Mar 31, 2009

Through the kitchen window

After another long day of westerly wind and drizzle things improved with the end of the day. At a pleasantly light seven o’clock a female Short eared owl flew across the gardens in front of the kitchen windows. It was moving very slowly hunting the fence line and we managed good if brief views. With in fifteen minutes it had reappeared three hundred yards away quartering the scrubby ground around the ruins of Minora. It ranged between the standing stone and around the ruin. This area is on the brow of a hill so from time she would drop below the horizon to reappear some where else entirely. Although she passed back and forth eight or ten times I only saw her drop twice both times I think unsuccessful. Eventually she moved away out of view. This was the first raptor to go on the garden list for the new house(there was a ringtail here the other day but I missed it) so things are brightening every day. The photo is a really dodgy record shot but I cant resist it……hehe

Mar 29, 2009

Today on the Birsay shore

Today’s efforts have taken us to the north western corner of the mainland. We started with a walk along the Birsay shore from below the Kirk yard to the village and on to Buckquoy point. The walk down to the shore was fringed with the stubby blooms of Butterburr. One of the first flowers of spring it arrival seems to be part of the avalanche of signs that herald the arrival of the growing season. The clocks going forward last night, the boat race, the Grand National it’s a sure thing that we are in the inevitable slippery slope towards the better weather…last nights snow not withstanding!!
The sea had a bit of a chop on but nothing to fierce. There wasn’t a lot doing at first glance though. A few Eiders in loose groups ,a couple of Shags and a flock of Widgeon and a GBB Gull here and there was about it. In the air a couple of Gannets were circling and dropping to feed. It is impossible to tell if these birds have returned from the Mediterranean latitudes or if they are local wintering birds. But the return will be well under way soon enough. Along the waters edge was where the action was to be found. We were here for the higher side of the tide. This way the birds are concentrated on the higher strand line rather than spread over the rocky reaches of the Birsay bay. This bay has some of the more favoured storm shore on the west mainland and was being well hunted over by a variety of waders. Good amounts of Redshanks along with Turnstones and Ringed Plovers ran back and fro before the waves. Shag and Cormorants both sat on the sands preening. The real jewel in the crown tho was the Purple Sandpipers. There were 150 or more along the shore. Strange to say there were no Dunlin today or any sign of Sanderling which is a shame as this is one of the more reliable places to see them.
Walking the links above the beach We find a flock of a dozen or more Snow Bunting feeding on seeds and debris left over from the resident cattle’s silage feed. Snow Buntings are one of those delightful birds like Purps that have little fear of man so with a little patience they are soon foraging less than fifteen feet away. That was until every thing about hands was put up by a briefly seen raptor. So moving on to the burn beside the village for our next target bird we start to look for a Grey Wagtail that had been here the day before. There were plenty of Pieds kicking about wit their chirping song and bounding flight but try as we might there was no sign of a Grey. We wandered up the burn towards the mill but found little but a Heron, a couple of male Reed Buntings and a few Mallard. We did find a nice Otter latrine with spraint. This one was well out in the open rather than the usual places of under or along side bridges or the culverts that run under the roads. From the burn we pass the old palace and return to the shores edge. The shore line is still festooned with waders whilst out on the water Tim’s eagle eye spots a Gadwall in amongst a flock of Widgeon. Quite what a fresh water duck is doing in such mixed company out on the sea is I suppose any ones guess tho. The rocks along the end of the bay are festooned with Purple Sandpipers and we all have a good last look before we head over to the leeward side of Buckquoy point for a seat and dinner.
Dinner is taken in the company of Eider, Shag, Black Guillemot and Gannets before we head west along the coast to Skipi Geo. A Geo is what we call a rocky inlet and Skipi Geo is one of the most scenic around. The south westerly wind is blowing over our heads at this point and all along the world is a different place for birds. Little is to be seen and we move along past the Hesta Geo. This is the place that my blog originated with its first report on a night spent ringing Stormies here. I wont tell you about it here but you can go to the other end of the blog to read more. I would say tho that if you come here on a summer evening with a full moon and sit out on the lower rocks a bit of patience may well be rewarded with a fluttery pass of one of these elusive wee birds. Another small flock of Snow Bunting is a delightful find here. Beyond this point the path rises with the cliffs until we reach Whitaloo Point. Although there are none to day this is one of the most reliable places to see Puffins on the mainland. With a short walk along the steep sides of long Geo past the hanging valley and the many Fulmars that have staked out their favoured places we are all to soon back at the cars we deposited earlier.
It is only three in the afternoon and no one wants to give it up for the day so we have a choice we could go to the Broch of Birsay for a sea watch now that the tide is falling and it is accessible of we could try for the Greenland White Fronted Geese that gather some what elusively on Yonbell hill just beyond the RSPB hide at the Loons. Megan has lucked out each time she has been out to look for them so it is decided to have a bash there. After a bit of a convoy along the back roads looking for flocks of Golden Plover that will be passing through hopefully in their summer livery we arrive at the loons and our luck is in. there are Grey Lags in the fore ground…one with a collar that was fitted to trace the movement of local breeding birds. Further up the hill there are several pink feet and beyond them the Greenland White Fronts. With a count done we get nearly seventy. A nice tick for Megan. Other interest was provided by splendid looking Teal in good number, noisy Coots and argumentative Mallards. The sound of displaying Sky Larks continued over head as it has done all day accompanied by the whistling calls of displaying Lapwings. A large Peregrine was spotted sitting probably finishing a meal. As all binoculars zeroed in on it the Poor bird thought better of the attention and took to the wing disappearing swiftly from view. With this the rain that had held off all day began to fall and we decided to call it a day…and not a bad day it was.


