July 2008

The 1st week of July gave a superb adult yellow (white)-billed diver, just down the road in Water Sound from 2/7 onwards.

Other unusual sightings included a cuckoo (1/7) and lesser redpolls (4/7).

Excellent sea conditions on 3/7 produced a minke whale and 3 harbour porpoises from Cantick Head on Hoy.

In Shetland 7 – 21/7 with 2 one-week tours, wildlife highlights being a solitary bull orca on 14/7 in Yell Sound, and lots of close-up views of puffins and otters.

Back home a harbour porpoise and 11 puffins off Hoxa on 28/7, and a solitary swift at Deerness on 31/7.

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.

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.

August 2007

Spotted a peregrine falcon locally in the 1st week.  Then we headed for the southern tip of our island to try and find a beached sperm whale, which, unfortunately, had already been washed back out to sea – we did, however, enjoy seeing lots of grass of Parnassus en route.

Perfect sea conditions on 10/8 gave 2 harbour porpoises, whilst on land we saw peregrine, hen harrier and short-eared owl locally within minutes of each other.

Our barley field has been cut and up to 100 curlew are using it, with twites flocking now to 30 birds or so.

Absolutely amazing views from 50 metres away of a huge adult basking shark in Echnaloch Bay on 26/8, watched it for about half an hour.

June 2007

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!

April 2007

Cold, fresh weather, but memorable sightings to open our 2007 season…thousands of golden plover locally and the 1st summer visitors: wheatear, chiffchaff and whimbrel (15/4); followed by swallow on 16/4.

Stunning views of a displaying – skydancing – hen harrier on Hoy on 17/4, along with mountain hares and peregrine.

Winter birds such as slavonian grebe, long-tailed duck and great-northern diver all resplendent in summer plumage.

Lapwing, curlew and redshank are all displaying in the field immediately in front of the conservatory giving great views.

The first cetaceans of the season were seen off Hoxa Head – 3 harbour porpoises – on 29/4; and a splendid male whinchat obligingly perched right outside our conservatory for us on 30/4.

September and October 2006

We’ve been island hopping with our guests this month and have been to Eday, Rousay and Shapinsay in quick succession.

We pride ourselves in using gorgeous picnic spots – imagine rushing tides, red-throated divers sailing close past and fresh otter tracks…

Harbour porpoises have been much in evidence with lots of sightings.

The grey seals are noisy and are gathering in readiness for pupping.

The first purple sandpiper of the year back from the Arctic was spotted on Shapinsay on 13/9.

A stroll out to nearby Rose Ness on 15/9 produced a solitary sooty shearwater, heading northwards.

During the 1st week of October we held a photographic course and had at least 3 days of wonderful light – the resulting pics have been placed on the website under the Photo Holidays section.

We also saw the first long-tailed ducks back for the winter, buzzards (an Orkney rarity!), and brent geese.

Three days of stunning weather in mid October brought great sightings of slavonian grebes, scaup, grey seal pups and harbour porpoises.

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.