Thursday, 11 August 2022

9th - 11th August

It seems Autumn has finally kicked off here on North Ronaldsay, signalled by the arrival of our first Willow Warblers in the pouring rain. Whilst conditions have not been the most favourable or inspiring, things have continued to tick over.
On the 9th, a juvenile Mediterranean Gull was seen on the rocks at the observatory end of Nouster beach, before it flew off round the Lurand coast in a flock of Common Gull. It seemed to favour the beach though, being seen there sporadically throughout the rest of the day.  
The 10th saw a Swift fly out south over the obs, and later in the day a rather manky looking Carrion Crow was seen lingering about, still present around the obs on the 11th as well.
The 11th started with a Woodpigeon in Nouster bay, and a Green Sandpiper at Westness. The 2 moulting adult Red-necked Phalarope were still present on Ancum, and it has been very interesting to see these birds at their different stages of moult. Our first Willow Warblers of the Autumn were found almost simultaneously, with one juvenile at North Gravity and another in the thistles at Antabreck.
Overall, there seems to be a consistent passage of waders through the island, with more Ruff being seen in fields and on Lochs, and more Whimbrel about also, with a group of 14 seen flying south on the 11th. Turnstone numbers have also increased along with Golden Plover, with counts suggesting there are just shy of 1000 individuals currently present on the island.
With our first 'proper' Autumn migrants finally moving through, the next few days look promising for more to follow. A set of easterlies forecast for over the weekend has definitely got staff more driven after a quiet summer with no seabird ringing. Now we just have to hope the forecast comes off!  

Mediterranean Gull - VB

Willow Warbler - GG

Tuesday, 9 August 2022

5th - 8th August

The weather has been pretty miserable over the past few days, dominated mostly by waves of drizzly showers and fog. With the North Ronaldsay Sheep Festival also now underway, the obs has been very busy, limiting coverage of the island on some days. But there has still been some good birding to be done, especially with Golden Plover numbers picking up, which will hopefully draw in something more interesting soon.
The 5th saw the return of the 2 Red-necked Phalaropes to Ancum, presumably the same birds that have been seen on previous occasions as they undergo their moult. In the afternoon however, they were joined by a juvenile that didn't stay until the next day, unlike the adults which are now present into their 4th day. There was a also a ringtail Hen Harrier seen flying over Brides.
The 6th and 7th were fairly quiet birding wise, the only birds of note being a Grey Plover and Greenshank, both seen opposite the airfield on the 7th.
On the 8th, a Green Sandpiper was seen flying North over Holland, before being picked up again when it was flushed from Ancum towards the Links.
It looks like the next few days are set to follow the same suit weather wise, but as wader and gull flocks slowly start to build in the fields, and more migrants are turning up further south in the country, excitement for Autumn has well and truly begun.

Red-necked Phalarope - MH

Green Sandpiper - MH

Friday, 5 August 2022

23rd July - 4th August

There is lots to catch up on in this blog post owing to various staff being away from the island, but nonetheless it's been a busy few days with some good additions to the year list.
The 23rd saw a Whimbrel at Upper Linnay, a species we should start to see more of as the Autumn progresses.
On the 24th a Swift flew south over the obs and straight out to sea, as so many Swifts here tend to do.
The 26th proved to be a good day for seabirds, starting with a Roseate Tern on Bewan. A scarce species for the island, and unfortunately also a short stayer, only briefly being seen on the loch. A seawatch saw 12 Storm Petrel pass the Old Beacon, along with 18 Manx Shearwater and our first Sooty Shearwater of the year.
However, the big seawatch highlight came on the 27th, when a Cory's Shearwater cruised past the Old Beacon, along with 5 Storm Petrel, 7 Sooty Shearwater, and 4 Risso's Dolphin. There was also a young Hen Harrier seen over Brides.
On the 29th a Kestrel showed up at the obs.
The 30th carried on our stint of good seabirds, when a Black Tern was found on Bewan. Again, the bird was only seen briefly before seemingly vanishing off the island. A colour ringed Knot, carrying a watlas tag and motus tag for GPS tracking, was also found on Bewan later in the day. It was later revealed that this bird was tagged on the island of Texel on the 29th April 2022 along with 29 others.
On the 1st a Greenshank pitched up on Gretchen, and on the 2nd a Whimbrel flew south over the obs.
The blog will now be updated more frequently as the Autumn progresses, hopefully with rare birds to report.

