Saturday 2 May 2020

April 2020 Roundup

As you will see by the length of this post there was a bit more activity this month.

The usual gang of House Sparrows and Starlings frequented the garden throughout the month with the annual battle of trying to prevent the latter building their nest inside the engine compartment of the car. There was also plenty of Meadow Pipits along the track and in the fields they were joined by Curlews, Lapwings, Oystercatchers and Skylarks.

The 4th kicked the month off with a female Linnet appearing briefly on top of the fuchsia bushes on the north side of the garden before flying off.

On the 6th a Common Gull visited the garden during the afternoon. Usually seen in the fields around the cottage a garden visit was rare. Barrie added a Gannet to his 2020 Garden list in the evening.

There was a Robin in garden on the morning of the 7th. Swallow, Skylark and a Sparrowhawk all seen down at Westshore on the 8th.

On the 9th with lighter winds I took the opportunity to do a garden ringing session. New birds consisted of a female Blackbird, a male Starling and five House sparrows plus a retrap of a male originally ringed on the 2 Sep 17. Also saw the first bee of the year in the garden but the species was unknown. Sandwich Tern and Golden Plover seen from Westshore.

There was a Wren singing from the top of the Sycamore tree in the garden on the morning of the 10th.

There was another rare visitor to the garden on the 11th in the form of a Jackdaw. Even rarer up here on the hillside was a Rook, seen by Barrie flying over my cottage and I missed it!!

There seemed to be more Meadow Pipits around the patch on the 12th and a flock of c60+ were seen over Westshore on the 13th.

The evening of the 15th added Mallard to the garden pond list after a pair turned up and spent several hours feeding, preening and snoozing.

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

I was up early on the 16th so decided to take a stroll up to the trig point.I was escorted by Meadow Pipits and several Starlings were seen disappearing into the tyre wall which borders one of the fields. All the fields had small numbers of Curlews, Lapwing and Oystercatchers and several Skylarks were singing overhead. As I approached the last field on the right of the track before the trig point a flock of 20 Golden Plovers took to the air. In the evening the Mallards were back on the pond having been absent all day and a solitary Redwing was seen in the fuchsia bushes and just after 8pm a Bonxie (Great Skua) flew over the garden. My neighbour Barry reported seeing his first Swallow of the year in the afternoon and Barrie down in the village added Bonxie, Carrion Crow (two singles and a pair) Wheatear, Whimbrel and Willow Warbler to his garden list at Westshore. Carrion Crows are uncommon up here as we have Hooded Crows instead, however there were several reports across Orkney of Carrion Crow passing through.

On the morning of the 17th there were a couple of Jackdaws feeding on the seed in the ground  trap. Unfortunately it wasn't set so I was unable to catch them. The female Mallard returned on her own at lunchtime and was still there in the evening as it was going dark. She alternated between spells on the pond feeding and preening and on the area of ground behind the pond where she could snuggle down and blend in with the grass to sleep. No sign of the male though.


The Redwing was still around the garden on the morning of the 18th and was added to the pond list when it popped in for a quick drink and a bathe.

Redwing (Turdus iliacus)

 Another visitor to the pond was a Meadow Pipit.

Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis)

Late afternoon I went for a stroll up to the trig point and then down to the pool on the far side of the hill before completing a circular route back past WindyHa. During the stroll I saw Skylark, Starlings, Curlew, Oystercatchers, Meadow Pipits, Great Black-backed Gulls, Herring Gulls, Common Gulls and Lapwing either in the fields or flying overhead. On the pools there were Greylag Geese, Curlew, Redshank and Wigeon. I also heard a Pheasant.

In the evening the female Mallard returned, but still no sign of the male.

Relief in the afternoon of the 19th when a pair of Mallards were seen flying low over the garden. I'm assuming it was the same pair that had been visiting so seeing the male again was good as I was beginning to wonder if something had happened to it. However, it was only the female that came back to the pond late afternoon and stayed well into the evening.

My first Peacock butterfly of the year was seen in the garden on the 20th. Ducks could be heard somewhere in the fields close to garden in the afternoon, unless it was the Starlings doing a bit of mimicking!! Again only the female turned up in the evening.

I had to go to my work sites on the 21st for essential checks and maintenance so was able to do a quick check of Echna Loch and the bay. There were several Sand Martins flying along the beach on the bay side and some more out over the loch itself. Also on the beach were approx 35 Oystercatchers, 20 Lapwing and a couple of Redshank. Out on the water there were Red-breasted Mergansers, Common Gulls and two Great Black-backed Gulls. Over on the loch there were Mallards, Tufted Ducks, a pair of Mute Swans and a couple of Common Gulls. On my return home there were a couple of Oystercatchers, a Lapwing and a Pied Wagtail in Demi's Paddock. Late afternoon saw a second year male Blackbird. There was no sign of the Mallards today.

The weather was quite pleasant first thing on the 22nd so I sat outside and had breakfast for the first time this year. With the current restriction on movement there was virtually no traffic noise, just the usual dawn chorus of Blackbird, Curlew, Greylag Geese, House Sparrow, Lapwing, Oystercatcher and Starling. This morning there was also the drumming of Snipe adding to the mix. The male blackbird from yesterday spent most of the day in the garden. In the afternoon a pair of Linnets appeared and spent a bit of time in the fuchsia bush where a pair bred last year. This pair were not ringed so it wasn't last year's pair returning. Again there was no sign of the Mallards.

The highlight of the day was a female Hen Harrier who appear in the afternoon heading North over the field on the far side of my Paddock. Briefly disappearing out of view it then reappeared coming back the other way this time flying over my paddock. As it went over the small banked area it made a brief climb, did a 180° turn and dropped to the ground behind the bank out of view. It briefly reappear as it popped out from behind the bank, flew low over the fence to the paddock and dropped down again out of view in amongst the tussocky grass. A walker coming along the track from the road must have spooked it as it again took to the air, flew low over the heather patch of our land and dropped down out of view. This time I could see it was carrying something. After about five minutes it got airborne again and headed off over the fields and down the hill towards Bruntland. I could see through the bins that it had caught what looked like a small rabbit.

The 23rd saw a pair of Linnets back in the garden at lunchtime and in the early evening a couple of Jackdaws were back.

Another ringing session in the garden on the 24th saw a Blackbird, a Starling and four House Sparrows ringed. On checking my records that's just over 170 House Sparrows ringed in the garden. I know some of them have been seen over in my neighbour's garden but I don't know how much further they go as there have not been any reports of sighting or dead birds found. Speaking with Barrie in the village he hasn't seen any ringed House Sparrows in his garden, so they don't seem to be making it that far. There are still plenty of House Sparrows in the garden without rings so it makes you wonder just how many there are around here.

Finally, on the 25th I saw my first Swallows of the year when a couple of them escorted me along the track when I returned from a trip to the village shop. The following morning, the 26th, there was another Swallow flying around over the garden at 7:30 and mid-morning the was a brief appearance of a male Greenfinch before it flew off towards the village.

The pair of Mallards returned on the morning of the 27th and spent most of the day either feeding on the pond or sleeping by the side of the pond. They eventually disappeared early evening and weren't seen again for the rest of the month.

I caught up with Barrie on the 29th, he had seen Goldcrest and Bar-tailed Godwit from his garden during the previous week and on the 28th and today he had a Chiffchaff in the garden. A new House Sparrow and a Starling were ringed and a Blackbird ringed on the 29 Mar this year was retrapped.