May 31, 2009

RSPB Copinsay trip

After the stormy sort of day it was yesterday had caused the RSPB members group trip to Copinsay to be cancelled. It was to my good fortune to find an email offering four places on the rescheduled trip for Sunday. A quick phone call and I was booked in for Sunday morning’s bash. The forecast for improving weather proved to be the first one that had been right for days. The ride to Deerness was warm and pleasant, the north sea soon stretched before me looking smooth blue and inviting. It was a bit bright for my old camera as I intended to spend my time didgiscoping. I didn’t really mind as it was a stunning day I could live with a little over exposure. Parking up the group are all heading down for the boat but I have to loose a few layers before I can run and catch up. Soon enough we are off for the thirty minute trip to the island. We introduce our selves all round and are soon pointing out birds dotted all around us as we go. The first puffin draws the aww’s from the Puffin fans as it passes us with its some what inelegant flight. To The right or should that really be starboard, the cave pocked cliffs off Deerness are slowly left behind and we cross the open water to Copinsay. As there are two boat loads going across today we are to land at a rocky ledge on Corn Holm there being no depth of water at the light house pier. We have fine views of the superb cave on Black Holm as Sidney Deftly manoeuvres the boat in along side to where we can step ashore on to the grippy barnacle covered rock ledge.
Copinsay is really an archipelago of four small islands. Copinsay its self and Corn Holm, Black Holm and Ward Holm all linked by storm beach or at low water. They are all owned by the RSPB, any agriculture that’s taking place is part of the management plan for birds. The other folks here are the lighthouse board. They coincidently enough are here in force today as well with there premier ship Pharos off shore and their helicopter moving loads back and fore to the lighthouse. Corn Holm is heaving with life. The whole island is a Greater Blacked Gull colony. With in this is are surprisingly several Greylag geese nesting away. It seems a strange choice but there must be some security for them in this dubious company. We circuit along the shallow cliff top, this provides great views of Puffins, Tysties, Razorbills Shags and Guillemots all close in. As you can imagine we were dive bombed from time to time as we moved through. It was all understandable as the hottest day of the year was encouraging the Blackbacks first eggs to start hatching and it was all kicking off. The periphery was home to far more Fulmars than you see on the mainland and all the birds on this deserted island were a lot more tolerant of folks than their counterparts only five miles away. We take to the shell sand beach on the last leg to have a look at an impressive spread of Oysterplant. This is one of the rarest of maritime plants and Orkney can be proud to be one of the most important places for it in the UK. A nice find as we left was a small colony of Arctic Terns that were just starting up and took to the air to warn us off. Allan had a look whilst we had a count, We got about120- 150 and he found they were laying. It was something encouraging to think about as we picked our way across 400m of seaweed covered boulders that forms the causeway that’s only exposed at low tide.
Every one finally makes it across and we time it fine to meet the second boat load arriving. This time they can just make it in to the pier so we are all together in one group. Those of us who want to do our own thing set off and the others set off in a group to circum navigate the island. I head up to the north side past the Common gull colony and on to the rising cliff looking over north ebb. Tysties and Scarfies abound with rafts of Scarfies taking to the water as I crest the horizon and startle them in to life. The track rises and the view increases, Puffins and Guillemots dot the water whilst the occasional gull takes a dive at head height as you pass through their territory. I am taking photos as I go along but the whites are proving to be a problem in the bright sunlight. The views are crisp and bright through the scope though and in flat calm conditions you really couldn’t ask for better viewing. All the way up I was hoping for Puffins to be ashore. You can find them along here and the younger non breeding birds tend to hang out with little to do but pose for photographs. It wasn’t going to happen today though. It must still be quite quiet under ground. I saw little coming and going from the cliffs mostly the Puffins were sitting on the water loafing about doing little. There was a Herring Gull colony at North view and it seems to be a regular feature. Other birds on the north side were 6 Twite in 4 and 2. 2 Snipe chipping away.
Heading up the east cliff rise the path rises spectacularly as it follows the up thrust of an ancient fault line. The high cliffs we are ascending have been pushed up here from the sea bed. The sea below covers a deep chasm making their real size of the cliff yet bigger. On the highest point looking towards the lighthouse I settle down to have my lunch…in a t shirt..unreal. From my vantage point I can see that although occupied the cliffs don’t look over populated with auks and Kittiwakes. Bonxies make low passes from time to time. These are nesting in the fields below. A superb light phase Arctic Skua passes feet from me a few times as I sit and eat. I hear another Snipe chipping away and I catch a bird going to a nest maybe seventy yards from a nesting Bonxie. My first Painted Lady butterfly passed over my feet as I was sitting there as well. It was to be the first of several and probably a fall of migrating butterflies as they head north…migration’s an amazing thing.
With the helicopter done and away. I move off down the slope and find the main group setting out after lunch, we have a quick catch up before I move off. I am quite glad I am heading down hill after having eaten my piece!! I still have some time before the boat and I take my time from South Nevi to the wee fresh water lochan. On the lochan is a brand new family of Shell Duck with 14 chicks. Now this is the real aww factor of the trip. I take shot after shot but can’t get a steady sharp photo. All the while the drake bird is watching over me. As I start to move along the shore he takes to the water giving his distinctive warning whistling alarm call. Finally I arrive back to the pier where I enjoy the antics of the Arctic Terns as they harass the local Blackback population. Relaxed in the afternoon sun its all too soon to be onboard the boat and off. With in minutes Copinsay is disappearing in the distance and we are strangely bird less on an expanse of oily smooth water, even throwing sandwiches over the side fails to bring a scavenging gull. Never mind its been a hot old day stacked out with hot bird action and its been all the better for coming out of the blue. I hope my bright red nose and forearms fade before the memories.!!
Top day.

