Sunday 23 November 2014

Common Redstart

Having just got back from a business trip yesterday I was catching up on a few jobs out in the garden this morning while there was a break in the weather. It was a cool sunny morning and the wind was starting to freshen again as it veered round to the South West.

Just before lunchtime Barrie appeared while he was going round Burray doing a goose count. We went for a quick stroll up to the trig point so that we could look down onto the West side of the hill where there were a few shallow pools and some open ground. This is an area used as a breeding ground for Greylags in the summer but today it was totally devoid of any geese.

On the stroll up to the trig point there were a couple of Blackbirds and a flock of about 14 Redwings. We both spotted a small bird lift off from the right hand side of the track and fly across the track landing on a fence post. Instictively we both got our bins onto it pretty quickly and were both surprised to see a female Common Redstart. This was quite a late sighting for this species as usually any migrants have passed through by the end of October although North Rondalsay did have one on the 12 Nov 08.

Heading North and downwards away from the trig point we picked up the path that would take us back towards home. As we reach the path junction two Snipe were seen flying North West away from us. Four Fieldfares and a Robin were all we saw on the walk back to the house.

During Barrie's run round doing the goose count he also saw four Black-throated Divers out on the sea near to Burray cemetery.

So thanks to Barrie for turning up, otherwise I would not have gone for a walk and would have missed the Redstart which is a new patch and Burray tick for me.

November so far

On the 1 Nov Barrie found a Lesser Whitethroat in Burray village. There was also a Siberian Chiffchaff in the same area.

Up at Millfield in the space of an hour I had 15 Starlings, 13 House Sparrows, four Greenfinch, four Redwings, two Blackbirds, 1 Rock Dove, one male Chaffinch and the highlight of the morning a Black Redstart. This was a new garden tick, patch tick and Burray tick. A close second in highlight terms was a female Hen Harrier flying over my paddock.

Over a similar time period on the 2 Nov there were 42 Greylag Geese in the field around the cottage, 12 Redwings in the garden with a further 25 in the field accompanied by three Fieldfares and three Blackbirds, nine Greenfinches and 17 House Sparrows also in the garden.

On the 3 Nov Barrie was out and about and saw a Yellow-browed Warbler at Hillfield, a Chiffchaff at Westshore, two Blackcaps, two Chiffchaffs, three Goldcrests in the village and a Whimbrel in its usual location round the back of the Sands Hotel.

There were also two Velvet scoters out in Echna Bay.

A late Swallow was seen in Burray village on the afternoon of the 18 Nov 14.

October round-up

Details coming soon.

September round-up

Details coming soon.

Thursday 4 September 2014

Booted Warbler

Well Barrie has done it again. Whilst out birding on Saturday (30 Aug) morning he added another species of warbler to his list of warblers found in Burray. This time he was down around the The Bu on the East side of Burray when he found a Booted Warbler in some bushes.

The word went out and it was seen by a a few of the local birders.

It wasn't located on Sunday so its stay appeares to have been a short one.

Also on his Saturday walkabout he saw Pied Flycatcher, Garden Warbler and Whinchat.

August round-up

Details coming soon - honest :-)

July round-up

Details coming soon - honest :-)

June round-up

June was a busy month for breeding birds but also bought me a couple of year ticks for my Burray list.

On the 1st, I visited the small quarry up by the wind turbine at Northfield. This site has a small pool whose water level can vary quite significantly during the course of the year. The quarry wall provides a small cliff face type habitat and there are also some boulder piles and a soil heap. there is also some scrubby land around the immediate area and a patch of grassland.

On this visit I saw 16 Common Gulls, some on nests, and a pair of Tufted Duck.

Close by at the side of the road there was an Oystercatcher near a nest with 2 eggs. This was obviously spotted by the farmer as by my next visit, on the 3rd, some rocks had been placed around the nest site to stop passing motorists pulling over onto the verge and destroying the nest. The adult was again close by. This particular nest could easily be observed from the car park by the wind turbine without even having to get out of the car so minimal disturbance was caused to the adult and soon after stopping it would go back to the nest and settled down on the eggs. Another visit on the 13th still had the adult with 2 eggs.

A further visit on the 30th had me worried as the rocks had been moved and the nest was empty. However my fears were soon quashed when I spotted an adult Oystercatcher with 2 chicks following close by. As I headed from the quarry back to the main road I spotted another Oystercatcher chick running along the road before disappearing into the verge. So there had been a second successful nest in the same area as the first one.

Back at Millfield another Blackbird nest with three eggs was located in the garden on the 1st. Could this be the same pair that had just had 5 chicks having another brood? On a sad note one of the youngsters from the earlier nest was found dead below the kitchen window. There was a partial imprint on the window of a strike so was the most likely the cause of death.

