The team: Bradders, Jono and Bob
Too late to go out on the patch this morning because of the rain, so an extra couple of hours in bed to recharge the batteries and a bit of time to cover the trip to Uist and the magnificent duck wot frequent there.
The well oiled machine that is Bradder's Birding Safaris hummed into action transporting us once again to a Travel Lodge just north of Carlisle. An early start the next morning for the first of our yank duck targets in Dumfries and Galloway. A tight schedule meant that there would have to be no faffing about, luckily Bob and I picked the bird up as it swam across the river while we were crossing the bridge to the little hide. I'd seen the arse end of one before as it flew off at Ouse Fen a couple of years ago so it was nice to actually get some good but distant views. The duck? A Blue-winged Teal that regularly winters in these parts. While we waited for it to re-appear, after Jono scared the whole gathering of Teal, Wigeon and the yank while opening the hide windows, we picked up three or four Red Kite further up towards Loch Ken (a reintroduction I was not aware of). Jono redeemed himself by finding the BWT on a bank, still too distant for anything bar record shots. Ching.
Next up a Lesser Scaup somewhere round Glasgow. Apologies for not remembering any names, but that's age for you and a bad memory for names, and a lack of effort in research. Again distant views. With the others discussing it's pedigree I was happy just to call it.
The weather had been a tad cold and windy so far but as we breached the mountains towards Oban the sun shone and incredibly it began to feel warm. On the boat I even took my woolly hat off it was that pleasant on the leeward side of the ship.
A comfortable but not too eventful a crossing, bar Bradders spotting a White-tailed Eagle over Tobermory and me chipping in with the first Manxy, followed by several others. We docked picked up the hire car from a seemingly drunk or incoherent man, and drove south in the dark to find our bunk house. No expense spared then.
One is a stuffed toy the other a panther
The bunk house, lived up to its name, a house with bunks in. No matter we all slept well and arose early and enjoyed a rather beautiful South Uist morning. Greenshank and Red-breasted Merganser in the bay below. Soon we were off for the main target on the north island at Balranald RSPB. These are truly beautiful islands, not as desolate looking as Shetland, but that could be the sun's effect. Mountainous-ish to the east while on the west side the famous machair, not looking at it's best as the islands had suffered weeks with no rain. Being Easter we had expected whole boat loads of birders to be there: just the one car and at the point where the duck liked to frequent, just a handful of like-minds. Oh the beaches, you'll never see their like in England: wide and long, clean, crystal blue waters and with no dogs, people or other nuisances - magnificent!
Next up target: Snow Goose and on the way a brief stop to get an underwhelming female Ring-necked Duck on one of the roadside lochs. Didn't even bother with a photo of the distant, rather dull looking individual. There was also a Richardson's Canada Goose to look for and miles of goose habitat and thousands of geese (Barnacles and real wild Greylags) to sift through.
After a few hours of driving around, in what to me appeared to be circles, we found the largest group of Barnacles yet, unfortunately sun-side of us. We patiently started working through them. It soon became apparent that we were having trouble remembering what a Canada Goose looked like, which must be a good thing. A local driving his dog down to the beach put us out of our misery by scattering the whole flock, the air filled with their calls. They wheeled and happily landed in inlet to the north of us, closer and giving better views. Hooray for dog owners! We worked our way through the flock again, eventually Bradders, remembering what a CG looked like, found the diminutive bird. Blimey it was small.
Not yet accepted as a species in its own right here, so just a matter of time before it becomes an arm chair tick for us all, not that it usually stops me from having it.
A few more stops to look for the AWOL Snow Goose or white-wingers before we headed north to our over night stop at Bernecray just off North Uist. On the way a few Whoopers, a Short-eared Owl and wonderful scenery.
Our lodgings were even smaller than the bunk house, but the view breathtaking. Stuff dumped we headed off to a rather wonderful restaurant and got stuffed and well oiled. Slept well again.
Sunday morning and another brilliant sunrise over the bay. As we were leaving by boat in the afternoon we didn't have much time to linger at one spot and we still had one yank duck and the Snow Goose to find.
Driving up past some of the only plantations on the islands I picked up movement in the trees. Hen Harrier, which became two, three and possibly four. A male soared down the valley did a bit of display stuff to a nearby female and sauntered off to the north, while we headed south.
Unfortunately we dipped the American Wigeon and the Snow Goose was not for giving itself up either and our time was up. This place deserves more time it is truly awesome.
Back at the ferry port, the car handed back to the still incoherent/drunk man from the hire company we boarded the boat for the long crossing back to the mainland. Not a lot of birds about so soon gave up and headed for the bar, the restaurant and the lounge.
Bob shows the kids how to solve problems
Another cheap night in a hostel in Oban and an early start to look at the Black Guillemots in the harbour. You have to don't you, though I wouldn't have minded a toastie with my tystie. Then off for the long drive south with a quick pit stop at a rather placid and atmospheric Loch Lomond, and later a small detour into Cheshire to undo the wrong of not getting American Wigeon on Uist. At last a bird I've wanted for so long and have put no effort into finding one, yay!
And so ends another BBT, another great trip, thanks lads.