Total panic when I went in the other day - I could only see one chick in the nest. What on earth had happened to the others? I quickly ruled out that they hadn't died of exposure - we've not had that bad a summer - and checked the morning's recording which showed at least three chicks. Then, as I waited for the female to turn up with food, another chick lurched out sideways from behind a frond of bracken. Two down, two to go. I never did see the others but when the female came in it was obvious she was feeding them off screen. Time to move the camera further back, I thought.
This was duly done and at the same time Brian Ribbands, who has been helping us with the filming, took the opportunity to ring the birds. He also established that we have one female and three male chicks and I suspect the female is the big bossy one. Apart from anything else, the female chicks are usually larger - their legs certainly are thicker so they need a different size of leg ring. Hopefully the new camera position will give us better views of all the chicks.
What a difference a weekend makes. I last saw the four hen harrier chicks on the screen in the Kirkwall Tourist Information Centre on Friday. Then, they seemed to be spending most of the time under Mum and unless they were being fed it was hard to distinguish them - all you could see was a bundle of white fluff. Having said that, there was one noticeably bigger and more forward than the others and I've no doubt it was the one to hatch first.
When the camera switched on on Monday morning, the female was away and the chicks were all moving around in the nest. They still look like little aliens with their featherless heads, hooked beaks and big blobby eyes. Moving around they try to stand up but, more often than not, topple straight over. Their legs are incredibly long compared to their bodies and they are starting to get their proper feathers under all that fluff.
The female (we never do see the male) then appeared with half a rabbit, dumped it and flew off. I thought this meant the chicks were already able to feed themselves from the "takeaway" but not so. They spent a little while just looking and moving round it, then came a few half-hearted pecks at the furry end of the rabbit - at least they were on the right track if not the right end. In the end the female came back with more rabbit and started feeding them by tearing bits off and popping them into the gaping beaks. I'm sure they'll get the hang of doing it themselves before too long though.
Watching the nest can be terribly addictive, although some of the TIC staff find it quite nerve-wracking. You never know for certain that the female will come back or that they will all get a fair share of the food. But right now they are all doing really well and over the next couple of weeks will start to lose their (baby) fluff and look more like young raptors. We are recording all the live footage so will have a record of exactly how they develop.
A pair of Peregrine Falcons have recently fledged 3 young from an eyrie on our Hobbister Reserve. Visitors on our guided walks have been obtaining spectacular views of these magnificent birds of prey. This is great news as midway through the chick rearing the female was looking rather bedraggled and showing signs of matted flight/body feathers which was thought to have been caused by having been oiled by local Fulmars. Local photographer Leonard Bain got these superb images of the adults in early June, on a morning when he also had three Otters swimming parallel with the base of the cliffs - Not bad indeed!
We are now into the second half of the annual Corncrake survey period. The exciting news is that we are currently on 24 breeding attempts, with 18 males currently calling well throughout Orkney. Last year there was a total of 23 breeding attempts. It is great to see that so many Corncrakes have managed to return to Orkney this season.
This year the birds are widely distributed around Orkney;
Papay = 5
Westray = 4 (6 breeding attempts)
Sanday = 2
Egilsay = 2 (not currently calling)
Rousay = 1
Shapinsay = 1
West Mainland = 2 (3 breeding attempts)
East Mainland = 2 (only one bird currently calling)
South Ronaldsay = 2 (3 breeding attempts)
No Corncrakes have yet been found, during surveys on Hoy, South Walls, Flotta, North Ronaldsay, Eday or Stronsay though both Stronsay and North Ronaldsay have had reports of Corncrake this year.
If you are interested in going out to listen to a Corncrake, there is a male calling well at Durka Dale, northeast of Dounby. He is easily heard from the road, please remember not to disturb him so I ask you to stay on the road. There is a good pull over bay just south of the Howally Farm, at about HY244309. You will be able to hear him call from there. Most nights Corncrake call from late evening through to early morning, best times are between midnight and 3am, but most birds have been calling off and on from around 6pm.
You are unlikely to ever see a Corncrake, due to their very shy nature, but their calls are very distinctive and loud. If you are unsure of what they sound like have a listen to the recording on the RSPB web page.
If you do hear a Corncrake, even if it is one I know about, please let me know the date, time and location.
All the best and good luck with Corncrake listening!!!
Corncrake Initiative Officer
RSPB Stromness Office
Direct: 01856 852029
Mobile: 077 9326 9395
I have news from the Noup Head Loop walk on Westray which took place on Sunday 12th June. While most of Orkney was nice and dry, the rain fell on Westray though it was only quite light and at least there was no wind. Nevertheless it was enough to wet us so it was lucky everyone came prepared - one of our visiting holidaymakers even brought his brolly and put it to good use - I think that might be a first for the Westray Walk! The rain stopped eventually and it was a lovely evening for the sail back to Kirkwall. There were ten of us, made up of Local Group members, joined by visitors from Huddersfield, Bristol and London. Our guide for the day was Chris Bell, Papay Warden, and what an interesting day he gave us, He knows the area very well so he was able to keep us on the right track, stop us falling off the cliffs and pointing out the flora and fauna, giving us all the details we could wish for about the birds. I was supposed to keep a list of all the birds seen but must confess that this fell by the wayside and it's too near my holiday now for me to sit down an remember them all - I do know that the last bird of the day was a peacock! We saw all the anticipated seabirds including guillemot, tystie, kittiwake, shag, fulmar, puffin and - of course - the mighty gannets were giving a fine flying and diving display. Wheatears were also seen. Another bird of note, bobbing alongside the Mallards on the loch near the Noup, was a Little Grebe.Our walk began at Backarass and went up the coastline to Noup Head then down to Noup Farm to be picked up by our minibus and taken to Pierowall for tea before going back to the ferry. It was a super day made all the better with our local group members and visiting holidaymakers all getting on so well as the chatter at our table in the Pierowall testified. This shortened version of our usual Westray Walk proved very successful meaning we had more time to relax and look at the wildlife. Many thanks to Chris Bell for leading us; his knowledge and his humour made it a great day.
Pauline Wilson (local group secretary)