This is another casualty shown to us today by Tim Dean This was once a Jack Snipe. It was recovered on the Hope golf course short ago.

Mar 24, 2009

A few Shoveller today

A quick look to Shap

I was over on the island of Shapinsay for a while to day so needles to say I managed a very quick look about before I had to come away.

Heading out from Kirkwall The day was already beginning to dull down. The forecast was for rain coming in the afternoon then remaining for the rest of the day. How come they are so often right with the rain but struggle to predict a bit of sun? Anyway the sea was a slate grey and quite devoid of birds. The fields above the Carrness shore held plenty of Greylags and the shore the occasional gull and Redshank. It was all very slow, the biggest flock of Dunters was only 15 strong, there were a few Long tailed ducks and a single Black Guillemot. Thieves Holm was a bit more occupied with a covering of mainly Greater Blackbacked Gulls and Herring Gulls holding the lowish high ground. A few Curlew were stood quietly around. The rocks of the shore were of more interest holding both Shag and Cormorant together. Eiders were spread all along the shore keeping to the rocky edge out of the flowing tide or hauled right up on the rocks where the males stood out starkly with there light plumage. Black Headed Gulls and Redshanks were the othere birds on the shore line. It was all nice and close from the ferry tho. Beyond Thieves Holm I caught sight of the first bonxie of the year. I was well chuffed to see it as its another step towards spring.

At one time Thieves Holm as the name suggests was a place you would not want to go. Not having a prison on the islands miscreants would be taken to this small empty island and be thrown ashore with bread and water and left to it. They would be resupplied when it was time and that was there lot no cover no fire. Looking at the island from the shore it seems no distance to the shore but the tide is so fierce that any escape attempt would end in a watery grave…How times have changed in the criminal justice system!!

On Shap its self I had a spin into the hide over RSPB milldam. There were good flocks of Widgeon on the water and grazing the fields. The fields were also thick with grazing Greylags. Teal were well represented and quite evenly spread about. Most of the usual suspects were about but I was pleased to see 17 Shoveller spread across the loch in three loose groups.

We ventured down the track to the Ouse but with the low tide every thing was a bit far for the bins in the wind and increasing rain. There were plenty of waders about and I counted 25 Shellduck as they were easy to count. The bottom of the track looked like a nightmare so we turned half way and beat a retreat. It was a fine enough spy about tho and you have to grab what you can get. I hope next time to be over for a longer look.

