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  • Latest Happenings - 03/03/2015

    Here's the latest Latest Happenings!


    Hi Everybody


    There is not too much happening just now but I have a couple of things to tell you about . . . .


    Winter Bird Race

    Only four teams took part this time but competition was keen, as always. Winners were the Sankey/Higson Team hailing from South Ronaldsay, so well done to them. Dick Matson reports from the race as follows:


    Four teams of 4 birdwatchers set off by car at 9am last Sunday on the annual Winter Bird Race to see how many different species they could find by 5.30pm.  The weather was far from ideal.  Although the sun shone from time to time there was a bitter near gale-force wind.  This and the occasional heavy showers made conditions challenging and low scores were anticipated.  However one team worked their way from Burwick in the South of South Ronaldsay all the way up to the North of West Mainland and were rewarded with an amazing tally of birds.  Their total of 95 species equalled the previous Winter Bird Race record score and beat the team who came second by 7 species.


    Surprisingly not all garden birds were skulking from the freezing wind and birds such as Wren, Robin, Dunnock and many finches were relatively east to find. The wintering Blue Tit in Finstown  rewarded those who searched diligently and a pair of Redpolls there was a pleasant surprise.  Out in the countryside some special long-staying birds were the subject of much attention – Blue-winged Teal at the Shunan lochan in Harray, the Ring-necked Duck at the Loch of Skaill  and the Snow Goose in Deerness.  One team found 3 species of Scoter – Velvet, Common and Surf and the Water Sound White-billed Diver was also located.  White-winged gulls from the Arctic - Glaucous and Iceland were also in evidence.  The Loch of Skaill was outstanding for commoner water-birds: Tufted Duck, Pochard, Goldenye, Teal, Wigeon, Mallard, Scaup, Mute and Whooper Swans, Slavonian Grebes, Greylag, Barnacle and Pink-footed Geese.


    As usual the teams retired to the Lynnfield Hotel and settled down in front of a welcome fire to compare notes, have some refreshment and restore their circulations.  The event finished up with a delicious meal in the hotel dining-room.  


    Well done to all who braved the cold and wind to take part - I wish I could have been there!


    SOC Meeting – Thursday 5th March


    The Scottish Ornithologists' Club will be holding an illustrated talk in the St Magnus Centre, Kirkwall at 7.30pm, Thursday (5th March).  John Calladine will be telling us about "Breeding waders of the South Uist Machair: land use and predators, past, present and future".   


    John is Senior Research Ecologist with the British Trust for Ornithology, Scotland. and is responsible for managing, developing and undertaking research projects relevant to Scotland, in particular the development of BTO Scotland’s portfolio of studies related to forest and moorland management.

    RSPB Local Group members are very welcome to attend these meetings. A collection at the door goes towards costs.

    Members’ Weekend

    I don’t know if any of our members are intending to be in Yorkshire later in the month but, if so, they might be interested in the Members’ Weekend which takes place at the University of York on the 27th to 29th March. If you are interested please contact me on 01856 741382 or by email at: p.wilson410@btinternet.com for full details of how to book and information of the programme of events.

    Do you grow Pampas grass?

    I had an email from member Bernie Bell who sent the following to Orkney Zero Waste but thought our members might also be interested:

    I don't know if this will be of any use to you, but........

    We have some big Pampas grasses, at the side of our garden.  My husband is in the process of cutting down the old stems.  (We leave them over the winter, for the birds, as they like the seeds, and like to perch on them, too).  I needed some canes, to mark where I want to put daffodils, in our meadow, and, rather than buying bamboo canes from the garden centre, I snipped the thinner, top bits from the Pampas grass stems, and used some of the thicker ones, as marker canes.  I don't know if they'd be strong enough to use as support canes - I haven't tried yet!  They definitely work, as marker canes. 

    Just an idea, for another bit of waste not, want not.  Saves money, less stuff going to composting - a good thing, all round, I'd say.

