In this guest blog Theo De Clermont and Ewan Miles, of Nature Scotland, give a trip report of their recent pre season / tour reconnaissance to the Hebridean Isle of Islay.
Equipped with a Leica APO-TELEVID 65 spotting scope and a pair of Leica Noctivid 8×42 binoculars, they cover some fantastic mixed habitats, encounter some incredible wildlife, and report back on how they got on with the optics.
We arrived at Kennacraig and straight onto the ferry. We had a productive start in West Loch Tarbert, with 3 Long-Tailed Ducks, 3 Slavonian Grebes, 25+ Eider, 2 Little Egret, 2 White-tailed Eagles, 30+ Great-Northern, 12+ Red-Throated and 1 Black Throated Diver.
Further along the crossing we had a few Gannets and Auks. Arriving at Port Askaig we made our way north to Bunnahabhain, where we quickly picked up a group of 4 Bottlenose Dolphins! So we treated ourselves to a few drams from the very well placed Bunnahabhain distillery, one we will return to for sure.
We then continued our way across the island, stopping at Loch Finlaggan and Loch Skerrols which were relatively quiet, with a few duck species on each. Making our way to the north shore of Loch Indaal, we spotted a gull roost forming – mostly Common Gulls and a few Lesser-black backed, Black Headed and Herring Gulls. Jack then spotted a Juvenile Glaucous Gull in the flock, a new species for him! By this time it was late afternoon and we made our way back passing through RSPB Loch Gruinart for a quick unproductive check for anything scarcer amongst the thousands of Barnacle and Greenland White-fronted Geese. We settled in for our first night at Kilchoman ready for the next day.
In the morning we went straight to Loch Gorm where we found a few Teal, Tufted Ducks and Goldeneyes and a Male Hen Harrier. Scanning along the south shore Theo picked up a small group of Eurasian Wigeon and in with them a drake American Wigeon, another fairly scarce visitor from across the Atlantic, and a new species for Ewan and Jack! Continuing north we arrived at Ardnave where we were greeted by our first 2 Sand Martins of the year, and a couple of Northern Wheatears as well as lots of Brown Hares. We enjoyed a walk out to the point finding the flock of c50 Chough and a rookery of Grey Seals.
Back down to Loch Gruinart for a thorough search of the reserve for the rest of the day produced 2 White-Tailed Eagles, 1 Golden Eagle, 350+ Golden Plover, Black and Bar-tailed Godwits, Knot, Dunlin, Redshank, Ringed Plovers, Snipe, Greenshank, Little Egrets, Teal, Wigeon, Gadwall, displaying Shoveler, 50+ Pintail and 3 Whooper Swans. Theo also found a rather unusual looking Pintail x Mallard hybrid from the north hide. Later on amongst the geese, Theo spotted a single Pale-Bellied Brent Goose.
Up fairly early we went more or less straight to Loch Indaal, picking up the Juvenile Glaucous Gull once again. In stunning flat calm conditions scanning from the Blackrock and Bowmore was very productive with 6 Long-tailed Ducks, 30+ Slavonian Grebes, Black Guillemots, Goldeneyes, Red-breasted Mergansers, 130+ Eider, 1 Black-throated, 20+ Red-Throated and 35+ Great-northern Divers.
Theo also picked out a Female Surf Scoter amongst the Common Scoter, a new species for all 3 of us! Continuing south we headed to RSPB The Oa, walking to the point we had 15+ Twite, 1 Golden Eagle, Kestrel, Ravens, Skylarks, Meadow Pipits and a few Fulmars back on their ledges.
A few distillery stop offs were then in order as the rain came in the SE of the island, where Ewan spotted another group of 12 Bottlenose Dolphins! Making our way back north Ewan picked up a female Marsh Harrier SE of the airport and a second scan of Loch Indaal in better light gave us better views of the Surf Scoter. We then picked up a few beers and a much needed Indian takeaway and headed back to Kilchoman.
An early ferry meant an early start, picking up the Juvenile Glaucous Gull once again on Loch Indaal and a pair of Hen Harriers along the way to Port Ellen before we boarded the ferry. A busier crossing with far more Auks, Gannets and Kittiwakes and a flock of c40 Whooper Swans flying north back to Iceland. To finish the trip we headed back through West Loch Tarbert for more divers from the ferry, Theo picked up a pair of Sandwich Terns, a great way to end a successful trip.
A total bird species list of 101 along with 8 different mammals.
The Leica Noctivid binoculars provided impeccable clarity when viewing the wildlife and the x8 magnification provided a wider field of view when viewing large flocks of birds like Geese and Chough. We also used the binoculars in low light at dusk and again the optical performance was extremely high.
The Leica APO-TELEVID 65 spotting scope also proved to be an essential bit of kit on our mini birding expedition. We undertook a few hikes to delve deeper into some of the wilder parts of Islay and the more compact scope size made for excellent practicality. The 25-50x eyepiece also provided superb reach and flexibility when viewing different wildlife subjects. The scope performs at a very high optical standard and it was well tested in low light levels within these dynamic Hebridean weather systems.
For more information about Nature Scotland and their trips please visit their website naturescotland.com.