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Post Info TOPIC: Islands of Islay and Jura

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RE: Islands of Islay and Jura

Chris Sutton wrote:

Highlight..... Fishing from the rocks at the old wave power station near Portnahaven turning into a sea watch on a stiffening on-shore wind. Hundreds of gannets, kittiwake, black guillemot and a great skua. Gannets were plunge diving within twenty meters of where we were stood. One didn't make it back up .... well it did but in the jaws of a huge male grey seal. Spectacular stuff.

There's an interesting account of seawatching at Frenchman's Rock (a few hundred yards north of where you where Chris) by Tristan ap Rheinallt in the December 2005 edition of 'The Eider', the Argyll Bird Club's magazine. Frenchman's Rock is a well-known seawatching spot, although it's popularity seems to have faded in recent years, I'm guessing through lack of coverage. The article can be downloaded from here:


The whole series of articles (four in all) are worth reading for anyone interested in birding on Islay.


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A weeks family hols on Islay at the end of July. Stayed at Port Charlotte and spent most of the time around the north of the island (the rhinns)
Hen Harrier .... Daily sightings while heading to the beaches. I saw more males than ring tails. there can't be much better places to see these birds.
Golden eagle on three occasions.
Stonechat whinchats and pipits everywhere.
Ferry crossing .... Gannet, Manx shearwater, kittiwakes, black guillimot, great skua and a harbour porpoise. No sign of sea eagle in the sound of Jura.
Golden Eagle, peregrine and otter on the Oa.

Highlight..... Fishing from the rocks at the old wave power station near Portnahaven turning into a sea watch on a stiffening on-shore wind. Hundreds of gannets, kittiwake, black guillemot and a great skua. Gannets were plunge diving within twenty meters of where we were stood. One didn't make it back up .... well it did but in the jaws of a huge male grey seal. Spectacular stuff.

If you go islaybirds.blogspot.co.uk is helpful. As is the Islay natural history trust wildlife visitors centre in Port Charlotte.

-- Edited by Chris Sutton on Monday 3rd of October 2016 04:37:36 PM


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Just returned from a week on the wonderful island of Islay - not exclusively a birding trip, but we did take in a lot of walking-with-birding. I guess Islay is better known for its winter population of geese, but it's a great summer trip, too, though possibly lacking some of the habitat variety of Mull.

Recorded 62 species during our stay, highlights being:

Corncrake, on the RSPB farm where we stayed
Hen Harriers - 4 sightings of males, especially one seen really well from one of the minor roads, and one ringtail female at the Gruinart RSPB reserve.
Twite (quite numerous)
Whooper Swan (one pair remains for the summer in the enivrons of Loch Gruinart)

The following were lifers for me:
Chough - one group of 14 in the Ardnave dunes and 5 at the coast where we were staying
Whinchat colourful male and several juveniles around the fields on our RSPB farm
Little Tern
Rock Dove

We were not quite so lucky with eagles - 9 pairs of Golden Eagle nest on Islay, and we didn't get a sighting, and also missed out on any White Tailed Sea Eagles, though I believe these are more common further north.

Also of note:
Not a single Magpie or Woodpigeon seen all week (rarities on Islay I gather)
Only ONE Black Headed Gull - we have far more in Leigh!
Hirundines aplenty, with the swallows especially on our farm having a propensity to "bow-ride" the car as we drove slowly up the rough track, rather like dolphins with a boat! Presumably they are taking advantage of insects stirred up by the wheels - a great sight!

Other aspects of the trip were the lateness of the spring meant that many of the orchids were still in flower, and the cliffs and moors were in places spectacular with them.
We did a guided walk on each of the two RSPB reserves, The Oa and Loch Gruinart, which were excellent, though it was a terrible day on the Oa and we saw next to no bird life. We learnt that because of the Geology, Islay is not a great place for seabirds, as the cliffs lack horizontal ledges. There were Fulmars on our local stretch of coastline, though.

A great place to visit - and whetted our appetite to return for a look at the geese!

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Day 2 (Friday 28th) on Islay not so productive - very strong winds and rain for most of the day washing out visibility.

At Loch Indaal were still 4 Whoopers and 120+ Scaup. Too rough to see much else, the mixed Linnet / Chaffinch flock was still present though.
Very few geese here too - only approx 2000 Barnacle Geese present.

At Ardnave were 23 Whoopers plus 3 Ravens and 8 Hooded Crows. Also 21 Rock Doves.

At Sunderland were 30 Rock Doves, 45 White-fronted Geese and 6 Barnacle Geese. No sign of the Twite from yesterday.