    Keep up the good work. Bernie Bell, Rendall


    Do any of our members have similar ideas? We also have Pampas grass and I love to watch the house sparrows swaying back and forth on the fronds – they certainly love the seeds. I had never thought of using the stems in this way but will now bear it in mind instead of hurling them on the compost heap! I have Teasel plants and when these have finished for the year we cut some of them in shortish lengths, tie them together securely and – hey presto! – there is a bug hotel. We have several of these placed in strategic spots in the garden but it’s difficult to tell if there are any critters in residence. The teasel heads and stems also make an attractive floral display if you are artistically inclined.


    2015 Events


    There will soon be a meeting of the local group committee and the RSPB with a view to ironing out the events for the coming year. We have a few new ideas so I hope members will be keen to attend something new. I will give details when I have full information.


    That’s all for now. Please contact me with any interesting items at p.wilson410@btinternet.com and just a reminder to drop off the Christmas stamps at SAS Business Supplies or RSPB Orkney Office. Many thanks.


    Best wishes, Pauline W/RSPB Local Group Sec

  • WeBS – February

    I was out and about this week doing the WeBS counts on some of the Mainland Reserves this week and there was a noticeable change in the air, that spring is on it’s way...

    At Marwick, the WeBS count (Wetland Bird Survey) covers The Choin, the tidal pool by the car park and surrounding field. It wasn’t a very exciting count this time but it was very nice to see a few turnstone, rumbling about in the rocky areas and the group of 43 redshank poking about by a wet pool at the roadside.

    The big count for me is the Loch of Isbister and The Loons (results below) which was lovely to do this time round. So far this winter most count weekends have been cursed with some really awful weather and turns it into a bit of a battle against the elements, with birds tucked in out of the way making it that bit harder to count them. A bit of sunshine that had a bit of warmth to it and barely any wind made a huge different to me and the birds, with a skylark singing on the way past and the sounds of a few migrant pink footed geese calls chattering in amongst the whistles and gentle peeps of the wigeon and teal drifting up to my vantage point made it a very enjoyable count.

    Birds of prey were also taking advantage of the conditions and a male hen harrier was hunting over the site, regularly flushing the large flock of golden plover. They weren’t the only birds to be getting spooked though, a highlight of the count was seeing a peregrine (probably a female from the big size) take a lapwing and settle down and start plucking! Not so good for the lapwing but a nice meal for the peregrine.

    It was also very nice to see the oystercatchers and shelduck back on site.


    Green land white-fronted geese – 44, pink-footed geese – 10, greylag geese – 71, mallard – 55, curlew – 355, redshank – 10, lapwing – 292, teal – 428, wigeon – 408, oystercatcher – 20, coot – 3, tufted duck – 14, goldeneye – 11, golden plover – 842, greater black backed gull – 1, barnacle goose – 8, shelduck – 3, cormorant – 4, mute swan – 2, common gull – 11, herring gull – 2, snipe – 7, grey heron – 1, hen harrier – 1, peregrine – 1, skylark – 1!

  • The Loons Mural - Part 2

    Here is an update from Anne, painting in The Loons hide...

    It’s the end of the first week of mural painting at the Loons. Having forgotten the binoculars three day in a row, sightings out of the window have been restricted to things directly in front of the hide or things big enough to see through raindrops and with poor eyesight. This still means plenty of Curlew, Lapwing and Snipe plus passing Hen Harriers. However the highlight of the week came not from any great rarity but from a humble Mallard, skating admirably upon the frozen pool before a slight loss of control resulted in a perfect execution of ‘straddle splits’. His wife looked suitable unimpressed from the nearby reeds.

    This is the progress so far on the painting. It’s rather rough and ready still, with more under-painting to do before adding a bit more detail but the layout is slowly taking shape. As per the last post, visitors are very welcome to pop by. So far I’ve seen 2 people and a blackbird who hopped unwittingly through the open door.