4 December 2012

Sanday Waders

It's that time of the year again when members of the Orkney Ringing Group (ORG) and the Higland Ringing Group (HRG) go over to Sanday to do some wader ringing with target species being the Sanderling and the Purple Sandpiper. This year's visit took place between the 28 Nov and 3 Dec.

Also this year was some survey work for a Scottish National Hertiage (SNH) shorebirds study was also carried out over the first couple of days.

28 Nov

Colin, Brian R, Dave A, Helen and Lorna from ORG and Simon, Kenny and Nigel from HRG travelled out to Sanday and carried out some of the shorebird survey work and also started identifying potential sites for this year's ringing.

29 Nov

I travelled out on the morning boat and met up with the team at the Ayre Rock Hostel which was to be our base for the trip. I went out with Brian R to take a look along the beach to the North of Hine Greenie to see what waders were about. We found a small flock of Sanderling and identified an individual bird that had been colour ringed on a previous visit. On the way back to the car I saw my first Jack Snipe when we flushed it from the grass on the dunes.

In the afternoon I helped out with the shorebird survey covering an area of shore line to the North of Otterswick Bay.

30 Nov

Alison from the North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory (NRBO) arrived on the morning boat to join the team.

With the survey work completed it was time to focus on the ringing. Two catches were made today, both at the Bay of Lopness. The first catch consisted of 2 Purple Sandpipers and 9 Turnstones.

The second catch of consisted of 10 Purple Sandpipers, 5 Turnstones and 2 Sanderling.

One of the Purple Sandpipers was a retrap and was originally ringed on North Ronaldsay in May 2009.
Gavin from the NRBO and Ron and Brian E from the HRG arrived on the evening boat to complete the team.

1 Dec

Another two catches were made today. The first catch was at the Ness of Brough and consisted of 32 Purple Sandpipers and 1 Turnstone. While Ron, Nigel, Gavin and myself processed the catch the rest of the team set off to look for another location to set the nets. While we processing the birds Ron explained to Gavin and myself about using the bill length of the Purple Sandpipers to identify where the birds had originated from. Those with the longer bills had migrated from Canada/Iceland and those with the shorter bills had migrated from Scandinavia. He also talked us through aging the birds explaining that there were thrre different things to look for. These were the colour of the lesser and median coverts, the colour of the tertials and the wear on the tips of the outer primaries.

The second catch was back at the Bay of Lopness and consisted of 3 Purple Sandpipers and 5 Turnstones.

2 Dec

Another two catches were made today. The first catch was at Hine Greenie and consisted of 42 Sanderling and 1 Dunlin.

Setting the cannon net on the beach at Hine Greenie

The second catch was at Whitemill Bay and consisted of 7 Purple Sandpipers and 11 Turnstones.

Dave A, Helen, Brian R, Lorna, Alison and Gavin departed on the evening Ferry as they had other commitments on the Monday.

3 Dec

Simon and Kenny departed on the morning boat leaving Ron, Nigel and and Brian E to do some sand sampling at Hine Greenie to try and identify what the Sanderling were feeding on and Colin and myself to drive around the island looking for colour ringed Sanderling.

Unfortunately the weather was against us with strong winds and heavy rain. Colin and myself met up with the sand sampling team and took them back to base to analyse the samples they had recovered from the beach. The analysis revealed that there wasn't much food in the sand which may explain why we weren't seeing large numbers of birds in the usual spots. Why there was a lack of food still needs to be investigated.

Nigel, Colin and myself left Sanday on the evening boat with Ron and Brian following the next morning. All in all it had been a good weekend with some more Sanderling being colour ringed. There should be a couple of follow up visits over the winter to look for colour ringed indiviuals and it will be interesting to see if any are spotted on their breeding ground next spring.

Ringing Summary

The totals caught were:

Dunlin                     1
Purple Sandpiper          54
Sanderling                44
Turnstone                 31
Totals                   130

6 November 2012

Waxwing time

With the increasing number of Waxwings appearing in Orkney there is now a large number of apple halves out in the garden in an attempt to see some in the garden.

However it was a phone call from Colin this lunchtime to say he had just caught some in his garden if I was interested in ringing them. I was soon on my way.

A total of 11 Waxwings were ringed, one adult and ten youngsters.

An adult Waxwing
You can tell the difference between the juvenile and the adult by looking at the markings on the primary feathers. In the photo above of the adult you can see the white bands on the bottom edges of the primary feathers. These would be absent on the juvenile's feathers.

Hopefully I'll see some in my garden soon. There is already plans to plant lots of berry producing plants with the aim of making the garden more attractive for next winter.

21 October 2012

A pleasant Sunday afternoon.

After the heavy rain of Friday night/Saturday morning today turned out to be rather pleasant. The morning was spent doing outdoor jobs around the garden and after lunch I managed to finish strimming the lawn. Just as I had finished the strimming Colin rang to say he was going to go over to a ringing site on Deerness to see if there were any Autumn migrants still about.

I met up with him just after half three and we put two nets up. Just as last time as soon as we put on the Goldcrest soundtrack we got an immediate response and there were Goldcrests popping out of the bushes to see what was going on but only one ended up in the net.

It wasn't long before they lost interest in the soundtrack and just carried on flitting through the bushes feeding, the same as the last time we were at this site.

In between net checks we had a wander down the lane to see what else was about. There were good numbers of Goldcrests flitting through the vegetation along the side of the lane and Redwings flying around between the fields. A stop at one of the nearby gardens revealed a couple of female Blackcaps, three Brambling, a couple of Chaffinch, half a dozen House Sparrows, a Robin and a Wren was heard calling.

