Yesterday, we invited Eagle-eyed M over to Tense Towers for a walk and some lunch. We had been swithering for some time about which day of the weekend to choose, and an ever-changing forecast didn't help. In the end we plumped for Saturday, as it looked to be drier, though windier. As an added precaution, we opted to visit Olav's Wood in South Ronaldsay, which would at least afford some shelter and, perhaps, an unusual wildlife moment.
The drive across the Churchill Barriers was thankfully uneventful, as the wind direction was northwesterly, rather than southeasterly, so no waves to worry about. In the sheltered water on the North Sea side of the barriers, Eiders, Red-breasted Mergansers and Great Northern Divers were in evidence, whilst the water-logged fields held flocks of Wigeon, Redshank and Curlew. When we arrived in the car park at the top of the wood, there were no other vehicles present. This was a bonus as the site is quite small and narrow, being nestled in a tiny valley between areas of farmland, and whilst there are numerous paths between the close-planted shrubs and trees, it is difficult to be out of earshot of other visitors. What a complete grump I'm sounding.
Donning wet weather gear (yuh-huh, an Orkney forecast of 'dry' has to be taken with a pinch of salt!), we pottered into the wood, threading our way along the damp paths, keeping our ears and eyes open. Wrens and Blackbirds were the only songsters at this point, but as we began to descend a muddy track and cross over a bridge into a conifer plantation, M picked up the tiny high-pitched calls of Goldcrests. Winding our way through the maze-like paths between the pines, we eventually fetched up by a burn, which was running quite high. We elected not to risk the stepping stones and, instead, used another footbridge to cross over to the opposite bank. Normally, at this point, we continue downstream at the water's edge, but we could see that the path was underwater in places, so we scrambled up a high bank between more conifers, emerging into an area of open rough ground.
From this vantage point, we had a good view of the valley below, which contained flocks of Greylag and Pink-footed Geese. Further east, we could see the cliffs beyond Windwick and the open sea. Keeping to the woodland edge, we continued downhill, hoping to pick up our original path by some thick Rosa rugosa hedges where one of the local bird ringers monitors the local avifauna. As we made our way through the tussocky sward, we came upon a raptor kill, a bundle of wings and feet, less the head and most of the body. Judging by the feathers, this had been a Woodcock.
Back in the valley bottom, the burn was tumbling over rock ledges in an almost waterfall-like manner.
Retracing our steps, we explored more of the conifer maze, before heading back to the top of the wood, on the way catching sight of a small flock of five Greenfinches which were foraging at the woodland edge.
Despite the time of year and the latitude, there were a few splashes of colour to be seen found. Hawthorn and wild roses were still sporting a few red berries, whilst the odd shrub was in flower and catkins were turning purple.
A leisurely lunch followed. Conversation turned to the coming year and what wildlife adventures it might hold. After sunset, M returned home and Our Lass and I had a bit of a snooze, as we had one more bit of excitement to cram into the day.
Now, normally, I'm in bed by 10pm and, at the minute, even sooner than that. But we had booked tickets to see local band The Chair who were playing a gig in the Sound Archive in Kirkwall. The venue didn't open its doors until 9pm and it was after 10 before the support act, Gnoss, finished their set. However, once the massed fiddles, banjo, guitars, accordion and drums kicked in, we were very much awake!
And the people-watching was quite interesting too.
We staggered home at 1am, so have had a very leisurely Sunday morning.