We had an amazing tour to Andalucía in southern Spain in early April: 148 species seen (or heard) with first sightings of Baillon’s crake, little crake and Rupell’s vulture. Other highlights included great & little bustards, displaying booted eagles and Montagu’s harriers, a Bonnelli’s eagle at the nest, and a juvenile Spanish Imperial eagle overhead.
Meanwhile back in Orkney the 1st migrants appeared for us at Hoxa Head on 16/4: wheatears, puffins and a bonxie.
Migration got seriously underway a few days later with the arrival of redstart, robin, willow warbler and brambling locally (19-21/4).
More unusual birds during April included a solitary stock dove on 24/4; a water rail at The Loons 29/4; and a tight group of 6 black-throated divers at Hoxa on 30/4.
Autumn birds featured waders and warblers. 2 grey plover on Westray (9/8) began our migration season, with a juvenile ruff at home being a first for Gerraquoy on 10/8. Many ruff were present in Orkney over the next few weeks.
Twite flocks began to build with 40+ at Hoxa on 25/8, where at least 15 harbour porpoises were also seen.
Sandwich terns became present again with the first on 25/8.
A fall in mid September saw lots of ‘common’ migrants (robins, blackcaps, willow warblers) but also a yellow-browed warbler, grasshopper warbler and lesser whitethroats locally on 19/9.
A little stint was found in a large wader flock (mostly golden plover & lapwings but also many ruff) also locally on 21/9. 4+ harbour porpoises were present in Hoy Sound on 24/9, and a further 6+ from Hoxa on 1/10.
Great views of a water rail at The Loons hide on 30/9.
A rare N American vagrant, a Bonaparte’s gull, was seen over Kirk Sound, Holm on 7/10.
On 12/10 an adult, presumed male, injured, ill or simply disorientated sperm whale was present off Kirkwall harbour, giving rare and good views to many locals.
Sperm whale strandings occur every few years (we’ve seen two) but to see a live animal is most unusual.
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.
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.