Feb 27, 2010

Even though we are only days (apparently) from spring the return of the snow seems to have reinforced the unrelenting grip of winter. I suppose we cant complain though. The last few months have brought some of the calmest winter weather that in can mind on bar none. Its an effect of climate change that we suffer from extremes of weather and this is surely one example. However its an example that will probably get over looked in the general moping about the time the snow was on the ground.
Anyway I was listening to a solitary Lapwing having a good call and display in the sunshine the other afternoon and it brought home to me how much I miss the cacophony of bird song that makes up the background ambiance that we so quickly take for granted when its here. Coincidently this film cropped up whilst I was going through the albums and the sounds brought summer rushing back for a moment. I filmed this on the way home from the summer solstice shenanigans on the opposite side of the loch.

Feb 23, 2010

Short warning!!!

The Research Work of the RSPB

There will be a Lunchtime Science Seminar, Wednesday 24th February, at 1.00 pm in the Lecture Room at ICIT, Old Academy, Stromness.

Dr Rowena Langston, Principal Conservation Scientist at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, will be talking about the RSPB's programme of research in support of the conservation of birds and their habitats.

All welcome!

Outside noo

Outside its one of those sharp, freezing nights when the temperature plummets in the still night air. There had been cloud cover earlier that had kind foiled half a plan for snapping the moon. I did manage a couple before bed tho, taking advantage of the excellent conditions. Best of all my cold fumble fingered efforts were accompanied by the piping of several oystercatchers. Music to my ears tonight

Feb 20, 2010

The bearded seal has proved to be quite elusive. Agood scope about found nothing and another go today fared no better. I am sure its still about....somwhere.

Feb 18, 2010

Bearded seal

That’s been an excellent lent day today and its only three o’clock!! I was up late watching the halfpipe finals on the Olympics last nigh which was absolutely superb!! Understandably I arose a little late and when the computer eventually went on there was a notice of a Bearded seal hauled out on Finstown slip on Birdforum. Excellent stuff, grabbing a book for some ID I bundled my gear in the wife’s car and frog marched her out to drive whilst I read up on the finer points of identification. My guide for this was the super little book Sillocks Skarfies and Selkies by Chris and Jean Booth. It comprehensively covers all of the vertebrae fauna that has been and may be found across our isles. ( its pocket sized and well recommended)

There have only been four recorded sightings before across Orkney, one in 87 out at Deerness, in 88 one was reported from several areas with one hauling out on the Corn slip Kirkwall on the 16 may. On the 28th aug 2004 another juvenile hauled out on the Cornslip once again and then in march 05 another hauled out on the Ouse at Finstown just over the bay from this feller.

This is an Arctic species and is non migratory hence it is little seen outside of its home waters Its coloured grey with a slightly brownish head and fairly light belly it has a nice flat forehead and of course a magnificent beard of curling whiskers after which it is named. This a rare enough species to attract a few visitors that are in to the rare mammal thing so I am wondering if there will be any seal twitchers dropping in on the isles for a quick tick.

One note of caution though. Bearded seals will not behave like our local seals and take to the water if approached. They tend to stay still and wait out any threat. This may make them seem very tame but this is defiantly not the case. The get very stressed with close approaches and before long will show signs of trembling and shivering. So if you are going for a look please stay at the top of the slip and enjoy the view. PLEASE DO NOT APPROACH IT CLOSLY!! It is worth noting that my photos were taken through the scope from well back in the car park.

Anyway all that said…enjoy!!

Feb 15, 2010

I do love to take a photograph and one day I live in hope of taking consistently good shots instead of the occasional lucky one! With this in mind I was over awed by the standard of photos in this years birdguides photo competition. There stunning pictures that really give you something to gasp at. Its quite a reflection of how popular the competition and bird photography are becoming. Its spectacular stuff and well worth a look.
I do love to take a photograph and one day I live in hope of taking consistently good shots instead of the occasional lucky one! With this in mind I was over awed by the standard of photos in this years birdguides photo competition. There stunning pictures that really give you something to gasp at. Its quite a reflection of how popular the competition and bird photography are becoming. Its spectacular stuff and well worth a look. I have had a problem going to the page with the link so click on the photo comp in the banner !! http://www.birdguides.com

