TRAVELLING NATURALIST TRIP REPORT

Orkney

22 - 29 June 2002


Leaders:
Robin Noble

Saturday June 22nd

The day of arrivals, (many in the rather damp evening), and beginning to get to know each other; this mostly during the rather leisurely (but extremely tasty!) dinner. Being Saturday night, the bar-cum-dining room was very busy, but not unpleasantly so. Someone in the group remarked that it was nice to see a group of young people out, having a good time, but not being obnoxious; Robin was rather glad that the local dialect remained incomprehensible to most of our party!

Sunday June 23rd

The morning was quite light, cool and breezy; we went first to the Loons Reserve, where the flowers looked wonderful, but the birds were rather quiet. Cut fields were full of Oystercatchers and Curlew, with some Lapwing. Down near Marwick we had good views of Redshank. We walked along the shore to the Fishermen's Huts, looking at the flowers, (notably Hogweed and Wild Angelica), the passing skuas, and the hoodies' nest.

At Sand Geo, the group were introduced to the native stone, and how easy it is to build with it, the use of flagstone for roofing, the word "noust", and found a fossil plant on the stony beach. Thence to the loos at Earls' Palace, (with the amazing Magellan's Ragwort nearby); after a short look at the Palace itself, we had lunch at Buckquoy, during which the weather improved. In the afternoon, we did the circuit of the tidal island of the Brough, with excellent views of seabirds, found some Spring Squill still in bloom up by the lighthouse, and saw several Puffins. We went around the extensive Viking site in full sunshine, with lovely views. The afternoon ended with a short jaunt to Skippiegeo, (full of nousts!), and the Whalebone; Nick tried out the Arctic Terns' early warning system, and there were lots of Northern Marsh Orchids.

Monday June 24th

Grey, damp, sometimes wet, sometimes clear. In search of those fabled birds, the Short-eared Owl and Hen Harrier, we went by the Hillside Road, through the marginal agricultural land and open moors. Up by the windmills, Lowrie's Water gave us sharp showers, Red-throated Diver and Ringed Plover. After lunch, we explored the Broch of Gurness and its surrounding community, and saw more divers, Mergansers, Eider, Skylarks and seals.

We again took side-roads to Finstown, and went, in heavy rain, up to the wonderful little tomb of Cuween Hill. All but Richard crawled into it and we spent a considerable time inside, looking at the side-chambers and discussing its architecture and use. We then emerged to find Richard looking cheerful, in brilliant sunshine - the rain had stopped abruptly, shortly after the rest of us had gone into the tomb: there may be a moral in there somewhere! Lots of Heath Spotted Orchids, Lousewort and Tormentil. A pleasant drive took us back to the Barony and another good meal (actually, they were all wonderful!).

Tuesday June 26th

Pretty windy, grey at times. Today we did some of the "big" archaeological sites: Maes Howe, (passed) the Stones of Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar, and Skara Brae - all very impressive and interesting. We looked for birds at Voy, but saw little, then went out to Yesnaby, which was spectacular, with great waves against the cliffs. The flowers were good there, too; the tiny Sea Milkwort, tiny and brilliant Primula scotica, and lovely Grass of Parnassus. There were skuas, Great and Arctic, everywhere; some of the latter were of the really gorgeous light form. Not a bad day, considering the weather!

Wednesday June 27th

Today to Rousay; the route to Tingwall was via the Hillside Road, still looking for elusive moorland raptors. It was mostly dry, sometimes bright. Andy drove us around much of the circuit of the Island, with Robin indicating things of interest. We stopped above Midhowe, where the views were wonderful, and descended to the shore, where we followed the coast to Westness, past an amazing succession of monuments, the oldest and most astonishing of which is the great tomb of Midhowe, dating from 3500 BC. Skuas passed us, and there were Dunlin and Ringed Plover on the beach near Westness.

We were picked up again, and again left the minibus to see the small, "friendly" tomb of Taversoe Tuick; from here we followed the road to Brinyan; the plantation by the bridge gave us some small woodland birds like Chaffinch. Richard and Jenny had not come down to the shore, but had walked into the moors behind Trumland House and its plantation, and had added Skylark and Tree Sparrow. On the return via the Loch of Swannay, we looked at the growing flock of Greylag with goslings.

Thursday June 28th

A fairly horrible day, but quite pleasantly spent. Robin took the group around the superb interior of St. Magnus Cathedral, and the ruins of the Earls' and Bishops' Palaces. After further looking around the damp town, we went out to the Italian Chapel, and saw the Churchill Barriers and the Blockships from World War 1. We proceeded further to South Ronaldsay and the Tapestry Gallery (which everyone seemed to find impressive), where there were superb orchids, mostly Northern Marsh but also some hybrids, in the field across the road. We returned to base via Scapa Beach, the Old Finstown Road and the Hillside Road, once again looking in vain for harriers and owls!

