Day 1: Sat 3 May 2025 – Nethy Bridge to the Outer Hebrides
Driving north from Nethy Bridge, we head straight to Ullapool for the mid-morning ferry to the Outer Hebrides. Our destination is Lewis, and as we sail across the Minch, majestic mountain scenery can be seen in all directions! From the upper decks of the ferry, we will see our first seabirds with Gannet, Fulmar, Shag, Kittiwake, Guillemot, Razorbill and Puffin all likely. Common Dolphin, Harbour Porpoise and other cetaceans may also be seen during our crossing.
We will have already noticed the majestic Lews Castle from the ferry as we arrive into harbour, looming large over the town of Stornoway. After taking lunch in the castle grounds, where we may encounter the Hebridean races of Song Thrush and Wren, we can take a look around the museum for an introduction to island life, past and present. Later, we may visit the nearby causeway at Braighe to look for Great Northern, Red-throated and Black-throated Diver in summer-plumage, or continue out to Tiumpan Head for Twite. We stay overnight in Stornoway for three nights.
Day 2: Sun 4 May – Isle of Lewis
Today we explore Lewis, working our way along its Atlantic (west) coast. At the northernmost point of the Hebrides, we walk around the famous Butt of Lewis headland looking for breeding Wheatear, Rock Pipit and any newly arrived migrant passerines. A rugged and at times windswept spot, Fulmar breed on the cliffs and Merlin are often be found hunting around the fields. Most of the Island interior is made up of vast peatland, and as such is of international importance for breeding waders including Curlew, Greenshank and Golden Plover. High densities of Golden and White-tailed Eagle are present, and attention to the skies should also yield Raven and Hooded Crow. Quieter bays can be good for Otter, and we also visit key archaeological sites including the Standing Stones at Callanish, Dun Carloway Broch and the Blackhouse at Arnol today too.
Day 3: Mon 5 May – Harris boat trip
Travelling south through the peatlands of Lewis, the terrain soon becomes much more mountainous as we enter into Harris. Today we see the Hebrides and its wildlife from a different perspective, taking a wonderful boat trip from Tarbert to explore the west coast. Cruising close to shore we have great chances to see wildlife, with Golden and White-tailed Eagle both possible. Seaduck including Eider, Red-breasted Merganser and Goosander are likely, as are Black Guillemot, all three divers and waders including Common Sandpiper. Red Deer line the hillsides, and we lookout for Otter, Common and Grey Seal around the rocks. From our comfortable boat, we pass the remains of a number of former townships inaccessible by road, as well as the uninhabited islands of Scarp, Great and Little Soay. Lewis and Harris are actually the same island and at the northern point of our voyage we cruise into Loch Reasort, a narrowing sea loch where land to the north makes up the former, and the south the latter! Depending on tides and the weather, we plan to have some time ashore exploring one or two sites, before we return to harbour at Tarbert via the same route.
Day 4: Tue 6 May – Harris and transfer to North Uist
With a little time on Lewis and Harris, we can perhaps investigate Luskentyre and some of the other bays and beaches around the south end of Harris. A flock of Common Scoter are often seen here, and recently arrived Sandwich, Common, Arctic and even Little Tern may be found roosting among the gulls on glorious sandy beaches. Our ferry to the Uists takes a slow and meandering journey through the many islets of the Sound of Harris, perfect for spotting White-tailed Eagle, divers and hauled out seals. Landing on Berneray, we might choose to look for wildlife on this small island, though with a busy couple of days ahead we may decide to head straight to the Corncrake hotspots on North Uist! Rarely an easy bird to find, early May really is THE time of year to try for this iconic species, and before the Iris beds and grass cover can grow tall, we have a great chance! We stay overnight on Benbecula for three nights.
Day 5: Wed 7 May – Benbecula by land and sea
Dividing our time between land and sea, we may start the day on either North Uist or Benbecula searching for Corncrake again. Waders will also feature around the numerous beaches, bays and on the distinctive machair, with impressively high numbers both breeding and passing through on migration. Many will be in summer-plumage and there will be plenty of variety, with Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Ringed, Golden and Grey Plover, Whimbrel, Curlew, Black and Bar-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Snipe, Dunlin, Sanderling, Knot, Purple Sandpiper and Turnstone, with chances of Ruff and Dotterel too. In the Uists, Hen Harrier and Short-eared Owl are abundant, and both eagles inhabit higher ground. A remnant population of Corn Bunting still survive on North Uist, and we should also see ‘real’ Rock Dove, Meadow and Rock Pipit, Twite, Skylark and Wheatear in the sandy fields.
In the afternoon we enjoy our second boat trip, slowly exploring the coast of the island of Ronay and the skerries off the east side of Benbecula. Being on the water offers a unique opportunity to see wildlife at close quarters, with White-tailed Eagle, Red-throated and Black-throated Diver, Bottlenose Dolphin, Otter, Grey and Common Seal among the possibilities.
Day 6: Thur 8 May – South Uist
Much like the rest of the Uists, the southern, and second largest island within the archipelago boasts a number of great wader beaches and some fantastic raptor watching spots. Maintaining some flexibility, any as yet unseen wildlife may dictate where we try today. White-tailed Eagle, Hen Harrier, Peregrine, Merlin and Short-eared Owl can turn up just about anywhere, and there are some good hills on the east side for Golden Eagle. As well as divers, a few pairs of Whooper Swan breed on freshwater lochs, and other duck might include Shoveler, Pintail and passing Garganey. There are more patches of scrub and tree cover on South Uist, home to Siskin, Lesser Redpoll, Stonechat plus Cuckoo and other migrants. If our targets have been met, we might consider some ‘exploratory’ seawatching, the point at Ardvule being a good place to observe passing Manx Shearwater, Great and Arctic Skua and rarer species in the right conditions. As will have been the case all week, we make time for historical sites of interest, visiting the Bronze age site and stunning beach at Cladh Hallan, or taking the causeway across to Eriskay to ‘bag’ another island and look for Otter and seals.
Day 7: Fri 9 May – Return to Nethy Bridge via Skye
A few hours on the Uists gives us time to revisit one or more of our favourite sites before taking the ferry to Uig on Skye. Driving the length of the island, we marvel at the incredible mountain scenery of the imposing Cuillin range, before the Skye bridge leads us back onto the mainland. Though a travel day, we have time for a few wildlife stops, quiet glens on Skye being good for Dipper, Whinchat, Sedge Warbler, Cuckoo, Lesser Redpoll and eagles overhead. Coastal locations are good for divers, seaduck, waders plus Slavonian Grebe and Otter, or your guide may select one last historical site of interest to investigate such as Eilean Donan Castle. Our eventful tour will come to its end at Nethy Bridge where we arrive in the early evening, at around 6pm.
This holiday can be combined with:
Highlands and Orkney
North Ronaldsay and Orkney in Spring for birders