Garvellachs, Inner Hebrides - May 2006

Published by RICHARD J WESLEY (snhguk AT

Participants: Dave Merry, Roger Gouch, Richard Allan, David Palmar, Janet Palmar, Ian Hopkins, Rosemary Lynn and Richard Wesley.


Friday 26th May 2006

Weather Heavy rain, dry by evening

Max 9c Min 4c Wind SW3

I collected Richard Allan at 1615 hours and we headed towards Craobh Haven for our rendezvous with Duncan Philips and his boat the Farsain. A group of eight of us from the Argyll Bird Club were undertaking a weekend trip to the Garvellachs.

The rain had stopped by now but the sea was still rough in the open sea but within an hour we were arriving at our destination. The water around the jetty was calm so we managed to unload all our equipment safely. We had soon erected our tents and prepared some food and drinks, near the bothy the only habitable building on the island.

We went for walk towards the north-west of the island before dark and soon heard Grasshopper and Sedge Warbler in the wet meadow. The walk was a steep climb through birch woodland to the cliff top and I found it hard going on the slippy uneven ground.

I returned with David Palmer and his wife, Janet and we found a better route back down the gully to the bothy. A Woodcock flew overhead calling, soon to be followed by another back at base camp. The others returned by a circular route, but it was not long before we were all retiring to our tents to get some sleep before our explorations tomorrow.

Saturday 27th May 2006

Weather Bright periods and heavy showers

Max 10c Min 6c Wind NW4

David Merry and myself were up early so we set off to explore the north of the island in the hope of seeing the Golden Eagles. The going was never easy and with the overnight rain the ground cover was very wet.

We passed through some silver birch woodland with Willow Warbler singing, but otherwise it was fairly quiet. We soon parted as I was holding David back with my slower pace. I found a good a good vantage point by the coast and sat taking in the views to Luing, Scarba, & Lunga, whilst watching gulls and oystercatchers drift by.

I headed back inland disturbing a Woodcock near a small wood, which, as it took flight, gave me excellent views. Several Yellowhammers chipped overhead in the more open areas and Wheatears were fairly common. I eventually came out on a steep cliff top but wasn’t quite sure where I was. Roger Gouch suddenly appeared to my right and we discussed our sightings and our present location. I then headed back to the bothy as lunchtime was approaching, following Roger’s directions. I met Richard Allan on the way down and he joined me for the last half mile.

I had a rest after lunch and then did a session of sea-watching which was quite productive. Gannet, Kittiwake and Fulmar flew by along with a pair of Mergansers, and a Black Guillemot was in the bay to the right. Around the shoreline was a pair of Rock Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Wheatear and a Common Sandpiper whirred by.

After tea I walked south but did not get far before observing both of the Golden Eagles. It was good to be able to make a size comparison, the female almost a third larger in wingspan. They were both hunting along the ridge with heads down searching for prey. I watched them for over ten minutes before heading back to the bothy. I then watched a beautiful male Yellowhammer singing in the evening sunshine and then further on as I was talking to Rosemary Lynn a Whitethroat flew across into a bush at the side of us.

We finished an excellent day with a couple of beers, a few drams and some good crack before retiring before midnight.

Sunday 28th May 2006

Weather Sunny periods, and intermittent light showers.

Max 10c Min 4c Wind NW5

The sky looked more promising today and as Dave Merry, Roger Gouch and myself set off south down the island, the prospect of a full day of dry weather looked possible. We slowly climbed to a high point with good views both north and south. From the top it was possible to see the northern most island Dun Chonnuill and to the south west A’ Chuli and the Holy Island which make up this group of four main islands. Our island, Garbh Eileach stretched out before us with moorland and meadow, interspersed with small pockets of woodland mainly Silver Birch, but also Hazel, Alder, Oak, Rowan and some Holly.

We walked through meadows of Bluebells, Cuckoo Flower and white Stitchwort before climbing through woodland to some heather moorland. There was a profusion of wild flowers throughout this area including Tormentil, Milkwort, Lousewort, Pignut, Cotton Grass and Bilberry. We made our way down through more woodland and a very old wall completely covered in moss back to the wet meadow behind the bothy. Other flowers recorded here included Marsh Marigold, Lesser Celandine, Dog Violets and an unusual plant I had not seen before, Common Butterwort. Two species of orchid were also noted Early Purple and Common Spotted.

Following lunch, on a beautiful clear afternoon, I did a further spell of sea watching and was soon rewarded with two Skua species probably Arctic’s. Ian Hopkins joined me and picked up two Manx Shearwaters which were moving up and down the Firth of Lorn between us and Scarba giving good views. This area of sea produced a large flock of Kittiwake frantically feeding on the surface, to be joined by Guillemots, Razorbills and a Shag.

Dave Merry and Roger Gouch returned from further walks to confirm records of Snipe and some interesting flower species including Mountain Avens (Dryas Octopetala), Ragged Robin, St John’s Wort and Figwort. The cold weather was not conducive to butterflies and the only species I noted was Green-veined White.

Time was moving on now and we all decided to pack up are belongings and take down our tents. I received a voice mail from Duncan Philips to say he had left Jura and should be arriving about six thirty. This was confirmed later as Ian picked him up on his VHF Radio and we could see Farsain emerge from the Grey Dogs between Lunga and Scarba, heading straight for the Garvellachs. The equipment was all loaded on board and once we had all scrambled onto the deck the boat turned and headed back to Craobh Haven. The sea was still rough with a force five blowing, making the crossing to the Grey Dogs interesting.

It was a beautiful evening and as I looked back to the Garvellachs I realised I had been privileged to experience the charms of these special islands which form part of the Inner Hebrides.

Argyll Bird Club Members:-

Dave Merry, Roger Gouch, Richard Allan, David Palmar, Janet Palmar, Ian Hopkins, Rosemary Lynn and Richard Wesley.

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