Mar 31, 2010

Facebook the next step forwards

I thought I was immune from the all encompassing Facebook but it seems not so today I am launching a Facebook page for the blog. The page is called Orkney Birding and if you are a facebooker then I hope you will search it down. You will be very welcome!

Mar 30, 2010

A poem from Lizz of the Org

Grey Geese

I hear your noisy calls and lift my head towards the sky,
There you are, a V shaped skein that holds the eye.
I watch you fly across the bay to margins where you graze,
To the fields where are gathered numbers that amaze.

I have seen you slip and slide across the frozen loch,
Circle round and land beside the ancient broch.
Watched the sky turn grey above the place you roost,
Each time you gave my heart a boost.

But now it's almost time for you to go,
Back to the lands you left before the winter snow.
Fly straight, be strong and true.
When Autumn comes, I will look again for you.

Mar 22, 2010

Greylag goose ringing update

The other day I received an update from Alan Leitch of the Orkney ringing group about the Greylag goose ringing that I had been along to giving a hand out in the summer time. On the 8th of July 09 at the loch of Hundland on the north west of the mainland the ringing group went to work on the moulting flightless flock there. The evening was chosen to try and reduce the effect of the predatory Bonxies that were a present and constant danger to the flightless flock and their youngsters.

On that evening we had captured the birds by means of driving the flightless breeding/moulting flock in to a prepared corral. We succeeded in corralling 191 birds which was about thirty percent of the birds present at the site. Preceding counts on the loch had established that there were at a peak 640 birds on June 30th when 82 broods and a total of 307 goslings giving 3.74 as an average brood were noted. This compares to 08 when a count of 500 birds with 58 broods and 215 goslings giving 3.70 as an average brood size. 25 marked birds from the 08 count were recorded on Hundland loch during this breeding season, many with goslings in tow.

Since July 08 all the sightings of the collared birds have been entered into a data base with some surprising results. about 90 % of the collared birds have been reported within 5km of Hundland loch with the furthest local birds appearing on Shapinsay just 20km away. The only exception to this local pattern have been sightings of birds on the Buckenham Marshes down in Norfolk!

In 08 two of our collared goslings made the 790 km trip to East Anglia. DIS and DIU had somehow managed to head off in an unexpected direction, possibly in the company of other geese This pair managed to return to Orkney to be recorded at RSPB Durkadale close to the ringing site. DIS remained at Durkadale and DIU headed off to Milldam on Shapinsay. Neither bird was seen again until they showed up yet again on Buckenham marshes on the 3rd of Jan!. This time they had a couple of the 09 first year birds in tow HAK and HAJ neither of these had been reported since ringing in july. They have been spending most of their time on the river Yare between Buckenham and Claxton marshes Norfolk since January. The interesting thing here is that these birds are to young to be related. DIS and DIU did not breed in 09 as they were to young. All four birds have been spending time with ‘feral’ Greylag and Canada geese although often reported as only loosely associating with other geese outwith the main group of ten birds. It does make you wonder if all the birds are Orcadian though! Interestingly though another gosling was reported shot to the BTO. This one HFS was shot at Wickhampton Acle Norfolkthis is in the close locality to the Orkney birds and begs the question was it one of the migrating group? But as Allan says we will never really know. Hopefully we will see all of these birds return to The west mainland possibly even on Durkadale come April. The oldest of them will be ready for breeding this year so the story will hopefully continue.

On a darker note the breeding population continues to expand and the pressure to reduce numbers dramatically looks like it is going to happen sooner or later. Different geese scaring methods to keep them from grazing new growing crops are being researched but I think little success is being achieved so they and their youngsters to come may have to take their chances in the future.

In December 09 the Grey goose count for the whole of Orkney revealed a staggering count of 80,538 of which an estimated 10-12000 (11%) currently summer on the islands. It is likely that this amount of birds is affecting other traditional breeders but I don’t think that any real research yet exists to support the idea. Some form of control looks like it will eventually come about though.

