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Steve’s Sojourns: Birding on St Kilda

Pair of gannets
Pair of gannets

The uninhabited Island of St Kilda lies some 41 miles off North Uist in the Western Isles and with over a million birds it is the most important seabird breeding station in north-west Europe.  Comprising four islands – Hirta, (The only one you can land on.) Soay, Boreray and Dun – as well as several sea stacks, St Kilda is truly spectacular and you will never forget it.  Surprisingly it is also easily accessible for a day trip not only from the outer islands but also from the mainland.

Now in the care of The National Trust for Scotland the main attraction for birders are the sea stacks rising like giant shark’s teeth from the ocean floor which hold the world’s largest gannetry. Within two minutes of being there we saw a Great Skua rob a surfacing gannet.

Gannettries St Kilda
Gannettries St Kilda

On the main island of Hirta look out for the St Kilda Wren. Usually you can see them hopping about in the stone work of the cottages at the end of the now deserted High Street. A stream runs down fro the hill through the centre of the village area and literally anything can turn up here. Greenland Wheatear, Snow Bunting, Lapland Bunting are all a possibility during migration even Cranes and Snowy owls have been recorded.

The walking is relatively flat and easy in the village area but paths to the sea cliffs are steep.

High slopes St Kilda
High slopes St Kilda

On our visit we got Bewick Swan, Oyster Catcher and Rock Pippit in the rushes and a Surf Scoter, Eider and Arctic Skua just off shore. Fulmars, Razor Bills, Bridled Guillemots, Kittiwakes and puffins are breeding here in the immense seabird colonies. Manx Shearwater can be spotted on the way over plus Storm and Leaches Petrels are here too but you really need to camp out over night to see them. (Details from Scottish National Trust)

The village area includes the High Street and the stone huts scattered inside the Dyke wall that encloses it. The St Kilda Wren can be seen quite easily in the buildings.

Main Street No St Kilda
Main Street No St Kilda

There is a stream that runs down from the top of the island into the village with rushes and other vegetation. It’s a good place to look for the smaller birds but literally anything can turn up here on migration.

The relatively steep path that takes you up to the top of the island can be a bit slippy but the rewards are immense.  The sea bird colonies are astounding and you’ll not want to leave.

Feather House St Kilda
Feather House St Kilda

The jetty, gun emplacement or the Feather House platform are good areas for sea watching the sheltered bay.

How to get there

You can get on a cruise organised by the National Trust for Scotland. A list of independent charter boats is obtainable on http://www.kilda.org.uk/frame8.htm.  Boats can also go from Oban and other mainland ports. A google search will bring up others. The crossing can take up to three hours from Harris but longer from other places. It all depends on the boat, conditions of the sea etc. You should note too that you are not guaranteed a landing if the sea picks up and it becomes dangerous.


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