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Showing posts from January, 2021

Uncommonly spectacular

An afternoon's walk along the Gyre and Breck Roads in Orphir raised some excitement when, rounding the corner of a wood, I spotted a raptor in the distance. Unfortunately, by the time I had raised my bins to try and ID the bird, it had disappeared, mobbed by a passing flock of gulls. Watching the general direction for 30 seconds or so, didn't produce another sighting, which probably meant one of two things: the raptor had flown low and away, out of sight behind a low hill; or it had gone to ground to avoid the gulls. Fortuitously, our route went in the direction of the sighting, so when we crested the hill, some time was spent scanning fence posts for perched birds. This drew a blank, but my attention was called to an area of white in an adjacent field, which wasn't as I'd thought a patch of snow, but the feathers from a Common Gull. In the middle of this 'snowstorm' was a female Peregrine falcon. She had obviously stooped into the gull flock and taken one of th

They think it's all plover

It hasn't been above freezing for over a week, well, not if you include the wind chill. And I very do. The upside to this coldness is that there has also been plenty of low Winter sunlight, which adds a little magic and vibrancy to subdued colours or gently highlights subtle contours in the landscape. Making the time to notice these things is part of surviving the dark hyperborean months. Yesterday, in a nearby field, a mixed flock of Golden Plover and Lapwing (or Teeick, Peewit, Pyewipe or Green Plover) spent some time foraging amongst the sheltered, sunlit, southerly-sloping sward. It is comforting to realise that a few moments of wildlife watching with just a hint of warmth can ease the travails of a northerly Winter.

Low tide, low sun

Here are a few images from a late afternoon walk along the shore of Houton Bay, but first a helpful gardening tip... When trying to eradicate Broad-leaved Dock, ensure you remove all of the tap root. A Grey Heron in the shallows There were some Shoveler in the bay And lots of Golden Plover (and Common Gulls) Sunlight on the water A pair of Slavonian Grebes On the mudflats, there were Ringed Plover and Dunlin Almost sunset

Nature Notes #1

Evenings this week have been spent watching Celtic Connections 2021, the annual Celtic music festival from Glasgow, which this year is online. As well as the usual traditional offerings, there are plenty of artists from around the world and lots of celtic fusion, warping genres and styles. The web version lacks a little of the atmosphere, obviously, but there are compensations: no travel necessary, no pricey accommodation to rent, no queue for the bar (or the loo), and the dancing is much less self conscious. A big bonus is the opportunity to experience music from all the artists, not just the ones affordable on a long weekend trip to Glasgow. And there's still another week to go. Highlights for me so far have been Lyre and Talisk. "What's all this got to do with wildlife?" I hear you ponder. Well, recently, I wondered whether this blog needed some music (followers from my previous bloggage will be familiar with the format). However, for Natural Highs and Lows , this

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

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