April 2009

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.

August 2008

A great start to the month with 4 harbour porpoises and a basking shark in Rackwick Bay, Hoy, on 2/8.

Most of August occupied off site with a short holiday and British Birdwatching Fair commitments.

Back home in late August sparrowhawks being seen almost daily, along with short-eared owls and hen harriers.

A juvenile merlin hunting meadow pipits over Gerraquoy on 26/8.

Another solitary swift at Liddel on 27/8, and best of all, a very unusual record of 2 common hawker dragonflies, hawking around inside the gloup at Halcro Head.

The white-billed diver still around at the month end – it’s been at the bottom of our road for the whole of July and August!!

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.

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.

July 2007

The whimbrel passage may have started early with birds at Gerraquoy on 4/7 and nearby at Eastside on 5/7.

Glorious colonies of oysterplant flowering on local beaches in early July, along with sea rocket and sea kale.

A very young common seal pup hauled itself ashore just yards away from us at a local beach on 7/7 and promptly fell asleep!

We saw an otter cross the road by # 1 Barrier late at night on 11/7.

On 13/7 we saw our 1st Minke whale of the season off Grimness Head along with two harbour porpoises.

Indications that the breeding season is over for another year included hen harrier and short-eared owl at Gerraquoy on 19/7 – we will see these birds regularly at home for the next few weeks.

Two guests went off to Rackwick Bay on Hoy and had great views of a basking shark on 26/7.

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!