Hi and welcome to my Blog, my name is Paul Riddle and I live in south Leicestershire, UK. Back in August 2007 my quest began to locate as many local Little Owl territories as possible. The driving force was a reported decline in the uk numbers so I thought I would do my bit and conduct a study in my area. After 7 years and countless hours out in the field I have detected over 200 different sites. With a thirst for a greater understanding of the owls a more comprehensive monitoring and nest box programme then commenced. This also now includes monitoring the local and very sparse population of Barn Owls, please pop back occasionally and catch up with the life and times of my owls and any other wildlife that I come across. I hope you enjoy your visit!!!

Sunday, 21 June 2015

North Uist - Day1

Hi all,

I have now returned back from my mini trip to Scottish Isle of North Uist, I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this bird filled adventure even though it was very exhausting. 

The trip officially commenced when I picked Adey up at midday on Sunday, we set off knowing that we had plenty of time to make the 540 mile drive north to the port of Uig where we would catch the Monday morning, 8.00am ferry over to North Uist.

The drive northward was pretty uneventful really, we made a couple of stops en-route, the first at a Red Kite feeding station and the second at a recommended location for Red Squirrels, we saw neither!! We also stopped off at Fort William for a coffee and supper break, upon leaving Fort William we unknowingly took the wrong road which resulted in us doing an additional 90 miles!!! So after driving through the late hours of Sunday evening/Monday morning we finally found ourselves only a few miles from the port at 3.00am. I'd driven 630 miles and was completely shattered, I was desperate for a break and a kip.

We found a nice quiet location off the main road that seemed perfect for a quiet break and some sleep, we settled down but after 5 minutes I was being kept awake by Adey's snoring!!  A dig in his ribs rendered him quiet for a while but he soon started again, this vicious circle continued for an hour or so. Whilst lying there wide awake I was considering the smothering of Adey with a plastic bag, however, this dastardly thought was soon dismissed from my mind when I heard a Cuckoo calling! 

This species was on our "hit list" Adey was nudged again (with considerable force I may add) and he was soon awoken. The car windows were wound down and we looked around, dawn was only just breaking and the light levels were pretty low but as we sat there four different Cuckoo's were seen. We waited until the light levels were good enough for photography, we were both after a perched bird image but they didn't come close enough for anything any good, the best I achieved is the image below of one of them on a rock with a Meadow Pipit in close attendance. 

Cuckoo & Meadow Pipit
In the end we gave up on getting a decent perched up image and got out of the vehicle, we then used the far side of the car as a bit of cover and attempted some fly-by flight shots. These next two were my best efforts, I am pretty pleased with them as they are by far the best I have ever achieved, but not easy hand holding a Canon 500mm lens for any length of time, I'm blaming the fact that I was fatigued!!!


It was soon time to leave the Cuckoo's and continue with our journey, the next few hours were spent queuing for the ferry and then making our crossing over to North Uist. Once on the island we made our way to our accommodation, a nice tidy B&B called the Ships Wheel, here Pat and Calum made us very welcome indeed. It was very tempting to stay at the B&B and get our heads down for a while, goodness I needed it but I refused to give in and off out we went exploring. We made a beeline for the Committee Road area in the west central area of the island, apparently this was Short Eared Central!! I'm not sure how Adey was feeling as we drove to our destination, but I know inside I was feeling very excited, I'd been reading about this area for years and now after so long I was going to experience it first hand!

On route we pulled over a couple of times to take in the views and to identify different bird species that were being seen. This next image of a Meadow Pipit was the first that contained the gorgeous heather in it, oh I couldn't wait to get a similar setting with an owl in it!

Meadow Pipit
As we neared the southern end of Committee Road a small group of Curlews were spotted at the side of the road, I was convinced that as soon as we pulled up they would be off, but I was wrong! They just stood there looking back at us, I was experiencing my closest ever views of this species. 

