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.

Saturday, 4 January 2020

Sand, Sea and Rain

After a breezy start to the new year, with sustained winds of Force 8/9 gusting Force 10 for much of yesterday, this morning was flat calm albeit overcast with a hint of drizzle.

Whilst having breakfast I spotted a Wren flitting around under one of the bushes having a rummage through the undergrowth. It had a ring on its leg so most likely one of the adults that has been around for most of the year and will hopefully successfully raise another brood of chicks later in the year.

I needed to pop down to the village shop so thought I would pop along to Churchill Barrier No 4 and see what was about. On the way down the hill to the main road I spotted a male Greenfinch in the bushes of Reumuera. It was a welcome sight as this species has been missing from my garden for a number of months now.

On arriving at the Burray end of Barrier 4 I parked up and crossed the road to checkout the Water Sound side first. There were two male Mallards paddling towards the small beach, a couple of Shags feeding out in the bay, several groups of Eiders, and a couples of male Long-tailed Ducks.

Crossing back to the East side, as I wandered through the grassy dunes towards the beach, the drizzle was turning into light rain. A movement out of the corner of my eye caught my attention and revealed a male Stonechat flitting from stalk to stalk in the grass.

A scan at the North end of the beach amongst the rocks protruding out into the water there were six Oystercatchers, 37 Ringed Plovers, 40+ Sanderling (difficult to count these as they ran back and forth as the water washed in and out, seven Turnstones, 10+ Rock Pipits chasing each other about, a Wren and a Hooded Crow.

Out on the water there was a group of seven Mallard, four Long-tailed Ducks and three Wigeon.

In the fields on the cliff top above the rocky outcrop there was over a hundred Greylag Geese and 40+ Curlew.

Although still calm the rain was starting to get heavier so I called it quits and headed for home. Not a bad morning's bird watching adding another 10 species to my 2020 Burray Bird list.

There were reports that a Whimbrel had returned to a known spot behind the Sands Hotel. Will have to check that out next time I'm down there. There was also a report of a Little Auk being seen in Water Sound.


Thursday, 2 January 2020

The start of a new decade

Happy New Year and good birding for 2020.

1 Jan 2020

Just as the last decade finished with a stunning sunset, the new decade started with a cracking sunrise, just after 9am. However the sky was a mass of reds and oranges from about 8:15 until the sun appeared above the horizon, rising out of the sea.

First bird of the year was a Robin, just narrowly pipping the resident female Blackbird to the title. These were closely followed by a group of four Starlings and a group of Rock Doves/Feral doves. A Brown Rat was also seen scavenging amongst the bushes looking for its breakfast.

A Hooded Crow was spotted flying across the nearby field, before making a brief stop on the roof of Hillhead before disappearing over the hill.

Then three House Sparrows arrived to feed on the seed I had put out.

We had been invited over to some friends in St Mary's village, on the North end of the Churchill Barriers, for lunch so it would have been rude not to stop at Echnaloch Bay and Echna Loch to see what was about.

On the bay side of the road there were two adult Great Black-backed Gulls feeding on the remains of a seal carcass, while two juveniles stood watching waiting for their chance to feed. Out on the water were another two adults along with some Red-breasted Mergansers, Long-tailed Ducks, a few Common Gulls, and an Oystercatcher flying across the bay.

On the loch side of the road there were two Mute Swans, some Wigeon, Tufted Ducks and two male Goldeneyes along with another Great Black-backed Gull and a couple of Common Gulls.

Moving on to Barrier 3, the beach on the South end of Weddell Bay had 20 Curlew on it and in the field behind the beach a flock of 20+ Lapwing were being quite flighty.

It was dark when we came back so nothing else added to the Burray 2020 List so the first day total came to 17 species.

The wind was starting to pick up and it looks like there will be some strong winds over the next few days.

2 Jan 2020

The wind has continued to pick up overnight and by the time night fall had arrived it was around Force 6 gusting Force 7 with the forecast for tomorrow being Force 8 gusting Force 9.

Nothing new in the garden today, in fact it was probably quieter than yesterday. A quick trip out after lunch gave me the opportunity to check out the small quarry up by the wind turbine at Northfield. The quarry itself was dead but the field to the south of the turbine had a mixed flock of Starlings and 20+ Redwings. Yesterday's flock of Lapwings was still about and just a flighty.