On the 9th an adult male Blackbird was seen taking food to the nest indicating the eggs had hatched. Rough calculations indicated that the eggs would have been laid on approximately the 25th May and if it was the same pair as the previous nest there was about a week between the earlier chicks hatching and the latest eggs being laid!! A quick check of the nest showed all three eggs had hatched.

On the 26th it was noticed that the adult Blackbirds had stopped taking food to the nest. On checking, the nest was found to be empty. As both parents had been observed taking food to the nest every day since the 9th it is assumed that the chicks had now fledged and moved into the undergrowth.

Elsewhere an evening a walk up to the trig point and down to Moss Bank, on the 3rd, produced c150 Arctic Terns, 9 Common Gull and 2 chicks, 71 Black-headed Gulls, a pair of Mallard with 4 chicks, 3 Redshank, 5 Meadow Pipits, 2 Twite (the first for 2014) and 2 Curlew.

An evening walk down the hill and around the village, on the 7th, produced a Collared Dove, 7 Greenfinch, 2 Great Black-backed Gulls, 10 Common Gulls, 8 Black-headed Gulls, 5 Linnets, 4 Curlew, 3 Oystercatchers and 2 Arctic Skuas (the first for 2014) flying over the village towards Barrier 4.

On the 10th 2 Little Terns were seen on the Burray side of Water Sound in the afternoon and on the 28th a flock of 3 Whimbrels were calling as they flew over Westshore in the afternoon.

A visit to the quarry by the wind turbine on the 30th produced a female Mallard with 7 chicks, 5 Lapwings, 7 adult Common Gulls with 8 chicks and 11 Starlings.

The rest of May

On the 24th the Blackbird nest with the 5 chicks was now empty and chicks could be heard calling from the undergrowth nearby. The male adult was seen taking food into various locations around the garden which seemed to indicate that all 5 chicks had successfully fledged from the nest.

On Echna Loch there were 2 Mute Swans, 5 Tufted Ducks, 3 GBB Gulls and 2 Common Gulls. On Echna Bay beach there were 3 Arctic Terns, 2 Mute Swans, 6 Oystercatchers and 1 Ring Plover. On Echna Bay there were 2 Black-throated Divers, 2 Red-breasted Mergansers

25 – A evening walk from Millfield up to the trig point produced c50 pairs of Arctic Terns, 2 Linnets, 5 Meadow Pipits and 3 Skylarks. On the pools to the West of the trig point there were c50 pairs of Black-headed Gulls, 14 Common Gulls, 1 Teal, 4 adult Lapwings and 1 juvenile, 1 Mallard with 5 chicks, 1 Great Skua, 1 Great Black-backed Gull, 1 Jackdaw and a Snipe was heard drumming.

From the pools back to Millfield via Windyha there were 10 adult Oystercatchers and 2 chicks, 1 Pheasant, 2 Golden Plover and a Curlew. The Golden Plover were a bonus find as usually by this time of the year they have all departed for their breeding grounds. It wasn't clear whether these two were non-breeders or they had stayed put to breed. Subsequent observations of the area couldn't locate a nest site although there were seen on suitable habitat.

On the 30th I popped down to Westshore which produced 2 Siskin, 1 Song Thrush, 2 Blackbirds, 2 Wrens (1 with beak full of food), House Sparrows and Starlings. Across the road at Ourigare there were 2 Greenfinch and a Sedge Warbler flitting amongst the bushes.

A field near to Gillietrang had its grass cut on the 31st and this attracted 100+ Lapwing, 50+ Starling and 15 Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

Sunday 18 May 2014


It was just before 7 o'clock this morning when I went out to top up the bird feeders.

I was greeted by the usual sounds of the Curlew, Lapwings and Skylarks and from over the hill the cockerels. There were Sparrows and Greenfinches in the bushes too. Then I heard a call that was very familiar but from a bird that is described as an uncommon passage migrant in Orkney. There had been a few recent reports of this species being seen at various locations around Orkney but no reports as far as I was aware from Burray.

Then I heard it again - Cuckoo, Cuckoo. I grabbed the binoculars and started walking down the track in the general direction of the call to a spot where I could get a good view of the area down the hill towards the village. The bird continued to call and using the old cupped hands behind the ears technique I was able to determine that the bird was to the West of the village and not lurking around a few of the gardens with good cover.

I continued along the footpath trying to get a better fix on where the call was coming from but after ten minutes of calling it stopped and that was that. No visual on the bird.

About an hour later I saw one of the local dog walkers that often goes around a large area of my patch. We had a quick chat about what was about and when I mentioned th Cuckoo they said that they had heard one the other evening but thought they were hearing things, so were a bit relieved that someone else had heard one too.

