Mar 19, 2009


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.

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