Bird Report - November 2108
First sighting of note for me was on the 2nd when a small bird flew onto the fence at Newark. Through the binoculars I saw this was a handsome male Stonechat a bird that always sits atop plants or fences.
Only a few days later and in virtually the same place it was a colourful scene as 6 Goldfinches were feeding on burdock seeds in Russell Aitken's field and just adjacent were 4 Greenfinches on the fence accompanied by yet another male Stonechat.
Two days earlier, still at Newark, the high winds resulted in spectacular seas and a number of Seals were swimming very close to the shore. A flock of Turnstones were investigating what gifts the waves were washing onto the beach.
Marlene Rorie from Newark contacted me on the 14th with a long-distance photo of a Buzzard perched on the roof of Isobel Gardner's barn. This was also present the morning after. I would have liked to have seen this as it is quite a size!
During the month there were plenty of opportunities to see waders in the fields - Curlew, Lapwing, Golden Plover, Redshank and Snipe, the latter usually heard before they are seen as they rise from the ground with a startled cry.
Now the weather is turning cooler I have noticed Greenfinches returning to the garden bird feeder. I feed Sunflower Hearts and these certainly attract this species. Don't forget the House Sparrows and Starlings though. Keep those feeders topped up. Peanuts are great all year round but particularly in winter, as are fatballs (please do not feed in nets). I seem to have a number of Rock Doves and Collared Doves calling by now but I don't mind as I like to see birds of any species.
On November 23rd I was asked to take part in the National Goose Count so I went around the highways and byways of Deerness armed with binoculars and map! I know a lot of people will be dismayed to learn that I counted over 1700 Greylag Geese in the parish.
Photo of Greylag Goose by Ian Cunningham.
While on the count I had a nice view of a Fieldfare in a field near Oback.
Noticeable recently have been quite a high number of Ravens. This big black bird is about the first to breed, I believe nest-building as early as January.
Well, the storms have certainly washed in a lot of plastics and netting onto our beaches, notably Newark. While walking the dog I try to pick up stuff from the path and I was heartened to see Marlene and Ivor Rorie tackling the problem in their small tractor. Plenty of people walk at Newark and it would be nice if they could respond to the request to "Pick up 3 Pieces". It would make such a difference to our beautiful beaches.
Finally, it was special to be at the St. Ninian's Armistice Memorial on November 11th - such an important date as it was exactly one hundred years since the Armistice was signed. A lot of work went into researching the stories of the young men from Deerness who tragically never returned from the war. Although not a bird story I think it counts as it was a lovely morning with the sea and the birds accompanying the moving event.
October 2018 Bird Report
There were still a lot of Swallows around early in the month, evidence of their breeding success helped by the good weather. On the 1st there was a nice male Stonechat at the East Denwick Plantation. As I drove back from the area I noticed that there were still a lot of Lapwings in the field by the Gloup Car Park - mentioned in last month's report.
I always like to see - and hear- the Whooper Swans so a line of these birds attracted my attention on the 3rd, heading in the direction of St. Peter's Pool.
A 'chuckling' sound made me look up at I walked on the 6th and, sure enough, 2 Fieldfares were flying overhead.
I visited Newark on the 9th where 40 Turnstones were busy searching for food along the shoreline.
October 9th was a beautiful day so I took advantage of this and walked to the Geo. I saw a flash of white as a group of about ome I was pleased to see a Black Cap feeding on apples skewered on the bushes in the back garden. The following day another colourful bird - a male Chaffinch flew down the drive ahead of me.
Early in the morning of the 15th I was invited to accompany one of the RSPB wardens who was ringing birds in the East Denwick Plantation so I had a close up view of all the birds that were netted then ringed. These included Brambling, Chaffinch, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Reed Bunting, Robin, House Sparrow and - my favourite - Mistle Thrush. This bird is larger than the song thrush and lighter in colour.
Photo of Mistle Thrush by Pauline Wilson.
There are a few Redwings around just now visiting for the winter, identified by an eye stripe, red under their wings and slightly smaller than the blackbird.
I was walking past Keith Eunson's field at the end of Halley Road on the 17th and estimated 150 Golden Plovers - another species visiting Orkney at this time of year.
I had another treat on the 20th when 5 Whooper Swans flew right over the back garden, whooping as they went - fabulous!
October 22nd was a stormy day when 3 Greenfinches joined the house sparrows at the feeder. I have not noticed so many greenfinches recently so it was nice to see them.
There was an exciting moment on the 24th when a Merlin - the smallest raptor in Orkney - flew over my small tree plantation scaring the birds as it went! A smart little mover!
On the 28th a Long-eared Owl was reported in the Lighthouse Quarry Garden.
Also on this day you couldn't fail to notice the number of Geese flying around. Jean Corsie and I estimated about 400. They eventually settled on the Links and, looking at them through binoculars, I saw there was also a high number of Whooper Swans accompanying them.
On the 29th I was driving down the Geo Road when I saw a large group of Whooper Swans in the field at the top. Going home for the camera I was lucky to get a shot of some of these. I counted approximately 50 - what a great sight. The darker birds will be this year's youngsters which would have been born in Scandinavia or Iceland.
Photo of Whooper Swans at the Geo Road by Pauline Wilson
So some birds have left Orkney and others have arrived - migration is indeed fascinating!
Bird Report - May 2018
As part of the Orkney Nature Festival the RSPB Local Group organised two trips into the Deerness Gloup courtesy of Sidney Foubister's boat Verona. This was greatly enjoyed by all who were lucky enough to get on the outing as the boat takes only seven people. The local group is to run further trips in June, also visiting the Holms of Copinsay to see puffins, other seabirds and seals.
