May 2012

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).

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.

May 2011

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.

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.

May 2010

May migrants have included a gorgeous trip of 4 dotterel in Tankerness on 9/5.

A bit of a red-letter day on 15/4, with great views of an adult sea eagle in Rendall; followed by close ups of our beared seal in Finstown.  It’s a long way from home – should be in the high Arctic!

Other highlights included Scottish primroses in flower on 18/5, a pair of wood sandpipers on 19/5, and a cuckoo on 20/5 & 25/5.

We saw a food pass by a pair of hen harriers on 25/5.

Bird of the month though (so far!) was a red-rumped swallow in our local village of St. Margaret’s Hope on 25/5.

Orcas have been seen on a weekly basis now for about 3 weeks in the Pentland Firth, Scapa Flow, and around the islands.

April 2010

The coltsfoot is in flower; lapwing and curlew are displaying; and the first wheatears and chiffchaff are heading through South Ronaldsay – it must be Spring!

Last week the snipe and redshank joined in with their spectacular displays.

Even the twite are displaying, one of our specialities.

But just to prove that it remains early in the season there are still 3 whooper swans in a nearby field, and a jack (male) merlin is hunting locally, not yet on his breeding grounds in the hills.

First primroses in flower and a pair of courting sandwich terns on 11/4 confirm that Spring has sprung.

Migrants now passing through Gerraquoy, with c 500 pinkfeet on 14/4; lots of flocks of golden plover issuing their beautiful bubbling courting calls as they pass; and a cock wheatear on the lawn on 15/4.

More migrants last week too with whimbrel overhead on 20/4, and a solitary bird feeding in our field on 23/4. A large flock of 23 whimbrel in Marwick on 25/4.

Our swallows arrived back at home on 26/4.

Highlights included a sky-dancing hen harrier, 2 merlin and 4 short-eared owls on 27/4; and a pair of red-throated divers and the first Arctic skua also on 27/4.

Common terns back at Hoy on 30/4.

October 2009

October began splendidly with a rare American vagrant, and another 1st for Orkney (that’s 2 in 2 weeks!!) with a red-eyed vireo at the Langskaill plantation in Tankerness. Wonderful views of a delightful bird.

Meanwhile later in the month our winter visitors arrived back with our local greylag augmented with pinkfeet, barnacles and whooper swans; and the seaduck – scoters (common and velvet), long-tailed duck, great northern divers and Slavonian grebes all in good numbers.

There were 7 hen harriers at our local roost on 18/10 and we were seeing merlin almost daily.  A jack snipe on Hoy on 20/10, and a woodcock invasion at the end of the month with birds everywhere.

The Atlantic (grey) seal pups were an annual treat at the month end.

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.

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).

April 2009

A group of 4 from the Market Bosworth Natural History Society smashed our bird record for the week commencing 18 April 2009 seeing 100 species in total. Highlights included a female goosander at Graemsehall Loch, 255 scaup on Harray Loch, water rail at The Loons (all 19/4); 4 hen harriers together including a male displaying (20/4); and 3 species of scoter in one telescope on 20/4 – common, velvet & 2 drake surf scoters – what a sight!

The scaup flock on Harray Loch now down to < 100 birds with one common scoter included (27/4).

Raptor highlights included 2 male hen harriers fighting – talon grappling in the air and beak-to-beak combat on the floor (27/4).

The bird of the year turned up on 28/4, a male snowy owl, looking somewhat sheepish in a green field full of sheep on the Orkney Mainland, a stunning bird.