Friday, 4 September 2020

Wilson's Phalarope

After the appearance of the White-winged Black Tern on Wednesday the 2 Sep 20 at Echna Loch / Echnaloch Bay late the following afternoon produced another stunning bird.

Initial reports from a visiting birder was of a small Greenshank type bird which was seen standing on floating vegetation on Echna Loch. Initial word went out of a probable Marsh Sandpiper but when photos of the bird appeared it was confirmed that the bird was in fact a Wilson's Phalarope.
Further photos reinforced that confirmation.
Then just before 7 a.m. this morning came word that the bird was still present. Within 15 minutes six local birders joined the finder at Echna Loch only to be told the bird had disappeared. After around 30 minutes of scanning the loch and the bay there was still no sign of the Phalarope but the White-winged Black Tern was still present feeding out in the bay and resting on the shore line. This was one lucky bird as later in the morning it had a close encounter with a Peregrine but fortunately survived.

Despite several birders looking over the course of the morning the Phalarope was not seen. Working on a hunch Burray birder Barrie went up to the pools below the trig point on the West side of Burray and re-found the bird on the most Westerly pool.
Several birders including myself made the trek up to the pools and managed to see it although at times it disappear behind tussocks of grass but at other times stood in open areas of the pool giving good but distant views.

I managed to get a few record shots.

Wilson's Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor)

This was a second life tick for me in three days so well chuffed that they were both on patch.
It was also a new species for the Burray bird list and only the third record for Orkney. The previous two records were interestingly also in the first week of September with the first at Birsay Bay on the 3 Sep 1981 and the second at Loch of Tankerness on the 5 Sep 2002.

Tuesday, 1 September 2020

White-winged Black Tern

 On the last day of August, as yet another month drew to a close and a definite feel of autumn starting to creep in new broke mid-afternoon that a juvenile White-winged Black Tern had been spotted at Echnaloch bay.

I was just wrapping up a job that I had been doing in Kirkwall when I saw the message of its presence so quickly finished what I was doing and headed off. As the bird had been spotted on my patch I was definitely going to  stop off on my way past and take a look.

 On arrival, as expected the lay-by was full of cars and people wanting to take a look at this rare visitor. It was a lifer for me and not only a new addition to my Burray list but a new addition to the 'Burray Bird list'.

Having parked the car and join the group of watchers I was invited to take a look through a scope already trained on the visitor. It was sitting on the water line close to an Arctic Tern and a Black-headed Gull which were useful for size comparison.

I managed to get a few record shots, so the quality isn't too good, as it was quite a way along the beach from where we were observing it.

A couple of times it took off and flew across the road to have a few dips in Echna Loch before returning back to the bay side. It also spent a good ten minutes flying around out over the sea.

                            Juvenile White-winged Black Tern (Chlidonias leucopterius)


August 2020 Roundup

  To be updated soon.

July 2020 Roundup

  To be updated soon.

June 2020 Roundup

  To be updated soon.

May 2020 Roundup

 To be updated soon.

Saturday, 2 May 2020

April 2020 Roundup

As you will see by the length of this post there was a bit more activity this month.

The usual gang of House Sparrows and Starlings frequented the garden throughout the month with the annual battle of trying to prevent the latter building their nest inside the engine compartment of the car. There was also plenty of Meadow Pipits along the track and in the fields they were joined by Curlews, Lapwings, Oystercatchers and Skylarks.

The 4th kicked the month off with a female Linnet appearing briefly on top of the fuchsia bushes on the north side of the garden before flying off.

On the 6th a Common Gull visited the garden during the afternoon. Usually seen in the fields around the cottage a garden visit was rare. Barrie added a Gannet to his 2020 Garden list in the evening.

There was a Robin in garden on the morning of the 7th. Swallow, Skylark and a Sparrowhawk all seen down at Westshore on the 8th.

