Friday, 23 March 2018

21st and 22nd March

A dreadful day with a strong SW wind and plenty of rain on the 21st but it did brighten up from mid-afternoon giving us at least a couple of hours of birding time; the only new birds noted were 3 Black-tailed Godwits on Gretchen and a bit of an influx of 145 Skylarks (including 80+ in East Loch Park).   Other birds included the Whooper Swan still, a Hen Harrier, 7 Meadow Pipits, 2 Pied Wagtails, the Black Redstart still, 4 Song Thrushes, 5 Mistle Thrushes, a Chaffinch, a Linnet, 7 Twite and 16 Snow Buntings.

                Once the morning mist and murk had cleared up on the 22nd, it was a decent day, overcast with much lighter winds; the first Slavonian Grebe of the year was on the sea off Brides along with a Black-throated Diver in Nouster while wildfowl counts included 8 Shelduck (a few new birds in), 168 Wigeon, 12 Gadwall, 115 Teal, 44 Mallard, 12 Pintail, 4 Shoveler, 32 Tufted Ducks, 9 Long-tailed Ducks, 8 Goldeneye and the Smew.

                Waders of note comprised single Knot and Ruff with 76 Golden Plover and 40 Bar-tailed Godwits while a selection of typical early spring migrants included 2 Woodpigeons, 2 Pied Wagtails, 3 Dunnocks, 81 Fieldfares, 6 Song Thrushes, 28 Redwings, 5 Mistle Thrushes, a Rook, a Chaffinch and a Linnet.

Typical early spring migrants - Black-tailed Godwit and Rook

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

19th and 20th March

After an awesome Aurora display overnight when it was crystal clear, calm and cold the 19th dawned cloudy with a brisk NW wind (a complete turnaround after the last week); the selection of early spring migrants on the land included an excellent 9 Mistle Thrushes, 2 Woodpigeons, 27 Rock Pipits, a Pied Wagtail, 10 Robins, 56 Fieldfares, 11 Song Thrushes, a Rook, 19 Snow Buntings, 2 Hen Harriers and a Merlin.

                Some good wader totals through the day comprised 114 Oystercatchers, a Grey Plover, 65 Golden Plover (290 were present this time last year – they haven’t really returned after the freezing weather), 2 Ruff still, 112 Dunlin and 45 Bar-tailed Godwits.   The Green-winged Teal, Smew and Kumlien’s Gull were all still present in their favoured locales.

                A similar day to yesterday on the 20th with a brisk NW wind but a couple of showers were thrown into the mix; the days highlight was certainly a Woodlark seen in flight a couple of times in Loch Park but soon disappeared (only the eighth for the island!).   Elsewhere on the land, totals included 4 Woodpigeons, 75 Skylarks, the Black Redstart still, 5 Mistle Thrushes, 2 Chaffinches and a Woodcock.

                A Black-throated Diver was again in Nouster Bay along with 8 Red-throated and 10 Great-northern Divers while wildfowl of note comprised 19 Pintail, the Smew on Hooking, 10 Goldeneye and 10 Red-breasted Mergansers.   The Kumlien’s Gull and single adult Lesser Black-backed Gull were both present again.

Aurora                                                      Lewis Hooper

Sunday, 18 March 2018

17th and 18th March

Still very windy in the morning of the 17th, with the bitter SE wind bringing snow showers sweeping across the island but it did brighten up during the afternoon and the wind did slacken very slightly; there were however, some little increases in landbirds across the island including 4 Woodpigeons, 2 Dunnocks, 10 Robins, the Wheatear, 64 Fieldfare, 6 Song Thrushes, a good 7 Mistle Thrushes (just short of the island record of 10!), a Chaffinch, 3 Woodcock, 2 Hen Harriers and a Merlin.

                Other birds through the day comprised 2 Whooper Swans, 6 Shelduck, 121 Teal, the Green-winged Teal again, 13 Pintail, 9 Shoveler, 7 Red-breasted Mergansers and the Kumlien’s Gull still.

