Dec 31, 2008

Thank you all who have visited and revisited the blog over the past few months. Its been fun to do and I hope it has provided some small interest and entertainment. Any thoughts on content or direction would be very welcome. Cheers for now.

A happy and prosperous new year to you all.


Dec 28, 2008

A pair of Gadwall today

County photo list 08

As some of you may know at the start of the year there was a lot of talk of year lists. Now I only really keep a life list and am not a fan of listing, to tell the truth. I record little of what I see on a day to day basis. I know this is a bit slack but I have huge hand writing and would need a big note book so little happens. This year inspired by Paul’s huge charity effort(a big well done there Paul) I thought I would try something different and keep a photograph of every species I could manage whilst out and about the county.

The decision made I chose birdforum members lists 2008 to store the list on. A very handy place it turns out as posting in the members lists only you can post. This gives the advantage of uninterrupted continuity…a rare thing on a public forum! Overall I thought I would be doing well to 75 species. Bearing in mind that the county list is just over 200 was a reasonable target to be aiming at for my first attempt I must admit I am pleased with the way it has gone(even if it has cost a bit in petrol). I was armed with three good weapons in the hunt, First there were winter and summer classes with Tim Dean. Having spent the last three years regularly on his classes has been fantastic preparation in learning the ground across Orkney. Not to mention the photo opportunities that have occurred on his classes due to his superb spotting skills. Anyone with a growing interest in birding Orkney could not do better than sign up on one of his classes. The second prong was The orkbird site. This was a fantastic source of rarer bird info and accounted for several of the rarer photos. Its been a fantastic first year for orkbird. It’s a site that’s brought a lot to birding in Orkney. The third prong has been the RSPB office in Strombo and all their regular updates. They are happy to tell you if anything unusual has been about.

So that was it I was off.

The year started with the sort of rush you would expect and I was knocking photos out left right and centre. Starting with the Grey Phalarope at the Deerness slip it was one bird after another through January and into February. By now I had bagged about fifty species and hit a bit of a wall. Little further happened for a month or two and other things took my time. Settling again in the start of our summer. I was lucky now and my count started to rise again and unusual birds like River Warbler and Avocet came and went. Often tho rare visitors like storks and cranes were seen by many and I totally failed to find them. High summer came and went and with it a super influx of Rose coloured Starlings. This was late July and the list stood at about eighty five. Since then things have slowly moved along. I have picked away with the camera and scope as the opportunity has arisen. Over the months there have been times when I could have cried, no cameras or flat batteries or often as not short and fleeting views. I am sure I could have gotten more on the list if I had really gone for it but I always intended it to be a casual sort of affair, so much so that the list has been forgotten for a while now. Looking at it last night I saw that it was sitting on 97. So today we were out and knocked off another three birds to take it up to the hundred. So that’s that for the year although I suppose you should never say die and there is a couple of days left of 08. I don’t think I will be out to find any more although there have been a good few Woodcock about……That’s it for the year then. I am quite pleased with a ton but I bet there’s someone out there with a 160 county list. You ken how obsessive these birding types can be…lol

If you’re interested you can have a look through this link and see some well ropey record shots.

I don’t know if I will try it again. I did enjoy it at times I must admit and there was a special little thrill to know you have bagged another whilst on the search. Who knows what will happen?

Dec 11, 2008

I have been a bit lax in posting of late but the truth is that I have not really been doing any birding. The last two weeks have found me with my head down working away. Most of the time you would have found me with a spade or shovel in my hand as I have been refurbishing a big pond. It’s a complete empty out and reline with a concrete skin. After ten days we are about ready to put in the waterproof plastering and stonework. Birds have come and gone with some unusual behaviour from some. One day I had a pair of Stonechats behaving like Robins. Each time I would move away from the pond with a barrow they would shoot in like Robins, swiftly searching through the diggings for insects and worms. It was the first time I had seen this from Stonechats. They were accompanied by a Robin from time to time. Another unusual sighting has been a pair of Goldcrests that that were about from time to time. They were foraging through the bushes and gorse in the ditches with a constant flurry of contact calls and bounding acrobatic foraging. They were about for three days on the hillside. Woodcock put in an appearance with three sightings overhead. This winter I have seen more Woodcock than I have in the whole of my time birding. We had Twite and Greenfinch as the other regular fly overs. The weather has been freezing from time to time and a bit of a trial for us trying to lay concrete. The job goes on tho and hopefully we will be finished soon. There might even be a pond making report for the blog at some time in the future.

Nov 28, 2008

Chilly days

Looking a bit dodgy up the hill.

Bloody chilly

Its been a quiet week for birding all round so far this week. With a bit of luck we will go out with a bang on Tim’s class ,Sunday. Another single Waxwing yesterday. Overnight wet snow froze to create an icy glaze over everything. The Kestrel returned to hunt along the burn and over the house today, A quick snap was taken..Red Grouse were calling behind the house today. This was enough encouragement to take the dog up the hill. Work is all digging at the moment so I decided to have the day off as it was so cold….its a grand life…Still little was to be seen out and about in the heather. The heather its self was covered in a skin of ice adorned with a deep frosting looking for all the world like shining white corral in the sun. All to soon the threatening weather made us retreat after only managing Wren and Blackbird for the list. Never mind it was nice to get the blood pumping a bit before sundown.

Nov 25, 2008

Snow storm rolls down the west coast.

Snowed in and no birds

The last few days have seen us snowed in with fans across the tracks. All in all its been a disappointing few days for birds with only the few local birds that are about coming to the ground feed I put out. All to soon it was discovered by Hoodies or the hens and quickly consumed. Raptors have been well represented though with Sparrow hawk, Kestrel and Merlin. The Merlin is an infrequent visitor around the valley and great to see. This one made a long and fast low pass across the tops of the bushes following the burn down hill. Stonechats from the burn were in the garden a couple of times and that’s about it for this place and the weekend. Over in the next valley today I had no sooner got to work when two Goldcrests twittered through the bushes in front of me. Then later A single Waxwing flew close overhead making a load of racket. Two good birds in an hour…aint that the way of it!!

