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.

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.

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).

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.

May Highlights 2006

Migrants continue to pass through, with chiffchaff and lesser whitethroat seen at Gerraquoy on 6/5, and a female whinchat on 11/5.

In a glorious spell of weather a day tour on 9/5 produced allsorts, from Risso’s dolphins offshore, seabirds back on the crags, great-northern divers and long-tailed duck resplendent in breeding plumage, and two ringtail harriers at breathtakingly close range.

Scottish primroses were resplendent in flower mid month, and the sea pinks and squill adding hues to the cliffs by the month end.

Great views of all seabirds, including puffins at close range.

Weather amazing – bright and dry for much of the month, with a north-westerly wind to keep us moving.

On 29/5 some guests from London were amused by a lengthy and noisy squabble outside the conservatory between our local pair of Arctic Skuas, a family of oystercatchers and curlews, and some gulls!

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.

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…………