Out and about with the RSPB in the Isles

Red necked phalarope pair. Picture by Cliff Reddick
Red necked phalarope pair. Picture by Cliff Reddick

Guided walks are a great way of introducing visitors to an area, and with over a thousand people participating in our walks this year, it has been a very busy season for the Outer Hebrides RSPB team. While most residents of the Outer Hebrides will have seen an otter, a white-tailed eagle and a great yellow bumblebee, many visitors have not.

We saw at least one of these species, and many more besides, on most of our walks through the summer.

One elusive visitor that receives a lot of attention, is a very rare breeding bird with as few as 50 pairs breeding across Scotland annually . Seeing the red-necked phalarope during the specialised walk at Loch na Muilne near Arnol, Lewis brought delight to many a visitor.

They really are very unusual and striking birds and one which even locals may not be aware of, and I personally recommend attending the walk to get a glimpse of this summer visitor.

The guided walks serve another purpose however, in that besides wildlife sightings we can discuss the Outer Hebrides with visitors, giving advice about visitor attractions and passing on information about crofting practices, the management of the machair and the history of the islands.

It’s not all sunshine, of course, but the enthusiasm of participants and the interest in the Outer Hebrides has never dimmed.

It has been a real joy to share the islands with visitors, and with six different walks, from Barra to Lewis there’s something for everyone.

We’ve had a great variety of people attending the walks as well; individuals who have been visiting the Outer Hebrides for years and first timers.

We had people that have travelled from across the globe to see our islands, but I was always delighted when locals came along as they added so much to the walks.

Native Gaelic speakers helped us to explain the local names for certain plants and birds so I was always delighted to see familiar faces on the walks, and hope to see more in the coming year.

All in all, thanks to the brilliant feedback and excellent numbers of attendees we’ve decided to extend the wonderful Balranald Walk on North Uist: it will now run for two months longer than previously, starting in April and continuing through to October in 2018.

We’ll advertise our walks locally next year: look out for our posters, and we look forward to welcoming you to any of our events in 2018.