Thursday, 31 December 2015

1st - 31st December

With staff away, weather, other commitments and festivities taking up much of the remaining time in 2015, coverage was limited. However, the Northern Harrier was seen on the 23rd and 26th. A selection of wildfowl are ever present with counts of 80 Wigeon, 40 Teal, a Gadwall, a couple Shelduck on Gretchen Loch, and half-a-dozen Long-tailed ducks in Nouster counted on the 29th. 
A small volume of hardy passerines were still around with a flock of 30 Twite, a Common Redpoll and a Redwing all seen around the Observatory area on Christmas Day. 

We wish you all a Happy New Year from North Ronaldsay as we enter 2016, and look forward to what the season will bring :-)

Twite (Gavin Woodbridge)

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

29th to 30th November

Nothing to report from the 29th but a look around the south eastern, sheltered coasts on 30th was relatively productive given the time of year - despite the rather violent hail showers! The male Northern Harrier was seen around Hooking Loch and nearby a late Black Redstart showed well on the beach at Haskie was unexpected. A Little Auk flew past Bridesness with the American x Eurasian Wigeon hybrid there among the wildfowl and 4 Snow Buntings were at Kirbest.

Black Redstart

Saturday, 28 November 2015

26th to 28th November

A 'stank' around the south and eastern parts of the island on 26th was largely unproductive with hoped for increases in wildfowl and gulls feeding in the swell failing to materialise. That date did however produce the best counts of passerines with 44 Redwings (including likely 20 new arrivals at Holland gardens), 20 Fieldfares, 29 Blackbirds, a Chiffchaff at the observatory, 45 Twite and 2 Linnets logged. The Green-winged Teal was seen at Gretchen on all three dates while a look at the northern end of the isle on 28th yielded better results. The male Northern Harrier was seen in the Garso and Ancum areas and bar the occasional (thus far undetected) wandering elsewhere he has now clocked up an impressive two months on the isle. A juvenile Dark-bellied Brent Goose at Lenswick (and later past the Obs) was a decent newcomer, an additional adult Whooper Swan had joined the 3 lingering birds, the hybrid American x Eurasian Wigeon was at Bridesness and 31 Snow Buntings near Bewan.

Northern Harrier - still here!

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

21st-25th November

Well its definitely winter!! Frequent spells of cool northerly or north-westerly wind accompanied by either rain, sleet or even snow showers have resulted in relatively little change during the period. With the volunteers all having heading south, coverage is much more limited these days but highlights included the male Northern Harrier again (22nd) and the drake Green-winged Teal (22nd-24th). New parties of Whooper Swans have been a pair of adults (22nd), and a family of 5 (25th) while the redhead Smew was still on Bewan Loch (21st-22nd). An hour long sea-watch (21st) saw 5 Sooty Shearwaters, a Little Auk and a juvenile Glaucous Gull pass the hide but the same duration the next day was much poorer with just a Black-headed Gull and 626 Auk sp. of note. A Long-eared Owl was at Holland gardens (21st-22nd), a male Brambling also there (22nd and 25th), at least 4 lingering Chiffchaffs were spread about, Twite peaked at 36 (on 21st and included a dozen trapped and ringed to seed at the Obs) and finally there were 19 Snow Buntings at Bridesness (22nd).

No recent bird photos so here's the view from the sea-watch hide of a snow covered Fair Isle on 22nd

Friday, 20 November 2015

20th November

Cold!! The best way to sum up the day with sleet showers and a brisk north east wind. There had been a calm spell overnight after the most recent storm, and this prompted some seabird passage with 2.5 hours sea-watching from the hide returning totals of 19 Sooty Shearwaters, a Manx Shearwater, 1263 Fulmars - including 22 'blue phase' individuals, 375 Gannets, 54 Kittiwakes, a very late Puffin, 11 Little Auks and 1147 Auk sp.. A Long-eared Owl, roosting behind a wall near the sea-watching hide had presumably recently crossed the sea and was freshly arrived and the Smew and 5 Goldeneyes were among the wildfowl on Bewan Loch.

