Day 1: Saturday – Nethy Bridge to Oban
Departing Nethy Bridge, we drive west through the Highlands looking out for Brown Hare, Red, Roe and Sika Deer as we travel. Osprey might be seen over larger lochs, and nearing Fort William if warm and sunny we make an early attempt for scarce butterflies. Rare Chequered Skipper is the ultimate prize but very difficult to find, though with several sites known to our guides we have a good chance. Small-Pearl Bordered Fritillary and Green Hairstreak may also be encountered, while Golden-ringed Dragonfly and Four-spotted Chaser are among the commoner dragonflies. Roadside stops near lochs may yield Black-throated Diver, and at coastal sites nearer Oban we may see Black Guillemot, Goosander, Red-breasted Merganser, Eider, Common and Arctic Tern and Common Seal. Raptors may also feature, Golden and White-tailed Eagle can appear anywhere overhead. Overnight Oban area for 4 nights.
Day 2: Sunday - Easdale, Isle of Seil and Firth of Lorn boat trip
Today we take an exciting boat trip into the Firth of Lorn, journeying towards the Gravellach Island chain, home of the early monastic settlement of St Brendan (542 AD). Our route takes us towards the north end of Jura, passing the Corryvreckan whirlpool - the third largest in the world and a real sight (and sound!) to behold. Cetaceans are the main target of our three hour trip, the nutrient-rich waters within this ‘Marine Protection Zone’ attracting Minke Whale to linger. Bottlenose Dolphin and Harbour Porpoise may also be seen, with Grey Seal, roosting waders or perhaps a White-tailed Eagle on the rocky coast.
Back on dry land we hop across the narrow sound to Easdale, a tiny island renowned for its World Stone Skimming Championships! Such activities are perhaps not for us, but we plan to spend a few hours exploring this beautiful island on foot looking out for Otter and coastal species. On our way back to Oban, we travel to the Isle of Seil where Greenshank and early returning waders including Dunlin, Sanderling and Ringed Plover may be seen in quiet creeks and on beaches. A varied and absorbing day.
Day 3: Monday - Glasdrum Woods and nearby sites
We spend the day exploring Mainland Argyll, with a range of sites to choose from all within a small radius of Oban. For butterflies, Glasdrum Woods is one of the main sites and we hope for sunny conditions to search for Chequered Skipper. Others including Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary, Green Hairstreak and several common and migrant species may be encountered, and it is one of the best locations for (hard to find) White Spotted Sable Moth. The woodlands here are home to Cuckoo, Wood Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher and Redstart with Dipper, Common Sandpiper and Grey Wagtail on flowing streams. Later we may choose to investigate locations for rare Marsh Fritillary, or check dragonfly pools for scarce Scottish species including Hairy Dragonfly, Downy Emerald, Beautiful Demoiselle and if lucky and our timing perfect, perhaps a freshly emerged Azure Hawker or Highland Darter.
Day 4: Tuesday - Lismore Island
Lismore is an under-watched gem living in the shadow of the mountains and hills which surround it. Positioned at the southern end of the Great Glen at one of the widest points of Loch Linnhe, we look out for seabirds from the ferry plus Harbour Porpoise, and both Common and Grey Seal. Lismore is a narrow island roughly ten miles long, by one mile wide, with stunning views in every direction – Mull to the west, the Morvern Hills to the north and even the summit of Ben Nevis may be visible to the east on a fine day. With so many hills and territories nearby, Golden and White-tailed Eagle are likely, as are post-breeding flocks of waders, coastal wildfowl including Red-breasted Merganser and Eider, Black Guillemot, Shag and Cormorant.
Another asset of the island is its incredibly rich and fertile soil, which is very different to the rest of Argyll largely thanks underlying Dalradian limestone. Wildflowers are abundant often growing taller here than elsewhere, and at this time can include Early Purple, Common Spotted, Frog and Fragrant Orchid, both Broad-leaved and Narrow-leaved Helleborine, scarce Lesser Bearded and Rugged Stonewort and many others. There is a healthy Otter population here too, and at quieter areas of the coast we have every chance.
Day 5: Wednesday – Mull
Taking the morning ferry to Mull, we sea-watch from the upper deck for Gannet, Great Skua, Kittiwake, auks, terns and divers. Mull is a real raptor paradise with more Golden and White-tailed Eagle here than anywhere else in Scotland! Hen Harrier are also abundant, with Merlin, Kestrel and Short-eared Owl also likely. With most of the day to explore, we take minor roads regularly pausing to scan the hills for raptors or the sea lochs for Otter. Both Red-throated and Great Northern Diver in stunning summer plumage are likely, as are Golden Plover, Greenshank and Common Sandpiper, while open ground passerines may include Whinchat, Stonechat, Wheatear and Lesser Redpoll. In warm conditions Marsh Fritillary is a target as is Keeled Skimmer and other dragonflies and interesting plants might include Pale Butterwort. Transparent and Slender Scotch Burnet Moth are two special species we search for, the latter being endemic to Mull and the adjacent island of Ulva at just a few sites. Overnight Mull for 3 nights.
Day 6: Thursday - Treshnish Isles boat trip
We plan to run a Moth trap overnight whenever we can, and if conditions are favourable we begin with a check for interesting species. The rest of the day couldn’t be more different, as we enjoy a thrilling boat trip to the offshore islands west of Mull. During the journey we watch out for marine mammals including Grey Seal, Harbour Porpoise, Common and Bottlenose Dolphin and perhaps Minke Whale. We plan to visit Staffa, where we should have enough time to investigate Fingal’s Cave while scanning the water for divers and breeding Great Skua. Moving on to the tiny Isle of Lunga, we land to witness the fabulous auk colonies on the cliffs and above the beach. Many thousands of Guillemot, Razorbill, Kittiwake and Shag are present while the ‘Puffin experience’ is one of the best in the British Isles, with views down to a few feet at your own feet! A joy for photographers, we enjoy time here before returning to Mull in the afternoon.
Day 7: Friday - Iona and the Ross of Mull
Today we travel to the Ross of Mull, where we take the ferry across to Iona. Any lingering Great Northern Diver will be superb in summer finery, with Gannet, terns, gulls and auks also often found feeding in the narrow Sound. Dominated by its imposing Abbey, it is the grassy fields and meadows which hold Iona’s most famous breeding bird, Corncrake! Iona supports a small population (up to 20 calling males) in a very small area, and though seeing this elusive bird can never be guaranteed, we may still hear their rasping calls. Passerines including feeding flocks of Twite, Linnet, Wheatear and pipits are likely in the fields, and if calm we can scan offshore for cetaceans from this, the most westerly point in the Mull archipelago. We explore the island at a leisurely pace, and for those who wish to visit the Abbey, there will be time before returning to Mull. Later, as we return through the Ross of Mull we pause at Otter and raptor hotspots or attempt to mop up any other unseen targets.
Day 8: Saturday – Return to Nethy Bridge
A final morning on Mull, with opportunities to overindulge in eagles, Hen Harrier or Otter if we wish! We return to Oban on the lunchtime ferry, and plot our route home depending on any bird, butterfly, dragonfly or scenic targets, arriving at the Mountview at about 5pm when our tour ends.
This holiday can be combined with:
Highlands and Orkney, Highlands & Ailsa Craig