Then from over the hill appeared a Curlew chick, this must have been the reason why the adult birds didn't fly off?

For the next couple of hours we slowly drove the entire length of Committee Road no fewer than five times, and guess how many owls we saw? NONE!!!! I was so disappointed, I started questioning as to whether we were in the right location? The maps were checked and for sure we were in the right area, so reluctantly we moved on to check another area.

A few miles down the road and still no owls had been seen, but then matters took a turn for the better when a Golden Eagle was spotted high over the road. Yes it was high, very high in fact but with the aid of my x 1.4 converter I did managed this next image. At the time of watching the underside of the bird was completely in shadow but I have managed to pull out a bit of detail in the post processing. Really pleased we saw this bird, I was in ore of it's magnificence!!!

Golden Eagle
After the excitement of the eagle we continued our search for owls, on another road we came across a pair of Common Sandpipers perched upon a post. The birds were very vocal and seemly unafraid of the car. 

Common Sandpiper

Common Sandpiper

Common Sandpiper
They gave us a right royal show as they flitted from the posts to the rocks in the loch. I can only assume that they must have had chicks nearby?

Another hour or so passed by as we wondered the lanes, still no owls? We then found ourselves at the RSPB Balranald site which was supposedly very good for Corncrake, another of our target species. As we drove down the road to the visitor centre I couldn't believe what I was seeing, there were waders everywhere! But this wasn't your usual shallow water scrape where you'd expect to see them, no this was a combination of Iris beds and lush green pasture. The main species we could see were Dunlin, Oyster Catcher, Ringed Plover, Snipe and Redshanks. What was even more unusual was a lot of the birds were perched up on the wooded fence posts, I'd never seen this behavior before!

We picked a likely location to park the car to see if we could capture some of theses strange antics. Just as we did the wind picked up and the heavens open, luckily we had our cameras poking out of the windows on the opposite side of the car so it didn't really effect us. It was now a waiting game to see if any of the nearby birds would land on one of the closer posts, initially this didn't happen as I think the turn in the weather had put them off. However all was not lost as a Common Snipe flew in and landed in the pasture right in front of us. I was reveling in these reasonably close views of a species that I'd not got any previous images of.

Common Snipe
Adey then pointed out to me a Corncrake that was walking straight down the middle of the road, (another target species) it went under the car and then re-appeared right under our windows. The views were just incredible but too close to capture an image of!!

The rain then ceased and the sun came out for a short period, this seemed to bring the watched area back into life and some of the birds started to land on the perches again, we now just had to wait until a subject came close enough.

Eventually we were blessed with a couple of closer wader species that did land on a closer post, although neither were target species we were very happy to take a couple of images.

Oyster Catcher

It was only 15 minutes after the above two images were taken that the heavens opened again with vengeance, that was our cue to make our way back to our digs and then make our way to the Lochmaddy Arms for an evening meal, and a few pints!!

We'd not had any sleep for 48 hours, we were both shattered but thoroughly satisfied that our first day on the island had been memorable, even though we didn't connect with any Owls, Harriers or a Merlin.

In the next post I'll take you through our second day,

Thanks for stopping off...........   


  1. The Cuckoo shots are brilliant. I'm amazed at the number and variety of waders you managed to get at close quarters the Common Sandpiper normally are so skittish but it looks so close and the Curlew is a favourite of mine too, well done Paul can't wait for part 2

  2. WOW !!! All that on day 1 ! I can't wait to see what else is in store, Paul. A wonderful set of images, particularly the flight shots.

    I had Common Sand behave like that in Scotland. One even landed on the bonnet of my car and shouted at me through the windscreen - far too close for a photo. It had to be that it was protecting young.

    I admire your stamina and dedication to the job in hand - oh what it must be like to be young!

    Best wishes - - - - - Richard

    1. The flight shots were particularly difficult Richard, more bad than good but a few keepers in the end.

  3. Great images mate and a great post look forward to day 2!!