Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Out of My Area: The Tiree Office

This week was viva week for the MSc students, much drinking done by all; or so I assume. I decided it was a good idea to get out of the final week chaos, first to Glasgow for a couple of day's work, and then to Tiree. Ridiculously early in the morning Kathy and I hopped on a ferry from Oban, and set up an office in a little cottage in Vaul. Best. Idea. Ever.

Not only did I manage to get a tonne of loose ends tied up (not to mention a mass or reading and writing done), but I got some wonderful walks and birding in. On the ferry we had sightings of feeding otter and common dolphins, as well as plenty of gannets and kittiwakes, and a great northern diver on the way into Gott Bay.

Once on the island we were greeted by fields of lapwing, starling and golden plover; and as we pulled up to the cottage two ravens were mobbing a buzzard over the cliff. A good start. We took a trip over to Loch a Phuill; Kathy went running, I went to the hide. After an hour I'd had a few whoopers, wigeon, tufties, mallards teal and pintail. Then the wildfowlers arrived and everything left. So we carried on round to Hynish (male hen harrier, mippits, wheatear, starling, pied and alba wags, barwits, sanderling, raven, hooded crow, cormorant and shag).

On the way back to the cottage I spotted sanderling huddling behind seaweed on the beach at Vaul. So off I went again. An hour lying on rocks at the beach as the tide came in gave me sanderling, ringed plover, redshank, turnstone, curlew and little stint.

Next morning the wind had dropped and I took the van around to Loch a Phuill again. More golden plover, lapwing, ducks, swans, greylags, alba wags... then something landed beside the hide. Another alba wag, but, no black bib. Funny looking grey wag? No yellow rump, and big wing bars. A citrine wagtail!!! I'm not often so conflicted, I'd found a great bird, but I had no phone signal, and I had no one with me to confirm my ID. Camera out I snapped as many pictures as I could, then headed for the cottage.

As soon as I got in, I tried to ring a few of my birding mates, and showed my pictures and the Collins guide to Kathy to get someone else's opinion. No reply on the phones, I tried the RSPB on Coll... No answer.
Kathy decided she was going to go snorkelling and, too excited to work, I pick up my camera and followed her to the beach. Half way across we came across a stranded guillemot, and as I herded it down the beach I spotted a figure with camera and binoculars climbing over a gate... A BIRDER!

Ditching Kathy I went over, ditched any idea of feeling foolish, and asked if he'd check my identification photos. Well, I was greeted with very polite disbelief, it would be a first for the county - apparently the first person I'd run into was Jim, the rare bird recorder for the region. I pressed on, offering a coffee in exchange for 5 minutes of his time. 20 minutes exciting minutes later, my ID was confirmed, phone calls had been made, and we were on our way back to look for my bird. Which was gone. But, phone numbers, bird pictures, and email addresses were swapped, and we went our separate ways.

30 minutes later, Jim was on the phone. Buff bellied pippit on the way to Caoles, another county first! I hopped into the van again. Luckily the bird remained until both John and myself made it the the scene, before vanishing over a fence. Still, a fab little bird. And a great day. In the evening Jim was on the phone again, my bird had been relocated at the edge of the loch; Kathy and I celebrated with wine and chess, and I went to bed happy!

I made a pact with myself to confine activities to the cottage as much as possible to work. However, I did spend an hour on the beach Friday morning, sea watching whilst Kathy snorkelled in the Gunna sound. More gannets, shags, and eider, a big Grey Seal and - as I stood to take pictures of Kathy - I flushed a female hen harrier. And a quick trip to Loch a Phuill on Friday evening saw me run into both Jim and my wagtail again, true to form, the little bird was sticking to the reedy beck that led to the beach.

There wasn't much action for the rest of the stay, and I was so cream crackered that I didn't step outside whilst on the ferry back, but it really was a great trip! You can look at the pictures now...

Base Camp

Citrine Wag


Kathy in the Gunna Sound

Mobile Office

Sanderling at Vaul

Little Stint

Scap view

Passing Mull

Sands at Hynish

Wheatear at Hynish


  1. Wow! That sounds like an amazing trip!!! Great photo of the Wagtail too! Hope I get some luck like that when I'm on the Scillies in a few weeks!

  2. Thanks Andy, it was damned good fun. I'm heading the other way to you. Got my ferry to Lerwick booked on the 13th. Packing extra thermals!

  3. Ah that sounds great, I'm on Scillies 12-19th ish then have a week afterwards to go where the weather dictates, I fancy going back to Shetland though may spend the week at Flamborough praying for Easterlies!!

  4. I love the mobile office ! I'll have to get info on how to rent the cottage for a getaway myself :-)

    1. The cottage was a friend of a friend's, however, there are a few holiday lets available... not many alehouses though.