Feb 13, 2010



Up to 12 Red-throated Divers were seen off Marwick with a maximum on 23rd, an unusual location and date for this species. Two Black-throated Divers were offshore from the Whalebone, Birsay on 8th, one in Widewall Bay on 9th and one off Marwick on 23rd. Single Little Grebes were seen in coastal situations at Stromness Harbour, Herston, Water Sound and the Finstown Ouse while the freeze-up forced two over to the Brig o’ Brodgar on 10th. The ice also forced Slavonian Grebes off our freshwater lochs and the Harray Loch held only three on 17th although on the same day, 19 were reported on the sea between No 2 Barrier and Sandoyne.. After a period when very few were seen, Fulmars were passing Marwick at up to 4380 per hour on 17th. The largest concentration of Grey Herons was at the Head of Work where 26 were counted on 3rd, 16 at nearby Carness on 26th doubtless including some of the Work birds. Undoubtedly the bird of the month was the Bittern found in a poor condition on Sanday on 22nd. This extremely rare visitor to Orkney had probably been forced across the North Sea by hard weather on the Continent.

293 Mute Swans were counted on the Harray Loch on 18th while the largest Whooper Swan counts were 69 on Vasa Loch, Shapinsay on 2nd, 46 on Sanday on 16th, 29 in Rendall on 23rd and 20 at the Loch of Skaill, also on 23rd. The Greenland White-fronted Goose flock at The Loons peaked at 64 on 26th, the only other being a single in Deerness on 17th. Two Eurasian White-fronted Geese were on North Ronaldsay all month being joined by a third on 29th. A Pale-bellied Brent Goose and a Dark-bellied Brent Goose were together on Papay on 10th while two pale-bellied were at Barn of Ayre, Deerness on 30th. The maximum December count of Barnacle Geese on South Walls was1560 on 28th the only others, in January, being 11 on Papay on 10th, up to 20 at the Loch of Skaill and singles at Swannay on 3rd and at Ocklester, Holm on 17th. A Canada Goose remained on North Ronaldsay all month while others were at Burwick on 10th and at The Ouse, Shapinsay on 17th.

Shelducks continued to return from their north German sojourn all month, the largest counts being 40 at Mill Sand on 28th and 28 in Widewall Bay on 17th. Ice pushed large numbers of Wigeon onto the shore, an example being 800 below the Hall of Clestrain on 5th. Up to 57 Pintail were at the north end of Sanday mid-moth while 16 remained on the Loch of Brockan from 16th and North Ronaldsay had a maximum of 15 on 27th. Up to six Shovelers continued to find the Finstown Ouse to their liking at least up until 10th. 699 Tufted Ducks had managed to return to the Harray Loch by 18th and 141 Scaup to the Stenness Loch by 17th although three of the latter on Lairo Water, Shapinsay were more unusual. The female Ring-necked Duck was relocated on North Ronaldsay on 18th and remained to 27th. Velvet Scoter numbers remained low with only five off Rerwick, four in Kirkwall Bay, four between Sandoyne and No 2 Barrier on 17th and one in Sandside Bay on 9th. Five Common Scoters were off Herston all month, two in Sandsend Bay, Shapinsay on 17th when one was off Rerwick and another was in the Bay of Carness on 25th/26th. A drake Surf Scoter was in the Bay of Miel on 2nd. The largest concentration of Red-breasted Mergansers was 66 in Veantrow Bay, Shapinsay on 17th. Goosanders remain scarce in Orkney but up to two drakes and two ducks were in the Ayre Loch-Graemeshall Loch area of Holm from 14th. The Smew was relocated on the Loch of Skaill on 17th and 21st.

Several Common Buzzards were resident in the Firth-Rendall-Evie area all month while sightings of single birds also came from Shapinsay, Waulkmill Bay and Widewall. A Rough-legged Buzzard was found at Greenwall, Holm on 7th and what was probably the same bird seen at the Airport on 12th and in St. Andrew’s on 30th. Numbers of Hen Harriers utilising the Durkadale roost have been lower than usual; 12 were there on 18th. What was probably the same Gyr Falcon as was watched arriving off the sea in December was seen again in the Mousland area on 6th.

513 Coot were counted on the Harray Loch on 18th many of which had had to move to the only free water in the county, west of the Brig o’ Brodgar, in the early part of the month. Two Water Rails were re corded on Papay on 10th and another in Rendall on 3rd and 9th while the bird at Dale, Costa performed beautifully to an admiring audience of young Wildlife Explorers on 24th.