Nov 20, 2008

Nov 17, 2008

Sea bird report summary 08

The following is a summary of the sea bird report summary from the RSPB. If you are members of the society and part of the local members group then you will have all ready have been privy to this information. One of the advantages of being a member of the RSPB is the huge amount of up to date information you can draw on. Orkney is in the enviable position of having one of the highest memberships per head of population in the UK. There is all ways room for more though so why not phone the Stromness office and speak to Morag, she will be happy to give you advice on payment and sign you up.

Red Throated Diver

The season started poorly and the birds seemed in poor condition on their return to the county. Eventually they got going though. On Hoy for example 56 occupied sites produced 43 chicks from 32 nests. The same as 06 and better than 07. On the mainland things were poorer, 19 monitored pairs raised just eight chicks. At the main site seven pairs reared no chicks at all and there was evidence that the high level of Greylag goose activity had a detrimental effect.

Manx Shearwater.

15 calling birds were estimated in and around the only known colony.


Overall productivity seemed a bit higher at sites monitored this year


The only sea bird that seems to be holding its own On Westray’s Noup Head colony the Apparently occupied nests(AON)from 106 in 2006 to 345 this summer an increase of 107%!!


Little solid data exists for shags in Orkney but one off visits to Swona and the Muckle Skerry suggested that productivity was down and the breeding season was late.

Arctic Skua

A very dismal year. 108 nests were monitored by Iain Maclean for RSPB and had a productivity of just 0.06. No young at all were reared in the study plots on Westray,Rousay,Mainland or Flotta with slightly more success on Stronsay,Eday and Papy. This probably reflects the lack of a food source(fish kleptoparasitised from Arctic Terns). This was also reflected in sightings of them hunting and eating song birds and Orkney voles. On Pappy they were seen eating Crowberry berries. All droppings around nest sites were found to contain the remains of beetles…desperate times.

Great Skua.

A strange situation it appeared to seasoned observers of the biggest colony on Hoy that numbers were in real decline yet at other sites there has been an increase over the last twelve years of 67% It is a possibility that the threat of cannibalism in high density areas due to the ongoing food shortages has driven the birds to redistribute to lower density areas

North Hill on Papa Westray did not to bad with 20 apparently occupied territories AOT’s reared 18 chicks. A healthy figure and comparable to that in 07.

Black Headed Gull

A poor season for them with the main colony at Mill dam Shap holding only 90 AON and failing completely. Most other colony’s also failed and dispersed. The most successful site was Boardhouse Loch where a colony was still thriving on 10th July.

Common Gull

Breeding success was varied but poor. Sandy Loch, Hoy had 78AON’s with 67 chicks raised and two colony on Eday produced only 3 chicks. Exceptionally dry conditions did not help as the ground was to dry for to long to be finding important earth worms. Colony’s were also prey to heavy predation from larger gulls and Bonxies leading to failures.

Herring Gull

Another gull species that had a variable season. At Burray Ness 100 adults were present and 39 nests were recorded from which 41 chicks were ringed. On Grass Holm20 pairs raised at least 15 chicks. It was a gloomier picture from other sites with few if any chicks raised.

Great Black Backed Gull

The largest decreases in this species were seen on Hoy. The once enormous colony at the Burn of Forse that once held one thousand birds contained only fifty adults. Further north at Stourdale a colony that once held 600 pairs only had15 AONs. Copansay held 335 AONs this year compared to 380 in 2000 a decline of 12%


A whole colony count on Copinsay 4th June produced a total of 1881 AONs compared to 4364 in 2000 a decline of 57%

Detailed monitoring of five mainland sites resulted in 353 nests being observed and not a single chick was raised. Here and there a few chicks were raised and out on Muckle Skerry(28th June) things appeared to be going well with 127 nests with 46 with chicks. 55 had brooding or incubating adults, unfortunately the difficulty in accessing this colony made follow up visits impossible.

Arctic Tern

Once again this spices suffered a disastrous breeding season. By may birds were returning and settling down to breed but failure after failure occurred and colony’s right across the isles were abandoned by June The only reasonably successful site was on the rock stacks at Skiba Geo,Birsay. Here 80 adults were in attendance and reared 20 chicks.

Common Tern

The main colony on the old wooden pier at Lyness,Hoy held140 adults on may 22nd and 90 birds were attending nests but was soon abandoned soon after this date.

Sandwich Tern.

The only known colony at Well Park Papy held 46 adults on the 9th June but failed shortly after with no chicks reared.

Little Tern

13 Adults were at the regular site but only one chick is thought to have been raised. A pair that nested and laid on North Ron also failed.


This species continues to go down hill rapidly.

A whole colony count on June 4th gave a total of14593 adults compared to 19549 in 1999 a 25% decline.

Anecdotal evidence sugested that the large colony’s on Noup Head and Marwick Head were much depleted this year. Dennis Paice monitored 125 nest sites at Marwick and Mull Head and not a single one of these raised a chick. It was a similar story on Papa Westray’s Fowl Craig. No young were raised from the 221 adults counted on the cliffs.


This auk is also experiencing real problems.

A whole colony count of the Copinsay group on June 4th gave a total of only 201 adults. This compares to a total of 671 in 2000 a 70% decline and322 in 2005 a 38% decline.

On Fowl Craig Pappy a max of 31 adults were counted with only two chicks. It is not known if they fledged. On Swona 5th July 8 chicks were ringed compared to 72 in 1999.

Black Guillemot.

Counts were down slightly across the isles.

