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.