Sunday 30 December 2012

Lesser Scaup

Birsay Bay on the evening 29th

A trip east to see the Lesser Scaup on Ayre's Loch. Not ideal conditions and it took two hours or so to nail the tricky quacker. This individual is much less clear cut than the 2010 bird. However, eventually the full suite of features were revealed, including the diagnostic wing pattern. Distant record shot only.

Thursday 27 December 2012

Gulls and crows

I'm currently very interested in crows and the relationship between Carrion and Hoodie here on Orkney. Tipped off that there are some interesting hybrids at Scapa, and the weather being fine, I headed off there this morning. I spent a couple of hours photographing interesting beasts, of which the below is one.

It would be easy to pass this bird off as a pure Hooded Crow, but look at the undertail coverts. Hoodie should not have those black feathers. Also a careful look at the back and mantle shows thin black centres to many feathers. I need to check this feature out a bit but I don't think pure Hoodie should have black centres to the mantle and back feathers. Actually they do and this is an ok feature for Hoodie, the centres should be of a very fine dark streak (I could do with a corpse really to look at this properly).

I had some jobs to do in Kirkwall, and then as I was leaving noticed a large number of gulls on the PDC. There were a couple of interesting ones. I think this, left hand bird below, looks very interesting. A candidate for American Herring Gull maybe. (That would be a species I've not seen). Looking at the papers this bird certainly has some characters. It didn't fly unfortunately and I was short of time, surely worth another look though.

Tuesday 25 December 2012


Christmas Eve produced murder on the front lawn as a superb Sproghawk ripped a Blackbird to bits in the gloaming. Ellen spotted a Waxwing on the apples and there were Linnets and at least one Meadow Pipit in the neeps.

Today there was a single Snow Bunting on The Links beach and the Great Spotted Woodpecker visited the feeders.

 The burn in spate, Palace

View from the garden, late p.m.

Saturday 22 December 2012

It is an island...

I've barely stepped outside the door today, horrible south-easterly force 6-7 and increasing with rain, dark and nasty. I managed to fill the feeders and that's about it. And the Tree Sparrow was grateful. A male hen Harrier few across the track as we drove down.

During the week Louise had a Waxwing on the apples on Wednesday and Thursday, there were some in Kirkwall so I guess the south-easterly has brought a few in. I was hoping to have a look at the Stenness redpolls today, that will have to be postponed until the wind drops and the rain stops.

 Track as burn

Bubbling out of the ground

At least we have food and fuel. The Aberdeen ferries have been canceled, but most likely the ones across the Firth will get going again later tomorrow or Monday. Louise went and stocked up on fruit and veg today. No need for a plane full of food here at the moment. It does bring home that it is quite an isolated spot though.

Sunday 16 December 2012

Home patch

A good day around the home patch with the Great Spotted Woody putting in an appearance again, around lunch time, the Tree Sparrow on the feeders and the Linnet flock (114) and 16 Brambling, including a very smart male under the feeders. Down at The Shunan there were three Reed Bunts and I heard a Ringed Plover, a very odd record at this time of year. Also there Mute Swan, Goldeneye, and a small gang of Wigeon.

 I had to drive down to Loch of Harray to drop the girls off at the stables but nearby there were five Mepits, very unseasonal, and another Linnet flew over. Nothing much on the loch; well there were hundreds of quackers and Coot but I couldn't pick out anything unusual.

A WeBS count of Loch of Bosquoy didn't produce a great deal either.

I  could do with more time to look at the Linnet flock, just the situation for something more interesting to occur...

Sunday 9 December 2012

Birsay day

I wasn't supposed to be able to do much birding today, other than counting Greylag Geese but Louise had a horse event so I was supposed to look after the girls from 11 or so. Late yesterday the event was cancelled. I'd already been replaced on the goose count so a chance to go to Birsay. It blew hard last night as well and this morning it was round in the north, should be ideal.

Got to Point of  Buckoy around 9 and it was blowing a bit, the causeway was just clear as well but I hadn't checked the tide so wasn't sure which way it was going, eight hours stuck on The Brough in winter is not appealing.

