Saturday 25 April 2020

Spring arrives and love is in the pond! - March 2020 roundup

Finally the weather started to improve and the days were definitely getting longer. Activity started to pick up in the garden from the 1st when a male Greenfinch appeared to join the Blackbird, House Sparrows, Starlings and Wren. Greenfinches are still very rare in the garden here for some reason. They used to be regulars and in good numbers, hopefully there will be more of them as the breeding season gets underway.

On the 6th a Whimbrel was seen behind the Sands Hotel. This is a favourite spot to see the Whimbrel and I'm guessing that it is the same one that comes back every year.

The 8th saw a brief visit from a Goldfinch, another rare visitor up on the hill but more common down in the village. The highlight of the day was not of the feathered variety but of a croaky variety in the pond. A coupe of ripples in the pond on the side nearest the cottage caught my attention as I was looking out of the window. A close look through the bins revealed a couple of frogs. Then another ripple further out into the pond revealed another three. Then as I scanned the rest of the pond there were frogs everywhere, climbing over each other, chasing each other and mating. It was difficult to get an accurate count but there were at least 51 of them and there were three clusters of spawn. I had never seen so many frogs in the pond at the same time. 



Last year the spawn didn't appear in the pond until mid-April so a bit a head of schedule this year.

On the 14th, as I went out to the byre, a Sparrowhawk took off from the rear of the garden. I had a quick look around the area but couldn't find any signs of a plucking/feeding spot.

Overnight on the 16/17th there was a clear sky and temperatures dropped below freezing resulting in the pond having a thin layer of ice over it. This is what happened last year when the frogs left spawn in the pond. Soon after the pond froze over and killed off some of the spawn. This time the layer of ice was much thinner so hopefully there won't be as much damage to the spawn.

Also on the 17th I spotted two Oystercatchers in my neighbour's field, that I call Demi's Paddock (Demi being the name of their horse). This was a good sign as usually there are a pair of Oystercatchers that appear around about now to breed in that paddock. Although last year after initial signs of nesting for some reason they then abandoned the site.

The 21st saw the return of a male Pheasant to the garden feeding on the seed put in the ground trap. He was seen daily until the end of the month when he disappeared.

On the 22nd I spotted three Wrens, two of whom were ringed, so guessing that was last year's pair that bred in the garden and an unringed one, maybe one of last year's offspring. There was also a ringed Dunnock foraging around under the bushes.

On the 23rd birding across the UK almost came to a complete standstill as the Government introduced a nationwide lockdown as it tried to introduce measures to stop the spread of the Covid-19 Coronavirus. The lockdown meant that people shouldn't go out unless it was absolutely necessary and those that could were told to work from home. So there will be lots of garden bird watching going on. You are allowed out for exercise so in theory could still keep an eye on the birds in the area around your home as long as you maintained social distancing. As I live in a rural area that should be fairly straight forward so I can still keep an eye on my local patch.

The 24th saw frog fest part two, this time with a high count of 63 frogs. If frogs are supposed to return to their place of birth to breed I might need to make the pond bigger!!

The last week of the month was the busiest so far with three Blackbirds, one Dunnock, 16 House Sparrows, one Linnet, one Meadow Pipit, one Pheasant, 53 Starlings and a Wren.

On the 29th I had the ground trap set for a ringing session in the garden but only managed to catch and ringed a new female Blackbird.

Thursday 23 April 2020

Storms and not a storm - February 2020 roundup

February continued the January windy lack of birds theme. Apart from the first weekend which was just windy every other weekend had storm force winds. On the 8/9th we had Storm Ciara, then on the 15/16th we had Storm Dennis and on the 28/29th/1st March we had the Spanish named Storm Jorge. According to the Met Office web didn't have a storm the weekend of the 22nd/23rd, however in Orkney I recorded gusts of up to 83.9mph with average speeds in the 60mph range. So it looks like storms are only named if they are on UK mainland!!

Max gust recorded on the 22 Feb 2020

For good measure we also had light snow on the 26/27th.

The garden bird activity was pretty much the same as January but with out any House Sparrows until the last week of the month when eight appeared. The highlight in the garden was a Sparrowhawk on the 22nd.

There were daily sightings of Meadow Pipits along the track between the cottage and the road and in the surrounding fields.

Elsewhere on Burray the only report of note was two male Scaup on Echna Loch on the 29th. Yes it is a Leap Year this year.

Divers and storms

The rest of January was very quiet bird wise. The garden was practically devoid of birds not helped by the continuing strong to gale force winds. The occasional Blackbird, House Sparrow or Starling but everything else was keeping hunkered down out of the wind. I had a brief view of a Wren in the middle of the month for something different.

The only bird news of note came from Tim Dean, on the 9th, who was out on Hunda and spotted 86 Black-throated Divers and 45 Great Northern Divers between Echnaloch Bay and the oil rigs/accommodation platform out in Scapa Flow .

The only other notable event was Storm Brendan, on the 13/14th, the first winter storm of 2020. I say notable in a loose sense as it has been windy here for a while, so it wasn't really much of an event for us.