Today was the first of this seasons hide 'Surgery Sessions' at The Loons reserve. These sessions will run every Friday from now until the end of July, and then fortnighly into the autumn, at one of these Orkney reserve hides:The Loons, Burgar Hill and Mill Dam. We'll be posting about events here on the blog but you can also find out more on the events section of the Orkney web page.
As it was the first event of the season we expected it to be fairly quiet, however, when we arrived there were visitors already in the hide! Through the course of the morning (9:30 to 12:30) there were eight visitors, a number of them having heard about the event on Radio Orkney that morning. We manged to get two mentions in their 'Daily Diary' of whats on in Orkney, as the wrong day was originally read out and then corrected. A result for us!
The Loons and its neighbouring reserve Loch of Banks are two great examples of Orkney's wetlands. The hide at The Loons looks immediately over a pool, then further over towards the wetland and the Loch of Isbister. There is also and area of reedbed.
The morning was a bit cold and driech (as you can see from the picture below) but the birds didn't let us down. The sound of displaying birds filled the hide with bubbling curlews, wheesy lapwings and drumming snipe - providing the constant backdrop to the mornings events. The curlews were scraping nests, the lapwings were trying to impress with their flip flapping flight and there were hares boxing in the background. The mute swan pair were displaying, elegantly dipping their heads to each other, not quite mirroring each others movements, occasionally recreating the classic love heart pose. The black headed gulls were also displaying but in a slightly less elegant manner than the swans! Spring has definately sprung!
There were also plenty of ducks to be seen, the humble mallards, a pair of tufted duck (who stayed for the whole morning on the pool), a pair of gadwall briefly dropped in, as did three drake shoveler ducks. Teal and wigeon were also easily spotted. However, the star of the show was the drake pintail who graced us with his presence for a short while.
It wasn't all about the joys of spring though, winter is still here in the form of geese, plenty of which were visible from the hide this morning. There is a small flock of Greenland white-fronted geese which winters in Orkney and are normally found in the vacinity of The Loons. They haven't been seen much this winter, so it was great to see a flock of 53 of them in a neighbouring field. The field was also playing host to a small group of pink-footed geese. There are often a few to be found in Orkney over the winter but in the last week or so, there have been more like a few thousand of them, just passing through, heading back up to their breeding grounds in the north and refueling on the way. There were also several greylag geese in the field which is the grey goose that can normally be seen in Orkney in large numbers. Within the next couple of weeks most will have left for more northerly climes.
There were many other birds to be seen and heard this morning, including the noisy pig-like squeals of the water rail and we had a fantastic flyby from a female hen harrier ...but I have to stop somewhere or I'll be here until midnight! It's well worth dropping by a hide or joining us on one the next 'Surgery Sessions'. Here is a photo of what The Loons can look like at the height of summer on a slightly warmer day ....
I'm hopefully posting this after the third attempt, I'd like to blame the computer but I think it was probably user error!
The Loons Hide Session - Friday 15th
Friday morning was bright and warm (ish, it's all relative!) and The Loons was filled with the sound of snipe drumming, curlews bubbling, a merlin flew past, the mute swan was sitting on her nest and a heron was quietly sitting in the reed bed. Apart from the weather, it was very similar to a fortnight ago but spring is gradually progressing. Lapwings are now sitting on nests, others still displaying, scraping nests and a few males were arguing over territorial boundaries. Redshank and oystercatchers were also displaying and alarming.
There were plenty of greylags using the wetland, with a flock of over 1000 pink-footed geese in the neighbouring fields, refueling and resting on their journey north. There were several duck species visible over the course of the morning, with a pair of tufted duck around most of the time. Teal and mallard were loafing on the pool edges and there were very brief visits from pintail and gadwall. See pictures below of the gadwall, taken by Ian Cunnigham.
Moorhen and coot were showing well all morning and a little grebe was diving amongst the bog bean, looking for food. The water rail was screeching occasionally. A few twite and meadow pipits passed overhead, and a pair of reed bunting were flitting around the reeds infront of the hide. The morning ended with a hunting male hen harrier being forced off the reserve by several unimpressed lapwing.
Interesting record from the sightings book: 3 otters on the 12/4
Next event: Wednesday 20th April - Hobbister Coastal Walk
Join us on a walk across the moorland and along the Scapa Flow coastline. Meet: Hobbister Car Park off the A964 (HY395069) Time:9.30am Cost: RSPB members: free, non-members:adults £2, children £1, infants free. Info/bookings: Orkney Office 01856 850176
The following note from Pauline Wilson our Orkney Local Group secretary;
Thank goodness for the young members of the WEX group who certainly swelled the numbers turning out for this annual task. We were just saying how thankful we were for dryer conditions than the previous year when the rain started, continuing for quite a while, but everybody soldiered on regardless.
