Stronsay Latest Bird Sightings

By John Holloway.

Republished here with kind permission from The Stronsay Limpet

With so little wind from an easterly quarter, virtually all of the unusual/interesting sightings have been surprises. Just how bird-watching should be!

The biggest surprise has been the number of ‘birds of prey’ – Hen Harrier daily (at least 4 individuals – including males) at least 3 Kestrels, and a few sightings of Sparrowhawk, Merlin and Peregrine.

The most interesting ‘small bird’ sightings have been: a Grasshopper Warbler flying across the road at Matpow on 24th August (Donald Omond) just the second island record of the species; a (Common) Rosefinch at Samsonslane on 12th Sept -(also DO); a Redwing seen by daughter Hazel along the Airy Road around the same time, and a Tree Pipit in the Reserve drive on 15th.

There have been several sightings of Short-eared Owl (see photo).

The Bu Loch was totally dry for much of late summer but as water built up in the second half of September, birds began to congregate there – mostly gulls, Curlew and Lapwing, but also a large flock of over 30 Sandwich Terns – more than have been seen here for many years.

The ‘waders’ too returned in good numbers – mainly Curlew ,Lapwing and Bar-tailed Godwit . A flock of 400 or so Golden Plover had built up in the pastureland but were hard to locate, and a few Knot were seen at the Bu Loch. Parties of Snipe were also seen ‘f’lying in’ – perhaps migrants from Iceland?

Wigeon were arriving from their breeding grounds further north, and the first Whooper Swans (Winter visitors here from Iceland) arrived on 24th – 10 at Matpow and 15 or so on the Lea Shun Loch later in the day.

Skylarks began re-appearing in mid-month and there were encouraging signs that Twite had bred on the island again. Most of the interesting sightings were of migrants as usual but there was a dearth of sightings throughout the last month or so – just 2-3 Willow Warblers and Blackcaps, and 2 Garden Warblers.

A Spotted Flycatcher was a real surprise in the Castle garden on 21st September but it did not stay long!

Just a single Stonechat has been recorded so far this Autumn (see photo)

– at the new ‘workings’ at Bomasty Bay. Stonechats are attracted to what might be called ‘earthworks’, following the earth-moving machines around and gobbling up the exposed worms etc. They can become quite tame and odd birds over-winter here some years.

There were the usual sightings of ‘Greenland’ Wheatears along the roads throughout September (see photo),

including what appeared to be a ‘family’ party of 5 in the Airy Rd.

A few Chaffinches were recorded after mid-month, and as usual several were recorded in the cultivated land at Samsonslane, but there was a big surprise as we drove past the workings at the new ‘Water Works’ near ‘Iona’ when a flock of over 200 Linnets flew up from the disturbed ground there. – most probably all ‘local’ birds attracted to the ‘weed-seeds’ of the new, low vegetation.

Pied Wagtails arrived in good numbers during the month – almost all around the roads, their preferred feeding habitat here during Autumn migration in particular.

More signs of Autumn appeared on 22nd when flocks of 90 and 30 or so Pinkfooted Geese were seen coming in high from the North-West and flying on towards the Scottish Mainland. (DO reported that big numbers were seen flying south over Caithness that day). A flock of 40 or so flew south over Mill Bay on 23rd.

Many of the local breeding Swallows and Sand Martins had left the island by the 20th – a sign that winter is on the way.

6 Herons were at the Bu Loch on 24th and a rather dark) Robin has recently taken up residence in the Castle garden. It will be interesting to see if it can avoid the marauding ‘birds of prey’ – Merlin and Sparrowhawk – during the coming months.

Latest: A Ring Ouzel briefly at Lower Samson’s (DO) on 26th Sept.

Thanks once again for all the calls. John Holloway.

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