Friday June 29th

This was a better day, 'though at times with a cool breeze. We went to Hoy, where we spent the day pottering quietly around the peaceful and very beautiful island. The ferry took us from Houton to Lyness, which, as the now abandoned wartime base, has a very "lost" look about it.

From here the drive north and west just gets better and better; heather moors, then surprisingly steep hills on one side, the sheltered water of Scapa Flow, with turquoise bays and sand beaches on the other. We stopped at times to take photos, to look at the moorland flowers (Slender St John's Wort, Milkwort, Purging Flax by the roadside) and the perpetual flypast of Great Skuas. We walked along the boardwalk and path to the Dwarfie Stane (heard grouse en route but saw them not), marvelled at the labour of creating it, listened to the cackling Fulmars in the crags above and looked at insectivorous plants along the way.

We went next to Rackwick, where we lunched, and then walked around for a while; most of us went to that amazing beach, a crescent of sand, backed by pink and blue boulders, hemmed in by high hills and cliffs. We stopped again at the tatty plantation and bushy areas nearby; they gave us small birds like Stonechat, young Robins and what we thought was a young Whitethroat. We turned aside to look at Moness and its sandy bays, before returning to Lyness with time to look at the wartime museum.

From Houton we went via Kirbister and, for the last time, the Hillside Road, (lots of skuas, lots of Curlew, lots of Hares, and Jenny, as ever, found a Snipe on a post!) before returning to the Barony, and our last, wonderful meal together.

BIRD LIST:

(seen and heard).

Red-throated Diver

Fulmar

Cormorant

Shag

Grey Heron

Mute Swan

Greylag Goose

Shelduck

Wigeon

Mallard

Tufted Duck

Eider

Red-breasted Merganser

Kestrel

Red Grouse

Pheasant

Moorhen

Coot

Oystercatcher

Lapwing

Ringed Plover

Curlew

Redshank

Common Sandpiper

Snipe

Dunlin

Great Skua

Arctic Skua

Common Gull

Herring Gull

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Great Black-backed Gull

Black-headed Gull

Kittiwake

Sandwich Tern

Common Tern

Arctic Tern

Guillemot

Razorbill

Black Guillemot

Puffin

Rock Dove

Wood Pigeon

Collared Dove

Short-eared Owl (distant, very briefly)

Skylark

Sand Martin

Swallow

Pied Wagtail

Meadow Pipit

Rock Pipit

Wren

Blackbird

Robin

Stonechat

Wheatear

Sedge Warbler

Willow Warbler

? juvenile Whitethroat

Jackdaw

Rook

Hoodie

Raven

Starling

Chaffinch

Greenfinch

House Sparrow

Tree Sparrow.

MAMMALS:

Common Seal

Grey Seal

Brown Rat

Brown Hare (the best year I can remember for them)

Rabbit

BUTTERFLIES:

very poor, one probable Green-veined White.

WILD FLOWERS: (in no particular order)

Ragged Robin
Monkeyflower
Yellow Iris
Northern Marsh Orchid
Cotton Grass
Marsh Cinquefoil
Water Forget-Me-Not
Water Mint
Bogbean
Hogweed
Wild Angelica
Kidney Vetch
Wild Thyme
Thrift
Primrose
Sea Campion
Crowberry
Tormentil
Silverweed
Sea Sandwort
Scurvy Grass
Magellan's Ragwort
Birds-foot Trefoil
Spring Squill
Ladies' Bedstraw
Eyebright (various)
Clover - Red and White
Curled Dock
Sheep Sorrel
Sea Plantain
hybrid Orchids
Red Campion
Heath Spotted Orchid
Butterbur
Bush Vetch
Yellow Vetchling
Common Ladies' Mantle
Heartsease
Selfheal
Cowslip
Hawkweed (various
including Mouse-Ear)
Bell Heather
Meadowsweet
Pink Purslane
Heath Bedstraw
Yellow Rattle
Lousewort
Black Medick
Water Avens
Foxglove
Mayweed
Groundsel
Ragwort
Red Hemp-nettle
Pineappleweed
Sea Milkwort
Primula scotica
Grass of Parnassus
Creeping Willow
Sea Mayweed
Twayblade (Jenny & Richard - Rousay)
Fumitory
Goosefoot
Germander Speedwell
Heath Speedwell
Gorse
Horsetail
Chickweed
Fuschia (naturalised)
Marsh Thistle
Cow Parsley
Ground Elder
Ox-Eye Daisy
Valerian
Dog Rose
Butterwort
Sundew - Oblong-leaved and Common
Slender St John's Wort
Purging Flax
Bog Asphodel
Coltsfoot
Milkwort
Woodrush
Charlock
Cross-leaved Heath
Redshank

Robin Noble.

7/8/2002


© The Travelling Naturalist 2002