Wildlife watching has been a bit thin on the ground of late, so I was most pleased to be invited along on a trip to the island of Shapinsay, a short ferry journey from Kirkwall Harbour.
|Here we are on the Upper Deck of the Thorsvoe, ostensibly hoping to see wildfowl and cetaceans during the crossing, but I bet we were all secretly yearning for a trip in the RIB
|Here's the Thorsvoe berthed at the pier in Balfour Village on Shapinsay. The local seals are quite approachable and, seemingly, often just as interested in us as we are of them.
|This was the local gasworks until the 1920s, built in a mediaeval style as befits the Scottish baronial architecture of the nearby castle on the island.
|This stone, dated 1725, predates the structure and is said to have been taken from Noltland Castle on Westray.
|In a field by the village school were a flock of about 30 Whooper Swans, busy feeding amongst the stubble.
|This is a northerly view from the bird hide at the RSPB's Mill Dam reserve. Plenty of Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Tufted Duck and Goldeneye to be seen.
|And this is the southerly view from the same spot. We spent ages watching a Hen Harrier quartering the ground, likely hoping to spook a Snipe into the air.
|The inter-isles ferry Varagen, heading back to Kirkwall after a trip to Sanday. Here she is passing a gun emplacement at Salt Ness, built during World War 2 to help protect Wide Firth.
|More Whoopers, this time on the small lochan of Vasa Loch
|More of the same
|Cathedral, castle and Highland Cattle (Caption courtesy of Eagle-eyed M)
|The views on the walk back to the village were into the low Winter sun, but we spent a good deal of time framing different scenes and identifying distant landmarks.
|Balfour Castle in the foreground, St Magnus Cathedral in the middle distance, an oil tanker in Scapa Flow, then Scaraben and Sron Gharbh in the far distance (101km).
|Here, above the masts of Kirkwall Marina, are the flare at Flotta Oil Terminal, Flotta's community wind turbine and, again at 101km distance, Morven, the highest point in Caithness.
|Sron Gharbh, cathedral, Morven.
|Elwick Bay in late afternoon sunshine
|'Golden Whiskers' soaking up the last of the day's rays.
Although the morning was chilly and bracing, the wind dropped in the afternoon. As well as the harrier, we had seen a Sparrowhawk and a Merlin, watched a huge flock of Common Gulls whirling like a snowstorm, and had brief views of a small group of Snow Buntings.