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North Uist - BirdForum Opus

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Photo by nigelblake
Crofter's Cottage, North Uist


This large Outer Hebridean island has important areas of "machair" on the western side changing to wet grassland, upland moor and blanket bog eastwards across the island's centre to the rocky eastern shore, deeply indented by sea lochs.

The machair habitat is of great importance to breeding birds and basically consists of low-lying, flower-rich grassland growing on soil made up peat and wind-blown sand. Other habitats on North Uist include marshland and lochans, arable land and hayfields, and wide sandy beaches backed by dunes.


Notable Species

Important for breeding birds, North Uist has some of the highest densities of nesting waders to be found anywhere in Britain. Oystercatcher, Golden Plover and Ringed Plover and Northern Lapwing, Dunlin, Common Snipe, Eurasian Curlew and Common Redshank all breed but the most important breeding bird here is the Corn Crake, virtually extinct elsewhere in Britain and globally a very rare and declining species.

Red-necked Phalarope was once a regular breeder but now occurs only rarely. Red-throated Diver and Black-throated Diver both breed as do Red Grouse and Arctic Skua on the moors. Some lochs have nesting Mute Swan and Whooper Swan is often present in summer.

Breeding ducks include Common Teal, Gadwall, Northern Shoveler and Wigeon. Common Eider and Common Shelduck breed in the dunes and Common Tern, Arctic Tern and Little Tern on the sandy beaches whilst Black Guillemot and Shag nest on rocky headlands.

Raptors present include Hen Harrier, Common Buzzard and Golden Eagle, Common Kestrel, Merlin and Peregrine Falcon.

Passerine breeders include Eurasian Skylark, Meadow Pipit and Rock Pipit, Twite and Corn Bunting.

Also important for passage and wintering birds, the island attracts waterfowl such as Whooper Swan and Pink-footed Goose and Greater White-fronted Goose, Northern Pintail, Greater Scaup and Common Scoter, and waders including Whimbrel, Ruff and Little Stint.

Offshore, all three divers are regular as well as a variety of seabirds. Regular passage birds include Manx Shearwater and Sooty Shearwater, European Storm-petrel and Leach's Storm-petrel, and Great Skua, Pomarine Skua and Arctic Skua. This is one of the most regular sites in Britain for Long-tailed Skua on spring passage and in October 2003 a male Snowy Owl was present on the island all month.


To do


Birds you can see here include:

Red-throated Diver, Northern Fulmar, Sooty Shearwater, Manx Shearwater, European Storm-petrel, Leach's Storm Petrel, Northern Gannet, Great Cormorant, European Shag, Grey Heron, Mute Swan, Whooper Swan, (scarce Su), Pink-footed Goose, Greater White-fronted Goose, Greylag Goose, Barnacle Goose, Common Shelduck, Eurasian Wigeon, Gadwall, Common Teal, Mallard, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Common Pochard, Greater Scaup, Tufted Duck, Common Eider, Common Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Common Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Hen Harrier, Common Buzzard, Golden Eagle, Common Kestrel, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Red Grouse, Corn Crake, Common Moorhen, Eurasian Coot, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Eurasian Golden Plover, Grey Plover, Northern Lapwing, Red Knot, Sanderling, Little Stint, Purple Sandpiper, Dunlin, Ruff, Eurasian Woodcock, Jack Snipe, Common Snipe, Bar-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew, Common Redshank, Common Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Red-necked Phalarope, Pomarine Skua, Arctic Skua, Long-tailed Skua, Great Skua, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Iceland Gull, Glaucous Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Black-legged Kittiwake, Common Tern, Arctic Tern, Little Tern, Common Guillemot, Razorbill, Black Guillemot, Rock Dove, Eurasian Collared Dove, Common Cuckoo, Short-eared Owl, Eurasian Skylark, Barn Swallow, Meadow Pipit, Rock Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Common Wren, Dunnock, Eurasian Robin, Whinchat, European Stonechat, Northern Wheatear, Eurasian Blackbird, Fieldfare, Song Thrush, Redwing, Sedge Warbler, Willow Warbler, Hooded Crow, Northern Raven, Common Starling, House Sparrow, European Greenfinch, Twite, Snow Bunting, Reed Bunting, Corn Bunting

Other Wildlife

Mammals present include Grey Seal and Otter with sightings of cetaceans made frequently.

North Uist is very rich in wildflowers, particularly on the machair where Frog Orchid, Field Gentian and Eyebright grow in profusion and Iris, Ragged Robin and marsh orchids brighten the marshes.

Site Information

Areas of Interest

Balranald RSPB Reserve

Balranald RSPB Reserve in the north-west of the island is one of the most important areas for birds and where a sighting of a Corn Crake is most likely.

Habitats include large areas of traditionally farmed land, dunes, machair and pools. A good range of waders including Dunlin, Eurasian Curlew and Common Redshank breed and waterfowl include Eurasian Wigeon, Gadwall, Common Teal, Northern Shoveler and Common Eider. Common Tern, Arctic Tern and Little Tern nest on the beaches.

Balranald Reserve is reached by turning west off the A865 towards Hougharry, 5km north of Bayhead.

Grid reference: NF706707


Vallay Strand

Other good birding areas on North Uist include Vallay Strand, a large intertidal area viewable from the A865 about 15km west of Lochmaddy. Map

During passage periods and in winter large numbers of waders gather here.

Loch Aulasary

Loch Aulasary is a wintering roost site for Mute Swan and Whooper Swan reached on a minor road from the A865 about 6km from Lochmaddy. Map

Access and Facilities

Ferries sail to North Uist from Uig on Skye or Tarbert on Lewis, also to Lochboisdale on South Uist from Oban or Mallaig on the mainland. The three main islands of the southern Outer Hebrides, North Uist, Benbecula and South Uist, are linked by causeways.

Guest-house accommodation is plentiful in the islands.

Contact Details

Tel: RSPB 01463 715000

External Links

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Content and images originally posted by Steve