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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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).
A group of 4 from the Market Bosworth Natural History Society smashed our bird record for the week commencing 18 April 2009 seeing 100 species in total. Highlights included a female goosander at Graemsehall Loch, 255 scaup on Harray Loch, water rail at The Loons (all 19/4); 4 hen harriers together including a male displaying (20/4); and 3 species of scoter in one telescope on 20/4 – common, velvet & 2 drake surf scoters – what a sight!
The scaup flock on Harray Loch now down to < 100 birds with one common scoter included (27/4).
Raptor highlights included 2 male hen harriers fighting – talon grappling in the air and beak-to-beak combat on the floor (27/4).
The bird of the year turned up on 28/4, a male snowy owl, looking somewhat sheepish in a green field full of sheep on the Orkney Mainland, a stunning bird.