Back at the ringing site we decided to put a third net up along one of the outer edges of the site as there was a lot of Blackbird activity on that side of the site.

The net checks produced another Goldcrest, a Robin and a couple of Blackbirds. Then as it started to go dark another net check produced a female Chaffinch, two female Blackcaps (could they have been the two we saw earlier in the nearby garden?), three more Blackbirds and the Robin we caught earlier came back for another go!

By now it was dark and a final net check didn't produce anything else so it was time to pack up and head for home. Still no Redwings in the nets.

Final catch for the day was 14 new birds:

Blackbird     8
Blackcap     2
Chaffinch     1
Goldcrest     2
Robin           1

16 October 2012

15 Oct 12 - A Golden Opportunity

Having missed out on a ringing session on Saturday, due to the weather, before returning home from my work trip South I was looking forward to seeing some of the migrants that had been arriving on Orkney while I had been away.

There didn't seem to be too much lurking in the bushes around the garden and in the field that surrounds the cottage there was only a Song Thrush, a Lapwing, a couple of Redshank and twenty Curlew. A drive into town to do a few bits and pieces didn't reveal too much either. Not a Redwing or Fieldfare to be seen.

As I was having a late lunch the phone rang and it was my trainer to say he was going out to a local site on East Mainland to see if there were any migrants about. I arrived at at the site at 3:30 just as he and another member of the group were putting up the first of two mist nets. Once they were both setup, an MP3 player playing Goldcrest calls was started and within seconds the bushes next to one of the nets was alive with Goldcrests popping in and out. Six of them went into the net and it was a promising start to the afternoon.

Having processed the six we went back to check the nets but they were empty. The Goldcrests seemed to have got wise to the MP3 player and were avoiding the net. The player was turned off for a bit and then back on and we caught a few more Goldcrests but not in big numbers. On one net check whilst removing one Goldcrest from the net another one flew straight into the net only 3ft from where I was standing. Most birds would have avoided the nets totally while we were stood next to them.

On one of the net checks we also had a Blackbird. As the the afternoon drew to an end and the light started to fade more Blackbirds started appearing from the surrounding countryside and moving into our catching site. Another couple of  checks of the nets produced a few more Blackbirds for ringing.

Also as the light faded Redwings started to appear but none of them ended up in the nets. Another bird that was flitting around the area and managed to avoid getting caught was a Yellow-browed Warbler, that would have been a new species for me to ring. However it was still a new species for me as I haven't seen one before so at least that was something.

The final net round also produced a male Chaffinch. In total we caught and ringed 21 birds so a good afternoon.

16 Oct 12

As a quick follow up note I had Goldcrests in the garden this morning, so hopefully in the future I might be able to catch a few here too.

8 October 2012

7 Oct 12 - A Raptor in my net

It was an early start this morning; the alarm went off at 5am. I got up and peered out of the window and was confronted with thick fog. This didn’t bode well for a morning out ringing. Still it was early and the weather could improve.

A quick breakfast and I was on my way from the cottage I was staying in on the East side of Preston over to Fleetwood to meet up with Seumus at what was going to be a new site for me. I arrived at the designated meeting point around 6:15am to a clear day. The sun was just starting to lighten the sky and a pair of Robins were having a singing contest. A couple of Redshank flew overhead and a Wren joined in with the singing contest.

Seumus arrived soon afterwards and we headed off down a track not far away to the ringing site. As we were getting the net poles off of the roof of Seumus’ car we were treated to a Barn Owl appearing out of the dark and sauntering overhead.

We set up three nets around the site with an MP3 lure for Greenfinch at one of the nets and another for Meadow Pipits at one of the other nets.

During the morning the fog rolled in and out on several occasions making noticeable changes to the air temperature. Having started off with a temperature of +2C by the end of the morning it was t-shirt and sunglasses.

It ended up being quite a busy morning with 2 retraps and 42 new birds for the site, as follows (retraps in brackets):

Blackbird                 2

Blue Tit                   2

Great Tit                 (1)

Greenfinch              27

Meadow Pipit          10

Robin                     (1)

and the highlight of the day, my first

Sparrowhawk           1 male

A big thanks to Seumus for hosting me again, it was a great morning and hopefully the weather will be good again next Saturday for another session before I head for home.

30 Aug 12 – Knot a bad day

We had been in our new house 6 days and were moving the final boxes over from the rented cottage when my trainer rang to say that he was going to try for a cannon net catch that afternoon as he had found a flock of Knot in amongst other waders on one of the nearby beaches.

As this was a new species for me I was keen to go along, so I took time out from moving boxes and went to the meeting point where I met up with my trainer and a couple of other members of the ringing group.

With the net set up it was a question of waiting for the birds to move up the beach and into the capture area. Just when things were looking good a chap appeared on the beach with a small group of dogs. Everything went on to hold until he and the dogs disappeared. After what seemed to be an age he disappeared off the beach and we were back into readiness mode for the catch when the chap reappeared with his dogs. Back to the waiting game.

Eventually he disappeared, the birds returned, albeit in small numbers, and the net was fired. In total we caught:

Knot                       6

Pied Wagtail            1

Ringed Plover          1

Starling                  1

Knot aren’t ringed very often in Orkney so it was good to have the chance to ring some.

30 Jul 12 - 21 Sep 12 - The Swallow Season

This year saw me make seven visits to the local Swallow roost reed bed. The number of Swallows was down on the last couple of years as like so many other parts of the country the weather hasn’t been the best summer could offer. If it wasn’t raining the wind was too strong to open the mist nets.

