Shiants Puffin Cruise June 2022 - Trip Report

We added a new short 3-night itinerary this year that visits the Shiant Isles in the seabird breeding season.


Day 1

It's the middle of June and where else would we rather be than on a short 3-night cruise from our base in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis down to the wonderful Shiant Isles just a couple of hours cruising to the south of us. This little archipelago of 3 islands is home to some important breeding colonies of seabirds including significant numbers of puffins and guillemots with the UK's largest colony of razorbills to round out the auk numbers.

3 razorbills on the water

2 Adults and a young Razorbill (back) on the water at the Shiant Isles.

Our first afternoon was spent cruising down the east coast of Lewis in somewhat overcast and misty conditions to Loch Sealg which would be our anchorage for the night. We spotted some porpoise on the way to start our cetacean tally which was nice but it was quiet apart from that mammal-wise. What was noticeable though was as we got further south and closer to the Shiants, we started to see more and more auk species on the water around the boat and flying past in small groups, plus some lovely gannets that are always a delight. Reaching Loch Sealg we made out way down the loch and soon enough were enjoying views of a white-tailed eagle flying and landing on the hillside. These birds are certainly making their home here with good numbers seen most years all along the coastline and at the Shiants.

White-tailed eagle in Loch Sealg.

We passed by the local Eishken estate which is based on the loch and always enjoy spotting their working ponies, also known as Garron which is a term referring to this type of smallish stocky Highland Pony. They are not hard to spot when they are out on the hillside resting up and enjoying some grass. Beautiful horses.

Garron or Highland Ponies.

We were very lucky to have a group of local musicians from the Ardersier Folk Club on board for this trip and so the evening was spent listening and singing along to some wonderful music on the guitar, mandolin, fiddle and tin whistle - the perfect end to our first day on board our converted fishing boat, the MV Monadhliath. Thanks very much to Mike, Vivien and John for this lovely tune.

Day 2

It was out of Loch Sealg to a very much brighter and calmer day as we started to head across to the Shiant Isles. A slow-moving sailboat gave a clue that they were watching something and sure enough we soon spotted first one and then a second minke whale sliding through the inky blue water. This is where recording these animals for our conservation partners gets difficult sometimes as we then spotted single animals in different locations between dives but all in the same general area. It is very tempting to think these were 4 or 5 individuals, and maybe they were, but we err on the side of caution in these circumstances. This particular whale in the photograph does have a potentially distinct nick at the base of its dorsal fin so we will be sharing it with our charity partner, the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust who keep a catalogue of identifiable animals like this in the hope it can be matched to other sightings.

One of the minke whales with a distinct nick at the base of its dorsal fin.

With more marine life appearing the closer we got to the Shiants our guests were kept busy spotting all the guillemots, razorbills, puffins, gannets and other birds flying around. We were even treated to a brief visit by one of our smallest sea birds, the storm petrel. These dainty little birds flit over the surface of the water like marine bats and the name petrel apparently has its root from the story of St Peter walking on the water.

The storm petrel showing its white rump and bars under the wings.

The grand event was still to come however and as we neared the Shiants they loomed out of the mist that had been shrouding them this far, with just the cries of thousands of seabirds luring us in like Jason and the Argonauts to the sirens. Luckily we fared better than the crew of the Argo and couldn't have asked for a better welcome than the sight in the video below - something you just have to come and see for yourselves sometime!

Thousands of puffins, guillemots and razorbills fill the sky at the Shiant Isles.

The day improved greatly with warm sunshine showcasing the magnificent views like this one over the bay below.

After a wonderful shore visit to roam the main island and check out the view in the lovely sunshine finally, we rejoined the boat and headed off to Loch Bhrollum, another lovely quiet sea loch where we would spend the night. Here we enjoyed views of harbour (aka common) seals hauled up on the rocks and swimming gently around the shoreline - always a joy to watch and they kept us entertained well into the evening along with some visiting red-throated divers.

Harbour seal showing its roundish and short dog-like snout that help tell it apart from the larger Roman-nosed grey seal.

Day 3

We awoke to the sound of rain and that was the scene set for the rest of the day. You win some, you lose some up here in Scotland and with the magnificent day before we could hardly complain. We headed north out of the loch and soon picked up some harbour porpoise working around the mouth where it met the Minch. You never seem to get much of a look at them but we are always glad to get even a glimpse. The conditions made it hard to see much so instead we hugged the coast enjoying the dramatic coastal scenery before heading into Loch Erisort where we passed large flocks of greylag geese and anchored in a little bay towards the back. The skipper Tony caught a quick glimpse of a hen harrier soon after arriving so we set about scanning the skies. It took a while but there was also a white-tailed eagle around that seemed to patrol up and down a certain hill and along a ridge before circling around and riding the wind back to its start point.

The highlight of the day was watching the eagle chasing a hen harrier whilst being watched by a raven - a real battle of the skies. It was off in the distance but you can make out the players and their relative sizes in this heavily cropped photograph below. Some more music in the evening after dinner and it was time to turn in.

 Raven (l), hen harrier (c) and white-tailed eagle (r).

Day 4

The short cruise in the morning back up to Stornoway was a bit breezy again with heavy overcast skies not helping but we still once again found a couple of porpoise to brighten our spirits. Once in the harbour we were also treated to a spectacular fly-by from a male hen harrier, resplendent in his grey plumage, and not long after a beautiful red-throated diver bobbed about on the water not far from Lews Castle giving great views. Wouldn't you know it our two photographers had put their cameras away already - it just shows you always need to be prepared for the unexpected on your Hebridean Adventure as the next exciting wildlife moment can just be around the next corner at any time.

Back in Stornoway Harbour with our lovely guests and the MV Monadhliath tied up behind.

2023 Cruises - booking now!

We have 2 of these 3-night Shiants Puffin cruises scheduled for 2023 and we are taking bookings. We have one in May and one in June - both peak times for the sea bird breeding season.

They are a great short break with an easy ride from Ullapool over on the ferry and back and our departure and arrivals timed for ferry passengers in particular. Come join us.

Please click here for now for full details and to book your place!