After a bright start, the first strong south-easterly winds for weeks whipped up and with heavy rain from lunchtime, expectations developed that there would be a few migrants. The day began once more with the VEERY which re-appeared in a mist-net at Holland gardens early doors, though it generally remained elusive in the dense fuscia and proved difficult to catch up with during the day. The most notable arrival though was another bird likely to have originated from the other side of the Atlantic and another surprise arrival-a North American (or small race) Canada Goose at Stromness Point. After our awareness was very much raised to the numerous forms by an individual on the island last October, this bird instantly stood out and though we're far from experts, features suggest its another of the form interior or Todd's Canada Goose. Most of the other sightings were after the rain started lashing down and understandably came from the sheltered west coast. Presumably, yesterdays Red-necked Phalarope was seen briefly on pools at Torness, before re-locating to Ancum Loch and a female Bluethroat along walls near Upper Linnay was the first of the year. Other migrants in this area to offering encouragement for tomorrow include 2 Spotted Flycatchers (first of year), a Short-eared Owl, Cuckoo and a Pied Flycatcher, while the 2 Curlew Sandpipers remained at Bewan Loch
Small race, probably Todd's Canada Goose (5 photos by Stephen Rutt)
We said this spring had been more about quality rather than quantity and the surprise discovery of a first-summer VEERY (capitol letters justified at this point!) at Holland gardens early morning raised the bar to a new level. This smart, little catharus, North Ronaldsay's second (first in 2002) and Britain's eleventh was found in a mist-net and after release in the nearby Kirkyard showed frequently enough in the sycamores there to at least mid-morning before returning to the gardens by evening. The rest of the day was something of a blur but we mustn't forget the Rustic Bunting offered up fine support, being seen once again at Ancum Willows and it has now been present for 10 days. Throw in another Red-necked Phalarope, which flew west over the school early afternoon, the first Green Sandpiper of the year, a Wood Sandpiper at dusk, the 2 Curlew Sandpipers, a drake Garganey and a Snow Bunting, and few could deny-it had been a veery good day!
While we're still not exactly receiving many migrants, the few that we are getting have been of a certain quality. A wet 27th, with a blustery southerly wind was the quietest day but a 'flavissima' Yellow Wagtail (the first confirmed record of the race since 2011) near Dennishill offered encouragement for the next day which was busier. The discovery of 3 Red-necked Phalaropes on Bewan Loch at lunchtime were the undisputed highlight, but like so many of this years birds they moved on quickly with all but the finder left disappointed. Another couple of year ticks came in the form of a Corncrake flushed near Hooking Loch and a male Ruff which flew over the Observatory. The 29th saw the return of the sunshine and some old favourites as both the male Rustic Bunting (back at Ancum Willows) and the Bee-eater (zooming past the Lighthouse) were both seen again for the first time since the 26th! Also re-appearing that date was presumably the same Black-throated Diver in Nouster Bay, with new birds represented by a first-summer Little Gull at Bridesness, a Cuckoo and Garden Warbler. Tying up loose ends, also seen on 27th were a pair of Garganey (with the drake on 29th), Sparrowhawk (to 28th), the juvenile Iceland Gull (to 28th) and 11 Lesser Black-backed Gulls. On 28th the adult Glaucous Gull was still on the golf course, 27 Tufted Ducks was a good count, 2 smart Curlew Sandpipers, 104 Dunlins and 4 Black-tailed Godwits were the pick of the waders and 2 late Snow Buntings were the most notable passerines.
There's still plenty of interest for visiting birders despite the persistent north-westerly winds 'blocking' large numbers of potential newcomers. The singing male Rustic Bunting at Ancum willows on both dates continues to be the star draw, although it can be frustrating and elusive. More of a surprise was the return of the Bee-eater, seen on a gate near the Observatory late afternoon on 26th before being chased off by Swallows and climbing high in the direction of Sanday (after 1 was reported there on 25th). The adult Glaucous Gull was seen again on 26th as was a drake Garganey and 3 Common Redpolls, while the only new birds to make it to the island were a summer plumaged Curlew Sandpiper among commoner waders at Trolla Vatn and a group of 7 Jackdaws which flew south.
