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May 2006

1st, North Cave Wetlands - A really good morning at our local reserve with a great variety of species, with waders particularly well represented. Amongst these were Oystercatchers, Avocets, Little Ringed Plovers, Ringed Plovers, Lapwings, Snipe, Black tailed Godwits, Redshanks, Common Sandpipers, & Ruffs. The Avocets are now nesting, and the Black tailed Godwits were in summer plumage, a sight I’ve never really seen before. The Pink footed Geese were still amongst the Greylags, and there are still some Ruddy ducks on the lagoons. The Sand Martins were like flies in front of the hide today, and amongst them there were Swallows, and a Swift was also seen, the first of the year here. A Willow warbler was heard on the reserve too. A fantastic and interesting morning with forty three species seen.

2nd - Got within fifteen yards of a fox this morning along Shepherds Lane. It was completely unaware of my presence as it trotted out of the Oilseed field and into the lane. However a car came along and scared it off. The Oilseed Rape is now in full flower, and looks lovely in the increasingly strengthening sun. The Cowslips are now out in the garden, and the Ash is also in flower at the moment. The garden Tulips are at their best.

3rd - Saw my first Swift of the year over the town. In the afternoon a few Swallows were squabbling around the house. Indeed it was quite warm today with a high of 19.8 C.

4th - A fair number of Swifts were hunting in the skies today, screeching loudly as they did, a real sound of summer. The Crab Apple blossom is now fully out. A thundery shower in the morning, but the sun had risen Indian red at dawn.

5th - A Whitethroat seen along Long Lane, the first of the year. In the wonderful sun this afternoon, which saw temperatures up to 21 C, the Crab Apple blossom looked magnificent, and in the garden the Broom is now out.

7th, North Cave Wetlands - A great mornings birding, despite heavy rain at first. A total of forty eight species were seen with waders again well represented with Oystercatcher, Avocet, Little Ringed Plover, Ringed Plover, Lapwing, Dunlin, Ruff, & Redshank. Other interesting observations included the first Common Terns of the year, and I also saw my first Whitethroat of the year. The wildfowl have continued to reduce, with no Teal or Pink footed Geese. The Sand Martins were like flies again around the main hide, and a dozen Swifts were also seen, particularly over the north west of the reserve. A pair of Great Crested Grebes were also seen nesting on one of the islands. An enjoyable morning, despite the rain.

8th - A Sedge warbler seen in the drain alongside Shepherds Lane this morning. Two Whitethroats were also noted along Long Lane.

9th - Two Shelducks seen on Swinemoor, and along the river area we saw Sedge Warblers, Blackcaps, Willow warblers, & Reed Buntings. I also spotted a Roe deer out in the local fields. In the garden there was a female Blackcap in the morning, and then later in the afternoon I saw both a male and female together, hopefully this means we may well have a breeding pair in our area.

10th - A Fox was seen at the top of Shepherds Lane this morning, and also seen in the Parks area this morning were many Willow warblers, as well as the lone Sedge Warbler again. Yellowhammer’s also in good song. In the garden a male and female pair of Blackcaps were seen again. The weather was beautiful today with wall to wall sunshine and pleasant temperatures.

11th - Cow Parsley just starting to come out along the local lanes, and the Horse Chestnut is also beginning to blossom. In the fields the Barley is just starting to develop whiskers. The Oilseed Rape is also still looking wonderful, and along the unsprayed field edges the wildflowers are now thriving.

12th-21st, Orkney Trip
12th - Began our holiday to Orkney today, setting off at 6am and reaching Inverness by 4pm. We passed through the central Highlands on the way, though the weather was largely grey, and indeed was quite damp for a time. Along our journey we saw lots of Oystercatchers out in the fields from Northumberland northwards, and in the Border region we saw quite a few Grey Herons. Lots of gorse was seen along our journey too, particularly wonderful in Fife as it was a bit brighter in that area. We stayed at a Travelodge on the edge of Inverness, and enjoyed a good rest after a long day of journeying. Looking forward to reaching Orkney tomorrow.

13th - Onto Orkney today, travelling up to Thurso to catch the ferry at noon. We had time to visit John O’Groats, and also Dunnet Head from where we had a fantastic view of the Pentland Firth and the Orkney Isles across the way. The journey from Inverness was most pleasant too, with some snow patches still on the highest mountains, and quite a few Buzzards were seen along the route. The crossing to Stromness was OK, though I did feel a bit queasy due to quite a swell. I felt better by the time we reached Hoy though, and we had a view of the Old Man as we sailed by. Birds seen along the journey included most auks, and gannets too. After arriving in Orkney we quickly made our way up to our holiday cottage, passing by Stenness, and the Ring of Brodgar on the way.

