31 May - 7 June 2003

Robin Noble

Trip Diary

Saturday 31st May:

This was the usual busy and complicated day for the leader; say good-bye to one group in the morning, change locations, collect a new group or await their arrival under their own steam, worry about the weather, and whether they will all get here..........but eventually we were all assembled in the Barony, and under the influence of a warm welcome, and lots of good food, another week began.

Sunday June 1st:

We spent the day locally; during a breezy morning, we visited the Loons RSPB Reserve, which, as the day slowly brightened, accordingly began to look rather nice, with wildflowers round the edges, and Greylag, Wigeon, Coot and Shoveler on the water. Further over, were lots of waders, like Curlew and Lapwing.

Next was Marwick itself, (the Bay beside the Head), where a high tide had pushed lots of wee waders up the shore; there were Redshank and Turnstones, for instance, and a Lapwing with chicks in a nearby field. We walked along the low shore which runs in a southerly direction, towards the nicely-restored Fishermen's Huts; amazing, angled slabs, then amazingly angled slab roofs, cue for a discussion of the native rock, the Old Red Sandstone. The flowers were lovely -lots of pale blue spring squill, and the brilliant yellow of the birds' foot trefoil. Marwick Head was as spectacular as ever, with lots of birds wheeling around; lots of skuas, several Gannets, and a Puffin: only one, but a good view from the wonderful viewing "platform" on the cliffs.

After a quick visit to the loos in the village, we crossed the causeway to the Brough of Birsay, where a walk around some of the island, (with more squill and trefoil, as well as good views of Shag and Razorbill), was followed by a tour of the extensive archaeological site, once occupied by Pict and Viking. Sheltering from the breeze, in the sun, across the causeway, we watched a couple of Painted Ladies (this became a daily feature of the holiday). In the evening, the first of many good meals, and the usual run over the day's events - we seemed to have seen quite a lot.

Monday, June 2nd:

A murky morning at first, but it cleared quite quickly and ended up good. We went inland, through rather sombre rough fields and open moors. The Hillside Road gave us a view of a Short-eared Owl, which was nice, and Lowrie's Water provided superb Red-throated Divers, as well as Tufted Duck and Wigeon families. We went next to the wee loos by the shore, and then to the wonderful site of the Broch of Gurness, around which Robin conducted the group, insisting that they squeeze through a narrow gap into the hollow of the wall, just so that everyone could see how it was constructed. (This was nothing to what was to follow, little did they know it!).

The nearby wildflower area had field pansy, cowslips, and lovely northern marsh orchids. We travelled on, looking for more owls, or even a Hen Harrier, (a fabulous bird, in every sense of the word, these days!) Through Finstown, up a rough track, up quite a steep hill (remember Orkney is said to be flat, commented the tormentor!), and next thing, the whole group is crawling, on their knees on cold damp stone, into a dark and ancient tomb - which fortunately, everyone seemed to find a most enjoyable and interesting experience. Back to the Barony and a lovely evening.

Tuesday, June 3rd:

The day dawned beautifully - at least, it was beautiful at breakfast, and we headed off to Rousay. The ferry crossing was calm, with fewer birds than expected perhaps, but the views as we drove around the island were wonderful. We were dropped above the Midhowe shore, and made our way down the grassy slope to the sea and the monuments.

First came the astonishing and ancient cairn of Midhowe, some 5,500 years old, and impressive in scale under its protective hangar. Then we had lunch in the sun, by the sea, at a neat, rock-girt, sandy inlet which looks as if it must have been quarrried out by the hand of man, then past the head of the next geo we went, and inspected the nearby broch tower, a real youngster compared to the tomb, at only 2,500 years old!

Thereafter, we walked along the shore, with views of seals, mostly common, and a progression of monuments, some rather better cared for than others. It slowly became somewhat greyer, and the breeze got up, but it stayed dry all the way back to Brinyan and the tea-room. The return ferry trip gave us excellent views of flying Red-throated Divers, and seal-covered skerries, while the Hillside Road managed a Kestrel - not a sign of an owl, let alone a you-know-what!

