Islay is famous for its spectacular flocks of wintering wild geese. Thousands of Barnacle and Greenland White-fronted Geese wheel onto the island from Greenland every October, to feed in the lush, green fields.
Lying at the southern tip of the Hebrides, off the rugged west coast of Scotland - yet closer to Ireland than to Glasgow - Islay’s tapestry of wild hills and moorland, remote beaches and cliffs, woodlands, sea lochs and tidal flats are home to a wonderful variety of other winter birds, too. Guide Colin Bushell knows the island well...
Our late autumn visit to Islay focuses on the evocative flocks of soldier-smart Barnacle Geese and orange-billed Greenland White-fronted Geese, which arrive in their thousands to spend the winter here. The drama of watching them as they head out from or back into roost is one of the natural world’s most stirring spectacles - and something not to be missed! As many as 45,000 Barnacle Geese descend upon Islay from Greenland during October, while numbers of the declining and altogether much scarcer Greenland White-fronted Goose pick up more steadily to reach upwards of 5,000 birds by the month’s end.
The goose flocks are highly mobile and as we travel the island to find where they are feeding each day, we are likely to encounter Greylags and Pink-feet mingling with the Barnacles and White-fronts. With luck and patient scanning through the grazing flocks, we may chance upon something rarer: perhaps a wild Canada Goose, Snow Goose or a diminutive Cackling Goose. Plus we have chances of Golden and (with luck!) White-tailed Eagles, Great Northern, Black-throated and Red-throated Divers, Rock Dove, Raven, Chough and Twite.
Steeped in Norse and Celtic history - not to mention the aroma from its homely peat fires and eight island distilleries - this beautiful and enchanting island also enjoys a surprisingly mild climate, even in winter. Add a five-night stay at the excellent and recently renovated Machrie Hotel - close to the coast in the picturesque south of the island - and we’re sure you will agree that our tour Islay, the ‘Queen of the Hebrides’, has all the right ingredients for the perfect out-of-season birdwatching break.
As well as enjoying Islay’s rich birdlife against the scenic backdrop of some splendid Scottish landscapes, there are mammals here, too. Red, Roe and Fallow Deer roam the island’s hills and woods, with Common and Grey Seals to watch for around the coast - Otters too, if we are lucky!
Guide Colin Bushell has spent time surveying the wildlife on Islay in recent years and has an excellent knowledge of the island and its birds. Our October 2019 tour will be his fifth visit to Islay.