On the 9th with lighter winds I took the opportunity to do a garden ringing session. New birds consisted of a female Blackbird, a male Starling and five House sparrows plus a retrap of a male originally ringed on the 2 Sep 17. Also saw the first bee of the year in the garden but the species was unknown. Sandwich Tern and Golden Plover seen from Westshore.

There was a Wren singing from the top of the Sycamore tree in the garden on the morning of the 10th.

There was another rare visitor to the garden on the 11th in the form of a Jackdaw. Even rarer up here on the hillside was a Rook, seen by Barrie flying over my cottage and I missed it!!

There seemed to be more Meadow Pipits around the patch on the 12th and a flock of c60+ were seen over Westshore on the 13th.

The evening of the 15th added Mallard to the garden pond list after a pair turned up and spent several hours feeding, preening and snoozing.

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

I was up early on the 16th so decided to take a stroll up to the trig point.I was escorted by Meadow Pipits and several Starlings were seen disappearing into the tyre wall which borders one of the fields. All the fields had small numbers of Curlews, Lapwing and Oystercatchers and several Skylarks were singing overhead. As I approached the last field on the right of the track before the trig point a flock of 20 Golden Plovers took to the air. In the evening the Mallards were back on the pond having been absent all day and a solitary Redwing was seen in the fuchsia bushes and just after 8pm a Bonxie (Great Skua) flew over the garden. My neighbour Barry reported seeing his first Swallow of the year in the afternoon and Barrie down in the village added Bonxie, Carrion Crow (two singles and a pair) Wheatear, Whimbrel and Willow Warbler to his garden list at Westshore. Carrion Crows are uncommon up here as we have Hooded Crows instead, however there were several reports across Orkney of Carrion Crow passing through.

On the morning of the 17th there were a couple of Jackdaws feeding on the seed in the ground  trap. Unfortunately it wasn't set so I was unable to catch them. The female Mallard returned on her own at lunchtime and was still there in the evening as it was going dark. She alternated between spells on the pond feeding and preening and on the area of ground behind the pond where she could snuggle down and blend in with the grass to sleep. No sign of the male though.


The Redwing was still around the garden on the morning of the 18th and was added to the pond list when it popped in for a quick drink and a bathe.

Redwing (Turdus iliacus)

 Another visitor to the pond was a Meadow Pipit.

Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis)

Late afternoon I went for a stroll up to the trig point and then down to the pool on the far side of the hill before completing a circular route back past WindyHa. During the stroll I saw Skylark, Starlings, Curlew, Oystercatchers, Meadow Pipits, Great Black-backed Gulls, Herring Gulls, Common Gulls and Lapwing either in the fields or flying overhead. On the pools there were Greylag Geese, Curlew, Redshank and Wigeon. I also heard a Pheasant.

In the evening the female Mallard returned, but still no sign of the male.

Relief in the afternoon of the 19th when a pair of Mallards were seen flying low over the garden. I'm assuming it was the same pair that had been visiting so seeing the male again was good as I was beginning to wonder if something had happened to it. However, it was only the female that came back to the pond late afternoon and stayed well into the evening.

My first Peacock butterfly of the year was seen in the garden on the 20th. Ducks could be heard somewhere in the fields close to garden in the afternoon, unless it was the Starlings doing a bit of mimicking!! Again only the female turned up in the evening.

I had to go to my work sites on the 21st for essential checks and maintenance so was able to do a quick check of Echna Loch and the bay. There were several Sand Martins flying along the beach on the bay side and some more out over the loch itself. Also on the beach were approx 35 Oystercatchers, 20 Lapwing and a couple of Redshank. Out on the water there were Red-breasted Mergansers, Common Gulls and two Great Black-backed Gulls. Over on the loch there were Mallards, Tufted Ducks, a pair of Mute Swans and a couple of Common Gulls. On my return home there were a couple of Oystercatchers, a Lapwing and a Pied Wagtail in Demi's Paddock. Late afternoon saw a second year male Blackbird. There was no sign of the Mallards today.

