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.

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).

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).

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.

August 2007

Spotted a peregrine falcon locally in the 1st week.  Then we headed for the southern tip of our island to try and find a beached sperm whale, which, unfortunately, had already been washed back out to sea – we did, however, enjoy seeing lots of grass of Parnassus en route.

Perfect sea conditions on 10/8 gave 2 harbour porpoises, whilst on land we saw peregrine, hen harrier and short-eared owl locally within minutes of each other.

Our barley field has been cut and up to 100 curlew are using it, with twites flocking now to 30 birds or so.

Absolutely amazing views from 50 metres away of a huge adult basking shark in Echnaloch Bay on 26/8, watched it for about half an hour.

June 2007

A slavonian grebe in summer plumage on Harray Loch was an unusual start to the month on 1/6, still there on 12/6.

We had a great 1st week with a couple of American birders from Colorado (thanks, Chuck and Nancy!) and despite the dull and misty weather saw 80 species of birds – a record for June.

A trip to Noup Head on Westray, and Marwick and Mull Heads gave some great seabird shots.

Painted lady and red admiral butterflies inundated the islands from 10/6 onwards and the orchids – heath spotted and northern marsh – are at their best.

Tours in mid June revealed a tufted duck with 10 newly hatched ducklings popping out of the water like corks; a female pintail all by herself; 3 black-tailed godwits a-courting; and an odd solitary pink-foot (a good June record on 12/6).

A day at the raptors on 12/6 gave us peregrine, kestrel, short-eared owl and 6 hen harriers, including a wonderful male to female food pass.

Great close views of 4 harbour porpoises on 17/6, and a 1st summer little gull on Harray Loch on 18/6 delighted us with its hunting antics and flight.

Sarah excelled herself on 22/6 when she saw 2 basking sharks very close in at the Broch of Deerness.

A 2nd summer glaucous gull was seen near home on 28/6, and just a day later a bonxie landed 5 metres from the conservatory with a huge fish, surrounded by angry gulls!

May 2007

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.

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.