The 1st week of July was spent in Shetland, where we were troubled a little by mists
and poor visibility. We did, however, have a wonderful evening with the storm
petrels on Mousa (4/7); and see several pairs of whooper swans. Back in Orkney
I’m pleased to report sightings of stonechat (11/7 – they were decimated in our
recent hard winters). Scottish primroses completed their 2nd flowering; and
harbour porpoises were seen off Hoxa on 18/7. Interesting birds during the month
included manx shearwater (23/7); grey plover, swift, greenshank & pintail (all
25/7); & golden plover flocking back through (26/7). We helped ring storm petrels
with the RSPB on 25/7. But easily the star bird of themonth though was a roller,
present in Finstown from 26/7, the 1st in Orkney since 1966 – some bird!
Harbour porpoises featured on 5 & 20/6 off Shapinsay & Hoxa Head respectively.
Interesting birds early in June included cuckoo (8/6) and siskins (10/6). Perhaps the bird of the month, however, was a female surf scoter at Echnaloch, present from the 10/6 for a few days, in the company of some common scoters and a female long-tailed duck.
Mid-month interest was provided by a calling quail on 14/6; a turtle dove (14/6); and a great yellow bumblebee at Barth Head. A visit to Eday on 15/6 enabled a count of the Calf cormorant colony at 300+birds.
The Spring passage began with whimbrels and sandwich terns going through on 1/5.
Great views in brilliant sunshine on 4/5 of 2 pairs of hen harrier, an Iceland gull, and red-throated diver.
Our swallows finally made it back very late on 7/5, along with our first sighting for the year of a queen great yellow bumblebee (we saw another on 23/5).
Some super migrants on 9/5: male pied flycatcher (female on 24/5) and white-billed diver (also on 17/5); with the Arctic terns arriving back at last.
SE Herts RSPB LMG had a great week in mid May, smashing our week’s record with 108 species, adding more on North Ronaldsay! They saw migrants such as wryneck, red-breasted flycatcher, red-backed shrike and rustic bunting.
Other unusual birds for May included little egret and a calling corncrake (17/5 ++); a crossbill (18/5); and redstart (20/5).
Quite exceptionally, Scapa Flow held a humpback whale on 18/5 and a sperm whale on 19/5.
We also saw the 1st basking shark of the season on Westray on 20/5.
Flycatchers were around late in the month (spotted on 21 & 24/5; and pied on 24/5); a whitethroat (23/5); red-backed shrike (23/5); and a cuckoo at last (27/5).
We saw the month out with good views of a Minke whale in the Stronsay Firth (30/5).
We had an amazing tour to Andalucía in southern Spain in early April: 148 species seen (or heard) with first sightings of Baillon’s crake, little crake and Rupell’s vulture. Other highlights included great & little bustards, displaying booted eagles and Montagu’s harriers, a Bonnelli’s eagle at the nest, and a juvenile Spanish Imperial eagle overhead.
Meanwhile back in Orkney the 1st migrants appeared for us at Hoxa Head on 16/4: wheatears, puffins and a bonxie.
Migration got seriously underway a few days later with the arrival of redstart, robin, willow warbler and brambling locally (19-21/4).
More unusual birds during April included a solitary stock dove on 24/4; a water rail at The Loons 29/4; and a tight group of 6 black-throated divers at Hoxa on 30/4.
Autumn birds featured waders and warblers. 2 grey plover on Westray (9/8) began our migration season, with a juvenile ruff at home being a first for Gerraquoy on 10/8. Many ruff were present in Orkney over the next few weeks.
Twite flocks began to build with 40+ at Hoxa on 25/8, where at least 15 harbour porpoises were also seen.
Sandwich terns became present again with the first on 25/8.
A fall in mid September saw lots of ‘common’ migrants (robins, blackcaps, willow warblers) but also a yellow-browed warbler, grasshopper warbler and lesser whitethroats locally on 19/9.
A little stint was found in a large wader flock (mostly golden plover & lapwings but also many ruff) also locally on 21/9. 4+ harbour porpoises were present in Hoy Sound on 24/9, and a further 6+ from Hoxa on 1/10.
Great views of a water rail at The Loons hide on 30/9.
A rare N American vagrant, a Bonaparte’s gull, was seen over Kirk Sound, Holm on 7/10.
On 12/10 an adult, presumed male, injured, ill or simply disorientated sperm whale was present off Kirkwall harbour, giving rare and good views to many locals.
Sperm whale strandings occur every few years (we’ve seen two) but to see a live animal is most unusual.
