Dec 30, 2010

Winter moth

This little critter is the Winter moth. I have seen a few about since the latest snow went away. Kate was telling me that she had seen one on the TV the other night with the presenter explaining how it had anti freeze in its blood to allow it to function in the extreme colds of winter. They have been coming to the bathroom window where they are happy to sit for hours. The female has markedly smaller wings and does not venture far from vegetation. I see also that they don’t feed in winter but that’s about as much info as my two wee Collins guides have on the species. Hardy little creatures in a hostile environment anyway.!!

Dec 29, 2010

Up coming event

Sun 16 January

Birds of Scapa Flow – boat tour on the mv Graemsay

3 hr tour on the mv Graemsay to see wintering seabirds and wildfowl. Commentary en route from Tim Dean.

Cost: £10 Time: 11am – 2pm

Booking essential: Anne 01856 873535 ext. 2882

Dec 24, 2010


Dec 21, 2010

Solstice eclipse

The solstice eclipse came and went with a little disappointment as the moon fell in to mist as the eclipse became full. I cant complain though for what i saw was stunning. The whole of the west mainland basin was cast under a layer of misty fog. There were no house lights or signs of habitation to be seen and the sense of isolation was almost spiritual. I cant help but wonder what my ancestors camped out at Brodgar (or wherever) would have made of a total lunar eclipse on the morning of the solstice. I am a happy man this morning....the hours of light can grow now, the year is reborn!

This is one of the only shots i managed to catch the colour of the eclipsed moon

Brodgar at midnight awaiting the solstice lunar eclipse

Dec 16, 2010

Wet bread and fresh water

The crap weather is back in force today and looks to be going on for at least a few days. I will have to have a look through the cupboards for dried food and the like. I might get to put out some wet loaf and dried fruit the morn but my peanut supply is out at the moment. More important in the coming days will be fresh water and this will have to be replenished as it freezes during the day.....nice out if you are a snowman!!

Dec 12, 2010

Dec 2, 2010

London snow

London and the South East have been under a blanket of snow for the last three days, the car has had to get all the repairs made in kirkwall re done before we could drive another yard.....well pissed off!!!! Good birds abpout the flats today with eight Long tailed tits moving through the trees, numourous Bluetits and Wrens were about the Mudchute with a nice view of a song thrush in the snow. A lot of birds were taking advantage of the ground stirred up by the animals in their pens. This was one of the few areas of snow clear ground. I managed photos of some parrots roosting in Millwall park so i might be able to get an id on them this time. These ones seem diffrent from the plain green ones i have seen at the start of the week having blue/green wings and a pale breast...All is quiet out there now with a four inch covering of snow with a fresh blanket of fluffy stuff on top. I am just back in after walking a six month old Husky all over the island. We had a nice encounter with a fox and after a bit of a stare offgiving good views it mooched off into the snow. The city is full of life if you just look aboot.

Nov 26, 2010

Well made it to London just ahead of the snow. In a night time run from John O Groats it was a slick and glossy run to Edinbrugh, then fron Edinbrugh to london it was ocasional flurries and sleet. The south end of the M1 is an endless mass of road works dominated by 50mph speed cameras and we dont recomend at all. The A1 or M11ymust be better bets. The first birds seen from the balcony were a pair of green parakets and some blue tits. Theres the chatter of magpies and some nice song that i dont have a clue what it is. Off to explore a bit on Saturday.Londonshire

Nov 22, 2010

Hen harrier roost

On a notion tonight I shot off to the biggest west mainland Hen harrier roost to see if there was anything doing. On arriving I was surprised to find I wasn’t the only one with the same thought. Pulled in to a passing place was a car and a land rover both with scopes sticking out of the windows. It was an RSPB crew who were out for their monthly Harrier count. Now this was a piece of luck. The views here are distant and there is a large slice of hill to cover so four pairs of eyes are a definite boon. With the failing light the first birds had already been seen coming in over the heather. They were still flighty and not yet ready for settling. As they landed here and there we would try to keep an eye on their position so as not to confuse them with more arrivals. Slowly more and more were spotted. In the main we were seeing males coming in , the ones that landed mostly took positions on stabs or prominent heathery tussocks so they could view the hillside and new arrivals. Ringtails soon started to be spotted, many settled straight in to the heather whilst others quartered the hillside of the traditional roost. There was some interesting interactions between the males and females, between the males as well. Every so often a male would put up another male and a short squabble would ensue. Things were settling well when a Short eared owl entered the game. Now Short eared owls and Hen harriers are not the best of friends on a good day and the fear was that this owl would put all the birds up and the count would get scrambled. The SEO was chased by several males and a ring tail before finally heading off out of the area. It provided some entertaining flight and fortunately didn’t cause too much confusion to the count. This was the first Short eared owl I had seen for a while. They are a bird that gets rarer as the winter progresses. There has been some debate as to whether they all migrate south or a small population remains here and drops their diurnal feeding pattern in favour of a nocturnal life style, but that’s a debate for another day!!. The light was failing fast now and the last of the ringtails seemed to have arrived. With the youngsters and females settled over the hillside The males that had been sitting on the high spots seemed satisfied it was time to roost and one by one they moved off to claim their spots for the night with a slow circle over a favoured patch of heather before a quick plunge take them instantly out of sight. All in all it was a cracking spot of raptor viewing.

The totals for the roost were 8 males possibly 9 and 7 ringtails possibly 9.

Nov 21, 2010

Lochside morning.

