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UK Birdwatching Holiday Destinations. Autumn Migrants in the Stunning Outer Hebrides

The Isle of North Uist in the Outer Hebrides is a wonderful place for a birdwatching holiday at any time of the year. Autumn is a particularly special time as there are lots of different species of migrating birds here which have migrated south from Iceland and Greenland. Migrants also arrive from Scandinavia. There is also a good chance of seeing species that are rare in the UK.


After the summer tourists have returned home, the Machair flowers have faded and the mornings and evenings become cooler, there is a lovely fresh feeling to the air which signals that autumn is here. This year the Swallows remained for most of September and we enjoyed watching their aerial display along the edge of the garden and the shore.

In this article we will cover the following:


  1. Common autumn birds and migrant species in islands of Uist in the Outer Hebrides

  2. Rarer autumn migrants and visitors to the islands of Uist in the Outer Hebrides


1. Common autumn birds and migrant species in the Outer Hebrides

As the Swallows departed, the Redwings started to arrive. We saw our first Redwings in the garden on the 14th October. They joined the Song Thrushes, Blackbirds and Lapwings "rummaging" around in the grass looking for worms.


Redwing (Turdus iliacus) on a post, North Uist Outer Hebrides
Redwing (Turdus iliacus) posing in the Autumn sunshine

Redwing (Turdus iliacus) hopping around our lawn looking for worms
Redwing (Turdus iliacus) hopping around our lawn looking for worms

Fieldfares arrived in small groups shortly after the redwings on the 29th October. It's now mid November and just before sunset they still gather together with the Redwings and Starlings to form flocks and you can hear their distinctive chattering call as they fly round the house.


Throughout September and October many geese have arrived in large numbers to feed on the fertile Machair. Greylag Geese are the commonest geese but we also have Pink-footed, Brent and Barnacle Geese. The sight and sound of skeins of geese as they weave across the sky and the bay is a real spectacle and whatever I am doing I feel compelled to watch them.


Flock of Greylag Geese (Anser anser) flying over the bay in the golden light of sunrise
Flock of Greylag Geese (Anser anser) flying over the bay in the golden light of sunrise

A Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis) flying over the bay, RSPB Balranald, North Uist, Outer Hebrides
A Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis) flying over the bay, RSPB Balranald, North Uist, Outer Hebrides

Flock of Barnacle Geese (Branta leucopsis) flying over RSPB Balranald, North Uist, Outer Hebrides
Flock of Barnacle Geese (Branta leucopsis) flying over RSPB Balranald, North Uist, Outer Hebrides

There are lots of Whooper Swans around in autumn and they make a wonderful sound as they fly over. Whoopers make the longest sea journey of any of the swan species migrating between 800 and 1,4000km from Iceland to the UK. They can do the journey in 12 hours with favourable conditions and can fly at almost 55 mph.


Whooper Swan (Cygnus Cygnus) flying over RSPB Balranald, North Uist, Outer Hebrides
Whooper Swan (Cygnus Cygnus) flying over RSPB Balranald, North Uist, Outer Hebrides

We are lucky to have overwintering Snow Buntings in the Outer Hebrides. These gorgeous birds enjoy feeding on seeds in the rough grass and Machair along the coast. You can recognise them by their erratic flight and the bold patches of white on their wings.


Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax invalis) feeding on the Machair, RSPB Balranald, North Uist, Outer Hebrides
Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax invalis) feeding on the Machair, RSPB Balranald, North Uist, Outer Hebrides

Stonechats have also been on migration from Scandinavia to Africa and we have a succession of them in the garden. They stay for a few days and then move on.


Stonechats (Saxicola torquatus) feed in the bushes in the garden, North Uist, Outer Hebrides
Stonechats (Saxicola torquatus) feeding at Balranald Bay View cottage, North Uist, Outer Hebrides

At this time of the year there are large numbers of Redwings and Common Snipe on our doorstep. Whenever we are out walking they fly up out of the rough grass as you approach and they are so well hidden you don't see them until you have "flushed" them out. This year we have regularly had Common Snipe visiting the garden, feeding on worms and taking shelter to rest near the garden fence. They are very shy birds and luckily we are able to watch them and take photographs through the windows without having to go outside and disturb them. Both Snipe photographs below were taken through the kitchen window.


A Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) in the garden of Balranald Bay View cottage, North Uist, Outer Hebrides
A Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) in the garden of Balranald Bay View cottage, North Uist, Outer Hebrides

A Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) resting in the garden, Balranald Bay View cottage, North Uist, Outer Hebrides
A Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) resting in the garden, Balranald Bay View cottage, North Uist, Outer Hebrides

Many wading birds have been feeding on the shoreline just below the garden including Whimbrel, Curlew and Black-tailed Godwits. Ring Plover, Turnstone, Sanderling. Murmurations of Knot frequently weave across the bay and as their wings catch the sunlight they seem to flicker as they pass by. Black-throated Divers and Shags catch fish in the calmer water of the bay below the garden and can be seen from the kitchen window.


Sanderling (Calidris alba) feeding on the beach
Sanderling (Calidris alba) feeding on the beach

Golden plover (Pluvialis apricaria) flying over RSPB Balranald, North Uist, Outer Hebrides
Golden plover (Pluvialis apricaria) flying over RSPB Balranald, North Uist, Outer Hebrides

2. Rarer autumn migrants and visitors to the islands of Uist in the Outer Hebrides


There are always sightings of rare autumn visitors and migrants throughout the Outer Hebridean islands. This year, Uist sightings include American Golden Plover, Grey Phalarope, Little Stint, Common Rosefinch, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Yellowlegs, lots of Waxwings, Cackling Goose, Snow Goose, Squacco Heron, Green-winged Teal and Common Redpolls. In previous years we have had Common Redpolls visit the garden and I am still hoping that one year I will get some pictures!


This year there have been regular groups of Waxwings visiting as they migrate south. I will finish this article by leaving you with some wonderful images of Waxwings taken this autumn by North Uist resident wildlife guide Martin Gillingham who also runs wildlife and photography tours here on the island.


Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus). Courtesy of Martin Gillingham, local wildlife guide
Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus). Courtesy of Martin Gillingham, local wildlife guide

Two Waxwings (Bombycilla garrulus). Courtesy of Martin Gillingham, local wildlife guide
Two Waxwings (Bombycilla garrulus). Courtesy of Martin Gillingham, local wildlife guide

Waxwings feeding on an apple (Bombycilla garrulus). Courtesy of Martin Gillingham, local wildlife guide
Waxwings feeding on an apple (Bombycilla garrulus). Courtesy of Martin Gillingham, local wildlife guide

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