Lewis, Harris and the Uists

William MacGillivray and Harris

The groundbreaking Scottish naturalist William MacGillivray was born on the island of Harris.  Author James Macdonald Lockhart’s imaganed him as a companion during part of his 2016 travel-book-cum-natural-history Raptor: A Journey Through Birds. Macdonald wrote this piece in the Scotsman about a visit to MacGillivray’s home, now in ruins. This quote comes from the writer’s Hebridean Journal of 1817-18:

Today I rose early, drank warm milk at the gate as yesterday – then walked along the shore of Tastir, over Traigh-na-clibhadh, and along the rocks to the upper end of Moll-na-h-Uidhadh, then crossed Ui to the great sand, and returned along its margin. In this course the birds seen were the Starling, among the cattle and in the corn-yard, the Shag on the coast, the Common Gull in South town and on Ui, the Great Black-backed Gull on Moll-na-h’Ui, the Curlew on Ui in large flocks, the Wren on the marsh dyke of Ui, the Meadow Pipit on the shore, the Hooded Crow on Ui, the Raven on Fastir, and the Ringed Plover on the sands – I have determined to describe all the birds found in Harris & shall fall to work immediately.

You can also visit the nearby MacGillivray Centre which “has been built to celebrate a local man who made and impact on the Natural Sciences”.

‘From a humble background, William MacGillivray rose to become Regius Professor of Natural History at the University of Aberdeen.  During a career lasting barely 30 years, he wrote some 20 books and scores of learned articles on subjects ranging from botany to geology to molluscs.  In his own five-volume ‘History of British Birds’ and his work with the American bird artist John James Audubon, he can fairly be said to have laid the foundations for modern ornithology in both Britain and the United States.  Like his friend Audubon, he was a talented painter, leaving a collection of more than 200 watercolours now held in the Natural History Museum in London.’

Golden eagles on Harris

Situated within a Golden Eagle territory the The North Harris Eagle observatory provides one of the best opportunities in Scotland for viewing this magnificent raptor. Here

According to Robin Reid, RSPB officer for the Western Isles, Bowglass (Bogha Glas) on the Isle of Harris is the best place in the whole of Europe to see Golden Eagles (BBC Wildlife, Feb 2015).

The track that goes up from [the car park at] Bowglass runs through four different golden eagle territories. If you spent a day between February and June going up that track…. there’s a good chance you’d see five to ten  different eagles. I can’t think of anywhere else in Europe where you can walk up a glen and potentially see so many eagles in just three or four hours.

Bunavoneader Whaling station

On the shore of Loch a Siar, stand the ruins of a whaling station set up by a Norwegian Family, who had contacts with the Norwegian Whaling Fleet. Here

Robert Macfarlane’s favourite trail

Robert Macfarlane describes his favourite trail in Britain in this article here. It goes from the the town of Tarbert to the village of Rhenigidale on the Isle of Harris.

Along the southeastern coast of the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides runs one of the most beautiful paths I know: an old green track, only six miles or so long, that joins the town of Tarbert to the village of Rhenigidale. Two summers ago I spent a week walking across Lewis and North Harris, camping in shielings and fishing in lochs as I went, finally reaching Rhenigidale, where I slept in the little white-walled youth hostel.

The next morning, I followed the green track west to Tarbert, contouring first above steep-sided sea coves and then dropping into a glen called Trollamaraig in which a dwarf forest of willow, aspen, honeysuckle and foxglove flourishes. Then it was up, steeply up, zigzagging the east face of a hill called the Scriob until the path eased and led me between two peaks — Trolamal and Beinn Tharsuinn. On that clear day the landscape to my west was wonderfully visible, laid out like 
a map: an intricate weave of moor, crag, scarp and shining lochans. A storm blew in and over, and I walked the final miles along shining tracks 
and under rainbows. Read

The home of Steve Dilworth

Robert Macfarlane memorably described his visit to the home on the Isle of Lewis of landscape artist Steve Dilworth in ‘The Old Ways’. Read

Uist bees

Bee expert Dave Goulson visited the Isle of Benbecula and the Uists in search of rare bees in the islands’ machair in his excellent Bee Quest (2017).

We pulled over and strolled through the knee-high flowers, butterfly nets and cameras at the ready. Ben had endured weeks of rain before I arrived, sheltering in his mouldy van: there isn’t a lot to do in Benbecula in the rain. I was incredibly lucky, for the weather while I was there was atypically fine; the sun did its best to blaze down from a cloudless sky, though it never got terribly warm, for at this latitude the sun never gets too high in the sky. A short-eared owl glided by, hunting for voles. It was odd to see an owl hunting in the daytime, but that is normal for this species. Perhaps at this latitude the summer nights are so short that they have had to become active in the day. As we walked, our feet disturbed hundreds of bumblebees, busy extracting pollen and nectar, making hay while the sun shone. I was particularly excited to see moss carder bees in abundance.

Uist’s hedgehogs

There has been considerable controversy over hedgehogs on the Uists. They are native to the islands, and were released in 1974 to reduce garden pests, but pose a threat to the eggs of ground nesting waders such as lapwing, dunlin, ringed plover, redshank and snipe.  In 2003 a cull of hedgehogs was begun, although after an amimal welfare campaign these days the hedgehogs are being live-trapped and moved to mainland Scotland. More here

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