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.