Dec 31, 2009

Eclipse on hogmanay

An eclipse on the blue moon of the new year.....bring my best goat and the big knife dear...

This must surely be a portent of better things to come.


Dec 29, 2009

Dec 24, 2009

A chilly and merry christmas to one and all

The winter freeze seems to have hit every one in the UK and across Europe. Last night there were temperatures plunging to -17 in the highlands….its all a bit chilly for my tastes!!

Fortunately Orkney is escaping not so bad. We have had a covering of snow that has lasted for a few days now and although the day time temperature has hovered around 0 degrees there is little evidence of thawing. We have I suppose the benign influence of the Atlantic and north sea air flow to thank although the influence seems less benign when the gales have been from the north west for weeks on end.

We have to be great full for small mercies though and the worst of the weather seems to have bypassed us. With a bit of luck the snow covering will last for a couple of days yet and all the kids country wide will enjoy the delight of snow on Christmas.

So its Christmas eve and I don’t know if I will post again before the big day(well maybe a few photos hehe) but if I don’t then a happy festive break to you all…enjoy…now where’s that Christmas cake…

Dec 22, 2009


It’s the first minutes of the solstice. At last the daylight will start to grow in length. It’s the real time of celebration for me and although I do look forwards to Friday it’s the passing of the shortest day that’s the big marker of the depths of winter.

Happiness and light to you all.

Dec 20, 2009

A toutch of the white stuff

With the snow falling over the continent and the bulk of the UK it seems we are getting off lightly up here. Two days of light intermittent snow has left a thin white covering across the isles. Last night the wettish ground crusted over with an icy glaze that gradually penetrated deeper and deeper as the night drew on. The met office posted severe weather warnings for snow fall. It failed to happen overnight but the warning extends across today. So far the first couple of hours of light has brought a sustained if light and dusty snow fall. The direction has come about over night so instead of east blown weather it is now coming from WWE almost a complete turnaround.

Several days of snow now loom on the horizon. I cant really see this extending its way to Christmas but you never know your luck. Fingers crossed for a white Christmas. I have to go now and sort out fresh water for the garden birds.

Happy sledging

Dec 17, 2009

Cocks n hens

From the kitchen door

Its chilly cold up here now and I am not getting out that much. I was out west Saturday but failed miserably to connect with tims class on Sunday. That was a bit of a miss but that’s how it go’s. At the moment gallivanting about the isles is a bit of a luxury expense so I am having to console my self by standing at the back door and looking out. Its meagre pickings most of the time as you may imagine.

We look to the east with the heather covered Harray hills and the Lyde valley about two miles distant. Between us and the heather are fields of mostly grass for grazing and silage and a few cereal fields. We have the usual suspects taking advantage of the landscape. There are small flocks of greylags here and there with bigger waders waiting to be picked up by the scope. The parish starling flock is often visible feeding on the ground or balling up and settling on telephone cables in their nervous fashion. When one of the regular raptors crosses the air space it soon becomes evident just how many birds are on the ground as flocks of startled birds take to the air, with lapwings, oyks, curlews, skulking ducks and occasionally golden plover and more often about.

Closer in and the pickings become thinner. The sparrows have been increasing in number with things topping out at around fifty at the moment. One interesting sparrow happening to day was a sparrow on a concrete fence strainer. As I watched it was rolling its gaze upwards. It must have been attracted to the small hatch of flies hovering above it in the watery sunshine. With out warning it started to jump up and catch the flies out of the air. It carried on with this feeding behaviour for a few minutes until distracted by another sparrow crossing her bows carrying an unfeasibly large piece of bread and was off.

Greenfinches seem more abundant at the moment, I suppose its being driven on by the increasingly colder weather. A few resident blackbirds and a complaining wren kinda complete the residents list. These residents often struggle for the kitchen scraps when the larger interlopers arrive for food. Common gull and blackheaded get pushed aside by the herring gulls and greater blackbacks. Hoodie crows work together to claim food before fighting amongst them selves for the lions share. Ravens have been coming down as well. At the moment they are reinforcing the pair bonds with lots of ariel displays and raucous calls. As soon as the solstice is by the will feel the sap rising and be off to claim their ancestral nesting grounds and begin refurbishment….the first breeders of the coming spring.

The best birds of the day have been a pair of Hoodies that gave good views of iridescence in the sunlight whilst waiting to pounce on a couple of slices of loaf, a few redwings that passed over with their thin short calls and a few twite one of which gave a nice view on the fence wire before dropping in to the rank grass beyond to join this companions in foraging for food.

