Wednesday 22nd - Wednesday 29th April 2015

Wednesday 22nd
We started our journey bright and early from Essex and managed to get past the worst of any traffic problems without too much hassle. The journey north produced a few COMMON BUZZARDS soaring in the morning sunshine.
After a couple of stops, we arrived at Langdon Beck and took a drive over the moorland. It didn't take us long to spot our first RED GROUSE and a little while later we watched a male BLACK GROUSE wandering over the grass covered moor.

Scanning produced another three males plus more RED GROUSE. A female MERLIN zoomed over the heather and a pair of COMMON BUZZARDS circled over the distant ridge.

Along the stream we had brief views of a COMMON SANDPIPER as it flew past whilst CURLEW, LAPWING, SNIPE and best of all, three WOODCOCK that were disturbed by a farmer on a quad bike.

These secretive birds were seen having a dispute and were jumping up from the long grass which was great to see. After lunch we wandered down the edge of another stream and here we found a DIPPER which showed well under the bridge along with a pair of GREY WAGTAILS.

Two more WOODCOCK were found roosting under an old tree and gave good views despite being hidden by foliage. WILLOW WARBLERS, SAND MARTINS and both SONG & MISTLE THRUSHES were seen close by.
Down at the main river, we had good views of at least two WATER VOLES as they swam around just a few feet from us!

A brief look at nearby Cow Green Reservoir saw us find more RED GROUSE plus a pair of summer-plumaged GOLDEN PLOVER which were glowing in the evening sun.

With time running out, we headed back along the main road to Carlisle noting loads more RED GROUSE and some WHEATEAR here and there, plus the added bonus of a SHORT-EARED OWL that drifted over the road and landed on the hillside.

We arrived in Carlisle, our base for the night and had some time to relax before meeting for our evening meal which went down very well indeed.

Thursday 23rd
We met for an early breakfast and after loading the van had a few minutes spare to watch a male BLACKCAP singing from a Leylandii tree in the carpark.

The journey north was pretty quiet bird-wise apart from the odd COMMON BUZZARD and both GREYLAG and CANADA GOOSE close to Glasgow with a few GOOSANDER near Loch Lomond.

We made a stop in Tyndrum for Brian to purchase a coat as he had left his other at home and whilst waiting outside, a HOUSE MARTIN drifted over heading west. By now we were quite peckish so lunch was enjoyed at the Cruachan Power Station visitor centre which was lovely in the warm sunshine. Mike spotted a distant pair of OSPREYS circling over the loch and COMMON BUZZARD was seen over the high crags.

Quite a few COMMON EIDER were seen close to Oban and at the ferry terminal we enjoyed our first views of up to four BLACK GUILLEMOTS as they bobbed around on the water.

The crossing over to Mull was slightly hampered by a 'Haar' that made visibility poor until we reached Mull. After disembarking, we drove towards our base and made a stop where we had good views of a pair of HEN HARRIERS plus the added bonus of a young WHITE-TAILED EAGLE perched on a large hillside rock!

With time getting on, we arrived at our beautiful loch-side accommodation spot on time to see two moulting GREAT NORTHERN DIVERS, just offshore.

After being shown to our rooms, we had some time to relax before meeting for a pre-dinner drink and enjoying a great home-cooked meal.

Friday 24th
We awoke to find cloudy but calm conditions and before breakfast, some of the group took a wander out along the road where they found up to nine GREAT NORTHERN DIVERS, CUCKOO, SISKIN, WHEATEARS and TURNSTONES feeding along the beach.

After a good breakfast, we started our drive up to Tobermory which took rather a long time due to a few birds including RAVEN and also due to the single track roads being quite slow.

We eventually arrived in Tobermory to find the carpark very busy, as it was Mull Music Week and there were lots of motor homes parked up with the smell of bacon cooking wafting in the air!

At 10am we joined the boat for our day on the Treshnish Isles and Staffa. Just out of port, we saw a HARBOUR PORPOISE breach several times and quite a few SHAG were seen low over the water. As we headed over to the Ardnamurchan Peninsula we encountered our first MANX SHEARWATERS of the tour and had excellent views as they flew past the boat or sat on the water!