So that is a new species for my patch and for my Burray list.

So far in May

On the 1st, a late afternoon stop off at Echna Bay had 15 Oystercatchers, 1 Redshank and 2 Mute Swans. The swans had Yellow Darvic rings 245 and 251. Subsequent enquiries showed that they were both ringed on the Loch of Harray on the 28 Jul 08 as adult females.

A White-billed Diver was reported in various locations within Water Sound on the 3rd, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th.

A late afternoon stop at Echna Bay, on the 5th, produced 2 Oystercatchers, 3 Common Gull, 4 Red-breasted Mergansers, 28 Long-tailed Ducks and 1 Arctic Tern.

In the garden at Millfield a Blackbird nest with 5 eggs was found on the 6th. By the 17th the eggs had hatched and there were now 5 chicks which were ringed.

A walk from Millfield up to the trig point, on the 6th, produced 2 Blackbird, 6 Common Gull, 5 Lapwing, 4 Oystercatcher, 2 Curlew, 2 Skylark and 1 Snipe. In addition Eiders, Long-tailed Duck and Greylag Geese were heard.

There were reports on the 8th of 2 Red-throated Divers at Barrier No 4. At Echna Bay there were 1 Great Northern Diver, 1 Shelduck, 3 Oystercatchers, 1 Rock Pipit, 2 Mute Swans and 1 Swallow. On the other side of the road on Echna Loch there were 5 Mute Swans, 15 Tufted Duck, 2 Common Gulls, 3 Mallard, 3 Long-tailed Ducks and 1 Greylag.

April Round Up

April kicked off with reports of two Goldfinch at the Bu on the 2 Apr.

A single Sand Martin was seen over Echna Loch on the 3 Apr.

There was a single Siskin in my garden on the 4 Apr and also a single Goldfinch down at the Bu.

Mist was the order of the day on the 5 Apr but that didn't stop Paul H from the Hope (St Margaret's Hope, South Ronaldsay) reporting five Sandwich Terns flying over head in the Burray direction. Didn't hear of any reports of them being heard/seen here. I was lucky enough to see a female Hen Harrier flying over my garden just before I set off on a business trip for a few days.

On the 7 Apr Barrie had a Goldfinch turn up on his feeder at Westshore.

On my way into work just after 07:30 on the 8 Apr I saw a single Swallow perched on an over head cable between the turning to Littlequoy and Echna Loch. This was my first for the year and a sure sign Spring had arrived. It was species 58 for my Patchwork Challenge (PWC) list.

An interesting report on the 8 Apr of a calling Corncrake heard over the last couple of days by at least two people. It was heard on the Eastern edge of the village in the vicinity of the ditch that runs from Echna Loch, under the road and down to Watersound. The ditch runs through a thick strip of rough ground and the bird has been calling fairly close to the road.

On the 15 Apr Barrie reported seeing one Goldfinch, two Siskins and one Wheatear at Westshore with three Slavonian Grebes offshore from his garden. There was also approx 150 Pink-footed Geese flying in NW direction.

Barrie had a male Brambling on his feeders at Westshore at tea-time on the 21 Apr with four more the following day. Later on the evening of the 21 Apr he had a Whimbrel on the shore. He said that it might be the wintering bird that is usually seen 400-500 metres away.

There was a Black Redstart at Ness on the morning of the 23 Apr and Barrie's Brambling count was now up to five. 

A male Redstart was seen again at Ness on the 25 Apr and was presumably the same bird seen by Barrie on the 23 Apr. The were also 15 Slavonian Grebes on the West side of Barrier 4. In the evening Barrie reported two Ring Ouzels feeding together at the Cemetery along with a Blackcap and a Chiffchaff. While on Bu beach there was a Common Sandpiper and a Whimbrel. His Brambling count was now up to at least eight birds.

On the morning of the 26 Apr Barrie's Brambling count was up to 10 and they had been joined on the feeders by either a Common or Lesser Redpoll. It wasn't immediately obvious which one but I think in the end he decided it was a Common Redpoll.

On Apr 27 Barrie reported two Mealy Redpolls and 10 Brambling on his feeders. I was able to join him and Linda to see them along with the Greenfinches, House Sparrows, two Wrens (one of which was collecting nesting material), three Blackbirds and a Collared Dove. The Brambling and Redpoll giving me PWC species 59 and 60.