I did an hours seawatch from the car park in which time the tide descended so decided that a walk around the island might be of interest. (the seawatch produced a Blue Fulmar amidst the hoards, and two red-throated Divers.) Getting myself organised and a Glaucous Gull flew by, a 1cy. I slid my way across  the causeway and emerged at the Viking settlement where I put a Merlin up. Then on to the light flushing a Snipe on the way. A couple of Rockits at the light. Back down the island, check the pond, through the gully where I sat and sea watched again, much better views from here, I should have come straight across. Counts confirmed my earlier Fulmar numbers of them going about 1,400 an hour.Ignoring the seabirds then the island had held four birds.

View from The Brough to Westray and Noup Head

Back to the car and check the Palace Beach where there was a Grey Plover, a very infrequent visitor and about 120 Purple Sands.

Grey Plover

On to the Links Beach and a very dark Glaucous Gull flew by. This looked much different to the one seen earlier, but similar to the one seen a month or so back. Not much else to report though, oh, except I flushed something out of the nettle patch but failed to get onto it, a small pipit like passerine mmmm (actually not what I said into the wind at all).

By the time had stopped by for tea and headed for Skaill it was getting dark so the loch was checked with minimal enthusiasm, nice Whoopers, a stack of Goldeneye and that was about it.

Saturday 8 December 2012

Windy, wet and stuff to do

Knackered at the moment so didn't get out til 11 and then it was rather half-hearted. However, a walk around the garden and nearby fields produced a large female Sparrowhawk, a Woodcock and a huge flock of 121 Linnets, probably the largest flock I've recorded on the patch. Also present were the Tree Sparrow, a Chaffinch and a Mute Swan on The Shunan. The Woodcock was flushed from the field edge by the neighbour's and then flew around restlessly for about twenty minutes, at one point just over my head as I stood outside the kitchen.

Later on whilst walking the hound, in what became dire weather, something scuttled across the bottom of the track when we got near the road, it might well have been a Water Rail, which would be a patch tick.

Bit of an epic going to fetch and bring back the hay, reversing the horse box (borrowed) which I'd never towed before, was fun, not. Reversing it into a farmyard in the dark with the girls giving "instructions". Then getting it back, more reversing, and having a massive fight to unhitch it - considerable verbal exclamation! Anyway, 20 bales safe home, should keep the ponies chewing for a while. Should be easier next time. (Louise singing concert and practice which is why it fell to me..)

Wednesday 5 December 2012

Foot it

The Foot it challenge for January looks like fun too. It will fit in with broken car and Patchwork if I use the same area (actually, hoping the car will be back in action tomorrow, but all the same). So how many species could I see from home in January using shanks pony only. I'll have to work that out.... Well last year it was 42, but I don't think I was trying very hard. A play with a spreadsheet and I think 58 should be possible. That includes Feral Pigeon but does not include going up on the moor. Meadow Pipit and Pied Wagtail are not included as they can be very difficult in January almost anywhere on Orkney, I don't think I have any January records for those species whilst I've been here. 58 includes some trickyish species so it seems about fair.

Sunday 2 December 2012

Moonbow, amongst other things

Thursday I got back from work late after a meeting in Kirkwall and a visit to the supermarket. Unloading the car under a mostly clear sky, in the dark obviously, Moon low to the east and rain showers to the west, and there in front of the showers in the west was a graduated arc in the sky, like a rainbow but different shades of    white. For about 30 seconds it was perfect across the sky, then it faded from the north just as rainbows do, leaving a part arc to the south-west. Never seen one of those before. I called Louise and the girls and they all managed to see it too, but no time for a photo.

Yesterday I had too many jobs to do, no sign of last weekend's Blackcap though. One of the jobs was to go to Kirkwall and pick up the Tim Wootton drawing I bid for on eBay. It's of our Tree Sparrow so we decided we had to have it. I'm really pleased with it too. Proceeds of the auction went to the Orkney Bird Report so a double plus. Many thanks to Tim for the excellent drawing and the generous donation. Tim's opened a new gallery in Kirkwall, opposite the Dil Se in the Anchor Buildings, well worth a visit.

Got up this morning with the intention of an early(ish) trip to Birsay, I should have been able to get out onto the Brough. Engine started, hacking ice off, faff around a bit then into reverse... awful noise, stop, aaaaggghhhh!! Car broken, the (no longer so) trusty Fiesta has complete front suspension failure. So home patch watching for me.