The cottage, called Skesquoy, is absolutely perfect and is wonderfully located between the Loch of Hundland to the west and Birsay moors to the north and east. There is nothing but the sound of Curlews, Geese, Oystercatchers, Pipits, and the wind, and the nearest house is at least half a mile away. After settling down we drove up to the Broch at Burness, crossing over Birsay moors where we saw Stonechats, Wheatears, abundant Curlews (which are everywhere on the island), and numerous Oystercatchers. The Broch was in a beautiful location, looking over to Rousay across the Eynhallow strait, and it was a fine evening, if admittedly a bit on the chilly side. On the sea near the Broch a couple of Eiders were seen, as were three Red breasted Mergansers, and on the wing good numbers of Fulmars were seen passing by.

After returning back to the cottage Dad and I went for a walk down to the Loch in front of the property, where we saw a Sedge Warbler, and a Reed Bunting in the marshy areas. The marshy areas themselves are covered in Marsh Marigolds, and on the peripheries there are Primroses, a flower which is surprisingly abundant on the island. Out on the loch we spotted Tufted ducks, Greylag geese, Redshanks, and a Cormorant. It really is one of the most beautiful and peaceful spots that I have ever visited.

14th - We went to the Kitchener Memorial on Marwick Head this morning, where the cliffs are an RSPB reserve. The weather was perfect and indeed surprisingly warm, with very little breeze above the cliffs themselves. Birdlife was abundant with all the usual seabirds nesting on the sheer and impressive cliffs, but there also species about which we aren’t so used too, including Great Skuas, Arctic Skuas, and a lone Raven, which was on top of the actual memorial. However as with any seabird colony it is not only the sights that are impressive, but also the sounds and indeed smell which combine to make it an always memorable experience. The wildflowers were also very nice along the cliff tops and it was a joy to sit and watch the spectacle on such a beautiful day.

However we had more to do this day so we had to eventually depart, and we went down the coast to visit the famous historical sight of Skara Brae. It was quite busy, as you would expect at one of Orkney’s most famous sights, but it was nevertheless very interesting and was located in a beautiful location beside a long golden beach and a tropical looking sea. We also visited the nearby house, home of the local laird, which contained some good information and pictures of the local wildlife, particularly the wildfowl. After finishing off here we headed back to Skesquoy for a bit of lunch, and then enjoyed a quiet afternoon, learning more about this beautiful island and soaking in the surprisingly warm sunshine.

In the evening Dad and I went down to visit the relatively nearby RSPB reserve of the Loons, an inland wetland reserve with some areas of reedbed. It was a nice little spot, the hide located right by the road, and it gave a good view over the small area of wetland which has an impressive species list despite its small size. No doubt winter is the peak season for this reserve, but nevertheless we did see a good number and diversity of species, including a Short eared Owl, a new species for me. Indeed when we returned to the cottage we were treated to another sight of one of these large and impressive hunters. A fantastic day.

15th - Went south to South Ronaldsay today, visiting the Tomb of the Eagles almost at the most southern tip of the Orkney Isles. Loads of interesting artefacts, with a very informative talk given by one of the owners of the site. We then were able to go out to the tomb itself, access to which was by a sort of roller board which you had to lay flat on and pull yourself in by a rope. A memorable experience, and the tomb itself was located right by the sea, which down in this part of the isles is more rugged and wild. However the wildflowers were again beautiful, with Primroses and many others. Bird life too was good with Eiders, along with quite a number of Shags, but most notable were the sightings of a few Black Guillemots, a new personal species for me.

After finishing off here we went up to visit Kirkwall, the capital and main settlement of the Isles. A nice place with an interesting, if not particularly handsome cathedral, and there was also a very interesting museum on the history of Orkney and its peoples. We then headed home, the weather becoming increasingly dull and damp, but at home we were treated to a fantastic view of a Hen Harrier in the back garden of the cottage, a species of raptor which I was hoping to see on our trip. To see it so close to our holiday cottage was fantastic, and this is truly a place I could remain for a long time and never grow tired of. These Orkney Isles are no doubt one of the best kept secrets in Britain and indeed Europe.