As I approached the turning for the Fossil Centre, a male Pheasant ran across the road and then ducked down into the grass verge hoping I wouldn't see it!!

Echna Loch was fairly quiet with nothing new noted from yesterday's collection. On the other side of the road there were 13 Curlew on the shore along with the Great Black-backed Gulls still feeding on the seal remains. Out on the water there were three Shags to accompany the Red-breasted Mergansers, Long-tailed Ducks and the Common Gulls seen yesterday. Along with the Shags, a Redshank picking its way along the shore and a Raven flying along the cliff top were new additions to the Burray year list bringing the total to 22 species.

Last year I met Laura Elliot when she came to Orkney on holiday. Laura was relatively new to birding and had embarked on a challenge to see and photograph as many different bird species in Scotland as she could in a year. Her visit to Orkney contributed a number of species to her list. Laura is passionate about the great outdoors, birding and photography and has just launched her own website/blog which you can see here: https://www.headoutdoorsscotland.com/

I hope you will take a look and follow Laura on her journey.

Hopefully she will do a much better job with her blog than I do with mine!!
 

December 2019 Roundup

December was a fairly quiet month both in the garden and around Burray in general. The garden had the usual crowd of House Sparrow and Starlings, a Robin and Wren and a female Blackbird. Claire spotted a Blackbird in the garden the week before Christmas with a ring on its left leg so it wasn't one of mine as I ring on the right leg. Although I kept an eye out for it at the weekend I didn't see it. The highlight of the month was seeing a Hen Harrier hunting over our paddock and heath land on a couple of weekend afternoons.

I didn't get out birding at all during the month either due to the weather or other things going on.

It was dark when I went to work and came home so I couldn't even see what was on Echna Loch or across the road out in Echnaloch Bay. The few times I drove past on the weekends there were the usual pair of Mute Swans, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Wigeon, Great Black-backed Gulls, Common Gulls and usually at least one male Goldeneye on the loch itself and out in the bay Long-tailed Ducks, Red-breasted Mergansers, Great Black-backed Gulls, Common Gulls, Shags with one or two Redshank and a few Oystercatchers.

With strong to gale force winds forecast for the start of the new year it could be a bit of a slow start!!

The last day of the year saw a cracking sunset and we wait to see what a new dawn, a new year and a new decade bring.

Thanks for following my blog and I hope you continue to visit next year.

Here's to a great year of birding in 2020.

November 2019 Roundup

The Autumn continued to be relatively quiet. The garden had the usual crowd of House Sparrow and Starlings, plus a Dunnock, a Robin and Wren and the resident ringed female Blackbird.

On the 3rd a flock of six Fieldfares were on the heather patch in the morning taking shelter from the wind.

Not quite Burray, but not too far away on Lamb's Holm (short drive over Barrier 3 and 2) news broke on the 8th that a first year male Blue Rock Thrush had been seen in the quarry. Its appearance caused a bit of excitement and it stayed until the 15th giving most of the local birders the chance to see it as well as a number of visiting birders who saw it on their way up to Papay Westray to see the Stellar's Eider. I went along to the quarry at first light on the 10th to see if I could see it but after and hour and a half of nothing I had to leave to attend the local Remembrance Sunday service on Burray. With news of a sighting circulating towards the end of the service I decided to give it another go so it was home for a quick change and back to the quarry. After about half an hour I spotted it and then had some good views for the couple of hours.


Blue Rock Thrush (Monticola solitarius)


Blue Rock Thrush

Blue Rock Thrush
This species is the national bird of Malta and is usually found in Southern Europe, Northwest Africa and from central Asia to Northern China and Malaysia.

The 13th saw the first frost of the Autumn/Winter.

October 2019 Round-up

The month started with reports of a Yellow-browed Warbler along the Ness Road on the morning of the 3rd.

The 4th was the Dusky Warbler in my garden at Milfield, see previous post 'Dusk in more ways than one' for details.

