Pochard on Bride's increased to 5 on 18th when singles of Fieldfare and Song Thrush were new as was a Siskin. 113 Sanderling and 6 Sandwich Terns were in Linklet Bay while 8 Rooks and Heron flew south. The Pale-bellied Brent Goose and a male Sparrowhawk were present both days but the 19th produced a Red Kite - second island record, and a locally rare Stock Dove. The latter hanging around the Holland area an the former heading south midday. 18 Common Redpolls dropped into Holland, 15 of which flew south soon afterwards as did 9 Rooks and 3 Carrion Crows. 7 Sand Martin and 2 Swallows arrived and a Snow Bunting was near Rue.
Four Pochard on Bride's Loch was a noteworthy addition of a previously regular duck that occasionally bred on the Island, the Green-winged Teal remained there also but more surprising was a Pale-bellied Brent Goose, originally at Kirbest where 5 Lapland Buntings and a Black-tailed Godwit were seen. The first Arctic Skua was seen at Torness, 18 Pink-footed Geese flew north and 87 Redshanks counted in the southeast alone was noteworthy. A Goldcrest was in Holland, singles of Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler were seen and a White Wagtail was at Stennabreck
A fairly miserable day but with a few reasons for optimism as our first Willow Warbler was seen and an afternoon flurry of Wheatears totalled 32. Once again Meadow Pipits were the bulk of passerine arrivals with many passing through south, whilst other migrants included 2 Woodpigeons, a Swallow at the observatory, a Common Redpoll and 3 Bramblings seen at Holland, singles of Song Thrush, Robin an Dunnock
After the morning and early-part of the afternoon was spent dealing with Sheep related commitments, the Spring 'sprung' into action once we eventually made it out into the field. There were 4 new species for the year, and 2 of these also achieved their earliest ever arrival date on North Ronaldsay. A group of 3 Dotterels on Torness were a day earlier than last years first and the previous earliest, while a Pectoral Sandpiper on Bewan becomes the first April record and is over 2 weeks premature of a past record on 1st May. Neither of these were 'bird of the day' though, that accolade went to the drake Goosander which was also on Bewan, albeit briefly-a less than annual bird here! Other sightings from a busy few hours included the first 4 Swallows of the year, 3 Sand Martins, 3 Collared Doves, 30 Wheatears, a few new Chiffchaffs and a Common Redpoll. There was also a 1st summer Iceland Gull seen and some 15 Great Northern Divers were off the north coast.
If it wasn't almost dark, and if the Pectoral Sandpiper had been in focus-this could have been a decent photo!
The weekend was a bit of a struggle with mainly lingering birds seen in the strong westerly wind and occasional spells of rain over 12th to 13th. On the former date the Tundra Bean Goose was seen again with the Greenland White-fronted Goose on the latter and the 2 Ruff also remain. On 12th a 'littoralis' Rock Pipit was on the Links with single Grey and White Wagtails also there, while the pick of the passerines on 13th was a new Brambling among up to 4 lingering Chaffinches and 2 Rooks. A better day on 14th saw the wind drop in the afternoon and hopefully there'll be a few more birds getting moving tomorrow. A Short-eared Owl at Gravity was the first in 2014, while the first 4 spring Black-tailed Godwits joined increased numbers of Redshanks (45) and Oystercatchers (126) on Ancum Loch.
A bright and breezy 10th was quiet, with the 2 Ruff from a couple of days ago re-located on the flash between Hooking and the School the highlight. The 11th was much better with more cloud-cover and a lighter wind from the south-west. Both Sand and House Martin made their debut appearances for the year, the latter only a few days past the earliest island record-yet we still await our first Swallow. There were other birds on the move too, with another surge of 91 Skylarks, the majority leaving to the south while 5 Ravens and 5 Rooks also passed through in the same direction. A Jackdaw was also seen, along with a female Sparrowhawk, Black Redstart and a few more Wheatears. The Green-winged Teal was tracked down to Bridesness, and by repeating the behaviour pattern of our wintering bird and close scrutiny revealing some distinctive marks-we are confident it is the same bird which had last been seen in early March.
A quieter spell as the south-westerly winds and bright conditions have resulted in a 'clear-out' of the majority of passerines. Only small numbers of Thrushes, Robins, Dunnocks, Chiffchaffs and Finches remain although Wheatears continue to trickle in, with many already setting up territory as other species leave. On 8th 2 male Ruff's, in partial summer dress were on the scrape at Westness when the Tundra Bean Goose and Canada Goose were both seen again. Similarly on 9th, the Greenland White-fronted Goose was the unlikely highlight with 7 Woodpigeons the only other thing of any note.
Another pleasant day, with the surprise discovery being a drake Green-winged Teal on Gretchen Loch. The jury's out at the moment as to if it's a new bird, or the wintering one (last seen 9th March) re-appearing. This is the classic time of year for American 'quacks' to get caught up with our northbound wildfowl, and 5 drake Shovelers also on Gretchen today add weight to this theory. At first glance it looks very similar plumage wise but we'll see what it does over the next few days and have a good look at the photo's before making a judgement. The clear night clearly encouraged many of the recently grounded passerines to get going again as both Robins and Dunnocks barely made it to double figures today. Meadow Pipits however, moved south throughout the day with the total of 329 merely a conservative estimate and 26 Wheatears also seemed to move on quickly. The first Carrion Crow of the year was also seen, 118 Fieldfares were the pick of the thrushes, 11 Woodpigeons and a Collared Dove were in the Holland area and 34 Curlews headed north.