So rather than break the season down visit by visit, as I’m trying to catch up on the blog, here is a summary of the birds I ringed this season with retraps in brackets:

Pied Wagtail             1

Reed Bunting           8 (2)

Sand Martin             1

Sedge Warbler         17 (1)

Starling                   1

Swallow                  85

Wren                      2

25 and 27 July 12 - Fleetwood Nature Reserve

It has been a while since I last posted on my blog so now with the evenings starting to draw in and finding myself South on business and a bit of time in the evenings to catch up on things it is time to bring the blog up to date.

Just after I last posted back in July, I put an offer in on a cottage that we had viewed and decided that we would like to make our home. We had been renting a cottage for just over 4 years and with the clock ticking away towards the deadline for us to move out house hunting had been high on our list of summer activities.

Having put the offer in and had it accepted we then had a 5 week window before we collected the key, so sorting and packing became the number 1 activity. However at the end of July I had a work trip South and took the opportunity to go out with Seumus and Ian and do a couple of ringing sessions on the Fleetwood Nature reserve.

Both sessions were fairly quiet but I managed to ring with retraps in brackets:

Greenfinch              1

Reed Warbler           3 (2)

Willow Warbler         1 (1)

Wren                      2 (1)

As usual thanks to Seumus and Ian for having me along and thanks also to Ian for the Wren photo.

15 July 2012

Geese Roundup

The Greylag Goose is a very common resident breeding bird here in Orkney with the numbers increasing in the winter with the arrival of birds from further North.

At this time of the year we go to an area on West Mainland to catch and ring some of the resident geese while they are moulting and unable to fly off. As well as the usual metal ring the geese are fitted either with an Orange neck collar or a White Darvic ring on the leg if they are too small to take a neck collar.

Both coloured rings allow for identifying individual birds without the need for recapature, all you need is a telescope or binoculars if they are close enough. The advantage of a neck colour is that these birds spend either a lot of time on the water or wading around the edges of water so their legs are hidden from view making individual identification from leg rings rather difficult.

Most of the geese ringed to date appear to stay fairly close to their breeding territories but a small number have been seen wintering in East Anglia!!

Saturday 7 Jul 12

This afternoon nine of us went to two sites and ringed a total of 143 geese, 100 geese at the first site and 43 at the second.

Tuesday 10 Jul 12

This evening five of us made a return visit to the second site and caught and ringed another 42 geese.

Some of the geese waiting to be released

Little Raptors

The trouble with summer is that there ares so many things going on that getting time on the computer seems to be very limited, consequently I have got a bit behind with the blog. So now it is time to play catch up again.

Monday 2 Jul 12

Just as I was finishing work for the day I got a call from Brian to say that if I wanted to ring some Buzzard chicks I needed to meet up with him immediately. I wasn't going to miss an opportunity like that so I grabbed my kit and set off to meet him.

When I got to the meeting point I found Brian and Stuart waiting for me. They had been out monitoring some of the raptor sites in the area and a visit to the Buzzard nest was their last port of call for the day.

As Brian climbed up to the nest one of the parents was flying around close by keeping an eye one him but was a bit pre-occupied by a Sparrowhawk who had decided to mob it.

Soon there were four chicks for me to ring and weigh. Once they had been ringed Stuart fitted wing tags so that they could be identified out in the field without the need to recapture them. The wing tags were Red in colour with a single White letter and were fitted to each wing. So now when I see Buzzards out in the field I will be looking for tags M, X, Y and Z.

The last chick to be fitted with wing tags.

Chicks ringed and tagged and ready to return to the nest

With the ringing and tagging complete the chicks were returned to the nest.

Thursday 5 Jul 12

Another call from Brian to say there were some more raptor chicks ready for ringing. I met up with Brian at the meeting point where we were joined by Lorna.

The first port of call was a nest box, which we had visted last year but had been empty at that time. This year it had been occupied by a pair of Kestrels and there were four chicks for ringing. It was interesting to note that the Kestrel site that we had ringed at last year, had been visited nearly 5 weeks earlier than this year's nest site.

We then moved onto the next site which was occupied by a pair Sparrowhawks and this nest held another four chicks. Four seems to be a good number for all the sites visited this week.

29 June 2012

Two days in a row

This week seems to have gone so quickly but now I have a bit of time to update the blog with some ringing activity at the start of the week.

Monday 25 Jun 12 - Gull chicks

On Monday evening Colin, Dave A and myself headed for one of the gull colonies to ring some gull chicks. This colony has Common Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls. Although there were Common Gulls on the colony we didn't find any chicks to ring. So I'm not sure whether it has been a poor year for them or whether we were just a bit too late and they have all fledged.

The Great Black-back Gulls were more successful and we found and ringed around 30 chicks which was significantly better than last year.

As we were leaving the colony Dave A spotted a solitary chick on the far boundary of the field next to the one we were crossing. Dave set off to get it while Colin and I both kept an eye on where the chick was going as it set off along the boundary fence. As Dave got closer it moved into the field and disappeared into the undergrowth. We tried to guide Dave to where we had last seen it when I suddenly spotted it coming out from underneath the gate in the boundary fence next to us.

Now it was Colin's turn to move in and he soon had the chick caught. Of course I wasn't allowed to ring it until I could identify it. It certainly wasn't a Common Gull chick as the bill was totally wrong. It didn't look like all the Great Black-backed gulls that we had just been ringing either. Now I was showing my weakness in gull chick ID. I hadn't spotted that Colin kept on looking up into the sky as a hint and eventually he said 'What's above us?' I looked up and there were some Herring Gulls circling overhead. So tenatively I asked if it was a Herring Gull chick. Before Colin had a chance to answer Dave arrived back with us and said 'Herring Gull, thought it was.' So that ended my deliberations with the answer revealed.