A bit of warmth in the air and possibly some east in the southerly wind on 23rd brought some real quality arrivals. Pride and place went to the islands third Bee-eater which was found on wires at Burray just after midday. Those quick off the mark connected with this the brightest of rarities but after about half an hour (during which time it munched on 4 Bees), it headed off high to the north presumably Shetland bound. Not far behind it was the male Rustic Bunting which re-appeared at Ancum Willows. Though generally elusive and often entering the Irises at Ancum Loch (which we tend to avoid at this time of year due to breeding birds) it even burst into song on a few occasions and was seen again on 24th. Third place, but nonetheless a great find went too a drake Green-winged Teal on Bewan Loch in the afternoon - our second of the year and typical arrival date too. Add in 11 Great Northern Divers, the lingering Garganey, a Sparrowhawk, a new Iceland Gull, 9 Tree Sparrows and a Siskin and you have the makings of a pretty decent days birding on North Ronaldsay. Breakfast on the 24th was interrupted by a phone call alerting us to Killer Whales off the Lighthouse and brief, and slightly distant views were obtained by the team and guests of at least 5 animals before they headed towards Sanday. Newcomers included a rather tatty Adult Glaucous Gull on the golf course and a Grey Wagtail while there were now at least 4 Common Redpolls present. Spring passage waders have perhaps reached their peak with 343 Ringed Plovers, 119 Dunlins, 297 Sanderlings, 12 Knot and 3 Black-tailed Godwits logged.
Bee-Eater (photo George Gay)
Rustic Bunting (photo George Gay)
Green-winged Teal ( all photos Stephen Rutt)
And how about this female which was paired with the Green winged Teal? Facially it seems to tick the boxes?
A real variety of weather with a few migrants arriving in rain and southerlies on 21st with sea-watching dominating again on the 22nd. The drake Garganey was seen again near the Mill and new birds on the former date were mainly at the north end where a Kestrel, 2 Barnacle Geese, 2 Common Sandpiper, Whitethroat and Willow Warbler. The lingering juvenile Iceland Gull and Tree Sparrow were also seen again in that part of the island. A 6 hour effort (perched on very un-comfortable rocks) from the point at Westness on 22nd produced at least 1 Long-tailed Skua (one north with another loafing afterwards, so possibly the same bird?), a group of 3 Pomarine Skuas, a summer-plumaged Black-throated Diver, 6 Arctic Skuas, 10 Great Skuas, 3 unidentified Skuas, 10 Manx Shearwaters and 152 Puffins.
Migrants remain few and far between but the wardening teams efforts have been rewarded with some quality rarities in their place. The rarest bird of the year so far was a Woodchat Shrike seen briefly on roadside fences near the Ancum Willows on 19th before disappearing. Just the third island record of this southern species it hasn't yet been relocated although the poor weather has hampered census since then, so there is still some hope it may be re-found. Much more obliging was the smart male Rustic Bunting, found in almost exactly the same place at the Ancum pump station the next afternoon. Always a pleasure to see and the third in five years (all males in spring), it showed well to the assembled crowd before disappearing by evening. Most of the other sightings came from the 18th when there was a good tally of locally scarce birds with the first-summer Marsh Harrier, Black-throated Diver, pair of Garganey, Iceland Gull and Short-eared Owl all seen again. There was also a drake Common Scoter in Nouster Bay on that date, relocating to Linklet by 20th when a first-summer Little Gull was seen, a Sparrowhawk, single Cuckoo's on 18th and 19th and 2 Common Redpolls from 19th to 20th.
Pretty quiet the last few days and a bit of a struggle with limited new arrivals despite more promising south-easterly winds and rain overnight on 14th/15th. Only a Greenshank was of note on the first day of the period with a pair of Garganey near the mill the pick of the sightings from the 15th and they remained to 17th. That day also saw the only (tiny) arrival of passerines which included a Tree Sparrow at the Lighthouse, 2 Song Thrushes and a handful of warblers including a Garden Warbler at the Obs. A Black-throated Diver in Nouster bay on 16th and 17th was assumed to be last weeks bird and also through there passed 6 Common Scoter on the latter date. A wide ranging first-summer Marsh Harrier on 17th was by far the best bird of the period on a day which also included the first Short-eared Owl of the year, 3 Sparrowhawks, an Iceland Gull, 10 Carrion Crows and single Redpoll and Siskin.