And of patch watching "Patchwork" seems to have reinvented itself as a blog with an annual, instead of monthly, competition. The old Patchwork was a subscription magazine, I rather enjoyed it and the monthly competition, with its very complicated rules, if you want to find out more about the new version head on over to:

For Patchwork purposes this will be my patch. Currently I record the Bosquoy and The Shunan squares and the two to the east as the home tetrad using BirdTrack and I'll continue to do that. The Loch of Harray shore goes into BirdTrack as a separate recording area. Hopefully I'll do better at keeping a running total than the tetrad total on the blog...

From the road north of Bosquoy and south of The Shunan looking up to home.

On the home patch today the Great Spotted Woody put in another appearance, this looks like the same bird as has been around for a while. Looking at the photos though I reckon the October one was a different individual. Also today the now well illustrated Tree Sparrow, a couple of Brambling, a couple of Chaffinch, the Linnet flock is still here, and good numbers of  Greenfinch and House Sparrow. There were a few Skylarks as well. Down at Loch of Harray there were at least 5 Slavonian Grebes, 780 Coot (yes, I did give them a careful look over, although they were a bit distant) and most surprisingly an Eider.

A local rarity, probably just four or five in the county this year, two of which have been on our feeders

Sunday 25 November 2012

Aythya sorted

A rather odd looking Aythya duck on The Shunan has been bothering me for the last three weeks or so. It has generally been on its own or with a Goldeneye and has kept an awkward distance from the track. In the end I decided that a closer approach and maybe even a flushing was going to be the only way to resolve the issue. So yesterday morning having tried careful observation from the track and failed yet again to be certain about the bill pattern I snuck around by the field to the north and along the wall. Despite getting some much better views I still couldn't resolve the issue and the canny critter knew I was there too and retreated to the western corner with a couple of Mallard. In the end I flushed the Wigeon and Teal and the Aythya flew, showing a white wing bar all the way through the primaries, so Tufted or hybrid but not Lesser Scaup.

In both these photos the bird seems to be showing a bit of a tuft, the stiff breeze was blowing these feathers up.

Also yesterday a male Blackcap was a nice surprise on the stick apples around the feeders. Nine Fieldfare paid a brief visit too.

Today was still but wet. A late start due to a late finish yesterday when we went to the West Mainland Farmers' Ball and didn't return to the ranch until the early hours. Eight Whooper's on Loch of Bosquoy was a good start but there was little else there. The big surprise was the large Linnet flock that appeared in the garden, but not at the feeders early afternoon. I counted 65. This is unusual as this species is usually absent from this part of West Mainland through the winter.

Monday 19 November 2012

Fulmar fest'

It blew up yesterday evening, and snowed, so much that the dog was unhappy about carrying on her night time stroll with all that white stuff blowing in her face.

This morning it was still blowing and although it took me a while to get started, and I got distracted on the way, I got to Point of Buckquoy at 9:40 or so.  Once I'd sorted myself out, and clocked the 1cy Glaucous Gull that went west as soon as I wound the window down, I noticed that something was going on in Fulmar World. The first five minute sample count was 630. Over the next 90 minutes 10,404 went west and about 30 went east; that 's a lot of Fulmar. Amongst these I picked out three double dark morph, blue, fulmars. Also in the movement were one each of Sooty and Manx Shearwater. I'm guessing that the movement had northern origins with the blue fulmars showing but I've never seen that many fulmars in one go before.

I probably should have watched longer but I wanted to check the beach for waders, Killdeer is my current ambition bird. Plenty of waders, no Killdeer.

A casualty of the storm, unfortunately. Maybe his mum will find him.

Yesterday had been a beautiful day, two male Brambling brightened the feeders and Loch of Bosquoy held two male Goosander, uncommon here.

The Tree Sparrow is still here, it arrived April 2011

Sunday 11 November 2012

Home duties

No birding this weekend as offspring required some attention....

The Waxwings were last seen on Wednesday. What would seem to be the same Great Spot was seen briefly yesterday. Tree Sparrow still present.