I definitely need to do some more homework on gull chick ID and also remember that there might sometimes be a clue in the sky!!

Tuesday 26 Jun 12 - Seabirds and others

The good weather continues and tonight Colin, Dave A and myself went down onto South Ronaldsay to ring Razorbill and Shag chicks. The Shags were also going to be colour ringed as part of a project to see where they go once they have fledged.

The original plan was to colour ring the Shags over on Swona when we went over on the annual sea bird ringing trip but with the recent poor weather and more forecast it wasn't looking good for getting over there so it was decided we would colour ring some of the Shag chicks on South Ronaldsay instead.

On the way to where we were going to park the car we spotted some Oystercatcher chicks in one of the fields. Dave managed to catch a couple of them to start the evening's ringing totals.

After a short walk from where we parked the car we arrived on site. The first birds to be ringed were Razorbills, an adult and a chick. Then we started on the Shags, ringing about 15 of them. We also found a Herring Gull chick in the area sat on its nest so that was ringed as well.

We then moved onto another site, where some more Shag chicks were ringed.

On the way back to the car we were crossing a bit of moorland when a Bonxie (Great Skua) started taking a bit of interest in us. We spread out and started looking around the area in case there were any Bonxie chicks about. The Bonxie disappeared only to re-appear a few minutes later with a mate for backup, however after several overhead passes they disappeared again.

As we were searching the area Dave spotted the remains of a bird lying on the ground. As he moved in for a closer look he noticed an adult Meadow Pipit exit from the other side of a small clump of heather. Moving round the clump he found a small opening and inside there were three chicks. So thanks to his keen observation I got to ring a new species of chick.

We also added another Oystercatcher chick to the total for the evening.

All in all a successful evening. It will be interesting to see if and when any of our colour ringed Shags get reported.

22 May 2012

Is it about timing? Dunno!

They say it's all about timing.

Today was a case in hand.

This afternoon I was half way between home and Kirkwall taking my good lady to the hospital for a routine appointment when the mobile goes.

It was my trainer. He had just found a nest containing three Dunnock chicks in his garden and they were ready for ringing, was I interested? I sure was. I dropped my good lady off at the hospital and went straight round to my trainer's house, about two minutes from the hospital.

He showed me where the nest was. Mr and Mrs Dunnock couldn't have picked a bush with more thorns on if they had tried. Fortunately on this occassion my trainer retrieved the chicks from the nest and once I had ringed them he also put them back.

That was another new species of chicks for me, the third this year. I wonder what will be next.

19 May 2012

Sanday Sanderlings

Today four members of the Orkney Ringing Group (Colin, Dave, Brian and myself) went over to Sanday to look for colour ringed Sanderling and if the opportunity presented itself  to do a cannon net catch. The group is involved in a study of Sanderling along the Eastern Flyway. The project originally started on North Ronaldsay but was extended to cover Sanday where upto 600 wintering Sanderling gather. I went over to Sanday in November 2010 to spend the weekend ringing mainly Sanderling and Purple Sandpipers and went back in early 2011 for a day to try and get some resightings.

Today's trip saw us at Kirkwall harbour at 07:30 for the 07:40 sailing to Sanday. It was good weather and a very calm crossing. This led to a bit of a first for me as I actually went down into the bowels of the ferry to the cafe and joined the rest of the team to indulge in a bacon butty and a brew. Not bad for someone that usually stays on deck where the horizon can be seen and the wind can be felt on their face!!

On arrival on Sanday we set off across the island checking known sites where Sanderling have been seen/caught in the past. There wasn't a lot about as we worked our way towards Start Point. As we got to one road junction some Lapwing chicks were seen moving about in the field next to the junction. With me and Colin keeping an eye on the chicks Dave and Brian went in to the field to recover them and bring them back to the car for ringing. Once processed Dave returned them back to the field.

We arrived at Scuthvie Bay and things looked more promising with Sanderling feeding from the water's edge right to the back of the beach.  A comprehensive scan of the flock by the four of us didn't find a single colour ringed bird.

We decided to set the cannon net up and go for a catch. We caught a total of 34 birds; 1 Turnstone, 4 Ring Plover and 29 Sanderling (none of which were ringed). We then set about processing the birds. I was on ringing duties, with Dave doing the wing and foot measurements and logging all the details, Brian was doing bill measurements and weighing and Colin had the fiddly task of fitting the colour rings to the Sanderling. Brian and Dave were also doing the ageing and sexing. The Ring Plover were a new species for my ringing list.

Once all the Sanderlings had been processed each bird then had its photograph taken so that the photos could be sent off to someone who is studying Sanderling plumage.

By now it had turned 2pm and it was time for a quick bite of lunch before resuming the hunt for colour ringed birds. Dave and Brian started at the south end of Scuthvie Bay and headed North along the bay, Colin and myself went up to the North end of the Bay of Sowerdie and headed South and we all met up where the two bays join.

Between us we managed to find five of our birds with full colour ring combinations, two with incomplete combinations and two birds with metal rings only.  A total of nine birds out of approximately 350 birds checked. 

In addition Brian and Dave found a Sanderling with a complete blue flagged combination of colour rings. Checking the records when we got back it was confirmed that this bird was ringed at Zackenberg, Greenland last year as a breeding adult female and has been seen since near Aberdeen on numerous occassions.

