Tuesday 31 December 2013

End of 2013

This time last year I was writing about starting this blog and how I hoped to report my birding activities around Burray and beyond. To try and encourage me to get out and about around my local area I signed up to the Patchwork Challenge.

Now 12 months later it is time to look back and see if I achieved what I had intended to achieve. In short not fully because as usual other things diverted some of my time but I still have been out there birding.

Most of my birding in 2013 has been on my patch, with some on the rest of Burray and some further afield both within Orkney and outwith.

I have added a number of species to my Life List this year all of which where within Orkney and one a Ring Ouzel turned up in my Garden. The other lifers were a Buff Breasted Sandpiper and a Western Bonelli's Warbler (East side of Burray), a Yellow Browed Warbler (Deerness), a Thrush Nightingale (Holm), Blythe's Reed Warbler and a Grasshopper Warbler (North Ronaldsay) and an Ivory Gull (Evie).

For the Patchwork Challenge I found 74 species on my patch which gave me 91 points, so that is my target to beat next year. The challenge got off to a good start with 30 species seen on the 1 Jan and another 8 species added by the end of the month. Species for the rest of the year were added as follows: Feb 4, Mar 4, Apr 2, May 6, Jun 7, Jul 1, Aug 0, Sep 7, Oct 3, Nov 2 and Dec 0. For a full list of species seen and a map showing my patch see the Patchwork Challenge Bird List page.

As well as doing the Patchwork Challenge, I also continued supplying data on the birds in my garden to the BTO Garden Birdwatch Watch scheme and I also joined the BTO Nest Record Scheme.

For the latter scheme I submitted records for two Blackbird nests that were in the garden, one raising a brood of five chicks the other a brood of three chicks, one Oystercatcher nest in the field adjoining my land, which raised a brood of three chicks and elsewhere on my patch a Swallow nest raising a brood of 4 chicks and a Blackbird nest which hatched three chicks but was predated before they could fledge. I also had five or six Starling nests and at least one House Sparrow nest within the garden but these were inaccessible so records weren't raised for these.

Work on enlarging the pond went on throughout the year and once the water was back in, it very quickly became a big attraction for the birds who were using it for drinking and bathing. At times there were upto 40 birds all trying to bathe. It was interesting to watch the young Swallows experimenting with different methods for drinking on the wing.

The best birds in the garden this year had to be the Ring Ouzel (as mentioned earlier a new life bird for me) a couple of visits by a Great Spotted Woodpecker and the Blackcaps.

My bird ringing training continued throughout the year, see my ringing blog for full details. On patch ringing activities included the two Blackbird nests in the garden and elsewhere on the patch Lapwing and Swallow chicks and young Black-headed Gulls, Common Gulls and Oystercatchers. Also on my land there were two ringing sessions targeting Meadow Pipits which also produced a Rock Pipit, a Skylark, a House Sparrow, a Blackbird and a young Swallow which had been previously ringed over at Graemeshall Loch.

So all in all a pretty busy birding year even though I didn't spend as much time out on the patch as I would have liked to.

As far as the blog goes, I have tried to post whenever I have been out and about or something interesting has turned up either on patch or elsewhere on Burray. I haven't got round to blogging about the different habitats within my patch yet but plan on doing that next year.

So that just leaves me to thank you for following my blog, I hope you have enjoyed it and will continue to follow it next year. Best wishes for 2014 and I hope you all have a good birding year.

Saturday 14 December 2013

Pre-Christmas twitch

As I have said before I don't usually twitch birds especially if they aren't on my patch however with the end of the year approaching and not having been out very much birding recently I accepted the offer of a lift from Barrie and Linda to go and see a very special bird.

The last time this species was seen in Orkney was in Kirkwall Bay between the 29 April and the 6th May 1949!!

Earlier in the week a dead male Sperm Whale was washed up onto the beach at Evie on West Mainland. Carcasses of dead cetaceans are known for attracting gulls and after last year's bonanza over near Marwick of Iceland Gulls feeding on a washed up carcass there was hope that some more white gulls would appear and feed on this one.

Sperm Whale carcass

Then on Thursday the word went out that a white gull had been found by local birder Dafi. However what he found wasn't an Iceland Gull this was something a bit more rarer, he had found an Ivory Gull.

This species is normally found in the high Arctic although the odd one or two turn up in the UK on an annual basis.

About the same size as a Common Gull it has a plumper body, broader wings with a longer tail and short black legs. According to my bird book adult birds are all white and first year birds have distinctive black finely spotted plumage and a black spotted face. This bird was generating some discussion between those that had gone to see it as it was inbetween the two plumages.

This bird had black tips to its wings but didn't have a lot of the black spotting on the rest of its wings but it did have black spotting around the base of the bill.

Ivory Gull
Ivory Gull
Thanks to Barrie and Linda for inviting me along and hpefully it won't be another 64 years before another one is seen in Orkney.

