Belatedly, here's the concluding episode of our Orkney trip. This one's all about birds.
Apologies, but with the first photo I'm about five weeks behind. Shoddy work, really.
During our Aikerness peninsula walk, there was a tender moment between a pair of Shags.
OK, I'll say that again, but this time with a straight face. As one bird landed on the cliff face with its wings outspread, its partner performed what we took to be a bonding ritual, arching its head and neck back, raising the crest on its head and calling. I'm guessing that to another Shag, that's quite endearing.
Whilst on Papa Westray, in the company of Sarah, the RSPB warden for the North Hill reserve, we had great views of Guillemots which were breeding on the cliff. Several sea birds, including Guillemots, do not build nests but lay their egg directly onto a narrow ledge. As an adaptation to this environment, the large eggs are pointed so that if knocked, they roll in a tight circle and don't fall off onto the rocks or sea below.
I read recently that Guillemots do have a unique claim to fame, in that their eggs are self-cleaning.
Back on Westray, our walk to Mae Sand was enhanced immeasurably by the presence of a flock of Sanderling. These diminutive waders were probably still heading northwards to their breeding grounds in the Arctic, but we spent a pleasant afternoon in their company, as they fed amongst the seaweed on the strand line of the beach.
Oh, go on, let's have another photo of wadery cuteness...
Our trip to North Ronaldsay coincided with an easterly breeze, which often brings some unexpected, yet pleasant, surprises. JD always seemed to be in the right place at the right time (and I'm pretty sure it wasn't luck!) and picked up some cracking sightings that eluded Our Lass and I: Golden Oriole, Wood Sandpiper and Spotted Flycatcher.
One evening at about 11pm, Mark from the Bird Observatory kindly took us out to Bridesness in the Obs Land Rover to hear a calling Spotted Crake. The metronomic "whip... whip...whip" sounded almost electronic, and reminded me of a test tone used to prove audio circuitry.
Next morning, whilst wandering up the 'main' road of the island, Our Lass casually asked, "Is that a Wheatear on that gate post up ahead?"
To which JD and I gracelessly replied, "Expletive deleted, it's a male further expletive deleted Red-backed Shrike!"
By Ancum Loch, we were fortunate to see a Yellow Wagtail, but the Blue-headed sub-species more commonly found in Scandinavia. The Obs staff informed us that these birds don't usually breed on North Ron, but looked like doing so this year.
Also that evening, Mark spotted, caught and ringed a male Bluethroat (see previous link).
Back on Westray, my fourth lifer for the trip was a pair of Curlew Sandpiper, feeding amongst Redshanks and Ringed Plover at the sheltered western end of the Loch of Swartmill.
As ever, Orkney and its wildlife had abundantly repaid the effort taken to travel the six hundred and odd miles northwards.
My grateful thanks must go to a long list of folk for making our holiday so enjoyable, with apologies if I've missed anyone out: Linda Hagan (Skaill Cottage); All at the North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory; the staff at the Pierowall Hotel; Jack's Chippy; Malc at the Westray Heritage Centre; the Haff Yok Cafe; J C Tulloch, Groceries; Hume Sweet Hume; the Papay Peedie Tour; the Wheeling Steen Gallery; Loganair; the Standing Stones Hotel; the sage advice of Shenagh Leiper; Pentland Ferries; Ann and Derek for their hospitality; the Timespan Centre, Helmsdale; Kathleen Drever; Northlink Ferries; Orkney Brewery, and especially Dark Island; the Golden Marianna; Helgi's; Orkney Ferries; the RSPB, for unintentionally providing a rich vein of humour which we mined for two weeks; the North Ronaldsay Lighthouse Visitor Centre; Birsay Tea Rooms; and finally, not forgetting, Our Lass and JD for their infinite patience and good company.