                Although the wind was still chilly and still in the SE it had dropped away to practically nothing which, when combined with the wall to wall sunshine led to a lovely day to be out and about; this fine weather didn’t really equate to an increase in birds though, as birds on the land included 2 Woodcock, 32 Skylarks, 2 Pied Wagtails, 2 Dunnock, 5 Mistle Thrushes and 9 Reed Buntings.

                There was little else to shout about but 46 Long-tailed Ducks was a notable increase along with 8 Goldeneye, the Smew again, the Kumlien’s Gull yet again, 74 Dunlin and a Knot.

Black-headed Gull


Friday, 16 March 2018

15th and 16th March

A horrible couple of days with a gale force SE wind blasting across the island, making any kind of birding a tricky ordeal!   The 15th was at least largely dry with the most interesting bird being a drake Eurasian Wigeon x American Wigeon hybrid with the throngs of birds feeding at Brides at high tide, he’s been glimpsed before in that area this year and is probably the same bird that has been seen in previous years but its proven tricky to get decent views of him.   The big numbers of birds feeding in the surf along the exposed coast also included the Kumlien’s Gull, a notable influx of 42+ Black-headed Gulls along with 108+ Common Gulls, 60 Great Black-backed Gulls, 11 Red-breasted Mergansers and a big arrival of 41 Tufted Ducks on the loch which weren’t there earlier in the day!

                Worth a paragraph of its own was the first Wheatear of the year glimpsed briefly at the airstrip – nearly two weeks earlier than last year!

                An even worse day on the 16th with the blazing SE wind bringing numerous and frequent hail and rain showers whipping horizontally through the island; it was however, worth getting out in the field though as the sheltered western side of the island did contain a few migrants including the 2 Woodpigeons, the first 2 Dunnocks of the year, 7 Robins, a / the Wheatear, 6 Song Thrushes and a Mistle Thrush.

                Other birds included the Green-winged Teal, Whooper Swan, Kumlien’s Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Hen Harrier still, a further influx of Gulls with 107+ Black-headed, 200 Common, 70 Herring and 143 Great Black-backed Gulls counted and a Knot with 78 Dunlin and 24 Bar-tailed Godwits.

Early spring migrants - Wheatear, Dunnock and Song Thrush

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

13th and 14th March

A glorious day on the 13th with acres of blue sky and a very light easterly breeze; the rarest bird of the day (and year so far!) was a BLUE TIT which appeared in Holland House gardens just as we were opening the nets in the evening and was promptly caught shortly after – only the fourth record for the island (eighth individual) and the first in spring!

                The calm conditions allowed some improved counts on the sea to be made which included 17 Great-northern Divers, 6 Red-throated Divers and 24 Long-tailed Ducks but more notably a White-billed Diver was off The Lurn and a Black-throated Diver was in Nouster (a different individual, well into its breeding plumage); a new, interloping Mute Swan and the Green-winged Teal completed the noteworthy waterbirds.   Waders included 129 Lapwings, 59 Dunlin and 34 Bar-tailed Godwits (with displaying Lapwings and mating Oystercatchers in the fine weather) while the Lesser Black-backed Gull and Kumlien’s Gull remained.

                On the land there was, unsurprisingly, a few new arrivals in the lovely conditions which included the first two Stonechats of the year by the school, 2 Woodpigeons, 4 Mistle Thrushes and a Chaffinch while other birds comprised 2 Hen Harriers, 9 Meadow Pipits, 6 Robins, 39 Fieldfares, 3 Song Thrushes, 50 Redwings, a Linnet and 4 Twite.

                Still bright and sunny on the 14th but the cold, SE wind had picked up to at least force 7 making any time spent in the field a bit of a struggle; as a result, records were of a premium through the day with the Whooper Swan still on Ancum, the drake Smew making a trip to Hooking, a Hen Harrier floating around and the two Woodpigeons still near Holland.

