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  • Orkney Local Group: Pauline's Latest Happenings - 20/05/15

    Hi Everybody

    This is an update on what is happening/has happened since my last email.

    Trips into the Gloup

    Our Local Group ran three trips into the Deerness Gloup on behalf of the 2015 Orkney Nature Festival. (Due to bad weather on Saturday the 16th trips to the Holms had to be cancelled). Undeterred by cool conditions, hardy souls enjoyed trips which covered the Gloup, Brough Cave, Mull Head and visited the seal colony on May 13th, 15th and 17th. Below is a photograph of Sunday's trip with Sidney Foubister's boat coming into the Gloup. I suspect lots of our members joined some of the many other activities going on during the Nature Festival which is a great publicity window for Orkney.


    Our Local Group trips to the Gloup and the Holms of Copinsay are later in June and are filling up quickly so please book asap. See the list of events for full details.

    Two of our members have expressed an interest in an evening trip into the Gloup so if anybody wishes to join them please let me have names and phone numbers. This will be at short notice as we would choose an evening when both tide and weather forecast suit. This would be a fine trip on a lovely summer evening.

    Local Group Spring Meeting – Friday 24 April

    Anna Jemmett travelled up from RSPB Forsinard Flows to give a talk at the St Magnus Centre, Kirkwall which drew a good attendance. Many of you will have seen Graham Brown’s report in The Orcadian outlining Anna’s talk about eight thousand years of creation at the Forsinard Flows, which extends to 20,000 hectares. Anna told us about the considerable work involved in restoring the blanket bog at this unique reserve. I have visited Forsinard twice and must say the reserve has an atmosphere all of its own. Here is Anna at the Spring Meeting:

     Bag the Bruck

    Not only did Anna Jemmett give us a most informative talk, she also turned up at Waulkmill Bay on a chilly Saturday 25 April to lend a hand in our Local Group’s beach clean-up. Just as well she did as the turnout was very poor! I know some of our members will have joined in other beach cleaning locally.

    Here are some imminent Local Group events:

    Saturday 30 or Sunday 31 May – Hestily for early Summer Migrants By kind permission of Andy Mitchell, a visit to his amazing woodland reserve at Hestily near Windwick, South Ronaldsay. The trees and bushes can be full of migrants at this time of year. Meet in the car park opposite Tesco’s at 9.00am or the Windwick car park at 9.30am. We will car share where possible. We will look at the forecast on Wednesday 27 May and choose the more favourable day. Book with Dick Matson on 01856 751426. This is to be highly-recommended. Peter and I have visited Andy & Joan’s on more than one occasion and it’s a super spot. If I remember rightly you need stout shoes.

    Saturday 20 June – Into the Deerness Gloup by Boat – departing Skaill 11am and 1.30pm Boat trips into the Deerness Gloup, Brough Cave and round Mull Head to see nesting seabirds and spectacular rock formations, sailing past the seal colony on the way back. Cost £15 per person. Book with Pauline Wilson on 01856 741382.

    Sunday 21 June – as above, departing Skaill at 11.30am and 2.00pm. Same trips as above. Cost £15 per person. Book with Pauline Wilson on 01856 741382.

    Saturday 27h June – Boat trips to the Holms of Copinsay for Puffins, Seals and other Seabirds – departing Skaill 10.00am and 1.00pm By boat to Black Holm and Corn Holm to see the amazing wildlife and scenery. Cost £10 per person. Book with Pauline Wilson on 01856 741382.

    Sunday 28 June – as above, departing Skaill at 10.30am and 1.30pm Same trips as above. Cost £10 per person. Book with Pauline Wilson on 01856 741382.