At Gruinart were 11 Whoopers, 80+ White-fronted Geese and an estimated 4000 Barnacle Geese on the reserve. Also 250+ Golden Plovers. 53 Fieldfares also in field near the visitors centre.

1m north of Loch Gorb I watched two Hen Harriers engaged in a prolonged aerial tussle - a ring-tail and a 2cy male. Also here were 6 Reed Buntings.

On the road down to Sanaigmore were flocks of Barnacle Geese (750, 250 and 85) and White-fronted Geese (14, 14 and 6) plus a flock of 150+ Rock Doves.

On the road to the Oa were 300+ Barnacle Geese, a ring-tail Hen Harrier and a single Twite.


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Had a nice wander round Islay today, my first visit. I started off viewing Loch Indaal from between Bowmore and Bridgend. There was a huge roost of Barnacle Geese and given I count everything I see, I had to have a go. I ended up with a count of 17500. Also on the goose front was a solitary Pink-footed Goose and 17 pale-bellied Brents in two groups. A family of four Whooper Swans (adult plus three juvs) was also there. Other sightings on Indaal included:

1 Black-throated Diver
4 Great Northern Divers
7 Long-tailed Ducks
4 Slavonian Grebes
29 Red-breasted Mergansers
28 Goldeneye
129 Scaup - a raft which was close to the shoreline.

On the way to Gruinart I had my closest ever views of a Buzzard when one individual refused to leave its fencepost perch even when I drove to within 3 feet of it. We had a staring match through the car window.

Around Gruinart were another 5000 or so Barnacle Geese with around 140 White-fronted Geese also in evidence. Picking through the flock I found a Richardson's Canada Goose feeding with the Barnies. From the hide there was initially little about except for 3 Whooper Swans, then a Raven started mobbing a distant and much larger bird. This turned out to be a first-winter White-tailed Eagle. Two Buzzards and a Peregrine joined in the mobbing as the eagle slowly drifted closer and at one point was flying around someone's back garden!

One of the Buzzards drifted away and then began mobbing another eagle, this time a first winter Golden Eagle. Both eagles were present in the same field of view for a minute or so before the goldie flew off. The White-tailed Eagle flew on towards the hide, repeatedly flipping in the air and showing its talons to the Buzzard before then creating pandemonium in the goose flocks. It didn't catch anything though and soon flew off.

I then travelled up the road to Ardnave and after a mile or so I refound both eagles on the hillside. A Buzzard mobbed the goldie which then flew off west, it then repeated the trick with the White-tailed Eagle which followed suit. On the road to Ardnave I spotted two female Merlins and then at the Loch there were 10 Whooper Swans, 10 Goldeneye, 170 Teal, 7 Wigeon and 6 Tufted Ducks. Overlooking the mouth of the Loch, a further 3000+ Barnacle Geese were roosting here.

I then dorve round to Loch Gorm where 500+ Teal were spooked by a superb hunting male Hen Harrier. Around a mile from here, near Sunderland, I stopped to sift through a small Chaffinch flock and around 180 Twite flew up out of the stubble.

On the road to Mulindry I spotted a flock of Barnacle Geese (200+) and another flock of White-fronted Geese (137) plus a Stonechat.

Late afternoon I went back to Ardnave. The Whooper flock had increased to 24 and a flock of 64 Choughs fed on the short grass here. On the way home in the gloom I had a fly over Woodcock past Gruinart. Somewhere today I saw a flock of Rock Doves but forgot to record them and now can't remember where.

Not a bad day!


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Just returned from a trip to Islay. Barnacle geese everywhere and we went cross-eyed trying to find the Richardsons that is still present (apparently!). Fewer numbers of Greenland Whitefronts were dotted around and it was nice to see a small party of Pale-bellied Brents on the shores of Loch Indaal. Also on Loch Indaal were Scaup, Slavonian grebe, LT ducks, Black guillemots, Common scoters, RT and GN divers. (We had actually counted 52 GN divers from the ferry between Kennacraig and the isle of Gigha, an incredible sight.) A lovely flock of 30+ Choughs were feeding in the dunes at Machir Bay and Hen harriers were the commonest raptor. The highlight for me though was our trip over to Jura, a spectacularly beautiful and wild island with only 120 inhabitants. There we were treated to a pair of Golden eagles displaying against the snow covered paps, the male sky dancing like a puppet on a string.

A brilliant trip and I can highly recommend the Lyrabus B&B which is just up the road from Loch Indaal to Loch Gruinart. Lovely rooms, fantastic breakfasts and Hen harriers from the windows.

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