My first report is from the Sanday Migrants outing last Sunday 25th September when we were blessed with decent weather once again. There were 9 of us in total and our leader was reserves warden Alan Leitch, ably assisted by Dick Matson. On the Stronsay outing the previous week a total of 74 birds was logged so we were anxious to beat this, but had to be content with 71 species seen from leaving the harbour, however 66 of these were noted on Sanday.
Keen-eyed Alan soon spotted a group of 6 Brent Geese from the ferry; the black guillemots were changing to their winter plumage and looked different from our normal summer views of them. The previous week we had seen lots of wheatears but I think there were even more on Sanday with Alan counting at least 50. My favourite was a yellow-browed Warbler seen at Stove; we had splendid views of this tiny bird. Having missed the Redstart on Stronsay, I was delighted to catch a quick but good glance of one this time. There were a few sightings of Blackcap on Sanday as well as Redpoll, Willow Warbler, Whinchat and Goldcrest; raptors Hen Harrier and Kestrel put on fine displays for us to admire. A kestrel perched by a chimney pot stayed there long enough for Alan to take a photo (unfortunately my camera was in the other car!)
Five of us decided to trek out to the lighthouse at Start Point and, although only we only saw a family of mute swans and a lone wheatear, the very act of standing alongside this striking beacon was reward in itself.
Many thanks to Alan and Dick for their driving and wealth of information on the day. Notable birds seen:
Brent Geese (6 dark bellies) enroute from ferry;
Migrant passerines were: Redpoll (3), Yellow-browed Warbler (1 Stove), Whinchat (2), Blackcap (2), Willow Warbler, Goldcrest, Wheatear (50+) and a Common Redstart.
Other highlights: Peregrine, Merlin, Kestrel, Hen Harrier, Arctic Tern (2), Ruff (3), Golden Plover (100's), Canada Goose (1 adult plus 3 hybrid young), Raven (30+) and Whooper Swan (22). A single Wheatear at Start Point.
Photos - One of the group on Sanday and one showing Thelma Irvine, Alan Leitch and Rosemary McCance dwarfed by the Start Point Lighthouse.
There are only two more 'Warden Surgery' events for this year:Mill Dam Hide, Shapinsay: Oct 7. (10.30 until 1 pm) and The Loons Hide: Oct 21. (9.30 until 12.30)
I understand the hide sessions have been very popular and visitors are bound to have appreciated them so I hope they will take place during 2012.
Thurs. 3rd November - Chas Holt - The Wetland Bird Survey in Scotland. (Note, the RSPB Local Group AGM will be taking place before this talk).
The next Wex event will take place on Sunday 9th October and goes under the title of 'Mammal Mosaic', covering the subject of which mammals live in Orkney; where - and how - do they survive? Time 2-4 pm. Meet Pickaquoy Centre. This is family friendly and wet weather gear is essential, together with outdoor footwear. This is also recommended for Nature Detectives. Cost £1 for members; £1.50 non-members.
Feed the Birds Day
A sure sign the year is wearing on is the annual RSPB Feed the Birds Day which is on Saturday 29th October. Once again staff and volunteers from the Orkney Local Group will be on hand at Wellpark Garden Centre offering practical advice to the general public on all aspects of bird feeding. Children always make a beeline for our display area and the chance to get their hands nice and sticky making fatballs, pastry maggots, etc! If you are in Kirkwall that day, please come along and have a word and perhaps pick up a few feeding tips.
Annual General Meeting
Make a note of the date 3rd November when the RSPB Local Group AGM will be held at The St. Magnus Centre, Kirkwall starting at 7.30 pm. Find out what's been happening during 2011 and welcome in the 2012 committee (up to press there are no changes to personnel). Following the AGM there will be tea, coffee and biscuits plus the chance to buy RSPB Christmas cards, calendars, etc. It will be nice to see a good turnout of our local group members. A raffle will be held - we have a Snowy Owl 'Limoges' plate kindly donated by Neil & Rosemary McCance, also a bottle of Orkney wine so worth having a go. Many thanks to Neil & Rosemary for this generous offer.
Following the AGM members are invited to stay for the SOC talk on 'The Wetland Bird Survey in Scotland' by Chas Holt
Charities Bazaar, Saturday 12th November
Once again the RSPB Local Group will be manning a table at the Bazaar and I am hoping some of our members will volunteer to lend a hand once again. The event is from 10 until 3 so if you are interested in helping, please email or ring me (741382).
We will, of course, be holding a raffle and I have had a most generous donation from member Kate Barrett of one of her paintings. This is of a Lapwing and I am attaching a picture of this - I would love to win it! We will also be having other prizes.
Love Nature Week
Following the success of our Love Nature events and Orkney Group's mention in despatches, I have already received an email asking if we would be willing to give it a go again next year. I've intimated that we will so I hope to cajole some of our members onto the streets again in 2012!
Best wishesPauline Wilson / Local Group Sec.
Well today's hide surgery session was going along nicely with; (8) Snipe treating us to an aerial display, (70) Pink-footed geese had recently arrived on migration from Iceland. A Greenshank was seen distantly, (4) Kestrel, (2) Raven, (5) Shoveler, a Pintail & Red-breasted merganser along with the resident Greylags and a distant Hen Harrier (ring-tail). Water Rail & Reed Bunting were heard calling from the reedbed area. An impressive flock of Golden Plover numbered in the high hundreds were occasionally taking flight. A female Merlin gave a fleeting view as it passed by.