Thieves Holm....last stop

A couple of garden birds this weekend

Mar 22, 2009

West Westray cliffs

Musings and Rantings

I was reading my march copy of Birdwatchng when I saw the disturbing report of the disappearance breeding farm birds across Wales. In particular the Curlew, Lapwing and golden plover. For us I suppose we don’t really have a big population of breeding Golden plover but we do have substantial breeding populations of Curlew and Lapwing. They are birds that I take for granted here. In winter we have abundant wintering populations and the first bubbling of amorously intent Curlews herald the opening of the daffodils and the arrival of spring.
It comes as a sobering thought that I may have more wintering Curlews in a square mile of where I am sitting than will breed successfully across the whole of Wales. It seems that changes in agricultural land use that are to blame here. More land is being drained and the habitat for breeding lost. More intensification in meat production is seeing hay fields lost to silage production. This to is a problem that is reflected here on Orkney with silage production becoming more intensive. A hay crop might be cut once in a year but an industrious farmer may cut silage from the same field three times over the summer season. This brings a host of problems. There is a lot of fertiliser used that runs off, The grass grown is a mono culture and the diversity of insect life is reduced, The silage crop may provide some nesting opportunities for Lapwing but most birds don’t like it. In the densely planted grasses the fledged young cannot move freely enough or fast enough to escape the farmers machinery when they start to cut. Lapwings may attempt three clutches in a year so it’s a sickening thing to see clutch after clutch fall to the harvester. In short areas of Orkney are virtual bio deserts. To see such a situation has developed across the whole of a country the size of Wales is nothing short of catastrophic. As a nation the UK should hold its head in shame for this state of affairs. I know fine enough its not just Wales and this is mirrored in counties like Lincolnshire as well thing is though what is to be done?
In the long term I think all agricultural production needs to be moved away from supplying global exports and redirected to supplying national needs in a framework of a national sustainable permaculture system with protection of the wild biodiversity with in and outside of its boundaries as a basic tenant.
In the medium term I would like to see a European wide spread expansion of support for habitat repair and creation. A subsidised introduction to sustainable agriculture and permaculture systems. Protection enshrined in national and international law for sensitive areas of migration fly ways like estuarine waters and feeding areas.
In the short term I would expand habitat support schemes from the Hen Harriers all the way to reintroducing set aside to be run with bio diversity in mind notletting the ground be sterlised by round up!! Let people have the choice to have 5% of their PAYE go to a ring fenced environmental development fund instead of the treasury’s coffers.
And some thing to give all those chicks being hatched out there in the agro assault courses that are supposed to be fields. The government should immediate enact a law (reflected across Europe) requiring all farmers to harvest all from the centre of the field in an eccentric fashion. Thus giving the chick’s some slightly improved chance of survival.
Any way this is all just musings brought about by the sad state of Teeick’s and Whaups across Wales. A lot of folks will look at this and say so what, there’s nothing I can do its all to big. Well there is cos we are the people, if we all shout together we can be heard anywhere. Just look at the membership of the RSPB. There are more of us paying dues than members of all the political parties combined ,and that’s just the mainstream RSPB. Its time to make your voices heard. There is an election coming! It will be time for them to take heed of what we say and come forward with solid commitments to stop the world going down the toilet. The world is changing for the worse we need to make a change for the radical better. Its an awful thought to think of a country as fine as Wales to no longer have the cries of Curlews cutting across the air or the swooping antics of displaying lapwings gone from the landscape.
We can make a difference…will we?......shall we?....YEA LETS!

Mar 19, 2009

Whitish Buzzard

This is a poor shot but it shows a very whiteish Buzzard. I dont know if you would call this a light morph or a pale phase. Its an extremly light bird whatever.!

