Wednesday 26 August 2009

The Loons

Having grabbed some food I decided to head for The Loons for the last hour on Monday evening. Good decision. I was interested to see if the Swallow roost was still active and if it was how many birds were now there. I haven’t watched many hirundine roosts in recent years and estimating the numbers as they become more and more panicked as the dark approaches is a tricky business. The birds were much closer to The Loons hide, making estimating the number even more tricky, but there seemed to be considerably more than last week. Swallows were rapidly touring the whole reserve area and beyond but I reckoned that about 3,000 was a reasonable guess. As it got darker a few hundred birds attempted and eventually settled in front of the hide. At the last moment as the last few settled a Merlin shot through and caught one. With the Swallow in its talons the Merlin struggled to fly but eventually made a fence post across the reeds with its prey. It then dropped down and when next seen was without its prey, or maybe there were two Merlins. There followed a series of unsuccessful attacks on the roost, the Merlin tearing around the reeds in front of the hide in the half light. At one point several tens of Swallows got up in a panic confusing the Merlin even more. Also present were at least one Greenshank, Water Rail, 4 Grey Heron, 11 Snipe and possibly a Spotted Redshank, although it was heard but distantly and mostly drowned out by farm machinery engaged in crepuscular harvesting.

On the mammal front a large Brown Rat swam across the pool in front of the hide.

Monday 24 August 2009

Sky watching for Fulmars

Arrived at Marwick Bay at 6:00 to a birdless sea (relatively speaking). Calm, W 1-2. Scanned about, mmm interesting, first time I've been here and there have been fewer than a million Fulmars a second (very slight exaggeration) flapping and shearing by. Then something caught my eye up in the sky, Fulmars were all passing at between 50 to 100m or so up, pouring south at around 1,500/hour. The Bonxies were playing the same trick. The sample counts involved getting a bit of a stiff neck. As time went on more were low over the sea but these were just extras and tended to be further out. I guess this was all due to the lack of wind and the lift the birds could get from the Marwick Head cliffs, interesting though. There were few moving north but many of these were quite high. One very likely Blue went south but I just didn't get quite the clinching view.

In an hour and a half I heard one Mepit, so Jon I guess they should be queueing up on Whalsay. I might try again tomorrow because there may be more cloud and wind then. Back in Dounby there appeared to be a trickle of Mepits but conditions were less than ideal.

The wagtail situation was resolved to some extent by good views of an adult White and careful viewing of a juv and another less easy to age bird. There was a Pied present too. These could be compared with Pied adults and juvs back in Dounby later so I'm happy with these individuals and the ones yesterday that I suspected (possibly the same individuals). This should point to some Pied/White movement going on I would think. Although on a note of caution M.a.alba do sometimes breed in the northern isles.

Other than the high flying Fulmars ("Get back down here to the waves where you're supposed to be!") Shags were clearly on some sort of outing itinery with flocks of 40 or so (maybe the same flock) flying north then south a few times before 30 or so went north followed swiftly by 72 and then by 18. I'm not sure I've seen a flock of 72 Shags before.

Other seabirds included a Puffin, south; 2 Arctic Terns north; an Arctic Skua, south and 4 Manxies north with one south. Kittiwakes weren't doing much and Gannets were predominantly going south, just.

Nice evening for a tired Black Kite I would have thought ....

Sunday 23 August 2009

No photos

Hopefully to be remedied shortly ... technical problems.

Vis mig

Went to the Shunan yesterday evening, 7 Blackwits which flew off and a likely Wood Sand (not included in the log) that I heard briefly. Also there 10 Dunlin and a pile of Teal.

Too puffed out for mothing unfortunately.

Early a.m. headed to Marwick Bay with the car as a suitable mobile hide. The most interesting and slightly amazing aspect was the Mepit vismig, bearing in mind it was pouring with rain. 176 came in/off in the first two hours with a further 30 in the third hour. Also strongly suspect a coasting movement of Pied/White Wags as different birds kept appearing in front of me and their calls were constant. Several of the juvs looked very clean flanked and pale backed, also sharp calls heard, but I don't like iding these in the autumn ( I find the rump feature not easy to see either).

On the sea the Fulmars were going like mad, southerly movement got up to 1100 an hour at the same time as 700 an hour were going north. I suspect these must just be feeding movements as there are no blues amongst them although south does seem to be consistently out numbering northerly moving iindividuals. 66 Bonxies in the three hours also, again mostly south (50 to 16). Also seen one Arctic Skua and two Tystie as well as 5 Knot that came in/off.

Saturday 22 August 2009


Seawatching from Birsay, not too early this morning, produced Fulmars going west (then south) at 1,700 an hour. Bonxies were mostly cruising for a bruising rather than doing anything migratory. Best though were the waders on the beach at high tide with summer plumage Sanderling, 3 and Knot, 4; 16 Dunlin and plenty of the commoner species. A Sand Martin was again present so I would suspect breeding.

A quick look in to Marwick Bay disappointed with the waders but a distant Manxie went south. Wheatear were again evident, there seem to be a few about at the moment.

