17 Oct 2015

17 Oct 15 - Berneray & North Uist

The only sign of life at the ferry terminal on Berneray were a couple of Rock Pipits.
Rock Pipit
When you come out of the terminal road, you are meant to turn left & onto the causeway to cross onto North Uist. But there wasn't a sign & so I ended up turning right to the small village of Borve. But it is a very scenic village & was well worth the time spent looking around it.
Borve: Picture postcard photos on a day like today
Borve: A more traditional looking house (shame about the car spoiling the photo)
Borve: A great looking garden
Common Seals: Fitting in with the sleepy look of Borve
As I drove in, I flushed a Snipe from the road side. It didn't go far, but was well camouflaged. 
Snipe: Skulking in a small gap in the vegetation
I saw a lot more Black Sheep on the islands than I do in Dorset
All the roads in Borve end in dead ends & so after a look around, I ended up taking the causeway over to North Uist.
The rugged fields of Port Nan Long, North Uist
Some of the locals were confused when I stopped at some trees to try some pishing
The first stop on North Uist was Lochmaddy to book the ferry off. I had wanted to come off on Sunday 18, but was told that both the ferries from North Uist & South Uist were full. I guess there were people over for the weekend & heading home. In the end I had to compromise & make a booking for the late afternoon. Not ideal, but it would give me enough time to have a quick, but not too hurried, look around the excellent Balranald area.
Scolpaig Tower: These days the government keeps the same building project going, with schemes like the O2 in Greenwich & the new Hinkley power station
The road to Balranald passes the Scolpaig Tower. This well known local landmark was built around 1830 as a Georgian folly to provide employment for the locals during a period of local famine. The road to Balranald isn't a quick road as it is nearly all a single track road with plenty of passing points. There isn't a lot of traffic, but having to regularly give way, means it does take a while getting around the island. But there is plenty to keep looking out for on the road & it is very scenic, so not having to hurry isn't too much of a problem. After about thirty minutes driving from Lochmaddy, I reached the turn off for Balranald.
Panoramic view of two of the lochs along the approach road
Any Birders who have never been to North Uist & Balranald in particular, have really missed out on a stunning RSPB reserve. The side road to Balranald has lakes on either side of the road with excellent looking meadows & fields, which are the Summer home to the reserve's best known visitor, Corncrake. The whole area is farmed for the wildlife & as a result, is a very good example of how great the Western Isles can be for Corncrakes & breeding Waders. But in Winter, the reserve is also popular with Geese & Wildfowl. My only Winter visit was in Feb 13, after a Harlequin Duck had been found. I was in Scotland for a few days, on the way back from the Shetland Pine Grosbeak trip & decided to have a couple of days on North Uist. As well as the Harlequin Duck & a Glaucous Gull on the sea, there was a Richardson's Canada Goose (Cackling Goose) in a flock of about 400 Barnacles and a Ring-necked Duck on the reserve. With two presumably wild Snow Geese a few miles further South, it was a great couple of days. Unfortunately, it wasn't quite as good on this visit as the main Geese numbers hadn't arrived yet (or if they had they were feeding elsewhere on North Uist). But there were a few skeins of Whooper Swans, as well as, a couple of family parties of Barnacle Geese, plus Wigeon and Teal.
Whooper Swan party
Whooper Swan: Adult
House Sparrow: Male. One of a flock of about fifteen House Sparrows looking for food on these hay bales
Corn Bunting: Always a good sign of a well managed habitat when you see Corn Buntings
Panoramic view of the bay at Balranald This is a stunning bay to look at
On the drive back to Lochmaddy, there was time for a quick stop at Grenitote. There is a small side road that leads down to another stunning bay. Had there been more time, I would have left the car & taken the track out towards the dunes & ultimately the sea. But this was only a fifteen minute stop for a hot drink & a quick scan of the bay. The highlight was a party of four Pale-bellied Brent Geese.
The Grenitote pcinic site: This must be one of the best views from a picnic site & even better I've yet to find it in use despite several visits in June
Pale-bellied Brent Geese
Pale-bellied Brent Geese
Other short roadside stops were made for a flock of Golden Plover & a Buzzard.
Golden Plover
Buzzard: A real shame this wasn't something more interesting
A final roadside stop was needed for this view of the bay just outside of Lochmaddy. The house with this view is very lucky.
View of the bay just outside Lochmaddy: On the road to Solas & Grenitote
 All too quickly it was time to join the queue waiting for the ferry to dock to take me to Uig, Skye. It had been a great extension to the Wilson's Warbler twitch & excellent weather. Several locals said the weather was better than during the summer.