Monday, 8 February 2016

February 1st-8th

The wild weather continued with high winds and waves battering the coast, a consequence of the storms being a number of dead seabirds washed up on the beaches. There’s still plenty of live birds about though, with good numbers of wildfowl and waders feeding in the fields across the island. The Northern Harrier was sighted on the 6th chasing Starlings around the observatory, and several Hen Harriers and a Merlin were also present. A Short-eared Owl was patrolling the gardens of Holland House at dusk on the 8th. Passerine-wise the first Robin, Snow Bunting and Skylark of the year were recorded and a flock of 35 Redwings was seen at Holland House. The weather conditions were perfect for dazzling, with the highlight being a Whooper Swan, only the 13th ever ringed on the island. We also caught 9 species of wader, including a retrap Golden Plover originally ringed in 2008, 5 Greylags, a Great Black-backed Gull and a Moorhen. 

Whooper Swan

Golden Plover

Great Black-backed Gull


Greylag Goose


Friday, 5 February 2016

January 1st-31st

January has been a wild month with North Ronaldsay seeing some stormy weather, winds up to 100mph, rain and wintry showers and lightning. Wintering birds have included a few Whooper Swans (5 on 31st), a Taiga Bean Goose, 2 Pinkfeet, a White-fronted Goose (flavirostris) and 2 Barnacle Geese along with over 1000 Greylag Geese, and a Brent Goose was seen on 31st. The male Green-winged Teal was still present and a Common Scoter was seen on 11th. The long-staying Northern Harrier was last noted on 20th and other raptors included Hen Harrier and Merlin. A cold spell mid-month brought an unseasonal male Sparrowhawk, 18 Woodcock and a Long-eared Owl in Holland Gardens. A first winter Glaucous Gull fed on a Greylag carcass near the Observatory for a few days from 11th. Small numbers of Fieldfare and Redwing have been present and a flock of 35 wintering Twite.

Whooper Swan

White-fronted Goose

Brent Goose

Common Scoter

Glaucous Gull

Wall down due to storms

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Volunteer Positions Still Open!!

2015 provided another brilliant season on North Ronaldsay. With Northern Harrier, Veery, Pechora Pipit, a couple Citrine Wagtails, Booted, Blyth's Reed, Subalpine and three Greenish Warblers, Rustic Bunting, Woodchat Shrike, a couple White-rumped Sandpipers, an American Golden Plover and Great Shearwater recorded to name just a few highlights. Impressive movements of Long-tailed Skuas in the spring and several falls of land-birds in the autumn. On top of that Cetaceans provided much excitement with a Humpbacked Whale in October and several sightings of Orcas!

All salaried positions for 2016 are now filled but Assistant Warden Volunteer positions are still open to application until the end of January. Fancy applying? For more details see: 


December 1st - 31st

With staff away, weather, other commitments and festivities taking up much of the remaining time in 2015, coverage was limited. However, the Northern Harrier was seen on the 23rd and 26th. A selection of wildfowl are ever present with counts of 80 Wigeon, 40 Teal, a Gadwall, a couple Shelduck on Gretchen Loch, and half-a-dozen Long-tailed ducks in Nouster counted on the 29th. 
A small volume of hardy passerines were still around with a flock of 30 Twite, a Common Redpoll and a Redwing all seen around the Observatory area on Christmas Day. 

We wish you all a Happy New Year from North Ronaldsay as we enter 2016, and look forward to what the season will bring :-)

Twite (Gavin Woodbridge)

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

29th to 30th November

Nothing to report from the 29th but a look around the south eastern, sheltered coasts on 30th was relatively productive given the time of year - despite the rather violent hail showers! The male Northern Harrier was seen around Hooking Loch and nearby a late Black Redstart showed well on the beach at Haskie was unexpected. A Little Auk flew past Bridesness with the American x Eurasian Wigeon hybrid there among the wildfowl and 4 Snow Buntings were at Kirbest.

Black Redstart

Saturday, 28 November 2015

26th to 28th November

A 'stank' around the south and eastern parts of the island on 26th was largely unproductive with hoped for increases in wildfowl and gulls feeding in the swell failing to materialise. That date did however produce the best counts of passerines with 44 Redwings (including likely 20 new arrivals at Holland gardens), 20 Fieldfares, 29 Blackbirds, a Chiffchaff at the observatory, 45 Twite and 2 Linnets logged. The Green-winged Teal was seen at Gretchen on all three dates while a look at the northern end of the isle on 28th yielded better results. The male Northern Harrier was seen in the Garso and Ancum areas and bar the occasional (thus far undetected) wandering elsewhere he has now clocked up an impressive two months on the isle. A juvenile Dark-bellied Brent Goose at Lenswick (and later past the Obs) was a decent newcomer, an additional adult Whooper Swan had joined the 3 lingering birds, the hybrid American x Eurasian Wigeon was at Bridesness and 31 Snow Buntings near Bewan.

Northern Harrier - still here!