Ahh five minutes at the back door.

Dec 12, 2009

The bird report for last month from the RSPB.



The largest concentration of Great Northern Divers was of 22 in Echnaloch Bay on 8th but on several dates early in the month, up to 12 per day were watched moving into Scapa Flow from the west. Echnaloch Bay also held the biggest gathering of Slavonian Grebes, 27 on 8th while up to six Black-throated Divers were in Orphir Bay on 28th/29th. Little Grebes were noted in a couple of less usual localities on 29th with three in the Choin, Marwick and one off the Holms of Stromness.

A Sooty Shearwater passed Marwick Head on 11th and a very late Manx Shearwater was seen from the same locality on 28th. Some big gatherings of Shags were noted with some 500 in Hoy Sound on 29th, 300 in Widewall Bay on 8th and 265 in Deer Sound on the same date. Up to 18 Grey Herons gathered in Widewall Bay during the month and 14 at Graemeshall Loch on 30th.

130 Whooper Swans were on North Loch, Sanday on 8th while 38 were at Vasa Loch from 7th to 13th and there were lots of other reports of up to 20. Black Swans are always escapes from captivity in Britain and one has lived on the Harray Loch for many years. However, a new bird was seen on Westray on 4th, and presumably the same individual at the Tankerness Loch and on Shapinsay on 7th.

The November Greylag Goose census revealed a total of 60519 present in the islands with 29234 in the West Mainland and 12321 in the East Mainland. During the census, 863 Pink-footed Geese were recorded of which 714 were in the East Mainland. The wintering flock of Greenland White-fronted Geese in Birsay were late in arriving, the first being 22 on 11th. Numbers built up to 49 by 22nd but then, on 23rd, about 60 were seen flying north past Marwick Head, perhaps the remainder of our usual flock; a single bird was on Stronsay on 16th. Up to four Eurasian White-fronted Geese frequented North Ronaldsay during the month while one was Redland, Stromness on 5th; others of indeterminate race were at Marwick on 15th and Westray (two) on 15th. Six Taiga Bean Geese were found near Birsay School on 4th/5th and were seen again on 21st. The Barnacle Goose flock on South Walls had built up to 1060 by late October; elsewhere up to 37 were seen at the Loch of Skaill and 13 on Sanday. Single Pale-bellied Brent Geese were seen near Stromness on 15th and on Stronsay next day while six Dark-bellied Brent Geese were near the Brough of Birsay on 15th. A Red-breasted Goose, a species that would be new to Orkney, was reported near Kirkwall on 12th but despite thorough searches, could not be relocated.

Small numbers of Shelducks returning from their moult migration were noted in five typical localities, the largest gathering being 12 in Widewall Bay on 25th. Amongst the large numbers of Wigeon, a hybrid Eurasian x American Wigeon was found at Mill Dam, Shapinsay on 4th. 298 Teal on the Harray Loch on 24th was a good count as were counts of 76 Gadwall and 55 Pintail on Sanday’s North Loch on 8th. 197 Scaup were on the Stenness Loch on 23rd and 942 Pochard were on the Harray Loch on 24th with 312 were at their other favourite resort, the Boardhouse Loch, on 27th. The only Velvet Scoters reported were 10 off Rerwick Head on 18th. Up to five Common Scoter were seen in Widewall Bay and a single bird on the Stenness Loch on 23rd was unusual. Single drake Goosanders were at the Ayre Loch, St. Mary’s on 22nd and on Loch of Bosquoy on 24th.

Reports of one-two Buzzards came from the Rendall-Firth area, from Widewall/Hoxa, from Birsay and, more unusually, from Sanday. The Durkadale Hen Harrier roost held at least 14 birds on 16th while five were still utilising the North Ronaldsay site on 22nd. Sparrowhawks were conspicuous with no fewer than four being seen at Binscarth on 5th. There were two reports of Hobbies in late October, one at Marwick on 24th and one on Rousay on 31st while, a large falcon, possibly a dark-phase Gyr Falcon hurtled over Deerness on 15th.