17th to 19th November

With winds originating from either the north or west and the last of the volunteers having moving on, there's definitely a winter feel about the place. After the late fall summarised in our last entry, fewer birds were seen on the 17th with 14 Woodcocks, 5 Robins, 184 Blackbirds, 155 Fieldfares, 11 Song Thrushes and 86 Redwings recorded. By the 18th there was an even greater reduction with no more than 40 of any thrush species but there was a Chiffchaff on that date with 2 further individuals at the Observatory on the 19th. The male Northern Harrier was back on the island and seen daily from 17th to 19th with the drake Green-winged Teal (17th and 18th), Common Scoter (17th-19th) and Smew (17th) all lingering too. An adult Glaucous Gull was at Bewan on 17th with a mobile juvenile around the south end the next day and at least 2 Hen Harriers have been present throughout.

Glaucous Gull

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

16th November

Heavy rain and a strong south-east wind overnight delivered perhaps the final fall of the year making for a surprisingly busy day in the field. There wasn't a huge amount of variety, but a dawn to dusk 'thrash' around roughly 50% of the island revealed some decent totals of late migrants. As expected, thrushes dominated with 311 Blackbirds, 750 Fieldfares, 10 Song Thrushes and 226 Redwings counted while at least 50 Woodcocks were also located. The drake Green-winged Teal had relocated to Gretchen Loch (and hence following the pattern of behaviour of last years wintering bird) and also seen were 6 Grey Herons, 17 Pink-footed Geese, 7 Barnacle Geese, the Common Scoter, 2 Hen Harriers, a Jack Snipe, 9 Robins, 2 Chiffchaffs, a Chaffinch, 7 Linnets, 23 Twite and a Snow Bunting.

Green-winged Teal (photo Mark Warren)

Sunday, 15 November 2015

15th November

A sudden drop in the wind to virtually nothing by first light attracted the remaining members of the team up to the hide for a lengthy sea-watch from dawn, while an increasing south-easterly in the afternoon and rain forecast for overnight also offers hope of some late migrants tomorrow. Totals from the busy 4 hour vigil at the north end came to 7 Great Northern Divers, 13 Red-throated Divers at least 1 Black-throated Diver, 12 'blue' Fulmars - with 807 birds counted in an hour sample count, 11 Sooty Shearwaters, a Manx Shearwater, 622 Kittiwakes, 20 Little Auks and 1062 Auk sp. with an additional 211 Guillemots and 11 Razorbills specifically recorded. A required Goose count used up remaining daylight in the afternoon but a drake Green-winged Teal at Bridesness Loch was a nice surprise during the 'drive-about'. The American x Eurasian Wigeon hybrid was also there, the redhead Smew at Bewan Loch and singles of Hen Harrier, Short-eared Owl and Woodpigeon present on the Isle. As has been the norm in recent days, few passerines were noted but among those seen coming in off the sea during the sea-watch were a few each of Starling, Twite and Snow Bunting - with 14 of the later recorded in all.

13th to 14th November

Two days of solid, gale force westerly winds yet still some birds are passing through the island and it remains worthwhile spending time outside avoiding winter paperwork. Highlight on the 13th was an 18 strong flock of (almost certainly Greenland) White-fronted Geese which touched down briefly near Ancum before continuing south. The Pale-bellied Brent Goose, 19 Pink-footed Geese and 8 Barnacle Geese were all seen again as were 35 Long-tailed Ducks and the redhead Smew. The male Northern Harrier was noted at Hooking late in the day with a juvenile Iceland Gull and Great Skua of the Bridesness coast and a Short-eared Owl near Westness. Moving wildfowl were again the feature of the 14th with an even larger, and impressively noisy flock of 52 White-fronted Geese (again not confirmed to race but likely to have been Greenland birds given the winds) coming in off the sea at the Lighthouse before quickly sliding down the east coast to be bound for nearby Sanday. Several groups of Whooper Swans were also logged passing south totalling 29 birds and the Pale-bellied Brent Goose, female Common Scoter and Smew were also recorded. An attempted sea-watch from the Lighthouse yielded 4 Little Auks in an hour and a half with another losing its bearings and heading inland at Hooking while at least 2 ringtail Hen Harriers and 6 Grey Herons were present.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

