Sunday, 15 January 2017

A weekend of work and play

The wintry weather during the working week meant that, once the gales had blown through, there would be an amount of catching up to be done. As it turned out, Saturday was a calmer, though colder, day, easily workable from the viewpoint of Mr Health and Mr Safety, so a trip to the island of Shapinsay was planned.

Early doors in Kirkwall saw heavy clouds over the cathedral and a sprinkling of snow from the previous night.

Upon reaching Shapinsay, the sun put in an appearance. It was ideal (if bitterly cold) conditions for photography and we saw several islanders out for a walk with their cameras.

Our last visit of the morning was along a track and through a wood. Perhaps not much to write home about in usual circumstances, but in a landscape as bare of trees as Orkney, a moment to be savoured.

Sunday dawned dull and grey, but all was calm. Our Lass and I headed into Kirkwall for some urban birding, or at least as urban as you're going to get in this neck of the woods.

We parked opposite a row of supermarkets and set off around the Peedie Sea, an enclosed body of water behind the ayre which skirts part of Kirkwall Bay. There is much local arguing as to the spelling of the name, the OS map goes with 'Peerie'.

Despite being surrounded by roads busy with traffic and footpaths frequented by dog walkers, the Peedie Sea is not your average town duck pond (leaving aside the fact that Kirkwall isn't your average town). At this point, I will apologise for the lack of photos, as my intention was to capture some images when we returned to the car, but low cloud and drizzle put paid to that.

Never mind, back to more avian matters. There are some Mallard on the Peedie Sea, even a few Mute Swans, as well as the usual smattering of gulls. So far, so normal. However, the remainder of the clientele are a little more special. As it's Winter, there were several Goldeneye, small flocks of waders (Redshank, Ringed Plover, Oystercatcher, Dunlin, Turnstone), a few Wigeon and loads of Long-tailed ducks. The males of this latter species are looking splendid in their breeding plumage, and the air was full of their calls as they vied for the attention of the females. To be able to approach so close to such a magnificent looking duck is a real privilege.

Upon reaching the ayre, we noticed that the tide was in. As we walked along the footpath eastwards, several pairs of Red-breasted mergansers were feeding just off shore. And all the while, more Long-tailed ducks were flying in low from the bay, over our heads.

We made our way past the slips and piers for the island ferries, stopping on the Corn Slip to photograph the boats within the inner harbour, before wandering around to the marina road.

From some distance away, we noticed a few waders drop in and land on one corner of the marina. Upon retracing our steps, we were able to identify these as Snipe, counting about fourteen individuals altogether.

Between the dull drizzle and my phone camera, I think you're just going to have to take my word for it! But there are 14 Snipe (a wisp!) hunkered down in the vegetation and the rocks below it at the water's edge.

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