474 Coot were on the Harray Loch on 24th while Water Rails were reported from nine localities including birds that wandered into a house in Stromness on 8th and in Herston on 10th! There were many reports of big flocks of Golden Plovers with 2500 on Burray, 2000 on Shapinsay, Sanday and in Swannay and 1830 on Stronsay with many more flocks of up to 1000. However, the only Grey Plovers were one at Birsay on 7th and singles on North Ronaldsay on 12th and 18th. 350 Sanderlings were at Scuthvie, Sanday on 14th and 260 Purple Sandpipers at Newark Bay, Deerness on 22nd with four other reports of 60-145. 36 Knot were in Widewall Bay on 20th and 25 were at Mill Sand on 22nd and single Ruffs at Loch of Banks on 4th and Mill Sand on 29th. At least 600 Snipe were on Sanday on 8th, other good counts including up to 208 on North Ronaldsay and 125 on Birsay Beach. Three Jack Snipe were at Garson, Stromness on 3rd, two still being there on 29th while singles were noted in three other localities. North Ronaldsay reported peak counts of 11 Woodcocks on 1st and 7th while up to five were seen in Rendall and one-two at 14 other sites. 410 Bar-tailed Godwits were at Cata Sand, Sanday on 7th and 340 at Lama Ness on the same island next day; 160 were at Oddie, Stronsay on 16th. Black-tailed Godwits were, however, typically scarce with just seven on North Ronaldsay on 4th and one at Marwick on 11th. The biggest Curlew flock was one of 1077 in Widewall Bay on 20th while the Burray Whimbrel was seen again on 7th.

A late Bonxie was seen off Marwick and Black Craig on 7th and an early Iceland Gull on Shapinsay on 15th. Little Gull movements are something of a mystery but one was on North Ronaldsay on 5th, one on Shapinsay on 15th and two in Orphir Bay on 29th. An enormous gathering of 8000 Common Gulls on the Stenness Loch on 29th is probably an Orkney record. Sandwich Terns have wintered occasionally in the past and two at Evie Sands on 29th may be contemplating doing just that. Up to three Little Auks were noted off North Ronaldsay on three dates and four in Scapa Flow on 11th while one was found dead in a Stromness garden on 13th.

A Barn Owl was reported from Rennibister on 21st and was apparently of the pale-breasted race as all recent records have been. Three Long-eared Owls were at Lettan, Sanday on 12th and one-two on North Ronaldsay until 17th but the only other reports were of one at Herston 8th - 24th and one at Langskaill, Tankerness on 15th. The bird of the month, if confirmed by the British Birds Rarities Committee, was undoubtedly the Little Swift seen briefly off Marwick Head on 16th. This mainly African species would be new to Orkney although there are two Shetland records and November is a typical month for the species to occur.

North Ronaldsay’s Woodlark remained until 7th while a Short-toed Lark was also there from 1st - 4th. A very late Swallow was at Burwick on 8th. Some Rock Pipits once again performed their strange mini-migration to winter in the West Mainland hills, four being found on Enyass Hill, Rendall (130 metres) on 28th. Most Pied Wagtails left the islands for the winter, only six being reported during the month and being outnumbered by Grey Wagtails of which there were up to three in Finstown and singles in five other localities. A most unusual visitor to North Ronaldsay on 15th was a Dipper; this individual was of the black-bellied race and therefore almost certainly of Continental origin.

Robins became somewhat less conspicuous than in October but there were still 20 on North Ronaldsay on 7th where a Black Redstart was noted 2nd - 7th and a Wheatear on 2nd and 4th. A Bluethroat was a very good find at Echnaloch, Burray on 8th. Scandinavian thrushes were still in evidence with up to 124 Redwings, 172 Fieldfares and 109 Blackbirds on North Ronaldsay early in the month and smaller numbers elsewhere although 150 Redwings were at The Shunan on 21st; a Ring Ouzel was also on North Ronaldsay on 1st.

Blackcaps were widespread in small numbers with up to five on North Ronaldsay and one-three at ten other sites. Similarly, there were up to five Chiffchaffs on North Ronaldsay and one-two at ten other localities, several being reported as being of ‘eastern origin’. The Dusky Warbler was apparently still present on Stronsay as late as 6th.

A Great Grey Shrike must have made a splendid sight at Blackhamar, Rousay on 16th while the Rose-coloured Starling remained in Balfour Village until 4th and a very unusual find in Willow Road, Kirkwall on 30th was a Treecreeper. Two Jackdaws were migrants on North Ronaldsay on several dates while one at Tirlot, Westray was identified as being of the Scandinavian race, because of its white collar. 75 Hooded Crows came into the Langskaill roost in Tankerness on 15th and a single Carrion Crow was at Lyness on 11th.

