Wildlife & the Natural Environment

The islands of Lewis & Harris offer you an amazing wildlife experience as shown on the BBC nature documentary Hebrides – Islands on the Edge. Wildlife watching here can reward you with a glimpse of the re-introduced white-tailed eagle soaring over the coastline, red deer roaming over the peaty moorlands and otters swimming in the sea lochs. There are juvenile Golden Eagles that include our valley in their hunting grounds and locally there are two otter holts. Aird Uig bay regularly has dozens of basking sharks feeding in the waters in May / June and off the cliffs of Gallan Head the minki whales and common seals are also seen following the same strata as plankton. You can glimpse anything from birds of prey to seabirds and waders as well as the elusive corncrake. 

St Kilda

The archipelago of St Kilda, the remotest part of the British Isles, lies 50 miles to the west of Lewis. Its islands with their exceptional cliffs and sea stacs form the most important seabird breeding station in north-west Europe. It is the UK’s only dual World Heritage Site and one of only 29 such sites worldwide. It was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status for both natural and cultural significance and The Revised Nomination of St Kilda as a World Heritage Site states:
‘Few who have been to St Kilda and stood in the village surrounded by the cries of a million seabirds can fail to have been moved by the place and its story. This tiny Hebridean archipelago is a place of drama, a place apart. Its inaccessibility amplifies its remoteness creating a perception of being “at the edge of the world”. While the steep cliffs and pounding seas around the archipelago give a sense of the overwhelming power of nature, the very visible remains of human habitation can only fill the visitor with a sense of awe and respect for past generations of inhabitants. St Kilda stands for isolated societies the world over. The extraordinary spirit of the place comes from the imprint left after the ultimate failure, largely through external pressures, of a way of life. The twin aspects – a people’s resilience in a hostile environment, and the contrasting fragility of traditional ways of life in the face of overwhelming social and economic change – give the place its emotional power and universal applicability.’
St Kilda is internationally recognised as one of the most iconic of islands and there is much about St Kilda that is very special indeed. Inhabited for 3,000 years, until its evacuation in 1930, it is now home to a million birds, to three unique species of wildlife and the last flock of wild sheep in Europe. Its cliffs rise taller than the Empire State Building and it has been the subject of more than 600 publications.

Click here to find out much more about the cultural and natural history of St Kilda.

 

 

Seatrek & Island Cruising run trips out to St Kilda from Miavaig but the weather often limits accessibility. In Uig, the community are working to develop a centre to provide people with an experience of St Kilda, even if they cannot get out to the islands themselves. The St Kilda Centre will be an outward-looking centre of world-wide significance, offering something completely unique – much more than a seasonal attraction for passing visitors. It will be of a different magnitude, housed in an iconic building in a spectacular landscape, and with state-of-the-art technology it will bring the experience of St Kilda closer.

Click here to learn more about the proposals for a St Kilda Centre in Uig.

Whilst much can be observed from land, a wonderful way to get closer to these creatures is by taking one of the wildlife boat tours. They are a great way to get a wholly new perspective on the islands.

Seatrek   Located at Miavaig, Seatrek provides adventurous, scenic boat trips around the beautiful blue waters of the Outer Hebrides. Trips can be arranged to suit, including 2 hour or 3 hour trips, expeditions to the outer islands or special adventure packages. Tel: 01851 672464

http://www.seatrek.co.uk/

Island Cruising take you to remote Islands around the Hebrides. They specialise in 4-6 day trips to St Kilda and other outer islands including Scarp, Taransay, Monach Isles and the Flannan Isles. Tel: +44 (0)1851 672381

http://www.island-cruising.com/

Hebrides Fish ’n’ Trips offers private boat charters for 1 to 5 people, operating along the rugged East Coast of the Isle of Lewis. Departing from either Keose harbour or the Ravenspoint Centre, Kershader in Loch Erisort, you can enjoy 2 or 3 hour trips exploring the many sea lochs which indent the coastline with breathtaking scenery, tranquil lagoons and abundant wildlife. Tel: 01851 871 165

http://www.hebridesfishntrips.co.uk/

Photo by Callanish Digital Designs

Aurora Borealis

The Northern Lights can be viewed quite regularly throughout the autumn, winter and spring in Uig & Bernera, where light pollution is at a minimum, and where the winds from the Atlantic keep the skies relatively clear. Although there is a huge amount of luck and timing involved in being able to see this stunning sight, there are certain factors, which combine at certain times of year that will increase your chance. The best opportunities are around the equinox (March and September / October). The aurora is basically an incredible phenomenon of streamers and bands of coloured lights, which appear in the sky near the poles. Whether or not you see the aurora, in clear weather our night skies are stunning displays of more stars, galaxies and milky ways than you could ever imagine if you're used to a town or city sky. The experience will be rewarding even if you aren't lucky enough to see the aurora borealis itself.

