Saturday 4 January 2020

Sand, Sea and Rain

After a breezy start to the new year, with sustained winds of Force 8/9 gusting Force 10 for much of yesterday, this morning was flat calm albeit overcast with a hint of drizzle.

Whilst having breakfast I spotted a Wren flitting around under one of the bushes having a rummage through the undergrowth. It had a ring on its leg so most likely one of the adults that has been around for most of the year and will hopefully successfully raise another brood of chicks later in the year.

I needed to pop down to the village shop so thought I would pop along to Churchill Barrier No 4 and see what was about. On the way down the hill to the main road I spotted a male Greenfinch in the bushes of Reumuera. It was a welcome sight as this species has been missing from my garden for a number of months now.

On arriving at the Burray end of Barrier 4 I parked up and crossed the road to checkout the Water Sound side first. There were two male Mallards paddling towards the small beach, a couple of Shags feeding out in the bay, several groups of Eiders, and a couples of male Long-tailed Ducks.

Crossing back to the East side, as I wandered through the grassy dunes towards the beach, the drizzle was turning into light rain. A movement out of the corner of my eye caught my attention and revealed a male Stonechat flitting from stalk to stalk in the grass.

A scan at the North end of the beach amongst the rocks protruding out into the water there were six Oystercatchers, 37 Ringed Plovers, 40+ Sanderling (difficult to count these as they ran back and forth as the water washed in and out, seven Turnstones, 10+ Rock Pipits chasing each other about, a Wren and a Hooded Crow.

Out on the water there was a group of seven Mallard, four Long-tailed Ducks and three Wigeon.

In the fields on the cliff top above the rocky outcrop there was over a hundred Greylag Geese and 40+ Curlew.

Although still calm the rain was starting to get heavier so I called it quits and headed for home. Not a bad morning's bird watching adding another 10 species to my 2020 Burray Bird list.

There were reports that a Whimbrel had returned to a known spot behind the Sands Hotel. Will have to check that out next time I'm down there. There was also a report of a Little Auk being seen in Water Sound.

Thursday 2 January 2020

The start of a new decade

Happy New Year and good birding for 2020.

1 Jan 2020

Just as the last decade finished with a stunning sunset, the new decade started with a cracking sunrise, just after 9am. However the sky was a mass of reds and oranges from about 8:15 until the sun appeared above the horizon, rising out of the sea.

First bird of the year was a Robin, just narrowly pipping the resident female Blackbird to the title. These were closely followed by a group of four Starlings and a group of Rock Doves/Feral doves. A Brown Rat was also seen scavenging amongst the bushes looking for its breakfast.

A Hooded Crow was spotted flying across the nearby field, before making a brief stop on the roof of Hillhead before disappearing over the hill.

Then three House Sparrows arrived to feed on the seed I had put out.

We had been invited over to some friends in St Mary's village, on the North end of the Churchill Barriers, for lunch so it would have been rude not to stop at Echnaloch Bay and Echna Loch to see what was about.

On the bay side of the road there were two adult Great Black-backed Gulls feeding on the remains of a seal carcass, while two juveniles stood watching waiting for their chance to feed. Out on the water were another two adults along with some Red-breasted Mergansers, Long-tailed Ducks, a few Common Gulls, and an Oystercatcher flying across the bay.

On the loch side of the road there were two Mute Swans, some Wigeon, Tufted Ducks and two male Goldeneyes along with another Great Black-backed Gull and a couple of Common Gulls.

Moving on to Barrier 3, the beach on the South end of Weddell Bay had 20 Curlew on it and in the field behind the beach a flock of 20+ Lapwing were being quite flighty.

It was dark when we came back so nothing else added to the Burray 2020 List so the first day total came to 17 species.

The wind was starting to pick up and it looks like there will be some strong winds over the next few days.

2 Jan 2020

The wind has continued to pick up overnight and by the time night fall had arrived it was around Force 6 gusting Force 7 with the forecast for tomorrow being Force 8 gusting Force 9.

Nothing new in the garden today, in fact it was probably quieter than yesterday. A quick trip out after lunch gave me the opportunity to check out the small quarry up by the wind turbine at Northfield. The quarry itself was dead but the field to the south of the turbine had a mixed flock of Starlings and 20+ Redwings. Yesterday's flock of Lapwings was still about and just a flighty.

