Feb 28, 2009

A gap in the rain.

It’s been an endless day of drizzle and rain but during one of the dry spells late in the afternoon the call of outdoors lured me out. I only ventured just down the road to a track that leads to a watery hole in a grass field. It is from here I have been hearing the Widgeon whistling at nights. Looking out over the ground before me pasture land is divided in fields and forms a gentle bowl. At the lowest places of which the wet ground gathers the bounteous rains to eventually empty them selves in to Harray loch. The largest of the pools lies on the lands of Brecken. And as the name suggests was named for the brecks that used to lie here. I should explain brecks are areas of heathery wet ground. It was once habitat like that down here and I spent many a happy hour shooting rabbits and wandering across it. It is all improved grazing now and only a few wet pools that drain it now remain. Before me now lies the largest pool. It has a healthy amount of birds on it tho. I am approaching down hill over a bed of tractor flattened gorse bushes so I am watching my feet more than the birds ahead. There are loads of rabbits about with a black one taking my attention. A while later I caught sight of something grey and white moving along a fence line and here was a rabbit with a white collar. This was quite common here when I was young. As kids your rabbits would get out and come back days later all scratched up and gagging for some lettuce. You would see the local population jean pool livened up wit patches of brown white and ginger! Looks like its still going on….i ken the purists hate this kinda crap but it makes me smile anyway….easier for Hen Harriers to catch perhaps. Five hares across the fields and two close by and the digression from the pool was complete. The wee pool its self held 105 Widgeon several Greylag a few mallard and two Shell duck. The Shell duck looked like a pair sitting on the shore and taking to the water as I approached . Settling as my approach became noticed i waited for a while for things to settle. Before me the air is alive into the distance with skeins of geese and ducks. Birds arriving draw my attention back to the pool. Five or six Widgeon settle down and disperse quietly leaving a Shell duck in the open. It is immediately challenged by a show of force. The new lad backs off to rise up a bit and is set upon again a couple of times. The drake returns across the pool to its partner or significantly guarded other to re enforce their pair bond. It all drama down here between the rains..lol Along the shore there are two mature Greater Black backed gulls fifty five lapwing, no more than a dozen Curlew though. There were a couple of ducks I couldn’t make out. I will have to be back at first light one morning soon and have a scope about. Spits of rain and an approaching grey curtain moving in across the loch make it time to go luckily its only a hundred meters from the house as I am wearing a fleece made from recycled sponges. So it’s a quick march back through the gorse stalks. It’s a nice introduction to the patch about me and strange to see how some of the ground has changed. I look forward to re learning the parish

Moved in.

The relocation to the new house has gone reasonably smoothly. All that’s left to do is move a few last knockings now. It’s a strange thing to be waking up and not having to feed the cats and hens or feed and walk the dog. I must admit it’s the dog (roy) I miss the most. On a sadder note tho Spike the snake died the day after we moved out. He had been struggling to eat for a long while, loosing condition and being quite lethargic. For the last while it had been a continuing struggle to get him to feed. He was almost twice the age garter snakes are supposed to live to so he had a pretty good innings, it is sad to see him go all the same.
We have a peanut feeder up in the corner of the garden trying to illicit some interest and today seems to be the first time its been approached. I noticed Starlings feeding on it this morning these were accompanied by a small flock of House Sparrows that managed to nip quickly in to the gaps left by the Starlings. Staying out of reach of the starlings sharp and aggressive bills they managed to all feed in a rotation. Greenfinches appear now and again moving through the neighbours shrubs. I think they will find the feeder soon enough tho.
Below the house there is a mile of so of grazed fields that runs down to the side of Harray Loch. These are grazed by the inevitable flocks of Greylag geese. Every so often the winds die down and the air if filled with their raucous chatter. They are not the only birds voices to drift up the slopes towards us though, The cries and calls of Lapwing and Curlew carry from the fields as they feed. There are winter wet pools down there as well. These hold Mallard and Widgeon whose quacks and whistles can be heard coming out of the darkness as they roost. Yesterday a pass by an RAF fast jet some way off put up a flock of Curlew from somewhere out the back and I had a count of 93 pass over the house. I wish the weather was a bit better, for this last while the predominant weather direction has been the west. This has carried endless wet weather over us. It seems like there has been drizzle and mist unending. No work is getting done as the ground is sodden. No birding is getting done and little else is getting unpacked from boxes cos of this damn computer. I think I might get out with the bins tho, I need to stretch the legs a bit and have a spy aboot.