   24 Jul 11     Ythan Estuary, Aberdeenshire
   30 Sep 11    Blackdog, Aberdeenshire
   3 Dec 11     Ythan Estuary, Aberdeenshire
   21 Jan 12     Blackdog, Aberdeenshire
   5 Feb 12      Blackdog, Aberdeenshire
   4 Apr 12      Donmouth, Aberdeen
   19 May 12   Sanday, Orkney

So hopefully she is now on her way back to Greenland.

This is the second record of a Greenland breeding bird in Orkney, following quickly from the one seen on North Ronaldsay recently.

So all in all a bit of a mixed day. Good that we caught and colour ringed some more birds and in some ways a bit disappointing at the lack of our birds with colour rings. However, given the number of Sanderling that have now been colour ringed in Orkney, some thing like over 200, were we just unlucky or had our birds moved on and we were looking at birds that had arrived from further South?

The sailing back to Kirkwall was again calm, but this time I stayed on deck and was rewarded with some good views of a Black Throated Diver.

18 May 2012


After several days of waiting for the wind to drop a bit, last night was deemed suitable conditions.

So with my friend Marc we met up with fellow trainee Lorna and headed off to meet Brian and to pay a visit to a Raven's nest not far from him.

He knew that there were at least two chicks on the nest but that they were getting close to leaving so time was running out to ring them before they departed.

Last year I was away when the nest was checked. Lorna had been there but as there was only one chick to ring she got the short straw and the chick was ringed by someone else.

This year looked like we were going to get one each.

Brian went to the nest and there was actually three chicks. The adults were a bit noisy at first but soon quietened down. There has been some stories in the press recently about members of the corvid family recognising certain peoples voices and acting differently to when they heard a stranger's voice. Perhap these birds recognised Brian and knew that the chicks would not come to any harm.

The youngsters were fairly docile while being ringed, which made life a bit easier as they had sharp claws.

Whilst the adult Raven is a magnificent bird the youngsters like most other chicks were ugly in a cute sort of way. The irridescence in some of the feathers just goes to show that yet again that a bird that is usually considered black and boring actually has quite stunning plumage.

With all three youngsters ringed Brian returned them safely to the nest and the adults reappeared to reassure them that all was ok.

I was lucky enough to ring two out of the three chicks and we both got to ring a new species.

Hopefully we'll be back again next year to ring the next lot of youngsters.

12 May 2012

Ringing in Uigen

Uigen may sound like an exotic Scandinavian location to go ringing, but it is in fact a small village on the Valtos Peninsula on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides.

The Isle of Lewis being the destination for this year's holiday.

Claire had always wanted to see the standing stones at Calanais (Callanish) so we decided that this year that is where we would head for. We couldn't get much closer to the site as we had booked a holiday cottage right next to the Calanais Visitors Centre.

The holiday cottage was once a farmhouse and is one of the most historically important buildings in the area with records indicating that it was occupied from as early as 1716. Over the years it has played a vital role in the life of Calanais providing a focal point for the community and a gathering place for important meetings almost up to the present day. In 1861 it was recorded as being used as an inn when a visitor was noted as saying ‘it was a queer place, the dirtiest little den it was ever my misfortune to locate’!!

In its time it has also been used as a post office and as accommodation for students doing archaeological working on the standing stones site.

So this was our base for the week.

Apart from visiting the standing stones and other archaeological sites, we explored most of Lewis and Harris notching up a list of 60 species of birds seen although the two birds we wanted to see, the White Tailed Sea Eagle and Golden Eagle eluded us apart from a couple of very distant sightings of something big.

During preparations for the the trip I contacted Chris Reynolds, a ringer based in a small village called Riof (Reef) also on the Valtos Peninsula, to see if it would be possible to do some ringing with him during the week.

Chris has a ringing site in a garden in the village of Uigen which is where I met up with him. The site is a sloping site with a mixture of deciduous and coniferous trees surrounded by fields on two sides, hills on one side and a sea loch on the fourth side.

I met up with Chris for two sessions, one on the Monday morning and the other on the Friday morning. We had 5 mist nets up and there was lots of bird activity in the trees.

The two sessions saw me ringing a Greenfinch and a Redwing, both species I have ringed before but new to the list were nine Meadow Pipits and a Redstart.

Male Redstart
Retraps were three Meadow Pipits, three Robins and a Dunnock.

There was also a Pied Flycatcher flitting amongst the trees but it managed to avoid all the mist nets.

Chris also took me on a tour of the peninsula and on our way round we spotted a Lapwing nest with four chicks so I was able to ring those as well.

Unfortunately we didn't get out to do some mist netting of waders, maybe another time.

A big thanks to Chris for having me along, I hope to come back sometime and do some more ringing.

22 April 2012

Fleetwood Marsh Nature Park

This weekend I travelled down to Lancashire for a week at the head office of the company I work for. This afternoon I had the opportunity to meet up with Seumus and Ian from the Fylde Ringing Group again.

We arranged to meet up at the Fleetwood Marsh Nature Park which is set in an open landscape next to the Wyre estuary, which is an SPA and SSSI.

The site consists of an area of coastal grassland next to the estuary itself and three lagoons. The first of the lagoons is a freshwater lagoon surrounded by reedbed, the second is brackish and subject to seasonal level variations and the third is a new lagoon which has yet to develop a wildlife character.

It was the first of these lagoons that we had come to visit. Reed and Sedge Warblers had started to arrive back at the reedbed and Reed Buntings could also be heard calling.

As we setup three mist nets in the reedbed, Skylarks could be heard singing overhead.

The first check of the nets left us walking back to the cars empty handed. The second check looked liked it was going to be the same result with the first two nets being empty. As we approached the third net we could see that two birds had been caught and as we got closer the catch was revealed as two Blue Tits. A male and a female, with the female being a retrap.

