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Sanday, September 16th - 23rd. (1 Viewer)

Mark Lew1s

My real name is Mark Lewis
September 16th

I arrived into Kirkwall late the previous evening after an uneventful crossing - the highlight of which was a large bag of Revels that I picked up in the shop on board. I was met at the boat by a friend and we spent the night in a hostel, having set alarms for a relatively early start for a day of birding on Orkney Mainland.

So - we were up bright and early and headed out east, to bird some of the better looking migranty bits in the Deerness area. The only problem was that it was blowing a gale and it was raining every now and again too. We thought it would be hard work finding migrants in those conditions and it was. We stopped at a large intertidal area on the way out and picked up a Ruff among the more usual waders, before carrying on to check Denwick, Sandside Bay and the Halley road. Between us we notched up a couple of Willow warblers and a Blackcap, and there were clearly plenty of Wheatear about, but it felt like we were missing more than we were seeing so after a while we sacked it off and went for lunch.


Over a bowl of curried cauliflower soup we decided that birds could wait and went towards Scapa Flow to have a look for the Fin and Humpback whales that had been seen there the day before. Again the conditions were against us - choppy seas and heat haze (it was considerably nicer than it was in the morning) but we had an extremely nice hour or so scoping back and forth over Scapa Flow and noting loads of Tysties, a couple of Red-throated and Great northern diver, and most surprisingly, 3 Scaup flying past. Whales or no whales I could have sat there for ages but soon the time came for us to go off and meet the other two members of the team who were arriving on a different boat. Brief stops at the Shunan and Brodgar pools (which weren’t pools at all, they were bone dry) turned up nothing. It sounds like a quiet time but with it being Orkney there were Greylags all over the place, Hooded crows and Ravens, a Whooper swan in a field and a ringtail Hen Harrier too. It's always very birdy here...

With us now being four, my bag of Revels was done in a heartbeat and we were soon off to talk of what was to come over the week ahead over dinner. We had delicious pizzas in a place called Lucano but at £8 for a pint of Orkney IPA we opted for an early night. There were birds to look for the next day, after all.
 

Mark Lew1s

My real name is Mark Lewis
September 17th

The birding starts with the crossing. It’s usually pretty quiet traveling between Kirkwall and Sanday on the ferry, but this time the birding gods were smiling upon us as we had close views of a Storm Petrel followed by close views of a Grey Phalarope that looked like it probably took off from the sea in front of the boat. An excellent start.

Once on to Sanday we went our separate ways in two cars and checked some of the better spots in the western half of the island. In the quarry at the ferry the usual Twite were nice but a Whinchat was much more promising. Heading up the west side we stopped at Roos Loch, picking up a Goldeneye on the loch and then a Lapland bunting over the short cropped grassy area near the Holms of Ire. The excellent start was continuing - but quickly came to a halt when we checked the loch in Whitemill Bay and could only manage a handful of Moorhen and a Little grebe (actually, pretty uncommon here). The others had had Redstart and a couple of Pied Flycatchers among other migrants so we were very enthusiastic. There were obviously migrants on the ground - either left over from the fall the previous week or new in. The former was most likely but to be honest we didn’t really care. Migrants is migrants, regardless of when they arrived.

After lunch I made my traditional first day walk out to Tresness. Here, migrants were very sparse indeed (supporting the leftovers theory) and the fantastic looking pool at the end was also a little disappointing, with only a Black-tailed godwit and a Shoveler among the usual suspects. The great thing about Tresness is that once you’ve looked at the pool you can swing your scope around through 180 degrees and have a seawatch. Again this was quite though, with only 3 Sooty shearwaters, a Bonxie and some Puffins worth noting. It was all awfully pleasant, even if it was a little light on birdy action, and it was hard to convince myself that I really wanted to go and count the waders on the rising tide at Cata Sand before heading home. This must be the best place for waders on the Northern Isles and 68 Grey plover and 574 Bar-tailed godwits are not to be sniffed at. The 700 or so Dunlin were also very enticing. Surely there would be something juicy among that lot. They were too far off to check today but I’d be back there tomorrow to have a proper look. A little stop in Lady village yielded a very eastern looking Lesser Whitethroat and a very normal looking Willow warbler, and back at the house there were 5 Pink-footed geese. Others had what was probably a Barred warbler and a nice mix of other migrants at the east end of the island. Not a flying start but a very enjoyable day indeed.
 

