Friday, 24 February 2017

22nd -24th February

The influx of white-wingers faded away as the wind dropped and the weather became very pleasant as Storm Doris largely missed us, passing far to the south; just 2 Glaucous Gulls remained on the 22nd.   The bird highlights remained the same with the Northern Harrier seen again, this time in the north of the island on the 23rd, the drake Smew still going back and forth between Bewan and Hooking and the Green-winged Teal still on Gretchen.

                Decent wildfowl counts in this period included 420 Greylag Geese in amongst which was still a single White-fronted Goose, 205 Wigeon, 79 Teal, 27 Long-tailed Ducks and 8 Goldeneye while the glorious, sunny, calm conditions on the 24th produced some much improved wader counts with 289 Purple Sandpipers, 245 Turnstone and 33 Bar-tailed Godwits standing out.

                Two Hen Harriers on the 23rd included a ringtail at Brides and a fine adult male which cruised round the Obs several times after appearing to have come in from the south while passerines remained at a premium with the odd Snow Bunting seen at various sites and a couple more wintering Robins sticking their heads up during the fine weather on the 24th.

Purple Sandpipers - photo Simon Davies

19th -21st February

The steadily increasing wind and worsening weather over this period produced the main talking point which consisted of another influx of white-winged Gulls to the island starting with a single Glaucous Gull on the 19th, rising to 3 the following day and then a good total of 6 birds on the 21st along with a second-year Iceland Gull.   Other highlights included the Northern Harrier making several appearances around Brides Loch, the drake Smew commuting between Bewan and Hooking and the drake Green-winged Teal happily residing on Gretchen Loch.

                Peak wildfowl counts included 2 Whooper Swans, 440 Greylag Geese, 175 Wigeon, 146 Teal, 15 Pintail, 25 Shoveler and 36 Tufted Ducks along with 15 Great-northern Divers, 16 Red-throated Divers and 6 Herons.

                Waders showed a general upturn in numbers (although increased coverage may have had something to do with it) as counts included 186 Lapwing, 92 Dunlin, 54 Sanderling and 95 Purple Sandpipers.   Other birds over these few days included single Peregrine and Merlin whizzing around and the few Passerines lingering on the island included counts of 8 Redwing, 7 Linnets and single wintering Robin and Chaffinch.

Glaucous Gull - photo Simon Davies

The Fulmars at least were having fun in the strong winds - photo Simon Davies

Thursday, 23 February 2017

16th-18th February

16th February

A modest total for the day with Red-throated Diver and 9 Great Northern Diver, Whooper Swan and 452 Greylag to start things off.  More wildfowl included one of the lingering adult White-fronted Geese, 3 Shelduck, 7 Long-tailed Duck and 4 Red-breasted Merganser.  Noteworthy waders amounted to 74 Lapwing, 2 Knot (the first of the year), 21 Bar-tailed Godwit.  31 Skylark was significantly higher than previous weeks suggesting a small early spring influx.  The calm sunny weather allowed the observatory team to encounter a few other passerines including a single Song Thrush and a flock of 67 Twite.  The warmth also encouraged swarms of flies to emerge at Westness where hundreds of Starlings gorged themselves, amongst them were at least two colour ringed individuals originating from Fair Isle.

17th February

Diver numbers were higher than usual with 10 Red-throated Diver, 15 Great Northern Diver and an adult winter Black-throated Diver in Nouster was a pleasant surprise as it's a scarce bird for the island.  Further noteworthy species included 120 Eider, 19 Long-tailed Duck, and 245 Tysties (numbers are really increasing with returning adult winter and summer birds in even proportions).  A colour ringed Shag from Fair Isle was a nice encounter.  Waders of note included 51 Oystercatcher, 2 Knot and 2 Jack Snipe.  Skylark numbers had increased to 49, a Song Thrush was at the observatory and a Rock Pipit was singing in Goo Geo, yet more signs of spring.

18th February

First and foremost a big welcome to Simon Davies, our new assistant warden, we look forward to a great time birding together!  We've already begun on fixing the traps with his guidance and have made more progress on indoor work, continued with report writing and fixing mist nets.  It's a busy and very productive time at the observatory at the moment.