As I approached the turning for the Fossil Centre, a male Pheasant ran across the road and then ducked down into the grass verge hoping I wouldn't see it!!

Echna Loch was fairly quiet with nothing new noted from yesterday's collection. On the other side of the road there were 13 Curlew on the shore along with the Great Black-backed Gulls still feeding on the seal remains. Out on the water there were three Shags to accompany the Red-breasted Mergansers, Long-tailed Ducks and the Common Gulls seen yesterday. Along with the Shags, a Redshank picking its way along the shore and a Raven flying along the cliff top were new additions to the Burray year list bringing the total to 22 species.

Last year I met Laura Elliot when she came to Orkney on holiday. Laura was relatively new to birding and had embarked on a challenge to see and photograph as many different bird species in Scotland as she could in a year. Her visit to Orkney contributed a number of species to her list. Laura is passionate about the great outdoors, birding and photography and has just launched her own website/blog which you can see here:

I hope you will take a look and follow Laura on her journey.

Hopefully she will do a much better job with her blog than I do with mine!!

December 2019 Roundup

December was a fairly quiet month both in the garden and around Burray in general. The garden had the usual crowd of House Sparrow and Starlings, a Robin and Wren and a female Blackbird. Claire spotted a Blackbird in the garden the week before Christmas with a ring on its left leg so it wasn't one of mine as I ring on the right leg. Although I kept an eye out for it at the weekend I didn't see it. The highlight of the month was seeing a Hen Harrier hunting over our paddock and heath land on a couple of weekend afternoons.

I didn't get out birding at all during the month either due to the weather or other things going on.

It was dark when I went to work and came home so I couldn't even see what was on Echna Loch or across the road out in Echnaloch Bay. The few times I drove past on the weekends there were the usual pair of Mute Swans, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Wigeon, Great Black-backed Gulls, Common Gulls and usually at least one male Goldeneye on the loch itself and out in the bay Long-tailed Ducks, Red-breasted Mergansers, Great Black-backed Gulls, Common Gulls, Shags with one or two Redshank and a few Oystercatchers.

With strong to gale force winds forecast for the start of the new year it could be a bit of a slow start!!

The last day of the year saw a cracking sunset and we wait to see what a new dawn, a new year and a new decade bring.

Thanks for following my blog and I hope you continue to visit next year.

Here's to a great year of birding in 2020.

November 2019 Roundup

The Autumn continued to be relatively quiet. The garden had the usual crowd of House Sparrow and Starlings, plus a Dunnock, a Robin and Wren and the resident ringed female Blackbird.

On the 3rd a flock of six Fieldfares were on the heather patch in the morning taking shelter from the wind.

Not quite Burray, but not too far away on Lamb's Holm (short drive over Barrier 3 and 2) news broke on the 8th that a first year male Blue Rock Thrush had been seen in the quarry. Its appearance caused a bit of excitement and it stayed until the 15th giving most of the local birders the chance to see it as well as a number of visiting birders who saw it on their way up to Papay Westray to see the Stellar's Eider. I went along to the quarry at first light on the 10th to see if I could see it but after and hour and a half of nothing I had to leave to attend the local Remembrance Sunday service on Burray. With news of a sighting circulating towards the end of the service I decided to give it another go so it was home for a quick change and back to the quarry. After about half an hour I spotted it and then had some good views for the couple of hours.

Blue Rock Thrush (Monticola solitarius)

Blue Rock Thrush

Blue Rock Thrush
This species is the national bird of Malta and is usually found in Southern Europe, Northwest Africa and from central Asia to Northern China and Malaysia.

The 13th saw the first frost of the Autumn/Winter.

October 2019 Round-up

The month started with reports of a Yellow-browed Warbler along the Ness Road on the morning of the 3rd.

The 4th was the Dusky Warbler in my garden at Milfield, see previous post 'Dusk in more ways than one' for details.

