Wednesday 31 August 2011

Life can be short

Juvenile Ringed Plovers on Birsay beach. Several flew to the rocks to roost as dusk approached. Something flashed through the scope and I scanned rapidly left to catch it; that moment the blue, grey Peregrine plucked the Ringed Plover from its roost. Wing and leg dangling, life's last moments ebbed as they rounded the low cliff to be lost from view.

Tuesday 30 August 2011

You know that Autumn is here when...

there is a bright green/yellow (juvenile) Willow Warbler in the back garden...
there is a Robin piping around the bird feeders...
a Merlin whips across the front garden...

an Emperor Moth caterpillar is on the track...

The girls captured the caterpillar, I'll put it on the moor as I cycle to work tomorrow.

Sunday 28 August 2011




The wind was building yesterday and by this morning it was roaring. For some reason or other I didn't go seawatching first thing, probably a bad decision, as by the time I got to Point of Buckquoy (the Brough car park) storm petrels were piling past. Well, they were for the first few minutes when I saw five, I then took a further two hours twenty mins to see a further five. Nothing else doing, well not that I could see anyway.

Fulmar and Gannet from Saturday

Yesterday I had crossed to the Brough mid-afternoon and nearly got caught out, I think my tide calculations must have been awry as by 4.30 the causeway was covered and I had to paddle back to Mainland. Not many birds to see, but it was a good enough hour. I then went down to Whitaloo Point but saw nothing more.

The Shunan held a Spotted Redshank yesterday which I heard well but could not see and the Tree Sparrow is still with us. Louise had a pale phase skua sitting in the back fields today, probably an Arctic from her description.

 Starlings in the barley, Birsay

Sunday 21 August 2011



The new seawatch place, on the Brough of Birsay, turned up trumps again with brief but conclusive views of a male Orca heading west, probably about a couple of klicks out. Seawatching for shearwaters from the eastern end of The Brough, I'd paddled across before six and started seeing Manx straight away. The Orca appeared just before seven, surfacing briefly just twice, showing the huge dorsal fin clearly, the first I've seen for thirty years. Also during this session two Sooty Shearwaters and 17 Manx, a very brief view of a storm-petrel, not IDed to species, several Bonxies and a few Arctic Terns and Kittiwakes.

Earlier in the day I'd searched Birsay Palace beach for waders, 7 Sanderling, 8 Whimbrel, 1 Knot were the best of the bunch but 77 Ringed Plovers shouldn't go without mention. Back at the ranch the Ruff appear to have gone with the rain increasing the water level in The Shunan, the Teal like it though, increasing to 38.

Wednesday 17 August 2011


 In focus Sanderling...

A day spent looking for and at waders. 350 Curlew around Bosquoy yesterday morning where there were 450 Lapwing today, when there were still 100 or so on The Shunan. There continues to be a Dunlin and a couple of Ruff on The Shunan. Birsay held 19 Sanderling, 15 Dunlin and a Barwit amongst the gradually increasing Turnstones and Oystercatchers, the Knot seem to have gone.

A look for The Loons Swallow roost was not aided by the person parked by the hide with their stereo on and the window open... No sign of the roost.

Dusk, Loch of Harray

Monday 15 August 2011


I seem to have taken to seawatching in the middle of the day (Badseawatching Part 7) and surprisingly it has been quite productive. Today I started at Birsay at the Point of Buckoy at about 1.30. Clearly something was going on as Fulmar were pouring past close inshore at 2,000 an hour. Within minutes of starting I was on to my first Sooty and ended up with a total of seven, 12 Manx also went west. Once the causeway cleared I went over to The Brough and watched from the eastern end, a new experience but in these conditions just the perfect place.

 From the causeway looking east

Unfortunately I was accompanied by "The Hound" which didn't help with the concentration (winding the lead around the tripod legs and pulling is a favourite trick). Nonetheless I continued to pick up shearwaters, some of which were close. Highlight of the watch was at 2.15 when the scope was suddenly full of Minke Whale, an excellent view, repeated once before it disappeared into the deep and choppy water to the west. I returned to Pt of Buckoy with eldest offspring who was apparently starving to death. Fortified by soup and veggy burger I continued inbetween daughter flinging  herself down the cliff. Ending at 4.00 I was pleased with the shearwater total, bearing in mind the distractions, also seen were eight Knot, one Arctic Skua, two Arctic Terns and about 30 Puffin. Just one Kittiwake were seen which was interesting considering their frequency of late.

Adult Turnstone

Earlier on I'd enjoyed sifting through a good few waders on the beach, including 17 summer plumaged Sanderling, four Knot and 66 Ringed Plovers.


Earlier still The Shunan had held four Black-tailed Godwits, the first for a while, and a Green Sandpiper, the first of the year and briefly available from the garden although I failed to accomplish that elusive tick.

Tonight the moth trap is set.

Sunday 14 August 2011

European Storm Petrel

Now I have seen ESP (that would be the bird, not the beer which I haven't supped in a long time) already this year but that was in the hand when I ventured out to one of AL's ringing sessions late at night. We walked up to the cairn at Knowe of Geoso, a favourite trek from Bay of Skaill and I set up the scope with little expectation. It was good to find a trickle of southerly movement even in the "dead hours" of early afternoon. Two Manx went south at first peek and then five Arctic Terns, a Common Tern, a few Kittiwakes and the unmistakable flutter and land on the sea (even though it was about a mile away) of European Storm Petrel. Zooming in I got a pretty good view before it disappeared, vapourised even, as they do. Four Barwits also went south, distantly.