16th - Archaeology and history again today, taking in Mae’s Howe, the Stones of Stennes, and the Ring of Brodgar, these three fascinating sites located within a very compact area just north of Stromness. Mae’s Howe was very interesting and we were allowed in and given a small lecture about its history and purposes. Apparently the door way is aligned with the rising sun on the summer solstice. Outside the structure I noted a Redpoll, a new species for me, and it seemed quite tame considering all the people that were around. The Ring of Brodgar and Stones of Stennes are surrounded by lochs and both are very impressive, the Ring of Brodgar particularly so due to its much larger size and slightly move elevated position. In the lochs there were some interesting birds to be seen as well, including Red breasted Mergansers, Common Terns, Ringed Plovers, and most notable of all, a lone Red throated Diver, the number one species I had hoped to see on this trip. They are very handsome and neat birds and hopefully we’ll see more again on this trip.

In the afternoon we went up to Birsay bay and crossed over to the island at low tide. In the rock pools I found two Hermit Crabs, and out on the rocks we saw many Seals, probably about two dozen. On the island Wheatears, & Rock Pipits were hopping about, and other observations include Great Skua, Arctic Skua, Eider, Fulmars, Auks, Shags, & Ringed Plovers. Plenty to see, as so often there is in these Orkney bays, and you could spend all day watching the comings and goings of the abundant wildlife. On the way back we popped up to Burgar Hill, which is approached by a steep and quite rough road. The small hilltop lochan is dominated by three giant wind turbines, but on the lochan itself we were treated to the fantastic spectacle of five Red throated Divers. They were asleep at first, but when a Oystercatcher flew low over them, it startled them and they gave the famous call that they are well know for. A strange sound and one not forgotten. Also up here on this windswept hill, which has a fantastic view of the Eynhallow strait, were Ringed Plovers, Oystercatchers, Curlews, Lapwings, & Tufted ducks. A great end to another terrific day.

17th - We went over to the Isle of Rousay today, taking the small ferry from Tingwall. The little island, just to the north of the Orkney mainland, is a beautiful place and full of interesting birdlife and wildlife. It also contains many historical sights, with Brochs and Howes, particularly on the south coast of the isle which has lovely quiet beaches and great views across to Eynhallow. We stopped to have a look at Mid Howe, which was quite a walk from the car park, and in the same area is an abandoned modern settlement, including a small church. It was a lovely spot, and I would have been happy to have spent the whole day in this little area. The shoreline was abundant in wildlife, and amongst the observations were Eiders, Great Skuas, Arctic Skuas, Black Guillemots, Shags, Dunlin, Ringed Plovers, and Grey Seals. From Mid Howe we went around the island, and had a short picnic and walk on the North East corner of the isle. On the walk we passed near an Arctic Skua, though they didn’t seem particularly aggressive yet. On the ferry back to the mainland I saw a Great Northern Diver out on the sea, a fine sighting to end another enjoyable day.

18th - Went to explore Stromness this morning, a nice little fishing and tourism town, and more appealing than Kirkwall. Lots of quiet and narrow streets, with tight alleyways, some of them running down to the bustling little harbour. After picking up our morning shopping, we went to a little farming museum at Kirbuster, which was very interesting and set in a beautiful area of the island. The museum contained displays on the farming history of the island, and out in the sheds were some antique pieces of old farm equipment. At the museum we also enjoyed some Orkney Ice Cream, without doubt the best ice cream I have ever tasted.

After popping back to Skesquoy for lunch, we went birding in the afternoon, paying repeat visits to Brodgar, the Loons, and Burgar Hill. At Brodgar we saw Red breasted Mergansers, and a Red throated Diver again, along with Eiders, Tufted ducks, Shelducks, Lapwings, Curlews, Oystercatchers, Redshanks, Great Skuas, & Common Terns. At the Loons we saw Shovelers, Mallards, Gadwall, common waders, a Pheasant, and a Sedge Warbler. Finally at Burgar Hill we saw the Red throated Divers again, along with good species such as Wigeon, Tufted duck, Ringed Plover, other common waders, an Arctic Skua, Wheatears, and Swallows. On the way back we saw a few Short eared Owls, and from the cottage a Hen Harrier was seen at the back of the house again. A jolly pleasant and interesting day.