With westerly winds whipping up and then veering into the north-west on the 13th, there was only one thing to do and it was very much all eyes on the sea from the point at Westness. A short sea-watch session on the evening of the 12th logged a flock of at least 7 distant Long-tailed Skuas but an early start the next morning turned into a very special day! A total of 79 Long-tailed Skuas passed in 5 hours (0600-1100), in various flock sizes and there were even groups of 9 and 4 picked up flying behind us cutting the corner over the land!! Also seen were 8 Pomarine Skuas, 10 Arctic and 16 Great Skuas with 4 Skua sp too distant to identify for certain. This represents a record day total for Long-tailed Skua and these stunning birds have now been picked up passing Westness on almost every sea-watch attempt there in the right conditions-143 birds in the last 3 years, with just 33 birds (from various locations) recorded in the fist 25 years of the observatories history. While the numbers are still short of those moving off the Outer Hebridies, it seems that spring Skua passage always has passed North Ronaldsay- someone just needed to look at the right bit of sea! But that wasn't the end to the action off the coast and just after 3.30, the first pod of Killer Whales for three years were picked up moving north off West Beach. There were at least 4 (including a large bull), but sadly they only stayed with us for about 20 minutes or so, being last seen off the Lighthouse and eluding the masses. Other sightings from the 12th included a drake Garganey on Hooking Loch again, female Blue-headed Wagtail on the golf course, a Sparrowhawk and Tree Pipit while on the 13th, a late Goldcrest and Dunnock among the birds caught and ringed at Holland House in the evening indicated how far behind spring migration still is.
Bits and pieces the last few days with the 9th definitely being the best day weather wise and also for the birds seen. Gull movement was evident with 2 different juvenile Iceland Gulls (Lenswick and out high off the north end) and an adult Little Gull (Bridesness), with 33 Black-headed, 65 Common and 10 Herring Gulls also noted heading out north. A pair of Garganey were at Hooking, with the first Hen Harrier (ringtail) and Merlin for a while with a Sparrowhawk and a late arrival of 8 Woodpigeons also seen. Commoner wader species reaching their highest totals so far were 799 Turnstone and 177 Ringed Plovers with 51 Knot also present while Arctic Terns built to 309. A clear arrival of Hirundines saw 118 Swallows and 8 Sand Martins recorded while other passerines included 2 Black Redstarts, a Whinchat, 87 Wheatears, 4 Sedge Warblers, 14 Chiffchaffs, 5 Willow Warblers a Goldfinch, 3 Redpolls and 3 Snow Buntings. The 10th began dry, but heavy rain and easterly winds made conditions difficult in the afternoon despite the promise of new arrivals the following day. Not much was seen though with a Kestrel, 4 Black-tailed Godwits, 2 Greenshanks, 5 Tree Pipits, 2 Rock Pipits (including a 'littoralis'), a Ring Ouzel and Rook the highlights. Despite this promise the 11th delivered fewer grounded passerines than expected with non-passerines dominating the days highlights. A nearly full summer-plumaged Black-throated Diver in Nouster bay was the smartest bird, with a juvenile Iceland Gull in the same area also nice, a late Whooper Swan, a big increase in Arctic Terns to 862 and a flock of 8 Collared Doves leading the way in terms of quality and quantity. Singles of House and Sand Martin were seen with a Rook, 10 Carrion Crows,17 Hooded Crows, 2 Tree Sparrows at Breckan (first of the year) and 9 Lesser black-backed Gulls on the move.
Another decent day with a moderate south-westerly wind and occasional showers delivered another Raptor surprise just before lunch. This time it was a smart Rough-legged Buzzard, the 15th island record and first since 2010 which arrived in off the sea at Hooking before appearing to land and disappearing. Attempts to find it on the ground failed but it was picked up again high over the south end of the island at about 1.15pm and from here it headed out to sea to the north-east and was then seen over Fair Isle less than an hour later. Among the migrant passerines were a female Blue-headed Wagtail at Bridesness, 2 Sand Martins, 6 Redstarts, the Mistle Thrush again, a Fieldfare, similar numbers of Warblers to yesterday, at least 7 Carrion Crows and 2 Mealy Redpolls. An evening build up of Arctic Terns saw 185 recorded and waders were moving again with 45 summer-plumaged Knot, 31 Dunlins, 47 Golden Plovers and the first Lapwing chicks were at last seen. Winter fare included a late Long-tailed Duck with the Greenland White-fronted Goose lingering on still.
