My contention, usually after five too many in the Legless Arms, is that the Outer Hebrides are just as good as Scillies in autumn, but no one really does 'em, so a fortnight with Mrs D staying in Cnoc An Torrain on North Uist was a good way to prove my point.
NB: For anyone expecting pics of Yankee warblers, waders etc you should perhaps stop reading now, cos I didn't find 'em, they were hiding during the last two weeks in October.
Okay, on with the good stuff - the ferry across the Minch from Uig on Skye starting things off well on October 14, with 3 Bonxies, a Pom Skua, 3 Storm Petrels, 1 Manxie, 1 Fulmar, and 2 White Tailed Eagles as the boat neared Lochmaddy on North Uist (at least three pairs now breed on the Outer Hebs).
There were of course, hordes of Razorbill, Eiders and GBBs.
A short drive across the isalnd and we were at the cottage we'd booked.
Once the Stella, wine and other less important stuff was unloaded, I checked the garden of Badnanlus (www.paibeilcottages.co.uk), which was stuffed with House Sparrows, Starlings, Gringoes, Hebridean Song Thrush, Wren, Dunnock, continental Robins etc.
During our stay, it also turned up Brambling, Lesser Redpoll and numerous flyover waders, raptors and wildfowl.
The machair behind it had loads of waders, wildfowl, hunting raptors and one Jack Snipe (Oct 19).
Starling could be the commonest bird on the Uists, and they all have the annoying habit of mimicking Buzzards and Corncrakes.
Frankly, I thought this one was taking things too far......
With bright sunshine, we tootled down to the machair and beautiful sandy bay at Grenitote at the north end of the island on Oct 15, a cracking day, especially as it only took Mrs D three nanoseconds to find this stonking Snowy Owl.
This bird has been knocking about here for ages, and conventional wisdom says it's a female (white breast etc), but I wondered if this 'un was a young male - it's head isn't that marked....?
Whatever it was a stunning bird - here's a few pics of it lazing in the sun (they don't do a lot else, except short flights, when they look like giant gulls, with remarkably pointed wings for an owl).
Watched the owl for an hour or so at about 300yds range. Gorgeous.
There was other good stuff here, including several Merlins (I think there was a clear passage of these little falcons today - I saw at least 12, and while they were present for the rest of the fortnight, they were never so many again), and surprisingly a juvenile Arctic Tern still on the sands.
Plenty of Hooded Crows around too, but they were widespread, as were Twite, Hen Harriers, Greylags, Godlen Plover, Snipe etc
An excellent day, with Black Guillemots, Great Northern Divers (most were still in full summer plumage), Black Throated and Red Throated Divers, Rock Doves and six Purple Sandpipers on the beach a mile or so from our digs.
Time for a beer.
Went down to Loch Ardvule and the point halfway down South Uist the next day, it was cloudy and cool and the wind was south westerly but light.
The smart money up here reckons this is THE place for seawatching in autumn, but I still like Aird An Runair beyond the RSPB reserve at Balranald personally.
Ardvule did have a juv Surf Scoter (16.10.06) which was hanging round with a flock of Tufted Ducks, plenty of Rock Doves feeding on stooks of corn, and a fine Purple Sandpiper, along with the usual Great Northern Divers, Twite, Ravens, Gannets etc.
Good place Ardvule Point.
Had a female Wheatear at Hosta Beach on Oct 17, also three Whooper Swans coming in off the sea at Balranald - very atmospheric.
From then on, numbers of Redwings started to increase, with small flocks of 20+ birds in just about every other field, and Barnacle Geese, yapping like hoarse puppies, began to filter through, in flocks of up to 800 birds.
Smaller groups of Pinkies headed south too in easterly winds that were the pattern for a fine and sunny week.