11th to 12th November

The 11th was a mixed bag with sunshine and showers but it was a decent days birding and among a few scarcities, the standout bird was the male Northern Harrier (making a welcoming return since last seen on 2nd). A Pale-bellied Brent Goose seen at a few locations was typical in its timing on the island but nonetheless it was only the second occurrence of the 2015. Meanwhile the Smew and Common Scoter were both seen again, 20 Pink-footed Geese were noted and 13 Whooper Swans included a new group of 9 south. A juvenile Glaucous Gull flew up the Links, 8 Little Auks and 3 Great Skuas were the best from an hours sea-watch and 10 each of Great Northern and Red-throated Divers were logged off sheltered coasts. 6 Grey Herons, a juvenile Hen Harrier, 3 Merlins, a Black Redstart at Westness, similar numbers of thrushes to yesterday, a single Snow Bunting and 32 Twite completed the days totals. By the 12th a storm was brewing but a calm window from midday prompted a 2 hour sea-watch and a female/immature Velvet Scoter was a great reward and nice addition to the 2015 year list. Also seen were 7 Sooty Shearwaters, a 'blue' Fulmar, a Pomarine Skua, a Great Skua, 262 Kittiwakes, 11 Little Auks and 1368 Auk sp. (in a sample 1 hour long count). Otherwise it was just the Smew and yesterdays Pale-bellied Brent Goose seen from a brief 'drive-about' and with gale force westerly winds having whipping up quickly by dusk we'll be hoping for something interesting tomorrow -if we can stand up! 

Pale-bellied Brent Goose (photo George Gay) 
Smew (photo George Gay)

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

9th to 10th November

A seriously blustery 9th made for tricky birding conditions and as a result not too much was seen. Of note were a juvenile Glaucous Gull at Westness, the Common Scoter still, a Hen Harrier, Peregrine, 3 Great Skuas and 2 Snow Buntings. Calmer conditions on 10th allowed for more passerines to be tracked down and a good thrash around by the dwindling team discovered a small arrival/increase of winter thrushes. Counted were 124 Blackbirds, 132 Fieldfares, 12 Song Thrushes and 404 Redwings. Other late autumn land-based migrants included 2 Jack Snipe, 2 Woodcocks, 27 Skylarks, 26 Meadow Pipits, 23 Rock Pipits, 6 Robins, a Chiffchaff, Siberian Chiffchaff, 2 Goldcrests, 8 Bramblings and 10 Snow Buntings. The Smew was still at Bewan Loch while last winters drake American x Eurasian Wigeon hybrid has returned to the Bridesness coast. Seen on an hours sea-watch were 2 Little Auks and a Sooty Shearwater, there were 3 Little Grebes at Bridesness Loch, 10 Red-throated Divers offshore, 16 Pink-footed and 8 Barnacle Geese among the Greylags and 2 juvenile Hen Harriers toured the island.

Snow Buntings (photos George Gay). Until now, most if not all of our Snow Buntings have appeared to be of the Scandinavian/Greenland race nivalis. The darker bird photographed here on 9th along with a whiter nivalis type, is a clear example of insulae, or Icelandic Snow Bunting.

Monday, 9 November 2015

8th November

Further south-easterly winds which increased to near gale force by the afternoon offered up renewed enthusiasm for the team resulting in slightly better migrant figures being posted. A Ring Ouzel near the mast was new and the days totals of 110 Blackbirds, 116 Fieldfares, 5 Song Thrushes and 149 Redwings were all marginally higher than the last couple of days and there was also a Blackcap, 4 Chiffchaffs, 7 Goldcrests and 5 Snow Buntings. An hours sea-watch was typical of the last few attempts with 2 Sooty Shearwaters, 248 Fulmars, a Great Skua, 3 Little Auks, and 843 Auk sp. logged. The Smew remains on Bewan Loch, 27 Shovelers and 16 Long-tailed Ducks were decent counts while a Water Rail in the road at Nether Linnay looked somewhat out of place.

Water Rail (photo George Gay)

7th November

Its taken 311 days, but at last the first Greenfinch of 2015 was seen today!! The species isn't exactly common here but the year's bogey bird finally fell with a single south over the airfield (and presumably the same later near the school). Other passerines were recorded in similar numbers to yesterday with a ringed Great Grey Shrike in the Kirkyard the most notable. In an hour and half of sea-watching passed 5 Sooty Shearwaters, a late Manx Shearwater, 5 Great Northern Divers, a Pomarine Skua, 2 Great Skuas, a Little Auk - with another in Nouster Bay and 1026 Auk sp. The Smew was seen again on Bewan Loch, another pulse of Whooper Swans saw 17 recorded (14 new birds plus the 3 long stayers) while 10 Pink-footed Geese and 8 Barnacle Geese have been around a while now and look set to winter among the Greylags.

