Friday 11 November 2016

I Am Stranded on North Ronaldsay . . Or Am I?

Friday 11th November Fresh to Very strong SE-E

Sunny intervals, Heavy rain in the evening, cold 7C

The ferry timetable on the Orkney Ferries website states the ferry to Kirkwall will leave North Ronaldsay at 11:00 a.m. I feel relaxed as I pack the bike and clean the hostel. It is time for me to start the long cycle south. Time to go home.
Everything is done. The kitchen, bedroom and bathroom are all clean and the bike is as heavy as ever with the four panniers full, the tent and sleeping bag beneath The Lads and Ophelia the Orca.
I come out of the hostel.
Where's the ferry? I saw it in harbour ten minutes ago.
It has gone!
The time is 10:20 a.m. and it has gone.
I rush around to see that it is half way across the bay to Papa Westray. I am stuck on North Ronaldsay!
I rush into the Bird Observatory and check with Larissa and Samuel on the internet.
11:00 a.m. - that's what Orkney Ferries website states. No notice of any changes on the company's home page. Two weeks ago the Friday ferry here was postponed until Saturday due to the weather. That was displayed on the home page. No such changes displayed this time.
Not too happily, actually I am rather cross (!), I phone the main office.
The first lady who answers soon passes me on to another colleague. The next one does the same. The next one asks for my telephone number and says that she will ring back after consulting someone else.
By now it is ten to 11 and thinking that I will be here for another week on North Ronaldsay, I go with Larissa and Samuel to the World War Memorial about a mile away to pay respects. Remembrance Day, 11th of the 11th at 11.

Larissa reads a poem out by John McCrae after we observe the two minutes silence.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

A phone call from Orkney Ferries. They are sending the ferry back to fetch me. I can't believe it!
Twenty minutes later after a mad dash back to the Observatory to collect everything, I am on the ferry waving goodbye to Alison, Kevin, Larissa and Samuel. Kirkwall here I come.

Thank you Orkney Ferries. I hope you will put my suggestion on your home page in capitals:-


Thursday 10th November     light E to SW by evening

Two heavy showers first thing. Then sunshine and sunny intervals. Rainbows late afternoon and a star-filled sky in the night.

An early morning seawatch again for Samuel Perfect and I in the hide at the north end of North Ronaldsay. Soaked on the way there by a shrp and heavy shower, the hide has large wet patches as it is in need of some TLC, tender loving care. Mind you of the three bird hides on North Ronladsay this one is in the best condition.
Conditions are reasonable. Red-throated and great northern divers are the best birds we see in our two hour seawatch. A report comes in that Papa Westray, fifteen miles or so to the west has six white-billed divers offshore. I was happy with the one we saw a few days ago.
Fulmars are steadily going past as usual yet all other seabirds seem to be going in all directions. Gannets, fulmars, kittiwakes and the very occasional auk species may be going north or south. We count for an hour.

Leaving the hide we search for gulls but don't find any white wingers among the common, herring and great black-backed gulls on view. 

A female merlin puts a few waders up as she passes by.
Back to the Bird Observatory, Samuel stops to search the garden at Holland and texts me to say he has found a long-eared owl and a waxwing.
I find the owl easily enough. It flies over my head and stares at me.

After lunch I go down to Gretchen. The shoreline here is being pounded by high, twenty foot waves. Strange to see because otherwise the sea is very flat. the waves just grow as they approach the land. The crash of them on nearby rocks is exhilarating and a couple of times I nearly get soaked.

There's a seal in among the foam. It watches me for awhile before riding the surf like a leaping dolphin.

After a visit to the hide at Gretchen, a large nearby pool, a shower approaches that makes a huge, high rainbow over the scene.

Returning to the low cliff, I sit and watch as the Sun sinks towards the horizon over distant hills on Rousay. The colours change and the surge of the surf changes with them. The noise is tremendous and the thrill of the outdoors is complete. Watch this on a TV or sit and have the noise and spray hit you? 

A Gibbous Moon and a clear starry night shows me my way back to the hostel late evening. My last night here, I will be leaving for Orkney Mainland tomorrow.


Tuesday 8 November 2016

A Gale Doth Blow!

Tuesday 8th November Very strong SE-E Sunny intervals and showers, cold 5C (wind chill makes it feel 1C)

The wind is back in a vengeance and from a different direction as of late, south-easterly. Samuel Perfect and I make our way to the north-west end of North Ronaldsay yet again for a morning's seawatching. A face-stinging rain shower has both of us sheltering against a dry stone wall but it soon passes in the gale.

