Sunday 13 January 2019

Small Year, Part 2

Following our return to Orkney, the remainder of January was spent slowly building up a list of species which spend Winter at this latitude. For instance, it is possible to see Long-tailed Ducks on the Peedie Sea in Kirkwall (think of it as a large duck pond in the centre of town). When I say “… it’s possible… ” imagine fuelling up a van at the Ayre Filling Station, glancing between two vehicles at the other side of the forecourt, and there, on the Peedie Sea beyond, are several of these gorgeously dapper, black and white ducks. Golden Plover were spotted on a work trip to Sanday, Whooper Swans just down the road in Holm, as were Great Northern Diver, Purple Sandpiper and Goldeneye.

A few weeks later, whilst working on a broadband installation in Egilsay, my attention was caught by a simple, repetitive and tuneless song… ah, that’ll be a Reed Bunting. Whilst the following day, when aboard the ferry to Rousay, I managed to score a Black Guillemot swimming in the Wyre Sound. Although I wasn’t aware of it at the time, during February I didn’t add a single species to the list. Even now, I find that fact incredible to believe. What the heck was I playing at? Too busy? Too unaware of Nature? That doesn’t sound like me. January had brought 64 species, February none.

Then, on the 3rd of March, I had a stroke of luck. On a dreich day, Our Lass and I were out for some fresh air and saw a lone gull on the strand line of the beach by St Nicholas Kirk. Even without bins, I knew this was a Glaucous Gull. Nice, a definite bird of note, even if only recorded for posterity using my phone.

Towards the end of March, we travelled south for a niece’s wedding. This gave me an ideal opportunity to add a few non-Orcadian species to the list as I drove down the A9, M90, A1 and A19 to Middlesbrough. Annoyingly, a full day’s driving only brought a Shelduck, feeding on mud flats near Dornoch. However, a rest halt a few days later, whilst on the way to the wedding venue in Otterburn, offered up Kestrel and Linnet. And then Wedding Day itself summoned a Sparrowhawk and a pair of Dippers! The return trip was equally low key, with only Gannet and Guillemot seen in the Pentland Firth.

Another trip south was due a fortnight later for the Scottish Dragonfly Conference in Perth, but before that, I had another bit of good fortune at home, with the first sign of Spring migration being a Great Skua (Bonxie) flying past the lounge window.

The Perth trip got off to a bizarre start with a Red Grouse on a fence post at the side of the A9, as we drove through the Cairngorms. In Perth itself, our hotel grounds kindly donated a flock of Long-tailed Tits. After the conference, the return journey saw us making a pit stop for pies at Bruar (so, a pie stop, then), but we also took a stroll up the glen behind the shopping village and were soon listening to the calls of Coal Tit and Siskin.

The remainder of April saw a few more Spring migrants with a Chiffchaff in the garden, a Swallow in Kirkwall (not a euphemism), plus a Bar-tailed Godwit and a couple of Wheatears by the coast of Rose Ness.

A third of the way through the year, my species total sat at 89 (for reference, more serious birders hope to have 100 species under their belts by the end of January). Obviously, the further into the year we go, the harder it is to add more species, unless one moves location or there’s an influx of migrants blown off course. But that sounds like twitching territory and absolutely not to be condoned.

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