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.

July 2008

The 1st week of July gave a superb adult yellow (white)-billed diver, just down the road in Water Sound from 2/7 onwards.

Other unusual sightings included a cuckoo (1/7) and lesser redpolls (4/7).

Excellent sea conditions on 3/7 produced a minke whale and 3 harbour porpoises from Cantick Head on Hoy.

In Shetland 7 – 21/7 with 2 one-week tours, wildlife highlights being a solitary bull orca on 14/7 in Yell Sound, and lots of close-up views of puffins and otters.

Back home a harbour porpoise and 11 puffins off Hoxa on 28/7, and a solitary swift at Deerness on 31/7.

June 2008

Spring 2008 has been the best year for migrants we’ve experienced, and June opened with a red-backed shrike on 1/6, with blackcaps and garden warblers singing at the same site.

The most spectacular bird of the 1st week however was undoubtably a male ruff in resplendent white plumage (along with 7 black-tailed godwits) on 2/6!

Raptors seem to have hatched their young now as we saw a food pass by a pair of hen harriers with great views of a female merlin (and a cuckoo!) at the same site on 5/6, finishing with a red-throated diver on her nest.

Unusual birds the following week included a blackcap locally (6/7); a grey wagtail and common sandpiper on Hoy (12/6); and a whimbrel and golden plover in our freshly cut silage field at Gerraquoy (13/6).

Harbour porpoises were showing well in June, with sightings on several days at Hoxa Head, but a minke whale on 24/6 came close enough to us to hear its breathing!

Black-tailed godwit numbers at The Loons built up to a maximum of 16 on 29/6.

Bird of the month however appeared in our local village on 25/6 in the form of an adult rose coloured starling, one of up to six in Orkney at the same time.

A female pintail at The Loons on 29/6 saw the month out in style.

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).

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.

July Highlights 2006

There is now a splendid 2nd flowering of the Scottish primrose.

On 12/7 we saw a total of 5 hen harriers in several locations, some at very close quarters.

Now that the breeding season is over we are seeing hen harriers and short-eared owls on an almost daily basis at home, with the owls especially giving wonderful close up views.

The return wader passage has started with whimbrels from 17/7 and a knot on Rousay on 19/7.

The seabirds lingered on the crags until the 3rd week of July this year, with plenty of young auks and kittiwakes visible.

A female marsh harrier, heavily in moult, floated over the house on 23/7, being mobbed by a veritable posse of all things, such that it was a wonder it could make any progress.

The month finished in style with great views of a young minke whale on 30/7 and a young peregrine on 31/7.

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…..

July Highlights 2005

We discovered a wonderful (and rare) Oysterplant colony on a nearby beach and Red admiral butterflies appeared all over the islands.

On the afternoon of 6/7 we were treated to some gymnastics and blows from a couple of Minke whales who had obviously chased some fish around Grimness headland – quite close in and big animals!  In fact up to 4 Minkes fed in this area for several days, thrilling our guests.

On Hoy at St. John’s Head on 13/7 we were treated to a wonderful sight of a family of Peregrine falcons teaching their young how to stoop.

Meanwhile back on the farm a very late Oystercatcher eventually hatched her 3 young on 14/7.

Some mornings are unbeatable – despite the rain on 18/7 we saw a rare White-billed diver (happily in the company of a Great-northern diver for comparison); followed by an otter, always a treat!