Skye and Islay 2013

Saturday 8th - Saturday 15th June 2013
The Cuillin Hills, from Sligachan, Skye
Linda and I spent a great week discovering Skye and returning to Islay, with a bit of travelling in between. We flew Bristol to Inverness and hired a car for the week, returning to Inverness for the return flight. For the first few days, on Skye, the weather was very sunny and warm with temperatures up to 21oC. The second half of the week saw more changeable weather, but still largely dry, with temperatures in the 15-18oC range, but only around 13oC when it rained.
Looking across the Sound of Sleat at Armadale
Saturday 8th
We arrived on Skye via the bridge early evening and headed for the Ardvasar Hotel, our home for the next three nights. Ardvasar is a hamlet located next to the village of Armadale on the Sleat Pensinsular. One of the first birds on Skye was a Buzzard, and a short scan of the Sound (of Sleat) after dinner revealed two Arctic Terns, two Gannets, a Shag, several 100 Guillemot, and two Harbour Porpoises. Two Common Sandpipers and five Oystercatchers were along the shoreline, and other birds around Ardvasar/Armadale included two Whitethroats, a Willow Warbler, four Swallows and a Lesser Redpoll.

Sunday 9th
I woke up the the sound of a Cuckoo calling, but soon my thoughts turned to a boat trip from Portree. The drive to Portree took us through some of the most scenic landscape on the island (or anywhere?), the rugged beauty of the Cuillins looking stunning in the sun.  We chose the Brigadoon and made a booking for midday. The main object of the trip for me was White-tailed Eagle, and I wasn't disappointed. We had great views of two of these very impressive birds, plus a good range of other birds including a Great Skua, a Black Guillemot, a Puffin, two drake Eider, a Razorbill, a Kittiwake, a Peregrine, Rock Doves, Shags, Cormorants, four Ravens, and a Cuckoo; and also 1-2 Harbour Porpoises. Back on dry land, a Hooded Crow flew along Portree High Street. I can recommend Café Arriba, near the harbour for a nice slice of cake!
White-tailed Eagle, Portree, Skye
Later we took a drive towards Talisker following a Golden Eagle lead from another guest at the hotel; I didn't see one here or anywhere else during the holiday. This was a scenic drive anyway. and did produce some good birds, with two Wheatears at Glenn Oraid, a male Merlin at Merkadale, and at Satran nine Red-breasted Mergansers, four Common Sandpipers, and four Curlew.
Common Sandpiper, Armadale, Skye
The after dinner stroll from the hotel produced a Common Seal just off the shore, and I added Siskin (3) and Long-tailed Tit (1) to the trip list. Throughout the holiday we never seemed to be far from the calls of Oystercatchers if we were near a shoreline; I counted at least 10 in the vicinity of the hotel; and Common Sandpipers were also quite numerous, and vocal.

Monday 10th
Linda told me she had heard a Tawny Owl calling very near the hotel in the early hours. I had been sound asleep and insisted she wake me up if she heard it again. We both slept too soundly the next night!


It was another glorious day. Before breakfast two Arctic Terns were fishing offshore again, a male Siskin was singing near the hotel and c15 Green-veined Whites were in the same area.

After breakfast we walked to nearby Armadale Castle to spend most of the day in the gardens there. I have to mention some of the flora at this point. The late spring meant that things like Bluebells were still in full flower, and in amongst the Pignut, Red Campion, Ramsoms and Buttercup the effect was stunning. A pair of Spotted Flycatchers were along the walk on the way to Armadale and in the castle grounds I noted a further three. Also of note, a Garden Warbler, three Goldcrests, three Chiffchaffs, four Willow Warblers, three Coal Tits, a pair of Bullfinches, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, 15+ Siskins and 10+ Lesser Redpolls. Near one of the ponds Linda pointed out a dragonfly resting on the vegetation, an Azure Hawker, which flew off as I reached for the camera. The longer walk took us into open moorland and up Armadale Hill. Around a boggy pond were 10 Four-spotted Chasers plus Large Red, Azure and Common Blue Damselflies. A further two Azure Hawkers were seen in flight away from the pond. A pair of Stonechats were seen nearer the hill, and around eight Meadow Pipits. As for Butterflies. two Small Heaths and many Green-veined Whites were on the wilder hill area, and an Orange Tip back near the restaurant.
Spotted Flycatcher, Armadale, Skye
A drive later on along the small road with passing places to Ord produced a male Wheatear, a Cuckoo and a Linnet. Back at Armadale Pier a Kittiwake and three Gannets were noted in addition to the numerous Guillemots.

Tuesday 11th
A day of increasing cloud turned to light drizzle by the time we reached Glasdrum Wood, north of Oban, on the journey between Skye and Islay. I gave Glasdrum a good go nevertheless for Chequered Skipper but there were none to be had. Linda did a sterling effort too to look for butterflies, and found the first of three Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries, which provided some consolation. Before long we had to press on to make sure we didn't miss the six o'clock evening sailing from Kennacraig to Port Ellen.
Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Glasdrum Wood
Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Glasdrum Wood
Glasdrum Wood
We arrived at Kennacraig with just a bit of time to spare, and a scan of the immediate area produced a Black Guillemot, quite close to the ferry as it came to dock at one point, and two Common Terns fishing. I spent much of the first hour of the crossing on deck, before the thick mist closed in for the remaining part of the journey. The sea-watch was quite productive with four Harbour Porpoises, plus birds: four Gannets, a male Eider, two more Black Guillemots, c10 Guillemots, seven Manx Shearwaters, a Fulmar and c4 Razorbills.