Met Brian Rabbitts (he of the Hooded Merganser and Mourning Dove fame) at the garden of the Langass Hotel on Oct 19 - a fine sunny afternoon, with two male Blackcaps, Goldcrest and a Yellow Browed Warbler in the sheltered garden, which boasts at least THREE trees (this could be a Uists record).
Hordes of Redwings were in the plantation beside the hotel.
Later in the day on the Commercial Road which bisects North Uist, I watched four Hen Harriers skydancing, before they began mobbing a Golden Eagle - a great show.
Eagles, harriers and in summer, Short Eared Owls usually show very well along this road.
The harriers and eagle gave good scope views, and I couldn't resist a few long distance blurry shots.....
There are so many places to check out along the islands, and all seem to repay scrutiny - the beach below the cemetery at Ardivchar on South Uist on Oct 21 had several hundred gulls, mainly Herring and Commons, although a leucistic Herring gave me a start!
Offshore were Great Northern Divers, Long Tailed Ducks, a Bottle Nosed Dolphin, plus a full summer plumage Red Necked Grebe and a single Little Auk - the last pair made for quite a scopeful!
Plenty of Ravens on this beach too, feeding alongside hordes of Turnstone and Starlings amongst the kelp.
On Oct 22 I had Slavonian Grebe and Wheatear at Aird An Runair, but not much else, apart from the usual divers, swans and geese.
More Little Auks (2) and at least 4 Slav Grebes in the calm waters of Traigh Hornais on October 23, a day when a crofter described to me an American wader he'd videoed the week before with two black breast bands in his potato patch - needless to say the Killdeer had departed!
Also checked out the gorse and fuchsia scrub behind the stormbelt at Clachan Farm - full of Redwings, but this place has held no less than three American passerines in the past.
If you visit, always ask permission at the farm before you yomp onto the site....
Back at Ardvule Point on Oct 24, with a strong NEly blowing and drizzle - I did get 5 Little Auks and a single Leach's Petrel though.
On the loch behind the point was a fine Oldsquaw.....
A seawatch at Aird An Runair on North Uist in a force 5-6 NEly on Oct 25 was okay too - in an hour I had:
Slavonian Grebe 1 south
Great Northern Diver 3
Red Throated Diver 4
Black Throated Diver 1
Leach's Petrel 1 south
RB Merganser 1 south
Long Tailed Duck 11
Merlin 1 south
Hen Harrier 2 ringtails south
Barnacle Geese 12 north
Black Guillemot 3
A great morning!
Aird An Runair used to involve a long walk from the RSPB visitor centre at Balranald, but you can drive the track to within a quarter of a mile of the Point now - as long as it ain't too wet.
Still if you do that, you miss the Corn Buntings and Twite, Skylarks 'n stuff along the way.
Okay, for the mammal lovers, I had Bottle Nosed Dolphin, Common Dolphin, Harbour Porpoise, Short Tailed Vole, Red Deer, Common and Grey Seal and at least five Otters.
One female Otter with two cubs gave great views in a sheltered bay north of Scolpay.
Finally, and arguably, most importantly, if you find yourself caught out by the elements (and it rained for the last three days we were there, with NEly winds gusting to force 8), you could do a lot worse than to call into the Westford Inn.
On the road between Clachan and Paible, it may look shut, but it isn't.
Like a lot of places on the islands, a closed door doesn't necessarily mean there's no one home - so don't just drive by.
Lovely beer, and one of the few (okay, the only) bar, where I've spent the evening discussing theology, pure mathematics and the politics of killer pool - while the archery obsessed landlord tips arrows on the bar...a great place - thanks for the hospitality Elizabeth and Alistair!
Boat home across the Minch yesterday was fairly uneventful - two Storm Petrels, 50 odd Razorbills, 20 Gannets, three White Sided Dolpins and loads of MoD activity - training presumably.
So what if I didn't find any rare Yankees (not counting the Surfie) , and missed out on the Suffolk Bluetail?
Go to the Uists - YOU WILL LOVE IT.
Now where's me scallops and bacon..........