There was a suggestion that a few Oystercatchers may have been moving back into the county earlier than usual with 16 on North Ronaldsay on 3rd and 20 on 18th. The only Grey Plovers were singles at Skaill Bay on 23rd and on North Ronaldsay on 31st. Hard weather usually forces Golden Plovers out of the islands altogether but 800 were at Rerwick on 17th and 1500 at Work on 26th, having either stuck it out or quickly returned. By far the highest Purple Sandpiper count was of 175 on Papay on 10th and, as usual, Scuthvie, Sanday provided the biggest Sanderling concentration – 530 on 16th. An unusual sighting involving a Turnstone was of one flying across the face of Marwick Head and landing on a precipitous ledge there on 9th! Woodcocks remained conspicuous with twelve reports of up to four and an amazing 26 still inhabiting the plantations at Hestily, South Ronaldsay on 10th. Ice and snow pushed Snipe into coastal situations with, for example, 95 in Newark Bay, South Ronaldsay on 3rd and 70 in intertidal areas on Burray on 1st; 191 were counted on Papay on 10th. Jack Snipe, too, were forced into more conspicuous situations than normal with four between Sower and Coldomo (Orphir-Stenness) on 5th and five other reports of single birds. The only Black-tailed Godwits were three on North Ronaldsay on 31st. The largest count of Bar-tailed Godwits was of 130 at Heatherhouse, Tankerness on 17th but up to 87 were in Widewall Bay on 17th, 47 at The Ouse, Shapinsay, 45 in Scapa Bay, 41 on North Ronaldsay and 25 on Papay while 31 at Coldomo on 5th were at a site where only single figures are usually recorded. The wintering Whimbrel was seen again on Burray on 9th and 27th while 650 Curlews were in Widewall Bay on 17th when 160 Redshanks were also counted there.

Black-headed Gulls move out of the north isles of Orkney in winter but eight had already returned to North Ronaldsay by 18th. Common Gulls were very conspicuous with flocks numbering 2000 at both Stromness and Evie Sands during the month. Stromness had a virtual monopoly on Iceland Gull records with a first-winter, a second-winter and an adult bird all present there during the month, the second-winter individual remaining until 31st; the only other sightings were of an adult in Rendall and an immature at Skaill House on 31st. Guillemots don’t usually begin returning to their breeding ledges until early spring but on 18th hundreds were watched moving south off Marwick with many also on the sea below the cliffs and a few even ashore on nesting ledges. The largest Rock Dove flocks reported were of 200 at Vestrafiold on 9th, 350 at Evie Sands next day and 200 at Marwick on 25th. Two Long-eared Owls were located at Durkadale on 15th, one remaining until 24th.

100 Skylarks at Widewall on 6th was good winter count. A Grey Wagtail was at Scapa Bay on 9th and another at Stenaday, Finstown on 16th but Pied Wagtails were more conspicuous than usual with as many as four at Howe, Stromness on 20th and ten reports of single birds elsewhere. There were still more Meadow Pipits than usual for mid-winter, the largest concentration being 20 on Shapinsay on 7th and 18 in Costa on 11th. A Rock Pipit was found by the Loch of Clumly, 3 km inland, on 14th while two Waxwings were found by visiting birders at Oglaby, Stromness on 13th.

A Black Redstart was an unseasonable visitor to North Ronaldsay on 29th and there was an unusual small influx of Mistle Thrushes with singles at Bryameadow on 17th, Rendall on 22nd, North Ronaldsay on 24th, South Ronaldsay on 30th and Stromness and North Ronaldsay again on 31st. A Song Thrush feeding in the intertidal area at Marwick on 9th was thought to have been forced there by the weather but it was still present in this unusual situation on 31st. Fieldfares became conspicuous from 17th with up to 150 on Shapinsay and South Ronaldsay, 121 on North Ronaldsay and 100 in Tankerness. In contrast, Redwing numbers remained relatively small, 80 at Widewall on 8th being the largest flock. A cock Blackcap was watched in a Kirkwall garden on 4th while a Chiffchaff was found dead at Hestily on 26th.

As many as 300 Jackdaws were thought to be roosting at Nisthouse, Harray on 23rd while a bird showing the characteristics of the Scandinavian race, Nordic Jackdaw, was at Skaill, Sandwick on 9th. A Carrion Crow was at the Loch of Skaill on 10th and a hybrid Carrion x Hooded Crow at Ness Point, Stromness on 15th. A Tree Sparrow was found at Keigar, Deerness on about 8th, presumably the same bird as was present there last winter.