A young (2 or 3 cy; must check age; some brown feathers in mantle and I think on some coverts) male Hen harrier flew feet from the car as we went down the track this morning then across the edge of The Shunan very low and fast.

 Still plenty of gulls near Hatston

Sunday 4 November 2012

South Ron'

We toured around South Ronaldsay for the morning and found ... very little. Best moment was getting out of the car by a garden at Loch of Lythe to a warbler calling. A Sproghawk got out of the corner where the bird was and there was no more calling, and it looked like, in a brief view, that the Sproghawk was carrying something. A bit of a think and a quick look at Collins, and later reference to XenoCanto, confirmed the most likely ex-caller as Siberian Chiffchaff.

Back at the ranch the Great Spot was back on the feeders and was then seen to fly a long way south. There were at least 13 Blackbirds and the Waxwing flock had increased to six.

Saturday 3 November 2012

Waxwings in the garden

I'd spent a bit of time this morning after I'd put the Chestnut-eared Bunting bait and the apples out staring out of the window in the kitchen, ever hopeful. of course as soon as I looked away to sort the toast Louise froze in a disbelieving stare in front of the sink, and there were five Waxwings. They stayed with us all day, eating two apples.

 The alert posture was caused by our local Kestrels flying by, calling

 I could walk to within a few feet of this bird

 The apple on the stick trick

Midday brought more excitement in the shape of a second Great Spotted Woodpecker for the garden for the year. I think this is only the third county record this year, the only one not in our garden being on North Ronaldsay; in any event this species is pretty uncommon here.

Down on The Shunan there was a Goldeneye as well as the semi-resident Tuftie.

Loch of Bosquoy produced just a Short-eared Owl and four Shoveler amongst the legions of Wigeon.Of more interest was the large gull flock just outside Kirkwall, at Hatston. Despite giving them a fiar bit of scrutiny I couldn't dig out anything of note, maybe tomorrow...

Tuesday 23 October 2012

More sunshine

Another beautiful sunny day.

A wander around home first thing found a few thrushes on the move and finches flying. The Long-tailed Tit was still present. On The Shunan, amongst the usual ducks was a Goldeneye.

Out on the Brough of Birsay, a Brambling flew over as I crossed the causeway. Around the Viking site there was a large flock of Twite of about 100 which included a Brambling and a Goldfinch, but not the hoped for redpoll.

In Palace there were a couple of Goldcrest and a Blackcap. A very few Blackbirds, Song Thrush and Redwing were also present.

Down on the beach was my first WWG of the autumn, a 1cy Glaucouus Gull.

The Lapland Buntings were still present on the Links.

A still afternoon at home allowed for further views of the Long-tailed Tit and Tree Sparrow, no sign of Woody though.

Monday 22 October 2012


Lovely morning at Birsay, on to the Brough, although no migrants there but a few mepits. A search of the beaches and Palace revealed a flock of at least 17 Lapland Buntings on the Links near the cafe. In the village there was a Goldfinch but little else.

The Laps were rather flighty

Boardhouse Loch held at least 12 Slavonian Grebes, three Whooper Swans, Long-tailed Duck, 2 Goldeneye, Tufted, Pochard and Wigeon.

Back at the ranch I was completing the dog enclosure project (not entirely successfully) when it slowly began to dawn on me that the call I kept hearing was of interest, a look into the nearest Sycamore and there was a Long-tailed Tit. Third new bird for the garden in two days. (I need to look into the races of this species as it seemed a bit streaky on the breast.) Comments welcome, does this look just like a standard UK bird?

A real rarity here, although there's a bit of an invasion at the moment

Enclosure works were continued, badminton played in the garden, half time break so I thought I'd have another crack at pix of the L-tT which I could hear as we played. Movement caught my eye over the house, hirundine, haven't seen one of those for over a week. Oh, it's got a pale rump, and quite long outer tails, penny dropped as I saw the pale throat and the collar. Yabbadabbadoo!! I'd long wanted to find Red-rumped Swallow and here it was, now circling the trees next door, fine views, then it was gone. In all, about 25 seconds of wonder.

Photographer arrived late afternoon to have a go at the rook roost. We wandered into the kitchen to make tea, and there was the Great Spotted Woodpecker on the peanuts again, so it's still around.