Mark Lew1s

My real name is Mark Lewis
September 18th

Up at the rather silly time of 5:30 am to head to the east end for a seawatch. Sheltered from a Northerly breeze by the little hut at Neuks we picked up a nice movement of Manx and Sooty shearwaters almost straight away, and then 15 minutes into the watch a Great shearwater effortlessly cruises past at short range and raises the bar significantly. Not too long after, another drifted by even more closely, and by the time we had finished just over 2 hours later, we’d notched up 4 Greats all together as well as 44 Manxies and 40 Sooties. Seawatchng at Girdleness, in Aberdeen, I’m used to my shearwaters being very distant, but here on Sanday they come in extremely close. Our seawatch point is on the landward side the crossing to Start island. Seawatching from there would surely have delivered us more birds and even more close in, but unfortunately the tides were against us all week. We also managed a lovely adult Pomarine skua going past.

After all this excitement I went off to do another of my favourite things on Sanday - a long sit at the pillboxes at the south end of North Loch. Such a birdy place. From here, among the many Mute swans and Greylags on the loch I counted 58 Pintail and 30 Tufted duck, while a Ruff fed among the Redshanks on the shore. A Short-eared owl sat menacingly on the island at the south end, and a Whinchat caught flies from a fence in the distance. Snipe called overhead and the sun was out. I really had to drag myself away, but I did so by reminding myself that there would be migrants along the North Loch Loop. A Redstart and a Chiffchaff foraged in the sun at the gallery, while a Peregrine dashed overhead. Further down the road a Robin ticked in some rosas and then a warbler flitted out and started to feed on the sunny and sheltered side of the bushes just a couple of yards away. From the first flit it was clear that it was a stunning silvery white and lemon and lime flavoured Wood warbler. It fed out in the open without a care in the world - at least until the resident dog bounded over to see what all of the fuss was about. I like Great shearwaters an awful lot but that Wood warbler was bird of the trip so far for me. An absolute gem. A Willow warbler and a Blackcap were in the garden at Salties and a quick stop at Cleat on the way back for lunch yielded a Greenshank getting up tight about both the Kestrel and the Short-eared owl that were present.

After lunch, I decided that I wanted to get much better views of all of those waders feeding on Cata Sand so I positioned myself in the corner of the estuary below Bressigarth and waited in the sun. I may or may not have drifted off to sleep a couple of times… Soon enough the waders were approaching, and I managed to count 768 Dunlin, 581 Bar-tailed godwits, 53 Grey plover and plenty more - although I failed completely to find any rarities. Not so much of a problem when you’re surrounded by the sights and sounds of an encroaching shoreful of waders. On the way back I had my first Red-breasted mergansers of the trip and a small group of Twite flew over. What an excellent day.
 

Steve Keen

Well-known member
September 16th

I arrived into Kirkwall late the previous evening after an uneventful crossing - the highlight of which was a large bag of Revels that I picked up in the shop on board. I was met at the boat by a friend and we spent the night in a hostel, having set alarms for a relatively early start for a day of birding on Orkney Mainland.

So - we were up bright and early and headed out east, to bird some of the better looking migranty bits in the Deerness area. The only problem was that it was blowing a gale and it was raining every now and again too. We thought it would be hard work finding migrants in those conditions and it was. We stopped at a large intertidal area on the way out and picked up a Ruff among the more usual waders, before carrying on to check Denwick, Sandside Bay and the Halley road. Between us we notched up a couple of Willow warblers and a Blackcap, and there were clearly plenty of Wheatear about, but it felt like we were missing more than we were seeing so after a while we sacked it off and went for lunch.