More photos to follow.

Saturday 12 October 2013

Swallows gone, Redwings arrived, Waxwings next?

Well it looks like the Swallows have all gone. I've not seen one around here since the 7 Oct although I'm sure there will still be the odd one flying about somewhere.

There have been mixed flocks of 200-300 Lapwing and Golden Plover in the field around the house over the last week and around 50 Twite were sat in/on the Fuschia bushes in the garden when I came back from my ringing session at lunchtime.

Late this afternoon I saw my first Redwings of the Autumn on my patch with 6 in our paddock. No sign of any Fieldfares yet, but as we are approaching the middle of October the question a lot of folk are asking is 'when will the Waxwings arrive?' Soon hopefully so I'd better start stocking up on apples!!

Saturday 5 October 2013

Bonelli's ticked

The Orkbird text alert sent out a message this afternoon to say that the Western Bonelli's Warbler was showing in the same place as yesterday over on the East side of Burray.

So I headed off to see if I could find it.

On arriving at the reported location I met Al, one of the RSPB wardens, who was the person who had reported it today. Al had been there for around a couple of hours looking for it and had finally found it fliting between a small clump of Sycamore trees and some Willows.

Everytime it flew into the Sycamores a Yellow-browed Warbler kept chasing it off. This could be a long search as Al hadn't seen it reappear for at least ten minutes. Suddenly Al spotted it back over by the Willows. A quick look through the binoculars and there it was sitting on the edge of the Willows in clear view.

So that was my first Western Bonelli's Warbler. The third life tick in a week!!

Al headed off leaving me to get my scope out for a closer look.

This warbler is about the same size as a Wood Warbler but has a paler brownish face instead of Yellow and White underparts like the Wood Warbler. Its most striking feature is the Yellowish-Green wings which contrast with its otherwise dull plumage.

Western Bonelli's Warbler - Photo by Pierre Dalous
A high pitched call from the Sycamores alerted me to the presence of a Yellow-browed Warbler which I eventually saw fliting amongst the leaves. After last week's missed opportunity to see one on Burray I now have that species on my Burray list too. I just need it to move a bit further West on the island to see it on my patch.

Not long after Al left I was joined by Alastair another birder and I was able to point out the location of the Bonelli's to him and we both enjoyed some good views of it. It was a shame it didn't come a bit closer so that we could get our own photos of it.

A small flock of Pink-footed Geese flying over added another species to my Burray list.

One the way back up the hill to my house I spotted three Swallows flying around over the fields.

No sign of the Ring Ouzel today.

Friday 4 October 2013

Migrant news

Today's headlines:

Bonelli's Warbler re-found?

New species found in garden.

The weather has perked up today. After a week of strong South-Easterly winds today it has eased and with the early morning rain clearing the sun came out and it has been a pleasantly mild day.

A quick stroll at lunchtime with my good lady down the track from the house to the road, along the road and back up the next track didn't reveal anything too interesting. A single Swallow was seen flying about and a single Wheatear led the way as we walked along the road. There are still a few Meadow Pipits about and a couple of pairs of Skylarks were chasing each other around. A couple of Linnets also flew overhead.

On a sad note a dead Curlew was found at the side of the road, possibly the victim of getting caught up on the barbed wire fence.

Barrie has been out and about again today and found a Bonelli's Warbler within 200 yards of where he found the previous one on the 23 Sep. It is most likely to be the same bird. Join by Paul, another local birder, it was eventually confirmed as a Western Bonelli's Warbler.

Mid afternoon I took a break from work to make a brew and while waiting for the kettle to boil I threw my apple core from lunchtime out onto the lawn. As soon as it had stopped rolling there was a female Blackbird onto it. Through the scope I could see she was wearing a shiny ring so I'm guessing she might be one of the chicks that were ringed in the garden earlier in the year.

She was soon joined by a male Blackbird and shortly after that a third bird appeared which was quickly chased off by the other two. As it flew to the small tree in the corner of the lawned area something didn't look quite right. Grabbing the binoculars and focusing in on the bird I could see straight away it wasn't a Blackbird. The first thing I noticed was that the body feathers all seemed to have pale edges making it look like the bird was covered in scales. It had a pale chin and throat. All indicators were pointing me towards a Ring Ouzel but lacking the usual White crescent this bird had to be a first winter bird.

It disappeared from view but I quickly relocated it on the rough ground across from the garden and its call as it flew off confirm that it was a Ring Ouzel.

I got in touch with Barrie to let him know that it was about and he was soon on site and after a brief look around for it it was located and he confirmed it was a Ring Ouzel.

So a well timed tea break resulted in a new bird for the garden, a new bird for the patch (2 points) and a new bird for the life list as this was the first time I had seen this species in the wild.

Sunday 29 September 2013

Yellow-browed Warbler

Well Barrie has done it again and found another Autumn migrant species on Burray.