The weather was quite pleasant first thing on the 22nd so I sat outside and had breakfast for the first time this year. With the current restriction on movement there was virtually no traffic noise, just the usual dawn chorus of Blackbird, Curlew, Greylag Geese, House Sparrow, Lapwing, Oystercatcher and Starling. This morning there was also the drumming of Snipe adding to the mix. The male blackbird from yesterday spent most of the day in the garden. In the afternoon a pair of Linnets appeared and spent a bit of time in the fuchsia bush where a pair bred last year. This pair were not ringed so it wasn't last year's pair returning. Again there was no sign of the Mallards.

The highlight of the day was a female Hen Harrier who appear in the afternoon heading North over the field on the far side of my Paddock. Briefly disappearing out of view it then reappeared coming back the other way this time flying over my paddock. As it went over the small banked area it made a brief climb, did a 180° turn and dropped to the ground behind the bank out of view. It briefly reappear as it popped out from behind the bank, flew low over the fence to the paddock and dropped down again out of view in amongst the tussocky grass. A walker coming along the track from the road must have spooked it as it again took to the air, flew low over the heather patch of our land and dropped down out of view. This time I could see it was carrying something. After about five minutes it got airborne again and headed off over the fields and down the hill towards Bruntland. I could see through the bins that it had caught what looked like a small rabbit.

The 23rd saw a pair of Linnets back in the garden at lunchtime and in the early evening a couple of Jackdaws were back.

Another ringing session in the garden on the 24th saw a Blackbird, a Starling and four House Sparrows ringed. On checking my records that's just over 170 House Sparrows ringed in the garden. I know some of them have been seen over in my neighbour's garden but I don't know how much further they go as there have not been any reports of sighting or dead birds found. Speaking with Barrie in the village he hasn't seen any ringed House Sparrows in his garden, so they don't seem to be making it that far. There are still plenty of House Sparrows in the garden without rings so it makes you wonder just how many there are around here.

Finally, on the 25th I saw my first Swallows of the year when a couple of them escorted me along the track when I returned from a trip to the village shop. The following morning, the 26th, there was another Swallow flying around over the garden at 7:30 and mid-morning the was a brief appearance of a male Greenfinch before it flew off towards the village.

The pair of Mallards returned on the morning of the 27th and spent most of the day either feeding on the pond or sleeping by the side of the pond. They eventually disappeared early evening and weren't seen again for the rest of the month.

I caught up with Barrie on the 29th, he had seen Goldcrest and Bar-tailed Godwit from his garden during the previous week and on the 28th and today he had a Chiffchaff in the garden. A new House Sparrow and a Starling were ringed and a Blackbird ringed on the 29 Mar this year was retrapped.

Saturday, 25 April 2020

Spring arrives and love is in the pond! - March 2020 roundup

Finally the weather started to improve and the days were definitely getting longer. Activity started to pick up in the garden from the 1st when a male Greenfinch appeared to join the Blackbird, House Sparrows, Starlings and Wren. Greenfinches are still very rare in the garden here for some reason. They used to be regulars and in good numbers, hopefully there will be more of them as the breeding season gets underway.

On the 6th a Whimbrel was seen behind the Sands Hotel. This is a favourite spot to see the Whimbrel and I'm guessing that it is the same one that comes back every year.

The 8th saw a brief visit from a Goldfinch, another rare visitor up on the hill but more common down in the village. The highlight of the day was not of the feathered variety but of a croaky variety in the pond. A coupe of ripples in the pond on the side nearest the cottage caught my attention as I was looking out of the window. A close look through the bins revealed a couple of frogs. Then another ripple further out into the pond revealed another three. Then as I scanned the rest of the pond there were frogs everywhere, climbing over each other, chasing each other and mating. It was difficult to get an accurate count but there were at least 51 of them and there were three clusters of spawn. I had never seen so many frogs in the pond at the same time. 