It was such a flat calm morning that I thought I would head out and see what was to be seen. Lochside was to be the first port of call. It was lovely as well with the early winter colours of the heather and reeds reflecting in the water between the islands. I like this time of year, the first of the winds has been and the coldness of the winter depths is yet to fall. Whilst setting up my scope a lone Wren started its chiding cal from a bust thirty paces from me. This is a bird that is a handful to catch in the digiscope as they are so flighty. Sure enough I managed to get the bird in view in the scope and offer up the camera but two quick snaps and it was gone, disappeared in to the heather where it moved about and gave out some song. No prizes for guessing the sex of that one then!
There were a few birds on the water but my attention was drawn to the fields on the far side below Biggins, spread along the loch shore was a good flock of Lapwing numbering 125+ interspersed within that flock were a hundred or so Golden plover and 30 odd Curlew. Either side and above them the ubiquitous greylags grazes away. I didn’t bother to count them as I seem to be quite blasé about the tens of thousands of grey geese that are spread across the county. 25 or more Teal were emerging from the loch in a seemingly determined feeding column. As they come ashore a flurry of action draws me away as a Hoddie and a Herring gull squabble over some food on another island. It soon falls quiet though but a scan along the shore reveals five Snipe maintaining their usual immobile stance. As the winter progresses Snipe are becoming more and more visible at he waters edge, not only on the loch sides but along the sea shore as well.
The water its self held no real surprises. The predominant duck was the Tuffted with a hundred or more in view. Amongst these groups of tufted further out were five Scaup and in amongst the islands but spread out were three male Goldeneye. A small contingent of Cormarants dried their wings and preened on one of the skerries with a couple of birds paddling about and actively feeding. With the place kindo scoped out I packed up to head over the other side of the loch for a view but shortly after arriving on came the rain. I remained at the junction of Harray and Stenness for a while and stoically ignored the increasing rain until I thought my jeans were suitably wet and my legs cold enough then jumped back on the bike and shot off the four miles home….another short day….och well!

Nov 16, 2010

Thou shalt allways bird!

Check out Thou shalt allways bird. Theres a link at the top of the side bar.

Shooting star alert.

The annual display of Leonids shooting stars is almost upon us. They will be here on the nights of the 17th and 18th That’s the morns night and the next. Look to the constellation of Leo which is to the left and a little lower than Orion. This is in the eastern sky. Happy viewing!

Nov 11, 2010

Nov 10, 2010

Nov 9, 2010

Celestial events to see the year out!

There are some interesting celestial events coming up over the next month or so and I think they are well worth making a note of so as not to miss them.

Firstly there is the Geminids meteor shower. This will run from December the 9th until the 14th and it will reach the peak on the night of the 13th.

After this there is the Ursids meteor shower. This will go on from December the 17th to the 24th with the peak occurring on the night of the 23rd.

During this shower things will get really interesting with a lunar eclipse happening on the solstice around 5am just before sunrise. That will be on the morning of the 21st of December. I just cant help but think what the builders of Brodgar and the Stenness stones would have made of the event!!

On January the 1st to the 4th it will be the Quadrantids meteor shower with the peak occurring on the night of the 3rd.

With this shower over the morning of the 4th of January will provide the greatest spectacle of all!!, as the sun rises it will be in partial eclipse with a quarter of the surface occluded by the shadow of the moon.

Weather permitting it looks like the end of the year could provide Orkney with some of the greatest celestial spectacles it is possible to see….weather permitting of course!!...Happy viewing.

Nov 2, 2010

This was a very exhausted or ill redwing on the Marwick path today. It moved after i got with in fifteen foot of it. It moved back at the same slow pace that i approached it before it moved farther in to the field with a short flight. This shot was taken with the new camera and i see it wanted to focus on the barb wire in the foreground...mmm no change there then!!!

Oct 30, 2010

Otter at the Loons

On Thursday I was well impressed to see photos of otters on a friend’s facebook page. My mate Alfie Stanger had the good fortune to have a large dog otter put on a fine display in front of the loons hide just as the light was going. The sighting log in the hide also made mention of an otter sighting a few days back. Now the otter is one of the most elusive of all our wild life. I have only seen them on a few occasions so the temptation to go for a look at the end of the day yesterday was just to much for me. Shooting out as the day was ending I arrived at the loons hide to find Alfie there and primed for more action. Taking a seat and setting up there looked little In the way of bird life let alone otters.
The day before the otter had appeared on the far off left of the pool moved on to the wee island for a sniff about. There were mallard on the bank and water and they were unperturbed by the large mammal moving amongst them. He moved along the reeds in a dabbling manner with the rear end and tail in the air whilst I presume searching for food on the shallow bottom. From there he swam across the pool from left to right before emerging on the cut reeds at the mouth of the water rail channel and disappeared in to the reeds.
That was yesterday though and after hearing the description of what happened I settled to have a spy about for birds whilst keeping a weather eye out for wee tarka!! The seemingly empty vista before us soon began to offer up sightings, in the stubble fields far above us a gaggle of greylags were feeding then in the grazings below that a few curlew poked about. The field below this that leads to the reserve edge held three hares and along side these but not close enough to cause them concern a feral tabby cat was hunting a mouse or vole. One thing that had been called yesterday was a fox along the fence line. This was called by a visiting birder and Alfie managed a distant view in his bins as a Rufus looking rear end disappeared down a dip not to be seen again. We were discussing what it could possibly have been as foxes are not something we have on the northern isles when a flash of red bushy back end has me shouting FOX!! It was on the farthest comfortable view of my binoculars and it also disappeared down a dip. With the heart pumping and the mind shouting that it cant be can it??? I jumped on to the scope and swung it in the direction whilst explaining where I was looking. Within moments the culprit emerged, it was a huge ginger tabby cat with a monster tail. We both got on it and had good views in the scope. I am pretty sure that this was the fox from the previous night. It’s a good example of assuming the identity of a sighting when you are familiar with a species…its easy to convince your self you ken fine what your seeing. Assumption is a powerful psychological tool…and one I am personally all to familiar with as a birder!! With that wee mystery kind of settled it was back to the birds. Little did I know I was about to fall fowl of exactly the same assumption! Looking across the reed tops Alfie says look what’s that as a large gull floated away from us and moved on to the side of the hill. Oh its just a gull having a poke about I said with confidence. Yet it was seeming to be hunting in a quartering sort of fashion rather than the typical sort of herring gull flight Just as I was saying och its just a gull it spread its un gull like tail in a big fan and wheeled about to show its self in good view. It was a first year male hen harrier. It had passed over the three brown hares and they had not flinched. Now it moved along the fence line towards the farm and disappears. Its presence had stirred two flocks of Golden plover to take to the air, these gave a fine display wheeling about and changing colour as the changed direction before settling back to ground. The Peewits that were along the reserve edge were also spurred to take to the air but soon settled back in the same area as they had emerged.
Time passed but still no Otter, geese passed nosily over and the Harrier returned to plunge into the reeds way off to the left of the pool and not emerge, probably scoffing some prey!. Still no sign of Otters though!.
Passing time looking for a Reed bunting that was making occasional calls I was delighted to see a Water Rail walk over the cut reeds at the mouth of the channel. No sooner had I said water rail it walked in to the reeds and was gone. This was the first Water rail I had ever seen and I had the tingling thrill of discovery that you get seeing a lifer!! Still no otter though and now the rain started with a heavy thud thud The few Mallard on the pool seemed un bothered but a female Teal began rushing about like a loony, slashing and diving. The light was getting impossibly poor and we decided to head off and give it up for the night. It was a shame that the Otter did not emerge but that’s about par for these elusive creatures, never mind though I had a lifer and a good chat and laugh whilst birding and you cant beat that!! Even the ride home with out waterproofs wasn’t going to bother me tonight!!