May 28, 2009


3-4 Orcas reported of the Brough of Deerness today at 10.40.

May 27, 2009

Black Tailed Godwit

After assisting on the RSPB walk around Marwick head this morning a spin out to the Loons hide produced a displaying Black tailed godwit.

May 26, 2009


Eyes open for killer whales.

There was another pod reported yesterday so they are out there!!

Flower season blooms

Looks like the orchid season is upon us. I saw my first heath last week and on Sunday I found the first Northern marsh. It was a good day for flowers with my year firsts for cocks n hens, nmo, heath milkwort and butterwort. I found 20 flowering plant spieces on the Russadale track A good afternoon despite the rain. Last week I had speedwell and the first of the vetches down in the south parish. Orkney is about to bloom for the summer…a bit of sun after this rain and its all going to happen.

Any one know what this is?

May 22, 2009

Whale sightings

Five orca were reported by Kas on orkbird last night. Spotted from the Caithness shore they were seen around Pentland skerries and probably headed east.

There have been porpoise in the flow with two seen off Hobbister on wed and one off Grimness on wed night. Two more had been seen off Hunda on tusday.

Some time about a week ago a Minke whale was seen in Echna bay.

Good spotting.

May 21, 2009

Just sitting around

I spent 45 mins today sitting around the carpark at Rerwick and what a delight it was. As soon as I pulled up and took of my crash helmet the sun warmed air was alive with bird song. Just removing the riding gear the sights sounds and smells of a late spring morning are intoxicating. Life is everywhere, its overwhelming and I am engulfed in the embrace of the fragrant warm air that’s welcomed with the pleasure of meeting a lost friend.
Three or four Skylarks are calling along with a couple of Meadow pipits. The view to the shore takes in rough grazing with some wet ground. Mercifully there are no animals on here at the moment so consequently every thing that can has taken advantage of the space to breed. Across the fields Curlew stalk about probing for food. Lapwings are doing the same with some sitting on nests. Birds are coming and going with beaks full of food for hungry chicks and every few meters seemed to host a Mippits nest. Oystercatchers were sitting on high spots watching over things whilst occasional males would be displaying to oneanother with some head down piping and marching around. A scan along the fence posts shows up proud parents that will be over seeing their young broods with a couple of Redshank and Oystercatchers looking like good diligent sorts of parents. Above Lapwing tumble about calling and Curlew sing their bubbling song as they display their prowess in controlled hovering drifts to the ground. There was a wren singing very close and when it moved of the lack of song let through the sound of a Snipe chipping away. Sure enough I managed to find it on a post looking stunning in the light. It was to be a short view though as it jumped up out of view, pulling back from the scope I see a Sparrow hawk heading along the shoreline with an accompaniment of raucous sounding Swallows that have come out of the area around the WW2 gun emplacements. Within moments of the Sparrowhawk moving away a snipe took to the air above me and began to put on a nice display of drumming. I passed a nice couple of minutes watching him climb, dip and dive. I think this is one of the most beautiful and gently haunting sounds of the birding summer. The second raptor of this brief watch appeared now with a ringtailed Harrier ignoring as best as she could the mobbing received whilst she moved at ground level hunting out another meal. It was a strait pass and she disappeared along the shore line and out of sight.
Even though the fields around me were full of noise and song I could hear the constant calls of Arctic Terns from the shore calling me forward with their remorseless discordant mantra. Following the track to where the shore below becomes just visible I find a Tern sitting on a post. I stand still to se if it’s going to move. It seems steady enough so I put the scope on it and offer up the camera and take a snap, next thing I ken its started calling and another bird appears and passes her a fish…cool as..i make myself comfortable and manage to miss four food passes with the camera before the bird takes to the air. The stranded weed has more of interest with a summer plumed Turnstone showing well. Even though there is a good enough view to the eye the shimmer of heat in the air is making taking pictures in to a bit of a miss today.
Beyond me a stony shore line that is home to a pair of agitated Ringed Plovers leads in a curve towards a bird covered rocky point. This has a seal hauled well out of the water surrounded by a dozen or more Shags all glowing a rich dark green. I am just having a look through them and Its at this point that the Hen Harrier makes its reappearance passing directly over the point. This time all hell is let loose as hundreds of Arctic Terns take to the air and promptly set about the raptor en mass. The poor bird twists and turns heading out over the sea towards Shapinsay as the Terns relentlessly attack it hitting it over and over again. Its quite a display. With the Harrier disappearing in the distance they return to settle down again all be it a little raucously. The Shags have moved off to form up in a couple of rafts just off shore and the rocks are left to the Blackbacks, Eider ducks and constantly flitting Rock Pipits.
I wend my way back. I have barely scraped at the surface during my 45 mins waiting around for my no show walking customers and now I need to get on and do other things, shame realy I was looking forward to doing that walk and getting immersed in another two or three of hours of this before the rains come. Never mind tomorrow is another day.

