands I will be there to meet you and take you to your accommodation before we head into the field.