Bird Report - April 2015

Birds are now busy building nests and breeding so watch out for them gathering nesting material. On a walk up the Geo road on the 23rd I saw two Meadow Pipits in the grass and one had quite a lot of dried grass, etc. in its beak so they would be heading away to a secret place in the hedgerow. There are a lot of Meadow Pipits to be seen just now - small birds with streaked breast and pointed beaks. The male is often to be seen flying up into the air then hurtling down to impress a female he has his eye on! Another bird around in quite good numbers just now is the Pied Wagtail -as its name suggests, it is a small black-and-white bird with a long wagging tail, easily seen on the shore, in gardens, etc. In our garden on the 17th we had a visit from a female Chaffinch but she didn't stay long, unlike the Greenfinches which now seems to be residents here at Sunnybank.

Another bird I noticed nest-building was a Wren I saw flying up from the shore near Newark, obviously to a nest hidden in the cliff-top. These birds are now to be heard (if not seen) as their very loud call belies their tiny size.

The waders are now pairing up and breeding - listen out for calls from Oystercatchers, Curlews and one of my favourite birds the Lapwing - such a brave bird fending off much larger assailants at breeding time.  

I saw my first Wheatear of the year at the Geo - a handsome male was perched on a stone showing off its fine plumage. Willie Kirkness rang me to say he had 4 Wheatears at The Barns. These birds should be easily spotted now.

It was great to see my first Swallows of the year on the 25th when no less than 3 flew across the top of our field. Watch out for these birds which will be more abundant in the next week or so.

A nice bird to catch a glimpse of is the Snipe - I say 'catch a glimpse of' as these birds give a loud squawk then quickly fly off before you hardly have time to see them. Their very long beak makes them quite distinctive. I saw one as I walked down the lane from Sunnybank then another which flew up from the grass during a walk at Newark.

During another walk at Newark I spied Meadow Pipits and 4 Pied Wagtails, while out at sea there was a Red-breasted Merganser male and two Long-tailed Ducks. At Newark on the 18th it was nice to see a group of Eider Ducks the distinctive white-and-black (and green) male making his unique breeding call. Two Sanderlings were scurrying along the water's edge.

I had a walk down the track from Halley Road on the 9th and saw a Hare down on the path. Very soon I saw a bird fly down then, thinking better of it, flew back to perch on a fencepost. Closer inspection through binoculars found it to be a Sparrowhawk.

Sandside is a beach I visit regularly and a visit early in the month was quite productive. I walked down the path accompanied by a singing Wren; two Shelducks flew in and spent some time on the foreshore; 60 Oystercatchers were in a long line at the water's edge; 4 Pied Wagtails were making themselves busy on the beach; I heard a Pheasant calling; a Meadow Pipit was displaying; Curlews were calling. Walking back up the track I admired an abundance of Coltsfoot flowers (this plant puts out flowers before leaves appear quite a bit later) and the lovely Celandine - both yellow flowers brightened up my walk.

Noticing a flock of geese in the field below Creya, I saw these were the same flock of Pink-footeds I saw a month ago. By the time you read this I expect they will have left for colder climes, taking the Greylags with them - I expect many farmers will be breathing a huge sigh of relief!

Pauline Wilson

Bird Report - March 2015

It was a nice start to the month here at Sunnybank with a Wren and a Robin adding to the usual gang

of feathered residents. In the front field there are still six or seven Blackbirds which I suspect roost in our little group of trees nearby. A Song Thrush in our field on the 18th was a nice sight. I hope it

bursts into song soon and attracts a mate! We also had a Pied Wagtail dropping in on the back lawn

but this only stayed a moment before flying off. This species is now starting to appear in bigger

numbers. I have seen quite a few on the shore at Newark.

I had a walk down the peat road on the 15th, luckily with the binoculars, as I saw a flock of about

300 Geese. These were mostly Pinkfoots with a sprinkling of Greylags among them. A tiny Meadow

Pipit saw on a hydro wire near The Knowes - my first sighting of the season - and a Skylark was

singing overhead.

During my beached birds survey at Newark on March 10th there were 17 Sanderling wheeling

around at the water's edge while further away were 3 Purple Sandpipers and 5 Oystercatchers -

these striking black-and-white waders are back from wintering in the south and there are a lot to be

seen now.

I went to Sandside Bay to do a beached birds survey and noticed a large flock of geese in the field

below 'Creya'. Once again, these were mainly Pinkfoots so I suspect this is the same flock as I saw

down the peat road. As I walked down the track to Sandside there was a loud rustle and a Wood

Pigeon flew out of the willows lining the track.

We have had visits from a Hen Harrier twice in March, firstly on the 19th when one flapped across

the front of the house, then on the 25th when it was in the field. This looked to be the same bird and

I am sure it will be back in a few weeks to pluck young sparrows out of the bushes!

I had another trip to Newark Bay on the 24th when 2 Pied Wagtails brightened up the beach and 20

Twite were in Russell's field as I made my way back along the path. Looking out to sea there was a

male Red-breasted Merganser lazily swimming around. No female to be seen.

Other reports of unusual birds in the parish were:

A Little Gull at Sandside on March 8th.

Also on the 8th there were 2 Mistle Thrushes near the church at Skaill.