After the drizzle cleared early morning it was clear there were plenty of new arrivals on 5th. Fieldfares were particularly evident with at least 104 present, while there were also 4 Mistle Thrushes, 75 Blackbirds and a handful each of Redwings and Song Thrushes. It was the busiest day of the year for the ringers so far with many of 58 Robins, 20 Dunnocks and 10 Chiffchaffs (plus the thrushes) forming the majority of the 60 birds ringed at Holland gardens. There were also 3 Woodcocks, 2 Black Redstarts, the first Blackcap, Grey Wagtail and some 257 Meadow Pipits seen. The 6th was much quieter with only a fraction of the birds recorded on 5th still with us. Most of the previous days Fieldfares and many other passerines had obviously moved but 2 Sandwich Terns in Nouster Bay were new.
Roughly half the number of passerines (Robins, Dunnocks and Chiffchaffs) lingered on the 3rd when the only obvious new passerines were a couple each of Bramblings and Chaffinches. The Great Grey Shrike was seen again at Holland first thing, but not subsequently while a Grey Wagtail seen both days, wasn't far away from where it had been at the end of March so was presumably a lingering bird. A bit of rain overnight and early morning on 4th didn't seem to do what we'd hoped it would-perhaps the 'smog' further south is preventing things from moving? There were a few more Robins on the coast though, the first Ring Ouzel of the year was near the airfield, and once the drizzle cleared a few flocks of northbound Curlews were noted, totalling 33 birds.
More easterlies, more sunshine and more pleasant birding-the islands really is a fantastic place to be at the moment! The first wave of Blackbirds was evident on 1st, and although the numbers weren't huge, 13 trapped and ringed in the morning was a clear sign of an arrival. There seemed to be slightly fewer Robin's and Dunnock's, especially once the sun came out so perhaps they've started to move on while the only year tick from the day was a Sandwich Tern on Gretchen Loch. Another scorcher followed on 2nd and saw the first bit of 'Corvid' passage with at least 11 Hooded Crows and 3 Rooks on the move. The Greenland White-fronted Goose was seen again and calm sea's enabled 12 Great Northern and 8 Red-throated Divers to be counted-fingers crossed for a White-billed soon! Passerine totals were slightly reduced again, although the first Brambling of the year and a White Wagtail were new, while the undoubted highlight came late in the day-a fine Great Grey Shrike caught and ringed at Holland gardens.
Better coverage today, with more than half the island scoured for migrants on another decent day. As a result the Robin total was up to 53 and Dunnock's to 24 and its clear from ringing that there's a fairly constant turnover of birds. The day's year list additions were at least 1 Collared Dove and Greenfinch while yesterday's highlight-the Grey Wagtail was seen again in a couple of places. 15 Woodpigeons (including a flock of 10) was just short of the islands record count. The Tundra Bean Goose remains and there was also a Sparrowhawk, 2 Mistle Thrushes, 11 Chiffchaffs, a Rook and the Common Redpoll seen.
More sunshine and more easterly winds have certainly bought plenty of migrants the last few days. So, its a shame were man down (or man in Israel!) currently as there are birds everywhere! On 29th counts from the 1 (of 6) census routes covered offered totals of 16 Robins, 7 Dunnocks, 6 Chiffchaffs and a handful of other expected migrants.
There was something for everyone on 30th with a Hawfinch-caught and ringed in the morning the prettiest bird of the day delighting fog-bound guests and getting things off to a fine start. For the ringing buffs, there was a Dutch ringed Common Redpoll-we think it's the first from this source to have been controlled here. For the rarity hunter (ok, so its not a Bluetail) but with only 1 record since 2011, a Grey Wagtail near Claypows was welcome and has been rarer here recently than both Blyth's Reed and Paddyfield Warblers!! And for the Gull enthusiasts, there was er.... a Glaucous x Herring Gull hybrid at Bridesness. Time split between the fully covered Bridesness area and Holland / the Observatory also produced the year's first Black Redstart and Mistle Thrush and common migrant totals of at least 34 Robins, 10 Dunnocks, 13 Chiffchaffs, 9 Song Thrushes and 4 Chaffinch-but clearly there's a lot more than were managing to record around.
The last few days have seen a steady trickle of arrivals in much more favourable easterly winds and some rather pleasant weather. The 26th was simply a stunning day with glorious sunshine throughout, which must have been ideal for passing migrants to make good progress without needing to land on North Ronaldsay. It was a little bit quieter than expected but the first Dunnocks (3) and White Wagtail were the most notable sightings of the day and there was a significant build up of Meadow Pipits to 140 and a juvenile Iceland Gull also seen. The Glossy Ibis was at Gravity again on 27th, 4 Chiffchaffs were scattered about while late arriving migrants included the first Wheatear, a Chaffinch and a handful of Robins new into the Observatory area in the last hour of daylight. The Golden Plover flock has built up to 224 individuals in the last few days although 3 Jack Snipes at Westness were perhaps wintering birds rather than incomers. Vocal Goldcrests were evident from dawn on 28th in the gardens at Holland with 9 on the island altogether and other passerines included 9 Dunnocks, 11 Robins, another Wheatear and at least 2 Siskins. Another 'littoralis' Rock Pipit was at West Beach and the Tundra Bean Goose was seen again.
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North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory NRBO was established in 1987 to study and record the migrant birds that pass through Orkney's most northerly island each year. The number and variety of birds that arrive here on migration in Spring and Autumn can be spectacular, and North Ronaldsay is well-known as one of the best birdwatching sites in the country. The observatory also provides comfortable accommodation for visitors to the island.