A total of 24 bags of bruck were cleared from the beach and surrounding area and Andy Knight brought along the ATV to transport these up to the road ready for collection.
As an extra exercise, WEX members used items of bruck to form an imaginative sculpture of a very strange character indeed!
Two photos from Waulkmill - one taken as 'heave-ho' tactics had to be applied to a huge piece of rope; a job well done! Workers pose with the bags waiting to be piled onto the ATV.
Members of Orkney Field Club were at “The Choin”, Marwick cleaning bruck off the tidal pool shoreline on Sunday with approx. 30 bags collected.
Well done to everybody who helped - a much needed clean-up!
An early morning stroll to our Cottascarth hide this morning produced fantastic views of sky-dancing hen harriers. Although early in the season the harriers are setting up territories and pair bonds establishing for the season ahead. This morning there were at least two adult males and three females (ring-tails) viewable from the hide.
A return visit later in the day and the hen harriers were still showing well from the hide. Interestingly, in the hide logbook someone had seen a merlin between my own visits. I was not so lucky with that one. A good excuse for another visit.
It is looking good for the Harrier Sky-dancing event – A joint outing between RSPB Local Group and the Orkney Field Club. A chance to see the spectacular courtship display of the hen harrier. Meet at the Rendall Community Centre at 0930hrs on Sunday 24th April.
My welcoming party at Cottascarth was a pair of wheatears. The male jumped onto the sign and a quick snap was taken for the blog. I must add that the second trip to Cottascarth today was to touch up the paint work of the signs and markers.
Hobbister Reserve Walk
Our first guided walk of the 2011 season saw seven hardy souls brave the cool south-easterly breeze and misty conditions for a couple of hours stomping the reserves’ Scapa Flow trail. Despite the weather the local moorland birdlife put on a show with at least six male red grouse displaying continuously just off the footpath, a male and female hen harrier initially gave us fleeting views but eventually gave themselves up with the female sky-dancing to alert the nearby male of her interest. A few twite were seen and heard overhead. Curlew, lapwing and snipe all displaying well. A distant kestrel was hovering over the Highland Park peat banks early on.
Along the coast the local pair of ravens were “croaking” alarm at the odd great skua flying over. While on the coast two great northern divers, a few black guillemots, razorbill, eider, gannet and of course the many fulmars showing well on the wing and sitting on the cliff ledges.
No sign of the peregrine falcons during the walk, though they are present on the reserve again this year. Also of note is the lack of stonechats The reserve populations seems to have crashed with no sightings at Cottascarth or Hobbister this year. I am not aware of any stonechats being seen on Orkney during 2011 following the prolonged cold snap in December 2010. They are a species that are susceptible to cold weather. However, on the positive side they can bounce back quickly due to their ability to raise three broods in a season. Fingers crossed.
Where am I? - That is what the adult gannet must have been thinking as it flew a few metres over my head and over the reserve at the Mill Dam on Shapinsay yesterday morning in the misty conditions, before doing a u-turn and heading low across the adjacent fields calling – An unusual sighting indeed.
My main reason for being on site was to cover a breeding bird survey visit and to spend a few hours in the hide meeting any passing visitors. Unfortunately, not many of those – none! Despite the gloomy, misty conditions the odd clearer spell enabled me to spot a few birds below. Highlights were the drake Pintail and Pochard feeding amongst a suite of other wildfowl; wigeon (158), gadwall (4prs), shoveler (14), teal (42), tufted duck (8prs), shelduck (pair), a single pink-footed goose along with the now resident greylags.
Early days but good numbers of lapwing (8prs), curlew (5prs), oystercatcher (6prs), redshank (2/3prs), and snipe (a lone drumming bird). Little grebe (2prs), coot (6prs), moorhen (2prs) and a single water rail “sharming” from the marsh. Black-headed gull numbers have crashed in recent years and it was disappointing to record only four pairs.
The hide at Mill Dam is a cracking way to spend a few hours bird-watching on Orkney and easily accessible by foot from the regular ferries from Kirkwall.
While walking for the ferry a couple of introduced red-legged partridges crossed my path, adding a little novelty value to my trip.
An image of Mill Dam reserve from last years bird crop which is looking good and should provide some early cover if any corncrakes are passing by on spring migration.