RSPB Bird Reports
ORKNEY BIRD RECORDS
Farmers fear unkindly May according to the classic Flanders and Swann
ditty, but birders look forward to it with eager anticipation, as it heralds
the real start of the breeding season and the chance of a good spread of
unusual migrants if the weather conditions are right. After a cold and
wet start, this May looked promising with a long spell of south easterlies
setting in, not unfortunately accompanied by any rain. This meant that
most overshooting migrants passed us by this year and we missed out on
the exceptional run of oddities that landed on Shetland. However, something
unexpected usually turns up but we had to wait till the last days of the
month before the arrival of a Collared Pratincole, the first Orkney
record, in the east Mainland on 31st, set pulses racing.
As usual a few lingering Great Northern Divers were still around all month, with records from Hoy, Shapinsay and North Ronaldsay to 28th. While these birds are still undertaking their spring migration, Red-throated divers have been on territory here since March and the first chicks were hatched by May 1st. A Storm Petrel off Papa Westray on 15th was an early record for this pelagic bird.
37 Pink-footed Geese on North Ronaldsay were late migrants with
odd ones to 12th contrasting with the escalating breeding population of Greylags,
with the first goslings being seen as early as 3rd. Canada Geese are
uncommon here and two at Mill Dam, Shapinsay on 10th were noteworthy. Ducks
and Mill Dam are almost synonymous, and seven pairs of Shoveler,
a Pochard brood on 20th and 8 Ruddy Ducks on 15th amply justify
this impression. The late spring gathering of Long-tailed ducks off the
Churchill Barriers peaked at an impressive 600 on 5th, declining thereafter.
A scattering of migrant raptors included a Marsh Harrier at Graemeshall Loch on 13th, North Ronaldsay 9-10th. Ospreys were on Hoy from 6th-11th, Rendall on 10th and Brig o' Waithe on 19th. There was also one, possibly two on Loch of Harray on 12th. The long staying Buzzard in Rendall disappeared on 15th having been present for 18 months, and there were other sightings from Harray on 6th, Firth on 5th and Stenness on 24th.
The introduced population of Red-legged Partridges appears to be doing well on Shapinsay, with small numbers seen all month.
Getting here under its own steam was a Spotted Crake on North Ronaldsay on 21st-22nd.The first Corncrake was also there on 11th while a Crane arrived on Westray on 27th with presumably the same bird on Eday on 28th-29th. The previously mentioned Collared Pratincole on 31st stayed for too short a time to be seen by many observers but was appreciated. The appearance of this exotic bird once more shows that watching a home patch regularly can produce spectacular results.
Large numbers of Arctic breeding waders pass through the islands in May. Peak numbers this year on North Ronaldsay were 144 Ringed Plover on 8th, 266 Sanderling on 18th, 81 Purple Sandpipers on 11th and 246 Turnstone on 6th with many birds passing through till the month end. On Cata Sand, Sanday on 13th there were totals of 70 Bar-tailed godwit, 70 Grey Plover and 40 Sanderling. A Ruff was at Mill Dam, Shapinsay on 10th with others on North Ronaldsay on 26th and 28th. Whimbrel were recorded daily on North Ronaldsay from 1st to 13th with a maximum of 5. The only other sighting was of 2 on 4th on Hoy. A Wood Sandpiper was on North Ronaldsay on 27th, but the first Common Sandpiper arrived on Hoy on 5th with three breeding birds there on 27th, and others reported from Lochs of Harray and Swannay during the month. A Grey Phalarope appeared on North Ronaldsay on 25th.
Birsay Moors hosted a Long-tailed Skua on 18th with another being found among the Arctic skuas on Papa Westray on 27th. The Black-headed Gull colony held 516 nests at Mill Dam, Shapinsay, the largest count for many years. Little Gulls are appearing with more regularity nowadays, but three together at Mill Dam was unusual with a further two on 20th. Breeding Kittiwake numbers have been declining at many monitored colonies recently and numbers were noted to be well down on Rousay this year. Very high numbers of Arctic Terns were on North Ronaldsay during the month, with a peak count of 3253 on 27th. Numbers on Westray and Papa Westray appeared up to strength as well. Let's hope that they have a successful breeding season. The first two Little Terns were on Sanday on 14th with three in the south isles on 15th.
A Turtle Dove arrived on Egilsay on 21st, North Ronaldsay on 9th and 13th with Cuckoos there on 9th and 13th and others in Rendall 23rd and Hoy on 29th with a Wryneck on North Ronaldsay on 30th and Long-eared Owls in Rendall from 1st-14th and North Ronaldsay from 2nd-5th. The only Swifts appeared on North Ronaldsay on 18th and 19th, at Scapa also on 19th and on Papa Westray on 22nd. Sand Martins on 7th and 11th on North Ronaldsay and 13th at Graemeshall were the only reports of this hirundine but House Martins appeared in larger numbers than usual towards the month end while the bulk of the breeding Swallows arrived then as well.
There were no large falls of Warblers and Chats this spring but small numbers of a good variety of species were seen throughout the month with most being recorded in the period 17th-21st. Just two Redstarts, six Whinchats, one Ring Ouzel, one Pied Flycatcher and a handful of Spotted Flycatchers were typical of the small numbers recorded. They were widely scattered, from Flotta, Hoy, Deerness, South Ronaldsay, Shapinsay and North Ronaldsay. Warblers included three Lesser Whitethroats, three Whitethroats, a Wood Warbler and Grasshopper Warbler. A Golden Oriole in flight over Ward Hill, Orphir must have surprised the lucky observer, while a scattering of Red-backed Shrikes enlivened the scene with up to two birds seen on North Ronaldsay, Deerness, Shapinsay, Sanday and Papa Westray between 12th and 21st.
There were a few Crossbills around mid-month, single Scarlet Rosefinches on North Ronaldsay on 18th and 24th, a Goldfinch in Burray on 5th, a late Brambling on Papa Westray on 20th while a final burst on 28th saw North Ronaldsay again scoring with a Rustic Bunting.
E. J. Williams