Laters folks…

Feb 26, 2009

raptor report

This is a wee summary of last years raptor report. It is taken from the abridged report that is sent out to all members of the RSPB’s local group. So what we have here is the bare bones of that report that I have paired away to fit the format of the blog.

All this quality information is freely available on a regular basis to members of the local members group and is yet another excellent reason to join up with the Royal society. Give them a ring on 01856 850176 or drop by the office on North end road opposite the cop shop and you will be most welcome…..you ken it makes sense!!

Orkney is in the enviable position of having fairly good numbers of raptors occurring to hunt across all of the habitats available. There are no shooting estates on the islands and consequently there is less pressure in the form of illegal persecution. Local farmers have taken advantage of the Hen harrier scheme that pays them to let rough grazing grow rank and their grazing efforts be steered towards creating a suitable habitat for Voles. The Orkney Vole is a major part of the diet for Hen Harriers here in Orkney. Most of the other raptors also benefit from this bounty and these fields will be well patrolled by quartering Short Eared Owls and Kestrels. Peregrines And Merlin’s along with Sparrow Hawks that will also hunt this ground looking for wee birds like Linnet and Twite that are naturally attracted to such ground to feed.
A wet start to the breeding season followed by a very dry spell may not have helped things along and the lack of cliff breeding birds may also have been a factor for some of the Peregrine failures this year, but I am only speculating here…


A single bird showed interest in an east mainland site in the spring but there was no breeding attempt. There was no sign of breeding at the other two sites where nesting has taken place in recent years.


Across Orkney as a whole there were 62 occupied sites at which 51 were found. 39 of these failed, three pre-laying,15 during incubation and 5 at the chick stage while the stage was unknown of the other 16. The remaining 23 nests successfully reared 64 chicks to at or near fledging. Of the 64 chicks(at or near fledging) whose sex was known, 31 were males and 33 were females.


2008 was a good year for Orkneys breeding Sparrowhawks. 12 sites were known to be occupied, 3 of which had not been recorded before. Nests were found at 10 of these sites and eight of them successfully reared young. The two unsuccessful nests both failed during incubation.
The occupancy rate was far higher than usual this year. Generally we have about 3 or 4 sites that are successful in any one year.


For the first time in many years there was no proved breeding on Hoy. Birds were seen at known breeding sites but no nests were found and no evidence of any young being reared. On the mainland site first used in 05 a bird was heard calling and acting as though on territory on may16th but no signs were found thereafter.


As usual data for this species was far from complete. There were seven defiantly occupied sites, all in the west mainland and nests were found at 5 of these. Of these one was a moor land ground nest, one was in a working quarry. One was on an old building, one was on a small in land crag and one was in an old Hoodies nest in a tree. One failed during incubation and the outcome of another was unknown. The other three reared 12 chicks in broods of 3, 4,and 5.
Birds were seen in at least 7 other areas during the breeding season but no evidence of breeding was obtained.


All known breeding sites were checked and 18 were found to be occupied. Nests were found at 16 of these sites but a poor season resulted in only 7 rearing young. 19 chicks were reared to or near fledging. There were two re-lays one successful and one failed. Of the 19 chicks reared 13 were females and 6 were males. The west mainland had 7 sites two of which were successful producing 5 chicks. The east mainland had one successful site producing one chick. Rousay had 2 sites with no successes. Hoy had 8 sites, 4 of which were successful producing 7 chicks.


It was a poor year for birds breeding on the isles. At both sites on Westray nothing was found. On Eday birds were present early in the season at one of the two sites but did not nest. On Stronsay three old kills were found at one of the two sites but there was no sign of nesting. On Rousay a pair reared four chicks at the site that has been regularly used in recent years. On Shapinsay though there was no sign of occupation at the known site. All the west mainland sites were checked and only two sites were occupied. Of these one fledged two chicks whilst the other failed. In the East Mainland all sites were checked but only one was occupied and it reared at least one chick. The usual site on South Ronaldsay was found to have a brood of three chicks a week old but fledging success is unknown. Hoy is the most difficult to cover because of the remoteness of some of the sites and the height of some of the nesting cliffs. One site fledged at lest one chick while another is believed to have failed. Territorial birds were seen at least three possibly four sites but the outcome of any nesting attempts was unknown.