I got a call from him yesterday lunchtime to say that he had found a Yellow-browed Warbler in a garden near to Churchill Barrier No 4.

As this would be a new life list bird for me I popped down to take a look.

On approach to the garden where he had found it I spotted that the people next door were out in their garden pruning their trees. This didn't bode well for my chances of seeing the warbler and despite looking for around 20 minutes including the surrounding gardens I wasn't able to locate it.

So yet again I had missed another life list bird that was almost on my doorstep.

Still not all was lost as later that afternoon I headed over to Deerness and guess what I saw. You can find out here: http://orkneyringer.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/a-couple-of-migrants.html

Saturday 28 September 2013

Busy Barrie

After the Common Rosefinch in his garden last Sunday and finding a Bonelli's Warbler on Monday Barrie has found a few more migrants during the week with a Lesser Whitethroat at the Bu, a Chiffchaff at Leith, a Willow Warbler and a Wood Warbler in the village and a Redwing in his garden.

Great Spotted Woodpecker

After a fleeting glimpse yesterday afternoon of what I thought was a Great Spotted Woodpecker this morning I was able to confirm it.

I had a call from my neighbour to say he had just had one in his garden and that it was heading in my direction. I went straight to the windows over looking the garden and there it was sitting in the Fuschia bushes. It then flew across the garden round to the back of the house so I went outside to get a better look. Just as I rounded the side of the house it was off heading back towards my neighbour's garden.

The Great Spotted Woodpecker is a rare bird for Orkney. Last year there were only five records for this species. Already this year there has been one seen in Stromness (19 and 21 Sep), one on Sanday (19 Sep), one in Deerness (21 Sep) and two on North Ronaldsay (26 and 27 Sep). And now there is one on Burray too.

Time to go and find it and anything else this morning's rain might have grounded.

Tuesday 24 September 2013

Bonelli's Warbler

My friend Barrie was out and about on the East side of Burray yesterday afternoon and found a Bonelli's Warbler, most likely a Western species.

He found it along the road that runs westwards from Ness in Burray, not far from where he found the Buff-breasted Sandpiper a couple of weeks ago, where it was feeding briefly in gardens and working its way quickly along the dykes.

With the wind now round to the East I wonder what else will turn up on Burray over the next few days.

Sunday 22 September 2013

Common Rosefinch

My friend Barrie had a juvenile Common Rosefinch in his garden in Burray Village this morning. It perched at the top of a dead tree for about 30 seconds before flying off but returned about 30 minutes later for a second showing.

This is the second time this year he has had this species in his garden and the second time I've been down and not seen it.

Still it was good to catch up on what's been about over a brew.

Sunday 15 September 2013

There's a Robin in the garden

I've not been as good at keeping this blog up to date as I had planned so far this year so I must do better.

There have been plenty of Meadow Pipits around for the last 2-3 weeks and numbers of Wheatear have also been building up. A ringing session here last week resulted in 17 Meadow Pipits being ringed and also a Rock Pipit. See here for full details An Orkney Ringer - Home Ground.

Unlike a lot of other places in Orkney which have seen increasing numbers over the last few weeks, here up at the home site there haven't been any Pied Wagtails apart from one last week although I have seen quite a few down in the village.

A quick trip down to Littlequoy Farm during the week to check out a small pool for the possibility of some wader ringing only produced 8 Redshank and 21 Ringed Plover. The pool itself was bone dry, which according to the farmer is quite unusual. Maybe the storms over the next few days will start filling it up again.

There is a flock of 200+ Golden Plover that have been moving around the fields around the home site over the last couple of weeks.

Echnaloch has seen increasing numbers of Greylag Geese in the evenings and these are now being joined by an increasing number of ducks so I'll have to pop down there some time and see what's about.

The young Mute Swan is still on the loch with its parents. In previous years a pair of Mute Swans have always nested very close to the main road. This year there was no sign of them and nobody I talked to was very sure what had happened. Several scans around the shore of the loch throughout the summer didn't show any signs of them having set up a nest elsewhere so it was presumed that possibly one of the swans had died and the other swan had not found a new mate.

Then late in the summer a single youngster was seen on the loch with two adults. This raised a number of questions. Was this the original pair with a new nest concealed from view? Was it a new pair with a nest concealed from view? Why was there only one chick? Usually the resident pair had produced around 5-6 chicks a season of which 3-4 had survived. Had there been more chicks that had perished at an early stage? Had the eggs been predated because of the new nest location? Who knows. We will have to wait until next year to see if the same pair will nest again and if the nest can be located and observed.

Back at home I spotted a Robin in the garden yesterday afternoon. This was the first one for this year and comes about a month earlier than the one seen here last year. Will it stick around for the winter or is it just passing through? Last year the Robin only stuck around for a fortnight before it disappeared.

I also had the first sighting of our frog in the new pond since we filled it with water and introduced it to its refurbished home.

