Jan 19, 2011

Here is all be it a bit late the December bird report for the county from the RSPB.



24 Great Northern Divers were off Rerwick Head on 12th where a leucistic bird was noted during the month. A Black-throated Diver and a Red-necked Grebe were at Sandoyne on 12th while 26 Slavonian Grebes were counted there on 22nd. The hard weather that was to be so much a feature of the month forced three Little Grebes on to the sea at Finstown during the month, one also being seen in Stromness Harbour.

There were two notable gatherings of Cormorants with 200 at Pierowall on 12th and 60 in Birsay Bay on 21st. A very large Shag count involved 1120 off Marwick Head on 23rd.

Vasa Loch on Shapinsay was the venue for by far the largest Whooper Swan flock, a flock that peaked at 130 on 19th. An immature Bewick’s Swan, a very rare visitor to Orkney, was with these Whoopers between 11th-18th. The second Greylag Goose census of the winter was carried out between 11th-13th and produced a new record count of 80,744, just 200 more than in December 2009. What was especially interesting, however, was the fact that there had been a major redistribution of geese since the November count with the West Mainland losing 12,000 birds to areas to the east and south, presumably because of the harsher weather conditions pertaining in the west. Pink-footed Geese numbered 1409, 1278 of them in the East Mainland. Amongst other geese, there were up to 63 Greenland White-fronted Geese at The Loons, two Snow Geese at the Head of Holland on 6th/7th while 2219 Barnacle Geese were counted on South Walls with up to 118 in South Ronaldsay.

Shelduck numbers peaked at 27 in Widewall Bay on 21st. A small flock of Wigeon on Stromness Reservoir on 14th included a very odd-looking leucistic bird. Up to 17 Shoveler were on the Finstown Ouse during the month, probably forced off the frozen nearby Wasdale Loch. Up to 18 Pintail were on North Ronaldsay on 12th with 11 on the Loch of Brockan on 29th. 235 Tufted Ducks were on the Peedie Sea on 16th while, most unusually, 24 were in Widewall Bay on 27th, more fugitives from the ice. Up to three Scaup were on the Ayre Loch, St.Mary’s during the month while a Lesser Scaup, a North American vagrant and only the third to have been seen in Orkney, was present there until at least 19th. One-three Common Scoters were seen in Widewall Bay, off Rerwick and off North Ronaldsay during the month while another was on ice-free water on the Stenness Loch at Brodgar on 27th. A Velvet Scoter was off the Brough of Gurness on 2nd and 13 off Rerwick Head on 12th when the regular drake Surf Scoter was also present. A flock of 700 Eiders was counted in the Bay of Carness on 27th. One-two drake Goosanders were on the Ayre and Graemeshall Lochs in Holm from 10th while a Smew found on a tiny patch of free water on the Stenness Loch at Voy on 2nd moved to Brodgar for the rest of the month.

50 Pheasants were concentrated by the weather at Dale, Costa on 3rd while big releases of Red-legged Partridges for shooting on Shapinsay resulted in a gathering of 40 at Vasa Loch on 17th. One-two Water Rails were forced into the open at Dale, at Herston, in Evie and in Rendall during the month. Coot are not often seen on the sea but up to 19 were in the Bay of Firth and the Finstown Ouse . Moorhens are even rarer in maritime situations so that seven on the sea off Greameshall, on 21st were of particular note as was one feeding on the strandline at Newark Bay, Deerness on 26th.

One-two Grey Plovers were seen on North Ronaldsay and in Birsay Bay but most Golden Plovers fled the islands and presumably headed for Ireland looking for milder conditions. Peak wader counts on North Ronaldsay involved 126 Sanderlings there on 12th and 94 Purple Sandpipers on 23rd. Two Ruffs were unusual winter visitors to the Loch of Bosquoy on 26th. Woodcocks were conspicuous as the weather made them more visible; up to 18 were reported from Hestily, South Ronaldsay, up to eight in Rendall, up to six in Deerness and up to four in fifteen other localities. That most secretive of waders, the Jack Snipe, was also much more noticeable with as many as four feeding in the open around the Peedie Sea early in the month and one-two seen at nine other sites. The overwintering Whimbrel in Burray was seen on several occasions while the largest Bar-tailed Godwit gathering was of 220 in fields at Rapness, Westray on 11th.

