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.

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.

April 2008

April came in like a lion this year, if not out like a lamb.

Our 1st guest of the season was lucky enough to see 5 species of raptor in 30 minutes: peregrine, rough-legged buzzard, merlin, kestrel and hen harrier; with a short-eared owl the day after, making 6 species.

A couple of weeks later however (24/4), David & Tricia Hawkins not only smashed the 3 year record for most # of birds in one week, (they saw 91), but included an incredible 8 species of raptor: hen harrier, buzzard, kestrel, peregrine, sparrowhawk, goshawk, short-eared owl and marsh harrier (the latter 2 on 25/4)!  The goshawk did a display flight only 50 metres away from us (a 1st for Steve!), and a pair of hen harriers performed an acrobatic food pass.

April 2008 is therefore named the month of the raptors.

Lots of other species, including the perfect combination of winter birds (such as brambling (24/4), great grey shrike (26/4), scaup, whooper swan and white-fronted geese); and summer visitors arriving such as wheatear (10/4), whimbrel & Sandwich tern (21/4), willow warbler (24/4), sand martin and swallow (25/4).

Under normal circumstances the bird of the month would have been the beautiful male black redstart at the Old Man of Hoy (24/4), but even he was eclipsed by the displaying goshawk.

All the seabirds , including small #s of puffins, returning to the crags late in the month.  An early harbour porpoise on 10/4 was our 1st cetacean record of the season.

We also had great views of brown hares boxing (19/4), and blue hares on Hoy (24/4).

A single pale-bellied brent goose was seen on 27/4.

September and October Highlights 2005

On 2/9 a Short-eared owl sat on one of our fenceposts – just right for the ‘scope – and on 3/9 a male hen harrier floated by, with ringtails on an almost daily basis thereafter.

A female Merlin has also been seen several times hunting locally.

Wader hunting with our guests continued to pay dividends on 5/9 with lovely views locally of a Buff-breasted sandpiper, another rare American vagrant.

The following day, one of sultry calm, we delighted in 7 Harbour porpoises and a Minke whale at the entrance to Scapa Flow.

By October the winter birds had arrived, with excellent views of Red-necked and Slavonian grebes, Scaup and Whooper swans.

Grey geese everywhere:  Greylag; Pinkfeet; Barnacle; and a solitary Brent.   Grey seal pups were seen at close quarters – great for photography!

And finally, a glimpse of an otter on 23/10 finished the season with a flourish…..

April Highlights 2005

Late April and early May 2005 had its attractions such as a great grey shrike locally (20/4) and we watched a beautiful male ring ousel from the conservatory at only 50 metres away (30/4).

Whimbrels passed overhead regularly, and lapwings, curlew and snipe all literally came within inches of our new “hide” (conservatory!).

The seabirds arrived back at the cliffs, and the Scottish primroses (Primula Scotica) had their 1st flowering.

The birds of prey were on form, and we saw hen harrier food passes, five short-eared owls at once, and merlin and peregrine regularly.

Best of all, however, was a pod of 7 Risso’s dolphins, which thrilled our guests for two days (12 & 13/5) as they hunted fish by the # 1 Churchill Barrier. At only 200 metres away or less, their pale scarred bodies could easily be seen, as could their blunt faces and huge dorsal fins, reminiscent of orcas. Wow…………