The third visit to the nets revealed another two birds, this time a pair of Blackbirds. Again the female was a retrap.

The next two visits to the nets again saw us coming away empty handed and the final check of the nets saw the male Blackbird that had been ringed earlier back in the net.

The warblers had teased us with their calling but had evaded capture.

A single Swallow was seen flying around over the freshwater lagoon so hopefully by the time I get back up to Orkney they will have arrived there too.

Thanks to Seumus and Ian for inviting me out again.

10 March 2012

And now for something completely different

I have a new interest for when I'm not ringing or bird watching, but it stays with the natural history theme and may even lead me to do some bird watching from a totally new perspective!!

I'm taking up snorkelling - long story.

Rather than posting on here about it I have setup another blog to cover my snorkelling exploits, you can read all about it at Snorkel Orkney.

I hope you enjoy it.

19 February 2012

It'll be all Twite

After a lazy start to the morning following my aurora escapades during the early hours I got a phone call from my trainer to say that he was going to go out Twite ringing at lunchtime at our usual spot on East Mainland. I say usual in a loose sense as this would be the first visit this winter and my first visit to the site to ring since winter 2009/2010.

As I arrived on site my trainer has just released the whoosh net on the first batch of the day. I quickly joined him and started extracting the Twite from the net.

We were soon joined by another member of the ringing group and we set about ringing the catch. In additon to the metal ring we have been colour-ringing the birds to increase the chances of re-sightings.

Colour ringing of Twite has been part of a co-ordinated effort with members of the Highland and Grampian Ringing Groups throughout Northern Scotland to try and provide a better understanding of the movement of these birds. 

While two of us concentrated on the metal ring and the biometrics of the birds, my trainer looked after the colour ringing. We were also joined by another trainee from the group who helped out with the colour ringing as well as the other processing activities.

We made two more catches and by the end of the session had processed 120 Twite around half a dozen of which were retraps. Of these, one had been colour ringed here in Orkney a couple of years ago and two others which were also colour ringed and may possibly have been ringed on Fair Isle. We need to wait for confirmation on that.

Female Twite
Male Twite

We must be mad!!

I had gone to bed at 10pm as I was feeling quite tired. I was woken up by my good lady at about quarter past midnight to say that one of our friends had just been in touch to say that there was an aurora in progress.

I dragged myself out of bed and peered out of the kitchen window but couldn't see too much due to the street lights behind the house. The lawn was looking pretty white though!!

I booted up the PC to check out my various sources of information relating to aurora and it was showing that we were on the edge of the region where it should be visible on the horizon. Another look out of the window, it was snowing again!!

The indications were that it was getting a bit stronger so we decided that we were going to venture out into the cold darkness and see what we could see from a darker vantage point. We got togged up in plenty of warm clothing, grabbed the camera bag and tripod and set off. The car thermometer was showing -2C but with the strong winds it was feeling more like -7C.

We drove to the other side of Churchill Barrier No 1 and parked up. There was a definite auroral type glow to the sky to the North East as opposed to the lights of Kirkwall reflecting off the cloud round to the North.

I set the camera up on the tripod and took a few photos. These are the results:

The lights of St Mary's Village and the Orange glow of Kirkwall mixing with the green of the aurora.
Similar view with a shorter exposure time, 20s instead of 30s

Changed lens from the 10mm wide angle to the 55mm.

5 February 2012

Back home

Having spent a week down in the Preston with work I made my exit on Friday afternoon to start heading North before the forecast bad weather arrived. It was a dry run to my overnight stop near Pitlochry and from the clear starry sky it looked like it was going to be a very cold one.

However on waking the next morning the car was frost free but there was a very light dusting of snow on the ground. Setting off on the next leg North I was soon driving in some light drizzle which turned to sleet as I gained some height. By the time I had got to Dalwhinnie this had fizzled out and it was a dry run until Brora when I encountered some heavy rain, which stayed with me all the way to the ferry.

The only birds of note on the second leg of my trip were two Red Kites on the Southern side of the Black Isle. The flocks of geese I had seen on my drive South the previous weekend had all disappeared.

The ferry crossing itself was smooth and moonlit which was good, as earlier in the day there had been gale force winds forecast. So I had managed to get home without encountering anything too dramatic with the weather. Reading some of the news stories today it looks like my timing was perfect. Preston and the Fylde area were enveloped in fog today so had I been there this weekend instead of last weekend I might not have been so lucky with ringing.

This afternoon I had a call from my trainer who had just made a small catch in his garden so I was soon on my way and arrived just in time to extract a Starling and a House Sparrow from the whoosh net.

In total 13 birds were processed, 11 new birds and 2 retraps. The new birds consisted of 8 House Sparrows, 2 Greenfinches and the Starling. The 2 retraps were both Greenfinches. So that's my first ringing session on Orkney for this year.

29 January 2012

A day in the Fylde

 After yesterday's stop off at the ringing demonstration at RSPB Vane Farm I was looking forward to a more productive ringing session at a site on Rawcliffe Moss near St Michael's on Wyre in Fylde. I had arranged to meet Seumus and Ian there between 7:30 and 8am

I was up at 6am and a quick look out of the window showed that the over night frost had not materialised and neither had the forecast wind, so conditions were looking good. After a quick breakfast I set off and with the aid of my satnav easily found the meeting point. What a useful bit of kit for finding your way around an unfamiliar area in the dark.

As I pulled up Seumus and Ian were walking back up the track having just set up the two mist nets that we would be using.