An immature Iceland Gull was found at the Peedie Sea on 4th and seen frequently thereafter while an adult in Stromness Harbour on 16th was joined by an immature on 19th. 500 Guillemots had returned to the seas around Marwick Head on 13th but soon moved away again. A single Little Auk was in the Bay of Sandoyne on 12th.

The largest gathering of Rock Doves was of 400 at Rossmyre, Firth on 12th while, during the brief respite in the weather, a pair of Collared Doves was watched nest-building in Kirkwall on 11th!

Orkney Short-eared Owls are known to become much more nocturnal (and therefore less often seen) in winter. However, the difficulties of finding food in frozen, snow-covered habitat forced many to hunt by day as well and there were numerous reports throughout the month.

Few Waxwings remained from the big irruption earlier in the autumn but up to four were seen in Kirkwall and single at four other sites. 100 Skylarks were counted at the Head of Holland on 2nd and 21st with 48 on Egilsay on 13th while an apparent influx on 17th brought 42 to North Ronaldsay and ten to Birsay. A Shorelark, a very scarce visitor these days, was found on Stronsay on 20th. The only Grey Wagtail reported was one in Kirkwall on about 20th while single Pied Wagtails were seen in Kirkwall, St.Ola, Finstown and Stromness.

One never quite knows when Black Redstarts are going to appear and, true to form, one was found on North Ronaldsay on 13th. Having been relatively scarce all autumn, a very late arrival of Fieldfares, a feature of recent years, was witnessed on North Ronaldsay when 56 were counted on 29th with 81 the following day.

A Blackcap was on North Ronaldsay on 4th while one that remained in Rendall was assumed to have succumbed to the blizzard of 16th. Often victims of severe weather, Goldcrests seemed to be hanging on in there with up to seven in Binscarth and five in Finstown.

The Firth School bird crop proved attractive to Bramblings with up to 15 there; ten were also seen at Quoydandy, St.Ola with one-two in several other sites. The largest Greenfinch flock was one of 200, also at Quoydandy, on 12th. The arrival of Goldfinches continued with no fewer than 23 on Burray (peaking on 4th) and singles in Finstown, Harray and Rendall.

The only Siskin was one that remained in Herston until 8th. Until fairly recently, Linnets were very much summer visitors to Orkney but more are overwintering these days as evidenced by flocks of 150 at Hestily, up to 107 on North Ronaldsay, 90 at Firth School and 60 at Dale. Although not quite so numerous as last winter, there were some good flocks of Twite with up to 650 at Brinkie’s Brae, Stromness, 500 at Dale, 400 at Swannay and 350 on North Ronaldsay. The irruption of Mealy Redpolls continued with a maximum of 21 on North Ronaldsay on 3rd followed by a second peak of 13 on 21st. This was mirrored at the Firth School bird crop where there were 15 on 5th and 20 on 23rd; elsewhere up to eight were noted at about a dozen localities. A single Lesser Redpoll was identified in Burray on 12th. The small irruption of Northern Bullfinches also continued with up to three remaining in Finstown early in the month, one in Rendall until 17th, one in Stenness on 4th and another in Herston on the same date.

Nearly all the Lapland Buntings from earlier in the autumn had moved on but birds occurred on North Ronaldsay on five dates to 24th with a maximum of six on 17th; six were also at the Black Craig, Stromness on 12th. The biggest Snow Bunting gatherings were of 100 near St. Mary’s on 2nd, 86 on North Ronaldsay on 17th, 70 on Shapinsay on 18th and 60 in Orphir on 12th while up to 40 were seen at seven other sites. The biggest concentration of Reed Buntings was of 100 at Dale on 23rd.

Eric Meek

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