Friday 23 August 2013

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

Yesterday evening word went out on the local birding grapevine that a Buff-breasted Sandpiper (Tryngites subruficollis) had been sighted.

This species is classed as 'very rare' in Orkney with up to four being seen each year. Usually these birds breed in the tundra of Eastern Siberia through to Canada and generally head to South America for the winter but do turn up around the world as vagrants.

Now I don't usually 'twitch' birds, if they happen to be where I am then all well and good but I don't make a point of dashing off to see them. However, this particular bird had the good sense to land on Burray which is where I live so it would be rude not to go and see it.

Reports first thing this morning weren't looking promising as it hadn't been seen but by mid morning it had been sighted in the same spot as last night and with the fog having rolled in hopefully it would stay where it was for a bit.

So at lunchtime on my way back from the doctor's I made a small detour to the field where it had been seen and after scanning the field I spotted it in amongst some Ringed Plover and close to a couple of Oystercatchers. Always useful to have known species close by for size comparision.

This was a 'life' list bird for me and would have been a good one for my patch list but unfortunately it was on the wrong side of the island for that. Good news for my fellow birder whose patch does cover that part of the island.

Might have to go for a wander round my patch in case it has moved or there is another one lurking in the fog!!

Update - Friday afternoon

After work I went back to the field that I had seen the sandpiper in to see if it was still about and whether I could get any photos of it. The weather conspired against me on the latter objective but I did see the sandpiper again.

This time it was in amongst a large flock of Golden Plover and also with a couple of Ruff.

Golden Plovers and a Ruff

With the fog rolling in and out it was making observation a bit tricky and a couple of times the flock were spooked by something disappearing into the fog before reappearing on a slightly different part of the field. On the third occassion the flock disappeared off to the West and didn't return.


Saturday 29 June 2013

Patch Walk

A scary thing happened this morning. 

When I got up at 06:30 it was chucking it down with rain. While I was having breakfast and waiting for my laptop to boot up my thoughts turned to friends of mine who had been up here for a week on holiday and who were heading for the ferry terminal to catch the ferry back across to the Scottish mainland to start their long drive back down to Lancashire.

With the laptop ready I checked the Met Office weather forecast to see what the weather was going to be like for their journey. It was forecasting sunshine from 07:00. Another look out of the window at the dark overcast sky, in all directions, and the rain running down the window made me chuckled at how wrong the forecast was.

Then the scary thing happened.

At 07:05 the sky suddenly brightened, the cloud started breaking up and the sun was out!! The bad weather was heading out into the North Sea and to the West bright less cloudy sky was heading my way.

I decided it was about time I went out and had a bit of a wander around part of my patch. A couple of weeks ago I found a Swallow nest in an old wartime building which had four eggs in it. As I had raised a nest record for the nest I needed to go back and check on it's progress.

I set off up the hill and saw the ferry leaving the harbour, my friends were on their way home. As I wandered up the track I passed a colony of Arctic Terns. So far when I have been up the track the colony has got airbourne and kept an eye on me and then very quickly started to settle down again as I passed. Today they were a lot more vocal and some of them actually flew over to the track and started to buzz me. That response plus seeing a few terns flying into the colony with food in their beaks is a pretty good sign that they are breeding and have young.

I quickly moved further up the path and the reception party returned back to the colony and started to settle down.

When I got to the top of the hill I looked down onto the area that had held the Black-headed Gull colony, it was now void of any gulls. There were a few Black-headed Gulls and some Common Gulls a bit further South of the where the colony had been.

A pair of Bonxies (Great Skuas) were patrolling over head and came over to take a look at me before moving out over the moorland.

Oystercatchers and Curlew were also being very vocal with lots of alarm calling but I did't see any young moving about in the heather.

Meadow Pipits and a couple of Twite were flitting across the heather
A couple of Arctic Skuas were flying along the ridge where I have seen them before, they seem to prefer that area to the land on the North side of the moor.

A couple of Swallows flying overhead reminded me of why I had come to this part of my patch. Arriving at the site I entered the building and good see that the nest was well lined with feathers.

I got my new gadget out of my pocket and switched it on. I then carefully placed the probe over the edge of the nest and on the screen I could see a wide gape of a young Swallow after food. A quick look around the nest revealed four chicks. So all the eggs have successfully hatched.

In case you are wondering what gadget I'm using, it is a hand-held endoscope with a colour monitor. The tiny camera has a ring of LED's around it that allow the user to light up what the camera is looking at. It is designed for use around the home for looking into cracks and crevices but makes an excellent tool for inspecting hard to access nests.

Hand-held Endoscope

On the walk back home I saw more Arctic Terns taking food back to the colony which is an encouraging sign.

I also heard a tern call that was different to the Arctic Terns that were flying around. I was quickly able to locate the bird flying against the breeze and a look through the binoculars confirmed it was a Little Tern. There are only a handful of Little Terns seen up here so to see one flying over my patch was an excellent end to the walk.