Finally, Ian Cunningham reported a Blue Tit on the Rosa Rugosas at the Gloup Visitor Centre garden. I

immediately went to look for this rare (for Orkney) visitor but, alas, the bird had flown. However, Ian

was able to take a photograph of the bird so we are able to take a look at it as it perches high in the


blue tit

Photo of Blue Tit by Ian Cunningham

There will be more visitors passing through now so keep your eyes peeled!

Pauline Wilson

Bird Report - February 2015

Early February saw me doing beach bird surveys, firstly at Newark Bay on the 5th, but, not only were there no dead birds, there were very few live ones either. Two Curlews were wheeling in the air above me while a few Rock Pipits pecked around on the beach and a Hooded Crow investigated the tangles.

Two days later I was at Sandside Bay and noticed 8 Curlews in the field as I walked down the track. A sizeable group of Pheasants - I suspect last year's youngsters - scattered in all directions, disturbing a hare as they went. The only birds on the shore were 3 Greater Black-backed Gulls. A few days later, though, a Little Gull was reported at Sandside which was a nice find for somebody.

Penny Russell told me about a white Goose among the flock of Greylags at the Barns of Ayre. I later saw this bird myself when the flock moved to Aikerskaill road. I suspect this is the same bird which has been coming to Orkney for a few years with the greylags and is either an albino or perhaps a domestic goose which has joined the flock.

Another stranger amongst a flock of Greylags was a Barnacle Goose which Ann Mitchell reported at Park House.

There are certainly a lot of Greylags about just now; I saw 200 at 'Staye' and in the field across the road; a flock was in the field above 'Ploverhall' along with the white goose; yet more were further along the road towards Aikerskaill; Annalene Delday reports Greylags making life difficult for her in one of her sheep fields at the peat road.

Another numerous species just now is the Starling as migrant birds join our locals. I was out looking for birds one day and a huge flock swooped right over the car. Quite a number of Hooded Crows are around also but mostly in twos and threes. These birds will be thinking about breeding soon and I suspect the Ravens will be well on the way as, to my knowledge, they are the first to breed.

I had another trip along the road towards Aikerskaill and two (separate) Hares were at the side of the road, both running into the field. Going down the Barns of Ayre road I counted 30 Oystercatchers (nice to see these back again) and 40 Curlews in the field at the bottom right. The field opposite held a small flock of Common Gulls but I was delighted to see an Iceland Gull feeding amongst them. The Iceland and Glaucous Gulls are difficult to differentiate between, both being all white, but I thought this particular bird was slightly smaller so plumped for it being an Iceland.

Mabel Eunson told me about a flock of about 40 Fieldfares in a field near Quoys so I popped round to take a look. From there I continued to the Barns of Ayre to look for the Iceland Gull but this had moved on unless it was amongst the huge flock of assorted Gulls feeding amongst the waves of the very high tide. Nearby were a few Teal and Wigeon and a pair of colourful Teal flew up from the pond in the nearby field.

Driving out of Deerness on the 20th there was a handsome male Hen Harrier on the hunt - it's always nice to see a raptor.

Here at Sunnybank we seem to have a resident group of Blackbirds - I counted 8 on the 16th. Meanwhile, in the back garden a bonny Dunnock made a brief appearance under the feeder. On the 24th a Cock Pheasant was in our front field harassing the Blackbirds before they chased him away!

Finally, I was hanging washing out on February 25th - a rare sunny morning - when I heard my first SKYLARK of the year so spring can't be all that far away!

Pauline Wilson

Bird Report - January 2015

The weekend of January 24th/25th saw the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch and I wonder how many Deerness folk took part in this count. On a wet and windy Saturday the birds still visited our feeders and I counted the following: 6 Blackbirds, 25 Greenfinches, 18 Starlings, 38 House Sparrows, 1 Robin, 8 Rooks (these were in the field).

January has been a month of gales, wintry showers and rain - not the best conditions to suit our birds.

Very early in the new year there were 200 Curlews in the field at the side of Johnny Aitken's workshop. From there I had a walk to Deer Sound and it was nice to see a Whooper Swan alongside a mixed flock of Mallards and Wigeon, the latter unmistakable due to their distinctive whistle.

While driving up from Newark beach one day I spotted approximately 60 Linnets flying near Jean Corsie's house at The Links.

We have had a female Hen Harrier hunting here at Sunnybank on two occasions, firstly on January 16th, then on the 27th when I watched the bird patrol our bushes before flying off.

hen harrier

(photo of Hen Harrier by Ian Cunningham).

With the awful weather it has been difficult watching the birds, although I have noticed small flocks of Greylag Geese in a number of locations around the parish.

Dedicated bird spotters are not so easily put off though and I have the following reports from them:

A search at the burn near Newark was rewarded with a Goldfinch together with a very confiding small flock of Twite. Also 40 Greenfinches, a nice bunch of Sanderlings, Purple Sandpipers, Ringed Plovers and Rock Pipits on the shore.

On 5th January a Mistle Thrush was in the stubble field at Skaill.

A Snow Goose was at the back of Sidney Eunson's farm on January 12th and it was still there two days later.

On January 14th 280 Golden Plovers were with Lapwings and Curlews near the Gloup. Moving up to the field to the east of Lighthouse Corner 24 Golden Plovers, 31 Turnstones and a single Fieldfare were seen, along with Redshanks and Lapwings.

A little Gull was a rare sighting at Sandside Bay on the 21st.

In spite of the wintry weather, there are plenty of birds still to be seen. I must stress that it is still important to continue feeding them throughout the winter so I hope people are doing this.

Pauline Wilson