Whoopers on Wasdale

Misty morning on the ouse


Over night the weather has been a foggy affair with the dawn bringing only a little respite. I thought it looked better by nine and then it fairly started to clear. With the bike being in the garage today I decided i would spend the morning doing a classic winter walk.. From Finstown I will follow the Wasdale footpath to the Refuge corner and from there its only a mile or so home. Getting dropped in the middle of Finstown at about half nine the last of the mists are still covering and rolling down from the hill tops. The sea level visibility is looking fine tho so that’s all well and good. The weather is mild and bright with a S/E wind of a few knots.
My first spy out is into the bay in front of the village. Initially there is little to see but birds soon start to become obvious. There are 5pr Red breasted Mergansers with a couple of unattached looking birds hanging about. 12 Long tailed ducks are milling about further out. Widgeon are spread along the shore with one or two lone Eiders and only a couple of waders on the shore. Not inspiring but the sun is shining and it’s a delight to be out walking. I head through the village by the only road. Small bird chatter is in the air constantly. Greenfinch and house sparrow mainly but with the occasional call from a Chaffinch. The Chaffinch is one of our rarer wee birds and Finstown is a sheltered and wooded haven for them. There are also Gold finches here but these are even rarer. Needless to say I don’t have one cross my path. Opposite Pottys shop the rooks are nesting in that same tree and starting to crap all over the footpath. There will be more moaning about this again this year in sure.
Beyond this I turn to the left and head down to the tidal lagoon we call the Ouse. You can walk the shore here and there is some rare (for us) salt marsh along the edge. The tide is pretty low and feeding birds are either on the sea weed covered rocks or out on the mud feeding along the meandering gully of fresh water that is running away to the fallen sea. A smattering of Waders and ducks are visible but there are no turnstones on the shore and no sign of Knot Sanderling or Godwits. My progress of course puts every thing up and I stand whilst most of them settle in the far corner. This concentrates things for the scope and I enjoy a leisurely look through. The Curlews have taken the bladder wrack strewn rocks and the widgeon are spread across the mud, the Redshanks are spread about and very vocal and flighty. The other large group are the Oystercatchers and they hold the stony tide line before taking to the air as one, circling in a long arch and landing on wet pasture to start feeding. It was all pleasant and scenic moving along and I exited below the old mill to the calls of a Raven high above the hill side.
From here it is 300m, two more Greenfinches and a Chaffinch to the next path across the fields where I am accompanied by two displaying Skylarks into Binscarth woods. Stepping into the woods the air changes strait away. The hushed voices of the trees is all pervading in the silence. Orkney has so little woodland that you get out of the way of being in trees. I walk a little way in and stop for a while. Slowly the birds begin to sing around me with Blackbirds and Wrens starting to perk up. Chaffinches calls chime out and soon enough there is one above me. I have a bit of fun now trying to digiscope pictures of him but it’s a hopeless task. I really need four hands and four eyes to keep track of it all. Never mind it’s all good fun…more so when it comes together and you catch an image. Moving no more than ten paces I become aware of a large bird perched in one of the tallest trees. Its shape is visible but it is on the far side of the tree buried by branches. I stand still and raise the bins on to it. It’s a raptor and at first glance it looks like a Buzzard yet another look and it seems to white for that. It takes a minute to get the scope on it but sure enough I am looking at a white faced white breasted rufous winged raptor. This has me stumped and a bit excited as you can imagine. Binscarth woods is a strong hold for the rare for Orkney Buzzard and I am drooling at the thought that I have a young Rough legged buzzard. I don’t tho, Eric Meek had a look at the snaps and told me it was a young extremely pale Common Buzzard. Top bird tho, I was well chuffed with it.
Moving to the other end of the woods to the tall pines I find that some of the taller ones have gone opening up the canopy and creating a better view into the tree tops. Here I find Goldcrests in full song. I try to record it but all I get is some traffic rumble…oh well its super to hear all the same. It’s from this corner we emerge onto a gorse lined path that runs along the hill side and takes us above the loch of Wasdale. From the darkness of the woods emerging into the bright sunlight of morning is an assault on the senses, the fresh warmer air and the wide open vista of the west mainland basin stretching below is fantastic. There is at last a real feeling of the impending spring. Above Skylarks are singing and once they start there’s not a lot that can stop spring advancing. There is a half mile of boggy track to go to take us to over look the loch and it is evident that the landscape is full of birds. Fields in the distance have flocks of Greylags grazing across them and the air is full of calls. Nothing is really displaying flat out yet but looking across the landscape you can see Curlews every where as they rise vertically in the air gaining altitude with a cry of an increasing tempo until with a long bubbling call they circle back to earth. The call of a moving wagtail close by catches me and I watch it move away. I see no black and white at all and do see a definite flash of yellow as it heads all the way to land at the burn in the field by the main Kirkwall Strombo road so I think I will be calling that as a Grey Wagtail….its turning in to a nice sort of day!!
On to Wasdale and overlooking the loch there are two separate roosts of Common Gulls these have a few Black Heads amongst them. There are 250+ in either flock. Along with them are big groups of Oystercatchers with 200 spread through one roost of gulls. The water of the loch is fairly empty and a surprisingly fresh breeze is cutting across it. There are a few Tufted duck on the water but most ducks are to be seen along the leeward shore. Mallard and Teal lurk in the wet grasses and boggy ground of the far side. Spread across the loch side fields are a fair number of waders probing for food. Just off shore in front of me is a Crannog. This is a man made island that has had a dwelling on it at some point in ancient history. There is still some stone work to be seen standing. This is otter territory and you could do worse than spend a late summer evening or early summer morning staking this area out for sightings. Moving to the far end of the loch I stop for my bottle juice and mars bar. It seems that all hell is breaking loose down the south end as every thing is taking to the air. Try as I might I cant find the predator that is causing the scare. At one point a huge ball of Curlew rises into the air there are alarm calls and bubbling dramatically filling the air. It looks like 150-200 sort of size but falls back to the ground as quickly as it has arisen. Oystercatchers seem to think they would be better off down this end and they come down the loch in three big flights to land behind me on the hill side. I can now count 200 but it’s a bit short as there are hundreds some where above me. From the wet ground beyond the loch in front of me Widgeon Mallard and Teal all rise low and flock onto the safety of the loch. I still cant see the raptor that’s causing this but it is showing me the birds a treat. There are 320 Widgeon on the water.
Moving along I head to the Refuge corner where the walk proper will end (I have a mile or so of road to home} The first properly displaying Lapwings are going at it above me. The fields here are interspersed with bogy wetland and it all has its share of Redshank and Curlew. There are ducks on the pools as I go along but they are nervous of me. I think it’s probably the scope looking like a gun to them that’s doing it. It’s a sorry state of affairs but that’s life I suppose. This is more a winter walk than a summer one and there has been lots to see today. I have counted 14 Skylarks singing above me today and that’s worth doing the walk for alone!! But even though its ended there is always time for one more bird is there not!!
A hundred yards from the corner there is a wet pool to the right of Rosebank in the brecks. It is only forty yards from the road and on it were seven teal, three Tufted ducks and a pair of Shovellers….nice last birds to crown the morning!

