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.

April 2011

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.

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.

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.

April 2007

Cold, fresh weather, but memorable sightings to open our 2007 season…thousands of golden plover locally and the 1st summer visitors: wheatear, chiffchaff and whimbrel (15/4); followed by swallow on 16/4.

Stunning views of a displaying – skydancing – hen harrier on Hoy on 17/4, along with mountain hares and peregrine.

Winter birds such as slavonian grebe, long-tailed duck and great-northern diver all resplendent in summer plumage.

Lapwing, curlew and redshank are all displaying in the field immediately in front of the conservatory giving great views.

The first cetaceans of the season were seen off Hoxa Head – 3 harbour porpoises – on 29/4; and a splendid male whinchat obligingly perched right outside our conservatory for us on 30/4.

June Highlights 2006

Wader antics and noise define this month as curlew, snipe, lapwing, redshank and oystercatcher all have chicks and guard them deafeningly!

Migrant butterflies also winging in – red admirals and painted ladies.

We’ve had great close-up views of hen harrier and short-eared owl, and a marsh harrier has been prominent locally on several occasions.

The orchids are now in flower.

On 28/6 June was seen out in spectacular fashion by a pod of 5 or 6 orcas playing around in the southern entrance to Scapa Flow, with animals coming out of the water several times (lots of splashes!) and a male present with a simply enormous dorsal fin.  Wow!

June Highlights 2005

We saw day-old lapwing chicks being brooded by their mother, and a 2nd year immature glaucous gull (12/6), just to remind guests how close we are to the Arctic.

Meanwhile the sea pinks and squill were in full bloom on the cliffs and the orchids in the rough.

On 16/6 we watched a pod of 7 orcas – yes, killer whales – for over half an hour from the conservatory!

Another amazing experience on 28/6: first, sightings of harbour porpoise, but followed by gymnastics from a pod of 5 Risso’s dolphins.  The dolphins entered Scapa Flow from our vantage point at Hoxa Head and as we watched them for an hour or more they lazed on the surface, “spy-hopped” and breached before our very eyes.

How could you follow that?  Answer – only 50 metres away, a fresh common seal pup, all dewy eyed and appealing….

Then we saw the month out in fine style on 30/6 with wonderful views of a rare American migrant – a Laughing gull adult – on the nearby island of Burray.