Barrie also had 12 White Wagtails at the Burray end of Barrier 4 beach. Elsewhere, he had four Blackcap, two Chiffchaffs and a Willow Warbler.
After leaving Barrie's I headed West away from the village seeing a Collared Dove, three Greenfinches, a single Redpoll, four Linnets, a Pheasant, two Meadow Pipits, two Skylarks, a Wren, a Great Black-backed Gull, five Blackbirds, a Wheatear (PWC species 61), a Dunnock and a Wood Pigeon (PWC specis 62)

On my way home from work on the 29 Apr I stopped off to see what was about in Echna Bay and on Echna Loch. Starting with the bay there were two Ringed Plover, two Oystercatchers and two Mute Swans which had yellow Darvic rings on their left legs but they were too far away to read with the bins. Out in the bay it was rather quiet with just three Red-breasted Mergansers. A Great Skua (Bonxie) came gliding along the edge of the bay for PWC species 63.

Across the road on the loch there was a male Mallard, four Mute Swans, 10 Tufted Duck, two Common Gulls and between 450-500 Long-tailed ducks.

On the afternoon of the 30 Apr Barrie had five Brambling on his feeders who were joined by two Goldfinches.

Tim Dean rounds of the month by reporting a 'stunning spectacle' on Echna Loch on the evening of the 30 Apr with 680 Long-tailed Ducks!!

Wednesday 26 March 2014

One more for the list and one to find

A quick stop off at Echna Loch/Bay on the way home this afternoon had all the action on the sea side of the road today. Echna Loch was pretty empty with just a few gulls on it.

Over on Echna Bay were two Black-headed Gulls, two Great Black-backed Gulls, two Eiders, 20 Long-tailed ducks, 14 Wigeon, 2 Mute Swans and some good close up views of a Great Northern Diver. On the beach there were three Oystercatchers and new for the patch list this year two Pied Wagtails.

News in this evening from Barrie that a Woodpigeon was seen around Ourigaire this morning. That is a species still needed for this year's patch list so a small detour on the way to work in the morning maybe on the cards.

Sunday 23 March 2014

Around the garden

Last week the Greenfinches returned to the garden after being absent since just after the start of the new year. Three arrived at the beginning of the week and were around most days and this week their numbers peaked at six.

The pair of Blackbirds are still around but no signs of nest building so far that I have seen. There was also a second male appeared for a couple of days at the start of the week but I didn't see him towards the end of the week so presumably he has moved on or been chased away.

The Skylarks can be heard singing daily and it is quite impressive how they seem to be able to stay above their territory singing away even in a Force 7 wind!!

Lapwings are now displaying over the fields surrounding the house and Oystercatchers can now be heard calling away around the clock.

With the clocks going forward next weekend it will soon be time to get out for a bit of patch watching in the evenings.

Black-headed Gull

I always thought that the Black-headed Gull should be an easy addition to my patch list.

I was pretty sure that I saw them all the time on my travels around the patch and further afield and the Orkney Bird Report lists the species as a common breeding species, passage migrant and winter visitor.

A couple of weeks ago I was looking through my patch list for this year to see how I was doing and I was surprised to see that the Black-headed Gull was missing from my list. I guessed that I must have seen it and just forgotten to tick it off so I checked back through my note book and found that I hadn't made a note of one at all for this year either on or off my patch.

So now I was on a mission. It should be a straight forward look round the patch starting with a few obvious places and get it on the list. The more I looked the more blanks I was coming up with. I paid more attention on my commute to work and at first I wasn't seeing any further afield either!!

Then finally last week I started seeing a few appear with increasing numbers over the next few days. Still none on the patch though. Yesterday lunchtime on my way into town I spotted a solitary one sat on the shingle at Echna Bay and have now added it to my patch list for the year at species number 56.

Checking back in my notes for last year I found out that I didn't actually see this species on the patch until mid May, when it was species number 50. So I'll be taking a closer note of this species in future to see what their movements are over the year.

Sunday 9 March 2014

Echna Loch/Bay

Today we met up with some friends for Sunday lunch and a catch up on some birding news in general and relating to the parish of South Ronaldsay. This was followed by a quick visit to Barrie and Linda to drop off something and also to catch up on more local birding news. Still no sightings of a Short-eared Owl yet this year.

After that we headed across to Echna Loch/Bay for a quick look before heading home.

Echna Bay was pretty quiet. There were two Great Black-backed Gulls out on the water along with a couple of Red-breasted Mergansers and 50+ Fulmars along the cliffs. No sign of any Long-tailed Ducks today. Also there was no sign of any waders along the tide line.

On the other side of the road Echna Loch was pretty quiet too. There was a single Goldeneye and a flock of about 40 Tufted Duck. The star of the afternoon was skulking about in amongst the Tufties in the form of a male Pochard. This is a new species not only for this year but also for my all time patch list and my Burray list!!