Friday 28 June 2013


It's nearly halfway through the year and yesterday I saw my first Wheatear on my patch. There seems to have been a lack of this species so far this year. Hopefully a few more will start to appear over the coming weeks.

More nests

Since my last post another Blackbird nest has been found in the garden this time with three chicks on it. When the nest was found on the 18 June it had one newly hatched chick and two eggs which had also hatched by the following day. On Tuesday 24 June the chicks were ringed. Based o nthe hatching to fledging time of the last nest these chicks should be off the nest this weekend.

In the barn there are two possibly three more Starling nests now with young on and a continuous convoy of adult birds arriving with food.

Monday 3 June 2013

Nest update

The Blackbird nest saw the five chicks fledge on Friday (31 May). Four had already gone when I checked the nest at 09:00 and the last one had gone by the time I rechecked the nest at 16:00. They could be heard calling from the undergrowth on the bank the nest was in.
Last Blackbird chick on nest prior to fledging
This morning I popped out as usual first thing to top up the bird feeders and when I returned I found one of the ringed chicks sitting on the work top in the kitchen!!

Last Friday (31 May) also saw the first chick on the Ostercatcher nest with a second egg starting to hatch. The third egg was still intact. By Saturday morning (1 June) the second egg was still hatching and now the third egg had started as well. The first chick was still sitting on the nest. A check of the nest late on Saturday evening and there was one chick left the other two had gone, hopefully into the nearby cover. A final check of the nest on Sunday morning and the last chick had also gone. Just in time too as the field has now been ploughed and grass seed sown.
First Oystercatcher chick with the second egg starting to hatch
The young Starlings are now starting to gather in ever increasing numbers, this morning there were 43 in the garden!!

Wednesday 29 May 2013

Starling Update

The Starling nest I mentioned in my Nest update post yesterday has seen all five birds fledge this morning and they are now wandering around the garden.

The first sign was around 8:30 this morning when a young Starling appeared on the window ledge of the office window, with another two appearing near the drive mid morning.

A quick check of the nest at lunchtime and it was empty. If I see more than five youngsters in the garden it may indicate the other nest has fledge too as the byre was pretty quiet when I visited.

Blackbirds next hopefully.

Tuesday 28 May 2013

Common Rosefinch

My birding friend down in the village gave me a quick call this afternoon to say that he had seen either a female or first summer Common Rosefinch in his garden. It had quickly disappeared into the undergrowth and subsequent attempts to find it had drawn a blank.

I had a quick look in my garden just in case it had moved away from the village but to no avail.

Nest update

It has been a while since I posted any news about what has been going on around my home and my patch so I thought I would start with an update on what some of the breeding birds around here are doing.

First of all there is my Blackbird nest. I first spotted the adults taking nesting material into one of the banks that borders my garden on the 29 April. Then on the 1 May I located the nest which looked like construction had finished.When I passed the nest on the 2 May I spotted that the first egg had been laid with a second egg appearing the next day and a third the day after that. Then I had to go away for a few days. When I returned I found that there were five eggs on the nest. This meant that laying had been completed on the 6 May and therefore the eggs should hatch somewhere between the 18 and 21 May. Right on cue on either the 18 or 19 May all the eggs hatched. The next milestone will be when they fledge, which should be somewhere between the 30 May and 3 June. Yesterday, 27 May, my ringing trainer came up and we ringed the chicks who were all looking healthy and their feather development was going well.

Next, Starlings. I had noticed a number of Starlings visiting our byre back in April but with no obvious signs at the time of any nests it was thought that they had decided not to use the byre. Then in mid May I noticed that there were adults taking food into the byre. An initial look didn't come up with anything and any chicks that were there were keeping very quiet when the parents weren't about. Watching from the house at one point I spotted four adults go in with food in very close succession so there must be at least two nest in the byre somewhere. Subsequent observations from the house have seen six adults entering the byre so there are probably three nests in there. By the 20 May the chicks were starting to get vocal while the parents weren't about. Tracing where the sound was coming from plus the rapidly developing poo trail identified where two of the nest were. One was in a cavity right up in the apex of the roof and the other in a cavity next to one of the windows. On looking into the latter cavity four chicks could be seen. A second look on the 25 May showed that there were five chicks in the nest. A further check today (28 May) showed that there were still five chicks with quite advanced feathers. Not knowing exactly when they were hatched makes it difficult to predict when they will fledge but looking at the feathers I would say that fleding isn't too far away. As far as a third possible nest goes I have still to locate where that might be.

On the 25 May I noticed a pair of House Sparrows with food disappearing behind the gutter near the front door. A close look showed a possible small cavity that they were disappearing into. With careful listening I could hear the chicks. I have no idea how long it is since they hatched or when they are likely to fledge so I will just need to keep my eye on the garden for a load of young Sparrows appearing.

