Apr 26, 2010

Last winter walk with Tim

This last Sunday marked the last walk of the season with Tim Dean. I must admit my attendance has been a bit sparse this year so I was looking forwards to the day, despite being warned it was to be a long walk in the heart of the west mainland. We all met up at the car park in the centre of Dounby. The plan for the day was to be a liner walk with half of the cars left at the brig below Click mill where the Hillside burn runs into Glimms moss and on through Durkadale. This was to be the finish point, we would start at the Corrigall farm museum and by way of a very circuitous route wend our way back here. Before we even start off there’s time for a look about here. There are a few greylag that were hanging about in pairs. The burn also revealed a pair of Widgeon that looked intent on sticking around. The rest of there breed has largely moved off. In a few short weeks the Widgeon has moved from being one of our commonest occurring winter ducks to one of the UKs rarest breeding birds with I think im right in saying only four or five hundred pairs across the north of the British isles. Orkney is lucky enough to have a fair portion of these fine looking ducks breeding here. As we are setting off for the start point a good flock of Pinkfeet circle and come down in fields south of us. Here they will do some quick feeding before taking advantage of the favourable winds that threaten to suck them off towards Iceland with an irresistible draw of spring.
The departure from Corrigall led us through the farm yard and along a track in towards the Harray hills and the dale of Corrigall. Linnets in pairs and blackbirds accompanied us as we went. Some of the first chattering Swallows hunted up and over the gorse lined gully. The burn is descending over the series of small steps provided delightful background music as we admire the fine yellow displays of gorse flowers and primroses set off so well by a bit of sunshine. The first butterflies of the year for me appeared. I always look on this a one of the real starter moments of the summer season. They were all to be Lesser Tortoiseshells that would have been stirred to life from their hibernations by the temperature rise of the last couple of days. The track wound on until we were almost opposite the track that leads into the peat hill at the Vale of Corrigall. The first bird to bee seen causing a stir is the years first Bonxie. The very silhouette of this dark marauder is enough to put fear in the hearts of the field birds and every thing nervously lifts in to the air to circle and land as the danger recedes. Here as we stand and watch the sceptical we begin to watch a pair of distant Hen harriers soaring above the hill. Eventually they came closer putting up a flock of golden plover. These birds are looking truly resplendent in their summer plumage. They are staging here before moving on to pastures further north east or west. After a good look through them it was back on with the Harriers. The male was seen to start to skydance for the female but all to soon crested the hill and fell from view. All to soon we have to be moving on and the series of tracks eventually lead us out on to the Lyde road. We now have a short road section that will take us to below St Michel’s kirk and once more on to tracks and off tarmac. The ditches along the road and tracks are alive with colour the yellows of celandine and Marsh marigold attracting in more freshly awoken butterfly’s. In the shorter cut grass and verges the blue flowers of Germander Speedwell are starting to show well. The Kirk is being used today for service so we bypass its opportunity to view one of the best view points on the west mainland, it was unfortunate but it will always be there. We move on all the time accompanied by singing Meadow pipits, Skylarks, curlews and Lapwings. Soon enough we crest the hill and before us stretches a magnificent view of the west mainland basin with the parishes of Quoyloo, Sandwick and Birsay. Dominating the foreground is the Loch of Bosquoy. This gem of the west mainland is to be where we are to have our lunch and a welcome rest.
Bosquoy is a beautiful wee loch. Its shallow waters are abundant in small brown trout and the waters hold fine beds of reeds that form a couple of lagoons there’s shelter between them from a couple of crannogy islands. The vital abundance of life here is irresistible to bird life during the winter months and even now there are hundreds of Tufted ducks staging here before moving further north to breed in the all to brief arctic summer. We are not alone here and we share scopes with another group of birders as we tuck in to our well earned sandwiches.