Wednesday, June 4th:

In the west, it began as a grey day, but as we went east to Kirkwall, it became hazy and sunny. We toured the town, and Robin guided everyone around the beautiful Cathedral of St. Magnus, as well as the ruined Bishops' and Earls' Palaces. Then we went south, crossed the first couple of Churchill Barriers, and had lunch in the sun, by the sand and sea: soporific it was, but.....(oh, all right, I know you can have too much alliteration, and anyway, a Painted Lady, what else, woke us all up!).

We went on down into South Ronaldsay, almost right out into Scapa Flow to visit the wonderful Hoxa Tapestry Gallery, whence we returned to the thought-inspiring Italian Chapel, and Robin gave his potted history of Scapa and its wartime significance. (Very patient listeners, this group were). We set off westwards via Waulkmill Bay and the long wetland valley of Kirbister, where Stephen found not only a distant owl, but, wonder of wonders, a male Hen Harrier - excellent view, too. Home via the Hillside Road, to yet another good meal.

Thursday, June 5th: A cooler and brighter day, and we crossed to Hoy, which was looking wonderful. The colours were intense, and there were lots of Meadow pipits along the road. We went slowly towards the high hills, saw more and more Bonxies, and turned into the glen which leads to Rackwick.

We stopped to walk across on the boardwalk, looking for insectivorous plants in the bog on the way, to the remarkable Dwarfie Stane - imagine having the patience to hollow out a great boulder of hard sandstone, aided only with another, smaller piece of the same rock! Lots of cackling from the crags above gave away the presence of multitudes of Fulmars, and Robin heard, very clearly, the call of a young Peregrine - but try as we might, we could see nothing.

We went on down to Rackwick, had lunch in the car park, and having decided that we were not going to rush out to see the Old Man, walked relaxedly down to the superb beach, with its sweep of sand, and piled boulders of pink and blue. Stephen saw Twite and there were lots of pipits, skuas, Curlew, and Ringed Plover on the beach. On the way back, the tatty plantations provided Chaffinch and Willow Warbler, the roadside, Wrens and female Stonechat, and there were lots of Tysties on the sea, and seals at Houton. A good day.

Friday, June 6th:

We set off to do the great archaeological round, and the day slowly improved. We admired Maes Howe, (a contrast to the crawling into Cuween some days before), viewed the Stones of Stenness, walked around the great Ring of Brodgar, and earnestly debated its purpose.

Lunch at Yesnaby, with views over the open Atlantic, and a walk over the hill to Borwick, with its hidden, unrestored, spectacularly situated Broch. Here we also found one single, wishy-washy Primula scotica - but there were lots and lots of skuas!

To Skara Brae in the sun, set in its lovely bay, and the warm stone-work of 5,000 year-old houses, then via the Loons, with Shoveler again, and gorgeous wild-flowers, to the Barony, and the final evening meal: a really good week had suddenly come to an end. Thanks to all the group for being such good fun.

Robin Noble,

Sept. 2003.

Species Lists


Red-throated Diver





Mute Swan

Greylag Goose




Tufted Duck

Common Eider

Red-breasted Merganser

Hen Harrier







Ringed Plover



Common Sandpiper


Common Snipe



Great Skua

Arctic Skua

Common Gull

Herring Gull

Great Black-backed Gull

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Black-headed Gull


Common Tern

Arctic Tern



Black Guillemot


Rock Dove

Wood Pigeon

Collared Dove

Short-eared Owl



House Martin

Pied Wagtail

Meadow Pipit

Rock Pipit






Sedge Warbler

Willow Warbler



Hooded Crow



Reed Bunting




House Sparrow


Common Seal

Grey Seal

Orkney Vole

Brown Rat

Brown Hare

Rabbit (!)


Large White

Green-veined White

Red Admiral

Painted Ladies every day!

Flowers (some)

Marsh Marigold

Water Crowfoot

Ragged Robin

Cuckoo Flower

Red Campion


Sea Campion


Water Mint



Kidney Vetch

Birds foot Trefoil

Yellow Vetchling

Sea Sandwort




Scottish Primrose


Water Forgetmenot.




Mountain Everlasting

Field pansy

Common violet

Pink Purslane

Daisy (amazing fields of, in Rousay)

Sea Mayweed

Marsh Thistle


Sundew - Round and Oblong-leaved

Heath Bedstraw

Sea Milkwort

Heath Spotted Orchid

Northern Marsh Orchid

Yellow Iris

Spring Squill

Cotton Grass


© The Travelling Naturalist 2003