Great Grey Shrike (photo George Gay)

6th November

With better weather and being quite late in the autumn, it was to be expected that most of yesterdays birds would move quickly on. There were far fewer Thrushes in particular, but 100 Blackbirds, 439 Fieldfares, 7 Song Thrushes and 65 Redwings were still counted. A Great Grey Shrike at Scotsha was likely a new bird and also seen worth mentioning were 4 Grey Herons, the Common Scoter, 2 Great Skuas, a Short-eared Owl, a Black Redstart and a Lesser Redpoll.

Short-eared Owl (photo George Gay)

Saturday, 7 November 2015

5th November

The south-east winds delivered and from dawn Fieldfares and Blackbirds began dropping out of the sky and we had our second significant arrival in about a week. It was a busy day for the ringers with plenty in the nets at Holland gardens while the obs Heligoland traps also chipped in a decent chunk of the 250 birds (189 of them Blackbirds) caught and ringed in all. Final totals for migrants for the day came to 27 Whooper Swans, 29 Woodcocks (5 trapped/ringed), 3 Woodpigeons, 2 Long-eared Owls (including an adult female caught and ringed at Holland), 2 Short-eared Owls, 17 Robins, 2 Black Redstarts (Kirk/Pier), 687 Blackbirds, 1440 Fieldfares, 19 Song Thrushes, 281 Redwings, a Mistle Thrush, 3 Blackcaps, 3 Chiffchaffs, a Siberian Chiffchaff, 18 Goldcrests, 14 Bramblings, 6 Chaffinch, a Lesser Redpoll (trapped/ringed), Mealy Redpoll and 18 Snow Buntings. Not a bad haul for November...
Woodcock (photo Mark Warren)

4th November

With an increasing south-easterly wind and a few more birds today its beginning to feel like there could be another arrival on the cards in stronger winds due tomorrow. Among the newcomers today were the first Yellow-browed Warbler for over two weeks at Vincoin and a Long-eared Owl trapped and ringed at Holland gardens, where the ringed Great Grey Shrike last seen on the 1st reappeared. After lower counts recently it seems likely that at least some of the 9 Short-eared Owls flushed from a small area between Senness and the Lighthouse were new as particularly large numbers recently. There was also a small arrival of Fieldfares with 409 counted, plus 85 Blackbirds, 191 Redwings, a Black Redstart, 11 Robins, 5 Blackcaps, a Goldcrest, 5 Bramblings and 14 Snow  Buntings. More effort (3.5 hours) of se-watching yielded 8 Great Northern, 20 Red-throated and best of all 2 Black-throated Divers, a 'blue' Fulmar, 11 Sooty Shearwaters, a juvenile Pomarine Skua, 7 Great Skuas, 209 Kittiwakes, 7 Little Auks and 460 Auk sp. Flocks of Whooper Swans passed through again with 29 birds in all, while the red-head Smew, Common Scoter and juvenile Glaucous Gull all remain. 3 each of Jack Snipe and Woodcock were flushed and at least one juvenile Hen Harrier was present, although having tempted fate with two blank days and calm weather it seems our long staying, star attraction - the male Northern Harrier may have relocated to another island.

Yellow-browed Warbler (photo Mark Warren)

Long-eared Owl (photo Mark Warren)

3rd November

Another overcast but calm day with a small southerly movement of Pipits and Thrushes during the first few hours of the morning when there was also a reasonable passage of birds westwards on the sea. Totals from 3 hours of sea-watching came to 13 Red-throated Divers, 18 Great Northern Divers, 22 Sooty Shearwaters, 2 'blue' Fulmars, 3 Pomarine Skuas (2 adults and a juvenile), 3 Great Skuas, 331 Kittiwakes, 3 Little Auks and 331 Auk sp. On the land were a Short-eared Owl, 2 Black Redstarts, 25 Rock Pipits (including a flock of 10 out south) 70 Blackbirds, 87 Fieldfares, 10 Song Thrushes, 184 Redwings, 3 Blackcaps, 5 Chiffchaffs, 4 Bramblings, 6 Chaffinch, another Lesser Redpoll caught and ringed at Holland gardens, 2 Siskins and 24 Snow Buntings. The Smew lingers on at Bewan and the Common Scoter off the links while there was another impressive arrival of some 92 Tufted Ducks - 85 of them on Bridesness Loch!