It’s a shame the night didn’t produce an Otter but Alfie has said I can show a couple of his photos here so you can see the beast for your self’s though…Thanks for that Alfie!!

Oct 28, 2010

RSPB Sept report

Here is the Sept report from the RSPB...It was the hottest month of the year for many did you see??



Traditionally one of the busiest months of the year, this September didn’t disappoint with two good ‘falls’ of Continental migrants (on 7th-10th and 28th-30th) but with much of interest emanating from the north-west in between. So many notable birds occurred that many of the commoner species that are usually mentioned have had to be omitted this month.

Black-throated Divers were noted in Holm Sound on 14th and off Cava (three) on 23rd while the first two returning Great Northern Divers passed the Brough of Birsay on 17th. Similarly, the first two Slavonian Grebes had come back to the Swannay Loch by 19th. Strong winds mid-month produced a good passage of seabirds with up to 1900 Fulmars and 1000 Gannets per hour passing the Brough of Birsay on 17th when 53 Sooty Shearwaters and 35 Manx Shearwaters were also noted. On North Ronaldsay the main Sooty passage was on 25th when 214 were counted while 19 moved through the Copinsay Pass on 29th after strong south-easterlies. 60 Storm Petrels were trapped on North Ronaldsay on the night of 1st with up to six per day recorded at sea there until 22nd and one through the Copinsay Pass on 29th. Large concentrations of Shags included 400 on the Little Green Holm on 19th and 600 in Widewall Bay on 26th.

The first (and only) Whooper Swans were eight over Herston on 25th. A large passage of Pink-footed Geese was witnessed at the Brough of Birsay on 17th when 2100 were counted in two hours; elsewhere the largest count was 229 on North Ronaldsay on 22nd. Migrant Greylag Geese have not arrived in any numbers yet but a flock of 1500, presumably local birds, was on the Loch of Skaill on 20th. A family party of five Snow Geese were in the Stromness area until 10th before what were presumably the same birds moved to Deerness on 14th. A single adult was in Orphir on 13th and 18th while three adults were at Head of Holland and Head of Work 13th-15th with perhaps the same birds on the Loch of Clumly on 26th. The first Barnacle Geese were 12 on North Ronaldsay on 28th followed by 18 there the following day.

Wigeon numbers began to build with 1500 at Mill Dam, Shapinsay on 24th while 19 Pintail were on North Ronaldsay on 12th. The Loch of Clumly was an unusual location for 12 Scaup on 26th. Two Common Scoters passed the Brough of Birsay on 17th and one was on the Loch of Skaill on 20th. The first Long-tailed Duck was off No.4 Barrier on 25th. 41 Red-breasted Mergansers were in Echnaloch Bay on 11th.

A Honey Buzzard that moved south-west over Binscarth on 19th may have been the bird seen at Berstane two days later and over Tenston on 30th. Sparrowhawks became conspicuous early in the month associated with the ‘fall’ of passerine migrants while Merlins were also very much in evidence, an interesting sighting being of two (together with a Peregrine) stooping at Starlings coming into roost over Stromness on 8th. Rare raptors involved a female Goshawk that moved south through South Ronaldsay on 10th and a Hobby on North Ronaldsay on 12th.
The final count of calling male Corncrakes in Orkney this summer was 23, four up on the 2009 total; a migrant bird was on North Ronaldsay on 10th, the same day that a Quail was recorded there. 364 Coot at Loch of Bosquoy on 26th was a good count for so early a date. The two Cranes that had first been seen in the Stromness area on 6th August remained until 19th September and afforded many folk with memorable experiences as they displayed to one another on numerous occasions

110 Ringed Plovers gathered on Stromness Golf Course at high tide on 13th. The largest Golden Plover flocks were 2000 in the Swanbister area on 25th and 1500 at each of Dounby on 2nd and Brough, South Ronaldsay on 26th. An American Golden Plover was a rare visitor to North Ronaldsay from 1st to 22nd. The largest count of Knot was 70 on North Ronaldsay on 8th while 60 were at the Shapinsay Ouse on 12th. Up to eight Curlew Sandpipers were seen on North Ronaldsay with up to five at the Loch of Skaill and singles on Stronsay and in Deerness mainly in the first part of the month. Records of their usual travelling companion, Little Stint, included three on Stronsay on 12th, one-two at Loch of Skaill and singles at Marwick and North Ronaldsay. From across the Atlantic came no fewer than six Pectoral Sandpipers with two on North Ronaldsay, two at The Shunan and singles in Deerness and at the Peedie Sea, the latter remaining from 21st to 30th and providing many folk with their first experience of this species. Also from North America came a Buff-breasted Sandpiper to Brough, South Ronaldsay on 23rd. North Ronaldsay recorded up to 17 Ruff (peak on 12th) but elsewhere only one-two were seen in five localities.

