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.

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!

May 2007

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.

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.

July Highlights 2006

There is now a splendid 2nd flowering of the Scottish primrose.

On 12/7 we saw a total of 5 hen harriers in several locations, some at very close quarters.

Now that the breeding season is over we are seeing hen harriers and short-eared owls on an almost daily basis at home, with the owls especially giving wonderful close up views.

The return wader passage has started with whimbrels from 17/7 and a knot on Rousay on 19/7.

The seabirds lingered on the crags until the 3rd week of July this year, with plenty of young auks and kittiwakes visible.

A female marsh harrier, heavily in moult, floated over the house on 23/7, being mobbed by a veritable posse of all things, such that it was a wonder it could make any progress.

The month finished in style with great views of a young minke whale on 30/7 and a young peregrine on 31/7.

June Highlights 2006

Wader antics and noise define this month as curlew, snipe, lapwing, redshank and oystercatcher all have chicks and guard them deafeningly!

Migrant butterflies also winging in – red admirals and painted ladies.

We’ve had great close-up views of hen harrier and short-eared owl, and a marsh harrier has been prominent locally on several occasions.

The orchids are now in flower.

On 28/6 June was seen out in spectacular fashion by a pod of 5 or 6 orcas playing around in the southern entrance to Scapa Flow, with animals coming out of the water several times (lots of splashes!) and a male present with a simply enormous dorsal fin.  Wow!