Trip Reports _______________________________________________________ _
Our annual visit to the isolated and depopulating island of North Ronaldsay was once again a success. The first half of the week was dominated by westerly winds which resulted in a good passage of seabirds notably Sooty Shearwaters and lesser numbers of European Storm Petrels. The latter half of the week was dominated by light easterly winds and truly beautiful weather for the island. Passerines were generally thin on the ground although we recorded Bluethroat, Red-backed Shrike, Lesser Whitethroat, Icterine and Yellow-browed Warblers, Common Rosefinch and the Greenland race of Common Redpoll. The final day on Mainland Orkney added several species to the list including Great Northern Divers, Velvet Scoter and Long-tailed Ducks.
September 23rd: Kirkwall - North Ronaldsay including Holland House, Bridesness, Hooking and Hooking Loch, Linklet Bay, The Links and return to NRBO.
Weather: Sunny spells with south/south westerly winds, 14 C.
After checking out at Kirkwall we made the short journey to Kirkwall Airport for a flight to North Ronaldsay the most northerly of the Orkney Islands. We left at 0900 flying over various bays and the island of Sanday and finally landing at North Ronaldsay some fifteen minutes later. On arrival we were met by Kevin from the NRBO. Checked into our various rooms and then started a gentle exploration of the south-eastern sector of the island. Walking down the track from the observatory brought us our first Northern Wheatears, Meadow Pipits, Pied Wagtails and southbound Barn Swallows. In the fields flocks of European Golden Plovers, and lesser numbers of Northern Lapwings. On the road Skylark and a few Linnets. Holland House was next on the agenda a rather grand house that has fallen into disrepair. The gardens here are dominated by stands of fuchsia bushes and stunted sycamore trees. Very quiet apart from a calling Dunnock (first of the autumn). Returned to the road and walked slowly down to Bridesness where the lochan held Little Grebe, Mallard and Tufted Duck. Lunch taken on the sheep dyke watching Ruddy Turnstones, Sanderlings, Common Redshanks and a mixed group of Great Cormorants and Shags. As we walked along the dyke towards Hooking and Hooking Loch parties of waders started to appear. At Hooking Loch we watched good numbers of ducks including Gadwall, Northern Shoveler, Common Teal and Mallard. We then turned onto The Links and with it close views of Common Snipe, Bar-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Common Knot, European Golden Plover and Ringed Plovers. Earlier we had brief views of Black-tailed Godwit, and offshore in Linklet Bay fishing Sandwich and Arctic Terns, Northern Gannets and Razorbills. We walked back towards the surgery with a sizeable flock of Linnets feeding in a field of flowers. Returned to base after our first day on North Ronaldsay a happy and contented group.
September 24th: North Ronaldsay including Seawatching Hide, Trollavatn, Garso, Bewan Loch, Ancum Loch, Central Road.
Weather: Overcast with showers, heavy at times. North west winds, 12 C.
At 0900 Tommy picked us up at the observatory and transported us down the island to the new lighthouse area. Our main objective was watching the sea as weather conditions dictated today’s birding. Short grass areas around the hide attracted good numbers of Ruddy Turnstone, Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Common Redshanks. From 0930 until 1130 we watched the sea which was rather choppy. Seabirds recorded from the hide included Red-throated Diver, Sooty and Manx Shearwaters, Northern Fulmar, Common and Black Guillemots, Great Skua, Razorbill and a sprinkling of Kittiwakes. At 1130 we left the hide with a distant skein of Pink-footed Geese over the central part of the island. We then walked towards Trollavatn a small freshwater lochan and onto Garso Wick. Commoner birds around plus Purple Sandpipers feeding on seaweed strewn rocks in Garso Wick. The rain showers started to get heavier as we took shelter near some silage bales for lunch. Back to the lighthouse and seawatching hide (Royston and David recording a Common Redpoll) for another seawatch. As normal seabirds had diminished from the morning session although we added a juvenile Arctic Skua and two Snow Buntings on the rocky foreshore. A bonus came in the form of two Grey Plovers flying in off the sea. We checked Bewan Loch and walked back towards the observatory along the central road. A good day for seabirds, we live in hope for winds with an easterly element.
September 25th: North Ronaldsay including Holland House, Bewan Loch, Seawatching Hide and The Links.
Weather: Cloudy with heavy showers and a strong north-westerly wind, 10 C.
Today was dominated by strong winds from the northwest which resulted in many birds leaving the island. In addition to this factor the wind made finding small passerines nearly impossible and passing seabirds were further out to sea. Outside the observatory two Arctic Terns flew over towards Gretchen Loch. Shortly afterwards Norma and I noticed a group of Whooper Swans flying high, calling and travelling in a southerly direction. On the loch Common Teal, Eurasian Wigeon and the usual selection of gulls. Nearby a flock of sixteen Pink-footed Geese grazed in a grass field. We walked up towards Holland House with Northern Wheatears for company and European Golden Plovers in the fields. The gardens at Holland House were mostly devoid of birds apart from Eurasian Blackbirds, Wren of the sub-species Hebridensis and small groups of Starlings. Tommy picked us up and transported us down to Bewan Loch. Along the shoreline Snow Buntings and Meadow Pipits. Seawatching was to dominate the days birding activities. The winds made seabirds harder to locate although we managed to get reasonably close views of Sooty and Manx Shearwaters, Northern Gannets, Northern Fulmars, Great and Arctic Skuas, Atlantic Puffin and a single European Storm Petrel. Later in the day we visited The Links but most birds appeared to have left. A revisit to Holland House produced nothing of note so an early return to base was made.
September 26th: North Ronaldsay including Gretchen Loch, Seawatching Hide, Trollavatn, Bewan Loch, Holland House, Nouster Bay.
Weather: Overcast with strong northwest/north winds, 10 C.
We started today by walking towards the sheep dyke and along to the hide overlooking Gretchen Loch. On the loch Eurasian Wigeon, Common Teal and the commoner gulls and waders. Next stop was the post office and then onto the seawatching hide at the northern point of the island. The next two and a half hours was spent looking at the sea (very rough at times). Similar birds to our previous visits but no skuas or storm-petrels. Bonus species came in the form of a first-year Glaucous Gull and a juvenile Red-necked Phalarope. Visits to Trollavatn and Bewan loch were made with the latter attracting a few Northern Shovelers. Back to base via Holland House and Nouster Bay with the regular species being present at the latter.
September 27th: North Ronaldsay including Gretchen Loch, Holland House, Lighthouse area, Trollavatn, Garso Wick, Nether Linnay, Westness, Ancum Loch, Twingness.
Weather: Sunny with light northeast winds 14 C.
Thankfully the winds had decreased overnight and changed direction slightly towards the east. Outside the observatory a single Song Thrush feeding with Eurasian Blackbirds and Linnets. After breakfast we wandered slowly towards Holland House with the commoner waders feeding in grass fields or flying overhead. An added bonus was a flock of Black-tailed Godwits totalling six in number. Near the old kirk we recorded our first Redwings of the autumn. I phoned Tommy who took us down to the new lighthouse. On arrival seabirds were passing close inshore but our main interest was in finding newly arrived passerines from Scandinavia. At Trollavatn we located Common and Jack Snipe, Snow Bunting and a migrant Brambling perched on a stone wall. We walked along the sheep dyke to Garso when I received a phone call relating to rare migrants. Bob picked us up and dropped us near a field full of thistles and rabbit burrows. We quickly found two Bluethroats which showed well on fences and foraging on the ground. Lunch taken, followed by a visit to Westness an old abandoned croft. In and around the croft Willow Warbler, Common Chiffchaff, Whinchat and plenty of Meadow Pipits. Walked back towards Nether Linnay recording a female Blackcap and onto Holland House. Bird activity had died down a lot apart from the regular species present at Ancum and Hooking Lochs. The end of the day was spent looking at two Lapland Longspurs feeding near the observatory a fitting end to an excellent birding day on North Ronaldsay.
September 28th: North Ronaldsay including Westness, Nether Linnay, Gravity, Holland House, The Links, Hooking and Hooking Loch, Burrian Broch, Twingness.
Before breakfast we recorded a Lesser Whitethroat taking insects off the observatory wall. Tommy picked us up at 0910 and took us to Westness. A thorough search here added Common Redpoll perched on the sheep dyke wall. We walked around Nether Linnay and Garso without success. A phone call alerted us to Gravity where an immature Red-backed Shrike was noted catching insects from a low post. At Holland House a first year Common Rosefinch and a noted influx of Goldcrests. After lunch we walked down towards Hooking and The Links the latter having a rather mobile Yellow-browed Warbler. Fields near Hooking attracted Redwing, Fieldfare, parties of Common Snipe and the commoner ducks on Hooking Loch. A first year Hen Harrier was in the area of The Links hunting for prey. Our final birding areas were at Burrian Broch and Twingness with the latter holding a Pied Flycatcher. A tough but rewarding day on North Ronaldsay.
September 29th: North Ronaldsay including Nouster Bay, Burrian Broch, Linklet Bay, Hooking and Central Road.
Weather: Sunny with very light winds, 16 C.
Clear skies overnight prompted a mass exodus of birds form the island to points further south. We had a leisurely walk along Nouster Bay recording the commoner wading birds and offshore a few Razorbills and passing Northern Gannets. Near Burrian Broch I located a first-year Pale-bellied Brent Goose resting on the sea with Common Eiders. Lunch was taken near Bridesness Point with a fly-over Lapland Longspur. We walked outside the sheep dyke until we reached Linklet Bay. Calm conditions here allowed us to study Red-throated Divers in a variety of plumages, Common Eider and shorebirds along the sand and rocky foreshore. Bird life was extremely quiet although we had a bonus at the end of the day when Roy located an Icterine Warbler catching insects in a croft garden. Back to base for our last night on North Ronaldsay.
September 30th: North Ronaldsay including the New Lighthouse, Westness and Ancum Loch. Mainland Orkney including Loch of Harray, Churchill Barriers and Loch Tankarness.
Weather: Clear and sunny with westerly winds 14 C.
Today we had to split into two groups due to flight space and schedules to and from Kirkwall Airport. The main party departed at 0910 for Kirkwall with Jock and me staying on North Ronaldsay until late afternoon. I started with a walk towards Holland House and a brief look into Gretchen Loch. The latter held similar species to the last few days. On arrival at the lighthouse area we promptly found a female Merlin coming in off the sea. Northern Wheatears (Greenland races) were also conspicuous travelling in small groups and perching regularly on fences and stone walls. We checked Westness again without success although a different Hen Harrier was a welcome sight. Shortly after 1515 hours we called it a day and travelled back to the observatory. We met up with Roy and Kirkwall Airport where the remainder of the group had a great days birding. Loch of Harray produced numerous water birds including Slavonian Grebe and Common Pochard. Visits were made to the Ring of Brodgar and another broch nearby. After dropping David off at the airport we drove down towards the Churchill Barriers a good area to scan from into the many secluded water areas of mainland Orkney. Great Northern Diver and Velvet Scoter were two species of note. Time was getting on a bit although Long-tailed Ducks were seen near Kirkwall Harbour. After dropping Steve and Norma off at the airport we visited Loch of Tankarness which was packed full with dabbling ducks and Greylag Geese.
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