June 2012

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.

August, September, October 2011

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.

July 2011

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 2011

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.

August 2010

The bird of the year (so far!) turned up at the south end of our island on 5/8 in the form of an Alpine swift.  Only one of just 3 records in Orkney, it was a large and handsome bird, giving close up views of its white belly and chin.

6 crossbills at Rackwick on Hoy and a pure white albino starling on South Walls were also of interest (8/8).

At Cantick Head on South Walls (also 8/8) we had the best ever views of a pair of adult harbour porpoises playing beneath us in the clear sea – we could actually see them swimming underwater, awesome!

Also a large flock of 50 whimbrel overhead at Gerraquoy on 17/8.

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.

June 2010

June is just a beautiful month, not least because the sea pinks and squill adorn the cliffs.

Interesting birds have included a Manx shearwater in Scapa Flow (2/6); a summering whooper swan at the Brodgar Pools on 7/6; 2 common sandpipers at Graemeshall Loch on 8/6; and 2 crossbills at Rackwick on Hoy on 10/6.

We have also had stunning close up views of hen harrier, short-eared owl, merlin & peregrine early in the month.

We also opened our cetacean account with a pod of Risso’s dolphins in Birsay Bay on 7/6, and saw 4 harbour porpoises off The Ool on Switha on 10/6.

Rarest sighting of the month was of 2 beetles, too rare to have an English name, Chrysolina intermedia, lovely ladybird-sized beetles with deep red stripes along their lower backs.

Later in the month we saw a pintail with a brood of 5 ducklings (16/6); peregrines with well grown young; and a quail at Marwick on 17/6.

September 2009

The Franklin’s gull hung around, with other migrants making headlines such as the bird of the year (so far anyway!) which turned up  in our back yard, at the south end of our island, in the form of a sandhill crane, only the 3rd UK record on 22/9.

Fantastic close views of an American golden plover in Deerness on 26/9.  Also a hobby on 16/9, and a red-backed shrike in Evie on 18/9.

Plenty of harbour porpoises also with 17 on 31/8 and 18 on 14/9, with a minke whale for good measure also on 14/9.

An amazing school of porpoises in Switha Sound on 17/9 numbering at least 38.

Lots of raptors now stravaiging around – especially hen harrier, merlin, kestrel, peregrine sparrowhawk & short-eared owl.

June 2009

A little egret at Graemeshall Loch (5/6) was only our 2nd in Orkney in 5 years.

The little egret at Graemeshall Loch was still present on 7/6.

With light northerly winds for most of the week we concentrated our efforts on the sea for a couple of days and were rewarded with a record 4 species of cetacean in the 2 days: fin whale, minke whale, harbour porpoise and Risso’s dolphin.  The fin whale was our 1st in Orkney, seen out in the Pentland Firth, a massive animal (2nd largest creature on earth!) with a massive blow. Two other much smaller whales with big blows were also present, possibly a group of fin whales travelling together….fantastic!

In mid June the short-eared owls were all feeding young and showing very well at home and elsewhere.

Waders such as oystercatcher and lapwing forming large post-breeding flocks.

A brilliant showing of northern marsh orchids this year, and now the beautiful grass of Parnassus is in flower.

May 2009

7 snow geese in South Ronaldsay (they flew over the house!) on 8/5, but a real red-letter day on Westray on 10/5 with a Risso’s dolphin then a pod of 4 orcas off Noup Head.

There was a classic “fall” of migrants in mid May, with several species of warbler (including many lesser whitethroats), pied and spotted flycatchers and redstarts.

Best birds however were a red-backed shrike male still around on 17/5, and a splendid red-spotted bluethroat male also on 17/5.

We saw our first harbour porpoises of the season from home, around Grimness Head during the period 20-22/5.

The last week of May was a good week for raptors with great views of a food pass between hen harrier male and female, a peregrine at the eyrie with 2 chicks, good views of short-eared owls, and a jack merlin (all 26/5).  Also a cuckoo at Holm (28/5), and a pintail with a brood at The Loons in West Mainland (29/5).