Tagged Knot - VB

Roseate Tern - HW

Saturday, 23 July 2022

20th-22nd July

 Highlights from 20th-22nd


Juvenile Stonechat, Ancum Willows and fem/imm Hen Harrier, Peckhole


Two Red-necked Phalarope, Ancum (possibly birds from June undergone post-breeding moult)


Two Whimbrel, Purtabreck and juv Lesser Black-backed Gull

I'm away for a few days now so the blog may not be updated until Aidan returns towards the end of the month. 

                             Red-necked Phalaropes

Tuesday, 19 July 2022

18th - 19th July

The past couple days have been dominated by very drifty winds and quite humid weather. A few rain showers though have kept the lochs topped up, meaning water levels haven't yet sunk to the almost barren and water free levels of this time last year.
The 18th started well with it being the first day in a while not to be battered by strong winds. As the day went on though it turned out the nice weather was not the only thing to be excited about, when a 1st summer Sabine's Gull was found on Bewan. First being picked out amongst Kittiwake by its punitive and moulting head, it then gave flight views, revealing its black leading edge across the outer primaries and greater coverts, and its slate grey half moon shape across the rest of the wing. The bird stayed briefly on Bewan giving good views to those there, before it flew out to the coastal rocks to sit amongst around 600 Kittiwakes. It took a bit of effort to re-find the 'Sab's' within the Kittiwake flock, but gave decent views when it finally was. The bird then dropped out of sight onto the sea but was eventually flushed along with all the Kittiwakes by a Bonxie flying over. Its distinct flight appearance stood out in the big flock, before it left the main group and seemingly flew off on its own high north. Searching likely places for it to pitch up on the rest of the island confirmed the bird to be a short stayer, seemingly having vanished after around 30 minutes from being found.
The 19th followed suit proving to also be a good day for birds. A Corncrake was heard singing early morning in the Breckan area, perhaps the Peckhole bird or a new individual passing through. Throughout the day there was also good movement of Swift, with 3 over Holland and 2 over the obs, all passing immediately out south.
The night of the 18th also turned out a good showing of moths, in both the trap at the obs and the portable trap in a never before trapped area in heather at the back of the lighthouse. Combined, the traps pulled in over 100 Dark Arches, our first Common Rustic and our first True Lovers Knot of the year.
Autumn migrants appear to be slowly showing up in places elsewhere, so all the staff are looking forward to when the season properly gets going after an extremely quiet Summer.

                             Sabine's Gull                                                                      GG