There were two Greylag Geese in the field to the South of the loch but no sign of the Mute Swans today.

Week 3-9 March

Not a lot to report this week, there were a couple of male Siskins seen on the outshirts of the village on Tuesday (4 Mar) afternoon and the White-billed Diver is still around in Water Sound bay, favouring an area just off the end of the Cara Road.

On the home front a couple of House Sparrows have appeared in the garden this week so thats good news, just need some Greenfinches to reappear now.

Saturday 1 March 2014

Spring is in the air

Today is the first of March and the start of the meteorological spring.

It certainly lived up to it's name. I had an early start this morning and was out of the house at 7:15am. As I waited for my lift to arrive I was greeted by the sound of a couple of Skylarks singing away high up in the sky, giving me my 54th species of the year for the Patchwork Challenge. They were still singing late this afternoon.

This was followed by a nice sunrise and a glorious day of blue sky and sunshine and a gentle breeze.

There were two male Blackbirds chasing each other around the garden first thing and at lunchtime the Wren was spotted working its way along the low stone dyke in the garden.

After all the recent wind and rain a few more today's like today would be well received.

An auroral feast.

I know this isn't birding but it is nature related and worthy of inclusion in my blog.

It turned out that the auroral treat I mentioned on Sunday was just a warm up for bigger and better things that took place on Thursday (27 Feb) evening. With the sun still being a bit active I had been keeping my eye on various sources of data to see if we might get another chance to see some auroral activity.

Around 7:30pm there were signs that things were starting to stir so I took a look out of the living room window to see if I could see any signs in the sky itself and I could certainly some activity, so I decided to grab the camera and go outside to take a better look.


The sight that greeted me was fantastic, the sky was alive with reds and greens as the aurora danced about. I quickly popped back into the cottage to tell Claire to get her coat on and join me outside. Moving to the North end of the cottage out of the stiff cold wind we stood and watched the best aurora we had ever seen. It started off in pretty much the same area of sky as Sunday's but quickly spread further out across the sky, then it started moving forward until it was right over the top of us. Eventually we were actually stood facing South and still seeing the aurora.

Later in the evening, around 10pm the colours and strength of the aurora started to subside but now it was replaced by quick flashes of what looked like green wispy Cirrus cloud darting back and forth across the sky.

By 11pm I was getting cold and tired so called it a night. Social media was buzzing with reports of the aurora from all over Scotland and the following morning it was being reported on the BBC news as being seen as far South as Essex and South Wales. By tea time there were reports that it had ben seen as far South as Jersey!! So a pretty spectacular event. Interestingly one of the astronomers that's had commented on the event said that this aurora was only due to a glancing blow by the particles from the sun hitting the earth's atmosphere. I'd love to see what the aurora looks like if we take a direct hit.

Anyway until that happens here are some of the photos that I took during the event.

The Plough stood on end in the middle of the aurora

Looking North towards St Mary's village

Looking North towards St Mary's village
Looking South-West. Orion on the left hand edge of the photo
Looking South over the cottage
Looking North towards St Mary's Village

Looking North East

Looking West

Monday sightings

Barrie was out and about round his Burray patch on Monday 24 Feb 14 and reported the following sightings:

A Jack Snipe and 30+ Meadow Pipits at Westshore, 2 Whooper Swans on the pool beside the cemetery and a flock of 30-40 Rock Pipits on the Burray end of Barrier 4 beach.

He also saw his first Pied Wagtails of the year.

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

Saturday 22 February 2014

Quick stop at Echna

Had a quick stop at Echna on the way back from town this afternoon. Couldn't stay for too long as some of the shopping needed to get into the freezer.

Echan Bay had calmed down quite a bit from when I passed through this morning, the sea was relatively flat compared to the rolling waves that were present earlier.

As soon as I lowered the car window you could hear the Long-tailed Ducks calling and a scan of the water with the bins gave me a count of 12. The only other ducks I spotted out on the sea were a pair of Eider. No sign of any of the Scoters that have been around recently but I may need to do a better scan with the scope to find them.

Also out on the sea were two Great Black-backed Gulls.

There was a count of 43 Fulmars either on or flying by the low cliffs on the North side of the bay. Below the cliffs on the tide line were 17 Oystercatchers and a single Lapwing. These had moved round the beach from their roadside position of this morning.

Flying in from Scapa Flow were 10 Greylag Geese who ended up on Echna Loch. A Grey Heron flew from below the cliffs on the North side of the bay across to South side of the bay, presumably finding it a bit more sheltered from the wind in its new location.

Echan Loch itself was fairly quiet. Apart from the Greylags, of which there were another 30+ in one of the fields between the loch and the main road there were a few Common Gulls and some Wigeon.

