Observations on Some Birds in the Mainland of Orkney

By John G. H. Marwick published in Orcadian Papers 1905

Twenty-five years ago I lived in Stromness. There I first became acquainted with tame birds and with a few of the more common wild birds. I have seen many snipe shot at the Millburn. Even on the market green I have seen snipe and plover shot, but the progress of the town has put an end to such practices.


taking it easy on Harray Loch (F Grahame)

At the Millburn and the North End, Stromness, red-shanks, sandlarks, and dunlins are very common, and at certain seasons of the year, generally winter and spring, flocks of plover and a few snipe may be seen. The seagull is always in evidence, and the same may be said of the cormorant and shag. The tern, heron and northern diver have also been observed, while of the duck tribe I have seen the merganser (saw bill), eider duck, teal, pochard and stock duck.

Leaving the harbour and starting from the point of Ness for a walk round the shore, we meet some of the more timid and less approachable species of birds – the oyster catcher, curlew, skua, black backed gull, and occasionally a solan goose. Of course the season of the year makes a wide difference in one’s observations regarding numbers, sex, habits, colours, haunts, etc.


Birds over the Bay of Skaill (F Grahame)

Passing on to the Black Crag, say in the end of May or beginning of June, the sight is one not to be forgotten. Thousands, one might say clouds, of gulls may be seen coming and going to and from their nests which are here very numerous. The magnificent cliffs with Hoy Head to the left the Atlantic in front, barren heath and a cliff bound coast to the right and the picturesque little farms of Outertown behind, make a picture neither in storm or calm worthy of the attention of both painter and poet.

Proceeding we come to North Golton Castle, a huge mass of rock rising to a height of more than two hundred feet. This rock is narrow at the base and fairly wide at the top, on which a pair of the great black backed gulls nested for years.

Passing the millstone quarries of Yesnaby in Sandwick we come to the Hole o’ Rowe and Bay of Skaill, and further on, Marwick Bay and Marwick Head, from which the cliffs fall away until we reach the Brough of Birsay, where the ornithologist has ample scope for a few notes. Here there is a place locally known as Wee-oy-Craig, and which in the nesting time present a fine sight. Tier upon tier you can see hundreds of nests and you can also witness the depredations of the skua among the gulls.

On the north side of the Brough we meet with guillemots and puffins which in my opinion prefer at least in the mainland a northern outlook being numerous as far as Costa Head but less plentiful along the other side of the mainland. Leaving the Brough and passing on towards Evie we meet with the usual denizens of the cliff and an occasional rara avis. I got a beautiful specimen of the pomerine skua on the Brough, also a knot, and a gentleman told me he had seen a golden eagle on a pinnacle of rock near Costa Head. This magnificent head is sheer from the water’s edge rising to a height of fully 400 feet.

Proceeding along the Evie shore, divers, ducks,and gulls are numerous. From Tingwall along the Rendall shore to Firth shore, tisties, scarfs, eider ducks, curlews, redshanks, dunlins and other birds are to be seen.


Fulmar takes up residence (F Grahame)

Here I may mention that in August 1898 I shot a gannet on the school farm in Rendall. The bird which proved a beautiful specimen seemed unable to raise its flight on the land although it got ample opportunity. Perhaps this bird like some others is unable to rise on land.

Large numbers of wigeons visit the Bay of Firth in winter, also the long tailed duck and many others of the duck tribe, while an occasional flock of wild geese may be seen on Isbister Loch or the immediate vicinity and swans often give a flying visit and rest on the same loch.

Next week more from Observations of Some Birds on the Orkney Mainland

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