Most passing birds are hurtling past but a long way out. Immediately apparent is the number of auks; hundreds of them, guillemots and razorbills, maybe puffins but too far out to discern species. We take turns in counting them for half an hour each. The one hour count is 1411!
Otherwise, bird-wise there are just a few sooty shearwaters and red-throated divers, three of each, two great northern divers and fair numbers of gannets and fulmars zooming past in fewer numbers than of late.
Leaving the shelter of the trembling bird hide, Samuel and I go to look out over The Skerries to search through the gulls hunkering down on the rocks. Great black backed and herring gulls only, we turn our faces back into the wind.

Two whooper swans have recently arrived and move from a small pool to the larger Bewan Loch.
Remembrance Poppies are available at the airport waiting room. I feel better to have one for Friday.

Now, after a laundry afternoon, it is time to watch the news as the US Presidency is decided.

Monday 7 November 2016

A Calm Day on North Ronaldsay Ends With Fireworks

Monday 7th November Light N Cloudy, cold 5C

A calmer day, wind-wise, George and I run out of the Bird Observatory lounge when the Northern harrier passes.
Red-breasted merganser

Later a walk down to the beach at Nouster, a group of common seals are on the rocks nearby and I crawl over some grass to get close views.

Down to the harbour, a single kittiwake and a couple of fulmars are sitting on its end.

Back to the Bird Observatory, a female hen harrier passes nearby.

A belated bonfire night after dark is fun with fireworks provided by Alison and Kevin, the wardens of the Bird Observatory.

Sunday 6 November 2016

North Ronaldsay Seawatch Gives Us Yet Another Great Bird

Sunday 6th November Very strong N – easing to strong later

heavy showers AM, cold 7C

The day starts with a message from Nepal on Facebook. Mike Grundeman is asking how things are going. Attached is a superb photograph that reminds me I haven't been in mountain regions for a couple of years.

Out early again, cycling into the gale and showers with Samuel Perfect to go and seawatch from the hide on the north-west coast of North Ronaldsay.
The last two days had been tough weather wise and although this morning is no different one can only go so long before raising one's binoculars.
Only minutes pass once we have set up and I shout . . .

white-billed diver!”

No, it can't be........... Yes it is! White-billed diver heading north.”

The diver is very close to the shore and flying straight past us. Flying just above the waves prevents it from being lost in the waves and swell. Both of us have great views of such a rare bird.
Maybe we are tired but we don't display the same ebullience we had with the Fea's petrel a week ago. Instead we carefully go through the features we both saw and it is handshakes and congratulations.
White-billed diver, bird number 315 BOU.
Texts are sent and I phone Mum and Dad with the news of yet another Green year tick.
Back to the seawatch, sooty shearwaters are passing but in fewer numbers than recently.

Erin and George arrive from the Bird Observatory and together the four of us seawatch for an hour or so.
Soon after they have left, George phones to say he has something avian to show us. Their Land Rover is parked about one hundred yards away and Erin is sitting with a juvenile gannet on her lap. They take it back to the Observatory for assessment, processing and ringing before releasing it from the harbour.
I start a one hour count. The final figures for that hour are as follows:-

Fulmar 1208
Gannet 86
Kittiwake 50
Auk sp, 36
Guillemot 15
Litte auk 2
Tystie 2
Sooty shearwater 12
cormorant 1
Great black backed gull 16
Common gull 45
Herring gull 7
Curlew 1
Purple sandpiper 1
Long-tailed duck 3

Totals for the three and a half hour seawatch :-

Sooty shearwater 27
White-billed diver 1
Great Northern diver 1
Red-throated diver 3
Little auk 3

12:30 Samuel and I start to cycle back towards the Observatory. We stop to look over a large pool; two pairs of gadwall, one pair of shovelor and a pair of red-breasted mergansers on here with 26 bar-tailed godwits on the side.
Around twenty snipe are sheltering behind a tall dry stone wall and a little further we come across the bar-tailed godwits again in a field.

A relaxing afternoon, I read about the race over in the US, not for the Presidency but for the Big Year. Always fascinating, this year is no different and the ABA (American Birding Association) Blog details the four front runners.

BB 2010 Oops, crash and a motorway Abominable Snowman in Hemel Hempstead January 5th

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