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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Mayday brought us 4 Risso’s dolphins by # 1 Barrier in Scapa Flow; whilst the day after we saw 5 species of raptor (marsh harrier, hen harrier, sparrowhawk, peregrine and short-eared owl) and two superb drake garganey!
Lots of hen harriers, including food passes on 7/5; and a wonderful trip to Westray on 8/5 which included the gannetry at Noup Head, puffins at their burrows at the Castle of Burrian, lots of purple sandpipers and turnstones at close quarters, and a beautiful pair of pintail.
Arctic terns and Arctic skuas now back in numbers.
Surely the highlight of the month occurred on 11/5 when we watched a pod of 5 orcas for an hour off Grimness Head just by home. The irony was only 3 hours earlier Steve had finished filming with a BBC TV crew near the same spot and said “all we need now is a pod of orcas passing by……”
A great day on Hoy on 14/5 gave us views on both species of hare, including a pair of brown hares boxing at Houton (see pic below).
Amazingly Sarah and our guests then saw the same pod of orcas again in Deerness on 18/5 – see pic top right.
A great trip to Papay Westray on 24/5 gave two calling corncrakes, stunning close up views of both species of seals hauled out, the usual seabirds at Fowl Craig, Scottish primroses in flower and two black-tailed godwits.
Back home 4 whimbrel fed right outside the conservatory, best views ever!
We heard another corncrake on 27/5 and had wonderful views of a female marsh harrier hunting over reedbeds.
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!
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.