So not a great deal to report but this was my first birding session on patch, albeit a brief one, since the 18 Jan !!

An added bonus came once I got home and was unloading the car in the form of a female Hen Harrier which flew up our track and spent about five minutes quartering part of our land.

Friday 21 February 2014

Little and Large

There were two Little Gulls, an adult and an immature, seen in Water Sound between Burray and South Ronaldsay on Moday (17 Feb).

Yesterday (20 Feb) a Buzzard was seen flying over the West end of the village heading out across the bay towards South Ronaldsay. I'm wondering if this might be the same bird that was seen on the Tuesday (18 Feb) flying over Widewall Bay towards Herston.

Sunday 16 February 2014

All quiet on the Wet Front

With all the wet weather over the past few weeks it hasn't been the best weather for getting out birding and news of what's been about has been pretty quiet too.

We are already halfway through the second month of 2014 so hopefully things will start picking up soon as the weather, hopefully, improves!!

The garden has been very quiet since the beginning of the year, all the House Sparrows and Greenfinches seem to have disappeared for the time being. Even Starling numbers have been down. However, my pair of resident Blackbirds have been seen almost daily and at least once a week I have been seeing a Wren flitting around the garden.

The first signs of Spring have started to appear as I have noticed a few shoots starting to appear in the banking leading up to the house. I have also started hearing Oystercatchers 'chattering' away in the surrounding fields. Fulmars have also been starting to appear on the cliff ledges on the Northside of Echna Bay.

A link to this blog has appeared on the Burray Community Association web page and yesterday's stats showed a spike in viewings so welcome to all the new visitors to my blog.

I'm slowly pulling together the list of all bird species seen on Burray so if you find any species that you have seen on Burray not on the list please let me know.

That's about all for now so I'll finish by asking that if you see anything interesting around the island please let me know by using the message form.

Saturday 18 January 2014


My wife and I were just on our way across to South Ronaldsay this afternoon to see some friends. As we got to the bottom of the hill from our house I could see there was a large flock of around 200 Greylag Geese in the field just across the road from the junction. The field itself isn't in my patch but can easily be seen from the road that forms the boundary between my patch and the field so under the Challenge rules anything I see from my patch even if it is outside of my patch counts. Not that I would get that excited by a flock of Greylag's as they are everywhere up here and they are already on my patch list for this year.

As I turned onto the main road and started driving past the field some movement in the middle of the flock caught my attention and straight away I could see at least three slight smaller birds with black and white markings. I drove past the field did a quick U-turn and headed back up the road so that the field was on my side of the car. Pulling over I grab the bins and a quick scan of the flock confirmed my suspicions, there in the middle of the Greylags were three Barnacle Geese.

I countinued back up to the junction at the bottom of the hill and turned onto the road marking the patch boundary (the main road isn't on part of my patch) and took another look quickly relocating the birds and adding species number 48 to this year's patch list and giving me my sixth new species for the patch list. It was also a new species for my Burray list.

I then tried to ring my birding friend Barrie but couldn't get a mobile signal. As he lives in the village I popped round to his house to give him the head's up as they were also in his patch. He hadn't got this species on his 2014 list so I gave him the location details and as I set off to continue my journey he was busy getting his boots and coat on. Hopefully he managed to find them as I did a quick check on my way home after seeing my friends and they were still in the same field.

So I already have 10 species more than I had at the end of January last year and there is still a few days left to go, will I manage to get to 50 by the end of the month. Chances are probably not as the weather forecast for the coming week isn't looking to good for birding and I'm off the island for the last week of the month.

Wednesday 15 January 2014

Diver and Dunnock

After a busy morning working yesterday I was about to have a late lunch when the phone rang. It was my birding friend Barrie down in the village who informed me that the White-billed Diver that was seen over at St Margaret's Hope, just across the bay from Burray, last Saturday was now in the bay and visible from Barrie's house.

This was worth popping down to take a look for as it would be worth 4 points on the Patchwork Challenge. So I popped down to take a look and after about 10 minutes of scanning the bay I eventually found it closer in than where Barrie had seen it.

There were also a few Long-tailed Ducks, Eiders and Red Breasted Mergansers out in the bay and a Kestrel also flew past.

Then while having a quick chat indoors with Barrie and Linda I spotted a Dunnock amongst the Sparrows and Greenfinches feeding outside his living room window.

So that was another two species added to this year's Patchwork Challenge list.

Saturday 4 January 2014

A quick twitch and some more patch ticks

While doing some sorting out in the garden after my patch stroll this morning I was treated to a fly past by a male Hen Harrier as it flew over the field to the rear of the garden.

