Tuesday 25 February 2014

A Sunday afternoon stroll and an auroral treat

Note: species shown in bold are new species for this year's Patch Work Challenge list.

After Saturday's brief stop at Echna I decided that as the weather was looking fairly reasonable (dry) I would go out onto the patch and have a look around. I haven't been down to the South West corner yet this year so I decided that I was going to head off up over the hill down to the road marking the Western edge of the patch then work my way down to the beach and then along the coast covering the Southern boundary back towards the village.

With nothing in the garden to start me off I headed for the trig point on the hill to the West of my house. Going under foot was heavy as the track was very muddy and slippery, so I trod cautiously as I didn't fancy slipping and breaking my leg again!!

Birdwise it seemed very quiet, the sky was empty as well as the fields. But near the top of the hill I spotted a flock of 18 Greylag Geese to get my list under way. From the top of the hill I could see the pools down towards Mossbank were quite full of water but devoid of any bird life. The last time I came this way the pools had dried out.

As I descended the hill towards the pools a Snipe took to the air from the heather, (my first for this year) closely followed by another two. As I took the track from Mossbank down to the road I spotted three Rock Doves. Things were definitely quiet.

Once on the road I stopped to look out onto Scapa Flow and Hunda Sound. Out in the Flow I saw a Great Northern Diver and three Long-tailed Ducks. In Hunda Sound there was another two Long-tailed ducks along with a pair of Eiders, two pairs of Mallard, a Great Black-backed Gull and a female Red-breasted Merganser.

As I left the road and joined the track to Littlequoy there were 17 Oystercatchers, 4 Common Gulls and a Herring Gull in the field in front of me. There was just a single House Sparrow as I walked through the yard at Littlequoy. Usually there are loads of Sparrows chattering away but today it was very quiet. The House Sparrows back at the house disappeared around the start of the year and I haven't seen any since, so not sure if they have moved due to all the bad weather or whether there is another reason but hopefully they will be back in the Spring.

As I walked from the farm yard towards the causeway across to Hunda a Shelduck and a pair of Mallard took to the sky from a small pool to the left of the track. Again the last time I saw this pool it was bone dry but was now full once more. There was also a flock of 10 Starlings feeding on the ground at the side of the track and 6 Lapwings flew overhead.

On the causeway there were 30 Oystercatchers and 12 Common Gulls taking shelter from the wind. Across on Hunda itself there were 12 Great Black-backed Gulls on their breeding ground and at least 60 Fulmars along the cliff edge on the south East side of the island.

At Wha Taing there were 23 Turnstones, 11 Redshank, six Curlew, five Ringed Plover and a Rock Pipit along the shoreline and out on the sea there were around 200 Wigeon. Also on the shoreline I came across a pair of ducks I'd never seen on the patch before.

Mystery ducks on the beach
The marsh land, between the shore and Littlequoy, with its myriad of pools had a good number of birds on it. I suspect there were lots more than I could see but it produced another new species for the patch in the form of 17 Teal, along with 12 Mallard, at least 50 Grelag Geese, four Grey Herons and a Snipe.

As I turned away from the coast up the Eastern edge of the marsh area I flushed a Jack Snipe.

The walk back along the track to the road at Ladywater only added some more Greylag Geese to the list. As I past the track from the road to Stonebreck I saw two Hooded Crows, the only corvids of the day. Along the road just before Ourigaire a flock of 20+ Linnets flew from the field on the North side of the road across to the South side.

After a short stop at Barrie and Linda's for a catch up and a brew it was time to head for home. The only downside to living on a hill is which ever way I go round the patch the last bit home is always uphill!

So at the end of the walkabout I added five new species to this years patch list and two of those (Teal and Jack Snipe) were new species for the patch. That takes my species total for this year's Patch Work Challenge to 53.

Thinking I was going to have the evening free to update the blog I got wind of an aurora event happening visible from Shetland down as far as at least the Inverness area. An initial look out the window indicated something was going on out there so I grabbed the camera gear and headed outside.

It was a clear starry night and fortunately with the wind from the South I was able to shelter in the lee of the house and watch the best aurora display I have seen up here so far.

The auroral cloud stretched from the North-West right across the sky to the North-East and at one point there appeared to be like a double belt. Rays of light could also be seen rising out of the auroral cloud. I was only seeing it as a greenish colour even on the photos I took, but others were capturing reds as well.

With more activity on the sun in the last 24 hours hopefully there may be more aurora to come later in the week. For now I'll leave you with a few of my photos.

Photos of the aurora on Sunday 23 Feb as seen from Burray


  1. That aurora looks spectacular Dave. I understand that it has been visible as far south as Essex in the east and South Wales in the west!



  2. It was pretty good Seumus but got surpassed by Thursday's even bigger event See my post 'An auroral feast' :-)