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One good tern leads to some bother

The past week has seen me on a bit of a thrash around the isles, with work on Eday, Stronsay and Westray. Only Stronsay provided any time for nature-watching, although my 'office' for the day on Eday had calling Red-throated Divers flying overhead.

Arctic Tern, Stronsay

Green-veined White butterfly, Stronsay

Swallow, Stronsay

By way of relaxation, on Saturday I helped out at an event for the Orkney Nature Festival, as the Orkney Field Club had organised a walk through Russadale. We had Hen Harriers and Redpolls to watch, whilst the air was filled with the sounds of Cuckoo, Willow Warbler, Wren, Blackbird and Stonechat.
Common Heath moth, Russadale

Redpoll of some stripe, Russadale

Dog violet, Russadale

Millipede, Russadale

Red Admiral butterfly, Russadale

Sunday's meteorology wasn't particularly conducive to going outdoors, but we made the most of a short weather window (too short, as it turned out) to walk a little of the west coast of West Mainland. There are many more species of wildflowers in bloom now, with colourful carpets beginning to form along the clifftops.
Spring Squill

With breeding birds either being on eggs, feeding chicks or trying to shepherd their fledglings, everything seemed to be chasing everything else in a non-stop horizon to horizon dogfight.

A Hooded Crow sees off a Raven

But at least the Fulmars can be relied upon to photo bomb any image of the coast 😊

This Summer we thought we would be mostly worrying about auks after the terrible wreck in the North Sea in late Summer 2021. We are still concerned about their current numbers, but the biggest and most obvious worry is for Great Skuas, or Bonxies, which are succumbing to Bird Flu at a rate of knots. They're not everyone's favourite bird, possibly no-one's, as they are piratical thugs to other seabirds. They're a top predator, just like a Lion, so they definitely suffer a bias for not having fur.

Some rather sobering statistics appeared recently in a post on the RSPB Shetland Facebook page:

"Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) of the Highly Pathogenic H5N8 strain was detected in Scottish populations of bonxies last summer. This predatory seabird species has a small and restricted global breeding range, with a world population of around 16,000 breeding pairs. At the last census in the year 2000, 60% of the world breeding population was found in Scotland, with over three-quarters of Scottish birds nesting in Shetland and Orkney."

Which, I guess, means that large losses in the Northern Isles have a big effect on global numbers of Great Skuas.

Sadly, most coastal walks at the moment will feature at least one scene like this...

Rest In Peace, dark and fierce Bonxie

And our trauma wasn't over yet. My attention was drawn to a kerfuffle right in the middle of the coastal path, which resolved itself into a moth larva being attacked by red ants. I am advised that the caterpillar may well be that of a Large Yellow Underwing (thanks, AF).

In happier news, since the previous post, I have received half a dozen reports of Large Red Damselflies on the wing in Orkney, so it just remains for me to see one on home turf.


  1. Surprised to see the Red Admiral! We don't get ours until July. However already clocked Broad Bodied and four spotted Chasers, Black Tailed Skimmers plus many Damsels. I think we will have a good year.

    1. Hi Mark, That is a good haul of odes (pun intended!). There's a bit of debate as to whether Orkney's early Red Admirals are migrants from the Continent or over-Wintering individuals. I thought that south, they over-Wintered so should be on the wing earlier than now?

  2. Graeme, yes the Bonxie situation is grim. I've found four dead or dying in the last few weeks. I've seen one through the Patch this year, and that's with with increased observation due to my fortuitous new work arrangements (not having to go to work), by this date, there have in past years been five or six at least. Counts on Sandy Loch, Hoy would be useful - there were 50 or so there the other week, I usually record 80+. Maybe not my favourite bird but one of them, I do like skuas in general. Other bird flu victims appear to be Great Black-backed Gulls and I'd be interested if you come across any of those dead or dying. I found a Whooper Swan washed up, dead the other day also. And Pink-footed Goose also appears to be vulnerable. Fortunately, Kittiwakes seem to be unaffected, interesting as they have some similar social behaviours to Bonxies - colonial nesters which regularly closely socialise on nearby freshwater bodies.

    Red Admirals are migrants, there have been a few Painted Lady recently, but there have been very strong moth movements from the south and into the south of England recently, lots of Striped Hawk-moth amongst others.

    1. Thank you for the info, Alastair. Not seen any Great Black-backed casualties yet...

  3. Are Red Admirals migrants? I suppose that would make sense. I thought Painted Ladies and Clouded Yellows were our only migrants.

  4. Hi Mark, some are, some aren't, I think. Up here, the Spring ones defo are. Also Silver Y moths. It's the same winds which bring the rare birds, and occasionally dragonflies!


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