The fish cages at Hatston are often interesting and it was dead calm today so on the way to Scapa for another try for the Brunnich's I gave the area a bit of scrutiny. There is a similar species mix to Rerwick area, but a lot closer to home, if a tad more industrialised. There have in the past been huge rafts of Eider and Long-tailed Duck here and today the L-tDs did not disappoint with a conservative 270. Velvet Scoter are a bit of a feature and on the glass-like sea 39 revealed themselves via the 82mm Nikon. The birds were scattered about in small groups and whilst watching one very distant group a bird flapped and did not show white in the wing. Straining the eye I started to make out white on the back of the neck and a large orange bill, bingo! Also present 39 Great Northerns (yes, bit of a coincidence) 6 or so Slav Grebes and a Red-throated Diver amongst commoner fayre.
Gosh that's a good photo, 4th from left
There were few birds at Scapa when I finally got there, nice tame Rockit though.
At the start of the day I did my local WEBS counts but 90% icing reduced the quackers significantly. The Rooks are eyeing up their home again.
The Brunnich's Guillemot was found yesterday (nice one KH) and showed really well, but I was in work all day. However, first thing this morn I was down at the home of the world's finest whisky, and there were loads of birds there. Information began suggesting there had been a bit of a clear out and there were fewer birds but over time it was noticeable there was a pretty big interchange between the Harbour and vicinity and ScapaFlow. Looked like it would be a waiting game. Trouble was it is a big place, fair bit of chop on the sea and there were far too many distractions.
I'm pretty sure this has a red eye, certainly looks like it has pink feet, a true albino I reckon. Guillemot by the way (now changed my mind after a bit of research, bare part colours very like those of a Dunnock on BTO website, extreme end of leucism I think).
It is quite possible that I did see the Brunnich's early on, PH got on to a likely suspect, but it was just that bit too far away and instead of drifting closer that wee flock of auks flew after about 15 minutes.
All the auks were on view, and very close, even an out of season Puffin (no photo of that one). Little Auks were all over the shop.
And now for some other things, nice views of Black-throated Diver, which I failed to photograph, there were loads of these though.
I was watching a Great Black-backed Gull hunting the Little Auks, down in one (not on this occasion), it was very interesting how it would spot a Little Auk on the water and then drift gently towards it, as it got closer it would lower its head and its body as much as possible and almost lie flat on the water and continue to paddle towards the chosen victim. Of course the Little Auks are not as dozy as they look, although one left it to the very last moment before going submarine. No luck Mr Geeb! Need to try and get some pictures of this behaviour tomorrow, batteries were flat by then.
Here's another interesting gull, called as a Kumlien's but I think it is most likely glaucoides as there is no contrast between the inner and outer primaries, also the primaries don't have those little dark hooks from the centre tips. The tail and wings seen in flight were pretty uniform. Additionally looks to me as if it has a pale iris.
2cy Iceland Gull or is it a 3cy, think those are grey feathers in the mantle so it has to be a 3cy, interesting beastie.
The day started off well enough, toodled down to Loch of Skaill and twitched the Black-necked Grebe (Orkney tick) and the Smew.
Left to right - Slav Grebe, Smew, Black-necked Grebe, Slav Grebe
Nice views of Slavonian too.
Then counted the loch, at least 6 Slavs, 75 Goldeneye, 11 Whoopers, 22 Barnacle Geese etc, all nice stuff. It started to rain more and I needed to take the dog for a walk. Headed over to Palace and tramped around a bit, lots of Wigeon, two Skylark, but really not trying very hard, the weather was horrible. Looked at the burn mouth briefly.
Dog walked headed for home. Shop. The Shunan, where there were Wigeon and Teal and Mallard all sheltering and not much else. I was just in the process of letting the dog out so she could run up the track when of all things an auk flew over my head. I couldn't get the size at all, it had a white underside to the body and a short bill, grabbed the bins and it veered over to the road, lost it for a moment as it flew up the road but then it briefly bobbed up. At this point I had it in my head it had to be a Little Auk, but I could see the wing beat clearly as it flew into the wind and it had a grey unmarked head, no breast band though. It veered again over towards Loch of Bosquoy and flew by some Common Gulls, it looked tiny. It had to be a Little Auk. I texted it in and got the reply "Starling". Replied, "Ha-ha!" But actually that worried me again as I thought on it, it had seemed too long in the body. Got home for soup in a grump, I thought I'd made a complete bollocks of it. But a phone call, a chat, I'd never seen one over land before but PH had, and the wing beat thing which was worrying me seemed ok. The length of the body also worried me but if I think back to the oiled one I kept for a bit they are longer in the body than you think. I thought it should show white on the face but not necessarily so.
