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Contrasting weathers

To misquote a famous novel's opening line and also to echo a previous blog life, I am not writing this sitting in the kitchen sink. I did briefly contemplate it, for the sake of the interconnectedness of all things, but instead I'm taking a cosier refuge on the sofa with a large mug of tea. The morning's weather is foul: driving rain is lashing the window; a gale force wind is howling in the chimney; and occasional raindrops 'ping' in the cold hearth. An indoors day, methinks. Yesterday had been rather different. Working across Scapa Flow on the island of Hoy, the sun had shone its Winter light to good effect, creating a sumptuously glowing landscape of golds and browns as it caught the stems of grasses and reeds, the bark of trees and whole hillsides of heather. My task meant that I missed the best of it, but the wait for the return ferry offered an opportunity for an afternoon walk, which brought sightings of four raptor species: Kestrel, Hen Harrier, Buzzard and
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Calendar images for 2021 using images from Orkney in 2020

From top left: Stonechat; Eurasian Otter; Short-eared Owl; Dandelion; Redshank; Sheep's-bit Scabious; Common Blue butterfly; Atlantic Puffin; Ringed Plover; Red-breasted Mergansers; Grey Seal with pup; Long-tailed Ducks.


A couple of days ago, around about lunchtime, I noticed an atmospheric optical phenomenon in the southern sky. It was a cold but clear Winter's day, so likely ideal circumstances for ice crystals in the atmosphere to refract light forming these sun dogs either side of the Sun. These parhelia lasted for several hours, and whilst continuing to monitor them, I also thought I saw Santa's sleigh and his reindeer nearer to the horizon. I hadn't touched a drop either.

Finstown frolics

With the New Year, inevitably, comes a new bird list. The 2021 list had a slow and soggy start on the first of January, with an afternoon's trudge through the rain from Orphir village, down to Swanbister Bay, then back along the Gyre Road. Swanbister Bay... goodbye sunshine A small flock of Great Northern Divers Yesterday, the weather was much improved, well drier at least, and a trip to Marwick Head produced my first Stoat sighting in ages (ok, ok, a Stoat's not a bird, I know). Marwick Head and the Brough of Birsay From Marwick Head looking south to Hoy Stoat on the cliffs Hoy and the Old Man Marwick Choin and Head, with the Kitchener Memorial Today was just peachy, so a slight detour through Finstown was called for en route to the big city to twitch a rare duck and search the Community Garden for more common birds. The instruction for finding the rare duck was "Look in the bay, behind the bus shelter" and to be honest, driving by the bus stop at 30mph produced the

The translocation of spiders

Orcadian weather is often in stark contrast to that being experienced further south in the UK. Whilst this often means that whatever our weather is, it is horizontal, today was the happy exception to the rule, with horizon to horizon sunshine and scarcely a breath of wind. It was freezing, mind, but hey, we'll take that. As it happened, I spent the day moving business premises: packing, dismantling, driving, mantling and unpacking. Repeat. Given the nature of dusty corners, and the nooks and crannies of garages, this was really just an exercise in spider translocation. However, come sunset, I was ready to call it a day and spend the last of the sun's daily spectacle with a camera in hand. Rose-coloured spectacles not necessary.

Festive frippery

Living on the shores of Scapa Flow, it is quite possible that on Christmas Day I did see three ships, but I wasn't counting. Although there were two visitors to the garden, they definitely weren't Turtle Doves, but they were welcome all the same. A pair of Song Thrushes were spotted rootling through the veg patch Boxing Day morning was spent tidying an outbuilding, appropriately enough collapsing umpteen cardboard boxes to be recycled. Midst the bruck, this Angle Shades moth was found, resting on a plastic bag. Looking at the Butterfly Conservation website, it appears that this moth doesn't overwinter as an adult. The moth obviously hadn't read the latest guidance. As we enter another chapter of lockdown, this time in the depths of Winter, please remember to look after 'your' wildlife. And 'your' wildlife will look after you.

A Winter miscellany

It's been a while, huh? I'm afraid the wildlife watching has been a bit thin on the ground of late but, by way of a catch up, here's a few things from the last week or so. Whilst sorting through some books, I came across this vade mecum or pocket companion from 1777.  This passage about Scotland was written 174 years after the Union of the Crowns and 70 years after the Act of Union... Modern historians seem to be still arguing over the identity of the first King of Scotland, although mainly around when exactly the kingdom came into existence. Some say it was Kenneth 1 (Kenneth MacAlpin),  whose reign began in 843. Others reckon it was Constantin 1 in around 862. Whichever, Google was a long way off in 1777, so I think I can allow this old list to have its own opinion.  Weirdly, it is also available  online , so someone in 1777 was actually w-a-y ahead of their time! Last weekend, a short walk around Hobbister at dusk (3pm-ish) produced a few lovely skyscapes. Sadly, over t