Aug 8, 2009

Midgie season begins

The first midgies of the year emerged last night displaying their usual blood lust.

Cant say i have missed them!!

Aug 5, 2009


South Birsay cliffs

On Sunday I had a wander up the cliffs that lie south of Birsay bay. There had been a report on Orkney forum of puffins being ashore here and giving good views. I thought it was a good idea to have a look see and check it out. It was an afternoon visit and not the best time to be out looking for puffins but you have to take your chances when you have the time…plus there was no motogp this weekend!!
Parking at the graveyard I walk down the single track road the short distance to the shore path proper. The roadside verge is deep with butterburr on one side and clipped short on the other. The short side does produce a flower I didn’t know so that’s always a bonus for the day. I photographed it and moved on. To the right are the links with the totally denuded sand dunes and grazing cattle. Below this exposed by the low tide Birsay bay stretches on beyond Mount Misery to the village with the Causeway liked headland of The Brough of Birsay completing the view. I had thought to be looking for Sanderling here but the state of the tide has spread what birds that are here over to large a distance, add in to that a couple of dog walkers and the cliffs seem like the best idea.
With people below me there’s not much happening along the shore as I head south. The path is grassy and smooth with walking and makes for easy going which is fine with me. The shore is fairly low here as the path leads on towards the high cliffs that are a bit less than a mile distant. It is maybe twenty years since I walked up here but one feature I look for is a long cave below a deep gash in the rocks. There is a gap in the rocks running down the shallow flat slope of rocks. Its twenty feet deep drop to the water and the crack is about 2 to 3 foot wide. It opens out as it reaches the sea. Not a place to be walking for the unwary! In the winter storms and tides huge waves rollup funnelled in to the cave only to explode outward again with the force of an express train. Its one of the most spectacular places to see bad weather on the west side. I came across it in a big storm by accident. The whole thing is very dramatic and I nearly pooped my pants….great stuff.
Beyond this the cliffs start to rise and the shear faces of the high cliffs loom. The track is a mixture of rough grazing and maritime heath. The maritime heath land plants are all well represented although most have now gone over. I am beginning to get a bit puffed now and can definatly feel the prickle of sweat on the brow and small of the back. This is soon joined by the feeling of softly falling rain. Realising the cliff top is disappearing in grey goo I head for the cliff edge where an out crop will shelter me for a moment. So now stuck hunkered down looking north I have a chance to watch the seemingly endless passage of Kittiwakes, We are less than a mile from Marwick head here and that is a major strong hold for them so these will be birds returning with food. Amongst them are a few of the first fledglings to be flying though and it’s a good feeling to be standing watching the first Orkney bred birds for ages to be taking to the air. Amongst all this are the inevitable Bonxies all heading south as well, returning with food too the big colonies on the south of Hoy. There was an occasional Arctic Skua and a one point two adult and a second year Gannet set about an Arctic Skua and drove it out to sea with a concentrated attack. Maybe they all recognised it from a previous encounter…who could blame them.
A last push had me below the final rise and here the cliff became a lot more interesting for instead of the bare vertical faces of a little further up the cliff face is split with a basalt dyke or intrusion here (I am not that good with geology) however there are some scree slopes with a good covering of vegetation and bare mud. All in all its pretty fair looking Puffin territory and must be the place told of on the forum. Getting to a safe edge for a view over the bottom of the cliff is a patchwork of white splash from roosting and nesting Shags. Above them are nests and full grown Kittiwakes on the point of fledging then further up are isolated Razorbills. Taking the top most tiers are the young Fulmars. The time has come when the parents are away for long spells and the chicks although yet to develop their feathers proper are big enough to look after them self’s if provoked. Carefully scanning the scene unsurprisingly I can see no sign of Puffins on the cliff face. The seemingly endless passing of kittiwakes and Bonxies continues unabated with in this there are fulmars and to a lesser degree Gannets. Eider Ducks scurry about on the surface along with some of the Shags. Moving higher up reveals little on the impressively shear cliffs beyond but the view back is splendid, Two Black Cormorants are revealed but fly off when the big eye of the scope fixes on them. I have a pleasing time watching the comings and goings of daily life in the avian world. A brief moment of excitement occurs with the arrival of a young Peregrine that swoops in low over the cliff top and land on an outcrop in one swift move. I have a good view for a minute before switching on the camera and moving to the scope. A moment of struggle to find the spot reveals the bird has flown whilst I have been flaffing about. Oh well never mind. A look out over the sea before I head back finds me a raft of nine Puffins just off shore I am delighted with this and make a note to return for a look here next spring. I have to head back but before I go I have a look at the Broch car park from this splendid isolation. I have met only four walkers on this side of the bay but there are fifty four cars in sight and folk all over the shore. Its quite a contrast. The walk back is a retrace of my steps so I wont bore you with the details suffice to say its all down hill and very pleasant. A cracking little walk. I look forwards to doing it again.

Aug 3, 2009