Until next time..laters.

Mar 17, 2009

Snowy Owl

The Snowy Owl was seen again on saturday. It was up at the Evie windmills and seen there the day before as well. So it must still be about!!!

Mar 15, 2009

Breckan pool today

Sun 15th...waiting for the footie.

A quick wander down the field below the house to view the Breckan pool produced..

32 Teal
33 Curlew
150 Common Gull with a few Black heads mixed in.
35 Lapwing
67 Oystercatcher
6 Redshank
1 Shellduck
A Starling flock and across the adjacent fields 4-600 Greaylags.

There was only one Brown Hare to be seen but there were rabbits in profusion. I counted upwards of fifty. This is the most I have seen in one small space for a long time. It could be a reflection of the state of the tide I suppose…it is said there are more out when its nearing high water and I have to agree.

Mar 14, 2009


This Wryneck was shown to us during migration time at the end of last year by Tim Dean. It was the first Wryneck i had seen, shame it had fallen tho.
Here is the monthly bird report published by the RSPB for febuary. The most elusive bird out there must be the Snowy Owl. I see it was reported on Birdguides yesterday so it is still about some where between shap and the west mainland or across the isles there. Keep looking..



Black-throated Divers have been few and far between this winter but singles were off Breck, Orphir on 8th and in Echanloch Bay on 28th. The largest concentration of Great Northern Divers was 50 off southern Egilsay on 13th. The most Slavonian Grebes was a count of 14 on the Swannay Loch on 8th while seven Little Grebes on Westray’s Saintear Loch was notable.

20 Whooper Swans at the Sabiston Loch on 21st was the month’s largest count but more folk will have seen the flock of 16 right in front of the St. Andrew’s School from mid-month on. Tankerness is the headquarters of our wintering Pink-footed Goose population and 1100 were there on 24th. Much scarcer were the four Tundra Bean Geese in Holm on 1st, another being found in Tankerness on 24th alongside a Taiga Bean Goose another of which was seen on North Ronaldsay on 19th and 23rd. The Loons Greenland White-fronted Goose flock peaked at 75 on 22nd, 17 also visiting the Swannay Loch on 12th with other singles in Tankerness and on North Ronaldsay. The Canada Goose was again seen on North Ronaldsay on 1st/2nd and on 23rd while the only Brent Goose reported was a pale-bellied bird in Tankerness on 28th. Away from South Walls, Barnacle Geese were in short supply with, except for 30 at the Skaill Loch on 1st, no more than six in any locality.

47 Shelducks were at the Mill Sand, Tankerness on 6th while up to 42 were on The Ouse, Shapinsay, peaking on 22nd. The Stenness Loch again attracted the most Gadwall with 43 on 24th. Teal are in their magnificent spring finery now and amongst those at the Mill Dam, Shapinsay from 18th, was a North American visitor, a Green-winged Teal. A good scatter of Pintail was reported but by far the largest concentration was 40 at Sanday’s Loch of Rummie on 5th. Another North American visitor was a Ring-necked Duck on North Ronaldsay from 11th-24th, a first for that island and only the fourth for Orkney. Scaup peaked at 205 on the Stenness Loch on 24th while a record of two drakes off Hoxa Head on 11th was unusual. 90 Long-tailed Ducks were in Gairsay Sound on 13th while an interesting observation was that, of 75 on Shapinsay’s Lairo Water on 22nd, 66 were adult males. The largest flocks of Eiders were 180 in Gairsay Sound on 13th and 250 in Rousay Sound on 17th. Few Velvet Scoters were reported, eight off Yinstay on 13th and seven in Gairsay Sound on 13th being the most noteworthy. The hard weather during the second week of the month caused the Smew to move from the Skaill Loch to the Brig o’ Brodgar where there was some of the only open freshwater in Orkney, water that also attracted many hundreds of other diving duck species.

Eight records of Buzzards during the month probably referred to just four birds, on Westray, in Birsay, in Firth and in the northern part of South Ronaldsay. Single Water Rails were noted on North Ronaldsay on 8th and, more unusually, on Westray on 10th.