Monday, 18 July 2022

13th - 17th July

The temperatures here over the past few days haven't quite hit the same dizzying heights as further down south, but it has been slightly warmer and a little less windy. In fact, a couple of the days it was even warm enough to go out with just one jumper on!
In a similar fashion to the last blog post, birding has been slow once again. The only bird of particular note being an unseasonable House Martin that was seen flying around Neven on the 15th.
Elsewhere, we have mainly been continuing our monitoring of breeding birds round the island, carrying out a coastal Fulmar count on the 15th. There were 170 individuals sat on nests, with either a chick or an egg, a seemingly lower number to last year. But with the inland nests still left to count, it may be that more individuals have been preferring the shelter of the inland dykes and roofs over being battered in the near constant winds on the coast.
Big build ups of Kittiwake have continued to occur at the north end, with 603 individuals on the 13th, and then over 1000 on the 15th. Numbers of Purple Sandpiper have also started to increase over the past few days, with 41 individuals around the coast in census area F on the 15th.
We colour ringed another Curlew chick on the 16th, but keep seeing more around the island so we will hopefully be adding more to our total over the next few days. A Common Tern also showed up on Gretchen on the 16th.
The night of the 17th we put our Storm Petrel tapes out to hopefully draw a few in to the island. We ended up with around 20 birds flying round our heads, making it more disappointing not to be able to ring them this year.
It seems the moth trap has been producing the most interest over the past few days, after finally getting some good trapping nights. A Current Pug caught on the 11th later turned out to be a first record for the island, and a Purple Bar caught on the night of the 17th was a fourth for the island. We've also been seeing good numbers of Magpie Moth, Ghost Moth and Cetaceous Hebrew Character, along with lots of the more commonly trapped species.
With calm weather set for the week ahead, hopefully we start to see a few early migrants make their way through. 


Purple Bar

Tuesday, 12 July 2022

1st - 12th July

The first days of July have been a bit slow birding wise, mainly due to staffing shortages with outbreaks of covid and some away for a few days. The weather has also presented difficulties with days of thick fog leading into strong winds, not the most inspiring conditions for birding.

The 1st saw 5 Orca off Stromness point, cruising round to the north end before going out north. There was also a juvenile Stonechat in East Loch Park, a species that doesn't breed so is presumably from elsewhere on mainland Orkney. 12 Siskin in Holland were an unseasonable surprise, and 2 Greenshank on Gretchen added another species to the year list. Elsewhere, the Turtle Dove was still present, being flushed from Lurand before flying towards the bothy on the West Coast

The Turtle Dove was present until the 4th and represented the only bird of note across these days. 

An extremely slow few days for birding between the 5th and 10th meant very little was seen. However with more staff arrivals coverage of the island has now increased again, so hopefully there is more out there to be found.

An effort on the morning of the 11th saw 4 new Oystercatcher chicks ringed and a single Curlew chick colour ringed, part of a project taking place on the rest of Orkney. 2 Swift flew past the obs in the late afternoon, but other than that the day was filled was sheep work and a few obs jobs to make the most of the grim weather.

Over 500 Kittiwake showed up around Bewan on the 12th, and a satellite tagged Common Seal was seen off the north end, so it will be interesting to see where this individual was first tagged.

With the weather set to stay windy and wet over the next few days, it seems the birding will continue to stay slow, but with silaging starting to take place in fields over the island, hopes that this will pull in something more interesting remain high.

Juvenile Arctic Tern

Lesser Black-backed Gull in the silage

Saturday, 2 July 2022

24th-30th June

 With the final week of June behind us it actually seems things are finally hotting up a bit, not something I expected to be typing to be honest after a fairly quiet month! 

Three Siskin and three Swift are all the early part of the week had to offer with both records coming on 25th and 26th respectively. Counts weren't helped by a bout of illness that seemed to afflict staff but it was quickly over by 29th and thankfully wasn't Covid! The bird of the day on 29th came from a very mundane sea-watch, without much passing it was a bit of shock when a Great Shearwater cruised past the sea-watch hide heading South, a superb bird for the year list and one that started a couple days of decent birds. A rather grotty Chiffchaff was in Holland on 30th but was quickly overshadowed by yet another year tick in the shape of a Turtle Dove, initially found near Ancum the bird got up and bombed off south only to be re-discovered on the road outside Holland House some ten minutes later as we headed back to the obs. With July on the horizon we're hoping a month like 2020 produced full of oddities and goodies! 

                                    Turtle Dove

Friday, 24 June 2022

18th-23rd June

 It's been a fairly quiet few days although a mixed bag in terms of weather has mixed things up a little bit. Its also meant the internet has been patchy at best! 

