Day 1: Sunday 30 May - West to Skye via Applecross
Heading west from Nethy Bridge after breakfast, within a few hours we arrive into undulating high hills and sea lochs, with which we will become accustomed over the next ten days. The weather will dictate our exact route to Skye, and if favourable we may pass under Beinn Eighe and the distinctive Torridon range and up onto the Applecross ridge. Here, in an Arctic Alpine environment we look for mountain dwellers including Ptarmigan as well as enjoying spectacular views across to Skye. We expect to arrive on Scotland’s largest island by the afternoon, and if time allows investigate the Broadford area for migrant waders or the Kylerhea Narrows for our first encounter with eagles or Otter. We stay at Sligachan, at the foot of the dramatic Cuillin mountains for the next four nights, the very best place to be for a magical sunset and sunrise!
Day 2: Monday 31 May - Waternish and Diurinish
Today we get a full flavour of all Skye has to offer, seeing why it is held in such high regard. We visit lesser-known places along the east coast, looking out for Golden and White-tailed Eagles overhead as we drive quiet back roads into Waternish and Diurinish. Both are superb, often under-appreciated areas, yet are great for raptors and seabirds. Wheatear, Twite, Stonechat, Skylark and Meadow Pipit are abundant, and we can listen (and look) for Skye’s small population of Corncrake, benefitting from sensitive management in these areas. If the weather conditions and sea are calm, scanning across the Minch from Neist Point we may see dolphins, Harbour Porpoise or Minke Whale.
Day 3: Tuesday 1 June - Canna boat trip
In the morning we join an exciting boat trip specifically to reach Canna. We look back towards Skye as we cruise past the small island of Soay, and circumnavigate Rum, the largest of the ‘Small Isles’. As we approach Canna, Manx Shearwater and Storm Petrel may be seen, and the waters can be good for Basking Shark and cetaceans. The island has been a bird sanctuary since 1938, and its green meadows, basalt cliffs, sea caves, stacks and sandy shores support over 20,000 breeding seabirds, including Puffin, Razorbill and Guillemot. We hope to spend over an hour on Canna, though local prevailing conditions will dictate our opportunity.
Later today we drive to the Sleat Peninsula, often dubbed the ‘Garden of Skye’. Plantations and deciduous woods should be full of birdsong and can include Tree Pipit, Blackcap, Spotted Flycatcher, Chiffchaff, Wood and Willow Warbler. Scrubby patches should also give us Lesser Redpoll, Grasshopper and Sedge Warbler, Whitethroat and Cuckoo. The area can be good for Merlin, and Skye’s few remaining Hen Harrier, and Greenshank, Common Sandpiper and Otter may be seen in quiet bays.
Day 4: Wednesday 2 June - Trotternish Peninsula
A whole day dedicated to the most famous region of Skye, Trotternish peninsula in the north-east. Here, one great view rapidly follows another, and we will see plenty of wildlife and geology as we visit the Quiraing, Kilt Rock, Needle Rock and the Old Man of Storr. Spending time in a variety and unique range of habitats we should connect well with Golden and White-tailed Eagles which are prolific. Scanning Loch Snizort from Uig may give us divers in summer plumage, terns, Eider and Black Guillemot, while the meadows in the north are the summer home to Whinchat, Linnet and Twite. A truly memorable day.
Day 5: Thursday 3 June – Raasay and Ardnamurchan
Unfairly neglected on many trips to Skye, the island of Raasay off its east coast is often regarded as 'Skye in miniature' and offers a full range of habitats and wildlife. We explore all corners of this rugged place driving open moors along ‘Calum’s road’ , built by the island's most northerly resident for croft access over a 10 year period! Ferry crossings through the Sound of Raasay may give us Red-throated Diver in breeding plumage, many seabirds including skuas, and we have seen White-tailed Eagles low over the water on previous visits. Crossbills occupy the plantations and we check favoured Otter haunts around the low-lying south coast. In the afternoon we leave Skye via the Armadale – Mallaig ferry. Nearby Loch Morar is the deepest freshwater body in the British Isles and wildlife can include Black-throated Diver, Goosander, Kingfisher and Red Deer on the hillsides. If time allows, we explore Ardnamurchan further before heading to our hotel on the shore of Loch Shiel, where we stay for two nights.
Day 6: Friday 4 June - Eigg and Muck
We visit the other half of the 'Small Isles' today, taking the ferry to Eigg (a brief stop) and then on to Muck. Large, feeding rafts of Manx Shearwater may be present off both islands and we have more chances for Basking Shark, seals and cetaceans. With time to walk around Muck, we could encounter Red-throated Diver, Arctic and Common Tern, Hen Harrier, Snipe, Curlew, Raven, Hooded Crow and Twite, at the same time enjoying the views across to Rum and back to Skye.
Day 7: Saturday 5 June - Mull
We leave Ardnamurchan for Mull on the morning ferry, arriving into Tobermory for the next stage of our island adventure. Mull is a wildlife paradise, and with more Golden and White-tailed Eagles than anywhere else in Britain. We should also see Hen Harrier, Short-eared Owl, Merlin and Peregrine alongside a range of moorland waders including Curlew, Snipe, Greenshank and Golden Plover as we explore the island to its fullest. A destination for wildlife enthusiasts of all levels, we spend time Otter watching, looking out for any late, rare Marsh Fritillary butterflies, and botanists will be delighted with a wide range of orchids and scarce upland flowers.
Day 8: Sunday 6 June - Treshnish Isles boat trip
The coastal habitat is extra special, and we enjoy a thrilling boat trip to the offshore islands west of Mull. We visit Staffa, where we should have enough time to investigate Fingal’s Cave while scanning the water for divers, Red-breasted Merganser, Eider and Great Skua. Moving to the tiny Isle of Lunga, we land to witness the fabulous auk colony on the cliffs of Harp Rock. Many thousands of Guillemot, Razorbill, Kittiwake, Shag are present while the ‘Puffin experience’ is one of the best in the British Isles, with views down to a few feet as these inquisitive birds go about their business. A joy for photographers, we enjoy time here before returning to Mull in the afternoon.
Day 9: Monday 7 June – Iona
As well as thoroughly exploring Mull itself, including places rarely visited by birders, we go to Iona, our final island. This absorbing day should once again include both eagle species, seabirds and perhaps Corncrake. Iona supports a small population (up to 20 calling males) in a very small area, and though we can’t guarantee a sighting, we should hear the birds rasping and are usually rewarded with a glimpse or two! There are also many passerines and seabirds to be found on Iona, and you have time to visit the Abbey.
Day 10: Tuesday 8 June - Return to Nethy Bridge via Morvern
We have a few hours on Mull to round up anything we might have missed, or revisit birding sites we enjoyed the most, before taking the ferry to Morvern. Travelling along quiet, minor roads skirting the north shore of Loch Linnhe we will certainly see plenty of wildlife, perhaps with a few additions or surprises before our late-afternoon arrival in Nethy Bridge.