Thursday 30 December 2010

Birding West Mainland

An attempt on Gannet from the garden this morning, possible because of the lack of haze, was unfortunately unsuccessful. However, all that scanning didn't go to waste with two Ruff seen in flight over Loch of Bosquoy. Also in the garden, briefly eight or so Common Redpoll perched in our largest tree.

Sitting in the smallest room a familiar call was heard and two Whooper Swans, yet again, narrowly missed airspace.

A tootle around Birsay found 58 Dunlin, 170 Purple Sands and a very nice Grey Plover. A ringtail Hen Harrier appeared briefly hunting the waders on the beach.

The ice on Loch of Stenness has melted over a much larger area, not surprising as this is brackish water, the duck have dispersed and the Smew was nowhere to be seen.

Wednesday 29 December 2010

Melt and behaviour

The thaw is here and over the last two days the snow has all but gone. The open water still seems to be frozen. I've already mentioned Moorhens coming into the garden during the snow. I watched one fly off down the neighbouring field this evening, leaving for The Shunan maybe. Most of our Greenfinch gradually left over the periods of snow and cold, usually there are 8 or 9 at least, for the last week there has been one or two. A Goldfinch appeared yesterday, perhaps indicating birds moving about as temperatures rose.

Song Thrush were much more visible or were just present, but only one at a time it seemed, usually this species does not appear around our feeders. Interestingly on the two occasions the one present died or was predated a new bird appeared under the feeders within a day or two. I suspect this species might be much more vulnerable to predation during cold weather and snow because it changes its feeding behaviour in order to survive the weather conditions?

Last year's winter weather cleared out our Stonechats and they didn't return. I wonder how Wrens will fair this year. Grey Heron seem to be surviving by feeding in the burns and flowing ditches which haven't frozen.

The sudden thaw and "warmth" has brought out the Winter Moths 11 on the kitchen windows this evening

Sunday 26 December 2010


Home, currently the haunt of early morning assassins

The Rooks were getting all frisky yesterday in the afternoon sunshine, in today's grey they were back into survival mode - Ravens visited their home and croaked fearsomely

A hare makes a run for cover

Christmas morning and having been awake since 5.30 due to over-excited offspring I was not a little in need of some respite. Hiding away upstairs I heard a call I hear rarely but know well, the death cry of a Blackbird. Sure enough a glance out of the window confirmed the evidence of my ears as a Sparrowhawk struggled to the shelter of the garden wall with that clumsy, overladen, "I've got breakfast" flight of success. It didn't last long of course, two Hoodies homed in but this Sproghawk was determined and managed to lift off again and flop over the garden wall into thick cover. The Hoodies hung around for a few minutes before departing for easier scrounging.

Where the Sparrowhawk plucked his prey
(Sparrowhawks are pretty much my favourite assassin; brave, slightly mad, persistent and wonderfully adept, they can stoop as spectacularly as any Peregrine but their raison d'etre is the ambush)

A survivor (for now) 19 counted today, half of them in the byres

This morning I had a scout around the outbuildings before heading off down to the arctic wastes of The Shunan. Beside the lowest barn was a pair of wings on picked clean bones and a little further down the track a flurry of frozen feathers where the Song Thrush had been killed. I'd seen the Sproghawk hunting in the very spot a few days previously. No Song Thrush was seen around the garden today. So both the birds that have been here have perished now.

Frozen feathers, where the Song Thrush met his end

The visit to The Shunan added a new bird to the list as setting off on my tramp back up the hill I espied a large raptor sitting on a distant post. Expecting a Hen Harrier, especially as it was wing-tagged I was surprised when it revealed itself to be a Buzzard. It landed again but in a dip, would it be viewable from the garden? Deep snow is not conducive to athletic excellence, especially when labouring with scope, tripod, camera and many layers of winter clothing, however, I struggled valiantly to the garden in reasonable time and could see ... just the top of the elder bush it had dived into. Scope trained on the spot, scanning with the bins, cold seeping into my bones but then as I stared through the scope the Buzzard landed on the fence post in front of the bush, excellent. Later it caught out the ring-tail Hen Harrier that has been hunting here of late and robbed it of a meal, the Hoodies dared not approach and the Buzzard was observed for a good half hour ripping the victim apart and devouring it. When we descended the hill later there was a scatter of feathers in the field and the remains of a small corpse.