Last year the spawn didn't appear in the pond until mid-April so a bit a head of schedule this year.

On the 14th, as I went out to the byre, a Sparrowhawk took off from the rear of the garden. I had a quick look around the area but couldn't find any signs of a plucking/feeding spot.

Overnight on the 16/17th there was a clear sky and temperatures dropped below freezing resulting in the pond having a thin layer of ice over it. This is what happened last year when the frogs left spawn in the pond. Soon after the pond froze over and killed off some of the spawn. This time the layer of ice was much thinner so hopefully there won't be as much damage to the spawn.

Also on the 17th I spotted two Oystercatchers in my neighbour's field, that I call Demi's Paddock (Demi being the name of their horse). This was a good sign as usually there are a pair of Oystercatchers that appear around about now to breed in that paddock. Although last year after initial signs of nesting for some reason they then abandoned the site.

The 21st saw the return of a male Pheasant to the garden feeding on the seed put in the ground trap. He was seen daily until the end of the month when he disappeared.

On the 22nd I spotted three Wrens, two of whom were ringed, so guessing that was last year's pair that bred in the garden and an unringed one, maybe one of last year's offspring. There was also a ringed Dunnock foraging around under the bushes.

On the 23rd birding across the UK almost came to a complete standstill as the Government introduced a nationwide lockdown as it tried to introduce measures to stop the spread of the Covid-19 Coronavirus. The lockdown meant that people shouldn't go out unless it was absolutely necessary and those that could were told to work from home. So there will be lots of garden bird watching going on. You are allowed out for exercise so in theory could still keep an eye on the birds in the area around your home as long as you maintained social distancing. As I live in a rural area that should be fairly straight forward so I can still keep an eye on my local patch.

The 24th saw frog fest part two, this time with a high count of 63 frogs. If frogs are supposed to return to their place of birth to breed I might need to make the pond bigger!!

The last week of the month was the busiest so far with three Blackbirds, one Dunnock, 16 House Sparrows, one Linnet, one Meadow Pipit, one Pheasant, 53 Starlings and a Wren.

On the 29th I had the ground trap set for a ringing session in the garden but only managed to catch and ringed a new female Blackbird.

Thursday, 23 April 2020

Storms and not a storm - February 2020 roundup

February continued the January windy lack of birds theme. Apart from the first weekend which was just windy every other weekend had storm force winds. On the 8/9th we had Storm Ciara, then on the 15/16th we had Storm Dennis and on the 28/29th/1st March we had the Spanish named Storm Jorge. According to the Met Office web didn't have a storm the weekend of the 22nd/23rd, however in Orkney I recorded gusts of up to 83.9mph with average speeds in the 60mph range. So it looks like storms are only named if they are on UK mainland!!

Max gust recorded on the 22 Feb 2020

For good measure we also had light snow on the 26/27th.

The garden bird activity was pretty much the same as January but with out any House Sparrows until the last week of the month when eight appeared. The highlight in the garden was a Sparrowhawk on the 22nd.

There were daily sightings of Meadow Pipits along the track between the cottage and the road and in the surrounding fields.

Elsewhere on Burray the only report of note was two male Scaup on Echna Loch on the 29th. Yes it is a Leap Year this year.

Divers and storms

The rest of January was very quiet bird wise. The garden was practically devoid of birds not helped by the continuing strong to gale force winds. The occasional Blackbird, House Sparrow or Starling but everything else was keeping hunkered down out of the wind. I had a brief view of a Wren in the middle of the month for something different.

The only bird news of note came from Tim Dean, on the 9th, who was out on Hunda and spotted 86 Black-throated Divers and 45 Great Northern Divers between Echnaloch Bay and the oil rigs/accommodation platform out in Scapa Flow .

The only other notable event was Storm Brendan, on the 13/14th, the first winter storm of 2020. I say notable in a loose sense as it has been windy here for a while, so it wasn't really much of an event for us.