After introductions and a brief chat we went and checked the nets and my first bird of the day was a Yellowhammer, a new species for me. Subsequent net visits included Tree Sparrows, Blue Tits, a Great Tit, which were also new species for me and also a Robin, a Starling and a couple of Chaffinch.

 My first Yellowhammer

The highlight of the morning's session and another new species was a female Great Spotted Woodpecker. She could certainly peck and her claws were pretty sharp too!! Unfortunately she was already ringed but at least I got to extract her from the net and process her.

My first Great Spotted Woodpecker

Total birds processed for the morning were 21 new birds for the site and 17 retraps (in brackets):

Yellowhammer - 1
Blue Tit - 10 (11)
Great Tit - 2 (3)
Tree Sparrow - 5 (1)
Chaffinch - 2
Starling - 1
Great Spotted Woodpecker - (1)
Robin - (1)

We nearly had a Sparrowhawk, but that managed to get free of the net before we could get to it.

It was great to get a chance to catch and process some species that are not that common up in Orkney so a big thank you to Seumus and Ian for letting me join them and I hope to go out with them again during the year ahead.

Thanks to Ian for the photos.

28 January 2012

BGB Ringing Demo

It was a cold frosty morning when I set off from Pitlochry, the temperature on the car thermometer was showing -3C, I'm not used to these sub-zero temperatures!!

I arrived at the RSPB Vane Farm reserve at 10am and the Big Garden Birdwatch (BGB) ringing demonstration was well under way. I was just in time to see a male and a female Great Spotted Woodpecker being shown to the crowd. Next up for ringing were some Blue Tits, Great Tits and Chaffinches.

When there was a break waiting for the next catch to be bought back to the ringing area I had a quick chat with Rob the ringer in charge. As there were already several trainees doing the ringing I concentrated on learning how to age and sex some of the species being caught and got to handle some Blue Tits, Great Tits and Chaffinches.

I also helped out on one of the mist net rounds and extracted a Goldfinch, two Chaffinch and two Greenfinch. Right at the end of the session I got to ring a Greenfinch, my first bird ringed this year!!.

By the end of the session there had been 80 birds processed. Other species caught and rung during the demonstration included Blackbirds, Coal Tits, a Dunnock, Long Tailed Tits and a Robin.

A big thanks to Rob, the members of the Tay Ringing Group and the RSPB staff who all made me welcome and allowed me to join in with the session.

Male Great Tit waiting to be extracted from the mist net

Long-tailed Tit being shown to the people watching the ringing demonstration

Tomorrow I hoping to get out ringing with some members of the Fylde Ringing Group weather permitting. I wonder what we'll catch?


Friday 27 Jan saw me setting off on my first work trip for 2012 and indeed my first work trip since July as my leg breaking incident has prevented me from heading South since the start of August.

So at Midday I set sail on the MV Pentalina from St Margaret's Hope on South Ronaldsay across to Gills Bay on the Scottish mainland. The crossing took me out through Scapa Flow and across the Pentland Firth.

There were a couple of Cormorants drying their wings near to the harbour in the Hope and as we set off out into the bay several small groups of Eiders and a Red-throated Diver. As we got out into the Flow there were quite a few Greater Black-backed Gulls and the occassional Fulmar flying past.

It was good to see most of the cliff faces on both the inhabitted and un-inhabitted islands starting to get good numbers of Fulmars taking up residence with the Greater Black-backed Gulls sitting on the cliff tops watching them.

As we crossed the Pentland Firth there were some Shags and a solitary Gannet closely followed by a group of three all heading into the Flow.

The drive down to Pitlochry was fairly uneventful. A few fields holding several hundred Greylag Geese and small flocks of Curlew. Surprisingly I didn't see a single raptor in the whole journey.

The next leg of the trip takes me onto Preston calling in at the RSPB reserve at Vane Farm on the South side of Loch Leven where there is a ringing demonstration as part of the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch weekend.

23 January 2012

Aurora 2

As the weather had clouded over and started raining again I went to bed. The predictions were that Monday night's solar conditions were going to be better and the weather forecast was for clear skies.

At just after midnight Sunday, my aurora alerting system sounded an alarm and woke me up, it was showing a K index value of 6. This is one of the key figures to keep an eye on for auroral activity.

Earlier in the evening when I had seen my first aurora the K value had got up to about 5.6 so 6 should have meant even better views. A quick check out of the window showed something was visible but it was hard to see with all the light pollution in the village. So on with the warm clothes and off to a spot just down the road where it was a lot darker.

Too be honest the visual aurora although slightly visible was no better than earlier, but I did try a couple of photos before it clouded over and the rain returned. So here are my first two aurora photos taken with 30 second exposures.

So fingers crossed for some better conditions to night and some better photos soon.

22 January 2012

Aurora at last

This post has nothing to do birds, but I just wanted to record the fact that after nearly 4 years of living in Orkney this evening along with my wife Claire and good friends Marc and Penny we have all seen our first aurora.

It wasn't the best aurora in the world but you could definitely see changing shafts of light and intensities. The view wasn't helped by the varying cloud cover either.

I shall be keeping an eye on the sky for the next couple of hours or so just in case it gets better and I can maybe get a photo or two to post.

The only birding connection I can give this post is a reference to some Wigeon calling in the dark.

15 January 2012

White Gulls and Mute Swans

Finally after 13 days of wind and rain not only has the weather improved to dry and calm it has also managed to achieve it on a weekend instead of a Monday.

I haven't had any ringing opportunities so far this year as either the weather has been against it or my trainer has been busy, so it was time to go out and have the first picnic of the year. My good lady and I decided to head for West Mainland. We had a brief stop at Skaill Beach to watch a lone canoeist riding the surf, rather him than me. We decided to go to Marwick Bay as there has been quite a few reports over the last week or two of a high number of white gulls appearing in Orkney.