    Saturday 4 or Sunday 5 July – Cliff Walk at Windwick, South Ronaldsay Meet in the car park opposite Tesco’s at 9.00am or at the Windwick car park at 9.30am. We will car share where possible. Walking northwards from Windwick we will see wildflowers, breeding seabirds and wonderful coastal scenery. We will look at the forecast on Wednesday 1 July and choose the more favourable day. Book with Shirley Tolley on 01856 731521. This is another highly-recommended trip: gorgeous wildflowers, stunning scenery – what more could you wish for?

    That takes us to July – the year’s halfway through already!

    RSPB Scotland’s Corncrake Initiative 2015

    Corncrakes are an elusive bird, rarely seen, but they are occasionally heard making their “crexing” call throughout the summer nights. Males call most frequently between midnight and 3.00am but can be heard through the day. They are small brown birds with black spots across their backs. They prefer the cover of long vegetation but you might catch a glimpse of them rushing from one patch to another.

    Corncrakes had a great year on Orkney last year with 36 calling males heard across the county, a sharp turnaround from 12 calling males in 2013.

    In Orkney we rely on the help of the public to locate as many corncrakes as possible. This allows us to offer payments to landowners in return for corncrake friendly management of the area around the nesting corncrake. RSPB Scotland is asking the public to report any corncrakes they hear to the Corncrake Officer Inga Seator.

    Email: inga.seator@rspb.org.uk

    Direct dial in Orkney Office: 01856 852021

    Thank you.

    Stamps Galore!

    Well, our members certainly answered the call for used postage stamps to help the Albatross Appeal. There were so many after my last appeal that I had to take my car to the door of SAS Business Supplies in Laing Street, Kirkwall! I’m not complaining though so please continue to drop these off, alternatively you can take them to the RSPB Office in Stromness. Thanks.

    Watch out for Tree Sparrows

    There have been reports of tree sparrows in these northern climes with 24 in Fair Isle, 19 in Shetland and several more being seen here in Orkney including nine in Evie reported by Alan Leitch. I have seen this species at RSPB Fairburn Ings and there were tree sparrows in Cumbria just by the caravan we stayed in. They have a lighter brown head – if you look them up you will see the difference from our familiar house sparrows.

    It’s breeding time now for the birds – we have a singing wren and calling greenfinches. There is a blackbird sat on a nest in the goat house so Peter has to be careful not to disturb the bird when he’s attending to the goats. Starlings are proving a nuisance this year (yes I know they can be a pain at breeding time as they try to nest under cars and in post boxes!). We have two nest boxes on the front of our garage, both occupied, one with chicks. The trouble is, a third pair are fancying building a nest inside the garage which we certainly don’t want! Every time I open the garage door in flies a starling! I suspect many of our members are having difficulties with these birds also – I love the starling but will be glad when nesting time is over!

    Well, I can’t think of anything else just now so I will be in touch when I get back. If you have any items of interest to our members please email me at p.wilson410@btinternet.com

    Best wishes
    Pauline W/RSPB Orkney Local Group Secretary


  • Orkney Local Group: Latest Happenings from Pauline Wilson - 22/04/2015

    Hi Everybody

    I know it’s not long since I wrote but this is just a reminder about our Local Group Spring Meeting which takes place at the St Magnus Centre, Kirkwall this coming Friday 24th April starting at 7.30 pm. I hope we have a good attendance as Anna Jemmett is travelling up from Forsinard to speak to us. Details as follows:

    This will feature a talk by the RSPB Forsinard Information Officer, Anna Jemmett, on the RSPB's largest reserve, which comprises over 20,000 hectares of the Flow Country of Caithness and Sutherland and is the single largest area of blanket bog in the world. It is of terrific importance for a host of rare plants, birds and other wildlife. All welcome including non-members. Please stay for refreshments and a chat afterwards. There will be a voluntary collection at the door to help with the cost of room hire.

    With the exciting news of the white-tailed eagles nesting on Hoy we will have some information leaflets about these birds and how to differentiate from other birds of prey. You will be able to pick one up at the meeting, as well as a copy of the Local Group programme of events. I hope to see you there!

