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Showing posts from April, 2021

Eyes to the skies

Previously on 'Natural Highs and Lows'... "What WAS going to be my 100th bird species of the year?" As Fortune would have it, the next day saw a trip to the island of Hoy, a place of frequent pilgrimage in less virus-laden times. With all the restrictions on movement, my last trip had been in... hmmm... August, some eight months ago. That day I saw my last dragonfly of 2020 and it will be a few weeks yet before the first damselflies of 2021 are on the wing. But this post is about birds, hopefully. Aboard the Hoy Head, as she gently nosed out of Houton Bay headed for Lyness, the sky was blue from horizon to horizon. The waters of Scapa Flow were barely troubled by a wave. The view back to Houton and its old seaplane base was idyllic, although later that day the hill to the north would be ablaze as a fire got out of control. The loose aim of the day was to see White-tailed Eagle, by any measure a cracking bird to mark a century of species for the year (please note that

Peachy beach

Friday was so peachy that it could've only been peachier with the addition of raspberry sauce and vanilla ice cream. The weather was easily the most pleasant of the year so far, with blue skies and warm sunshine. In fact, it was so Spring-like, that I cleared my diary and offski'd to the beach at Churchill Barrier 4. The footpaths through the dunes were liberally edged with Dandelions and Coltsfoot, with plenty of bumblebees making the most of the pollen and nectar bonanza. This is likely a Common Carder. Nearer the tide line, a colourful fragment of urchin shell and a pearlescent periwinkle (?) caught my eye. Further up the beach, there were several species of bird foraging for insects, including this Pied Wagtail and Wheatear, but much excitement ensued when a Little Tern flew by. This tiny sea urchin shell is only about an inch across, it's pastel green colour making it stand out against the shell sand. Towards the South Ronaldsay end of the beach were about half a dozen


Following Easter's icy embrace and as April progressed, Winter began to ease its grip upon Orkney. At least, temporarily. A fortnight ago, the archipelago hummed to the tune of a legion of lawn mowers, hastily unearthed from dusty corners of sheds and garages. This past week has seen some pleasant sunny days, albeit with a cool breeze at times. For a few days, there was a new visitor to the garden, a male Blackcap. Apples were quickly deployed as an enticement to hang around, but this fella was already in Summer mode and hunting insects through the bare bushes and trees. He was constantly on the move, which made photography difficult, and the salt-encrusted windows didn't help either. This week also saw some volunteer training for the Orkney Native Wildlife Project, an initiative which aims to protect an endemic sub-species of rodent, the Orkney Vole, as well as all our ground-nesting birds (for the avoidance of doubt, that's most of them). Several years ago, I had signed u

Dragons and other flying stuff

Yesterday (Saturday) was a bit of a dragonfest. Not because my favourite order of insects are on the wing yet, at least not in Orkney, but because the BDS was hosting its Scottish conference 2021 online. Lots of interesting talks about rare species, extraordinary behaviour, habitat management and public engagement. All the while that I was indoors, staring at a computer screen, there were regular updates on my phone about another winged predator, as a White-tailed Eagle was being seen over moorland not far to the north. So as soon as the conference was over, a short drive was taken to Birsay Moors in the hope of seeing an eagle. En route, a flock of about a hundred Golden Plover flew across the road in front of the car, their jinking flight flashing the white and gold of their plumage as the birds turned one way and then the other. Up on the moors, it was a struggle to find any birds. A couple of Ravens were keeping their wary eyes on us, a few Meadow Pipits appeared out of the heather

After the gales

Most of the Easter weekend was lost to gales, snow and hail showers, with little in the way of wildlife watching to show for it. However, one jigsaw was completed and another started. By mid week, things had improved a bit, in as much as the wind had eased off to "flippin' breezy" (technical meteorological term), although the wind chill still kept temperatures below freezing. One evening, whilst eating our evening meal, a Short-eared Owl made a brief visit to the rough grassland beyond our neighbour's garden, so apologies for this hastily-shot photo of a moving target taken through a filthy window. Today dawned with yet another covering of snow, but with the lightest winds for some while. The view across to the hills on island of Hoy highlighted the difference in altitude of the viewer and the view. The sunny morning encouraged the local male Stonechat into song and he even let me approach a bit closer than normal for a photo. In the afternoon, there was a trip to Yes

Gyre Wood

This is the southern end of the Gyre Wood in Orphir, a small area of woodland with a burn running through it, surrounded by farmland pasture and sandwiched between moorland and coast. I f things turn out as planned, this post could be the first of a series from this location. In early April, new growth is sprouting wherever it can. Here's a Pink Purslane roseate which is growing in the moss on a tree bough that leans out over the burn. And there are swathes of Butterbur carpeting the woodland floor. And to my surprise, there's also Dog's Mercury, usually an indicator of ancient woodland, so I do not know whether its presence is accidental or not. Meantime, the Butterbur is attracting a few hardy, early bumblebee queens, like this White-tailed Bumblebee. Blackbirds forage in the leaf litter, in search of tasty morsels. And another species of bumblebee, the Buff-tailed Bumblebee was also helping itself to the Butterbur's bounty. Finally, just in case you haven't had e