On the 15th February I am heading back to the East Midlands and join Pete James to visit Holme Pierrepont to see the spotted sandpiper, a vagrant from North America which probably arrived last autumn but was only identified last month when Neil Glenn made a visit here. The bird showed well for us on the grassy banks alongside the slalem course at the watersports centre, a long-tailed duck was also present here on the nearby rowing course.
Spotted sandpiper at Holme Pierrepont
The next morning we make the short journey to Halifax to meet up with Roger (a Naturebites client and pal) & Keith and we are soon on our way north into Scotland. We stay overnight at The Drovers Inn just north of Loch Lomond and after an early breakfast we head west to the port of Kennacraig to catch the ferry to Islay. Here we meet up with the rest of our party, Andrea & Terry (Aquila Ecology) who have organised the tour, Sally & Peter and Dom (Roger’s son). Hooded crows have here replaced the carrion crow and as we move out through west Loch Tarbert we soon encounter many great northern as well as red-throated and black-throated divers plus countless black guillemots. After settling in at Red Lodge we still find time to make a late visit out to Loch Gruinart to view the vast numbers of barnacle and Greenland white-fronted geese.
Greenland white-fronted geese.
We are out early the next morning and are soon enjoying a pair of golden eagles soaring along one of the ridges as we drive towards the distillery at Bunnahabhain. Black guillemots and great northern divers are plentiful in the sound between Islay and Jura and we glimpse an otter which quickly disappears behind some rocks. Half of our party go in search of the otter and miss out on the 2 white-tailed eagles that drift over. Before we depart another otter gives a better performance to the whole party. Barnacle and white-fronted geese are present in every part of the island and as we head towards Loch Indaal we find a small group of pale-bellied brent geese on the shore and a flock of scaup out in the bay. Red deer stags as well as a few roe deer are seen and a woodcock flies across the road as we return to the lodge at dusk.
The following day we are heading off to The Rhinns in the hope of seeing eagles! As we skirt around Loch Indaal we find an Iceland gull on the shore and purple sandpipers near Port Charlotte. A lunch break at Portnahaven and 200+ atlantic grey and common seals are lazing on the beach on an offshore island. Damp misty conditions puts paid to our chances of seeing eagles but we have a productive stop at Kilchiaran, here we find a dipper in the stream, then a glaucous gull on rocks in the bay before a merlin gives a dashing display as we walk back to the cars.
On day 4 we are off south to explore The Oa. As we walk out along the coast and up to the American Monument we find plenty of fulmars back on the steep cliffs and sure-footed wild goats scamper over the slopes below us. We then head on around to the rsbp reserve and find the hoped for flock of twite. In the afternoon a visit to the north of the island to Ardnave point and after a lengthy wait the flock of chough fly in and give us a great display. A dozen whooper swans are on the RSPB reserve at Loch Gruinart and a ringtail hen harrier comes in to roost nearby. A cold frosty morning (-4c) on the 21 st but it is bright and sunny, our first stop this morning and we don’t have long before a golden eagle soars over the
ridge above us and a male hen harrier then gives us a prolonged view as it quarters the slopes. The Paps of Jura are showing well as we reach the coast, we are enjoying great northern divers close inshore when the call goes up as a magnificent white-tailed eagle drifts out over the sound. It circles high before dropping onto the shore in the distance. It spends time feeding on whatever it found before again rising to soar up over the hills and was joined briefly by a golden eagle, magic! We are just about to move on when 3 crossbills fly over and land in trees above us. We return to the lodge at dusk just in time to see 3 hen harriers coming in to roost, a fitting end to a great days birding.
The American Monument and Twite on the Oa.
We catch the 09.30 ferry the next morning and as we head off are soon joined by good numbers of kittiwakes plus a few gannets. As we near Kennacraig I count 27 great northern divers close inshore in the last 10 minutes of our journey.
My first ever visit to Islay and it more than lived up to expectations, brilliant!