Saturday 16 June 2018

A wizard week

It's been a funny old few days. Whilst not really having an opportunity for much planned nature watching, I will remember this week.

On Monday evening, Our Lass and I pootled down to the shore and back for a breath of fresh air and a leg stretch, where fledged gull and wader chicks were scuttling through the rough pasture and  damp places behind the old kirk. As we returned to Tense Towers, I froze at the entrance to our property, listening intently. Had I just heard an oddly-familiar 'boop-de-boop' call? With my head angled to reduce the noise of the breeze across my ears, I tried to locate the source of the sound. Our Lass joined in too, and we wandered up the road a few metres, pausing every so often and turning our heads from side to side. As if the neighbours needed proof of our madness.

There it was again, definitely coming from the hay meadow over the road, and very definitely the 'Wet me lips' call of a Quail. I have heard these small gamebirds before in other parts of Orkney and, years ago, in Shropshire, but although I've still not seen one, it was a real treat to hear one calling whilst stood at home.

On Tuesday, I was looking out of the lounge window, when a black shape went scything across the sky, heading south west. No time for bins, no time for a camera, only time for a shouted message to Our Lass who was in another room... "Swift! A Swift's just gone by!" We don't see many of these amazing aerial experts in Orkney, they don't breed in the county, so it was a real treat to witness a flypast at home.

On Wednesday evening, as the weather deteriorated ahead of Storm Hector, a dozen gulls appeared on the 'lawn', searching through the wet grass for, presumably, worms and other invertebrates. They were mainly Commons, but a Lesser Black-backed, a Herring and a Black-headed also turned up. I don't think we've ever had 4 different species of gull in the garden at the same time.

During Thursday, with the wind speed increasing through the day, there wasn't much going on. I couldn't work outside, so spent the time catching up on paperwork and admin tasks. During a tea break, stood at the lounge window, I scored the second Swift of the week, hawking low over the long grass and buttercups of the field over the road, seemingly oblivious to the gusting storm.

Friday went by in a bit of a blur, with my only wildlife memory that of being constantly scolded by a Starling from a neighbouring property as I fitted equipment to the gable end of a customer's house.

This morning, as Our Lass wanted to spend the day gardening and trying to salvage any plant survivors from Hector's attentions, I volunteered to go into town for a few groceries, a couple of prescriptions and a trip to the bank. Less than 250m from home, as I drove around a right hand bend, I had to make an emergency stop to avoid a bird sat in the middle of the road. It was a small raptor, and as my car came to a sudden stop, man and bird contemplated each other for half a second, before the raptor flew a few metres onto a patch of grass. Parking the car in a conveniently-placed layby, I was able to watch as the bird was mobbed by some frantically alarm calling Swallows, before it flew off, right past the lounge window of Tense Towers! My best guess, from the brief views I managed, was that it was likely to have been a Merlin.

Then, this afternoon, whilst taking a break from strimming the fence line at the far side of the garden, I was looking at the flowering border with Our Lass, discussing the winners and losers from the recent inclement weather. A hoverfly that I didn't recognise (and that's a long list!) caught my eye, and I headed indoors for my camera, so I could capture an image for later ID purposes. Just as I headed in through the front door, I was vaguely aware of a strange alarm call, which I logged as coming from a wader, but gave it no more thought than that. Whilst sorting out the camera, Our Lass shouted my name, and as that is an unusual occurrence, I knew something was afoot.

Rushing back outside, I was directed by Our Lass to the airspace above the farm next door, where a bird was soaring and swooping above the roofs of the barns. Was this the Merlin again? Over the next 10 minutes, I watched and photographed the bird, as it sometimes hawked like a Hobby, occasionally stooped like a Peregrine, and generally scared the pants off the local Starlings, House Sparrrows and Swallows.

Again, best guess is a Merlin. Maybe the same one? Normally these small falcons would be chasing Meadow Pipits across heath and field, but I suspect that the recent fledging of several broods of Starlings down at the farm was just too tempting a target.

Edit 17/16/18: After discussions on social media, the bird in the photographs has been identified as a Hobby, a juvenile in 1st Summer plumage. My thanks to MG and AM.


Spadger said...

An exiting day indeed and yes undoubtedly a hobby - a very good record for Orkney I would guess

Imperfect and Tense said...

It appears they're a bit rare up here, and the occasional one that turns up is often a juvenile. Honestly, all that Hobby watching in MK, and they were always full-plumaged adults!