Blue Tit                         Simon Davies

Fulmar                                                      Simon Davies

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

11th and 12th March

An unpleasant day on the 11th with a strong, cold force 7 easterly bringing with it frequent showers which was reflected in the quiet day of birding; the single Whooper Swan and Green-winged Teal remained along with counts of 20 Long-tailed Ducks and 13 Red-breasted Mergansers.   Other little random bits included a Merlin, a single Black-tailed Godwit at Westness, the Kumlien’s Gull yet again around Brides, the lingering Stock Dove still and the only sign of any new birds – two Mistle Thrushes at Gretchen.

                A much nicer day on the 12th with lighter E/NE winds and dry and bright conditions; the sea was very quiet first thing with a single Blue Fulmar the only different bird while wildfowl of note comprised the Green-winged Teal, the Smew, 17 Pintail and 8 Goldeneye.   Two Hen Harriers floated around the island (and included one which heart-stoppingly bounced out of a mist net at Holland House!) while 96 Golden Plover and 31 Sanderlings were counted; a single Ruff and the Kumlien’s Gull were also noted.

                On the land the Woodpigeon and Black Redstart remained while 64 Fieldfares, 4 Song Thrushes and 3 Mistle Thrushes represented slight increases with 31 Snow Buntings also remaining.

Smew and Goldeneye                                Simon Davies

Whooper Swan                            Simon Davies

Saturday, 10 March 2018

9th and 10th March

Another cracking day on the 9th with hardly a breath of wind and plenty of sunshine; there was no sign of the Walrus despite searching but it eventually turned up on a beach across the water on Sanday, out of view no matter how hard we scoped it!   There was a trickle of new landbirds which arrived in the fine weather including a Woodcock, single Peregrine and Hen Harrier, the first Woodpigeon of the year at Holland, the first Rook of the year over Westness, 87 Skylarks, 27 Rock Pipits, 5 Robins, the Black Redstart, 78 Fieldfares, 76 Redwings, a Mistle Thrush which turned up in a net at Holland, 3 new Ravens which were soon seen off by the Beacon pair, 2 Linnets, 8 Twite and 27 Snow Buntings.

                Other bits included some increased totals on calmer seas with 9 Red-throated Divers, 17 Great-northern Divers and 29 Long-tailed Ducks while the Green-winged Teal was still on Gretchen, 3 Pink-footed Geese came in from the south, the Kumlien’s Gull was again on Brides and the highly unusual March Ruff flock was now up to 4!

                A decent day again on the 10th but with a bit more cloud and a stronger easterly wind; a few more landbirds made it in to the island through the day including 2 Hen Harriers, a female Sparrowhawk in off the sea chasing a Mistle Thrush, 2 Merlins (including an adult male), a Woodcock, the Woodpigeon again, the Stock Dove which re-appeared in Loch Park and 2 Pied Wagtails.

                Wildfowl totals included 17 Gadwall, the Green-winged Teal, 60 Mallard, 19 Pintail, 11 Shoveler, 8 Goldeneye and the drake Smew still.

Raven                                              Simon Davies

Thursday, 8 March 2018

8th March

A great day, a more spring-like feeling in the air with a light SE wind and plenty of bright sunshine; without doubt the highlight was an awesome, massive and unbelievable to behold WALRUS which was initially seen by Lewis Hooper as it slowly cruised past The Lurn, close inshore, followed by a big flock of Gulls before hauling out for a couple of minutes on a small beach near where we ring Storm Petrels.   It soon headed back out and carried on round the shore, close round the Pier and into Nouster Bay before just as suddenly disappearing!   We will be out at first light tomorrow, covering as much of the coast as possible in the hope that it will be re-found.

                Its now five years and five days since the last Walrus on North Ronaldsay in 2013 – almost an expected vagrant nowadays!!!

                There were some new birds seen through the rest of the day with some passage noted; the best (in island terms anyway) was a Stock Dove found in Loch Park and later trapped as it came into roost at Holland House, becoming only the second one to be ringed on the island!   Other landbirds included 140 Skylarks (including some light southerly passage), a male Chaffinch also caught at Holland, the Black Redstart still, 47 Fieldfares, 62 Redwings, a Song Thrush, 60 Snow Buntings and 2 Hen Harriers including a ringtail seen coming in off the sea from the south.