Puffins in the water at the Holms taken by Henry Reitzug.
Back on dry land, quite a number of species are starting to reappear. Nice to see several Swallows exploring possible nesting sites at the Gloup while nearby Arctic Terns were flying about after their long journey back to our Northern Isles.
I had a walk down the track from Hacco to St. Peter's Pool and was fascinated to watch 4 Red-Breasted Mergansers in the sea comprising 3 females being hotly pursued by a displaying male. He certainly had plenty of choice!
Wheatears were noticeable as they looked for likely breeding places. Two were evident at Newark Bay on the 13th. Also present were lots of Gulls including many juveniles. I was fascinated to watch one in particular which had picked up a piece of detritus which it kept dropping then swooping to catch it again - it did this lots of times! I enquired about this behaviour but apparently the reason is unknown but they just might enjoy doing it!
The sounds of Skylarks has been particularly abundant this year; there is no finer sound of spring/early summer and it has been particularly poignant for me this year. Another sound that I particularly like is the drumming of a Snipe and I was lucky enough to hear one at the Knowes on the 13th and spotted the bird in the sky. The unusual sound is caused by wind rushing through the wings as the bird dives downward in display.
Another pleasing sight in Deerness has been Sand Martins which are breeding in the parish and I notice the House Martins are back at Nancy Scott's house.
Taking a walk on the 24th I came across a Guillemot sat on the shore at Newark. Recent windy conditions had caused the bird to overshoot its landing so it was stranded as the bird cannot take off from land. I was able to launch the bird into the water and hope it managed to swim out to sea safely.
Still at Newark walks are always accompanied by the loud piping sound of Ringed Plovers as they distract visitors from their young.
There has been a Red-Backed Shrike in the bushes at Sandside reported by Alan Leitch. When I was walking at Sandside I noticed quite a number of Green-veined White Butterflies.
At the Geo on the 27th it was nice to see Eider Chicks swimming with their 'aunties'. More were visible a few days later.
Of course I have to mention Meadow Pipits which are everywhere just now having arrived from their winter quarters in North Africa and busy rearing young in Orkney.
I haven't heard of many rarities but there was a Lesser Whitethroat at the East Denwick Plantation.
The more mundane species are breeding in good numbers here at Sunnybank. Starlings are making numerous journeys to young birds in the nest, beaks crammed with cranefly larva and other such goodies. Young Sparrows are already hatched and standing around begging for food with their wings whirring and mouths open.
If you are interested in plant-life a trip to Newark Beach is a good idea as the Oyster Plants are just beginning to open their gorgeous blue flowers. This year sees a good number of the pale green fleshy plants and it's certainly worth a trip to Newark to take a look.
Bird Report - April 2018
Things start to get interesting in April and 2018 has been no exception.
It was a nice start on the 1st when 7 Long-tailed Ducks were swimming in the sea at Newark while a Robin was at the Geo.
Earlier there had been 1 Mute Swan at the Geo - seen by myself and Isobel Gardner - but on a later occasion there were 2. This is an unusual place to see the species and it was not long before they moved on to pastures new. At the Geo for a number of days have been a small flock of Eider Ducks - the females a dull brown but the males unmistakeable in their black-and-white plumage with green trim to the neck - and what an unusual mating call!
Wheatears are now coming into Orkney to breed and what smart-looking birds they are, easily identified by the white rump as the bird flies off. My first bird of 2018 was at Newark on the 3rd.
I had a nice sighting of a male Hen Harrier at Newark on the 5th made more interesting by the fact that it was being pursued by a tiny bird!
Chaffinches paid a few visits to my garden at Sunnybank during the month, starting with a female and a colourful male on the 7th.
While walking at Newark Bay on the 7th I heard a 'whoosh' and a massive flock of Golden Plovers flew overhead.
Nice to see more colour on the back lawn on the 8th with two super Goldfinches pecking around the base of the feeder and completely ignoring the niger seed feeder.
A stunning male Brambling was on the back lawn on the 13th along with a female Chaffinch and these same birds were present the following day while a Song thrush was in the front field - I took this to be a migrant heading back home to breed.
There were a few nice sightings on the 14th at the little bridge at Newark as a Pied Wagtail flew from under the bridge. As I looked out to the bay there were lots of gulls, predominantly Black-headeds busying themselves in the surf. Two Shelducks were also in the vicinity.
Photo of Shelduck by Ian Cunningham
The male Chaffinch was back in the garden on the 19th, accompanied by a female Brambling.
It was a colourful bonanza in the garden for a short while on the 19th - 3 Siskins were accompanied by a fabulous male sporting bright yellow front; 5 Greenfinches including 3 males in breeding plumage; male Chaffinch and a female Brambling.
Photo of female Siskin taken by Pauline Wilson on her feeder in 2009.
On April 25th I had a phone call from Elizabeth Corsie of Upper Noltland to say 2 Cranes were in the stubble field on the way to the Covenanters. They were around last month so must have decided to stay a bit longer.
I had another Goldfinch at the feeder at 7 am on the 27th.
It was lovely to see my first Swallows on the 29th flying around at Daisybank and obviously looking for a place to call home.
In addition to the birds mentioned above, I must also mention Meadow Pipits which are everywhere, Pied Wagtails which are easy to see just now, don't forget the Wheatears and, of course, our old friend the Skylark seems to be singing even louder this year! Lovely to hear.