    Start to the 2015 season

    There have been a couple of events already. Graham Brown reports on last Sunday’s Hen Harrier Sky Dancing event as follows:

    A dozen folk enjoyed the RSPB Orkney Local Group's first event of the spring season, travelling to the Cottascarth hide and the Lyde Road in West Mainland in search of hen harriers on Sunday. We saw hen harriers perform their sky dancing display, briefly, and both males and ring-tails repeatedly flying across the hillside. We also watched a buzzard, a peregrine, a kestrel and a short-eared owl, as well as ravens, curlews and meadow pipits. We were joined by two holidaymakers and it was good to hear some guests had picked up Local Group programmes from the Kirkwall and Stromness tourist offices.

    Drawings by Firth Primary School pupils at new Cottascarth hide (photo: Pauline Wilson)

    Opening of Eddie Balfour hen harrier hide at RSPB Scotland's Cottascarth reserve

    I was privileged to be asked to the opening of the new hide yesterday and very impressive it is too! It’s a large, roomy building sporting a grass roof – bright green at the moment so it will be interesting to see this in winter. Eddie Balfour was the first RSPB Officer in Orkney, and before that he was the first RSPB “Honorary Watcher” for the county. In 1943 he started the first serious study of hen harriers, a study which is still ongoing through the Orkney Raptor Study Group. Apparently this is the longest-standing continuous bird of prey study in the world (joint equal with the golden eagle study started in the Grampians in the same year). I am sure Eddie would be pleased at how well the species is doing in Orkney and the fact that we are able to transmit webcam pictures of a hen harrier nest each year.

    The hide was opened by pupils from Firth Primary School, who had a hand in decorating the hide, and their lovely drawings of hen harriers adorning the walls were greatly admired. Also greatly admired was the magnificent mural by Anne Bignall which takes up a whole wall of the building. I have attached a photo of this but I could only capture a small section of the mural so you can use your imagination to picture the whole! Please go along and take a look at the new hide – you won’t be disappointed.

    The hide was part of the Enjoy Wild Orkney project, funded by Heritage Lottery Fund, European Regional Development Fund and the RSPB. The hide is just one of numerous elements of the Enjoy Wild Orkney project, all of which contribute to improving the experience of wildlife for local people and visitors in our isles.

    Congratulations to all involved in this project! Go along and take a look. The reserve is now much easier to find thanks to new brown signs, and there’s a new reserve car park, up the new tarmac road going up the hill from the Lower Cottascarth Farm yard.

    Best wishes

    Pauline W/RSPB Local Group Sec

  • Local Group Latest Happenings - 13/04/2015

    Here is the latest news from our Orkney  Local Group.


    Hi Everybody


    I hope you have all received your programme of 2015 events and are deciding which ones you fancy. As you will see, there are some new events this time which should make things quite interesting. The Hestily outing at the end of May is highly recommended as there should be much to see at this time of year in Andy Mitchell’s woodland area in South Ronaldsay.


    On the first weekend of July we have a cliff top walk at Windwick, also in South Ronaldsay. It is quite a number of years since I last walked along these cliffs but I can clearly remember how stunning the views were. We hadn’t been in Orkney very long so I was gasping at the sight of Puffins and kneeling down to smell the scented orchids. I wonder how the wildlife might have changed over the years? I must go and take a look.


    These are just two of the 2015 events I have picked out. We also have many of the old favourites of course. The Gloup and Puffin & Seal boat trips still seem to be popular so we will continue with these. However, not everybody can make weekends so I wonder if anyone fancies an evening boat trip into the Gloup? There can be some beautiful evenings during the summer – just perfect for taking to the sea for a leisurely boat ride. Please phone me  on 01856 741382 and I will compile a list of those interested and we will try to arrange something. Please note – it would probably be quite short notice as tides and weather forecast need to be taken into account.


    With reference to the Gloup and Puffin boat trips – please note that I shall be away from May 21st to June 3rd inclusive so please try and ring before these dates if possible.