                Some increased waders comprised the first Grey Plover of the year on The Links, now 3 Ruff feeding in fields by the school (an unprecedented March flock!), 97 Golden Plover, 113 Lapwing, 46 Dunlin and 40 Bar-tailed Godwits.   The drake Smew was still present along with 24 Long-tailed Ducks, 4 Shelduck, a new Pink-footed Goose with the Greylags and the Whooper Swan still while 11 Great-northern and 4 Red-throated Divers offshore.

Walrus                                           Simon Davies

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

6th and 7th March

Brighter and drier on the 6th but we kept the strong, cold north-easterly wind, making things a bit of a slog in the field but there were a couple of new Gulls found today with a new second winter Iceland Gull joining the adult and a new juvenile Glaucous Gull joining the long-staying second winter with the Kumlien’s Gull still present.   The rest of the birds were as you were really, with the Green-winged Teal still on Gretchen and the Smew still on Bewan along with counts of 21 Pintail, 15 Goldeneye and 7 Red-breasted Mergansers.

                Totals of 63 Lapwings and 27 Sanderling hinted that birds were steadily returning to the island after the big freeze while the Black Redstart was still at Howar and 7 Reed Buntings was a slightly increased total.

                A horrible morning on the 7th with persistent rain and a strong easterly wind but this moved through by lunchtime leaving a very pleasant afternoon as sunshine and lighter winds dominated; Gulls were again to the forefront with the adult Iceland Gull seen again and the Kumlien’s Gull still present but presumably yesterday’s juvenile Glaucous Gull was picked up dead at Trolla.   Coming in the other direction there was also a little influx of 18 Black-headed Gulls and the Lesser Black-backed Gull was again present.

                There was more evidence of birds returning to the island now that the fields and lochs have thawed out with counts of 64 Golden Plover, 50 Dunlin and 35 Bar-tailed Godwits with the Ruff also moving off the shore into the fields.   Two Merlins were also back on the island (the first ones since before the Beast from the East) while there were totals of 71 Snow Buntings, 60 Skylarks and 45 Fieldfares while wildfowl today comprised the Whooper Swan still, 20 Long-tailed Ducks, 11 Goldeneye, the drake Smew and 16 Red-breasted Mergansers.

This Oystercatcher wandered into the Crow Trap and had originally been ringed as a chick in 2002!

Purple Sandpipers                                 Simon Davies

Monday, 5 March 2018

4th and 5th March

A decent day on the 4th with light easterly winds and the thaw gathering pace as the fields and lochs slowly returned to normal allowing waders and ducks back to their usual feeding sites; the only new bird through the day was a smart adult Iceland Gull at Bewan while the Glaucous Gull, Kumlien’s Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull were all still in place.

                Wildfowl included 472 Wigeon, 25 Goldeneye, 6 Red-breasted Merganser and the drake Smew while an impressive number of Passerines which came out of the woodwork after surviving the freeze comprised 88 Skylarks, 21 Rock Pipits, 10 Meadow Pipits, the Black Redstart, 6 Robins, 55 Fieldfares, a Song Thrush, 26 Redwings, 6 Reed Buntings and 54 Snow Buntings.

                A generally unpleasant day on the 5th with long spells of rain and a much stronger easterly wind making things tricky in the field but helping complete the thawing process leaving only small areas of ice on most of the lochs.   There were some new birds on offer though as we braved the conditions with the first 2 Black-tailed Godwits of the year at Westness, the first Little Auk of the year past the seawatch hide and further increases in duck numbers including 20 Pintail, 3 Shoveler (the first ones after they all left as soon as the cold weather arrived!), 17 Goldeneye and the Green-winged Teal which appeared back on Gretchen like nothing ever happened!

                The suite of scarce Gulls were all still present with the adult Iceland Gull up at the north end and the Glaucous Gull and Kumlien’s Gull feeding together at Brides where the Ruff also reappeared and the Hen Harrier floated around.

