Jan 20, 2010

There has been a dead pilot whale drifting about the boards of orkbird for about a week so I thought I would go and get a look before it began to smell!!. This is a fifteen foot long Pilot whale that’s lying at the north end of Marwick bay. It’s the first Pilot whale I have seen and it’s a shame to be seeing a dead one. Its attracting visitors as well whilst I was there today several folks came and went. With a bit of luck it will be attracting white winged visitors if they are passing. This is an excellent spot for Glaucous gulls, there’s fresh running water near by for them to wash off the gore before returning to gorge then selves more. All in all it was quite interesting. There was a male Hen harrier over the fields at the Marwick turn and a Gadwall from the loons hide on the way home. I might have looked more but the fingers were freezing out there to day.

Jan 17, 2010

Oot west

I managed to get out for a couple of hours to day so I thought the west coast would be the place to try. Even though the wind was coming around to the south west it would be onshoreish and provide lift for today’s quarry. It may sound like a bird to far but over this last few months there have been recurring reports of Gyrfalcon being posted on orkbird. Another fresh one was all I needed to shoot out west for a look. With Yesnaby as my destination I take the Voy rd around the north end off the Stenness loch. This is usually a good area to find all manner of waders and wild fowl yet to day it is still a frozen sheet of ice. The temperature dives as I start to run parallel with the icy shore. With only a few Curlews here and there and the usual flocks of grazing geese there not much bird life to see.
Arriving at the Yesnaby camp parking there are several cars. A scan south down the coast reveals several pairs of walkers spaced well out and more just setting off. It seems to be quite a popular walk year round now. The coastal path will take you to the Black crag and eventually into Stromness. Coming from the clear air of the central mainland I am caught off guard by the misty salt laden air that’s been thrown up and over the cliff line….lovely. Setting off I crash on past the geo and the millstone quarry and make my first stop at the rock bridge. After walking through the backwards running waterfall I stop to take a couple of photos before pushing on to the castle. Blackbacks and Herring gulls are well out numbered by Fulmars today. Its great to see so many back about the cliffs. There’s a Raven sitting on top of the castle but it’s the Fulmars that have totally taken my attention in the south end of this little bay where the basalt dyke plunges through the strata of sedimentary rocks the first of the fulmar pairs are readopting their favourite roosting, breeding ledges once again. The air here is a whirling vortex of fulmars spinning endlessly in stiff winged flight….excellent.
I head up the heather hill before me to eventually gain a view down the coast. By the time I had made it to the top one of my knees was feeling a bit springy above the knee, this and the amount of walkers before me put me right off going any further in pursuit of the Gyr. Moving further down the slope I came across three Snow buntings feeding on the heather. As I approached they would move on maintaining a gap of about fifty yards. At last I had some thing to unwrap the scope for. This of course seemed to take forever, all the time you are watching the birds with one eye whilst getting set up. With the camera on and set up I find the birds with the scope. They are feeding in the dips in the heather and are only in view for seconds before diving back in to cover. I move up hill a bit. Things are on my side. I have the hill behind me ,i am quarter hidden by the ground in front and I have a good wind in my face. I chance a couple more shots before the three of them pick up and move off leaving with their trill chatter ringing in the wind.
I head down to the cliff edge before heading back. Here I find a nice wee shelter made of rocks so stop for a well earned coffee. Two flights of shitehawks come over the shelter at ground level one after another. Spinning around there is nothing visible chasing them. A few more snaps of waves and the like and its time to head back. This time I stick with the cliff path which gives good views of the waves breaking against the foot of the castle rock stack. Another rest stop at the kissing gate to admire the Ariel antics of the Fulmars and it’s a solid bash back to the parking and another coffee before off for home.

There to be no elusive Gyr for me but that’s certainly not to say its not out there and I for one hope it is. Birds have a way of dropping off the map. There were the Snowy owl(s) last year, at least one was kicking about for ages appearing now and again, not to mention the Rough legged buzzard. It gets seen regularly all over and I have yet to definitely see it either!! Still its not been a waste, I have studied up on Gyrfalcon and been out for a few miles of sea fresh air….it must have done me some good!!

Snow bunting

Jan 9, 2010

The mearest hint of love and spring.

It looks like not all thoughts are on the cold snowy winter. In fact the thoughts of some have been distinctly frisky and of spring!. There have been Ravens cavorting around the house filling the air with sound and tumbling displays of masculinity. A couple of days ago I was watching a raven at some carrion away down the fields. The bird did not last long with its prize before another arrived and forced it to give up its meal. As I watched a third bird arrived. The dominant bird then actually offered the food to the new arrival by dragging it towards her and backing off whilst she ate. Over the last couple of weeks Ravens have been exploring the open roof of the derelict house just up from us. Looks like we might have some nesting action on wur own doorstep to look forwards to!!