An important colony appears to be developing on Grass Holm. 100 adults were there on the 8th June when many nests were found while on 28th July 15 nests were found with mainly with broods of two.


Few relevant data were collected in 2008 although 348 adults were counted on the Copinsay group on June 4th. The major colony on Sule Skerry was not visited this year.

Overall it looks like another year of decline in sea bird numbers with quite a few species suffering minimal breeding success. Auks and terns faired very poorly with Fulmars seeming to be holding their own along with Gannets. Bonxies looked poor on the ground but did surprisingly well away from the dense colony’s Red Throated Divers picked up after a slow start while the breeding success of the gull species was very variable although fairly poor.

Not a pretty picture.

The following pepole and orginisations are to be warmly thanked for their invaluable contributions to this report(that I have just skimed over in this summary)

Bob Adam, Bill Badger, Chris Bell, Chris Booth, Mike Cockram, Collin Corse, Lorna Dow, Kieth Fairclough, Mark Gurney, Paul Higson, Paul Hollinrake, Andy Knight, Allan Leitch, Iain Maclean, North Ron bird observatory, Barry O’Dowd, Dennis Paice, Ian Smith, Brian Ribbands, Lea Shields, Jim Williams, Stuart Williams, Tim Wootton….Not to mention Eric Meek for contributing and compiling it all.

Thanks to you one and all.

Nov 16, 2008

Quiet sunday

It was a no birding day today. I missed five Chaffinches in the garden which was a bit gutting as it would have been an Orkney record for me! Five in the one place exciting stuff. I would swap my next three Merlin’s for them no probs!! The only other birds I had were geese. From the stonyhill road looking down to the Harray Loch something put up the geese all along the shore. Geese rose in skein after skein along with balls of golden plover and starlings. There were a huge number of geese in the air. To much to count but I would guess five thousand plus. It was a fantastic sight and the noise carried well over the relatively still fields. A superb ten minutes!

Nov 15, 2008

Nov 13, 2008

Over the past few days things have been ticking over. The paddock seems alive with Pheasants at the moment. Redwings and a few Fieldfares have been in the scrubby fields in front of Happy Valley. Still no Waxwings but I might be hoping for a lot there!!. Hen Harriers were in the valley with a pair interacting with each other across the hillsides. Later we had a single bird attempt to quarter the hill and paddock but was set upon by a hoodie and thought better of it. The Redpolls continue to circulate around the valley. I have now seen them in Russadale quarry Happy Valley and around the house. They were around here twice today, first light and later when I got in at last light. The last visit was the best so far I managed to get within five feet and take a snap. I ran inside and dragged the wife out for a close view and managed another close approach. It was excellent to watch as they moved through the hedge devouring insects in an acrobatic manner. So that’s about it ,chuck in Sparrow hawk, Kestrel and Peregrine action and yet another flyover by a woodcock its not been a bad couple of days….I really must get out and do some birding some time tho….

Nov 7, 2008

A quiet day.

It was quiet but still a good day for birds. We were spiking apples and a woodcock flew over probably put up by Ruby’s dog. I stopped for a coffee about two thirty and a good flock of thrushes flooded by the window heading up the valley. They seemed longer than the Redwings that have been about and in greater number than I have seen so far so I would hazard a guess they were Fieldfares. Last bird of the day came as I was taking pictures of the setting sun illuminating a cloud burst. I was filming the scene panning around when a Peregrine obligingly flew down the valley for me. It turned out only a dot on the film so I don’t suppose I will post it. Its been all right with the weather as well finaly got stuff on the line. winds back to SE.

Its been a funny sort of day to day, one of those with highs and lows. It was misty and wet at day break. The mist rolled down to about half way to the heathers edge. Conditions were like this from yesterday afternoon. Walking the circuit with the dog little is to be seen below the house but around the corner is a sheep with its head completely stuck in a bit of doubled fence wire so the first act of the day is a sheep rescue. I had to straddle it to hold it still whilst I got its head and ears (both full of tags) out of the trap with out it getting hurt. I’m glad there was no one about to see…double glad there was no one with a camera. Mind you I did take a photo as I approached it. I think I am becoming a compulsive snapper. Any way out the field over the brig and up the track we were away. Stonechats and Wrens were quite vocal. There were a few more Blackbirds than usual I think. The Redpolls appeared moving about near the burn then took to the air and up the hill to the big patch of gorse. At the Hoodies nest a Wren showed really well in the tree. A Robin sang and another replied some where up the valley. Robins have been coming about the house for a while now but they are flighty skulking things that appear for a moment and move to back to cover. Below the ruin there is movement that draws the eye. Goldcrests are flitting about feeding in the sycamore and surrounding bushes. At one point I see one being set upon by a Wren. I had never seen this before, the Wren chased it off big style. The fascinating thing was the comparison in size with the Wren dwarfing the Goldcrest. It really brought home to me how small these wee birds are. All to soon the dog has spooked them so I move up to the quarry. There are Redwings rising out of the heather on the approach with more coming from the fuchsia that grows from the walls. Black birds stick about in cover and Stonechats appear but little else, the mist closes and drizzle starts so we head back to cross the we bridge and head over the back field to home. I nearly step on a pheasant which always makes the heart beat. Apart from four Twite passing over head nothing is seen the whole length of the field.

The day ended well with the RSPB local group AGM and talk. The annual report reaffirmed some depressing trends that continue and the talk on climate change did little to cheer me up. It was however very interesting to hear from a meteorologist and birder. It was also well presented and informative leaving you with a lot new information to think about.

I call her Barrbarra

Nov 5, 2008

5th Nov

The dog put up a woodcock in the garden this morning. Another first for the garden list.

Nov 4, 2008

Out and about out west.

With another stunningly calm and sunny morning I decided to take a spin out west. I really needed to be concentrating on my photo year list but high tides were not really in my favour, So the plan was a casual scan across the lochs and on to Rango for a few waders.