Firstly I think we'll mention Avian Influenza again, it does still seem to be present on the island with another Bonxie succumbing over the last few days. This has been backed up with the BTO placing a ban on ringing Sea-birds, Terns and Gulls in Scotland over the summer, a bit of a blow to us and our Summer plans of ringing Tysties, Fulmars and Storm Petrels but just something we have to live with to try and stop AI spreading more that it has I suppose. 

Away from dying birds the living ones have been a little more exciting in the previous days, the Red-rumped Swallow has remained in the Brides area, seemingly hanging around with Sand Martins. The 19th saw a Short-eared Owl hunting over the airfield and the 21st saw a Kestrel appear over Loch Park, it was seen the following day also. The 21st also saw us add Red-necked Phalarope to the year list, a bird that has been more conspicuous in its absence in the past couple of years with birds being fleeting! One would become a pair a couple of days later and we're keeping fingers crossed the habitat is suitable enough! A few commoner migrants on 23rd saw four Mealy Redpolls, 12 Swifts (not a white rump among them!) and two Siskin.

                             Red-necked Phalarope
                             Red-rumped Swallow

Saturday, 18 June 2022

14th - 17th June

 It would appear that Spring is well and truly passed, on a migration front at least. The breeding birds are still doing relatively well with lots of fledgling Starlings, House Sparrows and waders still keeping us preoccupied. 

On a migrant front the Red-rumped Swallow re-appeared between Westness and Quoybanks on 15th and spent the late afternoon at the latter location showing quite well, a change from its previous ability to vanish at will! A group of seven Canada Geese did a tour of the island between 14th-15th before departing and a flock of eight Siskin were around the obs trapping area on 16th. Otherwise as stated its been very much business as usual with hardly migrant birds to look at. 

In other news with the Avian Flu epidemic worsening and it being apparently present within birds in North Ronaldsay the BTO have introduced a blanket ban on sea-bird ringing, which makes it exceedingly unlikely we're going to get into the Terns, Tysties and Fulmars this Summer. Hopefully this will stop the spread in some way and allow the colonies across Scotland to breed without any additional pressures. 

Red-rumped Swallow

Monday, 13 June 2022

9th-13th June

 It's been a very mixed bag in terms of the weather over the past few days but sadly it hasn't been a mixed bag in terms of arriving migrants! It does seem the Spring migration has very much halted and we'll have to wait for those early Summer arrivals, unless the winds and weather have something else up their sleeve of course! 

The 9th started quietly despite the promise of birds arriving, especially after the previous evenings late arrival. However with nets open at 04:30 the only reward was a male Siskin albeit a very smart one! The Red-rumped Swallow didn't make a showing for the whole day and we thought it had probably moved on early doors, we were wrong however as it would re-appear the following day over Holland House but remained elusive being seen on long feeding circuits assumably between Holland, Gretchen, Brides and Hooking. It was also seen very briefly on 11th but hasn't been seen since, however it wouldn't be a surprise if it re-appeared! 

Another bird we that seems to be re-appearing and disappearing is the now long-staying Marsh Warbler in Holland, while it was present on 9th singing away in its favoured haunt it was seemingly not present the following day or in fact until 13th when it suddenly burst into life again, there is of course a possibility it's a new bird, it seems Marsh Warblers in Holland always sing from pretty much the same area but it's not a question we can answer, so for arguments sake it's the same! 

Other highlights have been hard to come by, a smattering of male Siskin have been present in twos at Holland and Ancum while a single bird was at Longar. There also seems to be a Lesser Redpoll commuting around the island having been seen at the Surgery, Scottsha' and Ancum Willows. A big influx of Kittiwake were present around the North end on 12th with c600 birds sitting on the short turf around Bewan and decent arrival of 'Portlandica' Arctic Terns was noticeable on the same day with between 80-100 birds with the adults around Bewan.  

                             A portion of the Kittiwake flock
                             Terrible Red-rumped Swallow
                             A rather grumpy looking Wheatear chick

Wednesday, 8 June 2022

6th - 8th June

The weather over the past few days has been dominated by warm and drifty easterlies, creating interesting but challenging birding conditions trying to battle with the heat haze. We still managed a couple of additions to the year list though despite the fact that spring seems to be drawing to a steady close.