After lunch my good lady and I decided that we would head over to Veltigar in Tankerness and take a look for the Glossy Ibis that had appeared after we had headed South for Christmas. It sounds like there are at least three of these birds in Orkney. The first one appeared in Swannay on the West Mainland, then there is the one in Tankerness and the third over on Westray. Another one has been seen on Papay (Papa Westray) so this might be the Westray bird or it could be a fourth one.

We parked up at the community centre opposite Langskaill plantation, walked up to the junction with the main road and looked straight across the road towards the farm buildings and there it was feeding in the second field back from the road. There was a lot of noise coming from one of the farm machines not too far away from where the Ibis was but it wasn't phased by the noise at all it just carried on feeding. It was a bit too far away for my camera to get any decent shots but here are some record shots.

Glossy Ibis

On the way back home we stopped off for a quick look on Echna Loch and out into the bay. Today the pair of Mute Swans was present, these had been absent on the New Year's Day visit so were another species for the 2014 patch list as were the two pairs of Mallard which were also being elusive on New Year's Day. There were three female and one male Goldeneye and the male Scaup was also present in amongst 50+ Tufted Duck. There were also eleven male and nine female Wigeon present.

On the other side of the road there were 17 Long-tailed Duck, two Grey Herons and two pairs of Red Breasted Mergansers out in the bay and on the beach there was a Redshank and five Great Black-backed Gulls feeding on the remains of two seals.

So at the end of the day the 2014 patch list now stands at 45.

The North West Patch

A relatively early start this morning as I left the house just after 9am as the sun was rising. It didn't hang around for long as it lifted off the horizon and straight into the cloud. The wind was still around Force 5 but the forecast had it decreasing as the day progressed.

This morning I decided to head up onto the hill to the West of the house and take a look around the North West corner of my patch.

The track up to the footpath was rather muddy and the fields were devoid of birds except for one which had a flock of 30 Greylag Geese which got airborne fairly soon after spotting my approach.

The only other birds I saw on this leg were a Herring Gull and a Raven.

From the trig point I had a pretty good view of Scapa flow although it was a bit misty towards the far side of the flow and across to mainland Scotland.

Looking down onto the Battery Pools with Scapa Flow in the background
The pools around the old gun battery site were clearly visible including a few that were usually dry but there was not a bird in sight.

As I headed down the path a couple of Great Black-backed Gulls flew over. Despite sitting at the bottom of the track for 10 minutes there was no sign of any other bird life.

From the bottom of the track I passed through the battery site and headed towards another track that would take me down onto the Littlequoy road which formed most of the Western and Northern boundaries of my patch.

As I got to the corner of the battery site I spotted movement in the adjoining field along the fence line. A quick look through the bins confirmed it was a Golden Plover, giving me another species for this year's patch list. A scan round the surrounding fields confirmed it was on its own. I don't often see them on their own as they are usually in flocks or mixed in with Lapwing flocks but this one was all on its own.

Once on the road I was more in the lee of the wind making it quite a pleasant stroll. Againt there wasn't to much to be seen, a single Pheasant running across the road up ahead of me and a flock of about 200 Starlings feeding in one of the fields.

As I approached Waaness I added another species to this year's patch list in the form of two Hooded Crows, flying over the fields.

I eventually turned off the Littlequoy road and headed back up the hill to the house.

With today's two additions to the patch list, my total for 2014 is now at 42.

Thursday 2 January 2014

Good deed for the day

Although it is a Bank Holiday in Scotland today I was back at work doing important things like sorting out my expenses for my trip South just before Christmas and starting to look at what I need to get completed and handed over before I finish with the company I'm working for as I'm one of a number of staff that were made redundant just before Christmas.

Just before lunch the phone rang and it was my birder friend Barrie. I immediately began to wonder what interesting new species he had found on the patch that would cause him to ring and give me the heads up. However it wasn't good news as he had found a beached Great Northern Diver down near the Sands Hotel and asked if I could pop down and take a look and give him a hand to move it.

I quickly loaded a suitable box with a couple blankets in it into the car and set off. On arrival I met up with Barrie and Linda who took me to where the bird was, sat on the footpath just at the top of the beach.

Great Northern Diver sat on the foot path - Photo by Barrie
It looked fairly healthy, no signs of injury or oiling. It didn't get agitated as I got close to it so I picked it up and took it back down to the water's edge.

Taking the diver back to the water - Photo by Barrie
As soon as I put it into the water it dived and swam off resurfacing about 20-30M out into the sea. It had a bit of a wash and was able to standup in the water and flap its wings so it must have been in reasonable shape, probably just tired after the recent storms.