The final nest is in a field adjacent to my land. This field has been left alone by the farmer so far this year so it has the remenants of the stubble left over from last year. At the beginning of May I noticed that there was an Oystercatcher sitting amongst the stubble. Over a few days of observation it seem to spend most of its time in the same spot, with short periods of time where it would get up and walk about. A second Oystercatcher was always close by. On the 11 May, after my short trip away I went and investigated the area that I had seen the Oystercatcher sitting in. As I approached both Oystercatchers started getting quite vocal and moved away from the area. It didn't take me long to find the nest, which contained three eggs, in a shallow hollow. The eggs were well camouflaged so I marked the position with my GPS to make it easier to find on subsequent visits. Soon after I cleared the area one of the adults returned to the nest and resumed incubating duties. I was able to keep an eye on the nest location from the house and could see the adults taking it in turn to sit on the eggs. I paid a second visit to the nest on the 26 May and there were still three eggs. Again not knowing when the eggs were laid I don't know for sure when they will hatch. It should take somewhere between 24 and 27 days for the eggs to hatch. If the adult had been sitting on three eggs when I first spotted it on the 4 May then the eggs could hatch as early as today (28 May), if however the last egg was laid on the day I first visited the nest (11 May) then they won't hatch until possibly the 7 Jun. A further brief visit to the nest today showed that the three eggs were still in the nest so I will have to monitor the nest from the house and watch for any signs that the eggs have hatched.

Details of the Blackbird, Starling and Oystercatcher nests are being recorded as part of the BTO Nest Record Scheme (NRS). For details on this and how to become involved visit the BTO NRS website.

Sunday 12 May 2013

A trip to NRBO

I have just got back from my first visit to the North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory (NRBO) having spent five days over there (5-9 May).

This post will cover just my birding activities, I have put a post covering my ringing activities on my other blog - Orkney Ringer

The Observatory

As the name implies the Observatory (Obs) is located on North Ronaldsay, the Northern most island in the Orkney island group.

North Ronaldsay is well-known as one of the best birdwatching sites in the country and the variety and number of birds that arrive here on migration in Spring and Autumn can be spectacular.

The Obs, which is situated in the Southwest corner of the island, was established in 1987 and its aim is to study and record the migrant birds that pass through Orkney's most Northerly island each year.

The Observatory

Guest Dining Room
The Obs Cafe/Bar

Visitors are welcome to stay at the observatory which includes guest house accomodation, a hostel and camping area. For full details visit their website

The Obs is one of the two main ringing sites, the other is just up the road at Holland House.

As well as the usual mist nets and whoosh nets used to catch the birds the Obs also makes use of Heligoland traps. This consists of a mesh funnel that the birds move down through until they reach a catching box. When not in use there is a trap doo on the catching box that is closed to prevent the birds from getting caught in when the trap is not in use. The funnel is open so that the birds can get in and out when the trap is not in use.

Heligoland Trap

To be continued :-)

Sunday 10 March 2013

Mixed seasons

Since my last post Spring has continued its advance, although today it might have paused as there is a sprinkling of snow on the hills on the Northern perimeter of Scapa Flow and a raw North-Easterly wind to go with it. The bird bath was also frozen this morning.

Over the last couple of weeks I have seen upto four pairs of Skylarks displaying and defending territory and each day it is great to hear them singing away. Another sign of Spring is the flowering of the first Daffodils in the garden. There is also signs of various shoots appearing in the bank along the track leading to our cottage.

This is our first Spring in this cottage so we are waiting with anticipation as to what will appear. The neighbours have told us that past occupants were great gardeners and that there were all sorts of things that used to flower. The garden was neglected by the last occupant so we now have our work cut out to get it back under control.

We also plan to make it more attractive to the birds so that hopefully we will have a lot of visitors to the garden.One of the garden projects is the pond. Work on restoring the overgrown pond has commenced, with the large mass of matted grass being removed along with the ripped liner. We are now working on a larger pond which will be more wildlife friendly.

Numbers and species of birds visiting the garden is still low but we do seem to have a pair of resident Blackbirds and at least a pair of Greenfinch that are in the garden every day. The number of Starlings fluctuates quite wildly, some days there are only single numbers and on others, flocks of over 50 turn the lawn black.

I've not been able to get out round the patch since the last post but I have been keeping an eye on part of it when I have been heading to Kirkwall. The main road to town takes me past Echna Loch and Bay. On the 19 Feb I saw my first Mute Swan on the Loch this year. Usually there is a pair of swans that breed on the Loch but they seem to disappear over the winter so it was good to see one back on territory. A couple of days later and it seemed to have disappeared again and I had no further sightings until yesterday when I passed the loch and spotted two swans feeding. Hopefully this is the resident pair and they are now back and preparing to raise another family.

Apart from the swans the loch was fairly quiet with a few Mallard, Tufted duck and Wigeon.