Stopping first at the Stenness stones for a look I whiled away a few minutes with Eric Meek who was passing. But all the while I was talking I was aware of the gentle splash of fish in the water before me. So as Eric shot off I concentrated my efforts looking across the bottom of the Stenness loch. The tide was fully up with on space for waders around the sides. Shoals of fish continually disturbed the surface. I am guessing they were small trout. Strangely they didn’t seem to attract any attention from the myriad of gulls that were loafing about. Out on the water Big flocks of Widgeon moved slowly around. Tufted duck and Mallard were well represented. The soporific calls of Long tailed duck drifted over the still waters. Scoping them out in the middle of the loch you could see the males posturing before the females beginning to sort things out for the next breeding season. Looking towards the brig half a dozen Goldeneye of both sexes milled about feeding in the moving water floe between the two lochs. Scoping the stubble fields beside the Brodgar bird crop a flock of Snow buntings could be seen twisting and turning before settling back down to feed in the wet stubble.

Moving on to have a look over the Brodgar pools it was Widgeon that dominated the scene with a few Mallard. I was hoping for something a bit different but it wasn’t to be. A bit of excitement flared up as contractors fired up there grass cutting machienery. This put fifty plus Curlew in to the air along with a load of Lapwings. These all circled and landed around the pools bringing a bit more interest. A few Redshanks and the occasional flight of a Snipe completed the picture. Saddling up and moving on I aim for the end of Stenness Loch below Voy. Below the farm of Lyking a massive flock of Curlew stretch across the fields and down to the loch edge. A truly impressive sight.

Stopping at a passing place on the hill looking down on the loch below Voy there is a good gathering of wildfowl. All the usual suspects are there but try as I might I just cant find a single Scaup for the list. It’s an enjoyable task sorting through the throng though. The Crannogs hold a few Redshank but little else of the wading variety. I roll down the hill with the idea of checking out the bays beyond Voy but give it up as the sunlight is low and shining strait in the face so I keep on going. From here I head to Rango to look for waders. A nice Bar tailed godwit would be an addition. On arrival its evident that my luck is out. The rains of late have filled the loch to brimming and there is no mud to be seen anywhere. There are a few ducks on the loch and some Snipe roosting on an island but little else of interest. In the fields on the opposite side it is another story. Here we have a big flock of Golden plover. They are spread almost the whole length of the loch. Spread through them and around the periphery are good number of Lapwing. Below all of this 2 to 300 Curlew are at roost. I watch for a while and as I do the flock takes of time and time again, spinning around and landing back in the same place more or less. (there is a bit of film in the local films) It was not what I really wanted but it was a fantastic spectacle none the less…..Birding. I love it!!

Snipe at roost

Book Review

It has been a long wait for The Orkney Book of Birds but at last it is finally here. Written by Tim Dean and illustrated by Tracy Hall. The book is lavishly illustrated with beautiful colour plates painted by the renowned wild life artist Tracy Hall. Her illustrations capture the essence of the birds portrayed exquisitely to give a real feel to the birds. This is so much better than a photograph can achieve. All of the subjects are painted at the locations they can be commonly found and it’s a fascinating challenge to pick out the locations from the illustrations. The real genius of it is that although the locations are well represented the back drop at no time draws your attention away from the bird in the foreground. There are 187 birds contained on 50 colour plates. A huge undertaking and so well executed that every single one is a cracker.

The author Tim Dean is a life long birder with a huge love of the subject. In the introduction Tim gives a fascinating review of the birding year in Orkney. He also explains the reasons he got in to birding and his motivation for writing the book. One thing he explains is the reason for just having 187 birds in the book. Basically these are the birds you are likely to find across Orkney through out the year. The list could be expanded to 400 or more if you were to count all the species that have had single occurrences over the years or the birds that appear once in a blue moon. Concentrating on the birds you will find and where you are likely to find them year round makes real sense for some one who wants to hunt down the birds of Orkney. Keeping to the well known names that are in common parlance rather than using the BTO descriptions will hopefully make birds a bit more recognisable to most lay folk that read the book. Where there is an Orkney name or a Scots name for a species then this is included along with a grading of how easy to difficult it is to find the particular bird. The text also will tell you about a birds relevance to the British and European scene if appropriate. Mostly it will concentrate on the history of the particular bird in the county and when where and how you might see it for your self. Each description is concise, packed with information and very well written.

Tim Dean and Tracy Hall have produced a book here that is an absolute gem. Well written and illustrated. It is packed with information and unlike other field guides that tell you what to look for this book will tell you all that and where about in the county to go look to find your bird. Descriptions like land mark and definitive are not going to be out of place describing this book. It’s a cracker…get one!!

Published by The Orcadian ltd (Kirkwall press)…£24.99.

01856 879001 (the Orcadian office).

It is launched this week. Tim and Tracy will be signing copies at the Orcadian book shop on Saturday morning.

Marks out of ten…..eleven!!

Nov 2, 2008

Sunset on Hunda

Yum yum


Sunday class with Tim Dean.