Lesser Redpoll (photo Mark Warren)
Long-tailed Ducks (photo Mark Warren)

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

2nd November

A dry and sunny day with some interest on the sea making up for another relatively static 24 hours on the land. A total of 8 Little Auks passed the island (3 south down the west coast in the morning and 5 west past the north end during an afternoon seawatch) and there were also 7 Sooty Shearwaters, 6 Red-throated and 8 Great Northern Divers, a Great Skua, 159 Kittiwakes and 71 Auk sp. recorded off either the west or north coasts at various times of the day. Both Great Grey Shrikes appear to have moved on but the male Northern Harrier continues to delight the team - it really is a fantastic looking bird in the sunshine! Most passerines were recorded in similar numbers to yesterday but a Lesser Redpoll was new, being trapped and ringed at Holland gardens in the evening where what looks like the Senness Yellowhammer was also processed. Also seen were 17 Whooper Swans (at least 14 newcommers), the Smew, a Sparrowhawk, a Grey Plover, the juvenile Glaucous Gull around Nouster beach and 2 Short-eared Owls.

Yellowhammer (photo Samuel Perfect)

1st November

A new month and some typical arrivals for the time of year made for a good tally of species as the autumn begins to draw to a close. The best bird was a Black-throated Diver during a sea-watch from the north end which also yielded 3 Red-throated and 4 Great Northern Divers and 6 Sooty Shearwaters in an hour. Wildfowl were particularly evident with the redhead Smew seen again on Bewan Loch and a Common Scoter off the links. There were also 324 Wigeon, 215 Teal, 10 Pintail, 21 Shovelers and 20 Long-tailed Ducks plus 21 Whooper Swans -which included a flock of 18 (15 adults, 3 juveniles) new birds south through the island. The Northern Harrier remained into its third calender month and there was also 2 juvenile Hen Harriers, a female Sparrowhawk, a Kestrel and 2 Short-eared Owls seen. There were now 2 juvenile Glaucous Gulls (Nouster bay and Garso wick) present, plus 4 Woodcocks though a very late Ruff at Cauldhame scrape was less expected and rather late. A handful of new passerines helped take the days totals to 13 Robins, 3 Black Redstarts (2 new birds at the Lighthouse), 3 late Wheatears, 81 Blackbirds, 55 Fieldfares, 7 Song Thrushes, 110 Redwings, a Mistle Thrush (first of autumn), 4 Blackcaps, 11 Chiffchaffs, 8 Goldcrests, the 2 Great Grey Shrikes still at Holland gardens (trapped and ringed today) and Ancum Willows respectively, 6 Bramblings, 5 Siskins, the Yellowhammer and a Snow Bunting.

Great Grey Shrike (photo George Gay)
Glaucous Gull (photo Espen Quinto-Ashman)

31st October

The wind returned today but it did stay dry allowing plenty of coverege and a fair bit to be tracked down in the cool southerly breeze. Lingering highlights were the male Northern Harrier and the 2 Great Grey Shrikes while on a local level, the arrival of a Yellowhammer at Senness was a much sought after first of 2015. Passerine figures came to 21 Meadow Pipits, 35 Rock Pipits, 18 Robins, 2 Black Redstarts, 3 Wheatears, 103 Blackbirds, 120 Fieldfares, 18 Song Thrushes, 294 Redwings, 5 Blackcaps, 5 Chiffchaffs, 8 Goldcrests, 4 Chaffinches, 18 Bramblings, a Siskin and 10 Snow Buntings. After the influx earlier in the week just 5 Short-eared Owls were located today and there were also 2 Kestrels and 12 Woodcocks. Flocks of 30 Pink-footed and 9 Barnacle Geese among the Greylags included some newcomers, there were also 9 Grey Herons and among the 200-300 each of feeding or storm driven Common, Herring and Great black-backed Gulls were a juvenile Glaucous Gull and 3 Black-headed Gulls.