There were 33 apparently occupied sites located. In the west mainland birds were seen in 22 likely breeding localities but nests of young were only found at four of these. In the East Mainland there were birds in six likely sites but no nests or chicks were located. Birds were present in at least two areas of Burray/South Ronaldsay but no nests or chicks were found. On Flotta, an island with out voles, a fledged chick was seen. A hunting bird was seen on South Walls, another vole free zone. Finally on Rousay birds were seen in two areas, including one where a food pass was observed.


Chris Booth once again covered all the known Mainland sites. At least 50 pairs attempted to nest of which 33 were successful rearing 97 young. 29 of the pairs used sea cliff sites and 21 used inland sites that comprised quarries ,trees, buildings, a steep bank side and an inland crag.


Thanks go to the following folks for all there hard work. With out them this report would not be possible

Eric Meek, Chris Booth, Martin Bruengger, Mike Cockram, Lorna Dow, Kieth Fairclough, Ailne Gerber, Paul Higson, Paul Hollinrake, Andy Knight, Alan Leitch, Brian Ribbands, Lee Shields, Jim Williams, Andrew Upton, Stuart Williams.

Feb 18, 2009

Ready to roll

Its been a long day of cleaning and packing and the move is about done, I fell in the hill yesterday and sprained my ankle so its been a slow day of hobbling about, tomorrow should see us away tho. Mind you we are only moving about five miles away so its not like it’s a huge trek. Snow may come at the weekend so its best to get on now. There were two dozen Twite over the new house and round about it to day. I thought that was encouraging. There were also greenfinches and house sparrows providing lots of movement in the regosa. The sparrows were defiantly pairing up and showing off. Over the last couple of days there have been reports of ravens starting to pay attention to there nests. The birds in the valley here have been flying very close and there has been interaction with interlopers and some very showy aerobatics. The first skylark singing was reported by Celia Glenn down the Hope way today. I heard a curlew bubble tonight as it lifted off. In Happy valley yesterday one of the bushes had buds about to burst and through out the woods snowdrops are blooming. The celandine is also starting to grow leaf and the first flowers are evident. I love this time of year. The grip of darkness is starting to loosen and life is beginning to awaken….it feels good to be part of a new beginning

Feb 17, 2009

Moving on

Well thats about it for this place and life here on the hill will soon be behind us. I supose i will have to start a new garden list. It might not be as exciting as this one but there again this garden has only six wee birds in all the time. A bit of hustle and bustle around the feeders will be a plesant change(with a bit of luck} I was over at the new house in Harray yesterday to sweep chimneys and saw a snipe fly over the roof so i thought im having that anyway! So thats the first on the list not that i am a compulsive listing birder...far from it to tell the truth. Its back to the last knockings and cleaning for me.....Going to miss the dog tho...One final thought....There is a nice caravan here that will be let out over the summer so if anyone wants an inexpensive holliday birding base send us an email and all this could be under your feet.....adios for now.

Feb 11, 2009

Senness loch frozen

Harray loch frozen over

Snow time...day 5

Another day of cold goes by. Yet again the winds predicted have not appeared. This is something of a blessing. After no snow to speak of last night it began to fall shortly after first light. It continued on and off all through the morning to clear in the afternoon. Large showers still continued but it was more a matter of luck if you were hit or not. With a couple of inches falling on top of the lying snow and there being no thaw what so ever there is six inches of powder just waiting to be blown about by the next big wind…never mind we will worry about that if it happens.
Birds are scarce on the ground at the moment, two redpolls that are frequenting the valley were here this morning but little else. Snipe were at the springs down the field. I headed off to the Stones of Stenness on foot this afternoon. Both the Harray Loch and the Stenness Loch are frozen over and miles of dark water are now white with the fallen snow. It’s a surreal sight where once was water now has the illusion of land. Between the two lochs the flow of water maintains a free channel. This was my objective and sure enough scanning over the water it is inundated with birds. The far edge of the icy channel has hundreds and hundreds of Widgeon and Tufted ducks More swim round in large rafts. Closer to and numerous saw bills move about in the hoards of Goldeneye. There are a couple of hundred its an impressive sight. Less impressive is the way they all take to the air as a family group that have just arrived start to chuck stones and shite in to the water and ice. I suppose every one is entitled to their fun, I just wish they had had it some place else. I take a load of snaps though before heading back to the hill. On the Harray side managed to see the black Swan. Not that difficult to spot today strangely enough. Things must be getting tough for the birds now. Along the roads Snipe are starting to feed on the wet verges. These are dangerous times and collisions are all to common in these conditions. The now all to familiar half mile trudge back through the snow did throw up a couple of nice birds. First off I watched two Ravens harassing a gull. As they approached they put up a Peregrine from our neighbours garden that rose above me to head off along the hillside……Its still freezing up here.