At 10.30 this morning five of us turned up at the Holm community centre car park for this months Tim Dean all day birding class. The weather as forecast was stunning with some high cloud and blue skies. To add to the effect the wind dropped all day letting the surface of the sea fall nice and calm. You really couldn’t ask for better, it was a bit of a contrast with last months. The first bird of the day was a Waxwing that was coming to apple and a berry bush. Fantastic birds and a first for some of the class. We watched it come and go for a wee while. Out attention was also take by a Dunnock singing from the top of a fir tree. Fun as it was we heade3d off down the back lane bit to have a look over the Loch of Ayre. The whole loch is hooching with birds as usual. The Whooper swans massively out number the Mutes today. The males are argumentative with each other producing continuing bouts of blokish behaviour..all very entertaining. The majority of the ducks are Widgeon with tufted and mallard the next most represented. Saying that I would have thought there would have been more tufted duck about. We exercised our scopes and bins for a bit picking out Male and female Gadwall and male and female Goldeneye. A car stops and it turned out to be Keith Hague who tells us there is a goosander around the corner and out of our sight. Its an excellent tip as it’s a bird I need for the old photo year list. We all wave him on his way and pile across the road to the shore track and sure enough Tim is the first one to get on it. He calls it sitting on the bank. A quick snap and its mine. We check out all the Mergansers we can see looking for another…and there are a few but with no luck so we are off back to the cars. After an uneventful walk back we are putting scopes away and chatting when suddenly every thing rises. There are flocks of Starlings followed by a flock of Golden Plover. Every thing is in a panic. Whilst we are looking for the cause a Sparrow hawk shoots across the car park feet from us at ankle height with a Starling in its talons. It pulls up in to an impossibly steep climb and pops over the community centre to disappear into the gardens beyond. Stunning, leaving behind it settling panic and a memory of whooshing feathers…..its wagons roll for Hunda.

Crossing the barriers the hunt is on for our target bird the Grey Phalarope. Yesterday there were none to be seen along the barriers so today the plan is to go to the island of Hunda. This is small island (200 acres) that sticks out into Scapa flow joined to Burray by a causeway. This will get us further out in to the sea and give us a better chance to find Grey Phal if they are still about. The barriers hold little apart from Red Throated and Great Northern Divers. We stop off at Echna bay lay-by. The sea is nice and calm the air still. From the far side of the bay we can here the mesmeric calls of Long Tailed Ducks. The sea is dotted with birds so we are soon sorting through them. There are rakes of Mergansers,Slavonian ,Greebs, RT and GN Divers, some nice Velvet Scoters and a first for me a Red Necked Greeb. I have looked for one a few times so I am finally chuffed to get one. I was a bit gutted to find that the only picture I got of it has its head in the water but such is life!!. With the warm sun on us we stop to enjoy a coffee before heading to Hunda.

Hunda is a small island that at one time supported nine pepole. Nowadays it is left to the sheep. It is conect6ed to the island of Burray by a causeway. Its an interesting feature in its self as no one really knows who built it. It was built maybe by the army between the wars or during the second war but know one realy kens. It is still solid and it wont go below the highest tide so you cant get cut off…cool. Parking at the farm of Littlequoy we walk the track to the shore scoping the sound as we go. Mergansers and long tailed ducks are conspicuous along with a couple of GND’s. We cross watching our footing as we go. We get close to a few Long tailed ducks that give every one a good view before they fly. Onto the island its self and we head for east Ayre the furthest point north to look out in to the Flow. Ahead is a Heron stood atop of a ten foot cliff looking down on to the rocky shore. I think he must have been taking a moment out to do some digesting stood up there. So far none of the coastline we have tried has held no Phalaropes and the Hunda shore is no different. Reaching the point the first bird that pops up is a Snow bunting…excellent. Every one has fine views as the rest of the flock appears over head. It is an absolute delight to be hearing the my first snow buntings of winter. With this we stop for lunch. Sitting looking out into the small area of Scapa Flow that we can see twenty or more Great northern divers dotted about. Some more Red throated divers that are in pairs and threes. Below on the rocky shore Turnstones forage and newly returned Purple sandpipers move across the lower rocks, they are as yet single birds but more will be coming soon. On the point of leaving we meet the folks who own the island coming from the other direction,they tell us of wee white birds on the sea moving like clockwork toys. YEE HAA we are off. As we are walking the western shore looking out into the flow its becoming obvious the sea here is full of fish. Accompanying us as we walk are a load of diving Gannets. They are twisting in to a dive at about fifty meters and plunging in to catch fish in spectacular fashion. There activity is bringing in Herring gulls and Blackbacks looking for easy food. Moving along an excited cry goes up as a flock of Phalaropes swirls around to land just out of sight. The class move to the cliff edge just in time to see the flock rise and head off towards Holm. A bit of a bummer but at least some folks got to see there first Phalarope. Continuing on to complete our circum navigation of the island we arrive above the Bar Taing looking in to the wee bay called the hope, not to be confused with the Hope over the bay hehehe. Out on the water it is mayhem Gannets maybe 75 or more are continually diving steadily feeding there are big gulls every where Its an impressive scene . There are more divers and sea ducks. The light is going fast and as there are no Phalaropes to be seen we press on rounding Cairn Head with its Broch and on past the Laxigar shore with its rich red sand stone. A few Turnstone and ringed Plovers were dotted about the best waders we see are a pair of Bar tailed godwits tho. The sun is setting as we cross onto the causeway. It seems like for the first time for ages that we have had a fiery sunset so it is a double treat being in such a fine site to see it.

Even though it is getting dark and we are about done the birding go’s on. A spy over the water reveals a large flock of Mergansers starting their roost. A count up has 75 with another 25 or more on the other side of the barrier. These lift off to settle with the big flock giving over a smart is that!! Wondering how you top that the sound of gun fire towards the hope has put up Geese and by the sound of them lots of geese. Sure enough here they come filling the skies Fifteen hundred maybe more…who knows. The air it thick. They fall out the sky in a twinkling of an eye. With in a minute or so they are in a huge flock in the middle of water sound with the sun setting behind them…..Not a bad end to a not bad day.

Nov 1, 2008

Waxwings this morning.

Its a two bird day.

A good day today. I managed to get a photo of a Redpoll in the garden which is another addition to my county photo year list not to mention the garden list!! This morning a flock of twittering birds came over the house and settled. Listening to them and not recognising what they were I ran round to the front to find three Redpolls in the sycamore starting to feed. There were more in the willows across the paddock. I grabbed my bins and after a minute the scope. I managed a few shaky shots as I struggled to split my time between watching through the scope and taking photos. Classic way to get crap photos which I did of course. At sunset I walked the dog up the valley and they were still about so it looks likely they will roost there and might be about at first light!