 Glaucous Gull (both photos George Gay)

Monday, 2 November 2015

30th October

With most of the day having been spent exploring neighbouring Papa Westray, the few hours of remaining daylight were spent with the nets open at Holland House with only a brief look at other areas. There was no chance to record any numbers properly but perhaps just 100 each of Blackbirds, Redwings and Fieldfares suggested many birds had moved on under the clear skies of the night before. The male Northern Harrier was however still present as were the 2 Great Grey Shrikes (at the Kirk and Ancum Willows) and there was also a Long-eared Owl at Holland gardens and at least 2 Short-eared Owl present. About 50 birds were caught and ringed at the nets, mainly Blackbirds while other birds seen (mostly) in that area included 8 Woodcocks, a Black Redstart (at Burray), 4 Chiffchaffs, a Siberian Chiffchaff, 2 Chaffinch, 10 Brambling, 3 Siskins and a Snow Bunting.

Brambling (photo George Gay)
Ok, so this one wasn't taken on North Ronaldsay but we like to promote Orkney birding too - Here's Papa Westray's 1st winter male Chestnut Bunting from 29th (photo George Gay)

Sunday, 1 November 2015

29th October

Another day with plenty of birds with an even stronger south-east wind having picked up overnight which for the team was far from ideal given their planned trip to Papa Westray in the afternoon - risky business!!! There was still a strong effort in the morning though and from dawn it was clear that there had been a big arrival - especially of Blackbirds, with birds shooting out from behind every wall or rock on the west coast, and a total of 927 was recorded from the four hours we managed in the field. Other thrushes were still conspicuous too with 1525 Fieldfares (many newly arrived birds heading straight out south in large flocks), 56 Song Thrushes, 787 Redwings and 2 Ring Ouzels also counted. Just like yesterday, there were a lot of other migrants about with at least 2 Great Grey Shrikes present with an individual still at Holland and a new bird at Brigg (plus several sightings of perhaps a third individual nearby). Even more Owls were seen, with a minimum of 24 Short-eared Owls - again the majority on the shelterd west coasts and 4 Long-eared Owls while there were also 35 Woodcocks, 2 Jack Snipes and 5 Woodpigeons. Small passerines were tricky to find in the conditions again but noted were 2 Wheatears, 41 Robins, 6 Blackcaps, 8 Chiffchaffs, 13 Goldcrests, both the Pied and Spotted Flycatcher, 2 Chaffinch, 13 Bramblings and 8 Snow Buntings. Finally, the male Northern Harrier was agian ever present, plus at least one Hen Harrier and there were 19 Long-tailed Ducks and 2 Goldeneyes on the sea.

Great Grey Shrike (photo George Gay) 
Pied Flycatcher (photo George Gay)

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

28th October

FALL!!!! With high pressure sat firmly over Scandinavia and the magic combination of strong south-easterlies and heavily overcast skies with occasional drizzle we were treated to a a great days birding. Thrushes arrived in force, there were a number of highlights and leading the way was the fourth record of Smew for North Ronaldsay - a redhead (perhaps 1st winter or moulting drake?) on Bewan Loch briefly. The Northern Harrier was seen a few times and a Great Grey Shrike was discovered as it came into roost at Holland gardens at dusk and promptly devoured an unfortunate Goldcrest! Without doubt the most impressive spectacle of the day though was a mass arrival of 22 Short-eared Owls and 5 Long-eared Owls! The count for the former species is double the pervious high and included groups of 8 together on Torness and 9 in the fields between the Lighthouse and Senness - a fantastic sight! Fieldfares were the most conspicuous of thrushes as large flocks filtered through the island and out to sea to the south. A total of 2525 will have been an underestimate and there was also a Ring Ouzel, 124 Blackbirds, 81 Song Thrushes and 1114 Redwings. Other birds seen on a busy day were 4 Woodpigeons, a Large Pipit sp. south and out to sea with thrushes at the Observatory, 13 Blackcaps, 9 Chiffchaffs, a Siberian Chiffchaff, 24 Goldcrests, the Pied Flycatcher, a Chaffinch, 22 Bramblings, a male Crossbill, Lapland Bunting and 8 Snow Buntings. Along with the rare 'sawbill' there was a big influx of wildfowl with 430 Wigeon, 21 Gadwall, 234 Teal, 7 Pintail, 392 Eiders, 7 Long-tailed Ducks and 5 Goldeneyes. A couple of juvenile Hen Harriers toured the isle, the Whimbrel remains and 8 Jack Snipes and 13 Woodcocks were found. As with yesterday there were large numbers of Gulls feeding in the swell again with 12 Black-headed Gulls, 483 Common Gulls, 304 Herring Gulls and 286 Great black-backed Gulls counted.