Wednesday 12th
And so we were on Islay for the second part of our holiday, staying at Duich on Linda's sister and bother-in-law's farm.The weather had become cooler and was more changeable during our stay on the second island. It was nice seeing five Rock Doves on the garden feeders, with the more familiar House Sparrows, Greenfinches, and Starlings. At RSPB Loch Gruinart later I needed some Corncrake information. After passing a Merlin and two House Martins on the way we arrived at the visitor centre to learn that a Corncrake had been seen singing in open view just minutes before. It didn't repeat its performance in the next half an hour, but at least I knew where they were. The sun shone for us on the new moorland walk which links to the woodland walk. Birds on the walk included c40 Rooks, three Willow Warblers, 2+ Lesser Redpolls, two Siskins, three Cuckoos (including a female), four Curlews, 4+ Redshanks, six Greylags, two Shovelers and c40 Mallards. Three Small Coppers and 10+ Green-veined Whites were on the moorland area, also a Red Deer.
Looking across Corncrake habitat from the visitor centre, RSPB Loch Gruinart
Red Deer, Loch Gruinart
Afterwards we drove onwards to Portnahaven, a picturesque village near the island's most westerly point. Two Grey Seals were basking on rocks in the cove as the tide came in, starting to float them off.
Grey Seal, Portnahaven
I returned to Loch Gruinart after dinner, arriving at c10pm still in good light. It was a perfect, clear evening. While waiting for the main attraction I soaked in the atmosphere of Snipe drumming, Golden Plovers, Curlews displaying and a Sedge Warbler singing. A Peregrine was also in attendance. Not long after 11pm I heard the first CORNCRAKE calling. I heard a total of six in all, including one near the visitor centre. By now the light was going fast, but I thought perhaps I would be able to see that same bird from the elevated position near the visitor centre. After scanning for a couple of minutes I was lucky, I got a view of the Corncrake in full song, neck stretched upwards. All too soon it stopped and walked a short distance out of view, but I was thrilled! Listen to the Corncrake here:

Thursday 13th
In the morning, brother-in-law Brian took me down in the 4x4 to Laggan Bay to see the carcass of a young Sperm Whale he had found a few days before. Nearby were breeding Arctic and Little Terns, along with Oystercatchers and a few of Kittiwake and Ringed Plover. A small number of Sand Martins also breed in the area, though numbers were well down on previous years. A couple of Rock Pipts were foraging among the rocks, and a roost of c150 Eider present  included many juveniles. Around the dune areas were two Wheatears.
Arctic Tern, Laggan Bay
Little Tern, Laggan Bay
Eider flock, Laggan Bay
Ringed Plover, Laggan Bay
Rock Pipit, Laggan Bay
Sperm Whale carcass, Laggan Bay
I drove out to the The Oa later with Linda, hoping to see Golden Eagle as I did here in March last year. I had been informed that there was no active nest this year, and a good scan of likely cliffs failed to find any sign. I did see two Choughs though, and a colony of c40 Fulmar. Another Wheatear here, and 12 Gannets over the water. Near the car park there were some nice Northern Marsh Orchids.
Northern Marsh Orchid, The Oa
Friday 14th
The ferry wasn't until 6.00pm so we had most of the day on the island. In the morning I roamed the area between the farm and the dunes. A recently fledged Wheatear was nice but the best birds were three confiding Twite.
Juvenile Wheatear, Duich
Twite, Duich
Twite, Duich
At Bridgend, a walk around the woods before lunch at the hotel produced singing males of Spotted Flycatcher, Willow Warbler and Goldcrest. Also a Chiffchaff and two Siskins.

The afternoon turned to showers, but I still had some free time so returned to Loch Gruinart. I was rewarded with close views of a male Hen Harrier. Other birds noted were Cuckoo, a Sedge Warbler, at least one Spotted Flycatcher, three Willow Warblers and a Blackcap. Also Heath Spotted Orchid. Continuing on to Ardnave I only picked up Tufted Duck and Mute Swan.
Heath Spotted Orchid, Loch Gruinart
The evening ferry back to Kennacraig was quite windy on deck and I didn't stick it for long. The results of a couple of stints were four Manx Shearwaters, five Gannets, three Guillemots and two Shags. It was then on to the shores of Loch Linhe near Fort William for our stopover.

Saturday 15th
I wanted another try for Chequered Skipper and so we made the small detour to Allt Mhuic en route back to Inverness airport. Despite ideal conditions, 17oC and sunny, I could not nail this species, just a quick fly-by possible. Still, it was a very pleasant site and we saw lots of other stuff. Butterflies included five Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries and four Green Hairstreaks. Two Golden-ringed Dragonflies were also nice, plus two Large Red Damselflies. Also an Adder basking by the path, which soon slithered into cover. Birds included a Spotted Flycatcher, a Buzzard, a Blackcap, a Willow Warbler and a Cuckoo. A nice end to the holiday.
Allt Mhuic
Adder, Allt Mhuic
Green Hairstreak, Allt Mhuic

Links
Ardvasar Hotel, Isle of Skye:  http://www.ardvasarhotel.com/
Brigadoon boat trips at Portree, Isle of Skye: http://www.portree-boat-trips.co.uk/
Café Arriba, Portree, Isle of Skye: http://www.cafearriba.co.uk/

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