No fewer than 568 Snipe were counted on North Ronaldsay on 30th. All Jack Snipe records also came from there with an early bird on 9th followed by others from 24th with a maximum of seven on 29th. An early Woodcock also arrived on the island on 29th. North Ronaldsay also saw most of the Black-tailed Godwit passage with two peaks of 107 on 10th and 106 on 23rd; elsewhere the largest count was 16 on Stronsay on 12th. Only four Whimbrels were seen, on North Ronaldsay on 10th and 12th, on Flotta on 24th and on Burray, where the regular wintering bird had returned by 8th. The largest Curlew flock was 550 at Marwick on 20th. Greenshanks were scarce with records of singles from just three localities. Single Wood Sandpipers were at The Shunan on 2nd and 11th and on North Ronaldsay from 9th to 11th. Two Green Sandpipers were at Ireland, Stenness on 26th and one at Durkadale next day, both favourite localities for this species. Up to four migrant Common Sandpipers were on North Ronaldsay from 6th to 12th. A Grey Phalarope was seen from the ‘Pentalina’ on 10th while two passed the Brough of Birsay on 17th.

Our breeding seabirds’ woes are well-known and a complete survey of our breeding skuas confirmed suspicions that even Bonxies are in trouble – numbers have declined by 23% since 2000. Arctic Skuas are faring even worse with a 62% decline since 1992.

A Glaucous Gull was on North Ronaldsay on 25th. As usual, small numbers of Sandwich Terns lingered right through the month as did a few Arctic Terns but the presence of one –two Common Terns on North Ronaldsay right up to 30th was more notable. Tysties were especially conspicuous off the Churchill Barriers on 11th with a total of 74 off Nos 1,2 & 3.

The only Swift of the month was one in the Binscarth area on 8th. A Stock Dove was on North Ronaldsay on 29th while single Turtle Doves were in Kirkwall on 11th and on North Ronaldsay from 22nd. A Hoopoe was a good find at the Warebeth Cemetery, Stromness on 30th. Single juvenile Cuckoos were at the Wee Fea Plantation, Hoy on 8th at Manse Bay, South Ronaldsay next day. Short-eared Owls became much less conspicuous during the month and the only Long-eared Owl was one in Deerness on 9th. A Great Spotted Woodpecker was on Stronsay on about 10th while a small arrival at the month’s end involved birds in Deerness on 28th and in Stenness and Stromness on 30th. The migrant arrival early in the month brought two Wrynecks to North Ronaldsay and one to Hestily, South Ronaldsay between 8th-10th. A Short-toed Lark was a rare, but typical, visitor to North Ronaldsay on 29th. 800 Swallows were still using the Graemeshall reed-bed roost on 9th.

It was a month for interesting pipits! Amongst our resident Rock Pipits and the myriad migrant Meadow Pipits, small numbers of Tree Pipits appeared between 8th–12th, with up to 12 on North Ronaldsay. Then, on 28th, a Richard’s Pipit from the steppes of Siberia and Central Asia was found on North Ronaldsay; a Red-throated Pipit from the tundras of Scandinavia and Russia was heard to call several times as it was mobbed by Rock Pipits over Kirkwall; and, perhaps the bird of the month, a Buff-bellied Pipit from North America and west Greenland, only Orkney’s second, was found at Yesnaby.

Yellow Wagtails are normally scarce migrants here but the ‘fall’ from 8th brought six to each of North Ronaldsay, Deerness and South Ronaldsay with singles to Burray and Twatt, the latter being identified from a photograph as a male Blue-headed Wagtail, the race of Yellow Wagtail common on the Continent. Grey Wagtails were noted in breeding areas in Finstown, Stenness and Kirkwall but also on North Ronaldsay from 27th.

Redstarts were conspicuous in the migrant arrival early in the month with up to 37 on North Ronaldsay and 32 on South Ronaldsay; Whinchats were generally fewer but North Ronaldsay again recorded a peak of 37 on 10th.A Black Redstart was seen at Cara, South Ronaldsay on 7th. Few Robins were seen in this early ‘fall’ but they became more numerous late in the month with up to 17 on North Ronaldsay. Three Bluethroats were also found at this time; in Deerness and at Cottascarth on 26th and on North Ronaldsay on 30th. Coming from both the east and the north-west, Wheatears were in evidence all moth with peaks of 24 on South Ronaldsay on 9th and 110 on North Ronaldsay on 12th probably mainly being Continental birds but 20 on Birsay Links a few days later being considered to be mainly of the Greenland race.

Small numbers of Fieldfares arrived between 6th-12th with up to seven at nine localities. A few Song Thrushes also arrived then but their main influx occurred late in the month with 105 on North Ronaldsay on 29th/30th. An early Redwing was seen on that island on 9th but there were no more then until 26th after which up to 23 were seen at six sites. Blackbirds also became conspicuous at that time while up to three Ring Ouzels were on North Ronaldsay together with a Mistle Thrush, four of the latter also being seen in Rendall on 30th.

During the two main migrant arrivals on North Ronaldsay, two Grasshopper Warblers were seen on 9th and again on 30th. Sedge Warbler records became fewer as the month progressed although at least 10 were still at Graemeshall on 9th and the last was seen on North Ronaldsay on 20th. One-two Reed Warblers were seen in six localities between 9th-12th with others at Evie Sands on 23rd and on North Ronaldsay on 30th. A Blyth’s Reed Warbler was an extremely rare visitor to North Ronaldsay on 30th. Three Icterine Warblers were noted between 11th-15th with a further two on 26th/27th.