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

21st-25th November

Well its definitely winter!! Frequent spells of cool northerly or north-westerly wind accompanied by either rain, sleet or even snow showers have resulted in relatively little change during the period. With the volunteers all having heading south, coverage is much more limited these days but highlights included the male Northern Harrier again (22nd) and the drake Green-winged Teal (22nd-24th). New parties of Whooper Swans have been a pair of adults (22nd), and a family of 5 (25th) while the redhead Smew was still on Bewan Loch (21st-22nd). An hour long sea-watch (21st) saw 5 Sooty Shearwaters, a Little Auk and a juvenile Glaucous Gull pass the hide but the same duration the next day was much poorer with just a Black-headed Gull and 626 Auk sp. of note. A Long-eared Owl was at Holland gardens (21st-22nd), a male Brambling also there (22nd and 25th), at least 4 lingering Chiffchaffs were spread about, Twite peaked at 36 (on 21st and included a dozen trapped and ringed to seed at the Obs) and finally there were 19 Snow Buntings at Bridesness (22nd).

No recent bird photos so here's the view from the sea-watch hide of a snow covered Fair Isle on 22nd

Friday, 20 November 2015

20th November

Cold!! The best way to sum up the day with sleet showers and a brisk north east wind. There had been a calm spell overnight after the most recent storm, and this prompted some seabird passage with 2.5 hours sea-watching from the hide returning totals of 19 Sooty Shearwaters, a Manx Shearwater, 1263 Fulmars - including 22 'blue phase' individuals, 375 Gannets, 54 Kittiwakes, a very late Puffin, 11 Little Auks and 1147 Auk sp.. A Long-eared Owl, roosting behind a wall near the sea-watching hide had presumably recently crossed the sea and was freshly arrived and the Smew and 5 Goldeneyes were among the wildfowl on Bewan Loch.

17th to 19th November

With winds originating from either the north or west and the last of the volunteers having moving on, there's definitely a winter feel about the place. After the late fall summarised in our last entry, fewer birds were seen on the 17th with 14 Woodcocks, 5 Robins, 184 Blackbirds, 155 Fieldfares, 11 Song Thrushes and 86 Redwings recorded. By the 18th there was an even greater reduction with no more than 40 of any thrush species but there was a Chiffchaff on that date with 2 further individuals at the Observatory on the 19th. The male Northern Harrier was back on the island and seen daily from 17th to 19th with the drake Green-winged Teal (17th and 18th), Common Scoter (17th-19th) and Smew (17th) all lingering too. An adult Glaucous Gull was at Bewan on 17th with a mobile juvenile around the south end the next day and at least 2 Hen Harriers have been present throughout.

Glaucous Gull

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

16th November

Heavy rain and a strong south-east wind overnight delivered perhaps the final fall of the year making for a surprisingly busy day in the field. There wasn't a huge amount of variety, but a dawn to dusk 'thrash' around roughly 50% of the island revealed some decent totals of late migrants. As expected, thrushes dominated with 311 Blackbirds, 750 Fieldfares, 10 Song Thrushes and 226 Redwings counted while at least 50 Woodcocks were also located. The drake Green-winged Teal had relocated to Gretchen Loch (and hence following the pattern of behaviour of last years wintering bird) and also seen were 6 Grey Herons, 17 Pink-footed Geese, 7 Barnacle Geese, the Common Scoter, 2 Hen Harriers, a Jack Snipe, 9 Robins, 2 Chiffchaffs, a Chaffinch, 7 Linnets, 23 Twite and a Snow Bunting.

Green-winged Teal (photo Mark Warren)

Sunday, 15 November 2015

15th November

A sudden drop in the wind to virtually nothing by first light attracted the remaining members of the team up to the hide for a lengthy sea-watch from dawn, while an increasing south-easterly in the afternoon and rain forecast for overnight also offers hope of some late migrants tomorrow. Totals from the busy 4 hour vigil at the north end came to 7 Great Northern Divers, 13 Red-throated Divers at least 1 Black-throated Diver, 12 'blue' Fulmars - with 807 birds counted in an hour sample count, 11 Sooty Shearwaters, a Manx Shearwater, 622 Kittiwakes, 20 Little Auks and 1062 Auk sp. with an additional 211 Guillemots and 11 Razorbills specifically recorded. A required Goose count used up remaining daylight in the afternoon but a drake Green-winged Teal at Bridesness Loch was a nice surprise during the 'drive-about'. The American x Eurasian Wigeon hybrid was also there, the redhead Smew at Bewan Loch and singles of Hen Harrier, Short-eared Owl and Woodpigeon present on the Isle. As has been the norm in recent days, few passerines were noted but among those seen coming in off the sea during the sea-watch were a few each of Starling, Twite and Snow Bunting - with 14 of the later recorded in all.