Oystercatchers started pouring back into the islands from their more southerly wintering areas with, for example, 269 around the Stenness Loch on 24th. Away from their more usual north isles sites, single Grey Plovers were seen at Widewall on 17th and Skaill Bay on 27th. Very few Knot were seen with just one on North Ronaldsay on 10th and six at Widewall on 17th being reported. The Bay of Scuthvie again proved the favourite resort of Sanderling with 320 there on 2nd. Purple Sandpipers numbered 258 on Papay on 22nd with 140 at Scuthvie and 108 on North Ronaldsay about the same time. Three wintering Ruffs were located at Loch of Banks on 27th and again included the Dutch colour-ringed bird. Seven individual Jack Snipe were found during the month in a variety of moorland, wetland and coastal habitats while the total of 265 Common Snipe found on Westray on 10th was notable for the time of year. The hard weather resulted in some unusual concentrations of Woodcock with eight in Rendall on 10th and 14 at Hestily, South Ronaldsay on 13th with eleven other records of one-two. There were 110 Bar-tailed Godwits at Overbister, Sanday on 10th and 52 at Widewall on 17th but the only record of a Black-tailed Godwit was of one at Shapinsay’s Mill Dam on 18th. The wintering Whimbrel was seen on Burray up until at least 26th while a count of 890 Curlews in Widewall Bay on 17th was impressive. On the same date, there were 126 Redshanks in the Bay while further south at Liddel Loch, 220 Turnstones gathered.

The adult Mediterranean Gull was seen at the Peedie Sea on several occasions while an immature Little Gull put in an appearance off a Stromness pier on 3rd. Iceland Gulls were conspicuous with up to four on Westray, three in Stromness Harbour, three in the Kirkwall area and singles in three other sites. The sheep and seal carcasses at Marwick continued to attract up to three Glaucous Gulls while there were up to three also on North Ronaldsay, two on Westray, and singles at the Lochs of Swannay and Skaill.

The Snowy Owl that had been seen on Westray and in Sandwick during January made its way to Shapinsay and was last seen there on 21st, remaining very elusive throughout its stay.

The cold weather produced some unusual concentrations of Skylarks with 100 on Birsay Links on 9th and 48 in Tankerness on 12th being the largest. Meadow Pipits were very conspicuous for the time of year with, for example, 17 at Stromness Golf Course on 7th, 146 found on Westray on 10th and flocks of 28 and 60 in the Elwick area of Shapinsay on 13th. Similarly, there were far more Pied Wagtails than usual in February, with an amazing count of 35 at Kirkwall Marina on 17th. A Grey Wagtail was seen in the Willows area of Kirkwall on several dates. Single returning Waxwings were in Stromness and at Herston between 3rd-9th with another in Kirkwall on 21st and 24th.

Blackbirds were conspicuous with 110 counted on Westray during fieldwork for the BTO Atlas on 10th; up to 50 were also on Papay during the month. Following on from last month’s amazing record of a Ring Ouzel on North Ronaldsay on 17th January, another record came to light, this time on Burray two days earlier. Fieldfares appear to have arrived late from Scandinavia; most were seen in South Ronaldsay with 100 at Ward Hill on 15th, 89 at Widewall on 17th and 80 at Herston next day while there were seven other reports of up to 50. Redwings were fewer though 30 were in Finstown on 7th and up to 22 on North Ronaldsay; most of our wintering birds are of the Icelandic race as were, for example three in Stenness on 8th but, later in the month, Scandinavian-race birds were also seen with one-two, again in Stenness, on 23rd/24th.

A cock Blackcap appeared at a Stenness bird table at the start of the hard weather on 7th while single Chiffchaffs were found in Kirkwall on 5th and 8th and on North Ronaldsay from 17th-23rd. The wintering Coal Tit was seen again in the Hope on 9th and towards the end of the month so it looks as though it is going to survive an Orkney winter!

50 Jackdaws were at Hatston on 5th and single Carrion Crows on Westray on 10th and at Widewall on 15th. 67 Hooded Crows at Eastabist, Birsay on 21st was a notable concentration as was a count of 56 Ravens on Westray on 10th.

Last autumn’s Tree Sparrow was relocated at Keigar, Deerness on 7th/8th. The largest Chaffinch flock was 25 at Stenaday, Finstown on 7th while the only Bramblings were one-two in that same area for most of the month. The snow and frost concentrated 60 Greenfinches in Finstown with 30 in Stenness on 7th. It was Finstown too that attracted the most Goldfinches with a peak of nine there on 28th, singles also being seen on North Ronaldsay, in St.Ola, on Burray and on South Ronaldsay. 450 Twite gathered at Grindigar, Deerness on 14th with flocks of 200 at Mull Head, Deerness and Sands of Wright, South Ronaldsay. The two wintering Common Redpolls in Russadale, Stenness were present until at least 18th. In a rather poor winter for Snow Buntings, up to 82 on North Ronaldsay (peak on 23rd), 70 at the Brig o’ Waithe (on 26th) and up to 62 at Dale, Swannay were the largest concentrations, Dale also logging the best Reed Bunting flock, 50 on 9th.