It was a good month for Barred Warblers with ten between 3rd-14th and a further five at the end of the month. Small numbers of Lesser Whitethroats appeared during both ‘falls’ but very few Common Whitethroats were seen with only one-two in Deerness and South Ronaldsay and on North Ronaldsay 9th-12th. Blackcaps and Garden Warblers were two of the main components of the migrant arrivals. On North Ronaldsay, Blackcaps peaked at 28 on 9th and 10 on 30th with numbers elsewhere fewer but similarly distributed. 32 Garden Warblers were found on South Ronaldsay on 9th with 17 on North Ronaldsay the following day, five also being seen on the latter island on 30th; other localities recorded up to three almost all early in the month. Willow Warblers were also common during the early arrival, especially on 9th when 48 were on North Ronaldsay, 28 on South Ronaldsay and up to ten elsewhere; small numbers also arrived late in the month. Chiffchaffs, as usual, reversed this picture with only a few being seen at the start of September but the arrival from 26th bringing in more including up to eight on North Ronaldsay. Wood Warblers were seen in Deerness on 8th with two there next day and another being in Finstown on 10th and 15th. A real rarity was a Western Bonelli’s Warbler on North Ronaldsay on 10th/11th. Right on cue, the first two Yellow-browed Warblers, coming all the way from Siberia arrived on North Ronaldsay on 21st to be followed by others in Stromness on 26th, Rendall on 27th, Deerness and South Ronaldsay (three) on 30th when a peak of seven occurred on North Ronaldsay. Very few Goldcrests occurred before 28th when the arrival brought 16 to North Ronaldsay and small numbers elsewhere.

Perhaps the most conspicuous species of the early migrant arrival was Spotted Flycatcher with 32 on North Ronaldsay, 29 on South Ronaldsay on 9th and 15 on Stronsay on 12th, birds being reported from fourteen other sites. Pied Flycatchers were fewer but South Ronaldsay recorded 18 on 9th and, again, there were records from fourteen other localities including as far west as Yesnaby. A suberb adult male Red-breasted Flycatcher was found at Eastside, South Ronaldsay on 9th with another immature bird at Cara on 30th.
A Red-backed Shrike appeared on North Ronaldsay on 9th with other at Burwick and Costa on 11th. The series of Coal Tit records from Hoy continued with at least one at the Wee Fea Plantation on 8th.

Small numbers of Chaffinches and Bramblings appeared early in the month but the main influx occurred from 26th respective species totals being 50 and 112 on North Ronaldsay on 30th. Siskins were also conspicuous, especially towards the end of the month with 161 on North Ronaldsay on 30th and up to 18 elsewhere. An interesting series of Twite counts came from uninhabited islands in Wide Firth on 19th with 250 on the Little Green Holm, 50 on Muckle Green Holm and 110 on Boray Holm; it would be interesting to know what these birds were feeding on in these remote unfarmed sites! Up to 12 Common Redpolls were on North Ronaldsay from 24th with four on Sanday on 26th and up to ten in Finstown after 27th. The origins of these birds was suggested by the finding of single Hornemann’s Arctic Redpolls (from Greenland) on North Ronaldsay on 20th and Sanday on 26th. Two Lesser Redpolls were seen at Durkadale on 9th and 27th with another on North Ronaldsay on 30th. Single Crossbills were at Durkadale on 9th and Swannay on 11th. One-two Scarlet Rosefinches were found on North Ronaldsay, Stronsay and in Finstown between 3rd-15th with other singles on North Ronaldsay on 20th, 23rd and 29th. North Ronaldsay also recorded a Hawfinch, very scarce in autumn, on 30th.

An Ortolan Bunting, a very scarce visitor these days, was at Cara, South Ronaldsay on 30th while single Little Buntings were on North Ronaldsay on 27th and at Hewing, Firth on 29th.

Perhaps the outstanding event of the month was the arrival of Lapland Buntings almost certainly, despite their name, originating in Greenland. North Ronaldsay witnessed three separate arrivals with 104 on 1st then declining until 135 arrived on 12th before declining again ahead of a third arrival of 272 on 27th. This pattern was more or less mirrored elsewhere with up to 68 occurring on the Brough of Birsay, up to 70 on Birsay Links, up to 120 in the Yesnaby to Black Craig area and up to a dozen in 12 other localities. This is, by far and away, the biggest irruption of this species ever witnessed in Orkney. The first Snow Bunting arrived on North Ronaldsay on 14th and built up to a peak of 242 on 30th up to 22 being noted at five other sites.

Eric Meek

Oct 26, 2010

I had a single Waxwing in the garden sitting on top of the rugosa this morning just as I was setting off to town. Quickly I put out more fruit nipped next door and did the same there then headed off to town. On the return four hours later I found the food untouched by anything but blackbirds. Keeping a beady eye out for another couple of hours failed to produce another bird. It’s a bit disappointing but they may yet come foraging and at least my rosehips survive for the blackbirds!! As a plus tho I get waxwing on the garden list and it’s a couple of houses since I had that!!

Oct 25, 2010

Waxwings in Stromness

Waxwings are entering the county in good numbers with good flocks being seen in Finstown and Stromness. The hot places to look at the moment are about Stromness at the old academy, along side of the fire station and along from the Stromness pool. This is an exelent oppertunity to see these spectacular and confiding birds. It is also a good oppertunity to draw them in to your garden. The best bait to use is fruit, diced and halfed apples spiked up in bushes or on your bird tables should help attract them in...good luck and enjoy!!

Oct 24, 2010

Waxwing alert

There have been reports of Waxwings in dribs and drabs all week and my feeble serching has found none. Tonight though Tim Wootton reported masses around Stromness. Waxwings are a spectacular and noisey bird thats well worth getting along for a look see!! I know where i will be the morns morn....roll on the dawn!!


After several reports of Stoats being at large the first one has been trapped.
This is a very concerning situation. Time will tell now if trapping will remove them...lets hope so.

There is a small film and more info on Radio Orkneys facebook page
There was a male Blackcap at the Merkister this lunch time and two Whimbrel passed over the house calling as i was getting the kettle on tonight!! Birding indoors,in the dark might be time to start a new list title....i jest!!

Oct 15, 2010

Alone in the darkness

Its nearly midnight and i have just been out side. Its flat calm with the distant house lights reflecting across the loch. There is not a single goose to be heard out there and the silence is deafening!!!
Eight Whooper swans pass over the house heading in a westerly direction looking to land. This was a first for the garden list i am happy to say!! As its a first its the excuse i am using for this shonky photo taken through the dirty sittingroom window!!!

Oct 13, 2010

1700-2000+ Pinkfeet below the house tonight at dusk.