Iceland Gull                                            George Gay

Glaucous and Kumlien's Gull                          Lewis Hooper

Saturday, 3 March 2018

2nd and 3rd March

The freezing conditions remained on the 2nd with the fields and lochs still frozen and the bitterly cold easterly wind still bringing frequent snow showers whispering across the island; all the action was predictably around the coast with a Black-throated Diver past the seawatch hide along with 9 Red-throated and 11 Great-northern Divers while also feeding offshore were an increased 21 Goldeneye, the drake Smew, the Kumlien’s Gull and Glaucous Gull with 410+ Common Gulls feeding in the surf at high tide and the unseasonal Ruff which reappeared at Brides.

                Still very cold on the 3rd with lying snow and frozen / lochs but the easterly wind had dropped off a touch and there were some long spells of sunshine; the highlights largely remained the same with the Kumlien’s Gull and Glaucous Gull with 400 Common Gulls again but were joined by the first Lesser Black-backed Gull of the year at Scottigar.   A White-billed Diver (well, 95% sure it was!) was unfortunately picked up dead on the shore at Stennabreck while a Black-throated Diver was in Nouster Bay.

                Some decent wildfowl counts were made through the day (again concentrated on the sea and around the tiny bits of open water remaining on the lochs) and comprised 753 Greylag Geese, the Whooper Swan, 3 Shelduck, 265 Wigeon, 5 Gadwall, 168 Teal, 66 Mallard, 5 Pintail, 20 Long-tailed Ducks, 13 Goldeneye and the Smew again.   Waders were also concentrated in certain spots and included 59 Ringed Plover, 241 Purple Sandpipers, 29 Dunlin, a Jack Snipe, 32 Bar-tailed Godwits and 286 Turnstone while a ringtail Hen Harrier roamed widely across the island.



Lesser Black-backed Gull

Thursday, 1 March 2018

28th February and 1st March

The freezing cold weather really took hold on the 28th, with the ground and most of the lochs frozen over, sheets of ice across the beaches, a bitterly cold force 6 easterly wind and frequent, heavy spells of snow sweeping across the island creating white-out, blizzard conditions for long periods; the main feature of the day was actually the absence of birds across the island with the majority of the Golden Plover, Lapwing and Dunlin along with many ducks disappearing off the island overnight as the freeing conditions took hold.

                Limited coverage in the field did produce a Ruff feeding on the beach at Brides (the rarest bird of the year so far as it’s the first record between December and March for the island!), no doubt pushed around by the crazy weather, a Jack Snipe by the Obs, 2 Glaucous Gulls – the second winter again at Brides and a juvenile at Scottigar and the Barnacle Goose still with Greylags.

                More of the same on the first day of spring with the remaining Golden Plover, Lapwing, Snipe, Curlew, Dunlin and Redshank along with the Wigeon, Teal and Mallard all relocating from the fields and lochs (which are still frozen solid) to the coast creating a pattern in miniature which I’m sure is being recreated across the rest of the UK at the moment.

                With some good effort put in today and the remaining birds concentrated around the coast in sheltered bays and the few tiny patches of unfrozen water (where streams enters the lochs) we managed some accurate counts of wildfowl and waders which have chosen to wait out the cold weather; totals comprised 6 Herons, the Whooper Swan, the Barnacle Goose with 816 Greylags (pretty much concentrated in one field!), a Shelduck, 305 Wigeon, 12 Gadwall, 170 Teal, the Green-winged Teal (bobbing around forlornly on the sea opposite Gretchen as if waiting for it to thaw!), 39 Mallard, 4 Pintail, 16 Goldeneye, 278 Eiders, 9 Red-breasted Mergansers, 93 Oystercatchers, 74 Lapwings, 2 Knot, a Jack Snipe, 97 Snipe, 21 Bar-tailed Godwit, 70 Redshank, 264 Common Gulls and the Kumlien’s Gull which reappeared at Brides.

                Landbirds were still present but struggling in the hard conditions with 92 Skylarks the only decent count as they concentrated around cattle feeders and sheltered beaches while the wintering Thrushes roamed around looking for food and other counts included 24 Rock Pipits, 14 Twite, 11 Snow Buntings and a ringtail Hen Harrier.

