Jan 28, 2009


There have been about 150 Fieldfares in the fields below the house for the last few days. There were good numbers kicking about the fields in Orphir this afternoon when i went to photograph the Ark Royal. Its nice to see them about as there havent been a lot about this winter.

Jan 27, 2009

Back for a Glauc.

With the rain abating and the skies clearer yesterday looked a lot more photo friendly than the wet Sunday we had just tramped through. All in all it was the sort of day that just wants to drag you out in to it so you can indulge in a bit of birding. It would have been rude to have resisted!. After a late start and a couple of runs to move boxes to our new house(that’s right we are moving again) I thought I would shoot out to Marwick bay to see if I could manage some snaps of the Glaucous Gulls. Yesterday couldn’t have been more of a contrast with the light breezes and blue skies of the afternoon. There wasn’t a lot to see on the run out just masses of Greylag feeding across the fields. My favourite spot en route is the bird crop at Queena and this had no sign of any life as I passed.
The road down to Marwick is where the Tundra Bean goose has been hanging out, not that I was going to see it to day. It is one thing to sneak about with a car slowing to a stop and winding down the windows, it is another thing o a bike. You don’t get to do a lot of sneaking up on anything on a thousand cc rat bike with an open pipe. Certainly not a field of geese. Sure enough the geese that were there all took to the air from either side of the road rather in the manner of the parting of the red sea!
Fortunately my luck was more in with the Glaucs and a quick scan showed me one feeding on the seal seventy yards north of the burn outfall and sitting on the sea at the far corner of the bay. With the conditions a bit bright for my wee Nikon (I smashed my P5100 last week}I started to approach along the waters edge. Wearing neutral colours I made my first shots from the tang line thinking I would blend in with the colours. All went well as I took a few shots and moved forward continually closing the distance. Every so often the bird would rise to gracefully hover swing round and land to resume feeding. At one point it was off and replaced by a second. Feed and bath seems to be the pattern with these carrion feeders as they find a level between preening their feathers and gorging themselves on the rotting flesh of the unfortunate seal. In the end I was forty yards off and not disturbing the birds when they all took off along with the Widgeon close by on the sea and a horde of noisy Redshanks..bugger. Behind me the crash crash of footsteps coming down the storm shore. An old feller was standing there “ Aye aye mon is that a camera you have there” “what are you photographing” “Oh just those gulls that are disappearing over Marwick head”….mmm biting the tongue we have a wee chat then head in opposite directions. I cant be arsed to withdraw and repeat the whole approach so I call it a day and head of to fight the wife for time on the computer. Below are a few of the better snaps.

