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Saturday 28 May - Saturday 4 June 2005


Robin Noble

Saturday 28 May


Sunday 29 May

We had gathered the day before, in foul weather, and waking up, we could see there had been no change at all! We therefore spent the day using the minibus as a mobile hide, crawling slowly round the West Mainland, and by the time we returned to The Barony for dinner, we had done extremely well, with excellent views of many species, including Hen Harrier (two males) and Short-eared Owl (three!). We rapidly got used to the great number of waders, especially the ubiquitous Curlew, Oystercatcher and Lapwing, but, in addition, the Loch of Hundland gave us a Gadwall, new for the trip list. Waulkmill Bay was cold but dry, but rather emptier of birds than normal, although the low mounds of willow were in such dense flower that you could smell their sweet scent, (which I had never before experienced); primroses and marsh marigolds were still in great abundance. We visited the chambered tomb of Unstan, and the last stop of the day was at the Loons; where we heard a Sedge Warbler and eventually saw a Reed Bunting. The bog bean was in full flower and looked wonderful.

Monday 30 May

We went through to Kirkwall today, necessitated by a change of vehicle: we ended up with a Chrysler Voyager, which was extremely smooth and comfortable, (although I never quite got used to its complex electrics!). We visited the beautiful Cathedral of St Magnus, where I had to compete with organ music, which is one thing, and an enthusiastic joiner, which was another, and then the ruins of the Bishop’s and Earl’s Palaces. In great comfort and increasing brightness, we spent the afternoon visiting the Italian Chapel, the Churchill Barriers, and the Hoxa Tapestry Gallery-wonderful views over Scapa Flow. The group walked for a while on the beach, while I had distant views of Red-throated Divers. On the way back, we crawled into Cuween Hill chambered tomb, which was much admired, and enjoyed the lousewort, milkwort and orchids beside the path. Not a very birdy day, but very enjoyable.

Tuesday 31 May

We were booked to go to Rousay today, and we got the weather we needed; the air was cold but the sunshine was brilliant, and when we had lunch by the sea, out of the wind, it was pure heaven. We did the great archaeological walk, looking at brochs and tombs and the remains of Viking halls; there were fewer seals than normal, but one Common and two Grey were obligingly close in, so we had good views. We think that some of us saw a Great Northern Diver on the crossing, and there were certainly excellent views of Mergansers, Red-throated Divers, Greylags and goslings beside the Loch of Swannay on the way home. (It was here that I received a call to say that my second daughter had had a wee boy that very day, so any incoherence in this account should be excused!) There was a good sunset that night, but the air grew very cold.

Wednesday 1 June

The wind was cold, and we could see that the day would deteriorate, but we managed to do quite a lot before it did. We first went up Marwick Head, seeing heath-spotted orchids (just!), and spring squill on the way up to the cliff-top. My favourite viewpoint was sheltered and quite sunny, and there was a Puffin obligingly waiting for us, beautifully posed. We spent quite a while up here, enjoying the noise, light and colour of the great seabird colony, before heading to Skara Brae. There weren’t too many folk there, so we had a really good look round, (although a bossy woman stopped us from leaning on a comfortable, turf-topped wall, where I have been allowed to lean for over thirty years!) By the time we got to Yesnaby, it was cold, grey and windy, but we did manage to enjoy more spring squill, and to find one Primula scotica, windblown, it is true, but triumphantly in bloom. After this we drove via the Ring of Brodgar and Stones of Stenness, to take refuge in the streets of Stromness, but when I realised that we had all found shelter from the increasingly foul weather in the same coffee-shop, we gave up and returned home to the comfort and good food of the Barony.

Thursday 2 June

Again foul weather, so again we did the West Mainland tour, and again had excellent views of owls and harriers. There were several Red-throated Divers, too, up at Lowrie’s Water below the windmills, and the Ring Plover and fluffy young were also visible there. Having looked at the cowslips and first emerging northern marsh orchids at Evie Sands, we visited the great tomb of Maes Howe, and then Orphir Round Church and the Saga Centre-nice and warm! From here, we went back to Birsay, looked briefly at the Palace ruins and, through binoculars, at the Viking settlement on the tidal island of the Brough (awkward tides and foul weather meant that we never managed to get over to it), before visiting the working watermill close to home.

Friday 3 June

Overnight, the temperature almost doubled, and we had a good day for our trip to Hoy. The mist slowly lifted, there were groups of Guillemots and Tysties from the ferry, and a small, roadside lochan gave us the perfect view of a Red-throated Diver; all reflections, with the rich, cinnamon colour of the throat being wonderfully seen. It was getting really warm when we stopped to cross the moor to the Dwarfie Stane, and we found both butterwort and sundew in the bogs by the boardwalk. Up at the tomb, we briefly heard a young Peregrine, presumably on the eyrie, but no adult ever appeared, sadly. Down at Rackwick, we had lunch in the warm sun, and then wandered around the spacious bay; lots more spring squill by the shore. The heavy rain overnight had turned the normally quiet burn into a torrent, which meant that we could not cross to the sands, but I think everyone enjoyed tour never know what will happen next in Orkney!

Saturday 4 June




Red-throated diver

Great Northern Diver






Mute Swan

Greylag Goose



Hen Harrier

Tufted Duck


Red-breasted Merganser



Peregrine (juvenile, heard only)





Ringed Plover



Common Sandpiper (heard only)



Great Skua

Arctic Skua

Common Gull

Herring Gull

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Great Black-backed Gull

Black-headed Gull


Sandwich Tern

Common Tern

Arctic Tern



Black Guillemot


Rock Dove

Wood Pigeon

Collared Dove

Short-eared Owl



Pied Wagtail

Meadow Pipit

Rock Pipit



Song Thrush




Sedge Warbler



Hooded Crow



Reed Bunting


House Sparrow


Common Seal

Grey Seal


Brown Hare



Green-veined White


Magpie Moth and lots of their caterpillars

WILDFLOWERS (not comprehensive and in no particular order)

Marsh Marigold


Cuckoo Flower

Lady’s Mantle

Red Campion





Water Avens

Cow Parsley

Heath Spotted Orchid

Heath Speedwell



Sea Sandwort

Dog Violet



Sea Pink


Pink Purslane

Lesser Celandine

Spring Squill

Scottish Primrose


Sea Milkwort

Sea Campion

Scurvy Grass

Birds’ Foot Trefoil

Field Pansy

Northern Marsh Orchid




Wild Lupin

Marsh Violet

Cotton Grass

Robin Noble, August 2005

© The Travelling Naturalist 2005