Glaucous Gull


This Seal was loving the conditions though, having caught this huge Conger Eel!

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

26th and 27th February

Breezy and overcast first thing but by lunchtime the sun had come out and the wind had dropped off to literally nothing which produced a glorious afternoon and evening; the calm seas allowed 16 Great-northern Divers and 6 Red-throated Divers to be counted while the single Whooper Swan and Green-winged Teal remained in place.   Merlin and Hen Harrier were seen flushing the 321 Golden Plovers in Loch Park while in the fields 50 Skylark, 64 Fieldfares and 66 Redwings were seen and yet again, the Black Redstart and Kumlien’s Gull were still in place.

                The Beast from the East began to exert its influence on the island on the 27th with several light snow showers and a bitingly cold easterly wind; 216 Auk sp. flew past the seawatch hide in an hour first thing with the Smew on Bewan along with 10 Goldeneye.   A single Barnacle Goose was a new arrival near the airstrip with the second winter Glaucous Gull was again seen at Brides along with the Kumlien’s Gull still while 2 ringtail Hen Harriers were seen along with at least 2 Merlins, including another one seen heading out to sea towards Sanday (just island-hopping birds or different passage birds?).   122 Sanderling and 60 Dunlin were counted on The Links and 37 Snow Buntings were still twinkling around the southern fields.

Green-winged Teal

Monday, 26 February 2018

24th and 25th February

Still dry and bright on the 24th but with a stronger, colder SE wind as the so called ‘Beast from the East’ began to influence the island; it was a pretty quiet day’s birding though with the Kumlien’s Gull and presumably the same second winter Glaucous Gull at Brides Loch and the drake Green-winged Teal still on Gretchen.   Other little, random bits included the five wintering Herons still at Westness, the single Whooper Swan, Merlin and Peregrine zooming around, 45 Fieldfares still and the Black Redstart still lingering along the south coast.

                Lighter winds on the 25th and with the return of Fireman George, increased coverage led to some decent counts through the day; the highlights though, remained the same with the Kumlien’s Gull still, the Glaucous Gull back up at the north end and the drake Smew again on Bewan.   With all the loch covered and calmer seas, wildfowl counts included 284 Wigeon, 18 Gadwall, 13 Pintail, 16 Shoveler, 24 Long-tailed Ducks and 4 Goldeneye along with 207 Lapwings, 102 Oystercatchers, 2 Jack Snipe and an increased 43 Bar-tailed Godwits.

                Landbirds were still thin on the ground but did include 2 Peregrines, a Merlin which left to the south, over the sea towards Sanday, the Black Redstart still and a good total of 19 Rock Pipits with more of the coast walked.

Common Gull dropping shellfish onto the rocks


Snow Bunting

Friday, 23 February 2018

22nd and 23rd February

A very similar couple of days, remaining dry and bright but time in the field was marred by a strong, cold southerly wind which cut right through you; the Smew had moved to Hooking on the 22nd while both Merlin and Peregrine zoomed around Loch Park and the Black Redstart was still around the pier.

                There were now 5 Shelduck on the island with some of the breeding pairs sneaking back in while 4 Knot were with the Golden Plover in East Loch Park along with 136 Lapwing and 101 Dunlin.   On the land Skylarks were again obvious including 26 by the Obs and 50+ Fieldfares and 30 Redwings remained.

                A new 2nd winter Glaucous Gull was roosting out on Seal Skerry on the 23rd while an adult Iceland Gull was picked up dead near the seawatch hide and the Kumlien’s Gull remained at Brides.   5 Great-northern and 5 Red-throated Divers were off the north end, 17 Pintail were a notable increase along with 13 Shoveler and 20 Tufted Ducks, the ringtail Hen Harrier was seen again, a Jack Snipe was at Trebb and Skylarks were on the move despite the cold, strong with including a flock of 7 which came in low across the sea from the north, struggling against the wind.

The Hooking Great Black-backed Gull pair are already super aggressive and territorial!