The 6th was quiet but the two Little Stint remained on Gretchen. The days birding was interrupted by our first walk through of Hooking irises to monitor Black-headed Gull breeding success. We manged to ring 22 chicks and saw plenty more nests with eggs and with chicks too small to ring yet, suggesting this species is going to have another good year off the back of their bumper successes of last year. During our time in the irises we also ringed an adult Greylag, a species which always does well on the island and seems to be doing so again this year.

On the 7th a Marsh Warbler was heard singing in Holland House Gardens, perhaps the same bird heard and seen in previous days. There was also a Chiffchaff present. A late report by guests of the observatory of a Spotted Redshank on Gretchen added another species to the year list, despite no staff getting to see it! We also completed a walk through of Loch Park as part of our breeding bird surveys to ring wader chicks and count nests of other species. During the walk through we were able to ring Common Gull chicks, Curlew chicks, Lapwing chicks, and adult female Eider. We also found nests of Arctic Tern, a species which seems to now have also fallen victim to avian influenza, so it's good to see them continuing to attempt to breed.

The 8th saw a very early addition of Roseate Tern to the year list, a species we usually get in July or not at all. The almost summer plumage individual was on Bewan in the morning before being flushed and was not seen again. A Short-eared Owl was also present when an individual was flushed from around Kirbest, before flying in the direction of Holland. A nice surprise came in the evening when we went to put the portable moth trap out at Holland, as a Red-rumped Swallow was seen flying around the buildings closely following a slightly unseasonable House Martin. This is the 4th Red-rumped Swallow of the year despite being a sub-ten for the island.

With more drifty easterlies set to come our way in the following days, we have not given up hope for something interesting still turning up, despite the often slow birding days this years spring seems to have brought us.

Black-headed Gull chick

Common Gull chick

Sunday, 5 June 2022

2nd - 5th June

The short spell of easterlies came to an abrupt end at the beginning of the week, giving rise to yet more northerlies and some very drifty westerlies. However, we can't complain at the bright sunshine and warm weather making the sometimes quiet census more enjoyable.

The 2nd started with the Marsh Warbler trapped the previous Tuesday being seen and heard again in Holland House Gardens, being joined by a second individual later in the afternoon. Also at Holland were two Common Whitethroats and a single Spotted Flycatcher. A very showy Curlew Sandpiper was found at Bewan, and an illusive unstreaked Acro sp. in Ancum Willows proved too difficult to pin down to nail an ID. The evening saw the first Hobby of the year speed south over Lurand, briefly being seen as it disturbed the island's resident breeding birds.

The 3rd was a fairly quiet day for birding , but with two Spotted Flycatchers being ringed at Holland, and another individual in the Antabreck Garden, things kept ticking over. The Marsh Warbler was still present in Holland House Gardens and the Corncrake only previously heard singing was finally seen as it flew from the edge of Hooking Loch back to its previous haunt at Peckhole. A Merlin was seen being mobbed by Starlings at Scottigar, a species which wouldn't normally get a mention in the blog but with such a quiet year for birds of prey compared to last years constant through flow of Merlin and Hen Harrier, the sighting became quite notable. The only other bird of note was a female type Whinchat found at the airfield in the afternoon. Elsewhere, another Ringed Plover was trapped, joining others caught previously in the year as part of the UK's first colour flagging project for this species.

The 4th was a very bird-less day, with only the Corncrake being heard again at Peckhole. 

The 5th was another quiet day and windless for most of the morning, switching to drifty easterlies by the afternoon. We managed to add Little Stint to the year list however when two were found on Gretchen in the early evening.

With the weather set to get better in the week ahead, and reports of the White-throated Needletail apparently being released somewhere near Scotland, we remain hopeful and motivated for the coming days.