On the otherside of the road is Echna Bay and with a receding tide there were 30 Oystercatchers, three Redshank and six Lapwing along the water's edge. Out on the water were three Great Black-backed Gulls and six Long Tailed Ducks. There were lots of Fulmars flying over the bay and along the small cliff face on the North side of the Bay.

The forecast is for light snow showers and strong winds for the next couple of days then after that hopefully Spring will be allowed to continue.

Sunday 17 February 2013

Spring is coming

First of all a bit of a catch up on the Patchwork Challenge. Since my last post I added Hen Harrier to my patch list on the 31 Jan to give me 38 species at the end of the first month of the challenge.

On the 9 Feb I added Fieldfare to my list after one landed on the power cables over Bailey's Paddock.

Today, 17 Feb, saw the first signs of Spring when a Skylark was heard and seen over the field just to the North of the estate. Soon after a flock of about 20 Twite flew over the estate heading North. So without really trying another two species were added to the patch list. This now gives me 41 species and 49 points.

On the garden front it has been very quiet with only a Blackbird last week and a Blackbird, Greenfinch, eight Starlings and a couple of Rock Doves the week before. Hopefully with Spring approaching it will soon be time for the garden to start getting a bit busier.

Sunday 20 January 2013

First Diver

A quick detour this afternoon on my way home from a trip out to South Ronaldsay took me to Echna Bay and Echna Loch.

The lock itself was fairly quiet with a variety of ducks, mainly Tufted Duck and Mallard with a solitary Goldeneye, but nothing new for the Patch List.

The bay was also fairly quiet. There were a few Long-tailed Ducks and couple a Great Black-backed Gulls out in the bay itself and at least 40 Fulmars on the small cliff to the North side of the bay.

Then up popped a Great Northern Diver in the bay fairly close to the shore giving me another new species for the Patch List.

That gives me my 37th species so far and a total of 43 points.

Garden surprise

Yesterday I was doing some repair work with my neighbour on the track leading to our houses. Having nearly emptied the trailer of its load of stone I headed back to the house to get a broom to sweep the remainder of the load out of the trailer.

I took a shortcut over the fence at the bottom of the garden and across the lawn. As I got to the farside of the lawn I spooked a Woodcock that was sheltering by a small stone wall next to the pond.

I have seen Woodcock here before but it was the first for this year and another new one for the Patch List.

Once we had finished the work on the track we had a quick coffee break and while we were chatting a Kestrel flew across the fields to the side of the track giving me another new species for the Patch List.

So for a week that seems to have been mainly devoid of birds around the house adding five new species to the Patch List has been a good achievement.

Thursday 17 January 2013

New Garden and Patch birds

After moaning about the lack of birds yesterday today saw a slight improvement in activity.

As dawn rolled into full daylight a male Blackbird was spotted feeding on the lawn. The bird bath wasn't covered in a layer of ice this morning so a bit warmer but there were still remanents of yesterday's frost on sheltered parts of the lawn.

Then in the morning sun a male Greenfinch arrived sitting atop of one of the Fuschia bushes in the garden. He looked very smart with his bright yellow wing feathers. The Greenfinch was a species that I expected to see on the first day of the year but was noticeably absent so his appearance this morning was a first for this year and a new one for the Patch List.

Late morning saw the arrival of a Dunnock on the lawn. Not only was it the first Dunnock of the year for me, but also another new species for the Patch List and a new species for the Garden List. The Dunnock remained in the garden well into the afternoon.

At one point it had the company of a female Blackbird. I'm still not seeing the large numbers of Blackbirds that were around before I went South.

I had to pop out at lunchtime and as I was driving back up the track between the garden and the Estate two Collared Doves flew overhead. So they were the third new species for the Patch List. I did take a quick look while I was out for the Long-eared Owl that had been seen recently but no joy with that one.

While I was getting my lunch I could see out on the fields to the West of me a flock of around 50 Lapwing and about 40 Starlings. There were also a good number of Common Gulls flying about on the breeze.

So a bit more activity today but still fairly quiet.

Wednesday 16 January 2013

Where have all the birds gone?

I can't believe that we are already half way through the first month of the year.

I suppose heading South for a week hasn't helped. Just before I left on my travels I was treated to some nice views of a Short-eared Owl hunting over part of my land. He didn't quite get within the boundary of what I call the Garden but he was definitely over the part of my land which I affectionately call the Estate. This consists of a paddock covering about 3/4 acre and about 1 acre of some heathery moorland type ground. I was able to watch it for a good 20 minutes before a passing tractor caused it to move on.

Now I'm back I find that the garden is pretty much devoid of birds but not sure why. Before I went South there were at least 10 Blackbirds in the garden daily along with House Sparrows and Starlings and a few Greenfinch.

Before I left I made sure all the seed feeders were topped up and some apples put out on the lawn. On my return the seed feeders had hardly been touched although the apples were pretty much gone. Could it be that a respite in the recent bad weather we had over the closing weeks of last year and the start of this has allowed them to move on? Or is it due to the colder air now moving in that has encouraged them to move on? Maybe it was because they realised that the human activity here had stopped and they went looking elsewhere.

