June got off to a superb start with a pod of 4 orcas at close range at Sandside in Deerness, a male, female and 2 youngsters (3/6).
We were having lunch, enjoying a great northern diver close by on a gloriously sunny day, when the male orca exploded out of the sea before our very eyes. Absolutely breathtaking.
Orca pods were also seen by ourselves and our guests on 16/6 (Barrier # 4 East); and 20/6 (Hoxa Head).
Red admiral butterflies are ubiquitous, and we found a rare mason wasp in Deerness on 10/6.
Unusual birds during the month have included a sub-adult hobby and 2 swifts on Hoy (17/6); and a dozen black-tailed godwits on 23/6.
A high altitude food pass by a pair of hen harriers was also enjoyed on 23/6.
We listened to a corncrake calling locally on 25/6.
A bit of a red letter day on 26/6 which started with great views of a jack merlin hunting; continued with seeing a water rail hopping over bogbean, swimming and then flying at The Loons; and ended with finding a Temminck’s stint at The Shunan – a great day!
June ended with a flypast by 21 swifts at Barth Head on 29/6, with 3 harbour porpoise out to sea.
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.
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.
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!
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.