Scotland, 23rd April - 2nd May 2004

Published by Surfbirds Admin (surfbirds AT


A trip to Scotland, mainly for the Scottish specialities and the Harlequin duck.
by Mark Hows (visit my website)

Friday 23rd April

After getting up a bit late plans changed (Barn Owl along A1 in Lincs) and we diverted to Bothal Pool, Northumbs but missed the dowicher by 30 mins or so, birds of note Whooper Swan, Yellow Wagtails and Grey Partridges. Next stop was Vane farm for the Ross's Goose but there was no sign during a good search still lots of pinkfoots about. We departed for East Weymss and easily picked up the scoters, and the male Surf Scoter stood out amongst the Velvet and Common's, he was accompanied by a female. At Methil the female King Eider could not be located, and a return to Vane farm did not produce the Ross's Goose.

Saturday 24th April

Up late again, too late to get to Loch Garten for the Capercaillies, so we stayed local for the Black Grouse Lek, we parked up and within minutes heard the sound of lekking males, its an amazing sound, make the effort to go to a lek just for the sound. The males were hidden behind a plantation but we moved a short distance in the car and we could see the lek, two males were out in the open with a couple more at least hidden in the undulations of the field, the females were very distant. We left as the males departed with good views of Red Grouse, but a short distance away a single male was wooing 3 females just by the side of the road we stopped and watched, superb. We went to Glenshee, lots of Red Grouse and Wheatears but no Ptarmigan, we had to go up, on the top of the ski lifts and eventually in deteriorating weather we picked up two and had to leave as the mist rolled in. We then drove to the Findhorn valley, Common Sandpipers and Dippers were easily found and at the end Common Gulls were - well common, along with Oystercatchers which we found everywhere. Wheatears were plentiful and we found a Peregrine flying round. Back down the valley by the turn for Farr (a short cut to Loch Ruthen) a Goshawk took off then flew above the trees for a minute, a Buzzard and another Peregrine were seen further down the valley. We headed to our Pine Marten watch not far from Aviemore (Speyside wildlife ) we saw two adults very close, young roe deer and a herd or red deer, well worth going. Got back at midnight.

Sunday 25th April

This time we were up in plenty of time to get to Loch Garten and a male Capercaillie was displaying as we arrived, two other males displayed in the next couple of hours, the Ospreys were incubating on the nest and at the forward hide we located two females, another female flew behind the hide and we located her in a tree. A male Redstart and two Crested Tits came close to us along with lots of Siskin on the feeders competing with the red squirrel. We had a walk round the paths but could not locate any Crossbills. We then went to Loch Morlich a pair of summer plumaged Red-throated Divers were on the Loch. We then visited the local reindeer herd not far from Loch Morlich. On our way a Golden Eagle passed overhead, we were unable to stop however. We returned to Findhorn valley in the afternoon, the sun was up and it was warmer, Dippers and Wheatears were easily located along the valley and at the end Ravens and Buzzards were present before a Golden Eagle passed slowly over the ridge. We took the Farr road to Loch Ruthen and could easily see several Slavonian Grebes in full summer plumage. We then drove to Lochindorb (North of Grantown) where we found some summer plumaged Black-throated Divers although a little distant. We visited Insh Marshes the usual waders and wildfowl but nothing of note.

Monday 26th April

A much more leisurely day and a chance to catch up on some sleep, we visited Killiecrankie, there were lots of Redpolls, and Tree Pipits in the woods as we reached the edge of the woods a Wood Warbler was located and a Cuckoo and Stonechat from the top of the hill.

We then drove to Glenmore stopping at Loch Morvich and traipsed through the woods in search for Crossbills, only a closely perched Buzzard. Then onto loch Garten for more of the same, only Treecreepers for company. We drove north saw a Red Kite just north of Inverness on our way to Ullapool, the first rain of the trip. We checked into a B & B on the front but did not look for the Iceland Gull due to the rain.

Tuesday 27th April

We boarded the ferry to Stornoway, and soon saw lots of gulls, and a bonxie, then came the auks, Black Guillemots first then Common, Razorbills and eventually Puffins, a few Manx Shearwaters and an Arctic Skua, plus Gannets and Fulmars. A small flock of Common Scoter passed and as we approached the harbour an Iceland Gull was easily picked out in the gull flock. We disembarked and headed straight for Grais for the Harlequin, it was not about but there was plenty in the bay Great Northern Divers, and Red-breasted Mergansers. We headed up the road about ¾ mile for the bonxie colony, we kept our distance and easily found several nesting. We then headed to Skirgersta but saw nothing of the White-billed Divers. There were Ringed Plovers at Loch Stiaparvat, and we headed back to Grais, the Harlequin appeared and showed very well for ½ an hour. Back at Stornoway a 1st winter Kumlein's Gull was in the roost but nothing else of note and no corncrakes could be located at the airport.

Wednesday 28th April

A quick stop at Loch brannihue 30+ Long-tailed Ducks but not much else then straight to Skirgersta, and Port Nis but no sign of the "white bills", although some excellent Red-throated Divers. Then to the Butt of Lewis eventually a White-billed Diver was located but the heavens opened and the bird went out of sight. The rain stopped and the search resumed, a different bird a summer plumaged bird was located. At Loch Stiaparvait a Buzzard was present but the wind prevented the location of any corncrakes.

Thursday 29th April

We drove down to Harris, via several stops, Great Northern, Red-throated and Black-throated Divers were abundant, but no otters at a reliable place we knew near Tarbet. Nothing else of note was seen on the way to the ferry at Leverburgh. The ferry trip was different, despite a few showers lots of Great Northern Divers, Red-throated and good numbers of Black Guillemots. On N Uist we drove to Balranald. A Whooper Swan was present on one of the lochens. Sea watching at Balranald was difficult in the high wind, lots of shearwaters but only a couple of skuas, probably artic but hard to tell with the wind, lots of waders but were unable to pick anything out of the ordinary amongst them. We retreated to Benbecula for the night.

Friday 30th April

South ford was the first stop, Little Terns were present but not much else, we visited Penerine, lots of gulls and waders but not much else, the wind was still very strong and birdwatching was difficult and we did some touristy things. A male Ring-necked Duck was observed distantly near Lochboisedale. Then a short visit to Loch Drudibeg, a male Hen Harrier struggled in the wind. We went to Balivanich for some food - a Short-eared Owl obliged as we headed back to Balranald, lots of snipe were displaying.

Saturday 1st May

A brief trip to Balranald gave some fantastic views of Twite and a callling Corncrake before leaving to drive to Lochboisedale and the ferry to Oban. Buzzard, Hen Harrier were seen on the way and we stopped for excellent views of the Ring-necked Duck behind the Co-op before boarding the ferry. Dolphins and porpoises, lots of auks including some 'bridled' Guillemots, and lots of manx shearwaters. We struggled to find some accommodation in Oban due to a music festival and we stayed some 15 mins away.

Sunday 2nd May

We went back to Oban for the ferry to Mull where we were booked on a day tour of the island with Island Encounters

First stop produced a pair of White-tailed Eagles, excellent views of both, we saw Whinchat, Stonechat some Golden Eagles, Buzzards, Ravens, Red-throated and Great Northern Divers, were the birds of note, the last stop produced an otter. We drove back overnight.


Harlequin Duck, White-billed Divers, Capercallie, Black Grouse lek, Surf Scoter


Long-billed Dowitcher, King Eider, Ross's Goose, Scottish Crossbill