Saturday, April 27, 2024

πŸ“– 🏴󠁧󠁒󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Orkney Trip 22/26 April 24

Dazza and I are just back from our trip to the Orkney Isles and although our visit was not primarily for the birding, we did spend some time visiting various RSPB sites around the mainland. Our accommodation for the duration was in Stromness in a delightful little eco-cottage overlooking the harbour. The weather for the best part remained dry with long periods of sunshine but the biting northerly wind was a constant companion keeping temperatures in single figures.

View from cottage window overlooking Stromness Harbour.

There are two main towns in Orkney: Kirkwall and Stromness. While they have unique features, they share a common trait of having a majority of locally owned businesses. We were surprised to see that Kirkwall's town centre is flourishing with independent shops and boutiques that offer an array of products, ranging from Orkney cheese to traditional knitwear. On the other hand, Stromness is a picturesque town with a rich history of pirates, whalers, and explorers and both are worth a visit.

A couple of the double-figure Scaup at Brodgar.

During our stay, we did visit several birding areas including the Ring of Brodgar which is situated between Lochs of Harray and Stenness, the latter of which is saline. Here several Goldeneye along with a large group of Tufted Duck, plus at least eleven Greater Scaup and a single Slavonian Grebe

A Fulmar at Marwick Head making light work of the stiff northerly wind.

Marwick Head is a beautiful location with tall 90-metre cliffs and the biggest seabird colony on mainland Orkney. It's also the site of the Kitchener Memorial. We took the coastal trail heading north which was a bit challenging due to the cold and biting northerly winds. However, it remained dry throughout our walk and the sun even made a few appearances. "It was definitely worth the effort, as it offered breathtaking panoramic views of Orkney."

The Kitchener Memorial is a 48 ft tower war memorial erected after the sinking of the British battleship HMS Hampshire which was hit by a mine in June 1916 with the loss of 737 souls!

Many Guillemots, Razorbills, and Fulmars, along with several Ravens nesting along the cliffs and many Kittiwakes flying over the sea below. Sadly no Puffins were seen today!

Great Skua (Bonxie) seen on route to the Birsay Moors Hide

Orkney is a wonderful place to spot Hen Harriers. One of the best locations we came across to view them is Birsay Moors. There is a hide that provides an overlooking view of Lowrie's Water and the surrounding moorland. As we drove to the hide from the roadside, we saw a couple of Great Skuas (Bonxie) flying overhead. From the hide, we could see at least four Hen Harriers flying across the moorland including a magnificent male. We also spotted a couple of Short-eared Owls from the layby along Hillside Road (B9057).

20/30 Purple Sandpipers at Newark Bay.

Newark Bay forms a lovely crescent of near-white sand on the more sheltered southeast coast of the main island and is a great place to find waders. Dazza and I spent an hour walking the area and ended up with a good selection. Purple Sandpipers are common here along with Ringed Plover, Turnstone and Redshank, we also came across a couple of Sanderling. Offshore there were several Black Guillemots (Tysties), which can be found all around the coast of Orkney and four Long-tailed Duck

A single Black-tailed Godwit from the Loons Hide

A regular morning stop during our stay and just a short drive from our accommodation was the Loons Hide in Birsay which overlooks the Loons and Loch of Banks reserve - the largest remaining wetland in Orkney. There are large areas of open water surrounded by a mosaic of marshy grassland, swamp fen, mire and reedbeds, all dotted with smaller pools. From the hide, nesting Shoveler plus a few Little Grebe and Gadwall and the whole area has many nesting Lapwings and Curlew. Both Sparrowhawk and Hen Harrier were seen during one visit. 

Orkney has a large population of Hares.

During our 4-day stay on mainland Orkney, Short-eared Owls were a regular sight and Hen Harriers can be found around any of the many moorland areas. You can come across Great Skuas almost anywhere and we noted several as we drove around sightseeing. It also has a large population of Hares and Ravens for me are another feature, there are many! There are a few Carrion Crows that can be seen in Orkney, and the majority of crows you'll come across are Hooded Crows. While walking, we noticed many traps that had been set up to capture Stoats, which are not native to Orkney. These animals were first reported in 2010 and are now well-established. Since they have no natural predators in Orkney, they pose a significant threat to the local ecosystem. Stoats On Orkney. We also managed a few passerines during our stay and these included Wheatear and Willow Warbler

Standing Stones of Stenness

Orkney's most famous archaeological treasures – Skara Brae, the Ring of Brodgar, the Standing Stones of Stenness, and the Maeshowe chambered tomb – form the keystones of the UNESCO Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site and are worth a visit. 

Some More Images of the Visit... 

Greater Scaup

Golden Plover ~ A section of around 500 seen while walking.

Ringed Plovers nest on Orkney

Male Hen Harrier ~ The best I could manage when this one caught me by surprise!

Sanderling at Newark Bay

Purple Sandpiper at Newark Bay