    The 2015 Orkney Nature Festival runs from Weds. 13th to Sun. 17th May. Details of the programme will be available very soon so keep an eye on the media as places will be quickly snapped up.


    Imminent Local Group Events:


    Sat 18 or Sun 19 April          -Harrier Sky-dancing

    Come and watch the spectacular courtship display of the hen harrier on a guided walk in the Birsay Moors. We should also see other birds of prey.  Meet at the Rendall Community Centre at 9.30am.  Book your place with Dick Matson on 751426.  We will look at the forecast on Wed 15th and choose the more favourable day.                                                                                       


    Sat 25 April  -                                    Bag the Bruck 

    After the winter storms Orkney’s seashore is littered with plastic, creel rope and netting which is dangerous to our wildlife.  Please come and help clean up Waulkmill Bay with RSPB staff and Local Group members.  Come any time between 10.00am and 2.00pm.  Contact the RSPB Office on 850176.  (Orkney Field Club members will do Marwick Bay on Sunday 26 April).


    Fri 24 April  -                         Local Group Spring Meeting

    An illustrated talk by Anna Jemmet about the work of the RSPB and the wildlife at their Forsinard Reserve in Sutherland.  Anna is the Forsinard Information Officer.  Venue: St Magnus Centre Kirkwall.  Time: 7.30pm.  All welcome.  Refreshments provided.  Contact Pauline Wilson on 741382.


    Sat 2 May -                    Visit to Shapinsay Mill Dam

    At this time of year the males of our duck species are in their finest breeding plumage and many will be on view from the hide at the RSPB Mill Dam reserve.  Waders and other birds should also be present. The ferry departs Kirkwall at 9.45am and leaves Shapinsay on return at 3.15pm.  Book with Kathie or Graham Brown on 841390.  We will try to arrange a snack lunch in a café on Shapinsay if they are open for business, but be prepared to bring a picnic.  We will keep you advised. 


    Sat 30 or Sun 31 May -      Hestily for Early Summer Migrants

    By kind permission of Andy Mitchell, a visit to his amazing woodland reserve at Hestily near Windwick, South Ronaldsay.  The trees and bushes can be full of migrants at this time of year.  Meet in the car-park opposite Tesco’s at 9.00am or the Windwick car-park at 9.30am.  We will car-share where possible.  We will look at the forecast on Wed 27 May and choose the more favourable day.  Book with Dick Matson on 751426.


    Sat 20 June -                  Into the Deerness Gloup by Boat

    Boat trip into the Deerness Gloup, Brough Cave and round Mull Head to see nesting seabirds and spectacular rock formations, sailing past the seal colony on the way back. First trip departs Skaill, Deerness at 11am and the second departs at 1.30pm. The trips are repeated on:

     Sun 21 June departing Skaill at 11.30am and 2pm.  Cost £15 per person.  Book with Pauline Wilson on 741382. (Before 21st May or after 3rd June)


    Sat 27 June    Boat Trip to the Holms of Copinsay for Puffins, Seals and Seabirds 

    By boat from Skaill, Deerness to Black Holm and Corn Holm to see the amazing wildlife and scenery.  First trip departs Skaill at 10.00am and the second at 1.00pm. The trips are repeated on:

     Sun 28 June departing Skaill at 10.30am and 1.30pm. Cost £10 per person.  Book with Pauline Wilson on 741382. (Before 21st May or after 3rd June).


    Forsinard Talk at Local Group Spring Meeting

    I hope our members give good support to the Local Group Spring Meeting (see above) on Friday 24th April. Information Officer Anna Jemmet is travelling up from Forsinard to give us an illustrated talk so I hope we will make her journey worthwhile. Anna explains as follows:

    Forsinard Flows is the RSPB’s largest reserve and covers over 20,000 hectares of the Flow Country of Caithness and Sutherland. As the single largest expanse of blanket bog found anywhere in the world the Flow Country is incredibly important, in terms of global climate change, to the species found there and also to the people who call it home. The RSPB has been undertaking landscape scale conservation at Forsinard for nearly 20 years; work that not only involves the reserve but also the surrounding land, land owners, organisations and local communities. Our aim is to protect the Flows and to restore damaged peatlands at a much larger scale to the benefit of all involved. Here at Forsinard the work we do to restore Forestry to bog is of great importance in terms of climate change.