On the bird front, 16 Red-throated Diver and 10 Great Northern Diver.  Wildfowl: 2 Pink-footed Geese, White-fronted Goose, Green-winged Teal, 7 Long-tailed Duck, 14 Goldeneye, drake Smew, and 2 Red-breasted Merganser.  The male Northern Harrier continues to delight and the first returning Lesser Black-backed Gull of the year was another promising sign of spring to come.  Further noteworthy species included 370 Golden Plover, 5 Knot, 148 Great Black-backed Gull, 9 Twite, 6 Snow Buntings.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

13th-15th February

13th February

Hooking loch revealed an interesting insight today, an owl pellet was found by the edge of the loch. Examination of the pellet suggests it came from an Eared Owl species but unfortunately no owl could not be found on the island. The drake Smew and 5 Eurasian White-fronted Geese could also be found around Hooking along with 3 Whooper Swans. Other figures from today include 50 Tysties, 131 Lapwing, 63 Dunlin, 8 Sanderling, and a Chaffinch.

14th February

A sunny yet chilly Valentine's Day highlights include the drake Smew and a ring-tailed Hen Harrier at Hooking loch. Large flocks of waders were seen on the Links with 50 Ringed Plovers, 29 Sanderling, and 28 Bar-tailed Godwits all feeding along the shore line.

15th February

The flock of 6 Snow Buntings are still hanging around the north end of the island. A juvenile Iceland Gull and Glaucous Gull could also be found on the north side of the island. Diver numbers have remained similar over the past few days with today's count being 7 Red-throated Divers and 9 Great Northern Divers. Counts from today include 5 Shelduck, 123 Eider, 6 Long-tailed Ducks, a ring-tailed Hen Harrier, a Peregrine Falcon, and 99 Tysties.

                                                  Great Northern Divers (Larissa Simlik)

10th-12th February

10th February

A wider coverage on the island allowed us to achieve a greater wildfowl count and some attention was directed to the sea.  8 Red-throated Diver, 5 Great Northern Diver, 2 Red-breasted Merganser and 21 Tysties.  Wildfowl included 253 Wigeon, 64 Teal, Green-winged Teal, 12 Pintail, 21 Shoveler, 13 Tufted Duck, 25 Long-tailed Duck, Goldeneye and the lingering drake Smew.  We were very fortunate to host a second Hen Harrier a stunning male joining the remaining ringtail on the island.  Further highlights included Peregrine, 2 Linnet, 11 Twite and 6 Grey Heron.  Finally, notably high counts: 42 Coot, 93 Lapwing, 21 Bar-tailed Godwit, 43 Curlew, 35 Rock Dove, and 11 Redwing.

11th February

Little time was spent in the field but a remarkably good tally still makes for an enjoyable winter birding scene.  Notable birds included 2 Great Northern Diver, 37 Tysties, 3 Goldeneye, Smew, Peregrine, 22 Snipe, 5 Skylark, the lingering male Northern Harrier and the White-billed Diver was resighted for the third time from Dennis Head (presumably the same individual as that at the same location on the 2nd and 9th Feb).

12th February

Birding from Twingness, the south western corner of the island has heralded some of the first signs of spring with displaying Eider and 107 Tysties (our first triple figure count of the year) and some were even heard singing.  Other birds of note included 9 Red-throated Diver, a great total of 29 Great Northern Diver and a Little Auk flying south past  the point.  Other notable species included 2 Whooper Swan, Eurasian White-fronted Goose, 102 Teal, Green-winged Teal, 42 Mallard, 12 Long-tailed Duck, Hen Harrier, Northern Harrier, a Merlin in off the sea from the south west, 75 Purple Sandpiper, 9 Snipe, our first Pied Wagtail of the year, 6 Fieldfare, 10 Redwing, 4 Raven and a Chaffinch.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

6th-9th February

6th Feb

Bits and pieces include Great Northern Diver, Green-winged Teal lingering on Gretchen, Peregrine and a modest count of 21 Dunlin.  3 Sanderling were a notable count given the surprise absence of this species so far this year with the exception of a single bird in January.

8th Feb

The 7th was incredibly windy and with plenty of indoor chores taking priority we decided to leave birding until the 8th.  Even by then the wind had only subsided slightly enabling a Glaucous Gull, Great Northern Diver and 11 Twite to be found.

9th Feb

Our best opportunity to head out in the field and achieve some birding for the first time in several days arrived following a long period of strong southerly winds.  As they weakened a seawatch was in order and produced 4 Red-throated Diver, 8 Great Northern Diver, 8 Long-tailed Duck, 9 Red-breasted Merganser, 122 Kittiwake, 9 Tysties.  The standout highlight was the reappearance of the 1st winter White-billed Diver (assumed to be the individual from 2nd Feb) which lingered for two hours in front of the seawatch hide offering remarkably close views at times and great enjoyment to us lucky volunteers.  Perambulations around the island produced the first Song Thrush of the year, drake Smew, ringtail Hen Harrier, Jack Snipe, 10 Fieldfare, 5 Redwing, Chaffinch.  Waterfowl of note included lingering 6 Eurasian White-fronted Geese, 2 Mute Swan, 69 Wigeon, 2 Gadwall, 6 Pintail and 5 Goldeneye.