The other birds of the day were nine Waxwings. I was working on the north end of the back road when I heard there calls. I ran up the road to see them pass over head. I think they were the same ones as reported by almootie today as it was almost the same time as his report. I think there were three reports today on orkbird and a couple more on Orkney forum. It looks like the mainland has a fair smattering of them. I will be going back to Stromness to see if I can add to the year list the morn…..yeehaa..

Oct 30, 2008


A quick visit to Barnhouse today produced good numbers of Widgeon. It was Teal that were the big surprise with loads along the Harray shore line. There was little sign of Slavs but I was happy to see my first male and female Goldeneye of the winter happily feeding away opposite the Stenness kirk.

Oct 29, 2008



After the shite weather of the last few days it seems the forcast must have blown out of the window at some point. Things weren’t as expected when I woke up this morning. Blue skies and flat calm was the last thing I was expecting. The bike has been off the road with a wheel off for days so after throwing it back on I set off for the barriers and the Phalaropes.

For days now I have been reading reports of Grey Phalaropes around the barriers with the number growing each time. I went to see the bird at Deerness last winter a few times and it was a little cracker. It was quite tolerant of a close approach and interesting to watch feed. A pleasant slow run didn’t produce a lot on the way. There were small groups of red wings here and there and a Merlin crossed the road just above the traffic below Saverock. The loch at Holm had a good few Whoppers and Slavs kicking around. With nothing at the first barrier I cross slowly checking but see little. Next stop the pier on Lamb Holm, the only white birds on the water prove to be Tysties and over the pier has nothing hiding behind it. I shoot some photos of Scarfies and a roosting Oyster Catcher in the bright sun light. It’s a bit bright for this old camera but never mind. With the photos done I move off further down the barrier I pass another birder about half way down skulking about. Un seen by me there are thirty odd Grey Phal in the choppy water on the Scapa side. I miss the chance to turn in to the car park so I carry on to the third. Dive training is going on at one end so I cross to the other and park up. Across the road two other birders are looking down on a flock of Phalaropes. I join them to see twenty odd birds feeding in their distinctive fashion. They move around at such a rate of knots that I have a real problem getting the auto camera to catch a steady picture, it is all very entertaining though. So we have another five off to the left feeding in a bladder wrack lined pool and twenty two in a flock about twenty feet across. Beyond this Gannets are sporadically diving. Every so often one will come over to low or dive to close then the flock takes off and with a circle or two lands back in the area they are feeding. The gannets are taking fish and some one suggests that they are small herring. It is a laugh trying to get a shot of a Gannet entering the water. All photoed out I head back to the second barrier for a look. About half way down the flock were sitting just off the blocks. Walking down the far side until I was close I crossed the road to refind the flock. Fortunately they were fairly close. I crossed the Armco and on to the blocks moving slowly down the blocks I approach as much in cover as I can. Sitting comfortably and quietly in the blocks the birds ignore my presence as the flock moves to and fro feeding and always active. It’s a fantastic thing to be able to get that close to feeding birds with out being in a boat. I like birding when you don’t need binoculars!. On the way out I stopped in the village and spoke to Dave a Holm birder who was telling me that there were as many as eighty birds about Orkney at the moment.

Who said its an ill wind that blows no one no good….It rocks out there!!


Oct 25, 2008

Oct 23, 2008

Kestrel on the stones

Not much doing

The continuing S/W winds have brought a rake of Gray Phalaropes to North Ron a couple of days ago have started to drop them around the mainland with one reported over on Lamb Holm beside the pier. There must be more around in sheltered spots. I wonder if we will see wee auks appearing.

None of these were for me this afternoon. Having no waterproofs that don’t leak and heavy passing showers all day I thought I would stay close so i shot down to Brodgar for a look. I had the stones to my self to day which was nice but the view from the salty was pretty exposed to a buffeting S/W wind. Stenness Loch was a wind lashed mess with little to be seen. The pools were brimming full of water with no waders to be seen. A few distant widgeon and tufted duck were on the water but little else. I had a Kestrel in the stones tho and it put on a nice show. Back to the Stenness stones and there is a male and female Scaup with two separate groups of Tufted duck just before the brig with a Slavonian Grebe close in as well. I stop at the old bird carver’s cottage and watch the ducks taking advantage of the lee of the shore. After this I nip in to Barnhouse hide. The loch is getting whipped up by the ever freshening winds. Small groups of Tufted are toughing it out and in distant sheltered spots are a few Widgeon. There is little to be seen and bugger all else comes along to speak of. After amusing my self taking swan photos I shoot off. A dozen small birds pass over at the road and head along the Stenness loch side, Linnets I think. Crap but at least the wind is mild. I dump the clutch and go….

Oct 17, 2008

Latest arivals.

We had the first Fieldfares of winter in the garden this afternoon.


At long last The Orkney Book of birds is here. Tim Deans new work illustrated by wildlife artist Tracy Hall looks like its going to be worth the long wait. It is going to be released on saturday the eighth of next month.
I cant wait!!

Oct 16, 2008


I have just posted this on the Orkney forum but thought i would put it up here as well...

Here is a simple recipe for fat feeders that can be made at home. The advantage of these is the size compared to stuff you can buy. In the winter months a 2 or 3 ltr feeder will save you the hassle of refilling a fat ball feeder every couple of days. Add to this that they are more nutritious and a bit cheaper you and your birds should be well ahead.

Step one.

Gather all the gubbins that your going to need first.

Beef dripping


Wild bird seed

Big pan

Wooden spoon

2 Cups


Hanging sticks

Beef dripping. Proper beef dripping from your local butcher is the best choice. It is good and hard when set and makes for a durable feeder. I think it’s the only choice for this size of project.