Jan 25, 2009

Glaucous gull in the rain

A wet day at Marwick

It was a cool and wet morning that held little promise of drying up. Today was the monthly birding class with Tim Dean and we were due to meet up at the Bay of Skail at ten an hour hence. The rain was rattling off the house roof in a repetitive heavy then light sort of fashion. Each time it eased you could feel your hopes rise to be washed away by yet another increasing shower. Biting the bullet I fired up the bike and headed out in to the morning weather.
We all met up at the Bay of Skail car park. Surprisingly the rain had turned to a mild drizzle yet would not cease. Over the next ten minutes the class gathered and so did the clouds. The only folks that seemed unperturbed were the crowd of surfers that were changing into wet suits and waxing their boards before heading out in to the freezing cold breakers of the Atlantic….my respect to them and rather them than me. With an increasing patter of rain it was decided to take half the cars to the Marwick Head Kitchener memorial foot path and half the cars to the hide at the Loons. From here we could do a five mile semi circular walk taking in the fisherman’s huts and Marwick bay.
Arriving at the Loons hide you have a view over a large expanse of wetland with immediately in front of you a pool backed by reed beds. We soon settle down to spy out the ground but there was not a whole hell of a lot to see in the rain. There were Widgeon and Mallard on the rough ground at the side of the pool and a good few Teal on the banks. Away in the distance grazing in a field there are a puckle of Greylag geese. These we regard with interest as this is the main feeding area for the main flock of Greenland white fronted geese that frequent Orkney. They however seem to dislike being on the hillside here in easterly winds. Its disappointing but what you gona do. Some interest was generated by Lapwings passing over and a Heron rising and landing a couple of times in increasingly shorter distances from the hide. This gave the opportunity for some seriously good close up views from the scopes. You would think I would have goton some good photos but try as I might its just impossible in the hide as it is built on boggy ground so the slightest movement has the whole place rocking like a ship at sea. With little else to see we head off on foot via the roads to Marwick.
Over the past few weeks numbers of Lapwing and Curlew seem to have risen dramatically across the county and they were certainly an obvious presence in the fields today. The fields in this area of the west mainland are hooching with Greylag and today is no exception. Amongst all of these Greylags there is a single Bean goose and Tim’s well trained eye soon has it picked out for every one. This one is from the Russian population. It is smaller than the Greylags and I must admit if I had found it I would have put it down as a Pinkfoot. The bird is feeding in with a small flock of Greylag and thankfully shows little willingness to take to the air. We all get fine views through the scopes as the flock feeds along side a horde of Curlew and Lapwing. Other interest is provided by a flock of Golden Plover that descend in as one to land and feed in an elongated flock. They rise and land a couple of times giving fine views for the binoculars. Moving off our attention is caught by a single wee bird that lands on the verge twenty yards from us and promptly disappears. It is a Rock Pipit. This is a proper winter sighting. We are quarter of a mile from the sea and it is only at this time of year you will catch them off the shore. By spring and for the rest of the year they seldom move more than a few meters from the shore line.
Moving down to the shore of Marwick bay the sea is providing dramatic effects with sizable waves breaking in huge long tubes on the rocky division of the Choin. Away along the shore above where the burn runs into the sea is the bird we have come to see. Feeding on the carcass of a washed up seal is a magnificent Glaucous gull. One would be a note worthy event but there are three, one on the seal and two bathing in the outfall of the burn. They are all first year birds and little fazed by our presence. We move down the rocky storm front of the shore in the hope of getting out of the wind. Things improve with the wind and we have fine views but the rain is falling steadily so all glauced up we turn and head to the fisherman’s huts to have a well earned cup of coffee and a roll. The fisherman’s huts date back to an earlier age when the farmers of the parrish would also fish to supplement their meagre livings. The huts are rude shelters built into the cliff faces and would provided shelter and storage for their boats and gear away from the ravages of the Atlantic winter. It is often said as a description of the different topography between Shetland and Orkney that Shetlanders were fishermen that farmed and Orcadians were farmers that fished..its very true.
Lunch was enjoyed (in the rain) with a view out of this narrow bay. Before us the waves rolled in and crashed on the rocky outcrops. Shags deftly fished just beyond the crashing surf. They were about in large numbers and accompanied by rafts of Dunters(Eider ducks). In the air three Gannets circled taking the occasional dive for fish. These were all mature birds looking vividly white in the grey wet light. A herring gull with a fish was briefly mobbed by young Blackbacks. Another bird of interest was a Kittiwake that wheeled about looking for the chance of a meal. Whilst we watched another two joined it. All three were first year birds and it’s a chinch they didn’t originate from here. It is a bit far north for them at this time of year but you do see them from time to time, Tim was telling us that there are first year birds over in the Kirkwall marina at the moment as well. As we pack up to move off a flight of Purple Sandpipers cross the bay(more of an inlet really) to land just out of sight on the southern point.
We walk back the half mile to Marwick bay to have a passing look at the Glaucs once again. Earlier in the week there had been five together, a record for Orkney I think. This time we manage to see four in the bay. It is a thrilling sight, I have only ever seen single birds and this is a real treat. It’s a proper taste of the arctic. All the birds are first year birds and probably never seen humans until now. I pull my camera out of my pocket to find it sitting in water. The paper towel in my old camera bag is a soggy mess so I about give up on didgiscoping for the day(but I will return!) With that we head off to the cars at the Kitchener memorial foot path. Little else is to be seen in the steady drip of rain. It was a short and damp session today but well worth the effort. My new Opticron stay on cover has proved its worth despite my reservations and I have a new bird on my life list….worth getting damp for!!

Heron today

Bean goose

Fishermans huts at Marwick.