Up to 25 Chaffinches gathered in the Finstown area during the month while up to five Bramblings were seen there with one-two at three other sites. 100 Greenfinches at Firth School on 7th was the largest flock recorded. An influx of Goldfinches brought up to seven to Hoy, up to six to Finstown and one-two to five other locations. Up to 15 Siskins were in Rendall early in the month but the only others were five in Harray on 7th and singles in Finstown on 8th and 22nd. The Firth School bird crop attracted up to 150 Linnets while 100 were also seen at Dale. Redpolls caused a lot of head-scratching as folk tried to sort out the various species and races. Up to ten in Rendall were mostly Greenland/Iceland Redpolls birds but when trapped, three had the measurements of Lesser Redpolls while two showed the characters of Mealy Redpolls! Elsewhere, up to six were seen in Finstown, one-two on North Ronaldsay and singles at Durkadale and St.Margaret’s Hope. The Dale, Costa Twite flock outstripped all others with 600 present on 11th and 26th; 400 were at Ocklester, Holm on 30th, 310 on Egilsay on 4th and 200 at Aikerness, Evie on 29th while North Ronaldsay retained its flock with a peak of 90 on 4th. 10 Crossbills passed through Rendall on 1st while a single bird was in the White Glen Plantation, Hoy on 9th and 11th.

Some good Snow Bunting flocks were reported with 200 in Deerness and on Sanday, 150 at Howe Brae, Stromness, up to 132 on North Ronaldsay and 110 at Sandwick, South Ronaldsay. A Lapland Bunting that flew over the latter locality on 16th was the only report of this species and a good record anywhere away from North Ronaldsay. 90 Reed Buntings were at Dale, Costa on 11th and 40 at Firth School on 8th while a single Yellowhammer was on North Ronaldsay on 7th.

Eric Meek

Dec 11, 2009

Dec 8, 2009

Dec 6, 2009

Nice one in the garden

I was just leaving about two to day when a Merlin came low overhead from behind, putting put up a small ball of Starlings it banked to the right and dived through them with out luck. Exiting the panicing flock to the left it headed towards next doors raising up and diving in to her shrubs before heading off towards the standing stone on the top of the hill. A nice winter tick for the garden list.

Dec 4, 2009

Back (again)