There were four Fieldfare in the field around my cottage on the morning of the 6th. I spotted a solitary Swallow 1 over field next to Gillietrang just after 9am when I popped out. An adult Little Gull was seen over Water Sound by Barrie around the same time. Back in the garden at lunchtime there were two Goldcrest and two Robins.

A Smew and a Little Gull were reported on the11th at Echna Loch.

On the morning of the 12th there was a female Hen Harrier hunting over my heather patch. Whilst a Stonechat and a Redwing visited the garden. Several Snipe were heard and seen flying over. The Smew (Red-head either a female or first winter male) was reported around 10am as still being on Echna Loch, in with a small flock of Tufted Duck.

Late afternoon on the 14th Barrie reported a Siberian Stonechat at Westshore, which stayed around until the 18th. The Smew was still on Echnaloch and 31 Slavonian Grebes and c150 Long-tailed Duck were out in Echnaloch Bay.

There reports of dolphins in Echnaloch Bay around 10:30 on the 17th.

On the 18th I got an opportunity to go and look for the Siberian Stonechat which had been seen still at Westshore during the early afternoon. However after an hour of searching in fading light I hadn't found it and it wasn't seen in the following days.

There was a pair of Reed Buntings in the garden on the morning of the 19th. Lots of Redwing in the field around the garden with several visiting the garden.

On the 21st Barrie saw a Willow Warbler in village mid-morning and later moning a Yellowhammer briefly at Little Ness, which flew off to the West.

A Little Gull was seen in Echnaloch Bay on the 22nd which was possibly the same one seen across the road on the loch earlier in the month.

A surprise on the 27th when I went into the living room to change the clock in the living room. Peering through a gap in the curtains I saw a Grey Heron standing in the pond. That was new species for the garden list.

Last report for the month was a Little Auk out in Echnaloch Bay on the morning of the
30th.

Dusk in more ways than one.

It was Friday afternoon (4 Oct), I arrived home from work just after 5pm and it was a nice calm evening and just right for opening the two mist nets in the garden to see if there was much about as dusk approached.

Not long after I got set up, my birding friend Barrie, from down in the village called round for a catch up. as we chatted we watched a couple of Blackbirds, some House Sparrows and Starlings moving about the garden and surrounding fields.

Then something flew into the net. On approaching I could see it was a female Blackcap. I don't often get them in the garden so it was good to see some evidence that the Autumn migration was in progress. Soon after a Wren flew into the net. This was a retrap and was originally ringed in the garden back in May this year. I suspect it was one of the adults that had nested in an old tea pot that we have hanging in one of our bushes.

By now the light was starting to fade when we spotted something pop out of a small tree in the corner of the garden fly low across the wild patch of rough grass that was once the lawn heading straight for a row of Fuchsia bushes. What it hadn't spotted was the net that was just in front of the bushes and it became the third catch of the day.

As we wandered across to the net Barrie commented that it looked interesting. Now when Barrie says it looks interesting it usually means that it is something special. As I approached I didn't recognise it as something I had seen before and told Barrie not to say any more.

I extracted it from the net and started to take a closer look at it. It was a one of the Phylloscopus warbler species but which one. It was the same sort of size as a Chiffchaff but with rounded wing tips and it was generally brown on its back and pale/buff underneath. There was a clearly defined supercillium from the base of the beak to well behind the eye and it had a thin pointed beak.

From the plumage it was narrowed down to either a Dusky Warbler or a Radde's Warbler but the bill ruled out the latter. The wing length was 55mm with P4 to P6 emarginated.

Happy with my identification, as it was a first for this species for me, I asked Barrie what he thought it was and he agreed that it was a Dusky Warbler. After a few photos were taken the bird was released into the bushes it was aiming for.


Dusky Warbler (Phylloscopus fuscatus)


Underside of the Dusky Warbler


By now it was almost dark so the nets were closed.

An initial check of the Orkney Bird Reports indicated that this was in the low teens of the number of sightings in Orkney and subsequent checks revealed that it was the 13th sighting for Orkney and the first reported sighting for Burray.

Despite watching the garden for any reappearance the following day it wasn't seen again.

This bird usually breeds in Siberia and heads to South-east Asia for the winter. It is described in my bird books as being a rare Autumn vagrant in Western Europe, so a very special bird indeed.