A very blustery day with a strong force 8-9 wind all day which turned out to be fairly productive on both the land and sea. A morning sea-watch (0900-1230) from the point at Westness detected spring Skua passage for the third year running with an early Long-tailed Skua (9.10) and a Pomarine Skua (11.55), plus 2 Arctic Skuas, 14 Great Skuas, an unidentified Skua, 2 Manx Shearwaters and 1015 Fulmars (1000 of which passed in one flock!) recorded. A Quail seen a couple of times in the Mid-park area during the afternoon was the highlight on land but there was also the first Jack Snipe of the Spring, a Wood Sandpiper and Greenshank still plus 12 Knot on Torness. Passerines were harder to find, but 2 Rock Pipits were the first in a while with a Dunnock also new and totals of 2 Redstarts, a Whinchat, 3 Pied Flycatchers, a smattering of Warblers including 2 Whitethroats, a Siskin and 3 Snow Buntings.
There were plenty of new arrivals today, do doubt forced down by the constant rain and a light north-westerly wind which had increased by the late afternoon. There was no outstanding rarity as was the case this time last year but a good days birding produced 3 Garganey at Hooking Loch, a drake Scaup at Bridesness and a Wood Sandpiper on the scrape at Scottigar among the highlights. Passerine migrants were slightly more numerous than yesterday with 3 Sand Martins, 19 Swallows, 3 Tree Pipits, 2 Robins, a Black Redstart, 9 Redstarts, 4 Whinchats, 5 Song Thrush, a Mistle Thrush at mid-park, a Grasshopper Warbler at Sangar ditch, 4 Lesser Whitethroats,2 Whitethroats, a Garden Warbler, 3 Blackcaps, 8 Chiffchaffs, 7 Willow Warblers, Pied Flycatcher and 2 Mealy Redpolls logged. There was also a Cuckoo and 2 female Sparrowhawks while wader numbers are now building too. 141 Ringed Plovers represented their highest count of the year, with 107 Sanderlings, 48 Dunlins, 408 Turnstones, 7 Whimbrel and a Black-tailed Godwit also counted. Hangers-on from winter included the Greenland White-fronted Goose and 7 Barnacle Geese while on the other foot, returning Arctic Terns have already started to set up colonies at traditional sit
A decent arrival of birds in the last couple of days with many spring migrants registering their first appearances of the year. It was perhaps not as busy as expected, but a light sprinkling of passerines all over the island on 4th included 2 Redstarts, a Fieldfare, Song Thrush, Sedge Warbler, 3 Blackcaps, 5 Lesser Whitethroats, Pied Flycatcher, 9 Willow Warblers, 9 Chiffchaffs and 2 Siskins. There was also a Kestrel and Sparrowhawk, 7 Whimbrels with a wave of 84 Arctic Terns moving through north while one of the most impressive sights were the 36 Carrion Crows (31 of them in one flock!) and 7 Hooded Crows which went south late on. The 5th produced slightly more variety, with Common Sandpiper, Cuckoo, Whinchat and Garden Warbler new for the year. Other migrants from the day included a Sparrowhawk, 47 Arctic Terns, 2 Woodpigeons, an eared Owl sp, a flyover 'flava' Wagtail, 2 Redstarts, Ring Ouzel, 62 Wheatears, 2 Whitethroats, 5 Lesser Whitethroats, 8 Blackcaps, 10 Chiffchaffs, 10 Willow Warblers, 3 Goldcrests, a Pied Flycatcher ringing control and 2 Bramblings. Maybe we'll get that scarcity tomorrow...
Pleasant conditions of the 2nd tuned to wetter weather the next afternoon as the winds swung to the east-just what we wanted! The White-rumped Sandpiper remained faithful to Bewan Loch on both dates and 5 Black-tailed Godwits were the pick of other waders on 2nd. Late on that day a group of corvids including 3 Rooks, 13 Hooded Crows and at least 9 Carrion Crows headed out south. But it was during the afternoon on the 3rd that birds began to appear as the rain started. Singles of Redstart, 'flava' Wagtail and Whitethroat were all firsts of the year with 6 Lesser Whitethroats, 9 Willow Warblers, 8 Chiffchaffs, 4 Robins, a Brambling and a Kestrel hinting at things to come.
While the weather was pleasant enough, the day looked like being a quiet one until George found a White-rumped Sandpiper at Bewan Loch alongside a couple of Dunlin mid-afternoon. Almost certainly the recent Papa Westray bird, this is the 16th individual (10 of which were in 2005) to be recorded on North Ronaldsay but it is the first in spring. With the exception of 10 Pink-footed Geese that really was it today, but we'll take little gems like that-a great bird to watch and enjoy.
White-rumped Sandpiper (photos Mark Warren top 2, George Gay flight shot)