Shona MacLellan is RSPB Scotland's Community Engagement Officer for the Outer Hebrides. In today's blog she tells us about the upcoming Outer Hebrides Wildlife Festival.

Events and preparations for the first Outer Hebrides Wildlife Festival are well underway. The festival will take place from Saturday 25 June to Saturday 2 July and with less than a week to go, here’s a look at what’s happening across the week. This year the festival is being organised by RSPB Scotland and the team in the Outer Hebrides have been busy preparing over 50 events throughout the islands.

Several guided walks are included in the programme, led by RSPB Scotland staff on our local nature reserves. In North Uist, we have the Balranald Reserve Walk taking place on Tuesday 28 June from 10am. This is a great chance to learn more about the working landscape and how the work of the crofters helps preserve the diverse machair and support huge numbers of breeding waders on the reserve. On Wednesday 29 June from 10am, our Otter Walk takes us around Loch Langass in search of wildlife, including the resident seal and otter populations.

 Two otters are sitting on a bed of seaweed. One has an octopus in its mouth.

Image credit: Cliff Reddick

At our Loch Druidibeg Community Reserve in South Uist, we have ‘Eagles Galore’ with a walk around the reserve from 10am on Thursday 30 June and our very own white-tailed eagle nest watch in the evening. Loch Druidibeg is one of the best places in Uist to see both golden and sea eagles, alongside hen harriers, short-eared owls, merlin and rare divers as well as a wonderfully rich variety of plants. The nest currently has one chick which the pair of white-tailed eagles have been busy raising and feeding.

 A short-eared owl is flying towards the camera with its wings spread wide.

Image credit: Shona MacLellan

In Lewis, our Loch na Muilne reserve walk starts at 10am on Tuesday 28 June. During this walk, expect to see waders and seabirds on cliffs as well as maybe a rare glimpse of the red-necked phalarope. Then it’s onwards to Loch Stiapabhat Local Nature Reserve on Friday 1 July for a corncrake walk at 10am.

One of the special events organised as part of the festival is a series of screenings of two short films. One is an old RSPB film from the 1970s called "Beyond a Tangled Shore" which features many of the species being highlighted by the festival such as golden eagle, corncrakes, lapwings and arctic terns. The second is a new film produced by a local film director Uisdean Murray called "Mara: The Seal Wife", which is based on the Gaelic oral traditions of the selkie stories.

For those who want to get closer to wildlife, we have several boat trips organised including three to the Shiant Islands where a partnership project has eradicated black rats to help seabird colonies. Another trip will take us to Mingulay, which is home to puffin colonies.

 Four puffins are standing among grass by some rocks. One is holding several small fish in its beak.

Image credit: Shona MacLellan

There are also a number of expert talks planned for the festival. "How do birds sing?" is the title of the talk by Dr Rupert Marshall, a scientist with an interest in animal behaviour and birdsong in particular. Although he now lives in South Uist, he was a lecturer for Aberystwyth University. His talk covers how songs are recorded in the field, how birds can make such amazing sounds and what birds actually do when they hear another song. From a rural dawn chorus to the sounds of the city, we will hear how birds adapt their songs to their environment. This event is being hosted by Ceòlas in their new music centre, Cnoc Soilleir (The Bright Hill) on South Uist.

On Thursday 30 June at 7.30pm, Professor Frank Rennie will have a community launch of his book, "The Corncrake: The Ecology of an Enigma" at Galson Estate offices in Lewis. Frank Rennie is Professor of Sustainable Rural Development at the University of the Highlands and Islands and Head of Research at Lews Castle College UHI. His book looks at the corncrake and the challenges to its survival.

 A male corncrake is standing on a rock amongst some long grass while calling.

Image credit: Cliff Reddick

In Harris, we are working with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust to deliver two events. One is a "Bumblebee Safari" where people will get a chance to find out more about bumblebees and the second will be a identification and recording walk. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust will launching a new bee trail during the festival. More details on this will be available soon.

As well as the walks and talks, RSPB Scotland also asked local painters and photographers to exhibit their wildlife artworks for the Outer Hebrides Wildlife Exhibition in two venues. One set of art is being displayed at An Lanntair arts centre in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, and another set is being exhibited in Taigh Chearsabhagh, Lochmaddy, North Uist. This exhibition is giving local wildlife artists and photographers the chance to exhibit their work locally - some for the first time. The exhibitions are open now until 9 July 2022 at An Lanntair and 5 August 2022 in Taigh Chearsabhagh.

For anyone wanting to keep up to date with what’s happening during the festival and full programme please visit outerhebrideswildlifefestival.co.uk and follow us on Facebook and Instagram.

Header image by Cliff Reddick

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