Balranald is a wildlife-rich grassland haven on North Uist. It has large sandy beaches, a rocky foreshore, wild marshes and plenty of sand dunes. There is plenty to see year-round. Here are some of the seasonal highlights:
Spring: Balranald is a key site in the ‘UK corncrake recovery program’ so it is a good place to hear or spot this elusive bird. Other species include corn buntings, black-tailed godwits, lapwings and peregrine. Balranald is also well-known for thousands of migrating birds. Skuas and divers can be seen out at sea and huge flocks of turnstones, purple sandpipers, dunlins and sanderlings skim the shoreline. The machair is a great place to spot Greenland barnacle geese, dotterels, ringed plovers, skylarks and oystercatchers.
Summer: listen for the corn buntings’ song, which sounds like jangling keys. Arctic and little terns fish along the tide edge. Redshanks and lapwing chicks in the marshy grasslands. Other important breeding birds include waders such as red-necked phalarope, ringed plover, dunlin, redshank, lapwing and snipe. There are also farmland birds such as reed bunting, corn bunting, twite, skylark and song thrush.
Autumn: large flocks of lapwings and golden plovers over the wetlands whilst hen harriers and peregrines circle overhead.
Winter: flocks of starlings feed on the fields and high-tide line. Merlins are attracted by mixed flocks of skylarks, twites and snow buntings. Occasionally there is a visit from a golden eagle and regular visits from white-tailed eagles. Wintering ducks and pink-footed, snow, barnacle, Richardson cackling geese and wading birds.
Details of a fabulous cycling circuit (or drive) around North Uist describing all the points of interest on the way can be found in the book Islandeering: adventures around the outside edge of Britain’s hidden islands