Jan 7, 2010

The big freeze go on and on across the whole of the UK. In Orkney we have been getting things reasonably easy. The snows fell well before and have remained as the base covering ever since. From time to time there has been a minor fall to top up the surface but little of note has fallen since. Last night there was maybe an inch or more of powdery stuff to stick to walls and shrubs and top up the foot prints and dimples to leave soft pleasing pillowy look to the ground. Surprisingly there was a strong fog when I first awoke. This was soon dissipated by the bright sun rising in the clear blue skies of the morning.
With cabin fever in the air I thought I might chance a bit of a wander down to the loch to see what there was to be seen. With a poor choice of under layers it was best foot forwards. The vista form the bottom of the drive is an expanse white that is totally lacking in shades of green. The fields roll away to the frozen loch and the loch its self is swathed in a blanket of mist. Around the few houses here the small birds are noisy and vociferous as they move between feeding stations. The story is a little different looking out across the fields tho. The wet marshy ground and muddy pools are frozen solid, even the ubiquitous greylag geese are not to be seen and its not often that’s the case. It’s a fair bet if you went down there to any of the wee places that fresh water springs from you would find an untold amount of snipe. Its desperate times for snipe and they have been seen feeding on the salt thawed patches of the main road verges. A situation that often leads to collisions and death…yet another hazard of the season.
The road is a ribbon of sugar soft whiteness that gives slightly as the Brashers dig in for sure grip. I am only going a mile up the road and most of that downhill but it looks like most of that is to be walked in silence. Little is to be seen as I move along but finally movement close by catches the eye. It’s a brown hare, it bounds along stopping in a nice pose for long enough to get the scope off the shoulder set up and the camera switched on before it casually lopes off downhill and out of sight. This is the sort of frustration that hounds digiscopers. The setup no matter how practiced is so often not quick enough. Thinking about this as I write I think I should reduce the experience to initials and use it as an internet expression!!
This has taken me to the brow of the hill and standing beside the standing stone looking across the west mainland towards Stromness and Hoy the view in the bottom of the bowl is shrouded by a hazy mist. The islands of Lochside are a bit shrouded but scoping produces an area of open water with birds so its off down I go. The calls of a raven are echoing around and it soon appears from around a corner. As I walk into view the cries stop and I am regarded with suspicion, maybe because of the gun like protuberance I am carrying (it certainly makes a difference with the geese) I manage three quick photos before its away calling once more. The walk down to Lochside is almost totally bereft of birds, one Wren crossed my path and little more than twa Hoodies, gulls and geese were in the air.
The final approach to the area of Lochside heralds a complete change of ambiance. I have descended in to the misty air and its freezing. Visibility becomes suddenly grey and I have forgotten I am wearing sunshades(div) Moving in to an adjacent field I manage a view of the open water. There is a flock of Tufted duck along with Widgeon and a couple of Potchard. Around the edges there are a couple of Teal and some mallards. The vegetation holds masses of birds that I cant see but there are a good few geese heads being held up wondering what this newly appeared threat is. The light being no good for photos and not wanting to spook any thing I withdraw. Moving along the road I go to the picnic spot putting a Snipe up on the way. I pick my way through the heather to the waters edge. From here the open water is viewable and nicely held in one place is the elusive black swan of Harray loch. I know folks think its not a real wild bird but I reckon that it is debatable as this one has been here since year dot and is well settled with life partners. Even as I am setting up the scope the view was disappearing in the mist. I think I will start to call this mist fog as the thickening seemed to be growing at an expediential rate. I had a look about with the bins and took a couple of quick snaps. Looking up after a minute or so and the islands were disappearing. Time to go but first I must go for a walk out on the ice. Moving back down the shore I step out a few yards and have a good stamp, seems ok, a couple of good jumps and there is little to worry about its all frozen solid. It crosses my mind that I might be to if I didn’t get going so it was back retracing my steps. After gaining some little altitude and a bit of a view I could see the bank of fog stretching from Lochside over the land and Stenness loch towards Stromness. Next time I looked back further up the hill the islands where I stood were totally lost. It’s a strange phenomenon for us fog as its not something we get a lot of and I certainly wouldn’t have expected it in these conditions. The uphill rush had done me tho and I was sweating and it wasn’t being wicked away, I opened my coat only to start a wicked chill. Pressing on it was once more a fairly bird less return. But hell at least I had been out and it was all down hill to home.