Culture

May Stronsay Bird Sightings

By John Holloway, Stronsay’s Ornithologist

Many thanks to the Stronsay Limpet for permission to republish this article.


The transformation back to the wealth of bird species breeding here in former years has continued. The most obvious nesting species which have benefitted from the changes – which have all been seen in far higher numbers than in any of the last 10 or 15 years – includes Arctic Terns, Arctic Skuas, Curlew, Snipe and Skylarks. One of the few species which have not suffered due to the Greylag Goose invasion are again singing and building their nests in the island gardens where most of them spend the summer months – the Linnet (local name ‘Rose Lintie’ or Lintock). Nearly all nest in the Fuchsia bushes, the brightly coloured male with his red breast usually using one of the higher branches as a song-post.

As for Spring migration this year – a ‘damp squib’ sums it up so far. The fine weather in late April seemed to promise much in the way of migrant species moving further north, but May has been an almost total washout, with winds mainly from the North and West when Easterlies would be more helpful!

But bird-watching is like that – there is no even playingfield – and there are almost always at least one or two surprises on every trip out – or better still (as per during the present lockdown situation) when glancing out of the kitchen window! There are many birdwatchers who keep such a list, and it is amazing the number and assortment of species which can turn up in the garden here in Orkney. Anthony and Clare at Gesty Dishes keep a ‘garden list’ and in just three years in residence, their own list includes species which to most birdwatchers in the UK would be mind blowing: Two-barred Crossbill, Hawfinch, Yellowbrowed Warbler and Icterine Warbler among the foliage, and Water Rail creeping about beneath the bushes around one of their small garden ponds. There will be plenty more to come!

The most noticeable recent sightings as regards migrants have been a male Hawfinch and a male Siskin in the Castle garden and a few Chiffchaffs – all in gardens, and there have been a few Wheatears along the roads and tracks all of which were the ‘big’ birds heading for Greenland.

The only flycatcher so far was a Pied at Holin Cottage on 2nd May and a real surprise on the Reserve on 8th was a Cuckoo which did not stay long – and did not call! On this date there were good numbers of waders at the Bu Loch – probably all heading north but stopping off for a preen and rest – including several Blacktailed and Bartailed Godwits, and 35 Knot – all in summer plumage. Several divers were seen around the coastline – mainly Great Northern and one or two Redthroated.

On the 25th May the Matpow was almost back to its ‘former glory’ with Mute Swans nesting on the island among the mixed colony of Blackheaded Gulls and Arctic Terns, and several species of duck were present: Mallard, Wigeon, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Redbreasted Merganser, and Gadwall – and not a Greylag Goose in sight! Cold weather always causes hirundines to feed over the island lochs and on that day there were over 40 at Matpow – an even mixture of Sand Martins and Swallows. Many of the former were probably birds from the colonies in Mill Bay where several nesting holes have been excavated in the sandy cliff face this year – a big increase on previous years.

Sedge Warblers (the only species of warbler that breeds on Stronsay*) have been present in the traditional spots – the Gesty Dishes/Lower Dishes area; the Springwell area, and the area around Lower Millfield and Castle.

*The only other species of warbler known to have bred here on Stronsay were the Icterine Warblers which successfully reared young in the garden at Lower Millfield in 2002 – the first fully documented record for the UK!

One other species that is becoming more common again is the Twite (locally known as the ‘Heather Lintie’ or Lintock) – most of which breed in the Rothiesholm area, so one seen by Sue along the track into Mill Bay on 22nd May was an unusual sighting. Let’s hope it is one more positive sign!

Don’t forget that ‘window list’!

wren bird Stronsay

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