Common Buzzard, Hoodie and Hen Harrier (somewhat distant)

There have been a good number of blood trails in the snow. I've seen this before but not to such an extent. One on the track, two on the road down to the hotel, one across the fields and by the burn a huge red smear in the snow. I can only guess that the blood trails may be of hares, in the burn it may well have been an Otter kill.

Down at Loch of Harray taking scenic photos as I thought, Louise pointed out that I was photographing not one but two corpses. A Coot had been another raptor victim and in the small pool in front of us there was a large dead Mute Swan cygnet.

Dead Coot and Mute Swan (back of the pool)

Tuesday 21 December 2010

Lunar eclipse

The evening before

Eclipse Moon over the byre

Eclipse Moon over Dounby from Mirbister

The eclipse was superb, reports that it would not be visible from Orkney proved to be false and totality was achieved just before the Moon slid behind the cloud in the west.

Venus shone brightly once at work and the scope provided viewing for children and adults alike. In the late afternoon Jupiter replaced it in the south-eastern sky.

Louise had meanwhile headed to Maes Howe where the solstice Sun shone into the tomb, apparently quite mystical.

On the avian front a Sparrowhawk was hunting Blackbirds around the byres well before dawn.

Sunday 19 December 2010

Garden birds

Season's Greetings

A Moorhen which Louise reported feeding in the garden in the last lot of snow reappeared yesterday morning, clambering on the wall outside the kitchen window, searching for food. Today it was joined by a friend and they mooched around the garden searching for food most of the day.

Moorhen in a blizzard

The Sparrowhawk was buzzing about first thing yesterday. Today I found a female down in Dounby with prey. Other than in gardens where they are being fed there are few birds about. 350 Greylags are up in the brassica field, there were 40 Teal on The Shunan yesterday.

Our garden and around the byers there are probably 20 Blackbirds, a Song Thrush, two or three Robins, two or three Dunnock and reduced numbers of House Sparrows and Starlings. The Collared Doves seem to have gone. It has snowed for much of the day adding several inches to the depth.

Friday 17 December 2010

Snow return

The snow is back with a vengance, the blizzard really got going yesterday afternoon and evening and we awoke to large snow drifts and even more snow falling. Louise's flight was cancelled, unsurprisingly. I walked to work in the blizzard.

Sunday 12 December 2010

Goosey counting

A good day out counting geese and seeing good birds. Nearly 8,000 Greylags on just part of the East Mainland with a decent 400+ flock of Pinkies. Best was a cracking drake Surf Scoter that flew west whilst I was trying to count Great Northerns (24) off Rerwick Head. There were 13 Velvets and 2 Commons there as well.

A decent finch flock was another good find with 200 or so Greenfinch, 10 Brambling and 10 Chaffinch.

Finch flock


Saturday 11 December 2010

All gone

Now you see it

The snow has pretty much completely disappeared and our world is transformed - sigh of relief breathed 'n' all.

Now you don't

Too lazy to go birding, playing with YouTube and memories instead. Here's something wonderful, turn it up very loud ....

Thursday 9 December 2010

Fly like an eagle

I've added a blast from the past in the side panel, enjoy (loud).

Sunday 5 December 2010


The broken cart in our garden

The rookery next door

A Peregrine sat on a fence post a short field beyond the kitchen window for half an hour or so this morning, time for us all to admire her anyway. Looks like the first year that was terrorising The Shunan and Bosquoy during the autumn. I'm guessing the "she" as she's a large beast. I failed to get decent pix as she spotted my rather feeble attempt to stalk her.

Peregrine from the kitchen


A wander through the neighbouring tetrad prodeced excellent views of Sparrowhawk and Kestrel.


The quartet of raptors was completed by a ringtail quartering the ditches to our east. Not much else to report other than Whoopers narrowly avoiding the "in the garden" list again, calling low over our heads as we set off for our neighbours' mid afternoon.

Hoy hills, late afternoon

Saturday 4 December 2010

Lesser Scaup

Late in the day I trudged the 1/2 mile up to the car in a horrible northerly with rain, feeling somewhat unsure why I was doing this. A stop at the PDC revealed no Jack Snipe, though a good few Common Snipe, darn! However, there was an interesting Iceland Gull on the ice which must be a 2nd Winter with a pretty much wholly dark bill.

