Feb 22, 2012
Today it’s a wet old day outside with the clouds not only touching the ground but rolling across my garden! The relentless nature of it is in contrast with yesterday where we were just hit by the occasional prolonged shower as they rolled across us. The clarity of light was fantastic and it was this that drew me out yesterday. I was almost scuppered with a shower as I was leaving but it soon passed. I went to the Stenness kirk to look across the south end of Harray loch. A quiet approach revealed the water to be fairly teeming with birds. From the car park you have nice cover from the wall you get a nice view and some where to rest your elbows. Every where there were widgeon and tufted ducks geese pairs of goldeneye, along the shores were mallard and teal and a surprising amount of Gadwall. A pair of flocks of oystercatcher fed in the fields along with geese and starlings. As so often seems to happen I had just got thwe scope set up and was having a look through when rain started to rattle of my head and back. A look over the shoulder did not bode well with big dark wet stuff coming at me from the direction of the hills of Hoy. Caps on and of as quick as I can go I shoot up the road to the barnhouse hide. This is a couple of hundred yards up the loch side form where I have been watching but half a mile of road and a walk across the standing stones of Steness to reach the hide. The last bit to the hide is a board walk and my clump clump stealthy approach startles a brown pointy bird from under the wooden path and it runs quickly through the gap in the fence and disappears. It looked to me for all the world to be a water rail and excitedly I stood there thinking was that or wasn’t it was that or wasn’t it for a moment before getting inside the hide. Now this hide has a view over a wide loch and often has a lot of action on the far banks in the fields, this is a place for binoculars as a minimum but you really need a scope. Looking out in front there are only a few tufted, goldeneye and about fifteen mute swans close in. Looking across the loch and its another story. Through the scope a long length of bank some of it with a lagoon behind it fall into view. Tracking down it from the farthest point towards Lochside we have a large gull roost with a couple of cormorants on the rocky shore further we can see widgeon 300 strong grazing the field edge, a party of five hoodie crows and then a flock of Oystercatcher, these number just under 300 as well. All along the waters edge are Widgeon interspersed with Mallard, Teal, Curlew in small groups dot the waters edge. It is a matter of moving the scope and the next flock falls into view. Below a cattle trough a flock of Widgeon are preening away above them in the field are Oystercatchers with Golden plover mixed in and feeding , around the edges of all these a flock of Fieldfares pick away. Three different geese flocks are feeding in view and one of these near Masehow is joined by a couple of hundred more. There nosy approach gives great opportunities for long long tracking shots with the scope. Its very absorbing watching birds in flight like this. I was to get another shot at it momentarily as I picked up a Male henharrier crossing the loch. He stayed in view for a big long pan looking resplendent in the light and filled the eye piece!! Barnhouse was fairly doing its stuff today , there are times when it might produce a couple of dark specs in the distance and be a cold wind swept hole but not today!! Today there must be 2000 birds out there and the whole spectacle is hugely diverse and absorbing to view. A quick twich is a bit of fun but I do like to chill out and sink into it for a couple of hours, saying this you would think it couldn’t get much better but fate was to take a hand. A Short eared owl was hunting along the shore line and approaching the hide, I sat frozen as it passed only feet away. As soon as it passed out of my eyesight I squeaked my lips to make the sound of a mouse in distress getting eaten. This is a trick that can draw cattys towards you in the field if your lucky!!. Anyway the owl circled again To look for the source of the noise from the right hand side. I squeaked once again as it passed and to my delight it reappeared again from the other side and looked right in the windows from only a few feet away!!. With this tho it moved away along the shore and I went back to gazing into the distance. Within fifteen minutes it reappeared coming over the top of the hide screeching and turns quickly to flap and hover right above the shore line, as it does this another screech comes from above the hide and a second bird joins the first and they spin about over the loch interacting closely and nosily together. Love is obviously in the air and the pair reaper minutes later circling the hide several times. On one of these passes one of the owls changes from the screeching cries to hooting! I didn’t know they did this at all, I had never heard it before but it was hooting away like a good un!!. This is as close as I have been to Short ears as they begin to pair up. It is unbelievably exciting!!. Of course I manage to get the camera out and surreptitiously shoot some photos but the ones that did catch an owl look very distant and disappointing. At one stage one of them flew to the lochs far bank and then headed back straight to the hide and I had stunning eye to eye contact as it headed directly in to the scope on its approach! A third circle of the hide and the pair were gone, things soon quietened down again. It was now the back of four and I decided to get a move on. Heading towards the end of the board walk I was to get one last treat as a pouncing owl dropped out the sky on to prey in the barnhouse neolitic village. It lifted off holding a small rodent and was joined by its partner and the pair headed off towards Stenness…a perfect end to an afternoon’s damp bird watching!!
at 4:17 PM