By Bernie Bell
Pics By B&M Bell
It was a warm, sunny day, so we fancied a short, gentle walk. We decided to go for the easiest way to Marwick Head.
Parking in the small car park near Cumlaquoy ( see OS map), where a deck-gun points the way to a narrow, grassy path…..
The path is a bit narrow for correct social distancing, so when we met a couple going the opposite way we flattened ourselves against the fence and they passed by, thanking us for “Observing the Highway Code” – Covid etiquette.
At the top of the path, we turned left for the Kitchener Memorial…….
I must admit that the smell from the bird colonies on the cliffs below was something else. One of those smells which stays in the back of your nose and won’t go away. It was good to see all that bird activity though – Kittiwakes, Guillemots, a few Razorbills, couple of Puffins, and some big Gulls – with Fulmars and Bonxies swooping back and forth – the Bonxies very much on the look-out for possible prey. I know that they are thuggish, but when one swoops right over me, and I can see the white stripes on the outstretched wings, I can’t help admiring them for the fine birds that they are.
We approached the Tower, which was erected in memory of those who perished in the sinking of HMS Hampshire and HMS Laurel Crown….
Then walked on a bit further to look to our left down to Marwick Bay and along the coast to Hoy….
….and to our right, back along the cliffs and Memorial, with the Brough of Birsay across the water.
Then back, past the tower and along to the spot among the rocks where we often sit to eat our sandwiches and where, thankfully, due to wind direction there was no smell – though, as Mike put it the cliffs were “Dripping with shit”.
Walking along the cliff top, we saw some black bunnies! Not just dark coloured but jet-black-sooty-black. I don’t know if they are the result of escaped domestic rabbits, or a melanistic strain, but they were a sight to see, sunning themselves amongst the thrift flowers….
We also noticed a precariously balanced stoat trap…..
…and a bit further along the path, the flicker of a black-tipped tail caught my attention as a big Stoat scampered along the top of the cliff. When we go home we reported this sighting to the Orkney Native Wildlife Project https://www.nature.scot/professional-advice/land-and-sea-management/managing-wildlife/orkney-native-wildlife-project
Stoats may look cute, but they are very successful breeders and predators – since they arrived in Gorseness, vole numbers in our meadow have plummeted, and we don’t see the Short-eared Owl or the Harriers and Kestrel as often as we used to.
If anyone feels inclined to pounce on me about this – there are an awful lot of Stoats in – let’s call it Britain. There aren’t many Short-eared Owls, Harriers, or Kestrels. There are, presently, plenty of Orkney Voles, but only in Orkney – they don’t exist anywhere else. When they’re gone, they’re gone.
That’s my take on it.
The haven in the rocks where we ate our sandwiches was also a haven for Common Blue Butterflies. I don’t know how many I saw – sometimes in pairs – too quick for me to photograph.
Despite my SPF 15 I was turning into a tomato, so, home and indoors – it was too hot for these two Celts!