On the way back to base a Greenshank called at Loch of Skaill.

Excellent pic of the harrier...

A late start in the morning had found the female Marsh Harrier on the deck on the banks of The Shunan and four Ruff there. A nip to Bosquoy had me thinking Water Rail, I'll have to go back and check this but it certainly sounded like one. The Coot flock has reached 239 and there was a pile of gulls on the now cut and bailed hay field.

Its looking like a good evening for the Swallow roost so I guess I better get the tea on.... the wild mushrooms we found should come in handy.

I could be wrong but I'm thinking these are Square-spot Rustic 

 Loch of Bosquoy, late p.m.

There were but three Swallows at The Loons roost, and they flew through. However, two new calls; Teal juvenile contact calls and Water Rail juvenile to adult calls.

Friday 12 August 2011

Spotted Redshank

A Spotted Redshank on The Shunan this morning with an influx of 10 or so Redshank. I managed to see the Spotshank from the garden as well, always pleasing. The Ruff flock which was 6 the day before yesterday, two yesterday, is four today.

Of most interest yesterday was an influx of Herring Gulls, a total of 52 on The Shunan and surrounding fields which is an exceptional number for this site.

A juvenile Kestrel has been hanging around and a Sparrowhawk has been paying regular(ish) visits to the garden.

Small Tortoiseshell numbers have reached a minimum of seven in the garden with four Red Admirals and a few Meadow Browns. The moth trap the other day held over 200 each of Dark Arches and Large Yellow Underwing.

At Evie on Sunday there was a Ringed Plover pair with three day old or so chicks, this seems very late. As usual the Little Grebes on Bosquoy are late though, two pairs have chicks with one quite large one, and the other brood is of two which can be only a week or so old.

Wednesday 3 August 2011

Swallow roost

Having spent nearly all day thinking and talking about central heating... enthralling; it was time for birding. (Birding did intervene a little as during the discussions, I suddenly went, "Sparrowhawk!" as one flipped over the Rosebay and twisted across the front garden. Louise didn't alter her expression, visitors were slightly bemused.) I did pop down to The Shunan at lunchtime, two Ruff still present and a Redpoll sp flew south-east.

Down to The Loons for the evening roost. At 8 p.m. there were 26 Swallows and by 9.30 p.m. there were an estimated 1,500; spectacular. Also Greenshank there and piles of Sedgies.

 How many (blurry) Swallows?

There was a moment at lunchtime Shunan-side when autumn passerine mode kicked in. A warbler flipped up in the Creeping Thistle. I was pretty sure it was an unstreaked Accro but it was a brief glimpse. Got me going though, and I started pishing, a useful tactic with Accros and it worked. The inquisitive little beastie rattled the thistles and docks and gave three or four more glimpses. I got the camera ready (well how else would I ID an unstreaked Accro?). But then it fled to the hawthorn hedge and as it went I saw... streaks; darn it was just a local Sedgie.

On Hoy

... a rather a damp place yesterday afternoon. Third time lucky; (previous attempts had been aborted due to a lack of knowledge of the ferry timetable and, about to board, discovering Louise's car keys in my pocket) I eventually caught the noon boat yesterday.

Twin-spot Carpet (I think)

On the crossing I saw my first juv Tysties of the year, a single by Graemsay and five in a flock of adults off Moaness. Off the fish farm the water bubbled a couple of times with shoals of fish which a Bonxie seemed unable to feed from despite its best efforts.

I headed for Hoy Lodge Plantation and spent about an hour and a half searching for Coal Tit which despite hearing possible calls (those thin sounds which might be Coalie or might be Goldcrest, I confirmed neither) I failed to find; however, there was at least one (Common) Crossbill in there. Unfortunately I missed recording its call so a more certain id was not established. The plantation was very quiet in comparison to last year, when it had been full of Willow Warbler song, Chaffinch call and a lively place for birds. I did find evidence of Sparrowhawk activity though.

Bu Plantation

I then aimed north and headed across the moor to Hoy Forest (Bu Plantation). As I got there the rain began in earnest but the north-west corner was most productive with Coal Tit singing, at least two Coal Tit juvs whizzing around the trees, Robin with young, a pair of Chaffinch and a juv Willow Warbler. I was sure I heard Stonechat too but failed to see it.

I had a quick look at the coast and then retraced my steps, though going around Bu. Back at Hoy Lodge I sheltered under the tress for a while and continued listening for Coal Tit there.

Back at Moaness for the ferry Greenshank was noisy in the bay and there were at least two Red-throated Divers. (By this point actually managing to see anything through the bins was a bit of a challenge as all my cleaning clothes were rather damp and all they did was smear the water across the lenses. I can report that there were lots of rather distant "dots" on the water which I presumed to be a mixture of Eider, Tystie and Shag.) Closer, a Gannet looked rather lonely, surrounded by 14 Bonxies.

 Boat slip, Moaness

Very cold and wet when I finally got back to the car, heater on full blast for the short spin home.