July 2010

Early July started with a wonderful visit to Westray and its puffins & gannetry on 3/7, where we also saw a swift overhead.  Star of the day though was the “Westray Wifie” or the “Westray Venus”, a 4,800 year-old human figurine, the oldest ever to be found in Scotland, a piece of neolithic rarity on display in the Westray Heritage Centre.

Our annual trip to Shetland went well, with sightings of orca (pod of 4 moving through Yell Sound on 15/7); otters and the usual close up views of gannets at Hermaness and puffins at Hermaness and Sumburgh.

Meanwhile back in Orkney, we’re seeing whimbrel & sparrowhawk almost daily in late July, meaning the late Summer passage has begun.

A basking shark off Burwick on 27/7; and several sightings of harbour porpoises, including at least 10 off Rerwick Head on 30/7, was a fine way to see out the month.

August 2008

A great start to the month with 4 harbour porpoises and a basking shark in Rackwick Bay, Hoy, on 2/8.

Most of August occupied off site with a short holiday and British Birdwatching Fair commitments.

Back home in late August sparrowhawks being seen almost daily, along with short-eared owls and hen harriers.

A juvenile merlin hunting meadow pipits over Gerraquoy on 26/8.

Another solitary swift at Liddel on 27/8, and best of all, a very unusual record of 2 common hawker dragonflies, hawking around inside the gloup at Halcro Head.

The white-billed diver still around at the month end – it’s been at the bottom of our road for the whole of July and August!!

May 2008

White-winged gulls are still present in Stromness harbour, and an adult Iceland gull was seen briefly on 5/5.

Chiffchaffs and common sandpipers also back on Hoy on the same date.

Good views of harriers, both our usual hen harriers, but also a returning marsh harrier, the latter from 6/5 onwards.

Arctic skuas were late back this year but we had great views of a pair at close quarters on Shapinsay on 8/5.

Red grouse showing well at Hobbister and Burgar Hill RSPB reserves in the early month, with great views of a male peregrine on 10/5.

The best bird however arrived on our “hide list” on 10/5, when 8 fully adult beautiful white snow geese flew low up the fields and over the house…quite extraordinary!

Cetaceans and sharks all arrived during mid month, with a solitary Risso’s dolphin off Grimness Head (11/5); 5 Minke whales showing really well at Noup Head on Westray (14/5); and a basking shark in Echnaloch Bay on 16/5.

Fantastic drake garganeys at Graemeshall Loch on 12/5 & 29/5, and whimbrels overhead regularly throughout the county.

May is usually one of the best months for cetaceans and our luck continued with 10 Atlantic white-sided dolphins and a Minke whale on Westray (18/5); and a large school of common dolphins in Hoxa Sound on 19/5.

Migrants such as blackcap, whitethroat and spotted flycatcher heading through on 24/5, but the best bird of the month was a singing male rustic bunting in the village of St. Margaret’s Hope on 24/5.

NE/SE winds during the last week of May brought more spectacular migrants including golden oriole and icterine warbler (29/5) and a quail at Gerraquoy on 30/5.

Late May also gave us sightings of Atlantic white-sided dolphin (27/5), and also minke whale and harbour porpoise (30/5).

August 2007

Spotted a peregrine falcon locally in the 1st week.  Then we headed for the southern tip of our island to try and find a beached sperm whale, which, unfortunately, had already been washed back out to sea – we did, however, enjoy seeing lots of grass of Parnassus en route.

Perfect sea conditions on 10/8 gave 2 harbour porpoises, whilst on land we saw peregrine, hen harrier and short-eared owl locally within minutes of each other.

Our barley field has been cut and up to 100 curlew are using it, with twites flocking now to 30 birds or so.

Absolutely amazing views from 50 metres away of a huge adult basking shark in Echnaloch Bay on 26/8, watched it for about half an hour.

July 2007

The whimbrel passage may have started early with birds at Gerraquoy on 4/7 and nearby at Eastside on 5/7.

Glorious colonies of oysterplant flowering on local beaches in early July, along with sea rocket and sea kale.

A very young common seal pup hauled itself ashore just yards away from us at a local beach on 7/7 and promptly fell asleep!

We saw an otter cross the road by # 1 Barrier late at night on 11/7.

On 13/7 we saw our 1st Minke whale of the season off Grimness Head along with two harbour porpoises.

Indications that the breeding season is over for another year included hen harrier and short-eared owl at Gerraquoy on 19/7 – we will see these birds regularly at home for the next few weeks.

Two guests went off to Rackwick Bay on Hoy and had great views of a basking shark on 26/7.

June 2007

A slavonian grebe in summer plumage on Harray Loch was an unusual start to the month on 1/6, still there on 12/6.

We had a great 1st week with a couple of American birders from Colorado (thanks, Chuck and Nancy!) and despite the dull and misty weather saw 80 species of birds – a record for June.

A trip to Noup Head on Westray, and Marwick and Mull Heads gave some great seabird shots.

Painted lady and red admiral butterflies inundated the islands from 10/6 onwards and the orchids – heath spotted and northern marsh – are at their best.

Tours in mid June revealed a tufted duck with 10 newly hatched ducklings popping out of the water like corks; a female pintail all by herself; 3 black-tailed godwits a-courting; and an odd solitary pink-foot (a good June record on 12/6).

A day at the raptors on 12/6 gave us peregrine, kestrel, short-eared owl and 6 hen harriers, including a wonderful male to female food pass.

Great close views of 4 harbour porpoises on 17/6, and a 1st summer little gull on Harray Loch on 18/6 delighted us with its hunting antics and flight.

Sarah excelled herself on 22/6 when she saw 2 basking sharks very close in at the Broch of Deerness.

A 2nd summer glaucous gull was seen near home on 28/6, and just a day later a bonxie landed 5 metres from the conservatory with a huge fish, surrounded by angry gulls!