July 2012

The 1st week of July was spent in Shetland, where we were troubled a little by mists

and poor visibility.  We did, however, have a wonderful evening with the storm

petrels on Mousa (4/7); and see several pairs of whooper swans.  Back in Orkney

I’m pleased to report sightings of stonechat (11/7 – they were decimated in our

recent hard winters).  Scottish primroses completed their 2nd flowering; and

harbour porpoises were seen off Hoxa on 18/7.  Interesting birds during the month

included manx shearwater (23/7); grey plover, swift, greenshank & pintail (all

25/7); & golden plover flocking back through (26/7).  We helped ring storm petrels

with the RSPB on 25/7.  But easily the star bird of themonth though was a roller,

present in Finstown from 26/7, the 1st in Orkney since 1966 – some bird!

May 2011

The most brilliant display of Scottish primroses (Primula Scotica) in our 8 years experience in the 1st 2 weeks of May – perhaps the snow & ice of last winter has produced this memorable sight?

Sea watching on 3/5 produced red-necked & Slavonian grebes and common scoter.  Hill birds on 3/5 included cuckoo (also on 12/5), merlin and 2 hen harrier food passes and sky dancing displays.

We watched a jack merlin display at very close quarters for about half an hour on 12/5 – simply stunning!

A trip to Westray was good for migrant waders including purple sandpipers and black-tailed godwits on 5/5.

Sea duck were still around with long-tailed duck, goldeneye, scaup (still around on 30/5) and common scoter giving good views (9 – 12/5).

Migrants included swift (8/5), common sandpiper (9/5), spotted flycatcher (12/5) and red-backed shrike (27/5).

Whooper swans are still lingering (29/5), and the little terns returned on 12/5.

Other unusual birds during May have included (pale-bellied) brent goose (22/5 & 30/5) and a 2nd winter Iceland gull on 30/5.

Brilliant views of a pair of cuckoos on 31/5.

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.

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.

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.

October 2009

October began splendidly with a rare American vagrant, and another 1st for Orkney (that’s 2 in 2 weeks!!) with a red-eyed vireo at the Langskaill plantation in Tankerness. Wonderful views of a delightful bird.

Meanwhile later in the month our winter visitors arrived back with our local greylag augmented with pinkfeet, barnacles and whooper swans; and the seaduck – scoters (common and velvet), long-tailed duck, great northern divers and Slavonian grebes all in good numbers.

There were 7 hen harriers at our local roost on 18/10 and we were seeing merlin almost daily.  A jack snipe on Hoy on 20/10, and a woodcock invasion at the end of the month with birds everywhere.

The Atlantic (grey) seal pups were an annual treat at the month end.

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.

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…..