Islay trip report 16-19 November 2008

Graham is one of the regular Anser Guides, Jim Sines joined us for the Norfolk Spring trip on May 2007, their trip report makes for good reading and a taste of what we shall see on the Anser Northern Birding tour. There are various football related references (and rivalries) which may need translating. I think it makes a more interesting report by leaving the regional comments in.


Islay trip report 16-19 November 2008

Participants; Graham Clarkson (GC), Mal Taylor (MT), Jim Sines (JS).

GC was excited to play out with his recently repaired Leica Scope and revisit an old stomping ground, JS keen for new birds and a great place to visit and MT keen to see an alternative island to Mull and have breather pre the forthcoming decorating onslaught!

Sunday 16 November

JS very kindly did all the driving, GC was the last pick up at 3.30 a.m. As GC is an Evertonian and JS and MT Liverpudlians, the reminiscing and exaggerating by JS and MT began by about 4 a.m. and remained a constant theme throughout the trip, right to the very end, much to GC’s amusement.

JS did a sterling job of driving along the M6 into Scotland and although we managed to cross the Erskine bridge twice, we made good progress past Loch Lomond and then along Loch Fyne. Along Loch Fyne a couple of stops revealed wildfowl including Eiders, Red-breasted Mergansers, Goosanders, Wigeons, Teals and Mallards, with a range of common waders such as Oystercatcher, Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, Golden Plover, Grey Plover, Lapwing, Turnstones, Ringed Plovers and Dunlins. A couple of inquisitive Common Seals were spotted, often close to the extensive Salmon farms, where flocks of Gulls contained only the commoner species.

As the morning progressed breakfast was eaten at a garden centre cafe where a Granny Murray (from cbeebies hit, Me Too) lookalike served the flattest, blandest sausages in Scotland. The weather was improving and by the time we arrived at Kennacraig the Loch was flat-calm and sky blue, allowing immediate birding. A Siskin flew overhead calling as a range of species including Robin, Wren, Pied Wagtail, Grey Heron and Oystercatcher fed close to or at the ferry terminal. Half an hour of constant scanning of the Loch produced excellent views of all three Diver species, Black Guillemots, Eiders and Mergansers , JS in particular was delighted! Although a local ferryman attempted to sabotage our safe egress into the ferry, citing the relative positions of yellow lines and JS’s car, we embarked safely and our sea voyage began. A Rock Pipit feeding on the upper deck of the ferry provided some entertainment as the engines throbbed into life.

As we sailed through Loch Fyne many more of all three Diver species, Black Guillemots, Eiders, Mergansers and Shags were observed with the addition of Common Guillemot. As we entered open sea the number of birds declined although excellent views of Great Northern Diver, Razorbill and Kittiwake were had.  As we approached Islay and Jura, the Paps of Jura could clearly be seen, as could the lighthouse at McArthur’s Head (NR463596) on Islay. As the ferry entered the Sound of Islay, land was much closer and allowed for close examination of ridges and hillsides, this paid off. MT was cold and nipped inside for a brew and a read, GC and JS continued to scan and JS exclaimed he had seen a large raptor but was not able to ID it. Within a minute GC had picked up the raptor – a Golden Eagle! This was being mobbed by a Raven and was soon joined by a second Golden Eagle, GC and JS enjoyed decent views, GC went off to find MT, however the ferry was moving and the birds had gone by the time we reappeared. By later studying the maps it is clear that the Eagles were around the base of Beinn Dubh, probably at NR429642. Wow, what a start!

Things only got better though! Five minutes from Port Askaig MT saw a flash of white disappear into a tree at the edge of the sound, simultaneously we all ‘got onto’ an adult White-tailed Eagle perched in a tree, the bird then made a short flight into an adjacent tree, again showing off its huge white tail and an orange tag on each wing; superb! At docking and disembarking we had had a quick look for the bird with MT obtaining brief views, before it disappeared around a corner, we couldn’t gain access to where the bird had gone and gave up the chase.

Our accommodation was in Bowmore, so in fading light we headed towards Loch Indaal , stopping to bird at Bridgend.  We had super views of an immense flock of Barnacle Geese between Bridgend and Blackrock, with smaller groups of Greylag, Greenland White-fronted and Pale-bellied Brent Geese being seen well, other wildfowl on view included Shelduck, Teal, Wigeon, Eider and a flock of distant Scaup. The light went and we checked into the Bowmore hotel, meeting for dinner at 7 p.m. a really long, but satisfying day. Well done Jim for the driving!

Dinner was a choice of the BBQ, the BBQ or the BBQ, so we duly had the BBQ – interesting! Several pints, a few games of pool and the Yak’s goal against ‘Boro were enjoyed before bed, one must always remember that, well, a point is a point.