Smew (attempted photo Mark Warren)
Short-eared Owls (top 3 Mark Warren, bottom flight shot Espen Quinto-Ashman)

Fieldfares and Redwings passing the Observatory (photo George Gay)

27th October

High tides and a rough swell saw the birding more akin to the winter months as numbers of coastal feeding waders, wildfowl and gulls built up for the first time since the early part of the year. There were about 200 each of Common, Herring and Great black-backed Gulls, plus 14 Black-headed Gulls, 221 Eiders, 158 Purple Sandpipers and 248 Turnstones mainly on or off the eastern shores. The Northern Harrier remains, 4 each of Jack Snipe and Woodcock were flushed and of other migrants the most notable were 43 Rock Pipits, 2 Wheatears, fewer thrushes than yesterday, a late Pied Flycatcher at Holland gardens, 15 Bramblings and a Mealy Redpoll.

Northern Harrier (photo George Gay)
 Gannet and Purple Sandpipers (All photos by George Gay)

Monday, 26 October 2015

26th October

On the whole things remained quiet but there were some signs of change today, in particular once the sun came out mid-morning when some new arrivals became evident. Passerine numbers were much improved on the last few days with a small flurry of Thrushes including 26 Blackbirds, 57 Fieldfares and 240 Redwings perhaps the forerunners of a late rush of birds in the more favourable winds forecast for this week? There were also a couple of Woodcocks, 4 Wheatears, 5 Blackcaps, a Chiffchaff, 5 Goldcrests, the Spotted Flycatcher, 9 Bramblings and 3 Chaffinches. The long-staying male Northern Harrier, juvenile Hen Harrier and Whimbrel were all seen again and 6 Sooty Shearwaters were the best the sea could offer in a half hour watch.
Woodcock (photo Mark Warren)

24th-25th October

Despite heavy rain in the morning, a handful of new birds were found on the 24th the best of which was a juvenile Glaucous Gull which passed the north end in the morning. There were a few more passerines present than of late including a Dunnock, 111 Redwings, a late (possibly latest ever) Whitethroat at Ancum Willows, a few each of Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Goldcrest, the Tree Sparrow again, 142 Snow Buntings and 28 Twite. The male Northern Harrier was seen on both days as was the Whimbrel and there was also a Goldeneye and 9 Long-tailed Ducks seen on the 24th. The 25th was quieter with not much to report passerine wise but seen around the Lochs and Bays were 24 Whooper Swans, 7 Pintails, 10 Gadwalls and a late Arctic Tern while in an hours sea-watch passed 6 Sooty Shearwaters, 2 more Storm Petrels, a Puffin, 494 Kittiwakes and 204 Auk sp.

Arctic Tern (photo Espen Quinto-Ashman)

23rd October

There was no repeat of our magical double act from last year, while preparations for the evenings 'Harvest home' and George's 21st birthday celebrations also ate into some of the days birding time. The Northern Harrier seemed unfazed by the latest rougher weather being seen a number of times and with the wind having now decreased after the recent storm, most of the days other news came from a two and a half hour sea-watch session from dawn. The highlights were the autumn's first 2 Little Auks, 3 Pomarine Skuas (2 adults and a juvenile), an Arctic Skua, 6 Great Skuas, 54 Sooty Shearwaters,2 late Storm Petrels and 4 Puffins while an hour long sample count also logged 216 Fulmars (including 4 'blue' phase birds), 42 Gannets, 270 Kittiwakes and 1001 Auk sp.  A couple of Crossbills also came in off the sea during the watch, a Long-eared Owl showed well in Holland gardens where the Spotted Flycatcher also remained and the Whimbrel was seen again.

Long-eared Owl (photo Mark Warren)
Pomarine Skua (photo George Gay)