Feb 10, 2009

Last night at the stones.

Last night we went down to the standing stones at Brodgar to try out my mate’s video camera and to see if we could manage any atmospheric shots. In our favour was the full moon and total snow cover. The stone circle was absolutely stunning in the freezing night air. There was enough cloud for atmosphere but not enough to swamp us out with darkness. On the minus side I have been reduced to my old Nikon 5600 PnS. The 5100 fell from my hands the other day and the lens smashed right off..oops butter fingers!! Add to that the loss of a pair of binoculars and the tripod for the scope biting the dust you can see its been a poor start to the month. I tell all this in a feeble attempt to excuse these poor and shaky shots. They might give some impression of the night but I think they are a bit lacking… any way have a look at a couple and see what you think.

Snow Time

The month has started off with not a lot happening up here. Watching the snows fall all over the south and east of England for the last week I was beginning to wonder if it would ever snow for us. As England froze and the snows grew ever deeper the northern isles carried on as usual with calm and mild weather. By Friday snow 24 or to give it its right name BBC news 24 were forecasting substantial snows for us. Sure enough Friday morning brought an unrelenting drizzle of sleet that hit the ground and disappeared. By the time the sun dropped the sleet began to lie and we were away. The wind from the north dropped away yet still managed to fill in a hundred yards of track, luckily the wife’s car was left down at the road so we had some transport available or it would have been slim pickings by now. From Saturday morning it has been the most fantastic weather, flat calm with light snow showers from time to time. It has stayed well below 0 with -10 and -12 reported on the Orkney forum. On the ground we have 4 to 6 inches of powdery snow and fortunately the north gales that were predicted by the met office never materialised.
Birding has been a bit sparse but has made up for its self in quality. Whilst passing the time snapping photos and generally buggering around in the garden on Sunday I heard grouse calling from the hill somewhere behind the house. Running in and grabbing the scope I soon have two Grouse in view. They are feeding around the foot of a large clump of gorse across the valley. It’s a long way but as I watch yet more come into view. With in a couple of minutes there are six feeding away on the exposed heather around the base of the gorse. This is the most I have ever seen together and I am snapping away grabbing pictures in a panic. I shouldn’t have worried as they were around for the rest of the afternoon.
Monday afternoon I decided to head for the top of the hills in order to get a panorama shot of the surrounding country. My mind is soon changed after tramping through the heather in the back field. Out here the snow is coming up to the knees and as I draw breath and look to the hill tops I think …bugger that…I head for Russadale quarry for a look. Although the bird count is to stay at three Wrens and two Ravens the quarry its self proves to be a stunning backdrop. It’s a wet old hole in the winter time but the water draining through the rocks has frozen into a fantastic display of icicles some of the bigger ones are eight feet long and as thick as my arm. The spectacle is the most impressive icicles I have ever seen(but I have lead a sheltered life). The SD card gets a bit of a hammering before I head back to the house. I am almost at the back fence when from the wet burn side a Jack Snipe takes to the air appearing from just below my feet flying low and level to rise slightly and drop into the valley. Later I see Erik Meek has reported putting one up on the quarry path a couple of hours before mine so I would guess it’s the same one.. The Snipe action was not over yet. In the field below the house there are three wet patches bare of snow. Here water flows out the ground and the local snipe have been hanging out taking advantage of the rare bare ground to feed. A scan across it with the scope reveal four birds feeding, Needless to say a snap was taken!!
Today I returned to the quarry for some more pictures of icicles. Sitting on the bench I manage to see the two remaining Redpolls and film them flitting about. What was to happen next I still find hard to believe. I am standing taking photos and talking to the dog(like you do) when from a ledge above me a bird takes off spooked. It rises strait up and over the lip to disappear from view. I am excited though cos it was a Woodcock. Anyway I carry on taking photos of the ice, standing close in to the face. Next thing I hear is the whoosh of wind through a birds wings and the Woodcock returns gliding down to settle just around a corner out of sight,. I ken fine the dog will put it up so I decide to try and film it flying off. With a none to subtle approach I manage to find it hiding beneath the rock face and catch its flight as it takes off. That’s it for me I head off home more than a little chuffed…The temperature is below 0 again tonight and there looks like no end to the snow……good stuff im loving it.