Migrants remain few and far between but the wardening teams efforts have been rewarded with some quality rarities in their place. The rarest bird of the year so far was a Woodchat Shrike seen briefly on roadside fences near the Ancum Willows on 19th before disappearing. Just the third island record of this southern species it hasn't yet been relocated although the poor weather has hampered census since then, so there is still some hope it may be re-found. Much more obliging was the smart male Rustic Bunting, found in almost exactly the same place at the Ancum pump station the next afternoon. Always a pleasure to see and the third in five years (all males in spring), it showed well to the assembled crowd before disappearing by evening. Most of the other sightings came from the 18th when there was a good tally of locally scarce birds with the first-summer Marsh Harrier, Black-throated Diver, pair of Garganey, Iceland Gull and Short-eared Owl all seen again. There was also a drake Common Scoter in Nouster Bay on that date, relocating to Linklet by 20th when a first-summer Little Gull was seen, a Sparrowhawk, single Cuckoo's on 18th and 19th and 2 Common Redpolls from 19th to 20th.
Pretty quiet the last few days and a bit of a struggle with limited new arrivals despite more promising south-easterly winds and rain overnight on 14th/15th. Only a Greenshank was of note on the first day of the period with a pair of Garganey near the mill the pick of the sightings from the 15th and they remained to 17th. That day also saw the only (tiny) arrival of passerines which included a Tree Sparrow at the Lighthouse, 2 Song Thrushes and a handful of warblers including a Garden Warbler at the Obs. A Black-throated Diver in Nouster bay on 16th and 17th was assumed to be last weeks bird and also through there passed 6 Common Scoter on the latter date. A wide ranging first-summer Marsh Harrier on 17th was by far the best bird of the period on a day which also included the first Short-eared Owl of the year, 3 Sparrowhawks, an Iceland Gull, 10 Carrion Crows and single Redpoll and Siskin.
With westerly winds whipping up and then veering into the north-west on the 13th, there was only one thing to do and it was very much all eyes on the sea from the point at Westness. A short sea-watch session on the evening of the 12th logged a flock of at least 7 distant Long-tailed Skuas but an early start the next morning turned into a very special day! A total of 79 Long-tailed Skuas passed in 5 hours (0600-1100), in various flock sizes and there were even groups of 9 and 4 picked up flying behind us cutting the corner over the land!! Also seen were 8 Pomarine Skuas, 10 Arctic and 16 Great Skuas with 4 Skua sp too distant to identify for certain. This represents a record day total for Long-tailed Skua and these stunning birds have now been picked up passing Westness on almost every sea-watch attempt there in the right conditions-143 birds in the last 3 years, with just 33 birds (from various locations) recorded in the fist 25 years of the observatories history. While the numbers are still short of those moving off the Outer Hebridies, it seems that spring Skua passage always has passed North Ronaldsay- someone just needed to look at the right bit of sea! But that wasn't the end to the action off the coast and just after 3.30, the first pod of Killer Whales for three years were picked up moving north off West Beach. There were at least 4 (including a large bull), but sadly they only stayed with us for about 20 minutes or so, being last seen off the Lighthouse and eluding the masses. Other sightings from the 12th included a drake Garganey on Hooking Loch again, female Blue-headed Wagtail on the golf course, a Sparrowhawk and Tree Pipit while on the 13th, a late Goldcrest and Dunnock among the birds caught and ringed at Holland House in the evening indicated how far behind spring migration still is.