Early July was occupied by our Shetland tours, with 67 bird species seen, including 4 red-necked phalaropes (6/7); a little gull (8/7); storm petrels at Mousa (9/7); redwing & lots of whimbrel.
Shetland cetaceans included minke whale (13/7); and several sightings of harbour porpoise.
Lots of islands visited also: Bressay, Mousa, Noss, Out Skerries, Papa Stour, Unst & Yell. Back on Orkney at the end of the month harbour porpoises were showing well at Hoxa on 26 & 30/7 with a minimum of 7 seen on each occasion.
June got off to a superb start with a pod of 4 orcas at close range at Sandside in Deerness, a male, female and 2 youngsters (3/6).
We were having lunch, enjoying a great northern diver close by on a gloriously sunny day, when the male orca exploded out of the sea before our very eyes. Absolutely breathtaking.
Orca pods were also seen by ourselves and our guests on 16/6 (Barrier # 4 East); and 20/6 (Hoxa Head).
Red admiral butterflies are ubiquitous, and we found a rare mason wasp in Deerness on 10/6.
Unusual birds during the month have included a sub-adult hobby and 2 swifts on Hoy (17/6); and a dozen black-tailed godwits on 23/6.
A high altitude food pass by a pair of hen harriers was also enjoyed on 23/6.
We listened to a corncrake calling locally on 25/6.
A bit of a red letter day on 26/6 which started with great views of a jack merlin hunting; continued with seeing a water rail hopping over bogbean, swimming and then flying at The Loons; and ended with finding a Temminck’s stint at The Shunan – a great day!
June ended with a flypast by 21 swifts at Barth Head on 29/6, with 3 harbour porpoise out to sea.
The most brilliant display of Scottish primroses (Primula Scotica) in our 8 years experience in the 1st 2 weeks of May – perhaps the snow & ice of last winter has produced this memorable sight?
Sea watching on 3/5 produced red-necked & Slavonian grebes and common scoter. Hill birds on 3/5 included cuckoo (also on 12/5), merlin and 2 hen harrier food passes and sky dancing displays.
We watched a jack merlin display at very close quarters for about half an hour on 12/5 – simply stunning!
A trip to Westray was good for migrant waders including purple sandpipers and black-tailed godwits on 5/5.
Sea duck were still around with long-tailed duck, goldeneye, scaup (still around on 30/5) and common scoter giving good views (9 – 12/5).
Migrants included swift (8/5), common sandpiper (9/5), spotted flycatcher (12/5) and red-backed shrike (27/5).
Whooper swans are still lingering (29/5), and the little terns returned on 12/5.
Other unusual birds during May have included (pale-bellied) brent goose (22/5 & 30/5) and a 2nd winter Iceland gull on 30/5.
Brilliant views of a pair of cuckoos on 31/5.
We enjoyed a fine spell of weather in late April which brought the migrants back home.
Our local short-eared owls & lapwings were displaying, and the bonxies returned to territory.
The 1st chiffchaff was singing locally on 15/4; and the 1st wheatear back on 19/4.
Our swallows returned home on 21/4 (4 days earlier than last year!); and the 1st whimbrel passed overhead on the evening of 23/4.
Flocks of gorgeous golden plover are passing through daily, and the yellow flowers of Spring are most enjoyable: celandines, marsh marigolds and primroses.
3 late whoopers were seen at Liddel on 29/4.
A great start, with 14 Lapland buntings on the Brough of Birsay (3/9), followed by our 1st fieldfare at home on 6/9. 7/9 was a bit of a red-letter day with a pair of common cranes at Warebeth; 4 curlew sandpipers in stunning light at the Loch of Skaill; and 4 Lapland buntings on the Brough of Birsay.
The purple patch continued on 9/9 in classic ‘fall’ conditions with a wryneck and a stunning male red-breasted flycatcher, both nearby on South Ronaldsay.
Migrants everywhere – garden warblers, willow warblers, pied & spotted flycatchers, and redstarts.
We enjoyed a juvenile red-backed shrike at Burwick on 11/9, saw more Lapland buntings at Hoxa on 12/9, and saw the cranes again on the shores of the Loch of Stenness on 13/9.
Other interesting birds included a greenshank and a juvenile black-throated diver on 13/9; & a family of snow geese in with greylags on 16/9 in Deerness. On 20/9 the greenshank was still present, along with 2 little stints; and the 1st common scoter of the winter was seen in the Bay of Skaill.
The month ended with a flourish, with a pectoral sandpiper in the heart of Kirkwall in the Peerie Sea (22/9); whilst closer to home, literally yards away we finished the month with another red-breasted flycatcher (that’s 2 in one season!) and a yellow-browed warbler on 30/9.