Moth mistake - Bordered Gothic was a misidentification, the moth was a Gothic, still not common but Bordered Gothic is a rarity.

Saturday morning Radio 4 has slipped a bit, the current 12:30 slot is just not funny. And more media gloom, my Guardian, yes you can get it here but limited supplies, was missing The Guide.

Friday 21 August 2009


Having enjoyed a couple of hours at Marwick Bay, Manx, Knot,
Sanderling, Dunlin, Southerly moving Bonx I felt the need for a beer.
A certain relief that there is a local micro-brewery and a pleasant
further surprise that their "Northern Light" is pretty good, a bit
sharper than my favourite "Summer Lightening" but certainly
recommendable - Mr Walton take note :-)

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Tuesday 18 August 2009

Lovely evening trundle around

Went up to Whitaloo Point yesterday evening to have a mooch about, then drove down to The Brough. I'm still trying to figure out the seawatching thing. No seawatching yesterday as there was no wind. A Sand Martin flew through the Brough.

On to The Loons where there were again Swallows gathering. This time I drove around to the other side where I was a little closer to the roost, I could see birds dropping in to the reeds. Approximately 1,000 birds present.

Managed to identify some of the moths caught the other evening, a Gothic was the most interesting.

This morning I had to nip back to the house to grab some music for my assembly, having been up at work early to do a radio interview. On the way a Peregrine flew through the village. There are plenty of Golden Plover hanging around the village, 200 or so. House Martins may have fledged as a family party or two were hunting over the houses. During the day 30 or so Swallows flew through, buzzing around work for about 5 minutes.

The wind is now a healthy SE, surely a good bird must be here somewhere....

Sunday 16 August 2009

Seawatching traumas

It blew from the north yesterday late afternoon so my thinking, based
on Yorkshire experience, was to go seawatching this morning, that
might have been a mistake as skuas were pouring south past Costa into
Eynehallow Sound yesterday pm - rats.

Now this morning a good old westerly was blowing so I thought I'd try
the north side of Marwick Head; bad plan. Too high and too near The
Brough of Birsay which was deflecting some considerable numbers of
birds that were cutting in but not soon enough, nonetheless 1800
Fulmars an hour were heading south.Having marched up and down the head
I marched back down again and drove south to the bay. Found myself a
nice spot south of the car park and braved the elements. I was
rewarded with a Sooty, 7 Manx (one of which tickled my toes) huge
numbers of Fulmars ( or two hundred very frantic ones flying in
circles) c1700 hour south and c600 hour north. A steady trickle of
kittiwakes south (60 an hour, half juvs, juvs flying closer inshore
than ads interestigly) Bonxies every which way and two likely
phalaropes which were just too far away to be sure of. At least next
time I'll know where to watch from and when the north wind blows I'll
go seawatching immediately (work and family permitting).

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Saturday 15 August 2009


So I couldn't find the Pec Sand, 3 attempts; couldn't find the 2
barred xbills, 20 minutes too late; missed the Snow Goose and too late
for the Little Stint - I'm rubbish at twitching, tendancy to
insufficient perseverence. Did have a good day though, both godwits,
Knot, Sanderling, Greenshank, Hen Harrier, SEO and a mystery bunting
at Hestily (probably Reed Bunting, odd call though). The north wind
doth blow so a look at the sea will be called for tomorrow.

Listening to the Woodstock anniversary programme on 2, 40 years ago,
now that makes me feel old. Jimi still sounds amazing (The Band were
wonderful too).

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Thursday 13 August 2009

Marwick Bay and the Loons

The earlier post for today, Deerness, refers to yesterday as the enail
refused to work until this evening, until I'd rebooted the BBerry.

Minke Whales were still present this evening off Marwick Bay (I saw
6-8 on Monday evening). But no Manxies this time. Fulmars were going
south at 540 an hour and 38 Bonxies went south in the same time, this
was very different from Monday when any movement appeared to be
northward. At The Loons there were two Hen Harriers ( a juv & an adult
female) a Short-eared Owl and a huge flock of Swallows, conservatively
estimated at about 1500. This morning there had been Meadow Pipits
around the house for the first time and there have been at least 10
House Martins around and about with more seen across Mainland as I
drove too and fro to Kirkwall for a meeting.

One of those strange people things happened today as I found one of
the six people on the same table in the meeting as me knows one of my
oldest friends. I always find that kind of thing slightly odd.

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Nipped down to Deerness after a meeting in Kirkwall this afternoon.
Sandside Bay held a small group of adult and juvenile Arctic Terns.
Adult terns were freely catching small fish. A juvenile Arctic Skua
went north through the bay as did an adult and a couple of Bonxies.
Flurries of Kittiwakes (all adults) and Common Gulls were also going
north close inshore. A surprise was a juvenile Little Gull which also
went north. Plenty of moaning Grey Seals at tbis site too.

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Tuesday 4 August 2009

Man on Wire

This film was on BBC2 the other evening. Years ago BBC2 and Channel 4 used to show good numbers of non-English language movies but these days they are a rare thing indeed. Most of this movie was in English in any case but it had a very French flavour. Certainly a 9/10 movie, staggeringly good. Click here if you missed it.