Monday 17 November

A fine breakfast was consumed by 8.15 and we set out to Bowmore Pier were we quickly saw Long-tailed Ducks, males and females. Large numbers of Eiders and Mergansers were all about Loch Indaal. As we headed out of Bowmore we had a stop to examine close flocks of both Scaup and Pale-Bellied Brent Geese, great views were had. A scan through a flock of waders on adjacent rocks revealed Dunlins, Turnstones, Ringed Plovers and a single Purple Sandpiper, GC saw and heard a Greenshank go by as the others concentrated hard on the Purp’. We headed towards the RSPB reserve at Loch Gruinart and enjoyed the spectacle of thousands of Barnacle Geese and smaller flocks of Greenland White-fronted Geese, we had an objective though; to find one of the three ‘small Canadas’ on the island, we failed at Gruinart and although we enjoyed a group of Coal Tits on a feeder and a mixed flock of Fieldfares and Redwings, we headed for Loch Gorm. More Geese were in fields of improved grassland around Loch Gorm, but with no Canadas. It started to rain, and boy did it rain! We headed for the general store/cafe in Bruichladdich and enjoyed hot drinks and cake, a quick chat with a ‘local’ revealed he was from Burscough in Lancashire, where GC lives – it really is a small world. The rain eased and we scanned Loch Indaal from the War Memorial and from Bruichladdich Pier, small flocks of Common Scoters and all three Diver species were seen, but no Slavonian Grebes, a target species.

We headed back towards Gruinart and agreed to indulge JS and head up towards Ardnave. At Ardnave Loch groups of Whooper Swans went about their business as we scanned through a flock of Tufted Ducks that included a couple of Pochards and Coots. We foolishly decided to walk to Ardnave Point, on the way we enjoyed simply amazing views of Choughs (up to 18), but had to turn back as the weather worsened and light faded. We enjoyed flocks of Geese at Gruinart, as the light finally went we headed towards base. We stopped for a pint and a warm-up in the bar at the Bridgend Hotel, we enjoyed our pints and marvelled at the whisky list and accompanying prices. We changed and rested back at the Bowmore Hotel.

We decided to meet at Duffies Bar at 7 p.m. where we enjoyed an old fashioned basket meal (GC and JS had Scotch Pie each on the side). Duffies bar was great, we enjoyed an evening debating European politics with Pavel the Polish bar manager, debated with Archie the chap from Jura who spoke Gaelic, but wasn’t from Jura and didn’t speak Gaelic, listened to the wise words of Charlie from Campbeltown (Father Jack is alive and well in Bowmore!) before he was reminded that he was barred, and we exchanged pleasantries with a group of four Norwegian gentlemen on a Whisky tour of the island (at least one was a Liverpool fan – proving one of GC’s many theories about Liverpool fans). Don’t know what time we rolled in at the Bowmore Hotel, but we’d had a great night out if nothing else.


Tuesday 18 November

Another hearty Scottish breakfast (no Mal, not English!) was devoured and we headed down to Bowmore Pier again – no Slavonian Grebes again! With the promise of good weather we headed for the RSPB reserve at Oa. We parked in the RSPB car park and excitedly headed towards the American Monument, GC saw a male Hen Harrier briefly and a flock of Twite whizzed overhead. We found a decent vantage point overlooking Bruthach Mor and Cleit a Ghlaisrig and began to scan, watching a Kestrel hovering over the moors, very soon we picked up an adult Golden Eagle gliding low over the cliffs, it was soon joined by a second, they drifted low against the rocks before disappearing. It was clear to us that the Eagles had observed the well known 10 o’clock rule! Numerous Feral Goats were on the beach and Fulmars were gliding around the cliffs, Rock Pipits scurried just beneath us as we admired the magnificent views over to the Mull of Kintyre, Rathlin Island and the Antrim coast. A truly marvellous place to visit, a ‘must do’.

 MT picked up a female Merlin darting over the moors, it perched and we had some good views. Numerous Ravens roamed distant ridges and one of the Golden Eagles reappeared, eventually sitting on a large rock being mobbed by Hooded Crows, we all had decent scope views and smiles were widening. Mindful of the time we headed back towards the car, JS and MT nearly stood on a male Hen Harrier that gave incredible flight views; the smiles widened even further.

As we approached the car park a flock of small birds was seen feeding in a small paddock behind Upper Killeyan Farm, good fieldcraft enabled us to get views of Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting, Chaffinch, both sexes of Bramblings and some Twite feeding busily on the ground, these were joined by a flock of c.25 Rock Doves, all looking as pure as you can get. From the car park a Buzzard was soaring and being buzzed by a male Sparrowhawk. As we prepared to leave this magical place, two Twite landed next to the car, pleasing JS with mega views (you should have seen the size of his smile!). At Cragabus we watched a huge flock of Barnacle Geese, dutifully scanning through them for a small Canada, both JS and MT accused GC of suffering from Goose fever! Alas no small Canada – time for a brew.

We stopped for tea and scones at the airport cafe where the sight of the three of us appearing together was quite a shock to the cafe staff, with a response somewhat like that of Edward and Tubs in Royston Vasey. The tea was good, the scones not so good, the impressive array of Islay malts for sale was admired, with GC wishing he was ‘proper loaded’.