3rd-5th February

3rd Feb

Some modest wildfowl counts included 4 Whooper Swan, 2 Pink-footed Geese, 162 Wigeon, 20 Tufted Duck, 5 Goldeneye, Smew and 7 Red-breasted Merganser.  184 Purple Sandpiper represented another peak in their numbers and were coupled with high counts of 28 Bar-tailed Godwit and 127 Turnstone.  The strong winds also brought in many gulls including 121 Herring Gulls, 319 Common Gulls and 3 juvenile Iceland Gulls.

4th Feb

Highlights included 6 Red-throated Diver, 2 Great Northern Diver, juvenile Iceland Gull, juvenile Glaucous Gull, 8 Tysties and 158 auk sp. on seawatch.

5th Feb

More of the same but the lingering winter specialties continue to inspire.  2 Red-throated Diver, 3 Great Northern Diver, 10 Long-tailed Duck, Peregrine, juvenile Iceland Gull, 10 Tysties, 7 Sylarks and 2 Pink-footed Geese.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

1st-2nd February

Winter birding really is good fun up here in Orkney.  We've been very fortunate to encounter white-winged gulls on an almost daily basis.

1st February

The first day of the month brought with it an adult Iceland Gull which glided past Bride's Point before drifting up the coast.  It's outer primaries seemed to show dusky grey outer webs to the trailing half of the wing suggestive of ssp. kumlieni although this was never confirmed with more satisfactory views.  It associated with dozens of Herring Gulls, Great Black-backed Gulls, 146 Common Gulls and 7 Back-headed Gulls touring around the island.  Other notable species on the 1st included the lingering adult male Northern Harrier, Merlin, Peregrine, 5 Tysties, 5 Red-throated Diver and 3 Great Northern Diver.  The majority of our effort invested in the field has been focused on the southern portion of the island but still yielded modest totals of wildfowl including 189 Wigeon, 62 Teal, drake Green-winged Teal, 10 Pintail, 7 Long-tailed Duck, 3 Goldeneye and 2 Red-breasted Merganser.  Wader totals amounted to 93 Oystercatcher, 157 Lapwing, 28 Purple Sandpiper, 76 Dunlin, 12 Snipe, 34 Curlew, 38 Redshank and 51 Turnstone.  A yearling Common Seal at Bride's Point was an encouraging sight to round the day off.

2nd February

The day seemed to be set for a similar agenda as a juvenile Glaucous Gull glided past the obs as soon as we set foot out of the door.  A further 2 Iceland Gulls made an appearance cruising along the east coast and included the lingering 2nd winter and a new adult.  These associated with 274 Common Gull and 83 Great Black-backed Gull.  A morning seawatch from Dennis Head was very exciting as a 1st winter White-billed Diver drifted slowly north at 10:40-10:50am.  An additional 4 Great Northern Diver, 3 Red-throated Diver, 3 Little Auk and our first Bonxie of the year also passed by.  Further noteworthy species included 2 Mute Swan, 2 Whooper Swan, Shelduck, 8 Pintail, 135 Eider, 18 Long-tailed Duck and drake Smew.  A mixture of additional highlights included 2 Merlin, 23 Bar-tailed Godwit, 6 Snow Buntings and the first Goldfinch of the year.

juvenile Glaucous Gull (George Gay)

adult Iceland Gull (George Gay)

30-31st January

The theme for the past week has been... wind.  Lots of it but it has been responsible for a rather productive period in terms of gulls.  Little time was spent in the field due to the weather and indoor work taking priority but brief excursions on the 30th produced 9 Long-tailed Ducks, 2 Red-breasted Merganser, 26 Bar-tailed Godwits and the lingering 6 Eurasian White-fronted Geese.

The 31st brought with it little change in the bird scene with the lingering juvenile Glaucous Gull, 6 White-fronted Geese and 2 Mute Swans being the only noteworthy species.

Monday, 30 January 2017

26th-29th January


The Northern Harrier and female Hen Harrier performed well once again as did 2 female Merlins in an impressive areal tangle.  Further exciting birds included a Peregrine, drake Smew, juvenile Glaucous Gull and either the reappearance or new discovery of a 2nd winter Iceland Gull sheltering from the strong westerly wind by the pier.  Modest counts of commoner birds include 3 Red-throated Divers, 4 Grey Herons, 4 Pintail, 17 Shoveler, 3 Long-tailed Ducks and the highest count of Golden Plover of the year, standing at 540 birds.  30 Bar-tailed Godwits and 3 Tysties rounded off the day.