Bits and pieces the last few days with the 9th definitely being the best day weather wise and also for the birds seen. Gull movement was evident with 2 different juvenile Iceland Gulls (Lenswick and out high off the north end) and an adult Little Gull (Bridesness), with 33 Black-headed, 65 Common and 10 Herring Gulls also noted heading out north. A pair of Garganey were at Hooking, with the first Hen Harrier (ringtail) and Merlin for a while with a Sparrowhawk and a late arrival of 8 Woodpigeons also seen. Commoner wader species reaching their highest totals so far were 799 Turnstone and 177 Ringed Plovers with 51 Knot also present while Arctic Terns built to 309. A clear arrival of Hirundines saw 118 Swallows and 8 Sand Martins recorded while other passerines included 2 Black Redstarts, a Whinchat, 87 Wheatears, 4 Sedge Warblers, 14 Chiffchaffs, 5 Willow Warblers a Goldfinch, 3 Redpolls and 3 Snow Buntings. The 10th began dry, but heavy rain and easterly winds made conditions difficult in the afternoon despite the promise of new arrivals the following day. Not much was seen though with a Kestrel, 4 Black-tailed Godwits, 2 Greenshanks, 5 Tree Pipits, 2 Rock Pipits (including a 'littoralis'), a Ring Ouzel and Rook the highlights. Despite this promise the 11th delivered fewer grounded passerines than expected with non-passerines dominating the days highlights. A nearly full summer-plumaged Black-throated Diver in Nouster bay was the smartest bird, with a juvenile Iceland Gull in the same area also nice, a late Whooper Swan, a big increase in Arctic Terns to 862 and a flock of 8 Collared Doves leading the way in terms of quality and quantity. Singles of House and Sand Martin were seen with a Rook, 10 Carrion Crows,17 Hooded Crows, 2 Tree Sparrows at Breckan (first of the year) and 9 Lesser black-backed Gulls on the move.
Another decent day with a moderate south-westerly wind and occasional showers delivered another Raptor surprise just before lunch. This time it was a smart Rough-legged Buzzard, the 15th island record and first since 2010 which arrived in off the sea at Hooking before appearing to land and disappearing. Attempts to find it on the ground failed but it was picked up again high over the south end of the island at about 1.15pm and from here it headed out to sea to the north-east and was then seen over Fair Isle less than an hour later. Among the migrant passerines were a female Blue-headed Wagtail at Bridesness, 2 Sand Martins, 6 Redstarts, the Mistle Thrush again, a Fieldfare, similar numbers of Warblers to yesterday, at least 7 Carrion Crows and 2 Mealy Redpolls. An evening build up of Arctic Terns saw 185 recorded and waders were moving again with 45 summer-plumaged Knot, 31 Dunlins, 47 Golden Plovers and the first Lapwing chicks were at last seen. Winter fare included a late Long-tailed Duck with the Greenland White-fronted Goose lingering on still.
A very blustery day with a strong force 8-9 wind all day which turned out to be fairly productive on both the land and sea. A morning sea-watch (0900-1230) from the point at Westness detected spring Skua passage for the third year running with an early Long-tailed Skua (9.10) and a Pomarine Skua (11.55), plus 2 Arctic Skuas, 14 Great Skuas, an unidentified Skua, 2 Manx Shearwaters and 1015 Fulmars (1000 of which passed in one flock!) recorded. A Quail seen a couple of times in the Mid-park area during the afternoon was the highlight on land but there was also the first Jack Snipe of the Spring, a Wood Sandpiper and Greenshank still plus 12 Knot on Torness. Passerines were harder to find, but 2 Rock Pipits were the first in a while with a Dunnock also new and totals of 2 Redstarts, a Whinchat, 3 Pied Flycatchers, a smattering of Warblers including 2 Whitethroats, a Siskin and 3 Snow Buntings.