Oct 11, 2010

Twitchin treecreepers

After an abortive attempt to get to Deerness yesterday when I managed as far as the Wideford burn before having to limp back, today I managed to finally see the Treecreeper that’s been at Grindigar. Deerness was hooching with birds. Although I wasn’t searching about much it seemed most bushes and shrubs held birds. Just turning off the main drag to Grindigar a dazzling colourful Redstart shot across the road in front of me and disappeared down the field. Slowing with the thrill and watching it go I realise the string of willows along the road side contain a flock of Goldcrests! I trundle along at walking pace and the Goldcrests seem happy to ignore the bike and give fine views. Parking up and moving slowly in through the gate to the wee quarry garden a flock of brambling spook and take noisily to the air. A peer inside and the bench is a third of the way down and I take a pew on it and sort my gear. Its soon obvious that the fleeing brambling didn’t take all the birds with them and with the quiet returning movement begins again. The canopy is moving with Goldcrests and the bright warm air is full of their high pitch calls. I have seen quite a few on migration over the last few years but today was the first time I have seen them feeding on the ground out in the open. Quite oblivious to my presence they were coming within ten feet of me, some times with three on the ground at one time, other times they were in the willow directly overhead!! Through this I was trying to quietly get them in to the scope for a photograph whilst on the ground it was marginally better than trying to snap them in the branches. They scurried around like clockwork toys and entertaining as they were proved dammed difficult to get in the viewfinder!!
Robins were well represented in the common migrant stakes with three seeming to be in view at any one time. I’m sure there were a lot more about though as a Sparrowhawk pass had an awful lot of alarm calling going on all at one time. Once things settled and restarted a Blackcap showed up for a minute and a Garden warbler landed in the apple trees but was gone when the camera was pointed in its direction. It was a calling male Chaffinch that delivered my bird of the day. It had caught my attention in the lower boughs of on of the conifers and as I was watching it a movement below caught my eye. Here at last was the Tree creeper. Forty five minutes waiting has produced this exciting and beautiful bird. With a white belly, mottled brown back and curved beak it moved up and down the trunks of the fir trees hunting insects at a cracking pace. It is an industrious little chap and a challenge and a half to digiscope, No sooner is it in the viewfinder than its gone behind a trunk or off down a branch. I move over to the heebies and it moves down the line of willows. With little more than blurred shots the camera abandoned I enjoy great views for about tem minutes before it flies directly towards me and enters the heebie two foot above my head. I wait about for fifteen more minutes but this the last time I see it out. I am happy enough though and it was a super last view. That was it for me as I have places to be and have to head home. All is not dull there though and a pair of Goldcrests that had been there in the morning remained all day…adding another name to the garden list!

Oct 10, 2010



Its time to hit the road, in a responsible non motogp sort of way of course.

Oct 9, 2010

Finding fungi

Today I went on the field club fungus outing led by Julian Branscombe and based around Finstown. It was an extremely interesting and enjoyable wee expedition that took us through Binscarth woods and back to the old Kirk yard. I didn’t know much about fungus before but soon began to pick up names and recognise species as we moved through the woods. There was a good turn out today and we spread out locating interesting fungi and getting them identified. This is where the expertise of the field club comes in so handy with so many naturalists to hand to split almost identical looking mushrooms. Milkcaps, Candlesnuf, Glistening inkcap,Inkcaps, Deadmans Fingers, Deceivers, large stands of Honey fungus, it just kept coming! The range and amount in such a small habitat was quite surprising and we were soon scurrying from find to find. It was all good fun and a lot of the time the canopy above was filled with the high pitched calls of the busy newly arrived Goldcrests. With a circuit of the woods done we move off to the old Kirk yard. The unpromising sward of grass proved surprisingly full of fungus as we began a closer inspection. Most obvious to start were the slime moulds, called dog vomit mould in the states and is well named! A variety of Waxcaps, Earth Tounge and Smoky Spindles all looking creepy and exotic in their graveyard setting. To complete the creepy setting a couple of freshly killed and bleeding Redwings below a tombstone told of a Kestrels food cache as it took advantage of today’s bounty. All in all it was a very interesting morning and all to soon over. On the way home I had a quick look in the Stenness Kirk yard and there were even more to identify the best of which was a blue one! I had never seen a blue mushroom before. Its shaping up to be a super weekend!!!

There is a photo album of today’s fungi on the Facebook page if any one fancies a look!!

Oct 7, 2010

Stop Trump, the fight go's on. The fight needs you!!

I thought the clearances were a thing of the past but here they are again in this day and age. Here is a council being manoeuvred in to using CPO for the private individuals to make huge amounts of profit. I thought these powers were for the betterment of a local community for road extensions or the creation of public amenities. Not only is this situation hugely questionable but the trump organisation also want the council to use their power to evict the land owners that he cannot buy!! I hate bullies, greed and the selfish rape of our environment. I don’t think that this section dunes, a designated SSSI should be lost to a monoculture of lawn and become a green desert!! We might only be able to protect small bits but they all add up!! I cant get links to work in posts but this can be coppied or there will be a link at the top of the links list in the side bar.

Oct 5, 2010

Oct 4, 2010

Im just back from a spin about out west. First stop was the ring of Brodgar for a look at the occupants of the bird crop beside the main gate. This flock was mostly Linnet with a good number of greenfinch and a few Twite. The only unusual bird in amongst it was a male Chaffinch. This all didn’t hold the attention for to long and it was saddle up and onwards. Crossing the Voy road I stopped for two separate cock Wheatears Both were large and well brown which left me thinking Greenland? The bushes at Voy had a obvious smattering of Siskin with flashing yellow birds flitting about. I don’t stop but carry on to Yesnaby. Its errked me that only four of us saw the Buff bellied pipit and my consequent attempts have been fruitless but one more try eh! Well that wasn’t to be, the cliff tops and scrambling track were pipit free zones. There are a small flock of Golden plover which get a scan through for intruders but to no avail. Every thing in the valley below the old mill rises and ball se a peregrine flashes through. The action lasts for less than a minute before the Peregrine moves of whilst being mobbed. From there its off to Stromness via the cauldhame road. There is little to see along the cauldhame road apart from the fine view. Peeling off for a circuit of the loons does little for the day list. A fresh southerly wind is scouring the whole area. I peel of once again and head to Warbeth beach. This is empty of waders and the fields behind only yield up some mippits and a single Sky lark. On the way back out though I see the bird of the day!. In the field besides the pond where the Herons roost a large broad winged raptor rises, its trailing jessies and this is an obvious sign that it’s an escaped falconers bird. Its mobbed before it gains to much altitude and heads in the direction of Brinkies bray. I take pursuit but cant find it once I am on the other side of the hill. I end up going to Ness battery and walking round the fence to gain a view but all to no avail, I had lost it!! After a couple of visits in the town I head to The Brig of Waith and a stop to snap some waders where I find horror of horrors I don’t have a camera in my pocket!! A retrace of my steps finally has me in the middle of a stubble field where to my relief theres my camera lying there waiting for me to pick up…peew!! I might not have seen a lot today but its all well that ends well.

