Nature lovers are drawn to Orkney because of the abundance of birds and
marine wildlife that inhabit the islands throughout the year. Wildlife
is everywhere in Orkney, oystercatcher wading in the wetland meadows, short-eared
owls staring at passers-by from the roadside fence-posts, grey and common
seals basking on the rocky skerries, while whales, dolphins and porpoises
can be spotted in coastal waters in summer, and hundreds of thousands of
breeding seabirds can be seen congregating on vertical cliffs.
Mammals or birds, ocean or land creatures, there is sure to be something
to interest you. Why not try out the professional guiding services that
are available, as there is something to suit everyone whether it is a personalised
photography or wildlife tour or an exhilarating wildlife cruise on a speedboat.
70 islands are internationally renowned for their excellent bird-watching,
but the sheer number of birds which the islands support makes it one
of the premier all-season British destinations. The RSPB owns leases
or manages over 8,000 hectares of land in Orkney, in the interests of
protecting important breeding grounds and conserving habitat.
The variety of habitat and the richness of the farmland, heather moorland,
and coastal waters provide ideal breeding territory for a host of species,
including species such as corncrake, red-throated divers, hen harrier,
merlin, peregrine, whimbrel and pintail. The normally reticent red-throated
divers nest on the hill lochans, and the RSPB hide at Burgar Hill is an
excellent place from which to observe them. The short-eared owl also breeds
in Orkney, a delightful daytime sight on meadows and moorland such as that
at Hobbister, which also supports one hundred pairs of curlew. Golden plover
and dunlin nest on the Birsay moors and Hoy reserves.
May - July is the best time to see breeding birds in Orkney, outside of
that time the RSPB reserves will be almost deserted. The sandstone ledges
of the sea-cliff reserves on the islands of Westray, Copinsay and at Marwick
Head on the Orkney Mainland are colonised in early summer by thousands
of fulmar, guillemots, kittiwakes, and razorbills. Great skuas and Arctic
skuas haunt the cliff tops and the moors. Gannets and shags populate the
lower ledges and shelves of the islands' ocean margins.
In autumn and winter, great northern divers from Arctic Canada, Iceland
and Greenland, and Slovenian grebes, velvet scoters, and hundreds of long-tailed
ducks from northern Europe gather alongside resident eider, red-breasted
merganser and black guillemot. Over 50,000 waders feed on the Orkney shoreline
in winter. Whooper swans, and greylag geese graze Shapinsay's fields, whilst
on the marsh at Mill Dam pintail, wigeon, shoveler, redshank and water
rail can be observed from the hide provided.
Visitors to Orkney will be rewarded for patience and care at any time of
the year, with spectacular sightings of rare or shy birds, in beautiful
and peaceful surroundings. View our RSPB Monthly Bird Reports to gather
an idea of what has been seen at different times of the year.
Birds & reserves: RSPB Orkney Office, Stromness, Orkney KW16 3AG t.
01856 850176 f. 01856 851311 w. www.rspb.org.uk.
Find yourself watching curious Grey and Common seals, look out for dolphins,
porpoises or whales passing through our waters, wait patiently for a shy
otter, hear the rustle of the unique Orkney vole or see a pair of handsome
hares boxing and gambolling in the Spring.
Orkney's wildlife enjoys the unspoilt environment with the relative lack
of disturbance and ample feeding grounds. With continued care and respect,
we hope our wildlife will continue to flourish.
Stand on any shore and it is likely that a seal will find you irresistibly
interesting if you whistle or walk it may very well swim along in time
with you. Or see them hauled out on pleasant days wherever rocky skerries
provide them with space to bask lazily.
The Grey seal can be seen at all times of year, but most often during breeding
season. Females come ashore on small islands from late September onwards
to have their pups and mate, before leaving again for sea after the pup
is weaned. Baby grey seals are identifiable as they are born with a lovely
silky white coat. There are about 25,000 Grey seals in Orkney waters, so
you have a good chance of spotting one!
The common seal is smaller than the Grey seal and have dog-like heads;
they also are more coastal in habitat. You can find them round the shores
on skerries, small islands, and sand banks at low tide. The pups are normally
born in late June and July, in their adult coat unlike the Grey seal. There
are around 7,000 common seals in the Orkney area, and they can sometimes
be spotted hauled out in large groups.
In recent years increasing numbers of dolphins, porpoises and whales are
being spotted in Orkney’s coastal waters. In 2006 alone several species
have been reported including minke whales, humpback whales, orcas, porpoises
and common dolphins. Although you can never guarantee to see species such
as these, it certainly is a special experience when it does happen!
Orkney’s diverse ranges of
habitats are good for plants as well as wildlife, and a wide range of wild
flowers bloom each year in the islands. The rare Primula Scotica, Coltsfoot,
Marsh Marigold and Celandine which are followed by Primroses, Violets,
Speedwell, and Flag Irises.
The rare Primula scotica (the Scottish
Primrose) is Orkney’s most
famous plant. This species only exists in Orkney, North Sutherland and
Caithness, on maritime heath. Orkney sites include Yesnaby, the west coasts
of Rousay and Westray, Papay North Hill and in South Walls. The plant is
very small making them difficult to find, they have between two and eight
small flowers per head, with a purple colour which can vary, the throat
is bright yellow. There are two flowering periods, the first being in May,
and the main period being in July – good luck in finding one!
There are significant areas of maritime
heath in Orkney, which support species of plant particularly suited to
the salty and exposed conditions, which prevail. Maritime Heath is one
of the most interesting of Orkney’s
habitats. It occurs particularly on soils overlying Rousay flagstone, on
areas with considerable saltgusting explosure. In the summer months it
is very colourful, with a carpet of flowers. The hardy sedges and heather,
with Grass of Oarnassus, Thrift, Moss Campion, Eyebright, Mountain Everlasting,
Sea Plantain, and Spring Squill all add to the display.
Look out for or request a copy of
the excellent Environmental Calendar, which is published twice a year
by Orkney Community Environmental Awareness Network (OCEAN), whose members
include Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the RSPB. Also pick up a
copy of the SNH brochures on Orkney’s
many species and habitats.
Lastly we’re hoping to add a
NEW wildlife forum to our website so lookout for this new addition in
the next few months!