Another bit of news that's slightly late getting posted was orca sightings in Scapa Flow.
Last Wednesday, while sitting doing some field work at Hobbister, I got a bit of a shock when a small group of orca appeared very close in to the coast. After scrabbling around for my mobile to let the guided walk group know they were there, the 2 adults and calf (it had been nosing at a creel buoy) kept close into the cliff and headed towards Kirkwall. Unfortunately, the walk group didn't see them but they were spotted futher round Scapa Flow later in the day. Local artist Tracey Hall was able to get this footage: http://youtu.be/YONQOVE-xj8
It feels like these strong westerlies have been with us for ages now, perhaps its this that is delaying our Arctic Terns from settling yet. Around North Hill reserve the skuas are definately getting paternity jitters and have stepped up their aggression a notch over their breeding territories. Our waders too are more frantic, and its likely the lapwings already have chicks, while down on the shore there are still hordes of high Arctic migrants coming through, particularly Dunlin and Sanderling.
The Guillemots on Fowl Craig are beginning to look pretty scruffy, tightly packed among their neighbours and brooding those big green eggs. Often the broken shells can be found on the cliff top, where a gull or a skua has managed to steal one and make a high protien snack of it! Elsewhere on the island our Corcrakes seem to be coming in fast now, with four magnificently vocal males on territory.
Despite the Atlantic gales, a few more unusual birds have found their way to Papay; a fine Ruff, and later a likely Quail was spotted, and perhaps the same one the next day by a keen eyed observer on Westray!
This news isn't exactly hot off the press but I'd thought I'd share some photos of the recent rockfall at Marwick.
After recieving reports and going to check the path hadn't fallen off the cliff edge, it turns out the fall was just off the reserve on the north side. You can just see it at the base of the left edge of the cliff in this picture.
It doesn't look too impressive but if you look at these photos below, taken by Jack Norquoy, you can see how substantial the fall was.
It will be interesting to see if any tysties take up residence next year....
Here's a few more photos of the reserve.
Even within Orkney’s ecological treasures, the North Hill of Papa Westray is special. Our largest area of maritime heath is a mosaic of wiry grasses, squelching bog, candy-coloured drifts of thrift, and areas now carpeted in tiny Scottish primroses. Open ocean horizons lie to north, east and west, and you can enjoy both sunset and sunrise, or on a different day be punished by unfettered blasts carried from the Atlantic, Arctic or North Sea. Come late summer, black cattle will be set onto the reserve, their rasping mouths and heavy hoofs vital to maintaining the diversity of life in place.
But it is the bird life for which the North Hill has always been know. Arriving on Papay in early April, the reserve was still a quiet place, only skylarks and pipits singing, oystercatchers alarming and the greylag geese that increase year on year. By mid-April, Bonxies were appearing to claim territories, a species that has also increased its presence on Papay in the last twenty years, and shortly afterwards came Arctic Skua, fresh from their trans-global journey to challenge their Bonxie cousins for perches well suited to bomb unwary walkers from. Meanwhile, the auks were making skittish advances on the ledges of Fowl Craig, particularly Guillemots, and around the shores of the reserve at dawn cold be seen mysterious gatherings of Tysties in preparation to their own breeding.
Only on 5th May did we hear the first Arctic Tern. In its prime an estimated 12000 pairs of Arctic Tern bred on North Hill with thousands more fledglings each year. The sight and sound of the ‘pickies’ is still the true sound of summer on Papay, but their numbers are much reduced, with only around 350 pairs attempting to breed last year, and with no success in raising fledglings. The numbers of pickies sighted so far seems small, again only in the hundreds, but we face the summer with hope. Already the Guillemots on Fowl Craig are laying their large green eggs, and chicks of lapwing and greylag skulk in the long vegetation.
Terns and skuas may have finished their annual migration, but other species are still on the move. Wild south-east winds and rain brought a flurry of birds blown off course from continental migration, over over-shooting their more southerly homelands. Lesser Whitethroat, Reed Warbler, Garden Warbler, Black and Common Redstarts are always a pleasure to find, but most unusual was an islanders report of a very strange bird inhabiting his silage bales, the hoopoe here pictured!
Since about the 25th of April we have had Corncrake reports from around Orkney, please call them in whenever you hear them. To date we have 8 confirmed Corncrakes which is really exciting since we still have nearly a week until the ‘official’ Corncrake breeding season is to start.
If you have never heard a Corncrake follow this link and listen to their unique call http://www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/birdguide/name/c/corncrake/index.aspx
Please report any calls or sightings from Orkney to Mara Nydegger (Corncrake Initiative Officer) on: 01856 852029 or 07793 269395 and feel free to contact me if you have any questions.