Finally there was the leucistic white Greylag known as Blondie or more properly HBF. You may have seen this bird in the photos I posted last July. It was amazing that it had survived the predation from Bonxies and made it to a first year bird. Its more amazing still that it has survived the trophy instincts of local and commercial shooters. Blondie is doing well, alive and kicking and still out west.

My thanks to Alan and the Orkney ringing group for the update and the opportunity to get out and help in the first place.

If anyone has sighting of any of these collared birds anywhere and at any time could you please report them to…



Purple sand pipers

Mar 16, 2010


The first Short eared owl of the spring to get on the garden list was across the garden the other night. It soon headed off to the back field to hunt over the rank grass there quartering for a while before heading off. The Short eared owls are becoming more obvious now as the season progresses. I was on the Bigswell road the other night staking out a sight that may hold a Barn owl when I saw to of them quartering the same ground. They eventually met and a great argument ensued providing some fine but distant views. Eventually the split and went their separate ways…..very entertaining at the time tho!!

Mar 9, 2010


There have been six to eight hundred Pink foots grazing below the house today. Every so often a Hen harrier or Peregrine would have them all up, circle for a bit and back down. They didnt seem to keen to move on, and who can blame them it probably was a long enough flight to get here.

It was cool as any way!!

Bonaparte's Gull

I see on the org tonight theres a Bonaparte's Gull around thurso harbour today. There were a couple of mini buses on the twitch. I wonder if it is there the morn mmmmm.


Return migration seems to be starting to get a grip. There have been a few reports of pinkfeet passing overhead and more of flocks coming down. We were fortunate enough to have three hundred plus roost below the house two nights ago. Oyster catchers are also returning to the county with a small rise in numbers making them more obvious in the fields. Golden plover flocks are about out east, staging for their onward flight . There are also flocks of redwings dotted about all over feeding as fast as they can before moving. I was up the Biggswell road on Sunday where I saw 150+ take to the air spooked by a sparrow hawk.

There was a report of a barn owl in Harray last week. This is a rare bird for us not to mention elusive. I had a report of a white owl emerging from a derelict property a few days ago and have spent the grimlings in to darkness watching the house and area surrounding it but as yet with no luck. I did briefly have hares boxing yards if front of me last night… never know what you are going to see…every thing is about to change with the season once again...I love it!!

Spring seems sprung

What a difference a bit of warm weather makes. On Saturday we like the rest of the UK felt the benefit of the large areas of high pressure that has moved across the country. Things look even better a few days later with the system looking stalled over the entire country every one is experiencing a rush of spring carried on the welcome warm air.
It was much like this for me on Saturday, I didn’t have the opportunity to get out birding tho , my days efforts were to be spent in the garden constructing a rabbit hutch with my ex brother in law. Its amazing what a small hike in temperature makes. The ground beneath the feet was still frozen hard yet soon started to thaw…well at least the top centimetre. More encouraging was the first wren singing. The wrens had been a bit of a concern with the prolonged cold weather but there had been a female skulking about the shrubs for a few days. This welcome return has now been joined by a rather vociferous male who is singing from all the high perches around the houses. I still haven’t seen that many out and about but it looks good for round about at the moment.
The wren wasn’t to be alone though and with in minutes of him singing our first skylark of the year was singing above the house. The delight felt in hearing the song was doubled almost immediately with another bird sparking up before the firsts song cycle had finished. The spring chorus wasn’t going to stop there either and down the fields there was a rich strong sound of birds feeling the spring, several curlew were bubbling away and rising into the air in display. Oystercatchers were also displaying with their heads down and stomping around the sound of their piping calls carried beautifully across the warm open spaces to us.
For so long the dominant bird sound has been the squabbley sounds of greylag geese that the cacophony of spring sounds seemed overwhelming …not to mention very welcome……..birds are returning and its all about to kick off again…magic.