After picking up another couple for the boat trip, we motored southwest towards Lunga and as we neared the beautiful island, PUFFINS started to appear along with RAZORBILLS, BLACK GUILLEMOTS, KITTIWAKES, FULMAR, EIDER, ROCK DOVE, GUILLEMOTS and a few GREY SEALS roosting on rocks.

After getting off the boat and clambering over rocks we spent the next few hours in the sunshine admiring the birds and the view. Other goodies included Hebridean race WREN, male WHITE WAGTAIL, ROCK PIPITS, WHEATEARS, several GREAT SKUA and GANNET, but the real stars of the show were the PUFFINS which showed fantastically in the sunshine!

It was then back to the boat for a short journey down to Staffa and its famous Fingal's Cave which was the inspiration for Mendelsson's Hebrides overture. The basalt columns were simply amazing and we were so lucky with the weather.
Taking the long journey back, the weather had started to turn and it was a bit windier so we were glad to get a hot drink in Tobermory after we had landed.

As we started our journey home, it had started to rain and despite this, we had excellent views of a perched SHORT-EARED OWL on the way back.

We arrived back slightly later than usual but still had some time for a shower before meeting for yet another great evening meal.

Saturday 25th
The overnight rain had cleared to leave a bright and sunny morning but with a real nip in the wind. The early morning group found RINGED PLOVERS down on the beach and the usual group of hybrid MALLARDS!

After a hearty breakfast, we headed towards Loch na Keal and hadn't gone far when a superb summer plumage GOLDEN PLOVER flew in as well as quite a few WHEATEAR.

The views were spectacular as we drove north along the edge of the loch although the waves made viewing slightly difficult. Eventually we reached our spot and got out using the van as a windbreak. Several GREAT NORTHERN DIVERS were seen and then our attentions were drawn to calling raptors when overhead we watched an adult and immature WHITE-TAILED EAGLE drift over.

The adult carried on going and caught a fish on the far side of the loch, whilst the immature circled over us for several minutes before flying off. Then several minutes later, a male GOLDEN EAGLE came up over the ridge and put on a show including a brief display flight.

After around 20 minutes the pair were seen again and the size difference between the male and female could be seen as they cruised around together above us!

Having a good scan of the open water reaped dividends with a dog OTTER ‘scent marking’ a rocky island and although distant, it gave good views through the scope. After lunch we drove a short distance to take a walk alongside Loch Ba which saw us find a pair of GOOSANDER and two male RED-BREASTED MERGANSER, GREY WAGTAIL, WILLOW WARBLERS and lots of WHEATEAR.

The highlight was the three GOLDEN and three WHITE-TAILED EAGLES that interacted with each other and these were different birds to the ones seen previously. It was then off for a coffee stop in Salen which was delightful in the afternoon sun before heading back down to Loch na Keal.

At Killiechronan, Mike spotted a stunning female WHITE-TAILED EAGLE sitting in a pine tree which allowed good scope views, plus offshore we watched more GREAT NORTHERN DIVERS and a few SAND MARTINS zipping around us.

The journey back to the hotel was great with magnificent views of the coastline which included the Treshnish Isles and Staffa.

It was good to get back and have a hot shower before yet another lovely evening meal.

Sunday 26th
The weather was much brighter with a slight breeze when we got up, but by the time we had left we had experienced a few hail showers and the wind was much stronger.

Heading west we stopped at Loch Pottie where a fine adult WHOOPER SWAN fed and a few TUFTED DUCKS sheltered on the north side.

After getting our ferry tickets, we headed across to the beautiful isle of Iona and during the crossing we watched lots of KITTIWAKES plus SHAG, feeding GANNETS and a brief MANX SHEARWATER.

Once on the island we took a walk to the south where we found a few ROOKS, plus lots of ROCK DOVES but no sign of our target, the Corncrake.

With the wind very strong, we retraced our steps back to the town and as we passed a small garden, a CORNCRAKE wandered across the driveway into an area of Iris and over the next twenty minutes or so it wandered about, on occasions giving superb views!

We then carried on and had views of a female WHITE WAGTAIL and excellent sightings of a GREAT NORTHERN DIVER snorkelling close by.

It was then time for a celebratory cuppa in the cafe before heading down to the beach for lunch where it was nicely sheltered. As we walked back along the lane we could hear CORNCRAKES calling although they didn't show.