At Ayre Loch I fairly quickly located the duck in question. The bird is reasonably approachable and whilst the light was half decent I got most of the required features. The bird even flapped a couple of times but unfortunately was facing me ... typical. This individual is a paler brown than Tufted, the plumage is fairly uniform, the white patches are not huge, equal to what is not uncommon on many juv Tufted. The head shape is pretty diagnostic and there is a dark nail but no apparent dark band on the bill. An interesting and challenging bird, thanks KH, glad you'd ided it first, I'd have needed troops to confirm it. The photos show a wonderful array of diagnostic features not.

At home (Shunan) huge numbers of Blackbirds around the garden and byre (16+) and two redpoll one of which showed the features of flammea (flight views only), so no doubt both were of this species(ish). 3 Robins, one or two Song Thrush, one of which was rescued from inside the house, a female Hen Harrier and a Sparrowhawk on a raid.

Sunday 28 November 2010


The Friday evening snowfall prevented me going to the Rory McLeod gig, serious blizzard early evening followed up by two more. Musically I was only cheered up by the arrival of Slapp Happy albums two and three on a CD reissue. Casablanca Moon (2nd) is IMHO a masterwork and reacquaintence with its genius was somewhat over due.

Short-eared Owl by The Shunan

Birds, oh there were a few of them. Getting to Finstown was not really an option as the track was dodgy and the main road worse, so no Bullfinch hunting. Saturday was enlivened by a Woodcock in the ditch above the house. Sunday produced a Redpoll briefly in the garden and great views of both Short-eared Owl and male Hen Harrier around the Shunan. there were 7 Whooper Swans and a Goldeneye on Loch of Bosquoy.

Friday 26 November 2010

Toot, toot! (Not)

Local opinion is that these birds are non-tooting Northern Bullfinch, apparently pileata has never been recorded with any certainty in Orkney.

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Toot, toot!

The Bullfinch flock in Finstown is growing and having seen a pic of one of their number I think there is a possibility they may be of the northern race. No calls appear to have been heard and no one is pronouncing an ID but, they're certainly of interest. Have a look at the piccture here.

Sunday 21 November 2010

Glaucous Gulls

One of the two, right hand bird

Two first winters were on the low tide rocks and it was a very low tide, off the Birsay Links beach. Both flew off toward The Brough with the other large gulls presumably to the Northside roost. The first of these two birds was very dark below, the second was quite dark. I was very surprised just how dark they were and can't remember noting this feature in the past. (I'll nip upstairs and grab the gull book in a moment.)

In the Birsay gardens there were two Robin, two Redwing, two Blackbirds, three Song Thrush and a Stonechat, so some evidence of a small drop.


Yesterday at the junction to the Stromness road in Twatt there was a small flock of finches that I reckon were redpoll, seen from inside the car. There is a somewhat inaccessible plantation not far away and these would no doubt repay further investigation if I had the time and fancied birding around the main road :-(

Not much else to report, much of the weekend spent fixing door handles and doing house stuff though. I really should get down to Finstown to look at the Bullfinch flock and assorted redpolls at some point but that will have to wait until next weekend.

I drove around to Skaill after my wander at Birsay. Three or four Slavonian Grebes but only 32 Whooper Swans.

Down the Brogdar road to look for gulls but I was too late, none showing, I presume they had all gone to roost.

However the full moon and the sky showed rather well at the loch side and around the Ring.

Monday 15 November 2010

Birding Sunday

View Loch of Harray

Grey Plover Birsay

Purple Sandpipers, Birsay

Common Redpolls, West Mainland

A day touring around West Mainland produced highlights of these Common Redpolls at the quarry above Happy Valley. There were four together and most likely another one too. They were feeding in and under Fuschia bushes and were at times highly elusive. They were good to see, it's a good while since I've seen this form, or at least seen them well.

At Birsay the Grey Plover was on the beach and there was a Woodcock and a Chiffy in the Links gardens. Also a noticable increase in big gulls Great Black-backed Gulls and argentatus Herring Gulls, at least 300 of each but they were jumpy and rapidly disappeared when I came over the brow.

Loch of Skaill was busy with birders as well as with birds 52 Whooper Swans, 20 Barnacle Geese and a merlin being the best, lots more gulls here as well.

At home four Whooper Swans just missed the "in the garden" list, by about 20 metres in the late afternoon and a Chaffinch went over the Shunan with 9 Fieldfare there and a Blackbird increase in the morning.