Greenland White-fronted Geese are a very localised winter visitor to Scotland. Orkney has one site where it is still possible to encounter this distinctive goose. A medium-sized grey goose with orange legs and an orange bill; adults have a large white patch surrounding the base of the bill and bold black bars on the belly. Juveniles lack this black barring.
Whilst out on site yesterday I had a close encounter with a flock of around 70 birds near The Loons hide at Birsay. They were feeding in the fields near Linnabreck HY248246. Managed even to get my first images in 6 years of these birds (that I’m willing to post anyway), as normally these birds feed below Yonbell Hill.
Greenland white-fronted geese arrive on the Scottish north and west coasts in October, leaving again in April. During winter, the birds feed mainly on improved grasslands, eating grass and clover. Quite often, when they arrive back in Greenland, the ground is still covered in deep snow. They have to wait, sometimes several weeks, for the snow to melt before they can begin breeding.In recent years, between 50 -100 Greenland White-fronted Geese have been wintering mainly feeding around The Loons RSPB Reserve on Orkney. Included within this flock is a rather special individual with an interesting life history as it is wearing a neck collar originally fitted in Eire in 2004.
Neck-collared individual - N8H (Photo - A.J Leitch)N8H was caught in Wexford, Eire during winter 2003/4, subsequently seen on Islay during the winter 2005/6, & 2006/7, then at The Loons RSPB Reserve, on Orkney annually since 2007/8, 2008/9, 2009/10, 2010/11, 2011/12and 2012/13. Yesterday was the first time this particular individual has been seen during winter 2013/14, what is even more encouraging is that the numbers of birds present has started to increase.
Given the world population has decreased from 35,000 to 25,000 in the last decade any signs of an increase in birds is welcomed, even if just a few!
This is just a short email to bring members up-to-date.
Don’t forget Christmas items
I was in the office recently and admired the table decorated by Kathie and Graham Brown containing RSPB Christmas Cards, diaries, calendars and small gifts. These will be available for sale for only a couple more weeks so please drop by asap if you wish to buy any of the items to support the RSPB. Morag will be there each day but please note on Mondays and Fridays she is there mornings only.
Yes, it’s that time of year again when the cards will be landing on our mats so can I remind members to please save the stamps which will go towards the RSPB Save the Albatross Campaign. Used stamps can be dropped off at SAS Business Supplies 4 Laing Street, Kirkwall or in the RSPB office in Stromness. Many thanks.
A couple of events:
Don’t put the binoculars away just yet as there are still a couple of events before the year-end:
Sunday 8th December - Hen Harrier Roost Watch - PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS EVENT IS NOW FULLY BOOKED but if you would like to come on a future Hen Harrier Roost Watch, please let us know.
Join us to witness one of Orkney’s great winter wildlife spectacles - hen harriers coming into roost. We will be going to one of Britain’s largest hen harrier roosts to watch the birds come in and settle in their favoured site. The event is weather dependant as we want you to get the best views of the birds. We will be there an hour and a half before sunset and with experts there to point out birds and tell you what is going on, it is an event not to be missed! We will be outside and standing still so warm clothes, waterproofs and hot water bottles are advised! £5 for RSPB members/ £7.50 for non-members and everyone is welcome, whatever your level of experience. Booking is essential as places are limited. To book call 01856 850176 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday 9th December - The Loons Hide, Birsay
There will be an RSPB Warden in the Loons Hide in Birsay on the above date. Drop in anytime between 9.30am and 12.30pm to see a variety of waterfowl and waders. No need to book.
2014 Plans already in the pipeline
There was a Local Group Committee Meeting recently at Grace Currie’s house (thanks for the mince pies & mulled wine Grace!) when the programme for 2014 was considered. Once again, our tried and tested events are planned but we also have at least three new ideas which I hope will go down well with members and visitors to Orkney. More info on these later when details have been worked out. We have also reinstated the Westray Walk which was left out last year in favour of Eday but unfortunately this did not prove popular (probably due to Orkney Nature Festival events having a high profile there.
Talking of the Orkney Nature Festival, the 2014 extravaganza will take place from 10th to 18th May so please keep these dates free if you wish to once again enjoy all the Festival is certain to have on offer. What a wide range of outings, etc. was available in 2013 and I am sure Anne Bignall and Julian Branscombe will have many more exciting things for 2014.
Nice to hear from our American friend Joan Howlett who comments on the Corncrake in Orkney then goes on to tell us about related birds in USA:
In the state of Louisiana, rice farmers are working with ornithologists from the University of Louisiana in sponsoring a popular 3 day festival annually that yields the Yellow Rail, King Rail, Virginia Rail and the Sora.The farmers are dedicated to the preservation of these birds that have brought in tourists and popularized home-grown rice. Ann and I attended two yrs. ago and were amazed at the number of rails seen. The newsletter is always interesting and the photos are wonderful. Keep up the great work in making wildlife a priority. Best regards -Joan Howlett.
Some of our local group met Joan, Ann and MaryBeth on the 2012 Westray walk and found them delightful company so it’s great that they still keep in touch with out Orkney group.
Speaking of Rails, I found the following story on the Orkbird site:
Keith Johnston had a water rail in his house. Entered through two cat flaps! He photographed it and then let it out!
That would have been a sight worth seeing!
Heron causes us much grief!!
My love of birds is well known but anyone overhearing me during the past week would have thought differently! We have had a pond here at Sunnybank for about ten years and kept it netted. However, when the netting needed replacing we foolishly thought that, being near the house, the pond would not attract any attention from herons – WRONG! When we left the pond unprotected it didn’t take long for a heron to pay a visit and I can see no fish in the pond now. They have either fled to the bottom in terror or have all been eaten. I have now put a net back over (shades of bolting the stable door when the horse has fled) but the heron continues to visit and I regularly see it balanced on the netting. This morning there was a hapless frog there too which I thankfully rescued. Let this be a warning to all pond-owners!
Don’t forget to pay a visit to the RSPB Orkney Blog for news of what is happening on the bird front in Orkney. Address is as follows:
www.rspb.org.uk/community/placestovisit/orkney/default.aspx. Keep in it your favourites for ease of access.
That’s it this time.
Items of interest for future emails are very welcome. Please send to me at email@example.com.
Pauline W/RSPB Orkney Local Group Sec.