Sunday 28 August 2016

More Days on the Superb Birding Island that is North Ronaldsay.

North Ronaldsay, Orkney, here are the highlights of another great week on this wonderful island with wonderful people:-

Saturday 21st August

A barred warbler has been caught in the mist nets at Holland House and I cycle hard to get the bird onto the list. A regular scarcity I know (hope) I will be seeing more in the field but at least this bird in the hand is securely onto my Green Year list.
From Holland House I decide to survey Section A and search along the dry stone walls that head towards Gretchen, a large pool not far from the Observatory.

A couple approaching the hide there flush almost everything but once the three of us are settled inside waders soon start to return and what variety. Over the next hour a wood sandpiper drops in, nine black-tailed godwits, two ruff, fourteen dunlin, three ringed plover, seven redshank, a lone lapwing and the icing on the cake occurs when five little stint fly in together.

Heading along the beach north and searching the walls once more, a pied flycatcher is fly catching.
Back at Holland House, the ringers have packed up and sitting on a squat folding chair I watch an area of sycamores for an hour. The barred warbler with it's silver engagement ring is seen, a tatty ringed chiff, two willow warblers in better condition, a blackbird, lots of house sparrows, linnets and a few meadow pipits pass.

The afternoon surveying section E with Larissa the highlight is when we watch and count the waders on Westness beach. Twelve species of wader can't be bad for an Orkney island; knot, ruff, dunlin, turnstone, ringed plover, redshank, oystercatchers, curlew, golden plover, a few sanderling, a single curlew sandpiper and four little stint. Brilliant.

Sunday 22nd August

Early in the misty morning George Gay and I do the trap run, that is we see what birds are around the Heligoland traps around the Bird Observatory to catch and ring. It is a cool and foggy morning and a lesser whitethroat is caught at the first trap but an acro eludes us by diving over the stone wall.
A barred warbler flies from out of cover at the next trap and flies hard across a field. One 'in the field', knew I would get one. Willow warbler are taken with the lesser whitethroat to be rung.

I head off for the harbour to do survey work along the shore line. Eight purple sandpipers are the highlight, as confiding as ever once I sit down to watch them. A redstart is a new bird for my Year North Ronaldsay list.
Late afternoon, Sam has found a greenish warbler. Right at the far end of the island in the back garden of a croft in Section F, the bird is seen by all. Sam is on a roll having found wrynecks, barred, icterines, the last I missed despite searching the area, and now a greenish.

Monday 23rd August

Happy (spoiler alert) 84th birthday Mum! Who loves you? Xxxxx

Ringing with the Three Musketeers again, Erin, Gavin and George, twenty eight birds involving twelve species caught including pied flycatchers, swallows and a wheatear.
This is at Holland House again with the twelve mist nets.
Around the buildings a black redstart flits about as a sand martin flies with the swallows.

Cycling around a few key locations, Ancum Willows is first. Here whilst talking with the ex-warden Pete Donnolly, who still lives on the island, a whitethroat is amongst the iris flags and a wryneck comes out onto the low stone wall nearby. It flies past us and lands on wires and even comes down onto the road nearby.
Later Lotti's garden has a barred and a willow warbler in it. The Post Office garden has a lesser whitethroat.
Back at the Bird Observatory, Bryony points out two red-backed shrikes.
In the afternoon it is Larrisa's turn to do the seawatching session and together we sit in the seawatching hide. A couple of sooty shearwaters pass west bound and nine manx. More exciting though is the appearance of five Risso's dolphins. 

After getting Larissa onto them we phone the Bird Observatory and a full Land Rover arrives with the crew. Luckily everyone gets onto the dolphins albeit a bit distantly as they have drifted north west.
Continuing seawatching alone another group of Risso's, six of them come past. Three storm petrels do likewise and a summer plumaged great northern diver.

In the evening one of the red-backed shrikes enters a Heligoland trap and is rung to the delight of all of the visitors in the Obs. My evening is spent with two lovely Swiss ladies, one of whom is a contempory dancer who started dancing at The Mac in Birmingham.

Tuesday 24th August

Up at 5:00am the fog is the thick and there is a light westerly. A garden warbler is caught at Holland and a lesser whitethroat is amongst the buildings. 

The crew are great fun and have such phenomenal energy. Up most of the night and still out there early doors. Brilliant, inspiring group.
The black redstart is still around.
Larissa and I survey Section B once more. We do the first part together and there are good numbers of snipe, or snips as Larissa likes to call them, and willow warblers. We split up as last time. Larissa heads towards Stromness and I to Bride's.
The golden plover is close and numbers over a thousand yet no American or Pacific is hiding amongst them. A fulmar has managed to get itself trapped in a ruined croft and I pick it up carefully, avoiding the spit out oil, and take it to the shore.

Wednesday 25th August

Bryony has found a possible marsh warbler at Bride's! Sam, doing the survey with her, is convinced the acro' is a marsh. 

I am at the seawatching hide alone when the news comes in. I am there because George had a Cory's shearwater pass earlier in the day. The crew assemble at the field where the possible rare warbler was last seen and a mist net assembled to try to catch it. Each attempt the bird misses the net by inches each time; the last attempt has the bird land seemingly at the bottom of the net but as Gavin rushes towards it it appears behind the net and skips over the wall.

Beside the field is a huge area of iris flags and the bird flies off into the cover of these. Sam is not giving up though and heads off in pursuit. Gavin, Erin and George remove their boots and follow. The fun that ensues is immense as the boys wade through thigh deep water in search of the bird.
Eventually the search is called off and most people return to the Observatory with a question mark still hanging over the proper identification.
Sam and I stay and for two hours search, find and get superb views of a . .. marsh warbler. Bird number 276 and a great relief after what happened in May in Lincolnshire. You may remember that I found a marsh warbler, photographed it yet persuaded myself after a couple of hours that I was not sure I was correct. My photographs mostly pointed to marsh but I didn't count it. Now we had the bird and Sam was happy. He is phenomenal with his knowledge of birds and I stand in awe as he reels off the subtle ID features.

Thursday 26th August

My plan had been to stay until the end of the month but the winds seem all wrong for further migrants (how wrong can one be!) and I decide to leave and head for Fair Isle via the Orkney mainland.
Sam and I are out at 5:30am though hoping to re-find the marsh warbler. My aim is to get better photographs especially of the tertials and primaries.
We search but don't find it and after two hours return to the Obs via Holland House garden.
Just time to shower, have breakfast and say the last goodbyes to everyone. 

A team photograph then a team hug ends in a mass tickle.
Onto the ferry, a phone call from George and as the boat heads off across the bay five distant figures wave. Tears and thanks.

North Ronaldsay is superb and the potential to find your own birds is great. Visit and you won't regret it.

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