Sunday 13 May 2018

Slurry and Serendipity

Well, that was an interesting Saturday!

The previous day's forecast had hinted that, maybe, it would be a wet morning, followed by a sunny afternoon, so we went to sleep on Friday night with vague plans for a chores-y beginning to Saturday with, hopefully, a walk later on. Sure enough, the morning was damp and miserable, with little visibility and a cool south easterly breeze. Worse still, the forecast had changed, now suggesting that there wouldn't be much chance of any solar therms.

So, Our Lass hot-footed it into town to visit the annual garden show at the Orkney Auction Mart, whilst I continued wrangling those pesky photograph captions for the Orkney Field Club journal. Come lunchtime, both of us had experienced limited success, but it looked as though the dire predictions were correct, the sun was trying to burn through, but just couldn't shift the cloud (or maybe it was haar?).

Around mid afternoon, a weird thing happened, the cloud did eventually burn off, but a kind of haar remained, just kept in abeyance by the power of the sun. This was obviously as good as it was going to be, so we seized our chance and headed out regardless. It was all rather strange, walking along in bright sunshine, but with distant swirls of fog, being teased by the biting wind.

Our farmer neighbour was busy muck-spreading his fields, which left us with something of a conundrum. Should we walk our circuit clockwise (usually) and pass downwind of the current target field whilst he was away 'refueling' his slurry spreader. Or should we risk going anticlockwise, which would allow more time for the wind to whisk away the aroma, but might mean we were downwind at just the wrong moment. Hmmm, Our Lass took some convincing, but clockwise it was.

Here, we're stood, more or less, at spotheight 32 on the map, just by Vigga, looking roughly south east. The muck-spreading field is through the open gate, and we're about to turn left along Greenwall Road, heading for Greenwall (in red), Orkney's oldest continually inhabited home. Then we will turn right, down The Tieve Road, past the wee shed (in blue) until we reach the shore, where we will turn right again to walk by St Nicholas Kirk (in yellow), before returning up Cornquoy Road, with the wind behind us.

As we pottered eastwards towards Greenwall, I noticed that the recently slurried field was populated by many gulls, a few Oystercatchers and Curlew, plus the odd Hooded Crow. However, we were glad to be hurrying beyond their feeding frenzy and into a cleaner atmosphere!

The Dandelions in the verges were attracting the occasional fly, but with the cool breeze there weren't many insects on the wing. At Greenwall, seven Swallows were busy cavorting on the air, swooping and calling in a melee of twittery aerobatics.

As we turned into The Tieve Road, we spotted a Hare hunkered down in the corner of a field. The camera on my phone wasn't really up to the job of capturing this moment, but I had better luck with a Common Carder bumblebee in a Salmonberry hedge on the opposite side of the road.

As we wandered down to the shore, several fields contained at least one Hare, and a flooded field was the temporary lodgings of a pair of Shelduck. The roadside verges here were angled more to the sun, and benefited from some shelter from the breeze. Consequently, there were many more insects, so I was able to snap a few photos of various hoverflies.

Later, at home, with a hoverfly guide received as a present, I struggled to ID these to Genus (though I managed 2 out of 3), eventually resorting to local social media and the wealth of expert knowledge available. They are all from the Genus Eristalis, with tentative IDs of pertinax, intricaria and, possibly, either arbustorum, abusiva or another pertinax. This is going to be a steep learning curve!

(I did have more success with the bee/hoverfly question posed by Countryside Tales, see the comments on my last post and CT's blogpost here.)

As we reached the kirk, a high-pitched keening call grabbed our attention. We looked at each other and excitedly whispered "Tern!" Our Lass hadn't seen one yet this year, so we scanned across the shore until we spotted a white bird gently bouncing through the air on slender wings. We were looking into the light, so distinguishing bill colour was impossible, but by the general feel of the shape of the bird, I reckoned either Common or Arctic. As we watched the tern, it alighted on a rock next to another one. Yay, a pair. We lowered our bins to exchange a happy grin, and I immediately exclaimed "Another one!" as something flew over our heads. This tern was much smaller, with a yellow bill and not much tail to speak of... a Little Tern, oh joy unconfined. This bird met up with yet another two and they began feeding out in the bay.

Turning our attention, momentarily, to the flooded fields behind the kirk, Our Lass let out a squeal of delight when her bins picked out four tiny Moorhen chicks in the company of one of their parents. Now we didn't know whether to look left or right as we edged along the road! As we neared the original pair of terns, bill colour became more apparent. Red, all red, so Arctic then.

A flypast from a pair of Bonxies temporarily put everything into the air for a while, so by the time all was settled again, we were climbing the hill towards home and stopping frequently to scan the wet pasture to our right. A Lapwing was walking parallel with us uttering the occasional plaintive call, which we reckoned meant that there were chicks about. Persistent use of the bins revealed that, in amongst the tussocky grass, the dochans, and clumps of soft rush, were two Hares, several Snipe and... 

"Oo, hang on, what's that wee shape? Go left from the nearer Hare and down half left from the farther Hare, just beneath that dead umbellifer stalk. Can you see it?"


"It's moving!"


"Underneath the dead umbellifer! It's stood up now. Lapwing chick!"


"Just scan for the movement!"

"Oh, THAT left..."

Twas ever thus.

In the verges and ditches, the Lesser Celandines and Coltsfoots were going over, but the Marsh Marigolds were still looking mighty fine, whilst in the wet pasture Cuckooflower was beginning to appear.

As we reached the top of the hill and the road junction where I took the opening photo, a Meadow Pipit rose skyward, singing his territorial song, before gracefully parachuting back to earth. Bliss.

We turned towards home, as the haar swirled ever nearer, and by the time I fired up the lawn mower, I was cutting the grass in thick fog. That's actual fog, not Yorkshire Fog.


Coastal Ripples said...

I felt I was walking with you and I loved the conversations. Great bit of spotting by the sound of it. Nothing like cutting the lawn in the fog. At least you got your walk. B x

Imperfect and Tense said...

It was a special afternoon, without doubt. Today has been absolutely dreich, so I'm doubly glad we at least had a walk yesterday.

How's your butterfly project going? I've only seen one so far, at distance, so not positive ID :o(

Coastal Ripples said...

In the field I have seen Speckled woods, large whites and red admirals. I’m in Caernarfon at the moment and spotting huge numbers of orange tips and large whites. Spotted brimstones in Salisbury area. Probably still a bit chilly and breezy in your neighbourhood:)

Imperfect and Tense said...

Sounds idyllic. Enjoy!

Anonymous said...

Could you supply a dictionary for us poor southeners I assume by haar you mean seafret?
Cpt. Sundial

Spadger said...

A lovely walk full of amusing anecdotes again. Thank you Mr & Mrs W - much appreciated.

Imperfect and Tense said...

Hi Captain Sundial! I don't know about seafret, but by the time it enveloped us it was very much landfret.

Imperfect and Tense said...

JD, I worry that if we'd gone anti-clockwise, we'd have missed the lot!

Anonymous said...

What a glorious post! I have a hoverfly ID book too, who knew there were so many and often so subtle. Nature is wonderful. I am envying you all the terns and the lapwing baby. Moorhen chicks we get here in the lake, so I usually see those.

Imperfect and Tense said...

Thank you, CT. There are many species of hoverfly, even up here. During the discussion of possible IDs for those we saw, it became apparent that one of the Orkney species isn't in my ID book. Oops!