Although you could see it trying to paddle out further into the sea the strong onshore breeze and current were carrying it back towards the shore and as soon as it reached the shore it rather clumsily hauled itself out of the water. A second attempt to put it back in the water resulted in the same thing happening.

Diver back on the beach - Photo by Barrie
Time to get some advice, first though I had to find somewhere where I could get a phone signal on the mobile. So a short trip to a higher point in the village soon had me on the phone to Brian, another birding friend, who had looked after injured birds in the past. His advice was to try and put it back onto the water in a quieter spot where there wasn't a strong onshore breeze/current.

So the bird was put into the box and transported from the beach on the South side of the village to Echna Bay to the North of the village where the sea was pretty much flat calm. Again as soon as the bird was in the water it swam off stopping to bathe and stretch its wings. This time with no wind or current to battle with it swam off along the shoreline and started exploring in amongst the floating seaweed. After watching it for about ten minutes and it showing no signs of returning to the beach it was left to its own devices.

Swimming off into Echna Bay - Photo by Barrie
Before leaving a quick check on the other side of the road on Echna Loch added another new species to the patch list, this time a Little Grebe. Another one that I should have had last year but eluded me.

Mid afternoon I had to go and collect my good lady from her weekly trip out with one of her friends and as I drove down the hill towars the main road I saw a female Kestrel fly across the road in front of me, giving me my first raptor of the year and my 40th species for this year's patch list.

Wednesday 1 January 2014

New Year brings new patch species

What a great start to the new year. Unlike most of the UK, Orkney saw the new year in with clear skies and a nice sunrise although there was a slight breeze (F5-F6). The weather certainly looked good for a trip out around the patch.

What would be the first species of the year? Last year it was the Blackbird, would it be the same this year? Or would it be a House Sparrow, Greenfinch or Starling. A look out of the window across the garden revealed nothing. That was a disappointing start so I moved to another window and on looking out onto the lawn there were two Rock Doves feeding under the seed feeder. Then four Greenfinches appeared on the seed feeder. A quick look along the Fushia hedge on the North side of the garden revealed two male Blackbirds lurking in the undergrowth.

Looking from the house across towards Echna Loch I spotted a flock of about 40 Lapwings and on the far side of Echna Bay I could see about a dozen Fulmars flying along the low cliffs. A solitary Starling flying over the garden took my tally to six species without leaving the house.

But if I was to see more then I would need to get out and about.

So I set off down the hill into the village. On the way I saw a Rook in one of the fields and four Meadow Pipits in another. Further down the road I got fairly close to a Curlew feeding in another field. I eventually reached the end of the road at the West end of the village and further up the track there was a group of eight Greylag Geese which took to the air when they spotted me.

Heading back towards the village a Wren crossed the road in front of me and a Great Black-backed Gull flew overhead. On a ruined house in the middle of a field where four Ravens.

I spotted Barrie the other birder on Burray walking down the road so we teamed up and went for a walk around the area where our two patches overlap. Although there were plenty of birds about I didn't see anything new.

After an hour we headed back to his new house where we did a tour of his garden and added House Sparrow to the list as well as Turnstone, Redshank, Oystercatcher and Rock Pipit which were on the beach below his garden and Long Tailed Duck and Great Northern Diver which were out in the bay. The Turnstone was a new species for my patch list as it eluded me last year. We then headed inside for a brew and sandwiches. Whilst having lunch we did a bit of armchair birdwatching and added Robin and Pheasant to the list.

After lunch we headed to the beach running between the pier and the fourth Churchill Barrier. As we went through the village we spotted a couple of Collared Doves in one of the trees.

Round the back of the Sands Hotel was a Whimbrel, a regular visitor to this area. Out on the water there was a Shag, a Goldeneye and a couple of Red Breasted Mergansers.

A Song Thrush flew across the back of the beach and on the water's edge there was a flock of about 20 Ringed Plover. A few Common Gulls were flying about and a couple of Herring Gulls flew past. Towards Barrier 4 a Grey Heron was flying low over the water and there was a small gathering of about half a dozen Eiders on the water.

As we walked back along the rear of the beach we spotted a Reed Bunting skulking through the grass on the side of a small dune. This was another new species for my patch list.

By now the cloud was moving in and there was a chill to the wind. We decided to take a quick look over at Echna Bay/Loch

On Echna Loch there was a large gathering of Tufted Duck and in amongst them was a solitary male Scaup, the third and final new patch list species of the day. At the back of the loch were a few Wigeon.

Out in Echna Bay we spotted a Cormorant flying in.

The light was beginning to fade so we called it a day and I had started my 2014 patch list with a total of 38 species, eight more than 1 January last year and the same as I saw in the whole of January last year. It was also good to add three new species to my patch list on the first day of the year.