May 20, 2009

Its been about the warmest day of the year so far, the weather also produced a thunder storm that passed over the west coast dumping a lot of rain. Watching it come down from a purple sky out west I couldn’t help but think about the couple I had met earlier in the day on the RSPB Walk at Hobbister. They were off to the high cliffs about that time and there’s not a lot of cover up on the top of Marwick head!!!
Hobbister produced a good range of birds for the reserve today with the added bonus of a couple of feeding porpoise. Last night a trip down to Hestily with Tims class produced a couple of spot fly that were about the last of the wet weekends visitors to leave. Over the last two days the flowers have begun to bloom with Lousewort Tormentil and Lesser spotted orchid beginning to make an appearance…Orkneys blooming up!!

May 18, 2009

Its been a stunning weekend from all accounts but a total pisser for me .As usual things never go as planned and I have been stuck inside, working on Saturday and no transport since so all I can do is read report after report of dotterels, red backed shrikes, osprey, all sorts of fly catchers and the like. With a bit of luck I might get out for a look before dark tonight.

May 15, 2009

Looking good for the weekend. There might just be something nice on the wind for us if we cross all our fingers.


A mostly dry and bright day with sunshine at times, especially over West Shetland where becoming warm. Orkney may be cloudier at times with perhaps some patchy light rain. Moderate to fresh easterly winds, becoming strong over Orkney. Maximum temperature 13 °C.

Orkney will be cloudy with occasional outbreaks of rain, these becoming more persistent later tonight. Shetland will remain dry. Fresh to strong easterly winds. Minimum temperature 8 °C.

Shetland will be dry with some sunshine for much of the day. Cloud and rain affecting Orkney will reach Shetland later. Strong to gale easterly winds. Maximum temperature 13 °C.

Updated: 0328 on Fri 15 May 2009

May 14, 2009

The west winds have brought Laughing gull, Solitary sandpiper, Black duck and Franklins gull to Shetland over the last short while whilst the winds now have turned to the east and are looking good to carry birds to us from the continent over the next few days. There have been 3 Corncrakes reported on Papa Westray so it looks like things are off and running there. North Ron has Redstart, Spot fly, 4 Dotterel and Corncrake. John Holloway on Stronsay reported a Bluethroat yesterday. The missed bird of the week for me has to be the two Dotterel reported by Keith Hague on orkbird last night. Once again I only switched on the computer after dark and found out about then to late..Oh well…Terns are returning in numbers now along with the Bonxies and guillemots. Its all a bit early for the breeding effort but Guillemot eggs that have been snaffled by the Ravens and gulls are starting to appear along the cliff tops. Its all go here!!!

May 4, 2009

Hobbister today

M henharrier, short eared owl, red grouse mippit, skylark(5) willow warbler, stonechat 3 pair 3 others. Pair kestrels, dunters, Tysties, scarfies, fulmars, Peregrine, ringtail harrier.

May 2, 2009

Raptor rapture across the isles.

What a cracker of a week...snowy owl,rough leged buzzard, white tailed sea eagle, two goshawks, marsh harrier, black kite, a continuing sparrow hawk passage, all seen and reported across the isles in the last week.
Not to mention all the owls and harriers displaying at the moment!!