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.
Bird Report - March 2018
March has proved quite an interesting month with a few more birds to report.
Star of the show was undoubtedly the Crane which landed in the field across the road from the Lighthouse Quarry on the 17th. This big bird was close to the gate so it was possible to get a really good view as it turned over the soil to find goodies - I suspect leatherjackets.
Photo of Crane by Gerry Cannon.
Going back to start of the month, we have had a Dunnock for some time now and it chose to make an appearance on the 6th. It is similar to a house sparrow but has grey round the neck and has a different stance and tends to peck around the floor rather than sitting in trees or bushes. Also on the 6th our regular Robin was tempted by the mealworms I spread on the lawn while a Redwing was in the front field.
On the 6th also I went to Sandside Bay and disturbed 4 Pheasants which flew from the undergrowth. Many who have been on the local beaches cannot fail to have noticed the Cuttlefish bones which have been thrown up in the heavy seas.
Spring had truly sprung on the 9th. Skylarks were larking around in Russell's field; 20 Eiders - both male and female - were in the sea with the males making their distinctive call. Also 3 Bar-tailed Godwits were feeding on the shore at Newark in the usual place frequented by them. They were back on the 25th and Skylarks were still singing.
It was a boiling sea at Newark on the 16th, consequently there were lots of assorted Gulls and Waders feeding on the bounty brought in by the waves.
Spring was in the air again on the 26th - Skylarks were on the wing, a pair of Oystercatchers were hanging around together and a Meadow Pipit was displaying, obviously trying to catch the eye of a lady. Further on at the Geo there was a lone Mute Swan which is quite unusual for this location.
On March 29th at Sunnybank there were no less than 33 Blackbirds, 3 Redwing and a Fieldfare in the front field. This tends to be a yearly happening but I am not sure if the birds are arriving or leaving for breeding grounds.
Pied Wagtails are starting to make an appearance and Wheatears cannot be far behind and, of course, the Meadow Pipits will soon be seen on almost every fencepost.
On the 29th I took a walk with my dog down the track to Lower Gritley and Peggy flushed a Woodcock from the grass. The very next day a Woodcock flew out of a field at Quoybelloch. Woodcocks are very similar to Snipe with the ridiculously long beak but they are quite a bit bigger.
April is always an interesting month for new arrivals so watch out for the Swallows!
Bird Report - February 2018
It's always nice to see a Robin in the garden so February was a bonus for me as I saw one on many occasions. On the 16th two were under the feeder - you rarely see two Robins together apart from the breeding season as they are feisty little birds and don't like competition! Mealworms are a favourite so it's a good idea to throw a few on the ground; today I saw a one feeding on an apple.
Photo of Robin by Ian Cunningham.
I threw out food on the front path on February 3rd and it wasn't long before 3 Hooded Crows located it - I am always amazed where the birds come from as soon as a morsel is thrown out, particularly Gulls which seem to have a sixth sense!
A walk at Newark Bay on the 3rd saw a large group of Wigeon and Mallards out at sea. A lot of Oystercatchers were in the adjacent field, obviously back from their winter quarters (although in view of the weather at the end of the month they would have been better delaying their return as the ground was frozen and no beaks would have been able to penetrate it). As I walked back to the car I spotted a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers in the bay.
I was walking up the road from Newark on the 4th - a lovely day with blue skies - when I was amazed to hear a Skylark singing from high up in the air. This is very early but my ears did not deceive me as only a few days later a group of the species was in Russell's field and once again singing was taking place - lovely to hear.
Around Sunnybank on the 13th and 16th we had the inevitable Robin, 2 Redwings were in the field and 6 Greenfinches added a splash of colour.
I took another walk at Newark with my dog on the 18th and was treated to fine views of a variety of waders - Oystercatchers, Purple Sandpipers, Sanderling, Turnstones and 15 Knot. Also included in the tally were Wigeon, Mallard and a Glaucous Gull feeding on a dead seal. Glaucous Gulls are identified by being pure white apart from pale grey wings (no black).
It's always a pleasure to see a Dunnock so I smiled when I spotted one pecking around under a tree in the garden - this is a typical scenario for them.
There was a nice end to the month when I was lucky to catch a quick look at a Goldfinch as it flew past the house the landed on the gate before flying off again. A lovely colourful bird as our photo shows.
Photo of Goldfinch on teasel plants by Alan Cooper.
The extreme weather at the end of the month and into March caused great difficulties for our birds so it's even more important to give them a helping hand until the bad weather eases. In addition to bird feed and peanuts cooked rice and soaked bread are both good as are apples, pears, grapes, sultanas, oats. I put out fat balls but notice that these were untouched, probably because these had become frozen in the extremely low temperatures. Equally important is water and this should be renewed each morning or more frequently if this is freezing during the day.
Let's hope things will have warmed up significantly by the time I write my next report.