Wednesday 17 August 2016

North Ronaldsay, Orkney

Wednesday 17th August

OK, guess which twit left his laptop charger at Insh Marshes RSPB reserve? Thanks to the RSPB staff who posted it on for me. Brilliant of you and much appreciated.
So without a charger I haven't been update you and so much has happened since those Aberdeen days.

I am now on North Ronaldsay, the most north-easterly of the Orkney Islands, staying in the hostel at the superb North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory.
I arrived on August the sixth. It seems so long now since that mill pond flat sea and clear blue sky enjoyed whilst taking the ferry from Kirkwall.

Two days later, after having walked the west coastline on Sunday, and after having added sooty shearwater to the year list to take that to 272, the sea at the northern end was a battering ram of the highest waves I have ever seen which created a cappuccino froth on the rocks in front of the seawatching hide. The hide was rocking as sixty mile an hour westerly winds whipped the sea into a frenzy.

No two days are the same, the wind abated yet stayed from the west. I started to do census work. Now the island is divided into six sections, A to F to facilitate a survey to be carried out of all the birds present on each day. The island is very flat with pasture for cows and many dry stone walls. Each sector has some sort of lake, except D. There are iris beds and crofters gardens. Crops are lacking with just one small area devoted to a small potato crop.
Then there is the coastline, rock with layered mud/sandstone and herds of the famous seaweed eating sheep.

There is a rosta of all the Bird Observatory staff so that they alternate which sections they cover.
Speaking of the staff, what a wonderful bunch of enthusiastic young people. George and Sam were here last year and it was great to see them again, both very knowledgeable and eager to find birds. With them are Erin and Bryony from Cheltenham, Larissa from Canada and Ellen. Gavin, the son of the Wardens Alison and Kevin, also does a sector. He also carries out bird trapping duties with mist nets and Heligoland traps.
Speaking of mist nets I have to mention an early morning petrel trapping session with Erin, George and Gavin. Forty four storm petrels were caught and at 1:45am Erin shouted over to me, “start to celebrate.” She had just taken a Leaches petrel out of the mist net. Bird number 273.
Overall it has been a week of seals, sheep and seawatching with most days being windy.
Migration is yet to kick off yet yesterday showed signs that it may be just about to do so.
Whilst carrying out my survey of sector D I went to the front door of a croft to ask whether I could look in the garden. The delightful lady, Lotti, said no problem and after a natter about how the island population is declining rapidly I found three willow warblers in the fushcia and sykamore.

So with winds from the south-east and more cloud and even rain forecast for the weekend, hopes are high that the year list will be added to soon. Target for August is ten of which I have four so far.
We have made a sweepstake of possibles at the Bird Obs. Each participant as two birds from a list of sixteen. Have a look at the list and make your prediction over which ones will be UTB (under the belt – that is ticked) by the end of the month:-
great shearwater
pomarine skua
barred warbler
white-rumped sandpiper
wood warbler
marsh warbler
citrine wagtail
sabine's gull
ortolan bunting
common rosefinch
buff-breasted sandpiper
icterine warbler
honey buzzard
American golden plover
Booted warbler

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