Saturday, 24 November 2012


Eaval, lying on the south-east side of North Uist reaches only 347m above sea level so you might think that there's not much to it, but rising like a rocky pyramid straight out of the boggy moorland this hill provides some of the most stunning views in the Outer Hebrides.

Eaval looking across Loch Obasaraigh

Probably the easiest way to get there is to head to the end of the Loch Euphort road before striking out across the moor towards Burabhal. It's not long before you reach probably the trickiest part of the whole walk......a river crossing on stepping stones. If the levels of Loch Obasaraigh are high or there's a high tide then the rocks allowing you to skip across the river can be covered. Today with all the recent rain many were submerged and others very slippy; not helped by otters regularly using these rocks to spraint and pee on, so creating nice, green, slippy patches. I managed to make my way across without any mishaps and continued around the north-east side of the loch. Once around the east side you begin to climb Eaval. My only company on the way out (apart from Rowan the dog) was a heard of Red Deer and a few Rock Pipits. As I reached the upper slopes of Eaval a Golden Eagle came shooting over the summit heading in a stooping glide towards Burabhal and the Lees. Shortly after this I was on the top and what a view you get.

Eaval summit

Looking north from the summit
Looking west

Looking south (Ruabhal is the highest point on Benbecula!)
The Minch from the summit

Two cheese rolls later and a cup of coffee I headed back the way I had come. A Raven was calling in the distance and a Rock Pipit was feeding on the grassy slopes but apart from a couple of Fox Moth larvae it was pretty quiet as it often is out here.

Fox Moth caterpillar
As I got to the east shore of Loch Obasaraigh I noticed some very fresh otter spraints along a small stream, not far from otter prints I'd seen on the sandy shore as I headed up. Rowan the dog went first as we circumnavigated the loch when I heard a "plop" in the loch waters. I noticed a small ripple leading away from me and wondered if I'd just missed an otter. I hung about for a while but nothing showed so continued around the next rocky headland. I glanced behind and there heading quickly through the water in the direction from which we'd come was a large, dog otter. I grabbed my camera and just in time noticed it heading up stream. Unfortunately the camera was on the wrong setting and the otter was wary of me so although I managed to take a couple of shots, he soon spotted me and disappeared once again.

A mile or so later we managed to slide our way back over the stepping stones once again without any mishaps, noting fresh otter spraints on a rock here too. A good walk with some stunning views and classic Hebridean wildlife.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Over-looking Skye

For too many years I've been whizzing through Skye on my way to or from the Outer Hebrides with occasional visits to the Black Cuillin for some superb mountaineering but very little in the way of birding. This weekend I went to Sabhal Mor Ostaig for a mini SOC conference arranged by Bob McMillan (of Skye Birds) and Jane Cleaver from the SOC. The line up of talks on Golden Eagles, White-tailed Eagles, Corncrakes and Manx Shearwaters all sounded pretty interesting and very relevent to the immediate area and although Gaelic Bird Names by Tristan ap Rheinallt maybe relevent it didn't stir much in the way of exciting anticipcation in wrong I was! All the talks were excellent and fascinating but the delivery and dry wit of a Welsh man telling us about Gaelic bird names and their relevance to past bird distribution really was my first revelation of the weekend as to how interesting - (yes, that was the word I wanted to use), the subject actually is. The second revelation came the following day when we spent a couple of hours with Bob McMillan birding between Broadford and Portree. In the couple of hours we managed to pick up 8 Slavonian Grebe, Great Northern and Red-throated Divers, a couple of small groups of Whooper Swans (flying over), 6 White-fronted Geese, no less than 8 Golden Eagles and around 40 Waxwings; not forgetting 2 otters and numerous Fieldfare and Redwing. It really was a good morning out.

I'll certainly be heading back to Skye before too long and hope to start taking tours that include this fascinating isle in 2014.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Pipit conundrum

On the 31st October I photographed this pipit at the south-west end of Benbecula around Borve Point.

Having heard a slightly unusual pipit call in flight that was similar to Rock Pipit but "thinner" and less emphatic I began examining every bird that I came across as I walked around the south-west tip of Benbecula.  As I rounded the headland I noticed this striking bird feeding amongst the Rock Pipits gathered on the seaweed and rocks. It immediately struck me due to its strong supercilium, generally pale upper parts (compared with Rock Pipit), very distinctive supercilium and rather pale under parts. The wings bars were well defined and the streaking more clear cut than in the Rock Pipits (around 10 in all) present. The legs were also rather pale and the outer tail feathers appeared white. I was hoping for Water Pipit but the bird really didn't strike me as such. After some time I thought that this indivual may be a Scandinavian Rock Pipit that hadn't attained full winter plumage or was a very well-marked individual.

To me the upper parts appeared too olive-grey for a Water Pipit; the wing bars rather grey (rather than white); the under parts although quite distinctly streaked didn't appear clean enough for Water Pipit and there was some yellow suffusion on the belly.

Below are a series of photo of a British Rock Pipit taken on the same day.

I found one or two websites that showed the variation within both Water Pipit and Scandinavian Rock Pipit although such a strongly marked bird with grey upper parts at this time of year appeared a little odd. If you have any comments please feel free to get in touch: