Sunday, 30 October 2016

Back to North Ronaldsay

Saturday 29th October Light to fresh SW Low cloud, drizzle, mild 10C

So, after two days of resting in the company of very good friends, Alastair and Louise Forsyth and their children, Ellen and Molly; not forgetting Molly's boyfriend Liam, Sid the bearded dragon who is stunningly beautiful and finally Cora their dog, I get to the harbour in Kirkwall. Whilst loading the bike Steve the travelling cyclist I first met in The Lake District six years ago, is here once again. We chat until the ferry that will take me back to North Ronaldsay arrives.
A huge thank to The Forsyth's. I never ask for assistance or accommodation but Alastair is always there to offer both whenever I arrive on Orkney. They are such a lovely family and being in their company is always a delight.
Alastair and I had attended a superb talk the previous evening by Julian Branscombe in Kirkwall. His topic had been the Orkney vole and what a fascinating history that has. The hall connected to St Magnus' Cathedral was full with natural history-minded enthusiasts and the question and answer session after the excellent talk was one of the longest of such I have ever seen. Great evening.
Julian, tall and resplendent with a incredible pair of across the cheek moustachial stripes, which birders and RAF aficionados would appreciate, was witty and quick and he must be commended for the research he has carried out on the voles. A very extensive study with a possible conclusion that the vole population started when Neolithic Man brought the voles to Orkney in clay pots. This could have been a food item or a creature of religious significance or maybe even just a docile pet. However they got here, this species of vole is found nowhere else in Britain.
I first met Julian back on my first Biking Birder ride of 2010 when he put me up for the night after meeting me whilst birding the Deerness area of Orkney. Our next meeting was on Papa Westray, one Orkney's Northern Isles. Julian had found a first for Britain, a chestnut bunting, and despite taking four days to get from Fair Isle, I arrived late one misty afternoon to see that bird crawl around the birders' present feet. I stayed with the mega until dark and it wasn't there the next day. The soles of my shoes were checked for feathers!
Onto the ferry and a two and a half hour crossing, mostly in benign waters. The exception being the final hour of the crossing where the boat took the eastern route around Sanday. Here there was something of a swell but not too severe.

The birds I saw, whilst carrying on my latest stop seasickness routine of singing, included 8 long-tailed ducks, 9 eider, a few tysties (black guillemots) and 3 great northern divers.
Onto North Ronaldsay, I cycle the short distance to the superb North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory and, whilst placing my bike against their hostel wall, I hear what I instantly recognise as Erin's laugh.
On turning around I see the giggling couple of Erin and George, volunteers at the Observatory, holding sparklers! Their two small sparklers, both attached to sticks as Erin is scared of the sparks, soon fizzle out but our laughter doesn't. Hugs and smiles. What a 'home-coming.'

Into the Observatory, so great to be back, and a large Milky Way cheesecake is presented to me. Larissa, the brilliant Canadian birder, had remembered that Milky Ways are my favourite sort of chocolate bar. Well I'll devour that later when all of the staff are back from their census work; sorry we'll devour that!
I go to the hostel to sort my gear. I just sit down in the kitchen when George Gay rushes in.
Northern harrier out here now!”
We rush out but it has moved on. Oh well, at least it is still on the island.
George and I then cycle to the far end of the island to seawatch. Over a two hour watch, some of which I do alone whilst George surveys 'F', we see the following:

A) In half an hour census/seawatch count

68 gannet
202 fulmar
43 kittwake

B) in the two hours

3 great northern divers
2 bonxies (great skuas)
1 manx shearwater
27 sooty shearwaters
1 long-tailed duck

and 2 Risso's dolphin. George saw five!


An evening of sheer enjoyment with Observatory staff, laughter and cheesecake the winning combination. 

Bird log at nine o'clock reveals that there are some special birds to see; hoopoe and green-winged teal are present. Tomorrow could be good.

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