There were plenty of new arrivals today, do doubt forced down by the constant rain and a light north-westerly wind which had increased by the late afternoon. There was no outstanding rarity as was the case this time last year but a good days birding produced 3 Garganey at Hooking Loch, a drake Scaup at Bridesness and a Wood Sandpiper on the scrape at Scottigar among the highlights. Passerine migrants were slightly more numerous than yesterday with 3 Sand Martins, 19 Swallows, 3 Tree Pipits, 2 Robins, a Black Redstart, 9 Redstarts, 4 Whinchats, 5 Song Thrush, a Mistle Thrush at mid-park, a Grasshopper Warbler at Sangar ditch, 4 Lesser Whitethroats,2 Whitethroats, a Garden Warbler, 3 Blackcaps, 8 Chiffchaffs, 7 Willow Warblers, Pied Flycatcher and 2 Mealy Redpolls logged. There was also a Cuckoo and 2 female Sparrowhawks while wader numbers are now building too. 141 Ringed Plovers represented their highest count of the year, with 107 Sanderlings, 48 Dunlins, 408 Turnstones, 7 Whimbrel and a Black-tailed Godwit also counted. Hangers-on from winter included the Greenland White-fronted Goose and 7 Barnacle Geese while on the other foot, returning Arctic Terns have already started to set up colonies at traditional sit
A decent arrival of birds in the last couple of days with many spring migrants registering their first appearances of the year. It was perhaps not as busy as expected, but a light sprinkling of passerines all over the island on 4th included 2 Redstarts, a Fieldfare, Song Thrush, Sedge Warbler, 3 Blackcaps, 5 Lesser Whitethroats, Pied Flycatcher, 9 Willow Warblers, 9 Chiffchaffs and 2 Siskins. There was also a Kestrel and Sparrowhawk, 7 Whimbrels with a wave of 84 Arctic Terns moving through north while one of the most impressive sights were the 36 Carrion Crows (31 of them in one flock!) and 7 Hooded Crows which went south late on. The 5th produced slightly more variety, with Common Sandpiper, Cuckoo, Whinchat and Garden Warbler new for the year. Other migrants from the day included a Sparrowhawk, 47 Arctic Terns, 2 Woodpigeons, an eared Owl sp, a flyover 'flava' Wagtail, 2 Redstarts, Ring Ouzel, 62 Wheatears, 2 Whitethroats, 5 Lesser Whitethroats, 8 Blackcaps, 10 Chiffchaffs, 10 Willow Warblers, 3 Goldcrests, a Pied Flycatcher ringing control and 2 Bramblings. Maybe we'll get that scarcity tomorrow...
Pleasant conditions of the 2nd tuned to wetter weather the next afternoon as the winds swung to the east-just what we wanted! The White-rumped Sandpiper remained faithful to Bewan Loch on both dates and 5 Black-tailed Godwits were the pick of other waders on 2nd. Late on that day a group of corvids including 3 Rooks, 13 Hooded Crows and at least 9 Carrion Crows headed out south. But it was during the afternoon on the 3rd that birds began to appear as the rain started. Singles of Redstart, 'flava' Wagtail and Whitethroat were all firsts of the year with 6 Lesser Whitethroats, 9 Willow Warblers, 8 Chiffchaffs, 4 Robins, a Brambling and a Kestrel hinting at things to come.
While the weather was pleasant enough, the day looked like being a quiet one until George found a White-rumped Sandpiper at Bewan Loch alongside a couple of Dunlin mid-afternoon. Almost certainly the recent Papa Westray bird, this is the 16th individual (10 of which were in 2005) to be recorded on North Ronaldsay but it is the first in spring. With the exception of 10 Pink-footed Geese that really was it today, but we'll take little gems like that-a great bird to watch and enjoy.
White-rumped Sandpiper (photos Mark Warren top 2, George Gay flight shot)
What's been a quiet April overall drew to a close with a little bit of interest and we head into May with plenty of optimism of some good days ahead. Highlights from the 28th were a smart drake Garganey on the pool at Scots Ha, a Long-eared Owl in Holland gardens, 2 juvenile Glaucous Gulls and some light corvid passage which included 2 Jackdaws, 6 Rooks and a Carrion Crow. There was also (at last) the first Blackcap of the year with 3 Black-tailed Godwits, a Woodpigeon and Collared Dove also new. A fresh easterly breeze on 29th delivered us the first 2 Arctic Terns of the year in Nouster Bay, but with bright sunshine other new arrivals were limited to a Lesser Whitethroat trapped and ringed at the Observatory, single Willow Warbler and Goldcrest in Holland, 3 Collared Doves while some 60 Wheatears included the first clear 'Greenland' race individuals. The final day of the month was largely unproductive in a return to winter northerlies just a Greenland White-fronted Goose, the 7 Barnacle Geese and 5 Pink-footed Geese worthy of a mention. So, bring on May...