On Monday I didn't see a single bird in the garden or in the surrounding field. Yesterday I saw a solitary Blackbird. Today there has been one Starling and one House Sparrow, both of which were visiting the feeders. Perhaps the word will go out that I'm back and they will all return and bring a few more friends too!!

A look out of the window at lunchtime today produced three Hooded Crows which gives me species 31 for my Patch List.

Tuesday 1 January 2013

Patchwork Challenge begins

As I didn't go too mad on the New Year's Eve celebrations I awoke at daybreak (around 8ish here in Orkney) ready to start my 2013 list and my Patchwork Challenge list. I thought it would be an easy start with a few species ticked off early on. Checking out the window there was the usual female Blackbird feeding on the lawn. As the light level got better she was joined by a few more Blackbirds and half a dozen Starlings. However there was no sign of the usual House Sparrows or the Greenfinches.

A quick look at the fields around the property didn't come up with anything either. Then a heavy rainshower moved in followed by a couple more.

While having breakfast 3 Greylag Geese flew over closely followed by 11 which landed in the field behind the house.

Then the Starlings started to arrive on the lawn with 43 the peak count. Soon after a Raven flew past to the North of the house.

By 11am the sun was out so it was time to do the first look around the patch. Setting off, the fields along the track to the road were deserted. Where were the Twite and the Fieldfare that had been there for the last few days? Even the Rock Doves were missing.

Heading down the hill was a bit more productive with the fields holding a mixed flock 40 Lapwing and 40 Golden Plover along with 14 Curlew, 3 Great Black-backed Gulls and 11 Common Gulls.

Next stop was Echna Loch which was holding 10 Mallard, 22 Wigeon, 11 Tufted Duck, 2 Goldeneye, 3 Great Black-backed Gulls, 11 Common Gulls and 20 Lapwings on the field to the side of the loch.

Echna Bay was fairly quiet with just a couple of Cormorant seen. However by this time there was a heavy shower moving through and the sea was also quite choppy.

I then headed for Littlequoy Farm. Along the way I added a couple of Redwings to my Patch List who were sitting quite clearly on the top of a stone wall. Again the fields seems void of birds a part from a few small flocks of Rock Doves.

Out in Hunda Sound towards the North end of Hunda were 7 Eider. On the Northern half of Hunda itself there were 2 Herring Gulls, 23 Great Black-backed Gulls and a Grey Heron.

Arriving at Littlequoy Farm apart from being greeted by the two dogs there was also a flock of 37 House Sparrows and a Wren appeared on the wall.

After exchanging New Year pleasantries with the farmer I headed down the track to the causeway across to Hunda. Roosting on the leeward side of the causeway were 17 Oystercatchers and on top of the causeway was a flock of 37 Lapwing and 8 Great Black-backed Gulls. A solitary Redshank was spotted over on Hunda just South of the causeway.

A short stroll to Wha Taing revealed a roost of 150 Curlew and out on the sea a flock of 170 Wigeon. On the shoreline there were 2 Rock Pipits.

As I was walking back to the car a solitary Fulmar whizzed past.

A return visit to Echna Loch revealed nothing new but out in Echna Bay I spotted a couple of Long-tailed Ducks bobbing about on the waves.

Next it was off to the Southern boundary of my patch. As I rounded the South Eastern corner of the patch there is a stretch of shrubs/trees which can be good for small birds. It wasn't long before I spotted a pale coloured bird flitting through the vegitation heading away from me. It kept popping out onto the outer twigs/branches giving me a tantalising glimpse then headingback into the undergrowth. Finally I identified it as a Chiffchaff.

I continued on down the road a bit further and caught glimpse of something gliding low along the bottom of a field. Stopping the car I was just in time to see the bird rise up above the field and turn. Immediately I recognised it as one of the familiar hunting birds here, a Short-eared Owl.

After watching it for a few minutes I went to the end of the road turned round and headed back. Then I spotted the Owl again, this time closer to the road and sitting on a convenient fence post.

I headed further back down the road when I spotted another Owl land in the field on my right. I wasn't sure whether this was a second Owl or the first one which had followed me down the road.

Having completed my round I headed home and contacted my friend Barry to let him know about the Chiffchaff as it was on the part of his patch that overlapped with mine.

He went and took a look and then rang me to say that he hadn't seen the Chiffchaff but had seen a Water Rail in the same area of vegitation. I decided to pop down and see if I could find the Water Rail. On my way I was treated to a Sparrowhawk flying across the road right in front of the car. Arriving back at the site of the Chiffchaff it didn't take me long to spot the Water Rail hiding in the undergrowth.

So at the end of first day of the Patchwork Challenge my total number of species seen stands at 30 and my score is 34 points. (Species seen shown in bold text).

Hopefully the Greenfinches will return to the garden tomorrow.