The lingering pairs of Mute Swan and Whooper Swan were both still present along with a sole Pink-footed Goose.  The first 2 Shelduck of the year were a welcome sight as were several lingering scarcities including 4 juvenile Glaucous Gulls (and a freshly deceased adult), a 2nd winter Iceland Gull and the lingering adult male Northern Harrier (performing well as is often the case).  9 Twite outside the observatory, the lingering drake Smew, 4 Goldeneye and 7 Long-tailed Ducks sheltering on the east coast made for a productive day.  A half hour seawatch off Dennis Head in the morning produced 4 Red-throated Divers, 3 Great Northern Divers, 24 Kittiwake, and a trickle of auks including 14 Guillemots, 2 Razorbill and 15 auk sp.


Noteworthy species were much the same as the previous few days and included 2 Mute Swan, 2 Whooper Swan, Shelduck, 8 Pintail, Smew, 2 Red-breasted Mergansers, Northern Harrier, 2nd winter Iceland Gull, 2 juvenile Glaucous Gulls, 7 Twite and 2 Snow Buntings.  Notable high counts involved 86 Ringed Plover and 106 Dunlin feeding together on the East Links.


Some long awaited White-fronted Geese finally appeared on the island following a blank year in 2016.  Following an arrival of birds on Shetland we eagerly anticipated an arrival for ourselves.  A small flock of six birds (including 3 juveniles) were found near Ancum Willows before relocating to the fields near Waterhouse were they were loosely associated with flocks of Greylag Geese.  Modest high counts for the day include 109 Shag, 121 Wigeon, 75 Teal, 30 Long-tailed Duck, 5 Goldeneye and 5 Tysties.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

21st-25th January

It has been somewhat busy again with a nice diversity of birds picking up nearer the end of the month.  Larissa Simulik and Samuel Perfect returned to the observatory on the 24th to join George Gay who has been present for several weeks already.  With a boost in island coverage, some noteworthy highlights have already been unearthed.

There was little coverage on the 21st but the 22nd produced a good total of 10 Red-throated Divers, 7 Great Northern Divers, 4 Pintail, Northern Harrier, Peregrine, a 2nd winter Iceland Gull and 13 Redwing.

Coverage commenced once again on the 24th with highlights including Red-throated Diver, Green-winged Teal, 14 Mallard, 2 Long-tailed Duck, 3 Goldeneye, Peregrine, 250 Golden Plover, 75 Herring Gull and 9 Twite.

The 25th yielded the highest totals for several days for many species, particularly wildfowl thanks to the additional coverage.  General highlights include Northern Harrier, 6 Glaucous Gulls (3 juveniles, 1 2nd winter and 2 adults) joining a flock of 90 Great Black-backed Gulls, the first 2 Black-headed Gulls of the year, Water Rail and Red-throated Diver and 2 Tysties.  The aforementioned wildfowl included 99 Wigeon, 4 Gadwall, 80 Teal, 17 Pintail, 8 Shoveler, 12 Tufted Duck, 41 Eider and 4 Red-breasted Merganser.  Further noteworthy counts include 53 Oystercatcher, 126 Lapwing, 42 Purple Sandpipers, 35 Dunlin, 10 Snipe, 35 Curlew, 38 Redshank.  17 Blackbirds and 2 Fieldfare and a Chaffinch were the passerine highlights.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

16th-20th January

A few quick highlights from mid-January:

Jack Snipe, 31 Wigeon, 2 Long-tailed Duck, Red-breasted Merganser and 82 Lapwing.

2 Jack Snipe, 13 Snipe, 164 Wigeon, 38 Teal, Long-tailed Duck, Goldeneye, 2 Red-breasted Merganser, 14 Ringed Plover and 3 Grey Herons.

18th and 19th
Green-winged Teal

Jack Snipe, 9 Pintail, 17 Shoveler, 2 Red-breasted Merganser, Hen Harrier, Northern Harrier (interesting to note a dead and plucked Moorhen on the day it reappears as we suspect they are popular prey), 39 Ringed Plover, 2 Purple Sandpipers, 41 Dunlin, 2 Skylark and 2 Robin.

9th-15th January

It has been a busy time with many guests at the observatory.  Writing the report and general upkeep is consuming most of our time and with precious few staff it is a struggle to invest much of our time in the field birding.  Strong winds battering the island also make the task of counting and identifying birds as they are buffeted about a great deal harder.  However, three days of bird counting were achieved by one hardy staff member.