To open a Facebook site on Aurora predictions for the Western Isles, go to https://www.facebook.com/#!/AuroraWatchWesternIsles

 

Uig Flora & Fauna

Near the Scaliscro road end look out for golden eagles hunting over the nearby hills -they can sometimes be seen to the north of the road, but are often just a speck in the distance. If you walk a short distance out towards the hills to the south of the road there is a chance you may see red deer. Between Scaliscro and Giosla merlins are often seen hunting, but beware of mistaking cuckoos for merlin as they can look similar. Just beyond Giosla, a pair of buzzards can be seen hunting over the moor, and a pair of lapwings often nest near here. From Einacleit, look across the loch to the opposite shore. There are herons nesting on the cliffs there. On Little Loch Roag itself, red-breasted mergansers are often seen, and if you are very lucky you may see otters. Several pairs of wheatears nest in the stonewalls between Einacleit and Cairisiadar. On the road to Bhaltos from Miabhaig, Loch Sgailleir is passed, where common sandpipers nest. The rocky slopes near the loch have nesting wheatears and wrens. The wrens in Lewis are of a different race to those on the mainland. They are the hebridens is sub species and are slightly larger and darker than the mainland form. In the hills around Bhaltos, look out for twite - they nest in the heather. Pied wagtails and meadow pipits are common in this area. On Reef beach waders such as dunlin, ringed plover, redshank and oystercatcher can be seen feeding on the tideline, and out to sea there are often flocks of eider and red-breasted merganser and smaller groups of black guillemot and shags. Gannets and arctic terns feed in Loch Roag, and red-throated divers are often seen and heard as they fly form their nesting lochans in the hills out to sea. Herring, common, black-headed, great and lesser black-backed gull are all found in this area. Grey seals can often be seen in Caolas Pabaigh. The reed beds of Loch na Beirghe and Loch na Cuilc usually have nesting reed buntings and sedge warblers, and plant species to look out for here include lesser spearwort, water forget-me-not, iris, bog bean, bog pondweed, marsh pennywort, and ragged robin. The Bhaltos peninsula is perhaps best known for its machair. Machair is formed where shell sand is blown by the wind ashore on to the flat coastal plain. Plants that occur on the machair here include: lady's bedstraw, plantains, harebell, clover, silverweed, thyme, self heal, meadowsweet, lesser meadow-rue, red rattle, devils-bit scabious, frog orchid, marsh orchid, and gentians. Please remember not to pick the flowers - they could be rare. Through Gleann Bhaltos to Timsgearraidh, dippers can be seen on the burn, and look out for wood pigeons, woodcocks, goldcrests, robins and wrens in the plantation. On the moor near An Aird there are nesting grouse, and occasionally red and black throated divers can be seen on the lochs near the road. Herons, shelducks and waders such as redshank often feed on the saltmarsh area just beyond Uig Lodge. In Eadar Dha Fhadhail listen out for the corncrakes - they are usually heard on still summer evenings. Corncrakes can still be heard in Eadar Dha Fhadhail, Timsgearraidh, Cliobh, Bhaltos and Cnip, although they are no much rarer than they used to be as a result of the loss of the traditional hay fields. The cliffs of Mangurstadh have large numbers of nesting fulmar, as well as a couple of pairs of nesting ravens. From the road end at Breanais gannets and arctic terns are often seen diving for fish. The terns nest on the islands just off the shore. Waders, such as ringed plover, lapwing and redshank, nest in this area. A short way up in to the hills you will find nesting golden plover, and merlin and golden eagle can be seen in this area. There are two pairs nesting on high crags in the hills above Mealasta.

RSPB and Nature Reserves

There is an RSPB reserve at Arnol next to the Blackhouse. If you are fortunate, you may be able to see nesting red-necked phalaropes from about mid May. To get there, follow the A858 toward the Blackhouse at Arnol. Just past the Blackhouse turn right at the end of the road. The reserve is just through a gate with a small RSPB sign on it. 1km from the Port of Ness there is also a hide that has been built on the south side of the loch. Many varieties of birds can be seen on the loch and adjacent marsh land, some are all year residents, others arrive in the spring to breed and nest. There are also those who use the loch as a stop-over when migrating south in the autumn and north at the end of winter. During the summer months the machair is host to a variety of wild flowers including rare orchids. The local community including children from the schools in the Ness area have taken interest in developing this project by taking part in nature walks and planting willow trees around the reserve. To get there, travel down the B8013 to Eoropie (Eoropaidah) and you will find the reserve opposite the Police Station. Go through a small gate across the road from the entrance to the Lionel School (Sgoil Lionail).

 

Isle of Harris

Tarbert is the capital village of Harris, and focuses on its harbour and the ferry terminus. There are lovely drives around Harris, on frequently single track roads with steep drops to the side – a challenge, but the views are worth it. The west side has a glory of long sandy beaches and amazing azure waters; the east coast is a real contrast with rocky bays and a moonscape terrain. You may also want to visit Huisinis on the B887 a couple of miles North of Tarbert to see its stunning scenery, castle and the Island of Scarp.

Come and see for yourself!