Now gulls are not my best group of birds to ID. Yes I can tell the difference between the common ones as long as they are in adult plumage. Juvenilles just seem to scramble my brain a bit. So the reports of Iceland and Glaucous Gulls sent me running to my ID books. ID should be fairly simple neither adult bird would have any black in the plumage, that should make them easy to pick out of the crowd then. Iceland Gulls would be about the same size as a Herring Gull and the Glaucous Gull the same size as a Great Black-backed Gull. Iceland Gulls have a small rounded head with a small bill whereas the Glaucous Gull has a large head with a large bill. Also the Iceland Gulls wings should extend beyond the tail.

Having got that sorted in my mind there were also reports of Kumlien's Gull. Now according to my ID book (A Field Guide to the Seabirds of Britain and the World) this bird is a race of Iceland Gull. Immediately alarm bells start ringing in my head and something told me identifcation was not going to be easy. The book says "Wing quills slightly darker grey than Iceland Gull and shows grey spots towards white wing tips, but difficult to identify between the two." I knew it.

Then of course there are the juvenilles. The first year birds are described as being buffy in colour with second year birds being a pale cream colour above and below. Both having white primaries.

Having arrived at the car park at Marwick Bay, the first thing we spotted apart from the two surfers were four white gulls sat on the rocks right in front of the car park.

I came to the conclusion that these were Iceland Gulls since they all had wings extending past the end of their tails and they looked like small head and bill. The only thing that has cast a little doubt in my mind is the bird centre rear who seems to have a noticeably darker grey plumage than the bird in front of it.

We then headed South along the coastal path to the Fishermen's huts, as this was where the carcass of a whale had been reported and that it was providing good feeding for the gulls. As we walked along the path other white gulls could be seen on the rocks and flying past. Not far from the Fishermen's Huts there was a distinct change to the smell of the air going from one of fresh sea air to that of rotting flesh. There were lots of gulls flying around and as we approached the huts the carcass could be seen down on the water's edge.

On the small cliff to the right there were over 50 gulls, three Greater Black-backed Gulls, three Herring gulls, a couple of Common Gulls and the rest white gulls. A single Fulmar flew past.

These two I think are Iceland Gulls.

These I think are Glaucous Gulls.

If I'm wrong I would be happy to be corrected.

After chatting to some of the local birders we headed back to the car park for our picnic. As the tide went out more white gulls could be seen on the beach, along with a couple of Redshanks, approx 25 Turnstones, a male Red Breasted Merganser, a female Eider and a Rock Pipit.

Having never paid too much attention to gulls that much, these two white gulls were new ones to my life list.

The drive home took us past the Ring of Brodgar and as we passed over the bridge where Harray Loch flows into Stenness Loch I spotted a pair of Mute Swans with a couple of youngsters. With the sun starting to set toward Hoy I just had to stop and take a few photos.


A nice way to end the day out.

1 January 2012

First post of 2012

Happy New Year, 2012 has offically started.

Despite the cold wind it has been a bright sunny day, not that it will last for long according to the forecast.

First task of the year was to enter the final few weeks of garden bird observations for 2011 into the online reporting system of the BTO's Garden Bird Watch survey. Then find a new notebook for 2012 as by pure coincidence I managed to finish 2011 on the last page of the previous one. Strangely my pocket notebook for my birding activities also finished on the last page on my last outing for 2011. How spooky is that?

I have decided that instead of making New Year resolutions this year, as they are never kept, I'm going to set myself some Aims instead.

The first Aim is to get my leg back to normal service. After breaking it back in August the swelling just doesn't want to go away in a hurry. I'm hoping that by going out and doing more birding and ringing I might be able to get the old muscles pumping again and get rid of the fluid build up causing the swelling.

To that end I went out for a walk to my local loch, the Loch of Ayre, and out round the headland of Skaildaquoy Point. Not much out on the sea, a few female Eiders, a couple of Great Black-backed Gulls, a pair of Mallard and a couple of Cormorants. Along the beach there were a small flock of Turnstones, a couple of Redshank and a solitary Rock Pipit. Flying overhead were a Common Gull and a Raven. There seemed to be a distinct lack of gulls about today and I didn't see any Mergansers either.

On the loch were a pair of Mute Swans with a youngster, five Goldeneye, six Tufted Duck and two male Long Tailed Ducks which took flight and headed out to sea. Around the loch edge, sheltering from the wind, were a couple of Grey Herons, twenty Mallards, 100+ Wigeon, 80+ Lapwings and 40+ Oystercatchers. In a field on the Northern edge of the loch was a mixed flock of 80+ Starlings, 50+ Curlew and a dozen Oystercatchers.

The highlight of the afternoon was watching a female Hen Harrier hunting along the Northern edge of the loch.

The second Aim is to update this blog on a more regular basis and tinker around with the layout/format. All feedback greatly received. At least I'm starting with good intent by posting this entry.

The third Aim is to get my C permit and starting ringing on my own. I had some plans in place last year to help me achieve this aim but the busted leg stopped any hope of that. So a concerted effort this year to those plans back on track so watch this blog for progress.

As I take a break from entering all my birding efforts from last year into the spreadsheet for submission to the county recorder for inclusion in the 2011 Orkney Bird Report my final Aim for the year is not to leave this task until the end of the year. Instead the aim will be to submit my input every quarter, so if you don't spot me commenting on this in early April then give me a prompt.

On which note I shall close this blog entry and get back to the spreadsheet.