19th - We went over to Hoy today, catching the first ferry of the day. We drove across the island, which is far wilder and rugged compared to the other islands we have visited, with high hills, and deep valleys which have a Highland Glen type appearance. There are also some larger areas of woodland, mostly plantations admittedly, and little lochans are often seen out on the moors. In one such lochan we saw a lone Red throated Diver. Eventually we arrived on the far west coast of the island, and from the small settlement found there, Dad and I set out on the walk to see the Old Man of Hoy, the famous stack. The walk was very enjoyable but when we arrived at the Old Man we found it obscured by thick fog. Though this was disappointing at first, it actually added to the drama of the scene as the stack slowly became visible as the fog cleared. Eventually it became quite clear and the Stack was revealed to us, a fantastic sight which didn’t disappoint. However if anything the cliffs in the area are just as impressive, amongst the highest I’ve seen, and with fog covering the very tops it was incredibly dramatic, almost like the pictures you see of the Cape in South Africa. On the updrafts coming up the cliffs the Fulmars were gliding within touching distance at times, and other birds seen included Auks, Arctic Skuas, Great Skuas, Stonechats, and Wheatears. Indeed we came very close to a Great Skua on our return walk.

On the drive back to the ferry we saw a Hen Harrier hunting, and as we had time before the ferry arrived we paid a visit to a local military museum. Very interesting with a variety of war time equipment and displays on the long naval history of Scapa Flow. Once we arrived back on the mainland we went home for a bit of tea, and then in the evening we went for a drive around the north west of the island, enjoying our last night on this beautiful island. We stopped off at Birsay, where the Seals were seen again, and birds spotted included Eiders, Fulmars, Shags, and even a few Black Guillemots. We also paid a brief visit to the Loons again, where sightings included Teal, and also a Snipe. Our fantastic holiday to Orkney is now almost complete, and it has been a very enjoyable and most contented trip. Usually I’m happy to be returning home, but this time there is a real sense of sadness of leaving this beautiful island, and only holidays to north west Norfolk have had the same effect upon me. Still I look forward to seeing little Billy again.

20th - Began the journey home. The ferry crossing was much better this time as there was a much smaller swell, and there were also more birds about, in particular quite a number of Puffins, as well as other auks, Gannets, & Fulmars. Once back on the Scottish mainland we made our journey back through the Flow Country, a vast area of peat bog which is an internationally important area. Indeed we weren’t all that far away from Lochdhu. Continuing our journey southwards we stopped at the RSPB reserve at Loch Garten, near Abernethy. There we saw the famous Ospreys, both with our eyes and through the cameras that televise the daily goings at the large Visitor centre. Quite busy though, and coming as a shock after a week on Orkney. Other birds seen or heard around the reserve included Common Sandpiper, Goldeneye, Cuckoo, Siskin, & Willow warbler. We also saw quite a few Red Squirrels around the forest, and indeed they were quite tame. Much smaller than our Greys, and indeed far more appealing in most regards. After concluding our brief stop here we continued our journey south, eventually calling it a day at Dunfermline.

21st - Arrived back from Orkney to find everything remarkably greened up since last week. The Hawthorns are now in blossom, though the garden Tulips have now finished. The Spanish Bluebells are still going well, and the Clematis is now out, the hedge next door quite magnificent. The Westwood buttercups are also now in flower.

22nd - A Great Spotted Woodpecker was twice seen on the peanut feeders today. A flock of Swifts were darting around the Sycamores in early afternoon, quite low for this particular species. In the afternoon there were spells of thundery rain.

23rd - The river levels are now quite high after recent rains, with the River Hull higher than it had been at any point last winter. Indeed the ground is so wet at the moment that Beverley Races was called off.

24th - Heavy, thundery, hail showers in the late afternoon.

26th - A female Blackcap was seen in the bird bath, and in the area I also saw juvenile Magpies & Starlings.

28th, North Cave Wetlands - A good morning again, with waders continuing to be the main highlights, with a single Turnstone the main highlight. Chicks are also beginning to appear now, including species such as Black headed Gull, Coot, Ringed Plover, Avocet, Canada Goose, Greylag goose, & Lapwings. A few butterflies were also seen today, including a few Wall Browns. A fine morning.

29th, Spurn Head - Went down to Spurn this morning, an area we under visit, though it is quite difficult to reach as the roads are slow and narrow. Out on Kilnsea flats we saw a single dark bellied Brent Goose, and there were also good waders, including Oystercatchers, Ringed Plovers, Little Ringed Plovers, Dunlin, Sanderlings, Knot, and Grey Plover, and along the beach we saw both Common Terns, but also saw Little Terns, a new species for me. In the scrub were Whitethroats, Linnets, Sedge Warblers, & Meadow Pipits. The tide was in when we arrived and this had forced the waders closer to the shore. A good morning in this famous migration hotspot.

30th - Spotted a Kestrel over the town this afternoon.

31st - A Chiffchaff was heard locally, the first heard since the start of the month.

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