What's this all about? That you never know what will happen next in birding. That you get a few seconds sometimes to ID something, and then it's gone. (Quite unlike the hoverflies I was peering down the microscope at yesterday, they'd been in the fridge for months: Eristalis abusivus confirmed, yes!) That birds don't always look how they "ought to look" when they're in the wrong place. That all those hours looking at seabirds over the sea don't always count for that much when they're flying over fields (I'm usually pretty spot on with auks, honest). That it's good to be self-critical and analytical, but don't take it to extremes.
The missing are quite shocking, Palace first. One thing this shows is that however many warblers and passerine migrants North Ronaldsay gets here on Mainland we see a tiny fraction of those. I guess the explanation would be that everything is very concentrated on North Ronaldsay in a fall whilst here everything that there is quite quickly spreads out across quite a large land area. So I have never seen Whitethroat or Lesser Whitethroat at Palace, indeed any warbler anytime is a bit of a triumph. This year I saw one Willow Warbler, a few Chiffchaff, and one tristis, one Yellow-browed Warbler, three Blackcaps, and the breeding Sedge Warblers. In the past I have seen Spotted Flycatcher, Black Redstart, Reed Warbler and ... er, I think that may be about it! This year I added Stonechat, a species that was pretty much eliminated from Orkney after the 2010 - 2011 winter but is now returning, saw one this morn indeed on the Old Nisthouse patch. But before those winters Stonechats were not a feature of Palace, I think the birds this year will have been dispersing juveniles.
The Brough from Northside
The missing this year included Manx Shearwater, usually a fairly common bird from Point of Buckquoy during the summer months, not this year! I also seem to have missed out on Fieldfare and Brambling. The Brambling I know is right, can be tricky, but Fieldfare!! Did I just forget to put it into BirdTrack? But I really can't remember one. I dipped on Ring Ouzel too, well done GC, stomping out to the lighthouse on The Brough one spring morning. The missing included Pom, this spring I will watch from The Brough and not Yesnaby (off patch), despite the easier access there. And despite a good effort, and Little Auks being all over Orkney this December, none for me.
On the wader front things were a bit grim although I did manage Little Stint; over and over again. Curlew Sandpiper joined the list too. Missing were Black-tailed Godwit, Jack Snipe, Woodcock, Common, Green and Wood Sandpipers, and no Grey Phalarope.
Summer plumage Little Stint with Dunlin
Grey Plover, can be tricky but one crept on to the list in November
One of the high points of the year was the Gull-billed Tern seen at Skiba Geo when I was checking the breeding Arctic Terns in June. A bird I never expected to find, especially here, third Orkney record and recently accepted by BBRC. Three Common Terns were nice too, I think I have seen them on the patch in the past but common they are not. But no Sandwich Tern this year. Gulls were ok too, added Little Gull finally as a patch tick and had very good numbers of Glaucous, including 7 one morning. Iceland finally joined the list in seasonal July. Med Gull was missing.
Ice in July
Nice surprise of the year was Water Rail, a species that was new. Common Scoter is hard to see in Orkney also, but for one or two East Mainland locations. But the missing included Whooper Swan, Brent Goose, Gadwall, and I continued to dip Mandarin, although latest intelligence suggests this is a roaming pet duck. The quacker list would benefit from more scrutiny of the Boardhouse Loch, although there is limited viewing from within the patch boundaries.
In terms of rarity finding the Palace patch does hold the best potential now, if I want to add to my found list. Whilst Old Nisthouse has done me proud the accumulation of several wanted quackers this year means that I'll be relying on some very good luck, rather than hard graft, to get much new. Lesser Scaup would be a reasonable target for there, by searching through quacker flocks, so there is still potential. Of course I would dearly love to nail a Gyr, two this year but neither tickable.
To end on highlights of the year, other than the Gull-billed Tern, the Swift movement was amazing. Smashing the Orkney record for a number seen in a day by a huge margin, slightly worryingly seeing 666 devil birds might be a tad ominous. Bearing in mind in six years I had seen three individuals previously it was a very exciting day.
BirdTrack records this year were 2,654 for Palace and 7,878 for Old Nisthouse made up of 399 complete lists in total, as well as a pile of casual records. I've been as careful as I could be to add the records as I've gone along and keep up to date (and have just found a list in the notebook, so have added the figures now), hopefully in a small way a useful data contribution.
And for other things, well I ought to do better, more Pan Listing in 2016 would not be a bad resolution.
Rhingia campestris - Palace, June 2015
Palace, Birsay, West Mainland Orkney (Islands mini-league) - totals 2015:
I didn't go birding today but I did add a species to my UK list, a species of whale that is. Late start as birthday stuff to do for birthday girl - then as everyone else did pony stuff I shot off to Burray.
In amongst the swarm of gannets I quickly saw a Minke Whale but where were the main attraction. After about 15 minutes I got a good view of a Humpback but a long way out. Fortunately after about 30 minutes they came back.
I dipped the Orcas but save them for another day...