Highlights from the 9th include 4 Red-throated Divers, 2 Great Northern Divers, 3 Red-breasted Mergansers and a Tystie.  Wildfowl included modest totals of 73 Wigeon, Goldeneye, 3 Long-tailed Ducks.  An assortment of other noteworthy species included the lingering female Hen Harrier, 2 Peregrines, 61 Purple Sandpipers, 15 Snipe and a single Woodcock.

Highlights from the 12th included 5 Red-throated Divers, 1 Great Northern Diver, 2 Mute Swan, 3 Whooper Swans, 8 Goldeneye and rather surprising a bonus Pomarine Skua seen on an hours seawatch from Dennis Head.

The 15th was dedicated to a WeBS (Wetland Bird Survey) count.  Wildfowl totals from the entire island amounted to a impressive total of 1399 birds including 15 species represented by: 2 Mute Swans, 2 Whooper Swans, 2 Pink-footed Geese, 834 Greylag Geese, 284 Wigeon, 4 Gadwall, 121 Teal, 91 Mallard, 16 Pintail, 11 Shoveler, 17 Tufted Duck, 9 Eider, 2 Long-tailed Duck, 2 Goldeneye and 2 Red-breasted Merganser.  Additional waterbirds included singles of Red-throated Diver, Great Northern Diver, 14 Moorhen and 27 Coot.  Wader totals came to 14 Oystercatchers, 13 Ringed Plover, 218 Golden Plover, 44 Lapwing, 37 Purple Sandpipers, 2 Dunlin, 1 Jack Snipe, 16 Snipe, 37 Curlew, 23 Redshank, 53 Turnstone.  An assortment of other species: 1 Merlin, 12 Rock Doves, 6 Rock Pipits, 3 Robins, 1 Fieldfare, 5 Redwing, 164 Starling and 9 Twite.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

6th-8th January

It's been much of the same up here, but that's winter birding I suppose! A single Iceland Gull flying along the West side of the island was the only bird of noteworthy accreditation on the 6th. The 7th bought a break in what has seemed relentless wind and showers, it bought another first for the year, but again not hugely exciting, it came in the shape of a pair of Razorbill seen heading west from Westness, other noteworthy species for the day were 10 Goldeneye, 6 Pintail, 12 Bar-tailed Godwits and the ever present Northern Harrier still terrorising the aforementioned ducks!
The 8th saw a return to the nasty weather, this time it was squalled showers and mist, this meant visibility was rubbish for the majority of the day, which by the way aren't very long at the moment! Surprisingly the drake Smew was back on Bewan with a flock of 6 Goldeneye, the Northern Harrier did its best to sneak up on the observatory staff, as it has done on many occasions this year and last, shooting past without detection until you see the back end of it hawking around the now empty loch where the ducks you were watching once fed. The other bird of note was also a newbie for 2017, a smart female Sparrowhawk was seen flushing from the trees in Holland to draw the day to a close.
Sparrowhawk - George Gay

Drake Smew - George Gay

Thursday, 5 January 2017

31st December - 5th January. We're Back!

First and foremost we hope you all had a great Christmas and a Happy New Year and it's now time to get some birding done.
The 31st bought about strong winds, something that has been a constant feature since the start of December, the Northern Harrier is still around and has been entertaining us over the winter period, as have a pair of Glaucous Gulls that have been hanging around the loch at Bewan. 5 Pink-footed Geese at Peckhole, a Pochard on Brides and Merlin rounded off the final day of 2016.
Hogamany provided good entertainment and with drinks flowing a first foray into the field wasn't likely the following day, so we'll move on to the 2nd and not mention whiskey for a while!
The day started with a female Chaffinch trapped in T1, the first bird ringed on island in 2017.Another trip to Bewan and a flock of 6 Goldeneye were accompanied by a very surprising and very smart Drake Smew, the year was off to a good start and it didn't stop, 7 Snow Buntings at Brides provided a nice addition as did 3 Merlins in different locations, last but not least an Iceland Gull was seen flying round Nouster. A dazzling session in the late evening produced, Moorhen, Gadwall, Whooper Swan, Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Common Gull and a Great-black Backed Gull rounded off a good day of birds.
The two Glaucs were present again on the 3rd as was female Hen Harrier and the 4th bought another Glaucous Gull this time on the beach at Brides along with a lone Snow Bunting at Stromness point and the Northern Harrier showed well at Kirbest and the obs.
The 5th saw a slight let up in the wind, the Northern Harrier was hanging around the gardens at Holland and a Little Auk was heard and then seen flying over the road between the obs and Holland, the Chaffinch was seen around the obs and 3 Robins rounded the day off nicely.
Glaucous Gull - George Gay

Little Auk - George Gay

Northern Harrier - George Gay