With westerly winds still dominating, sightings have understandably been limited but with winds from the opposite, more favourable direction forecast in a few days time there's some optimism in camp that we might at last see better numbers of migrants! A handful of familiar passerines were recorded on 25th but the 5 Common Scoter past Nouster that day and another 4 past Westness on 26th were the pick of observations from both days. From a reduced census effort on 26th came the first Arctic Skua with a Dunnock and 5 Snow Bunting of note. The 27th was a better day with a few surprises, most notably the first April record of a Sooty Shearwater, which flew west past the sea-watch hide during a hail storm induced half hour sea-watch just before midday! A regular sight between July and October there has been one other spring record from the isle on 26th May 1987 though this individual may have wintered in the north sea with sightings over the last month coming from 3 east coast observatories. Also at the north end, a record flock of 4 (all redhead) Goosanders came in off the sea at the hide before being seen on Ancum Loch a few hours later. A couple of Common Redpolls (Kirbest/Obs) were the best of the passerines with the lingering Black Redstart, 2 White Wagtails, a Rook and 2 Carrion Crows also seen. Waders are beginning to build with 2 Black-tailed Godwits, 6 Whimbrels and 292 Turnstones among the species logged plus 10 Great Northern Divers and 14 Red-breasted Mergansers were off the coast and 151 Kittiwakes passed during the brief sea-watch.
With no sign of any easterly winds, the spring continues at a snails pace-a stark contrast to this time last year when migrants were plentiful. The 22nd brought nothing more than another Sparrowhawk, a handful of phylloscs and the lingering Glaucous Gull though the next day was slightly better with the first Tree Pipit of the year and a Brambling both in Holland gardens while some visible duck movement included 41 Tufted Ducks and a Pochard. Fortunately waders too were less reliant on the wind direction and the first 4 summer plumaged Black-tailed Godwits over Kirbest on 23rd were followed by 2 more at Trolla Vatn on 24th when a Greenshank was also at Gretchen. Regular spells of rain, but no wind that day and a calm sea saw the Black-throated Diver relocated again off the north end of the links with 14 Great Northern and 3 Red-throated Divers also present. A Fieldfare and Robin were new but a male Black Redstart at Bewan was the same from a few days ago. A flock of 18 Barnacle Geese flew north with the 7 wintering birds, the 2 Pale-bellied Brent Geese and a Greenland White-fronted Goose still in the Hooking area.
Calm weather on the 19th saw the Black-throated Diver recorded again, this time off Stromness Point with 22 Great Northern Divers in the same area and the 2 Pale-bellied Brent Geese re-located to the north end. New migrants that day included 3 Bramblings and the first Common Redpoll of the year at Holland gardens and a Sparrowhawk, with 2 seen next day when a Jackdaw and 3 Rooks were the most notable birds. A gloomier 21st, with fog drifting in by evening produced a Long-eared Owl which crash landed into the patio furniture outside the Observatory before recovering its senses and showing well in the Nouster area. There was also a Black Redstart, a House Martin, at least 6 Chiffchaffs and a Willow Warbler while a lone Barnacle Goose was likely a new bird and Pink-footed Geese numbers rose to 6.
With wall to wall sunshine (well almost) and no wind, the last few days have been rather pleasant so we've even had our meals outside and there's even been talk of Barbeques!! Despite the lack of easterlies, the birds have started to arrive and though there were no real highlights from the 16th, the next day saw a Grey Wagtail (scarce on North Ron) at the Beacon among an arrival of some 82 Wheatears. There was also the first Willow Warbler of the year in Holland gardens, 2 Jackdaws, a Carrion Crow and 16 Snow Buntings on 17th. There was an early start that day for the annual Tystie census and 653 birds were counted with the calm seas also revealing 10 Great Northern Divers and 16 Red-breasted Mergansers. That theme continued into the 18th when a locally rare Black-throated Diver was found off the north end of the Links and 18 Great Northern Divers were visible. A Common Buzzard (equally rare) then flew south, with at least 2 Sparrowhawks and a Kestrel also recorded. The first 3 Sand Martins came in off the sea at the links (during time spent scrutinising the BTD for something rarer!), the first Ring Ouzel was at the Mill, a Brambling flew over, there were at least 5 Chiffchaffs and a few more Swallows have been seen plus a Carrion Crow and 2 Collared Doves. Old favourites during the 3 day period have included up to 2 Glaucous Gulls, the Tundra Bean Goose, Greenland White-fronted Goose, 5 Pink-footed Geese (on 18th), the 7 Barnacle Geese and the 2 Pale-bellied Brent Geese were seen again on the latter two dates.