Autumn in the Outer Hebs

(A birding bonanza with day trips to Barra and Harris)

Dates: 14th - 20th September / 12th - 18th October 2024

Great Northern DiverLittle StintGolden Eagle

The southern isles of Uist and Benbecula are one of the best places in the UK for connecting with migrant waders from both the east and west and this week is often the peak for certain species appearing such as Buff-breasted Sandpiper, American Golden Plover, Curlew Sandpiper and Little Stint. It is also an excellent time to connect with passing seabirds such as Sooty Shearwater, Leach's Petrel and Sabine's Gull when there are strong winds from the west. Each year is different but it's never short on action with plenty of regular migrant waders and lots of raptors with Merlins, Peregrine and Hen Harrier all concentrating their activity on the machair and coast. Combine this with regular sightings of both Golden and White-tailed Eagle as well as 3 species of diver and a week in Uist and Barra at this time of year can't fail to impress.

We explore a variety of habitats although birds can turn up anywhere and regularly do which adds to the excitement. Regular sites such as Rubha Ardvule, Balgarva and Ardivachar in South Uist are excellent for waders whilst Loch Eynort, Howmore and Druidibeg plantation sometimes hold migrant warblers and flycatchers. Benbecula also has it’s productive sites with the freshwater loch complex around the west side attracting good numbers of waders and wildfowl whilst the machair here has produced such gems as Upland Sandpiper. Eiders gather off Stinky Bay and Slavonian Grebes should be arriving back now too at their regular wintering grounds off Balivanich etc. North Uist and Berneray although similar to South Uist and Benbecula have quite a different feel but are no less productive. Balranald is always worth a look with the bays and shores turning up waders and gulls. Nearby Loch Paible has a track record of rare waders with Baird’s Sandpiper being particularly attracted to this site whilst Curlew Sandpiper and Little Stint are regular. Loch Sandary is also nearby and often holds wildfowl and acts as a resting / bathing site for gulls.

We'll also visit Harris for the day where we'll take in views across the Sound of Taransay which often produces good views of White-tailed Eagle as well as various seaduck and divers. Harris is becoming increasingly well known for its scenic splendour but bird wise it’s better known as a regular sight for Surf Scoter as well as good numbers of Common Scoter and Slavonian Grebe. In the autumn Harris is little explored by birders and yet the potential is immense for finding your own rarities. The gardens along the roadside at Northton are very attractive whilst the tidal sands nearby hold a few waders. The whole area is excellent for eagles and there’s a very good chance of seeing both species. We’ll also visit Rodel in the south-east of the island where the medieval church creates a striking backdrop to this attractive sight. There’s also a good chance of seeing divers, grebes and the odd seabird on the crossing between Berneray and Leverburgh.

On another day we'll make a day trip to Barra which invloves a ferry crossing from Eriskay across the Sound of Barra. Black-throated Divers are a regular visitor here in the autumn and winter whilst terns, Kittiwakes and even eagles are often spotted from the deck of the small roll-on-roll off ferry. Barra itself is pretty small but there's plenty of sites to check including the runway for the flight from Glasgow which lands on the beach at Traigh Mhor. Gulls, waders and Brent Geese are regular here whilst further north Eoligarry has a history of some interesting species in the recent past including Daurian Shrike and Eastern Kingbird (although these of course are vagrants)! We take a circular route around the island taking in various patches of shrubs, gardens and trees as well as bays and inlets that should add a nice variety of species to the day tally.

The anticipation and excitement of being here when masses of waders and seabirds are passing can rival anywhere in the UK and you pretty much have the place to yourself with just a handful of local birders searching the expansive habitat. Coupled with the high denisty of raptors and a very good chance of seeing otters up close a week in Uist in autumn is a must.

MerlinAmerican Golden PloverHen Harrier

Short list of species: Brent Geese, Whooper Swan, Eider, Gadwall, Shoveler, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, American Golden Plover, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Great Skua, Sabine's Gull, Arctic Tern, Sooty Shearwater, Storm Petrel, Leach's Petrel, Golden Eagle, White-tailed Eagle, Hen Harrier, Peregrine, Merlin, Red-throated Diver, Great Northern Divers, Black-throated Diver, Black Guillemot, Barred Warbler, Corn Bunting, Lapland Bunting, Twite, plus many more. Red Deer, Grey and Common Seals, Otters. If the weather’s calm enough we will set a moth trap to have a peek at some of the local night life.

Dates: 14th - 20th September / 12th - 18th October 2024

Tour duration: 6 nights / 7 days on the islands.

Cost: £1,300 per person (£1,200 per person if 2 sharing a room). Alternatively if you wish to stay in self-catering accommodation or a place of your own choosing then please get in touch for a revised price.

Accommodation and evening meals are provided by the Dark Island Hotel for 6 nights on the September tour and Temple View Hotel for the October trip.

If you have special dietary requirements please let us know when bookng.

Group size: 8 (maximum)

Booking: Please email:

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 the tour concludes around midday.

Getting here: It is possible to reach the islands by both air and ferry. Loganair 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 Mallaig - Lochboisdale, South Uist.

Trip report: The most recent reports are available on request by emailing me.