13th to 14th November

Two days of solid, gale force westerly winds yet still some birds are passing through the island and it remains worthwhile spending time outside avoiding winter paperwork. Highlight on the 13th was an 18 strong flock of (almost certainly Greenland) White-fronted Geese which touched down briefly near Ancum before continuing south. The Pale-bellied Brent Goose, 19 Pink-footed Geese and 8 Barnacle Geese were all seen again as were 35 Long-tailed Ducks and the redhead Smew. The male Northern Harrier was noted at Hooking late in the day with a juvenile Iceland Gull and Great Skua of the Bridesness coast and a Short-eared Owl near Westness. Moving wildfowl were again the feature of the 14th with an even larger, and impressively noisy flock of 52 White-fronted Geese (again not confirmed to race but likely to have been Greenland birds given the winds) coming in off the sea at the Lighthouse before quickly sliding down the east coast to be bound for nearby Sanday. Several groups of Whooper Swans were also logged passing south totalling 29 birds and the Pale-bellied Brent Goose, female Common Scoter and Smew were also recorded. An attempted sea-watch from the Lighthouse yielded 4 Little Auks in an hour and a half with another losing its bearings and heading inland at Hooking while at least 2 ringtail Hen Harriers and 6 Grey Herons were present.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

11th to 12th November

The 11th was a mixed bag with sunshine and showers but it was a decent days birding and among a few scarcities, the standout bird was the male Northern Harrier (making a welcoming return since last seen on 2nd). A Pale-bellied Brent Goose seen at a few locations was typical in its timing on the island but nonetheless it was only the second occurrence of the 2015. Meanwhile the Smew and Common Scoter were both seen again, 20 Pink-footed Geese were noted and 13 Whooper Swans included a new group of 9 south. A juvenile Glaucous Gull flew up the Links, 8 Little Auks and 3 Great Skuas were the best from an hours sea-watch and 10 each of Great Northern and Red-throated Divers were logged off sheltered coasts. 6 Grey Herons, a juvenile Hen Harrier, 3 Merlins, a Black Redstart at Westness, similar numbers of thrushes to yesterday, a single Snow Bunting and 32 Twite completed the days totals. By the 12th a storm was brewing but a calm window from midday prompted a 2 hour sea-watch and a female/immature Velvet Scoter was a great reward and nice addition to the 2015 year list. Also seen were 7 Sooty Shearwaters, a 'blue' Fulmar, a Pomarine Skua, a Great Skua, 262 Kittiwakes, 11 Little Auks and 1368 Auk sp. (in a sample 1 hour long count). Otherwise it was just the Smew and yesterdays Pale-bellied Brent Goose seen from a brief 'drive-about' and with gale force westerly winds having whipping up quickly by dusk we'll be hoping for something interesting tomorrow -if we can stand up! 

Pale-bellied Brent Goose (photo George Gay) 
Smew (photo George Gay)

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

9th to 10th November

A seriously blustery 9th made for tricky birding conditions and as a result not too much was seen. Of note were a juvenile Glaucous Gull at Westness, the Common Scoter still, a Hen Harrier, Peregrine, 3 Great Skuas and 2 Snow Buntings. Calmer conditions on 10th allowed for more passerines to be tracked down and a good thrash around by the dwindling team discovered a small arrival/increase of winter thrushes. Counted were 124 Blackbirds, 132 Fieldfares, 12 Song Thrushes and 404 Redwings. Other late autumn land-based migrants included 2 Jack Snipe, 2 Woodcocks, 27 Skylarks, 26 Meadow Pipits, 23 Rock Pipits, 6 Robins, a Chiffchaff, Siberian Chiffchaff, 2 Goldcrests, 8 Bramblings and 10 Snow Buntings. The Smew was still at Bewan Loch while last winters drake American x Eurasian Wigeon hybrid has returned to the Bridesness coast. Seen on an hours sea-watch were 2 Little Auks and a Sooty Shearwater, there were 3 Little Grebes at Bridesness Loch, 10 Red-throated Divers offshore, 16 Pink-footed and 8 Barnacle Geese among the Greylags and 2 juvenile Hen Harriers toured the island.

Snow Buntings (photos George Gay). Until now, most if not all of our Snow Buntings have appeared to be of the Scandinavian/Greenland race nivalis. The darker bird photographed here on 9th along with a whiter nivalis type, is a clear example of insulae, or Icelandic Snow Bunting.

Monday, 9 November 2015

8th November

Further south-easterly winds which increased to near gale force by the afternoon offered up renewed enthusiasm for the team resulting in slightly better migrant figures being posted. A Ring Ouzel near the mast was new and the days totals of 110 Blackbirds, 116 Fieldfares, 5 Song Thrushes and 149 Redwings were all marginally higher than the last couple of days and there was also a Blackcap, 4 Chiffchaffs, 7 Goldcrests and 5 Snow Buntings. An hours sea-watch was typical of the last few attempts with 2 Sooty Shearwaters, 248 Fulmars, a Great Skua, 3 Little Auks, and 843 Auk sp. logged. The Smew remains on Bewan Loch, 27 Shovelers and 16 Long-tailed Ducks were decent counts while a Water Rail in the road at Nether Linnay looked somewhat out of place.

Water Rail (photo George Gay)