Peanuts. These are used in equal weights with the amount of dripping and seed you use. But I might chuck in an extra cup of peanuts.

The bird seed. Try to avoid the really cheap seed mixes. If the seed you look at has lots of big seed like barley and wheat give it a swerve. Seed like this is not much use for attracting anything other than Pigeons and Collared Doves and Corvids. Look for a nice fine grain mix. This will prove the most attractive to the small birds we need to help in the cold weather.

Two cups. One to scoop the seed and nuts and one to scoop the warm dripping……using one cup makes loads of mess!!

Hanging sticks. The ones in the photo I made for the job but it is easy to make one from a small bit of branch from the garden. As long as you leave a few sticky out bits on it so the feeder weight is supported as the birds devour the block.

Moulds. These are made from Various stuff as you can see, a cooking oil bottle ,a drinks bottle and a couple of milk cartons.

Cover for your work surface. As you will be pouring warm dripping and seeds it will make a mess. Beware!

Step two

Put your peanuts in the blender and give them a whiz up. If you aint got a blender then bash them up in a bowl a cup at a time till they quite small. Put them aside with the bird seed ready to go.

Now comes the fat melting. I shouldn’t need to say this but I will. TAKE EXTREME CARE WHILST MELTING AND POURING THE FAT.

It is very easy to get burned. Please keep the kids away from this stage until you are ready to pour.

Cut the dripping in to lumps and melt slowly over a low heat. Keep stirring and as the last bits melt you should be about ready. Check the heat of the fat carefully remember you are not making chips!! The moulds are all capable of holding warm fat but hot fat will quickly melt them. If in any doubt then let the pan rest.

OK With everything ready pour one cup of dripping in the mould then one cup of seeds and one of nuts, stick in the hanging stick and puddle it up and down to make sure every thing is evenly mixed. Repeat this until the mould is full.

Try to get your seed n nut mix well saturated and add more mix if it has a clear layer of dripping on top. I try to get as much mix in to the fat as I can. Give the mix a quick twist with the hanging stick or a poke and prod with the back of a wooden spoon.

Work quickly with each mould as the warm dripping will get stiff quickly after it reaches a certain temperature.

Make as many as you can with the mix you have

Step three

Leave overnight to properly set then carefully cut away the moulds and discard. Hang one up an put the others in a cool place or the freezer until they are needed.

There you go nice easy to make and highly nutritious the only down side is who is going to do the washing up!!

It will soon be time for the RSPBs feed the birds day{sat oct 25th} where you will find all sorts of interesting feeding tips and information. This is a national event so where ever you are look to your local press for details and come along. We might even help you join up!!

Enjoy your birds.

Oct 13, 2008


Taken tonight at 21.00.

Oct 10, 2008

Moon tonight at 22.10

Hand held Nikon 5600 thru Opticron ES80 .

Out and about

A quick spin into town today produced the first Long Tailed ducks of the autumn on the peedie sea. There were good numbers of Tufted there and not a few Mallard. Leaving town in the fields opposite the mart I noticed a big circular flock of Golden Plover feeding on the ground. These would be the first good flock I have seen in Hatstown this year so I turn and go back for a look. Typically as I approach they are all taking to the air and heading over the back of the mart. Diving in the car park I pull up to try and count, there are now three flocks of about 200-300 along with a few lapwing and Curlew that have also been spooked. Some drop between the mart and shore the others head to Orkney meat….I head off.

I have a quick stop at Quanterness. The fields between the road and the shore are starting to host flocks of Greylag so it’s a quick scan to look for collars and off again. There are plenty of Lapwing and Curlew flocks between there and Finstown. Last stop was a pull in at Stenness kirk. Coasting down the hill for the last bit gives a silent approach hidden behind the graveyard wall. Looking over the wall there are about a million Common Gulls. With the crash helmet still on and the bins to my eyes I slowly look over the wall. The south end of Harray Loch is in sight but all I can do is hold my breath The gulls don’t all rise at once but the nearest ones rise uneasily. Scanning across the loch the water is choppy with small rafts of Tufted and Mallard. Gulls bathe around the islands. The rough ground beyond is well filled with Curlew at roost. On the shore and in the field edge Lapwings are standing around doing little as well. I could see Golden Plover rising and landing down here earlier from the house but two hours later they are nowhere to be seen. I see the first Slavoninn Greeb I have seen on the loch this autum. Happy with that I move away to cover and then slowly leave. Looking back from the last rise on the road every thing is still quietly at roost…….job done

Oct 7, 2008

Whats on

I have just been listening to a very intresting radio program on migration. There were exelent contributions from Martinmeer discribing the Pinkfeet influx. There was also intresting info on the migration of Swallows down through Africa. Contributers included Simon King and Birds Britanica writer Richard Mabey.

Find it here on listen again.

Look down the page and click on World on the move with Philipa Forrester and Brent Westwood.

Oct 6, 2008

Cold day

Brig of Waith

A quick spin out some where to day just could not be avoided. It seems like days we have been stuck indoors,traped by endless rain and a north wind. I managed a spin down to the Brig of Waith for the quickest of spys. The tide was on the fall and looked high but not bad. Over on the Stenness loch side the skerry was occupied by forty Curlew and about the same in Lapwing. A few Turnstone dotted along one edge of the Lapwings dozed quietly.. Little else was to be seen out on the loch a couple of Dunters and a couple of seals skulked about. The shore in the distance below the Howe road junction fairly buzzed with small birds. Scoping them up it looked like a large flock of Mipits feeding.