After several attempts to get this blog back on track I think I am finally getting there this time. I would like to thank all those that are looking in on a regular basis, I ken fine there’s not been a lot going on but hopefully I will be adding new content as I go along. After my wee sojourn in the hospital my return to Orkney was over whelmed by the need to go to London where sad family stuff held me for a month or so. All the places that I would have been delighted to get to like Barnes and the Kent marshes held no interest for me over the weeks. I did manage to get out a couple of mornings (more to save my sanity than to be birding for birdings sake) Right next to the flats I was in is the city farm of Mudchute that is flanked by Millwall park There are allotments a cafĂ© and stables, large animal enclosures and a bridal path that sort of circles the farm.
The first walk about had very tame crows hanging around the feet as I was looking in to bushes at fleeting movements, Quite a contrast to the Hoodies here. The usual suspects were about with Blue tits, Great tits and Green finches aplenty. Wrens and Robins clicked away and a flock of long tailed tits flitted about ahead of me as I slowly moved along the over hung bridal way. Surprisingly there were no house sparrows to be seen at all. I did however get a lifer at Mudchute. As I was moving through the tall tree line that edges the park my attention was taken by some raucous birds screeching away. I new before I had seen them what they were…sort off. A look in to the top branches soon produced Parakeets. There were a dozen of more green parakeets with a pale breasts and orange beaks. They were highly mobile and didn’t hang about for long. I was to see more over the coming days and once they flew past the fifth floor window of the flat…all a bit surreal really.
There have been a few explanations about how these birds got established. My favourite is they are all descendants of a pair released by pop god (to my misses) Marc Bolan. Whatever the truth they are well and truly established in the English capital. One fella that was visiting had walked through a roost on the east side of Greenwich park that had a couple of thousand birds in it. A very noisy experience and one that’s not so rare. Roosts of ten thousand or more are well established in some areas. I was well pleased at the find anyway.
With me not feeling fit enough to ride down to London and time being important I jumped the plane and bish bash bosh I was down in the blink of an eye. The return was to be by train and an enjoyable experience it was to be. I had seen fieldfares and whooper swans before the midlands and the miles swiftly fell under the wheels. As we progressed north the recent heavy rains and flooding were more and more evident. At one point several small deer bounded away from the track side across a stubble field displaying striking white arses as they went. Newcastle and beyond the train is on the east coast proper. Here I see my first Curlew swiftly followed by several Lapwings. Running into Edinburgh in the late afternoon is cracking, the suns getting low throwing a golden light over the landscape. There is also the felling of warmth and security that the familiarity of the landscape brings when you know that you have reached home. Those warm feelings were to prove some what elusive 13 hours later as I climbed out of a taxi and on to an all to familiar freezing Waverly station for the 6.30 to Stirling and Thurso. The only bum note of the trip was about to unfold tho. As I boarded the train I saw a notice that there were no reserved seats on the train. I wandered down to my allocated seat and some bloke was in it. Fair enough the one behind was empty so I would take it. I swung my sandwich bag up to the rack and the flask went with a right bash, thinking I didn’t like the sound of that I hefted the big carryall I had with me. Next thing I know the bloke in front is saying my bag I dripping on him. Grabbing it down the flask of coffee is draining in to the bag, I rescue the sandwiches and bin the rest in the litter bin. I apologise tho the fella in my seat and he starts on at me “ its still dripping doon on me an that eh “ Tired, cold and unamused at the prospect of paying two quid a cup for coffee all day I look him in the eyes with my meanest disposition and say..SO…bugger me he raises his hands….oooer…and puts up his hood. I take my seat in a casual manner all the while thinking phew I thought I was about to get thrown off the train for fighting there, not to mention getting the crap beat out of me by some muppet half my age. Who needs coffee in the morning if you can get a healthy dose of adrenalin.
Stirling was just a wee way up the line and we all changed there in the cold first light of day. Edinburgh had been cold but now the air was altogether sharper. Moving inexorably north the early light revealed waterlogged fields, rivers in spate and flood plains awash. In places I saw flocks of thrushes moving across the fields, a couple of good geese flocks that were to far away to know what they were. We were a bit past Perth when close in and low a Red Kite flew across a field beside the track. This was a real thrill. It was large and it was very close for those fleeting moments. I had only seen them from the distance and then not kent what they were until I got to the computer that night. This was defiantly my best bird of the journey. The highlands were coming into there own now. The hills were well snow capped and simply glowing in the morning sun. After a month in the east end it was as if my vision had turned from monochrome to colour. The stunning warm tones of brown through to red and shades of winter green against the blue of the sky stood out in such a way that I cant describe. Its not just digested by the brain but it warms the heart and blood with its beauty. (chokes back tear). About this time the first Buzzard appears looking well at home moving across the rugged landscape. I knocked out a few photos as we went along which I will post after this for a look. Soon enough Inverness came and went and the last stage was underway. The train windows were well smeared but I wasn’t going to let this stop me taking photos. This is the slowest rail journey in the UK in places it is endlessly up hill and slow. It is also the most indirect route possible for getting to a town that is due north. The reason for this is the rail way was originally built largely through private subscription. The only people with the finances and interest to be building a railway across the desolation of northern Scotland were of course the big land owners of the big estates who took the opportunity of bringing in the guns and exporting their wool hence the train meanders around the country with the aplomb of a rabbit that’s been eating rum soaked raisins. I managed to keep the eyes open all the way to Invergorden where I managed a couple of snaps of the rigs that are layed up there. Arising tide was pushing in the waders, all to far to really identify bu8t they had the reassuring appearance of Redshanks. Two more Buzzards were ticked and a Raven brightened things. I was falling more and more in to my book and dozing. I awoke to the pleasing sight of Dornoch station disappearing on departure. The town is Scotland equivalent of Kalamazoo, Michigan USA. I returned to the realms of morphious with the thought that I could let the miles pass peacefully. Outside though the country was well changed the mountains had receded and the vast expanse of Caithness and Sutherlands flow country spread before us. I must admit I awoke from my dozing a couple of times although all I did was take a couple of photos and settle down again. Soon enough I was awoken at Thurso station where the rails end. God how I wish for faster trains!! A brief taxi ride along to Scrabster and the ferry terminal saw me standing with a view of home…well I would have had a view if it had not been for the rain blowing about the car park…super. There was little else to do but wait. I amused my self for a while counting gulls, that was until I decided their calls were just mocking me for having nothing better to do. Darkness fell and the Pentalina arrived to spirit us away in to the pitching rolling world of dark night. The last birds I was to see on the journey were the gulls following the boat as I pressed face to the windows and gazed in to the all encompassing dark. Bright shapes that seem to glow white in the night came and went like spirits or ghosts as they were illuminated by the ships lights. All this melancholia was to be left behind with the lights of Stromness.
Looking down the pier I could see Joe Doyle waiting to give me a lift home. In no time we were tied up along side. A quick queue and we were all ashore on the solid ground of home. With a quick whit like? No bad, I was off. I had started at 11 the previous day and it was now 21.00….trains…I kinda remember why I don’t choose to use them any more, I do enjoy them but the last half takes ages. Never mind it was good to get home.