On another tack though its worth noting that over the last few days there has been a substantial passage of Brambling and Siskin with good flocks being reported all over. Siskins are a colourful bird that will happily come to garden peanut feeders, so it might be worth topping up your feeders and keeping a weather eye on it!

Oct 1, 2010


I dipped on the Red breasted flycatcher this morning, the willows were bending over big style in the fresh wind and there was no sign of flys let alone flycatchers. I headed down to Hestly next and had a blackcap at the waterfall and a goldcrest in the pines. I just missed a big splash crossing the barriers coming back as well. At least the wind is blowing from a decent direction, hopefully the game will restart refreshed when the blow drops away!

Sep 30, 2010

Been a good day today with a wide spread fall of migrants. I had been on the shore to snap shore birds changing plumage but ended up having a look in Grindigar, Deerness. I met a snapper there who had what looked like female piedfly, spotfly,chifchaf.. I managed chifchaf,spotfly,blackcap,robin,chaffinch in a short time The best bird as always is the one I didn’t know, a dull warbler with a single faint yellow wing bar and a faint yellowish supercilium.

On getting in I read there was a Hoopoe at Warbeth this morning so it was back out for a look as I have wanted to see one for ages and didn’t make time last time one was about, Anyway needless to say I didn’t see it so I suppose the moral would be get the finger out and do it while you have the chance!!! With that in mind there is a Red breasted fly catcher in the Cara bushes on South Ron Its been a good day today and might just be another the morn….It would be good to start it with a lifer…

Sep 27, 2010

Buff bellied pipit

Buff bellied pipit

Returning to the bike after a particularly good mornings birding I thought everything was about done and I would be riding off for a cup of coffee and a bit of breakfast. The bike is parked at Yesnaby camp carpark A spectacular sight that stands on the edge of rugged cliffs. Parked along from me is the RSPB’s pickup Loaded for a days labour. Looking around I can see Allan Leitch and Lorna an assistant warden waving to me to come across to the cliff edge. I was saying as I approached that I hope its something good like a King Eider and he replied I think its something EVEN better im sure I have just heard a buff bellied pipit!!! He had heard it call as it rose giving off a call somewhat like a wagtail and very un pipit like. So the hunt was on and we slowly moved along the cliff top picking our way through oodles of mippits and rippits. We get well north almost to the bay below the broch turn and head back. Alan heres its call again and then sees it flying and calling. This time it lands on a small promontory and settles in to catching insects along a dark shelf. We get super views if a bit distant. Its all there, the plain mantle, a bit of a bib dark legs, buff colour, Its all breathless excitement and the minutes pass. Lorna is dispatched to the motor to get a phone and in no time at all Eric is out of the office and running along the cliff tops towards us, Hes confirming it as a buff bellied pipit and we are all about as breathless as he is. Alan is about throwing up with excitement. It really dose not get much better than this……what a fantastic ear!! I was some lucky to be passing at the right time!!!

Sep 23, 2010

Pectoral sandpiper, Peedie sea.

This has to be the most photographed bird in the isles this week. Unfortunately for me i struggled to get a realy sharp shot in the wind but i did get fantastic views so i cant complain!!

Sep 22, 2010

Pectoral Sandpiper in Kirkwall!!

Looking on Orkbird on Sunday I saw a heads up from Tim Dean advising that the peedie sea had a new sluice system and the water level had dropped 40 cm exposing some nice rich mud for feeding waders. Sure enough by Tuesday a sharp eyed Morris Rendell had reported that a Pectoral sandpiper was feeding on the mud below The coop. The Pectoral Sandpiper is a smart and reasonably rare visitor of the wading variety that’s stopping over on its migration. It was even better news that it didn’t seem at all phased by folks walking past on the path. It looked like it was to be there all day giving excellent views. This morning it was reported again still in the same place. So all this seemed to be leading towards a shopping trip to town. Unfortunately it was a day of rain and it was to pour and pour. I arrived on site about the back of four and the bird was still actively feeding. I managed a small watch with the binoculars to check things out, alone amongst a small group of Redshanks to one side and Ringed plovers to the other a very crisp looking Pectoral Sandpiper sieved and probed in the soft mud seldom staying still, often spinning through 360 deg with out removing its bill from the mud. Enjoyable as it was to see such a site within the bounds of Kirkwall it was pouring with rain. I ended snapping a series of ultimately blurry photos before I beat a retreat to enjoy a damp retail experience. This is a beautiful wader and well worth a look. There is a fair chance that it may be there the morn although I suspect it will catch the strengthening northerly winds that are forecast to rise soon. Fingers crossed though it will show, the weather is on side at the moment. With so much rain about most of the usual mud flats are now under water so the fresh feeding to be found on the peedie see must seem an oasis for a bird so needing to get its energy store replenished for the journey ahead.