Up to 40 Chaffinches were utilising the Firth School bird crop, a site also frequented by one of the few Bramblings seen this month, others being on Burray and elsewhere in Finstown. The same crop also attracted large gatherings of Greenfinches (50) and Linnets (50), Dale, Costa also attracting 60 of the latter. Eight Goldfinches were on Burray on 2nd while one-four were also reported from Brodgar, Stenness Manse, The Shunan, Loch of Clumly and Finstown. Two Common Redpolls in Finstown on 31st were the only ones of the month. The amazing flock of Twite near Ocklester, Holm numbered at least 1000 on 17th while 700 were at Dale on 6th, 450 at Evie Sands on 10th and up to 350 at Merkister, 300 at Furrowend, Shapinsay and 238 on Shapinsay. Up to 100 Snow Buntings were at Brodgar during the month (peak on 25th) and 80 at Vasa Loch, Shapinsay on 17th while there were nine other reports of 22-70. Finally, the largest count for Reed Bunting was 120 at Dale on 23rd although the Firth School bird crop reported a respectable 40.

Eric Meek

Feb 11, 2010

Having time unexpectedly on my hands this week I managed a bit of a spin about this afternoon. First off was a stop at the loch of Brockan. I don’t know if the stone is called after the loch or the loch is called for the stone circle. I digress tho. The reason to stoop off at Brockan is to have a look for Pintailed ducks. This loch is a bit of a strong hold for pintails and sure enough there are five to be seen moving about. These are ther first I have seen this winter so it’s a special treat. There’s not a lot about on the water and the birds about the fields are very flighty. I spin on around the back of the loch and out to the main road past the Hackland kirk.

Spinning on and I nip down to the beach in Evie. Parking at the west end it doesn’t take much of a scan to see the exposed sand in the distance bare of birds occupied only by dog walkers. Things are better where I am with a female red breasted merganser preening on the old pier. I take a few photos of her before yet another dog walker arrives back in the carpark with a sniffy pooch. A few startled cries of Redshank herald precursor a shore wide jump to the wing. Turnstone with a few Knot, a few Curlew and a couple of Rock pipit all move west on to the rougher shore. Although they have moved a healthy scoping distance up the shore line I see one or two Dunlin in there as well so I move off up the beach after them.

Mostly every thing has come down in a big sandy clearing in the weed strewn shore. I manage a few more shots and things are going well. I slowly close the distance with the birds coming and going but ignoring me. A splashy dog in the sea put paid to all of that though. A bit annoying but its just the way of it. I try not to get het up these days.

A run back over the Birsay moors gives nice views of a very dark slim tailed Henharrier about hands with the Clikmill, Sabiston loch that gem of Dounby looked to have the sun to low across it to be much fun for scanning at Housby . Crossing the crossroads I head off towards the Stenness stones for a look. The fields on the way provided a few Fieldfares but little else. It was surprising that neither the Evie beach bird crop nor the Queena one was to have a single bird put up with the bike passing. All a marked contrast to the flocks of geese. They take to the air with my passing whether I have the engine running or roll past with it switched off.

I make it to the stones for sunset and scan the loch while the gloom gathers. Nothing out of the ordinary here and infact what there is seems quite a distance off, luckily its been a nice calm sort of day and visibility is at a premium. All to soon its time for a couple of those sunset shots and off. I didn’t see a hell of a lot but then again I didn’t make that much effort….nice to be out though.

Feb 3, 2010

More bloody snow!

Big garden bird watch

Best counts for the hour from my garden were as follows.

52 House sparrows

90 Starlings

1 Song thrush

1 Dunnock

5 Greenfinch

3 Hooded crows

4 Common gulls

1 Redwing

1 Herring gull

It was a snowy garden I had for this years count. I think the conditions have swollen the numbers some what with a lot of Starlings and Sparrows about. However saying that latter in the day we had quite a few more Sparrows in at one time. The Starlings also flocked in and at one time there were easily over two hundred in one flock that settled. It was nice to find a Dunnock below the shrubs. It was a garden first for us here as was the solitary Redwing that briefly appeared during the counting hour. I don’t know about overall scientific validity of the nation wide count and as a BFer pointed out its more of an exercise to get the public involved and thinking positively about garden birds. Whatever it is it certainly produced results for me with to new species’ for the garden list.