Mar 13, 2009

Its been a long sort of day today what with one thing and another. The bike would not start(again) Just as I was away to fetch over a mate of mine who was going to iron out a few problems I have had installing the counter and web ring widgets for my new Fatbirder link. The bike finally coughed into life three hours later and the day then started. The upshot of it all is we are now on the fat birders web ring. All you have to do is go to the bottom of the page and click left or right to scroll through or you can take a random punt about. I must admit I am quite over awed being part of such a fantastic collection of web sites. It has been one of my favourite places to cruise about tho. I would never have believed I would have my own wee sight and be in here a year ago….yee haa…and if I can do it anybody can. I have also joined up with the Nature Blog network. This network has blogs covering all aspects of the natural world. Some of the blogs are truly stunning and there is hours of fascinating exploring to be had in here. It’s been a good day for the panicky technophobe in me and I hope those of you who read the blog regularly will enjoy the new additions.
And so to birds…Today was a bit of a washout for my birding with one thing and another but the endless west winds fell away and the incessant rains it carried halted for a while. Its was in fact just bliss, the warmest day of the year and a real feel of spring in the air. Life down the fields was stirring away and the distant air was filled with the welcome sound of birdsong, waders and gulls competed with a robin and the first (for me) Skylarks of the year. I cant tell you(well I probably can) how welcome a sound that was to the ears…like a long forgotten little bell tinkling in the heart I just felt so much better for it.
The run to Kirkwall along the Old Finstown Road showed me that the Common gulls were starting to show signs of a nesting colony in there usual site below Wideford hill. There was a fair bit of displaying and competitive behaviour occurring as I passed. Lets hope they fair better this year…last year the common gull effort suffered with a serious dry spell just as hatching was under way. The gulls in a lot of colonies seemed to get stumped bu a lack off food and mass desertions were widespread. Fingers crossed this year, I suppose we still have a bit to go before they are off proper.
Across many fields there have appeared matrix’s of bamboo poles with strips of plastic tied to them. An effort to scare geese that seems to be working although gulls seem undeterred. I suppose they are eating wire worms and the like so are a friend rather than the geese that are grazing the new growth. I f five rabbits eat as much as one sheep and four sheep equal one cow I wonder where Greaylags stand in the equation?
The only other sighting for me today was a peregrine over Binscarth woods about half four.

Tomorrow is another day so I suppose I should go out and I will if the bike will start..other wise it will be shanks pony for me…Hi ho..

Mar 10, 2009

Hiding from the wind.

Moonlight chorus.

It has been a day of winery showers and bright weather in between. However there has been a good fresh wind blowing all. Little has been seen by me today. The top of the loch has been whipped in to the air and blown away from time to time. Nothing really conducive to some relaxing birding. It was doubly frustrating as I received my new tripod (Vanguard 1880) from scopesnskies and wanted to get out for a few hours. I have had a spy about with it tho and am initially well pleased. Its huge, Fully extended I need to stand on a chair to use it…not that I will do so in the field I suppose. It is going to make a reasonably stable and high platform for my 8x56s for a bit of star spotting so I look forward to that. So I have just been out for a shot of the moon between the clouds and it all seems nice and stable. Last night I heard the calls of three Curlews as they rose above the house. I was well pleased as they were the first proper bubbles I had heard this year. Tonight it seemed the rest gad decided to join in and all sing at the moon. With the dropping wind there is a whole cacophony of bird song rising from the adjacent fields and filling the dark air. I counted thirteen Curlews rise and call in a matter of a minute of listening, delightful and relentless it was. Speaking of relentless the Oystercatcher population has been going at it for a while now. I think it is the males that make all the calls and it sounds like they never sleep just walk around with there heads down calling and calling. It goes on all night and will for a while yet I am pleased to say. There are the Greylag geese at roost as well. There must be a few hundred at roost a couple of fields away because there constant squabaly calls are loud close and massed Below them on the wet pools are the whistling cries of a flock of Widgeon and the quacks of Mallards. Whilst its not exactly the delight of a woodland dawn chorus it is still music to my ears. Things are starting to happen and winters grip is beginning to loose….excellent!!

Mar 6, 2009

The day today

It was a cold and bright day today. We were off to Stromness earlier and the best spot was what I think was a buzzard at the Garson road junction. Every thing was going up in the air and looking around I saw it flying in a tightish curve but all to soon it was snatched from sight as we were washed away in the flow of traffic. It was nowhere to be seen on the return home. The afternoon stayed fine and I ventured to the bottom of the garden to scope up geese below the house. Managing a couple of photos nothing really came out well. The same thing happened when I tried to shoot Greenfinches that had just discovered my peanut feeder. Even in the bright sunlight there was to much movement for the exposure time. It’s a shame because they were looking in fine condition in the sunlight. Iam defo looking forwards to more visits as we go along. Sparrow numbers have shot up and the flock has been counting out at thirty five birds but I am sure there is a lot more to come as well. Starlings and Hoodies are the other visitors but I am yet to get a big landing of starlings. It is something I love to be amoungst, five hundred starlings taking off at once…excellent.