Anticipating an evening meal at the Taj Mahal in Bowmore, JS spotted a gentleman who looked like he might work there and promptly asked him “what time d’ya open cocker?”, seven o’clock was the immediate response, JS was both observant and correct. We stopped just outside of Bowmore next to Loch Indaal and eventually found two Slavonian Grebes, identifiable, although not great views. Conscious of GC’s Goose fever we looked through thousands of Barnacles near Bridgened – no small Canadas though, GC was getting irate. We decided to try Gruinart again, again looking through numerous Goose flocks, JS and MT were getting more bemused and suddenly at Gruinart Flats GC uttered the immortal words “got one” and there it was a superb Richardson’s Canada Goose amongst a group of Barnacles next to the road. The Richardson’s Canada was smaller and proportionally shorter necked than the surrounding Barnies, with a very pale breast and flanks and buff back, cool! Although Islay’s resident Goose expert, Malcom Ogilvie, reckons lots of these small and mid-sized Canadas can’t be specifically identified in the field, I reckon that Sir Peter Scott, Dennis Raveling and Jean Delacour would all have agree with my confident assertion. A distant raptor on a post was almost certainly a Golden Eagle but it was a very long way off.

With the pressure off, we parked at the RSPB car park. GC immediately picked up a female Hen Harrier that we all had great views of. GC stayed to watch his beloved Geese as JS and MT decided he was definitely a Goose geek and headed off to the hide to escape. GC enjoyed the Geese and watched grazing Roe and Red Deer and a distant Golden Eagle.  We all met up in the hide and watched numerous Teals, Wigeons, Pintails, Shovelers and Mallards, these and a flock of Lapwings were flushed by a combination of a female Hen Harrier, two Merlins and a Buzzard. We continued to enjoy close views of flocks of Greenland White-fronted and Barnacle Geese, interestingly the efforts used to scare Geese from fields; using red and white barrier tape flying from tall canes seemed not to have much effect on the Geese. We’d all had a great day in the field and stopped at the Bridgend for a celebratory pint. We had time to freshen up back at the Bowmore Hotel before meeting up at Duffies bar for a couple of pints and then over to the Taj Mahal for what turned out to be a really good Indian meal. The Taj Mahal doesn’t have a licence so we had to keep nipping over the road a bringing our pints back with us, apparently an established custom locally!

Wednesday 19 November

We fed well and checked out of the Bowmore Hotel and headed for the 9a.m. ferry at Port Ellen, and although GC is not a lister/ticker, JS pointed out that the trip list was stuck on 99! GC promised at least a Gannet from the ferry! Things initially didn’t look so good as low cloud and rain seemed set, however as we sailed passed the Lagavulin and Ardbeg distilleries things brightened up and as if pre ordered a superb adult Gannet flew by, the listers were happy! Good views of Great Northern Diver were had and a single Puffin, soon followed by a small flock was seen, very little else of note was seen in the rough open sea though. As we entered the relative calm of Loch Fyne numbers of Eiders and Mergansers increased and we enjoyed good views of a small group of Common Scoters. Realising the potential of the very close coastline for seeing Otter, GC  determinedly and patiently scanned the rocks – bingo, OTTER look at the rock left of the red roofed barn, JS and MT ‘got on to it’, happy days! A top end to a top trip.

JS drove us safely back past Loch Lomond, over the Erskine Bridge (only once this time!), past Glasgow and heading for Carlisle, we had a half hour stop somewhere in Lanarkshire and dreamed of being back in Lancashire. Near to Hutton Roof Crags the sign saying ‘Welcome to Lancashire, the Red Rose County’ appeared and a muted cheer was heard, a great trip but always great to come home. We’re coming, we’re coming, we’re coming down the road I thought to myself!

Superbly safe driving got us back home for not much past 7p.m., nice one Jim, well driven.

Key bird species seen;

Whooper Swan; Greylag Goose; Greenland White-fronted Goose; Pink-footed Goose, Barnacle Goose, Richardson’s Canada Goose, Pale-bellied Brent Goose, Scaup, Long-tailed Duck, Goosander, Eider, Common Scoter, Slavonian Grebe, Great Northern Diver, Black-throated Diver, Red-throated Diver, Fulmar, Shag, Gannet, Purple Sandpiper, Kittiwake, Black Guillemot, Common Guillemot, Razorbill, Puffin, White-tailed Eagle, Golden Eagle, Buzzard, Hen Harrier, Merlin, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Rock Dove, Twite, Brambling, Chough, Hooded Crow, Raven.

Mammals seen;

Red Deer, Roe Deer, Feral Goat, Common Seal, Grey Seal, Brown Hare, Otter.

Islay Malt Distilleries seen;

Bowmore, Lagavulin, Ardbeg, Bruichladdich, Kilchoman, Laphroaig.

Graham Clarkson. November 21 2008.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: