Republished here with kind permission from The Stronsay Limpet
Since we arrived on Stronsay in 1987 we have been waiting for one particular bird species to turn up here. Quite big and very easy to recognise, and in fact the emblem of the RSPB!
Yes the Avocet. There have been a few records of the species in Orkney and even Shetland, and the Bu Loch here has always looked ‘favourite’ as the host. We have scanned the area thousands of times since 1987 without success. But at last – it has happened – on 12th May – an Avocet! But did we find it ourselves – not on your Nelly! A visiting birder from Mainland Orkney on his first-ever visit to Stronsay came across the bird at the predicted Bu Loch – not long after disembarking from the ferry!
It took him about 30 minutes to find a bird of the species here, whilst we had drawn a blank for over 30 years – and he was back on Mainland Orkney that evening! Well done day-tripper Gerry Cannon (who also allowed us to use his photos in this article).
Fortunately Sue and I had an early morning meeting with the Funeral Directors in the Cemetery regarding Joyce Maples’ headstone that morning and as we drove back down towards the Matpow Loch, we noticed a man on a bike with binoculars. We had a short chat and told him of some of the most likely places for something interesting, and off he cycled towards the Bu Loch.
An hour or so later we left Castle and headed off to see if there were any new birds around, and there was the cyclist – now near the Airy Road. ‘I have seen one bird that might be of interest.’ he said to us – ‘an Avocet at the Bu Loch’ – and added ‘I managed to get a few photographs’. No need to ask for details – an Avocet is an Avocet, but Gerry did say that the local Oystercatchers drove it off just as he was leaving the area.
We turned round and headed off to the Bu Loch, but the bird was clearly not there – and not there again and again until 3 days later when Donald Omond came across it. Several Stronsay residents have now seen the bird – which, in spite of its brilliant plumage and distinct shape and posture, can be difficult to locate – and may still be here. It was last seen on 19th May.
In what has been a very poor late Spring as regards the numbers of migrant species, there has been one other ‘mega-rarity’ – a Ross’s Gull – and again on the Rothiesholm peninsula. Just the second island record, the bird was found among a small mixed flock of gulls following a tractor harrowing near the Rothiesholm School. The pink under-parts were very obvious, and the wing pattern, diamond tail-shape and other features were all seen well. The bird was present for a minute or so as the tractor moved away down the field but did not return with the other gulls on the journey back towards the road. We had waited with camera at the ready hoping to photograph this very rare species, but it was not seen again. It had looked ‘uncomfortable’ and did not really ‘join in’ with the Common species which were gobbling up all that the tractor could churn up for them! The first record of Ross’s Gull on Stronsay was at Holin on 21st June 2000.
There have been several interesting sightings of migrant species – mainly in mid-late May – including male and female Hawfinches Lower Samsons, Cliffdale, and Helmsley (not necessarily the same birds).
Good numbers of Redstarts and Pied Flycatchers also arrived mid-month and the highest number of Blackcaps at this time of year for a long time.
One Corncrake has been heard and Sedge Warblers have returned to their nesting grounds in good numbers towards the end of May. Pato Dennison has seen what was almost certainly a Short-eared Owl in the Eastbank area where the species has bred in the distant past. ‘Postie’ Andy has also seen Short-eared Owls in the Bay area.
Other migrants seen include Black Redstart, Spotted Flycatcher, Lesser Whitethroat, Goldcrest, Chiffchaff, Snow Bunting and several Robins.
David at Osen had a very unusual addition to his ‘Garden Birds’ list, when he discovered a Guillemot stranded inside the perimeter wall of his Putting-green-sized lawn. It was quickly returned to the sea. In the same area the Sand Martin colony appears to be flourishing as do the colonies in Mill Bay, and Swallow numbers have built up rapidly with a (slight!) increase in temperature during the last few days.
Thanks for all the calls. John & Sue Holloway.