The sun was looking decidedly dogy tonight and the the forecast is for gales, rain then snow after that towards Sunday so this might be the last snow of winter..if it happens that is….shame.

Mar 4, 2009

Down to Barnhouse

I was off to Barnhouse today for a look. This is the second time I have been down there in a couple of days. First off there were 30 Curlew with 70 or so Oystercatchers and a few hundred Widgeon all roosting on the Stenness shore before I set off to the hide. The south end of Harray Loch had a well dispersed flock of Widgeon spread across it with a large portion of birds looking paired up. There were considerably less Tufted duck than I would have thought but there again I couldn’t see most of the lea ward shore on the loch. 30 or more Curlew roosted up on the southern spit with as many Widgeon milling about. Some were settled down dut most were idly grazing and listless.
The fields of the far bank held four flocks of Greylag all about 150 strong. There was a flock of Oystercatchers 350 strong. They proved to be very flighty and took till the third count to get them. Redshank were very vocal from around the lochside and every so often a pair of males would shoot across the loch surface in a large jinking loop trying to out fly and out call each other. You can imagine my amazement to see a Curlew display across the waters surface for all the world like a giant Redshank. It was a stunning sight turning and twisting. It never called and as soon as it was done it gained a bit of altitude in a Curlew like manner and moved away over the fields.
Looking to the loch and the south end was hosting part of the mute Swan flock with about sixty birds. Interspersed with them were the usual pairs of Goldeneye. A couple of days ago there were several pairs of Red Breasted Mergansers floating about and several Teal but none were to be seen today. I had a peer about for divers but none were to be seen. That was about that. There has been more wintry showers since I came home. I managed 3 photos of House Sparrows in the last stab of sunlight. There were seventeen sparrows in the flock feeding off some unsalted rice….Its a garden record!!

Evening all.

House Sparrows in the evening sun.

Putting the old garden list to bed.

I suppose a new house demands a new garden list and this should really be the order of the day. The last house was on the heather line and we were particularly fortunate to enjoy Mooreland species as well as a healthy raptor population. Looking back on it although I continually bemoaned the lack of garden birds we were fortunate to accrue a fairly interesting and enjoyable garden list over the last eight months. Some of the highlights have been Siskins, Goldcrests and a Cuckoo. The long staying Redpolls were lifers for me. The Wrens the Dunnocks and those three Blackbirds that hung around despite cats, dogs and hens were the only constant garden birds from start to finish. My first Red grouse and having them calling triggered by the cockerel crowing really hit the spot. There were Woodcock on four occasions and for seemingly the whole summer Snipe drummed over head unendingly. There was the day in day out thieving antics of the Hooded crows whilst over head ravens would call and tumble. Waders would be feeding in the fields when it was wet and soft enough. Oystercatcher, Lapwing and Curlew from time to time fed right up to the front door. There were a couple of surprises from Herrons lifting off in a panic from the duck ponds that left the heart in the mouth. Raptors were where it was at tho and truth be told it was a bit of a raptor fest. Hen harriers abounded along with Short Eared Owls. Both species would pass low over the house whilst quartering the valley. Peregrine also hunted the hills and fields although not appearing as regularly as the previous pair they did put on some fantastic displays and close views for us though. Sparrow hawks and Kestrels did well this year and were well represented as regular visitors. Even Merlin’s showed well with six or seven sightings. The couple of outstanding memories that are burned in deep must be standing watching a Merlin coming in across the paddock at docken top height and snatching a Stonechat and disappearing off with it with it so effortlessly. All right in front of me..thrilling!!. The number one has to be a female harrier teaching its freshly fledged youngsters to hunt with a half dead rabbit. They were lifting it into the air and dropping it, squabbling and making loads of noise enjoying the game while she quartered the valley keeping a weary eye on them. Once again it was all in front of me whilst all I had to do was just still in a little cover. Topstuff. I am one lucky mofo!. I will miss the place.

My garden list
• Black Headed Gull
• Chafinch
• Collared Dove
• Common Gull
• Cuckoo
• Curlew
• Dunnock
• Fieldfare
• Goldcrest
• Greater Blackbacked Gull
• Greenfinch
• Hen Harrier
• Heron
• Hooded Crow
• Kestrel
• Lapwing
• Lesser Blackbacked Gull
• Mallard
• Meadow Pipit
• Merlin
• Oyster Catcher
• Peregrine
• Pied Wagtail
• Raven
• Red Grouse
• Redpoll
• Redwing
• Reed Bunting
• Short Eared Owl
• Siskin
• Snipe
• Song Thrush
• Sparrow Hawk
• Starling
• Stonechat
• Swallow
• Twite
• Wood Pigeon
• Woodcock
• Wren

Mar 1, 2009