Returning to the seaward side the farthest shore is dotted with Common Gull and Curlew. Little else is to be seen amongst them, a few Redshank and one Black tailed godwit. Over the rough near ground my progress disturbs a flock of feeding Twite. They take to the air in a noisy flight thirty strong. Swirling around me they land no farther than the spot they took off from. As I pass them they seem oblivious to my presence. Crossing the stubble field that will give a view over to the dead sands meadow pipits take off from around my feet. There’s a bit of commotion as a hundred yards from me Starlings and Rooks take to the air, sure enough the culprit is clear. A ring tailed Harrier passes over the field before heading out over the water and over the dead sands before me. Flocks of waders take to the air before it dispersing in panicked flocks to the distant fields and safety. Some circle and land back on the muddy sand but not for long as the big raptor starts to quarter the further fields and fence line.

Approaching the field edge there are twenty or more Mallard and a few Teal that are now spooked out of there sheltered hiding spot concealed directly below me. Three red breasted Mergansers also push out from the side. Looking at all three its impossible to tell which is which with the sexes. The males take on female plumage at this time of year…it must be enough to give a young saw tooth a complex. Across the water Curlews predominate with a few Dunlin dotted about. The only other bird of note is a Black Tailed Godwit. Struggling with the sun in the face I head back to the bike where once again I am treated to a fine display from the flock of Twite. It is fresh and bright with threatening clouds. The wind has sung around to the South East and is carrying a milder air flow. The sky above is now full of the cries of Greylag geese. This last while has seen quite a passage of Pink feet moving over at altitude but Greylag arrivals have been boosted by the N/W winds of the last couple of days. What we need now is a strong constant weather system to blow from the N/E…..we can but hope

Oct 2, 2008


Goldcrests put in an appearence in the garden today for the first time...hooray!!

Redwings are still around.
A Merlin made a kill in front of me yesterday snatching a wee bird out of the dockens in the padock.
Pinkfeet passage continues.

The weather looks bright and clear before the storm.

I might try and get a couple of hours birding in this morning.

Sep 27, 2008



Last night we were lucky enough to witness fine if short display of noctilucent clouds. I went out about 22.40 and the sky was glowing with clouds. I thought it was an aurora at first glance but it was soon obvious this wasn’t to be {aurora watch is very quiet at the moment as well} There’s no moon to speak of as well. I watched the display for five or tem minutes, dragging all and sundry into the garden. The responses varied from ooo cool to its cold,im missing the end of my program. And that all time classic’ will someone put that bloody outside light back on……Ahh….with every one successfully under whelmed by the wonders of nature. I nipped in to post the sighting on the web and came back out in time to see them quickly disappear….It was a fantastic display tho.

Noctilucent clouds are the highest of all clouds. They can be as much as eighty miles up!. The general thought as I understand it is that these clouds of ice crystals that form around particulate matter possibly left by the rocket trails from space launches. As the sun drops further and further below the horizon its oblique rays illuminate the clouds from below giving the spectral glow. What ever the cause the phenomenon is the sightings are becoming more regular. Last night was the third time I have been lucky enough to see them this year.

The grainy photo is from last time I saw them and the blue sky one was from last year.

Sep 26, 2008

First Sightings

Yesterday i saw my first Redwings of the winter.
Flushed out of the vally scrub by Ruby and her dog on their regular walk. A dozen birds rose and settled again in Happy vallefirsty.

Sep 24, 2008


I took a spin out today. Heading out past Brodgar first there was little to be seen along the shore. The fields held a few Mipits milling about. A spin to Voy revealed more at the far end of Stenness loch. In the lee of the skerries Newly arrived Widgeon sheltered from the breeze. The scope revealed a good spread of the usual suspects. Rolling past Voy its self put up the usual Sparrows and Greenfinches. The bay beyond was teeming with Greylag Mallard and Widgeon, Along the rocks roosting Lapwings and Curlews stood immobile. My attention was drawn by a flock of wee birds circling over the old mill. As I moved towards the junction they moved to the roof of the house on the corner. Dead right…I hopped off the bike and snapped a couple of shots through the scope.

Flocks of Twite are all over the west mainland at the moment I saw four flocks of twenty to thirty+ in the course of 90mins today. Heading off I spin on to Rango for more Twite… Rango holds loads of BH gulls a few common waders and little else but as I was about to leave I spy a nice Ruff feeding quite close to me. This perks me up no end as it is another bird for my county photo year list…check it out at this link( if links work in the blog….hehe)

Heading back home I take a stop at the loons hide. Theres not much to see but a Moorhen is being quite entertaining whilst preening so I snap a few shots and some film as it starts to resume feeding. There are also two common Scoters feeding away. I manage to get some film of one feeding then a couple of stills. Unfortunately a couple more birders enter the hide so that’s the end to the didgiscoping as the hides a bit bouncy with folk in. A quick spy along the Loch of Banks produces a few Redshank and little else so it’s the coop and home for me. A nice cup of coffee and a look at some fuzzy pics. It’s a reasonable day when I can get another snap on the year list.

Sep 22, 2008


At about six last night (sun) we were at the Strombo coop for a few bits and while we were there we nipped across the road for petrol and lucky we did while I was sat there my attention was taken by a cat walking through five Pied wagtails. The cat was walking nonchalantly through the throng ignoring the birds all around him. I am sure he new there was no way that he could pounce on any of them in the flat car park. As I looked I could see more over the road in the lorry park. This was enough to get me out the car for a look. Sure enough Pied wagtails were gathering in preparation for there evening roost. They were along the shore and across the car park. There were upwards of twenty five milling about. I had a look for whites but saw none. Quickly I was back to the car and off. Next we stopped on the Garson side and I had a look across the school playing fields here I managed to see thirty seven birds with out the aid of binoculars. It’s a very pleasing sight. If your in the vicinity before sundown have a look and a count up!

Sep 19, 2008


The extreamly rare Cretzshcmars Bunting has been reported today on North Ron.

Sep 18, 2008