Friday, 23 October 2015

20th-22nd October

In stark contrast to nearby islands, we've been going through a quieter spell as birds continue to filter from the island and away south with just a few changes or newcomers every 24 hours. One such new bird was a Richard's Pipit found at Neven on 20th with the long-staying Gretchen individual again on 21st and both birds seen on a wild and windy 22nd. The male Northern Harrier has remained throughout as has at least one ring-tail Hen Harrier and the unseasonal Whimbrel. In lighter winds it was the first two dates which were the better for passerines with 3 Swallows, 5 Blackcaps, a Yellow-browed Warbler, Siberian Chiffchaff and a late Spotted Flycatcher on the 20th. This was followed the next day by counts of 6 Robins, 5 Wheatears, the best day for thrushes with 112 Redwings, 6 Fieldfares, 3 Song Thrushes and 21 Blackbirds, plus a Lesser Whitethroat, a new Siberian Chiffchaff trapped at the Obs, a Mealy Redpoll and 40 Snow Buntings. Swans, geese and wildfowl have passed through regularly including 8 Whooper Swans on 20th, 7 Barnacle Geese on 21st while migrating flocks of Greylag Geese have been witnessed coming in and out daily the highest total being 580 on the 22nd, on which date there was also a Pintail and the autumn high so far of 13 Gadwall. The best of the rest have been ones or twos of Merlin, Kestrel and Peregrine each day, the odd Jack Snipe and 2 Woodcocks and Black-tailed Godwits on the 21st. 

 Northern Harrier (photo George Gay)
Moorhen (photo Mark Warren)

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

19th October

In light-south westerlies most movement took place early on, and with the wind starting to increase later in the afternoon it looks like the recent calm spell is coming to an end and we'll be back to more traditional wet and windy October weather. The decent start led to another day dominated by the busy morning ringing session at Holland gardens and over 100 Redwings were trapped and ringed for the third day running. Their total of 609 is relatively conservative with at least 250 of these headed straight out south in the first hour of daylight. There were also 43 Blackbirds and 21 Fieldfares plus the Richard's Pipit still at Gretchen, 3 late Swallows, a Dunnock, 4 Robins, the Whinchat, 5 Wheatears, 7 Blackcaps, 3 Yellow-browed Warblers (which included new birds caught/ringed at the Obs and on the north links), 5 Chiffchaffs, only 23 Goldcrests (but many of these were thought to have been newly arrived), a Tree Sparrow, 2 Goldfinches, a Mealy Redpoll and 16 Snow Buntings recorded. The male Northern Harrier was seen early in the morning but it was the first Whimbrel for well over a month on the Links which was the main surprise of the day. A Long-eared Owl caught at Holland gardens at dusk was well admired and also of note were 7 Sooty Shearwaters, a feeding flock of 1000+ Gannets in Nouster Bay, 7 Pink-footed Geese, 7 Barnacle Geese, a ringtail Hen Harrier, 2 Kestrels and 3 Merlins, a Jack Snipe and 3 Woodcocks.

Long-eared Owl (photo Mark Warren)

Monday, 19 October 2015

18th October

Any day with an island first is a special one, and today we were fortunate to have a magical encounter with a HUMPBACK WHALE - the first ever to be seen from North Ronaldsay shores. First seen under circling Gannets between Bridesness and Stromness points at around 11am it conveniently slowly made its way through the firth towards the Obs allowing all at the team, guests and several island residents time to get to the Pier and witness the event. It came remarkably close to shore, always within half a mile and put on a great show, blowing 'frequently' and even brought its tail up and out of the water to dive deeper half a dozen times. The whole experience lasted over an hour (our photos really don't do it justice) before this magnificent beast moved out to the west of the island and headed off in that direction with more purpose. All birds pretty much played second fiddle today, with the male Northern Harrier the highlight again and today it was seen in the company of an adult male Hen Harrier for about 5 minutes further emphasising our belief of quite how different the two races (species) actually are! Understandably, the sea was well watched resulting in 18 Great Northern Divers being logged and there was also another arrival of some 24 Whooper Swans and 10 Pink-footed Geese while 2 Kestrels, a Jack Snipe, 4 Great Skua's and 2 Short-eared Owls were also seen. On the passerine front, it was another busy day at the nets with over 100 birds caught and ringed again (mainly Redwings) and totals of 7 Robins, the Whinchat, 9 Wheatears, 36 Blackbirds, 556 Redwings, 37 Fieldfares, 7 Song Thrushes, 17 Blackcaps, a Yellow-browed Warbler, 9 Chiffchaffs, 5 Siberian Chiffchaffs, a Willow Warbler, 38 Goldcrests, a late Pied Flycatcher at the Observatory, a small number of Finches which included the first Mealy Redpoll of the autumn plus 87 Snow Buntings recorded.

 Humpback Whale (top 3 photos George Gay, fourth Mark Warren)

'Siberian' Chiffchaff (photo Mark Warren) 
Jack Snipe (photo George Gay)