Spotted Flycatcher

Colour flagged Ringed Plover

Wednesday, 1 June 2022

29th May - 1st June

With the weather finally turning more favourable with a few drifty easterlies, more birds have arrived on the island over the past few days. Not quite the 'biggy' we have all be hoping for, but nonetheless things have continued to remain interesting.

The 29th started with two 1st calendar year Little Gull on Gretchen, with one in a particularly nice pinkish plumage. The day didn't continue in the same fashion however, with the only other birds of note being the lingering Woodpigeon around Holland and singles of Whimbrel dotted about the island.

The 30th saw the start of the easterlies, but it would prove we needed a day for them to properly get going before they proved fruitful. In light of the slow birding, attention turned to sea watching, with a five hour effort seeing 5 Storm Petrel (the first of the year), 125 Manx Shearwater and over 1000 Puffin past Dennishead. In the evening there were 7 Whimbrel roosting on Ancum.

Things properly started getting going on the 31st with a Reed Warbler and Marsh Warbler being found at the Old Mill. The Marsh Warbler was later trapped and ringed before being released to roost at Holland. A Corncrake was also singing at Peckhole, presumably the same bird returning for it's third year. The highlight of the day came in the form of a Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll found at the north end of the island when it was flushed from Bewan House garden, before flying towards Bewan and giving good views on a gate. Elsewhere in an effort to mist net Black Guillemot, a re-trap that later turned out to have been ringed in 16th of July 1997, broke the current British longevity record by 2 months. 

June appears to have started well and always seems to do better for us with rarities in the past, so hopefully the 1st of the month is just a sign of things to come. There was a Cuckoo flushed from the seaweed at Scottigar, shortly followed by a year tick of Nightjar sat in the Dennishill garden before flying towards Senness. An elusive flycatcher in Holland finally revealed itself to be a Red-breasted Flycatcher after a good few hours of effort trying to get an identifiable view. Elsewhere there was also a Spotted Flycatcher found in the evening at Viggay.

Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll

Marsh Warbler

Saturday, 28 May 2022

24th - 28th May

 With the weather being dominated by westerlies for the past few days, decent birds have seemingly been few and far between. 

The highlight on the 24th was a female Garganey seen briefly in the irises at Westness, however it vanished soon after and so have our hopes of having a breeding pair this year for now. One of the Curlew Sandpipers from the previous day remained on Ancum, and elsewhere there was a Ruff at Brides and a Grey Wagtail at Howar. During another successful evening ringing wader chicks round the island, a Short-eared Owl was seen flying round the north end.

The 25th kicked off well with an immature male Cuckoo being found round the obs, shortly followed by a Short-eared Owl flushed from T1. The Curlew Sandpiper relocated to the Links and later in the day a Grey Wagtail was seen briefly by the foghorn at the north end, with a fair few Whimbrel also being scattered round the island. However the highlight of the day came in the form of a Little Ringed Plover seen flying south down the Links. Despite much searching the bird could not be re-found, but nonetheless represents a fourth record for the island.

Sea watching dominated the 26th with good counts being put in throughout the day, highlights from stints at both Westness and from the sea-watch hide saw 3 Manx Shearwater, 1 adult Little Gull, 200 Kittiwakes, 32 Arctic Skua, 27 Great Skua, 219 Gannet and over 1000 Auk sp. Elsewhere on island Curlew Sandpiper numbers peaked with three at Ancum.

The 27th was a quiet day with a single Garden Warbler in Ancum Willows still and a Common Tern near Gretchen being the highlights.

Again, the 28th was slow, but sea watching produced good numbers to lift the overall mood, with 21 Manx Shearwater, 1 Great Northern Diver, 1040 Auk sp. and 178 Kittiwake being seen in three hours from the north end.

The weather looks a little more promising going into the weekend so we're keeping our fingers crossed and ours eyes on the forecast! 

Lapwing chick