After lunch we visited the Nunnery and wandered up the Main Street before taking a path off along a track. As we wandered along, we had the most amazing views of at least two CORNCRAKES right out in the open, at eye level on a bank! Whilst watching these allegedly elusive birds another two started calling nearby although remained unseen.

Delighted with this, we took the ferry back and drove up to a watchpoint in the hills where it didn't take long before an adult GOLDEN EAGLE came into view and we watched it for around ten minutes before it drifted off.

It was then back to base for a shower before a well-deserved evening meal, which concluded with much hilarity whilst doing the bird list!

Monday 27th
The day started calm with little wind but once breakfast was out of the way, it had started to change for the worse with strong winds and blustery showers. We re-visited Loch na Keal in the hope of more eagles but were delighted to watch two cub OTTERS feeding for around 20 minutes. A small flock of RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS and a few GREAT NORTHERN DIVERS were seen out on the loch before a heavy shower started to turn to sleet and snow.

With the weather looking dodgy, we headed towards Tobermory and during the journey, the snow got heavier and heavier! We had some time in the town for shopping and to grab a coffee whilst a few wandered up the distillery burn. A male BLACKCAP sang nearby and both TREECREEPER and WILLOW WARBLERS were seen in the trees.

We then took a lovely scenic drive around the coast and ended up at Eas Fors waterfall, where we found a pair of STONECHAT and both COMMON BUZZARD and RAVEN. The weather had improved significantly by the time we got to Killiechronan and a scan out on the loch produced a pair of summer-plumaged SLAVONIAN GREBES and behind us we had good flight views of an adult WHITE-TAILED EAGLE.

Moving round the loch, we stopped to look at a flock of gulls and there was a superb 2nd year ICELAND GULL along with BLACK HEADED, COMMON and HERRING GULLS which was good for species comparison.

A stop at another area produced a couple of COMMON SNIPE but with the weather looking dodgy, again we headed back to base for an early shower and a chance to warm up before having our evening meal.

Tuesday 28th
A few brave/mad souls braved the inclement weather for a pre-breakfast amble which yielded a female OTTER, up to seven GREAT NORTHERN DIVERS, SISKIN and a couple of WHEATEARS before a heavy hail shower sent them scuttling back to the hotel. Whilst having breakfast we had good views of a male YELLOWHAMMER feeding on the lawn.

After a great last breakfast, we loaded up our bags and said our goodbyes to Paul, Joy and Tony before driving up to Loch Beg. A lone GREENSHANK fed in amongst the seaweed and around 10 summer-plumaged DUNLIN fed with a few RINGED PLOVERS.

As we drove through the centre of the island it began to snow heavily for quite a time before we reached the southeast part of the island.

Down at Grasspoint we had great views of several STONECHATS, YELLOWHAMMER plus good numbers of WHEATEAR including a male of the Greenland race. With time getting on, we retraced our steps noting a CUCKOO and several RED DEER before arriving at Craignure for our ferry crossing.

Whilst waiting we had good views of an OTTER feeding on fish and crustaceans right in full view of everyone!

The journey back to Oban was pretty quiet bird-wise with only a few KITTIWAKE and GUILLEMOTS seen. After leaving the boat, we drove south noting COMMON EIDER, BLACK GUILLEMOT and a few COMMON BUZZARDS before arriving in Lancaster for the night after what had been a long day.

Wednesday 29th
After a good night’s rest we left our accommodation in Lancaster and drove the short distance north to the RSPB Reserve at Leighton Moss. After getting our permits, we took a walk to the Lower Hide where a birder had reported a Pied-billed Grebe, but by the time we got there it hadn't been seen for an hour and there was no further sign.

We did get some compensation with GARDEN, WILLOW, REED, SEDGE and CETTI'S WARBLERS plus SWIFT, SPARROWHAWK and MARSH HARRIER amongst others.

Back at Lilian's Hide we had excellent views of six RUFF along with BLACK-TAILED GODWITS, REDSHANK, AVOCET and a moulting SPOTTED REDSHANK. A great lunch was enjoyed in the cafe before starting our journey back to Essex.

Lots of COMMON BUZZARDS were seen and a RED KITE drifted over the road close to Luton. We arrived back in good time after what had been a superb tour with a brilliant group whose laughter every day will be something I will never forget!

Thanks for making it so wonderful.