Sep 18, 2010

Pink footed geese

It seems to be a busy day for geese here. When the OH came in from work I was going to show her the white goose from the kitchen. I set up the scope and lo and behold the eyepiece was full of pink footed geese. In the time it took me to say come and see this whilst I got the camera they had taken to the air and were off, leaving me to wonder if I had or hadn’t seen pinkies. Fortunately a wander down the drive revelled twenty or more grazing away isolated from the local greylags with little more than the huge flock of golden plovers for company. It all seemed a bit early for geese but a word from Paul Higson on orkbird told me that there have been a couple of sightings of birds as they were coming in off the sea. These are the first migrating geese I have seen this season and very welcome visitors they are…. Migration rocks!!!

Leucistic goose

From time to time white patches appeared in the feathers of birds. This lack of pigment is called leucisim. This can affect small areas like a single feather to the more extreme of the entire plumage. You would think that having a trait like this would make you vulnerable to predation and I am sure it does to some extent. The surprising thing I find is how well other birds of the same type will accept another that looks so different from the norm.
I was sitting a layby on the side of the road in Caithness enjoying a can of juice one day when a white greenfinch fluttered past carrying food back to a nest. It was shooting back and forth foraging and feeding so it didn’t seem to be a problem for him/her! Last year I helped out the ringing group collaring Orkney bred greylag geese and we had a lucuistic goose that got named blondie. Blondie is doing well last I heard and had avoided Predation by a large array hungry predators ….not to mention the attentions of the professional hunting element. Here is another white goose, I found this greylag today on the Breckan pools ( harray end of the stonyhill) It looks like a first year bird but im not sure. For a moment there was the usual it’s a snow goose it’s a snow goose excitement of the first spot until I got it in the bins. However I suppose its worth a note just for the novelty value of seeing a cool goose, I don’t think this will have the county twitchers out though…lol

After coming back and looking at these images, this one being the clearest, i am not sure that my diagnosis is quite correct here. I keep looking at that overly large looking bill and thinking that this is a domestic goose that has strayed and not a leucistic bird.......mmmm

Sep 17, 2010


I had a spin out west this afternoon, more to take photos than chase birds in the winds. Ending up going up and down the Northside road there were clouds of small birds. The most obvious were the wheatears but there was more than that crossing the road and rising from the bike. It looked like the wind changing to the N/W has made little difference to the amount of migrants resting up on the north west coast. It must be worth an early morning visit to Birsay if the wind drops!!

Rooks on stooks

Sheaves in stooks are a sight you see less and less often in this modern age.

Sep 16, 2010

Oot west

An old friend I haven’t seen for ages came around today to try out different binoculars He also came camered up with his new 400mm lens so we just had to go for a scout about after all it would be rude not to!! Conditions were well against us with a gale blowing in from the north west. We wanted to check out some sites and Bosquoy was first on the list. The wind here scoured the surface of the water from one end to the other, white horses rose and fell and it was plainly obvious there was not a lot for Alfies 400mm lens to focus on. Venturing out the car and up the bank produced one small light and tan bird and a couple of meadow pipits. This is a total contrast to a week ago when we had a huge migrant fall at the end of a week of gales and big numbers of local geese mixed with hundreds of tufted, potchard and others filled the wee loch and small birds abounded around the shore and bordering fields feeding and resting after the gales. We moved to the Shunan and it was much the same story here with the wind sweeping the length of the loch in to our faces. We were luckier though for along the track in the lee of the fence thirty or more linnets were intently feeding, Over them a small group of swallows were feeding in the tumbling air. These birds all seemed game to be photographed, the flock of linnets moved up and down the track and the swallows obligingly landed feet away on the fence and were unbothered with the car windows going up and down….a few snaps were taken!!! We mosied on up the road through Dounby past the Loch of Banks. A few mallard sheltered around the bottom but we kept on going to arrive at the loons hide. This fairly bird less expanse is all ready being watched by two of the RSPBs finest. Little is to be seen on the water though and attention is on a hunting type hound running loose in the field below Skorn. Its putting up geese as its sniffing about but it isn’t wasting its energy chasing them. There are a couple of gadwall on the pool whilst overhead we catch a flock of snipe going up round and down. Andy was telling me that there are a lot being reported passing through at the moment. All in all though it’s a wind swept hole so we shift on. Marwick looked like looking in to the teeth of the gale so we turn south at the junction and head to Skail to try for a bird photo. Below the kirk will be the most sheltered and give the best chance. From the hill it looks wild with the waves breaking on Row and being carried over the cliff tops in spectacular fashion. Fortunately the shore at the kirk end of the bay is sheltered from the worst of the wind. We now get a chance to snap ringed plovers as they argued amongst them selves and chased each other in circles. A few turnstones now with their summer plumage mostly gone moved along the ware poking about. On the water Twenty odd dunters paddled about, a common scoter and a winter plumed guilimot added to the count. Two seals slept snouts in the air. A very obvious Whimbrel followed moments later by three more made for some excited oooh oooh look look type shouting in the car. We have about exhausted the possibilities so I jump out and try to digiscope the waves breaking on Row but it’s a bit windy and bumpy out of the cage! A run back past the loch presents little for the the cameras as there’s a small group of geese three quarters of the way across, given that the surface is lifting off like smoke here and there we plod on to have a look at the bird crop of Queena. This crop is on a the top of a small rise with a track beside it and a great place to sit and wait for the flocks to come to you…HA! Not today though. On the roll down the hill towards Brodgar there are a lot of birds feeding in the fields and we manage to get black headed gulls, lapwings and golden plovers in good range. In the lee of a skerry on the loch a small flock of teal were sheltering but once again little was to be seen. Our last stop was a walk up to the russadale quary as Alfie had never been there. This walk produced one blackbird,a meadow pipit, two hoodies and a distant raven so with that less than impressive total and me reassuring him that if he had been here in the spring ect ect we decide to head home, fortunately the rain decided to give a bird less return walk a little spice…..It was good to get out though and renew old friendships, have a nose about and see a DSLR with a big lens in action. Roll on the winter..oh god did I just say that!!...

Sep 15, 2010

Golden plover

I have just arived home to find at least three flocks of Golden plover in the fields below the house. Watching the fields every so often a flock will rise and twist about catching the sun and turning en mass from dull brown to a shimmer of gold, like a curtain in the wind before they all land back and resume feeding. Its a real highlight in a day of wind and bluster.