The relaxed atmosphere erupted when a ring-tail harrier came from our right hand side over the reedbed "PALLID" was the cry from the hide! Now this type of sighting does not happen every day and Pallid Harriers are extremely unusual to be seen in the UK. However, this autumn has seen an unusual influx with perhaps as many as 10 being reported. This bird represents only the second ever recorded on Orkney (to my knowledge) with the last in 1995. The initial sighting though was over so quickly and although all present got an excellent view, we still wanted more...an hour or so passed when the bird (a juvenile) finally appeared back in front of the hide this time I had my camera ready and fortunately it was showing an interest in a Water Rail so hovered briefly over the reeds and circled while the rail squealed at it and presumably legged it.... the bird then headed towards Marwick. What a bird!
I gather the bird was seen again in the afternoon by a local birder who got a few more photographs. Let us hope it stays around for a while to be enjoyed by all.
With the CCTV equipment now safely stashed away for the autumn & winter it seems a good time to look back on the summer and how our filmed brood of hen harrier chicks fared.This year we made the decision to put the camera in before the eggs hatched, moving it forward in stages. In the event it was only just in place when the chicks started appearing on 5th June which just happened to be Springwatch weekend. Four of the six eggs in the nest hatched and from then on it was all go with the adult female in and out bringing in food - Orkney voles, small birds such as meadow pipits, and young rabbits.
from this ...By the end of June they were getting very active and off screen a lot of the time, exploring the area around the nest. So we moved the camera further back and, at the same time, ringed the chicks. They turned out to be a female and three males and as time went on you could see the female was noticeably larger - and pushier - than the others. Since the eggs hatched sequentially, she may also have been the first to hatch, giving her a head start. Hen harriers fledge at 37 - 42 days so you can imagine just how quickly they develop. In that time they provided us with a lot of entertainment - and not a little anxiety. Anxious times when the chicks were very small and Mum seemed to be away for too long, or when they were out exploring and off camera. At the same time you couldn't help laughing at the chick which fell in love with the camera - it was forever posing right up at the camera giving us some great film footage. Another priceless moment was watching a chick trying to feed itself. It was obviously not going to wait for Mum and started tearing bits from a rabbit. Unfortunately it hadn't worked out that the rabbit needed to be held down, and kept getting smacked over the head by dead rabbit.In the second week of July I noticed they were starting - literally - to stretch their wings and making little jumping movements. More often than not they just fell over but it was obviously not going to be long before they would be up and away. We never did find out exactly when that was as, on 13 July, they knocked over the camera. It would have been too disturbing for them if we had gone in then so we just stopped filming.
to this ...34 DVDs of footage were edited by Peter Mackay who was responsible for putting in the camera and its associated technology. The resulting DVD is currently being shown in the Kirkwall TIC and shows the highlights of the chicks growing up - well worth a watch if you are in Kirkwall.It is very reassuring to know that these four chicks all seem to have fledged safely. The Hen Harrier is such a persecuted bird elsewhere that the Orkney population of 70 - 80 breeding females is very precious. As I post this we are still pulling together the reports of how our Hen Harriers have done this summer and it looks as though it has been a not bad season although patchy. Watch this space for an update.
In recent weeks I have been out on Copinsay with other staff and a few volunteers. Thought I would post a little update of what's been happening.
20/08/2011 - Corn HolmLocal boatman Sid Foubister took us for an overnight stay to listen for Storm Petrel activity. An enjoyable evening revealed a minimum of 5 apparently occupied sites on the island. During our approach to Copinsay the rocks exposed at low tide were covered in Grey Seals with easily over 1000+ animals present, as we passed them the sea was boiling with seals - quite a sight. At dawn we had an adult tystie (Black Guillemot) with a butterfish on nearby rocks, so obviously still the odd chick about. All the Puffins had gone by this point in the season.
Grey Seals on Copinsay - A.J Leitch
01/09/2011 - 'New' Mower Lorna and I assisted Sid transporting and reassembling a new mower for the island to enable this year grass to be cut and later removed. This management is to ensure if/when a corncrake decides to set up base again on the island that the habitat on the island is suitable for it to breed, our grassland management is complimented by the provision of early/late cover areas and a couple of small areas of bird crops. Great Yellow Bumblebee on Red Clover - Copinsay A.J.Leitch
04/09/2011 - Vol Day & Cliff FallSunday's visit was primarily to clear out the remaining debris from the old threshing shed with assistance from local volunteers Megan Taylor and Duncan Reid. Once again lorna and I were present on site. A great effort by all got the job done with some time to spare whilst Sid finished off the grass cutting. The red clover was literally 'buzzing' with Moss Carder Bees and a few groggy looking Great Yellow Bumblebees, which are always a highlight. We had heard a report that there had been a recent cliff fall on the island so we had a look. Sure enough a big chuck has collapsed into the sea, with more to follow potentially.Cliff Fall Copinsay - Autumn 2011 A.J.Leitch The next chunk to go ... but when? Next week or 100years? A.J Leitch
Birds - The highlight were a female Hen Harrier quartering the island freaking out the Rock Pigeons, Twite & Starlings, 30 Twite, 10 Wheatear, 30 Mallard, 9 Wigeon, 2 Teal, 200 Greylags, Willow Warbler, Wren, and a Whimbrel overhead.Cheers AlanPS - An image of the Copinsay Cliff Fall from the sea by Mark Wick