    Anybody who has visited Forsinard will know what a magical place it is. For those of you who have not, then please come along to the talk and see what you are missing! A reminder that it starts at 7.30 pm at The St. Magnus Centre, Kirkwall. You don’t have to be a member to attend. There is no entry charge, but a door collection will go towards room hire.


    New Hide Opening at Cottascarth

    We have exciting news that the Eddie Balfour Hen Harrier Hide will be opening on Tuesday 21st April.

    The spacious new hide offers wonderful views of moorland wildlife and will, it is hoped, be well-used by school and community groups as well as locals and tourists alike. The Eddie Balfour hen harrier hide is one of the achievements of the Enjoy Wild Orkney project, run by RSPB Scotland with generous support from the European Regional Development Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund. Go along after the 21st and take a look at this impressive new hide – those on the Hen Harrier Sky Dancing outing might get a sneak preview!

    Exciting News about Sea Eagles!!

    Most of you will already know by now about the pair of young Sea Eagles on Hoy. More details from Alan Leitch:

    A pair of sea eagles are currently nesting on RSPB Scotland’s Hoy nature reserve. It is the first time these birds have attempted to breed in Orkney since 1873. The news suggests Orkney may become the next stop on the sea eagles’ celebrated re-colonisation of Scotland.

    Alan Leitch, RSPB Scotland’s Sites Manager in Orkney, said, “This is a great moment for Hoy and Orkney. Sea eagles are utterly magnificent birds, with a wing span of up to 2.4 m or 8 feet. To see them over the hills of Hoy is a forceful reminder of the sheer beauty of nature. Too often with wildlife, once it’s gone it’s gone. It is a privilege to welcome these birds back to a landscape they inhabited for thousands of years.”

    “The birds are nesting on the Dwarfie Hamars. To give them the best chance of success, anyone keen to see the birds should keep their distance and ideally keep dogs under close control in the vicinity. The roadside car park for the Dwarfie Stone is a good place to watch from but lingering too long at the Dwarfie Stone itself could alarm the birds.”

    “Nesting sea eagles are specially protected by law, so if you see any signs of disturbance please pass your concerns onto the police straightaway.”

    The pair currently nesting in Hoy have frequented the area for the last three springs and summers. Both are young birds, thought to be four to five years old, and this is their first known nesting attempt. Although they are inexperienced parents and may not be successful in raising chicks this summer, RSPB Scotland staff are optimistic that the birds will persevere over the coming years to make Hoy their home.  

    The local RSPB Scotland team are happy to answer questions about the sea eagles, and can be contacted on 01856 850176 or at orkney@rspb.org.uk.

    Blue Tit in Deerness!

    Blue tit, Ian Cunningham

    I saw an email on Orkbird from Ian Cunningham about a Blue Tit he had been lucky enough to see on the Rosa Rugosa at the Gloup Visitor Centre and manage to get a photo of the bird. I hurried there to take a look but, of course, the bird had flown! Just a day later though I saw Ian in Lidl car park and asked him to send me the photograph which he obligingly did. I am attaching it for all to see and drool over!

    I think that’s all for now. There will be more news of events when RSPB Orkney formulate their programme and, of course, I will bring news of the Nature Festival programme when this is to hand.

    I am always happy to receive news items for my emails. Please send to p.wilson410@btinternet.com.

    It’s good to get out and about again after a wet, windy and miserable winter!

    Best wishes,

    Pauline W/RSPB Local Group Sec