Before us are a few Potchard and a good number of Shoveller. At the far end of the lock are a good wee flock of Pin tailed ducks, they are looking very sharp. These might be moving on but they might also stay and breed in the isles. These are another extremely rare breeding duck for the UK and Orkney supports its fair share!! There’s a commotion in the breks beyond the shore as a male Hen harrier is sent on its way with a barrage of attacks from lapwings and Curlews. The weather is misty and grey looking in to the distance with more open skies above us. The air is not too bad to look through though and it’s a good job because in the shallows on the far side is a splendid Spotted Redshank. This is a bird that is seen in Orkney four or five times a year although this is probably the one that’s been seen over at the Shunan on and off for the last few weeks. It is looking stunning in its summer plumage of black feathers. This is the first I have seen in summer plumage and its defiantly bird of the day. Another passing migrant to show up was a Common sandpiper. This shot down the waters edge calling as it passed us to land some where on the lower shore. It was set up by an arriving fisherman to disappear once again. With our fast well broken and our feet rested we wander up the loch side to get better views of the Pintails before returning to the track . Three more Sandpipers move past us calling. It really is a wee gem Bosquoy.
The track now leads out to the main Harray road. We walk parallel with it in a field before crossing it and turning in to the Nisthouse road that leads us past the Shunan. This is a shallow loch that can dry up completely in the hot summer time. Today it is fairly full and is teeming with birds. None of them are particularly rare but there are all the usual suspects. It is a fine place to watch life going on and during the migration times the exposed muddy flats can prove irresistible for a hungry well travelled migrant so you never know what might turn up. It’s a place well worth a look in passing. We follow the track uphill past Nisthouse and the rookery. All the way along the track there seem to be sparrows and Linnets. More Brown hares are recorded. I forgot to mention that we were recording hares as we went but I had lost count at fifteen or so and that was ages ago!! Walking now on single track road we pass Holodyke looking impressive with it’s newly harrled walls. Turning into the hill at the new windmill sub station the vegetation changes again as we move along, rough grazing to one side and heather on the other. Snipe are put up as we move along. Little birds moving along the gorse turn out to be Greenfinches rather than the expected Linnets. Greenfinches seem to be increasing their range in Orkney and can be found in all sorts of unusual places. We have seen and heard a few Wrens as we went but I don’t think they were in big numbers. Another bird conspicuous by its absence was the Stonechat. I have seen only one pair and only heard of three other pairs being seen. Although its early in the season I hope for more to show. They may have been hard hit by the long cold of winter. I suppose time will tell. With the darkness of the heather moors before us a pair of Wheatears emerging from a nest hole bring a dash of colour, both birds looking at the peak of their breeding condition. The last mile and a half wend back to the Hillside road and the cars. Another small stretch of road yet there’s no lack of birds, Curlew, Lapwing, Skylark and Meadow pipit abound. Snipe take to the air from muddy puddles and all around Greylag geese seem set on remaining in the heather to breed. The last birds to be seen of the walk are another flock of Golden plover although less than seventy yards from us they don’t panic and fly but choose to slowly walk away down the hill. Probably an indication of how tired they are after a long flight to get here. We are finally at the cars and I can empathise with them…I am pooped as well but it has been and outstanding six hours of walking!!


  1. Screech here from New Jersey,East Coast,USA.

    Excellent read Daf, sounds like a great wild area. Any possibility of a few pics to show what your patch looks like?

    You have a nice easy read style. Thanks for the visit! Take care,

    I live 5 miles from the New Jersey coast, do most of my birding on a barrier island, about 8 miles long, about 1000 feet wide, one road down the middle. Get a good assortment of birds being on the coast.

    Will look for other Orkney Birding with Daf.

    Will be checking your neck of the woods on Google later today

    Screech - Bob Eliasen

  2. OK Screech i will see what i can do for you. If you go on facebook i have a page to support the blog. Its called Orkney Birding. You will find photos there. There are more on my personal facebook page as well. Look up Dafi Smith. I would be interested in what you think.

    Hope you are enjoying a good mix of migrants at the moment!