There were four Fieldfare in the field around my cottage on the morning of the 6th. I spotted a solitary Swallow 1 over field next to Gillietrang just after 9am when I popped out. An adult Little Gull was seen over Water Sound by Barrie around the same time. Back in the garden at lunchtime there were two Goldcrest and two Robins.

A Smew and a Little Gull were reported on the11th at Echna Loch.

On the morning of the 12th there was a female Hen Harrier hunting over my heather patch. Whilst a Stonechat and a Redwing visited the garden. Several Snipe were heard and seen flying over. The Smew (Red-head either a female or first winter male) was reported around 10am as still being on Echna Loch, in with a small flock of Tufted Duck.

Late afternoon on the 14th Barrie reported a Siberian Stonechat at Westshore, which stayed around until the 18th. The Smew was still on Echnaloch and 31 Slavonian Grebes and c150 Long-tailed Duck were out in Echnaloch Bay.

There reports of dolphins in Echnaloch Bay around 10:30 on the 17th.

On the 18th I got an opportunity to go and look for the Siberian Stonechat which had been seen still at Westshore during the early afternoon. However after an hour of searching in fading light I hadn't found it and it wasn't seen in the following days.

There was a pair of Reed Buntings in the garden on the morning of the 19th. Lots of Redwing in the field around the garden with several visiting the garden.

On the 21st Barrie saw a Willow Warbler in village mid-morning and later moning a Yellowhammer briefly at Little Ness, which flew off to the West.

A Little Gull was seen in Echnaloch Bay on the 22nd which was possibly the same one seen across the road on the loch earlier in the month.

A surprise on the 27th when I went into the living room to change the clock in the living room. Peering through a gap in the curtains I saw a Grey Heron standing in the pond. That was new species for the garden list.

Last report for the month was a Little Auk out in Echnaloch Bay on the morning of the

Dusk in more ways than one.

It was Friday afternoon (4 Oct), I arrived home from work just after 5pm and it was a nice calm evening and just right for opening the two mist nets in the garden to see if there was much about as dusk approached.

Not long after I got set up, my birding friend Barrie, from down in the village called round for a catch up. as we chatted we watched a couple of Blackbirds, some House Sparrows and Starlings moving about the garden and surrounding fields.

Then something flew into the net. On approaching I could see it was a female Blackcap. I don't often get them in the garden so it was good to see some evidence that the Autumn migration was in progress. Soon after a Wren flew into the net. This was a retrap and was originally ringed in the garden back in May this year. I suspect it was one of the adults that had nested in an old tea pot that we have hanging in one of our bushes.

By now the light was starting to fade when we spotted something pop out of a small tree in the corner of the garden fly low across the wild patch of rough grass that was once the lawn heading straight for a row of Fuchsia bushes. What it hadn't spotted was the net that was just in front of the bushes and it became the third catch of the day.

As we wandered across to the net Barrie commented that it looked interesting. Now when Barrie says it looks interesting it usually means that it is something special. As I approached I didn't recognise it as something I had seen before and told Barrie not to say any more.

I extracted it from the net and started to take a closer look at it. It was a one of the Phylloscopus warbler species but which one. It was the same sort of size as a Chiffchaff but with rounded wing tips and it was generally brown on its back and pale/buff underneath. There was a clearly defined supercillium from the base of the beak to well behind the eye and it had a thin pointed beak.

From the plumage it was narrowed down to either a Dusky Warbler or a Radde's Warbler but the bill ruled out the latter. The wing length was 55mm with P4 to P6 emarginated.

Happy with my identification, as it was a first for this species for me, I asked Barrie what he thought it was and he agreed that it was a Dusky Warbler. After a few photos were taken the bird was released into the bushes it was aiming for.

Dusky Warbler (Phylloscopus fuscatus)

Underside of the Dusky Warbler

By now it was almost dark so the nets were closed.

An initial check of the Orkney Bird Reports indicated that this was in the low teens of the number of sightings in Orkney and subsequent checks revealed that it was the 13th sighting for Orkney and the first reported sighting for Burray.

Despite watching the garden for any reappearance the following day it wasn't seen again.

This bird usually breeds in Siberia and heads to South-east Asia for the winter. It is described in my bird books as being a rare Autumn vagrant in Western Europe, so a very special bird indeed.