Jan 14, 2009

It was a cold and fresh afternoon yesterday when I decided to have a wee spin about. Looking at the tide times I could see that the tide was falling over Stromness way so that seemed a place to have a look. Heading in that direction I stop to have a look around the brig of Waith This is a bridge spanning the entrance to the Loch of Stenness. The Stenness loch is one of the largest saline lagoons in Britan and holds a fantastic varietie of flora and fauna adapted for life in the brackish conditions. Every day the tide flows under this narrow stone built bridge. Channelled through the narrow gap the force of water builds up to a torrent that resembles a river in spate. Within the flow are concentrated the fish that come to feed and taking advantage of it are as always a host of opportunistic seals. They move effortlessly in the raging torrent always on the look out for a meal. They are a fascinating sight to watch that is if your not fishing for sea trout ,if you are they are little more than a royal pain in the arse!! On the sea ward side the channel widens out and in one part of the shore there is one our few areas of muddy flats. This is called the dead sands. Of course they are anything but dead!. Parking up it is all to obvious the tide has a lot more to fall before the skerries and favourite feeding places are revealed. On the sea ward side things are a little better. T he falling tide is more pronounced here. Unfortunately their is little to be seen bird wise. Along the ware strewn rocky shore small numbers of curlew are picking away in the bladder wrack. Their numbers are augmented by A few Redshank and Widgeon but little else. Taking advantage of the field still being in stubble all be it very muddy stubble I cross to the place where the Hydro wires cross the channel. This gives a view across to the Dead Sands. The falling tide has revealed the small flat expanse but unfortunately there is little to be seen. Redshanks forage al over the place but there is little sign of anything else. Usually there is a host of wading birds but I suppose I should be here on the rising rather than falling tide. Mallard and Widgeon are the most prolific of the sea ducks. Out on the water there are Red breasted Mergansers, Long tailed ducks, and all the usual Scarfies. A little disappointed I head back to the bike and the brig. Looking over to the Stenness side it’s a similar story. There are Tufted duck ,Widgeon, Long tailed ducks and a few Scarfies. Very disappointing. At this time of year I would expect to see a good few Snipe along the shore and maybe a few Scaup from the large flocks that hang out here. All is not lost though and I concentrate my photographic efforts on a pair of young seals that are basking in the 2deg warmth of the day. Its pleasing that they don’t take to the water but indulge me with a bit of portraiture. The light is failing now. Its about 2.45 and if I want to visit another sight then I must be off. I head for the beach at Warbeth. This is a beach at the back of Stromness. It’s a wild and exposed beach with the ferocious currents of the Hoy sound ripping past and the majestic hills of Hoy behind it providing an impressive backdrop. Here the tide is substantially lower but little sand is showing amongst the rocks. The shore line is waist deep in the thick stalks of Tangles. Although now a days it is left for the sea to return and wash away this kelp used to be keenly collected and provided islanders with some much needed seasonal income. The tangles were collected and dried for sale to the cosmetics and fertiliser industry. They were also used in products as diverse as ice cream to the production of iodine In an industry that spanned right around the Scottish coast. By now time has moved on and as it approaches 3 o’clock the light is really taking a dive. Looking over the the exposed beach the few far off patches of sand are hosting birds. A look through the scope reveals a good flock of Ringed Plover feeding alongside some Dunlin. Making my way across the tangles and the slippy rocks underneath it takes a few minutes to get in range enough to look for a photo opportunity. Slowly approaching the flocks rise up and circle to land not far from where they alighted. Whilst I am assessing my chances of approaching closer a rush of low flying birds arrive and settle not thirty yards from me. Their whistling calls and scaly feather patterns give them away as a flock of Purple Sandpipers. They are unbothered by my presence and get stuck in to their feeding routine moving constantly and probing the rocks for tasty and nutritious morsels. After a moment they are so close that it is hard to get them in the scope for long enough to get a snap with out them wandering out of the depth of field!! Most of the shots I take suck tho. I am looking towards the light and there is a very light background of sea and spume. My P5100 might be a fine camera but It dose not like these conditions and struggles to get a decent exposure on its auto setting. Turning through a hundred degrees to look down the beach is another story there are still Ringed plovers feeding along with a few Dunlin. These fall more readily to the camera in the failing light. Fun as it is my knees are wet and my hands frozen so i decide to head off home. This can be a fantastic beach with Godwits, little, Grey Plover having been seen recently. Today it’s a quiet place, not that I mind the real joy is just being out amongst it.

Jan 13, 2009