Over a bowl of curried cauliflower soup we decided that birds could wait and went towards Scapa Flow to have a look for the Fin and Humpback whales that had been seen there the day before. Again the conditions were against us - choppy seas and heat haze (it was considerably nicer than it was in the morning) but we had an extremely nice hour or so scoping back and forth over Scapa Flow and noting loads of Tysties, a couple of Red-throated and Great northern diver, and most surprisingly, 3 Scaup flying past. Whales or no whales I could have sat there for ages but soon the time came for us to go off and meet the other two members of the team who were arriving on a different boat. Brief stops at the Shunan and Brodgar pools (which weren’t pools at all, they were bone dry) turned up nothing. It sounds like a quiet time but with it being Orkney there were Greylags all over the place, Hooded crows and Ravens, a Whooper swan in a field and a ringtail Hen Harrier too. It's always very birdy here...

With us now being four, my bag of Revels was done in a heartbeat and we were soon off to talk of what was to come over the week ahead over dinner. We had delicious pizzas in a place called Lucano but at £8 for a pint of Orkney IPA we opted for an early night. There were birds to look for the next day, after all.
Lucano is a quality establishment!
 

Richard G

Well-known member
Over a bowl of curried cauliflower soup we decided that birds could wait and went towards Scapa Flow to have a look for the Fin and Humpback whales that had been seen there the day before.

The Fin Whales were spotted by a friend of mine who owns one of the dive charters. They were dropping divers on one of the German wrecks when a whale surfaced about 100m away apparently. Could have made an interesting H&S report :)
 

Mark Lew1s

My real name is Mark Lewis
September 19th

Another day, another pre-dawn bowl of porridge, and another seawatch first thing. We got started at five to seven and over the next two and a half hours we were treated to some really excellent seawatching. 248 Manx shearwater and 113 Sooty shearwater were terrific, but the show was stolen by two Great shearwater, again passing ridiculously close. Two adult Pomarine skuas were also noted, and Common scoter (not common here) and four Great northern diver added to the show. All of this was set above a sea full of blubber - others saw Minke whale several times, but I had to make do with a spectacular pod of Risso’s dolphin breaching clean out of the water over and over again. Snow buntings flew over a couple of times and the sun beat down on us. Bliss.

After we had gathered ourselves, I had another walk along the North Loch Loop. It was calm and sunny and it really felt like it was going to deliver. There were no big rares but that couldn’t detract from another fantastic session of birding. At the bowling greens a Redstart foraged along the fence and at Salties, the garden had Robin and Lesser redpoll in addition to the Willow warbler and Blackcap from the day before. A group of 70-ish Black-tailed godwits flew south as I was counting a monster count of 21 Coot on Loch of Rhummie (a Sanday record I think - as was the 6 Little grebes that they shared the water with). All well and good, but piffling in comparison to the Great-spotted woodpecker that bounded over and started feeding on a strainer post in the distance. It’s always great seeing these out of place Scandinavian migrants. A juvenile Peregrine circled overhead, much to the displeasure of a couple of Ravens, and at the Gallery, a Merlin did the same. There were a few new migrants in the Gallery garden including another Robin, but the Grey wagtail that flew overhead was a proper Sanday rarity (only five records, so rarer than Great shearwater as of a couple of hours ago!)

As it was so calm and clear, after lunch I set out with the intention of doing a little sound recording. I hadn’t reckoned on it being the quietest part of the day but I still managed to have a fine walk in the sun, bumping into a few decent birds along the way. The first was a Garden warbler - our first of the week. It was forging along a fence line, which is a good indicator that it was relatively newly arrived - which held lots of promise. My walk took me out to Tofts Ness, as I’d hoped to record some Snow or Lapland buntings and this can be a good spot for them - but it was good for not a lot more than a nice sit down in the sun for the most part this time. Until that is, I was making my way back around the back of Tofts farm towards the road. From out of the long grass a familiar, tiny, olive and silver shape jumped up onto the fence wires and sat still for long enough for me to focus on a Yellow-browed warbler. It’s always such a genuine pleasure seeing one of these little beauts - especially as I didn’t see a single one last year. From Tofts I headed back towards the Rhummie track, and here a couple of ringtail Hen harriers drifted back and forth scattering Snipes and Black-tailed godwits left right and centre. Angry Redshanks were everywhere and then a less familiar sound came to me. I couldn’t place it at first and was glad to have my recording kit with me as I failed to put a name to a noise I knew I should be able to identify. Then the penny dropped, and I was able to relax and enjoy getting my first ever recording of a rather noisy Wood sandpiper. A really brilliant day.
 

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