May 2012

The Spring passage began with whimbrels and sandwich terns going through on 1/5.

Great views in brilliant sunshine on 4/5 of 2 pairs of hen harrier, an Iceland gull, and red-throated diver.

Our swallows finally made it back very late on 7/5, along with our first sighting for the year of a queen great yellow bumblebee (we saw another on 23/5).

Some super migrants on 9/5: male pied flycatcher (female on 24/5) and white-billed diver (also on 17/5); with the Arctic terns arriving back at last.

SE Herts RSPB LMG had a great week in mid May, smashing our week’s record with 108 species, adding more on North Ronaldsay!  They saw migrants such as wryneck, red-breasted flycatcher, red-backed shrike and rustic bunting.

Other unusual birds for May included little egret and a calling corncrake (17/5 ++); a crossbill (18/5); and redstart (20/5).

Quite exceptionally, Scapa Flow held a humpback whale on 18/5 and a sperm whale on 19/5.

We also saw the 1st basking shark of the season on Westray on 20/5.

Flycatchers were around late in the month (spotted on 21 & 24/5; and pied on 24/5); a whitethroat (23/5); red-backed shrike (23/5); and a cuckoo at last (27/5).

We saw the month out with good views of a Minke whale in the Stronsay Firth (30/5).

July 2011

Early July was occupied by our Shetland tours, with 67 bird species seen, including 4 red-necked phalaropes (6/7); a little gull (8/7); storm petrels at Mousa (9/7); redwing & lots of whimbrel.

Shetland cetaceans included minke whale (13/7); and several sightings of harbour porpoise.

Lots of islands visited also: Bressay, Mousa, Noss, Out Skerries, Papa Stour, Unst & Yell.  Back on Orkney at the end of the month harbour porpoises were showing well at Hoxa on 26 & 30/7 with a minimum of 7 seen on each occasion.

April 2011

We enjoyed a fine spell of weather in late April which brought the migrants back home.

Our local short-eared owls & lapwings were displaying, and the bonxies returned to territory.

The 1st chiffchaff was singing locally on 15/4; and the 1st wheatear back on 19/4.

Our swallows returned home on 21/4 (4 days earlier than last year!); and the 1st whimbrel passed overhead on the evening of 23/4.

Flocks of gorgeous golden plover are passing through daily, and the yellow flowers of Spring are most enjoyable: celandines, marsh marigolds and primroses.

3 late whoopers were seen at Liddel on 29/4.

August 2010

The bird of the year (so far!) turned up at the south end of our island on 5/8 in the form of an Alpine swift.  Only one of just 3 records in Orkney, it was a large and handsome bird, giving close up views of its white belly and chin.

6 crossbills at Rackwick on Hoy and a pure white albino starling on South Walls were also of interest (8/8).

At Cantick Head on South Walls (also 8/8) we had the best ever views of a pair of adult harbour porpoises playing beneath us in the clear sea – we could actually see them swimming underwater, awesome!

Also a large flock of 50 whimbrel overhead at Gerraquoy on 17/8.

July 2010

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.