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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.
 

Mark Lew1s

My real name is Mark Lewis
September 20th.

With the seawatching being so rewarding we’d have been foolish not to give it another go and yet again, it didn’t disappoint. Fewer Manx and Sooty shearwaters (106 and 46 respectively) but yet another three Great shearwaters, including one bird that was so close in you could pretty much smell it. Another Pomarine skua went past (this time a juvenile) but the other highlight was the number of ‘blue’ Fulmars. we counted over 30, varying from the more subtle, lighter ones that really ought to be called ‘silver fulmars’ to a couple of really nice dark birds. Yeah they are only Fulmars but they were a clear indication that the Northerly from earlier in the week was still having an effect on what we were seeing. As it was a bit cloudier today the light was perfect and although fewer birds were as close in today as they were the day before, those that did come in close gave some amazing views.


After that, it was another tour of the North Loch loop for me, picking up a few of the lingering migrants from earlier in the week but also seeing a Stonechat that was new from somewhere, and getting rather too excited about a Woodpigeon in the fields behind the Gallery. A bit rare here. The same birds were on Loch of Rhummie as on previous days as I headed over the Rhummie track towards the north west of North Loch. A Ruff flushed out of a stubble field and among the hundreds of Greylag geese that appeared to be arriving from the north west were a tight group of eight Barnacle geese. It all went a little quiet from here though, with only a Redwing of note before we headed back for lunch.

In the afternoon I set out to walk from Lady to the Little Sea and back, taking in a few favoured spots along the way. It was drizzly and overcast, which made things harder, but I still managed to see the Yellow-browed warbler that one of the gang had found in Lady before lunch. After that it was five Pink-footed geese and a Ruff in a stubble field here, 60 Black-tailed godwits on a pool there, and a Merlin overhead, but otherwise it felt a little flat. That is until after 20 minutes of waiting at the school (long after the kids had left…) another spritely Yellow-browed warbler showed brilliantly, adding some shine to a rather dull and drizzly afternoon. It certainly out enough of a spring in my step to get me home in time to hear that one of the other guys had found yet another YBW. That made five birds in all, which feels like a good total, in the context of the last couple of years at least. After far too much lasagne, alarms were set for yet another morning seawatch.
 

Mark Lew1s

My real name is Mark Lewis
September 21st

No surprises that we started with another seawatch, but this time it felt a little flat and we only stuck with it for just over an hour. I say it felt a little flat but 33 Sooty shearwaters would be a pretty good day back home so I should really remember how lucky I am! There was not a lot more going on, with only 13 Manx shearwaters and a handful of blue fulmars - and only one skua - a very distant bird that felt ‘pommy’ but was far too far out to be sure.

My next move was to head around the west side of North Loch via the Rhummie track, and then head around Tofts Ness. It started really well, with a juvenile Great spotted woodpecker in the garden at Roadside, but then failed to deliver anything much for the rest of the morning. A stubble field had 32 Black-tailed godwits and two Ruff, and Tofts Ness itself had a Purple sandpiper, a Sparrowhawk, and a lovely little group of seven Snow buntings. I had what was probably the same Sparrowhawk in the gallery garden too, on my way back round. North loch held abundant wildfowl which I didn’t get to check as I didn’t take my scope, and both Hen harrier and Merlin were hunting on the east side of the loch.

After meeting up with the others I was glad for a lift back to the house as the long walk off-road had really tired me out. I was well up for a little stop at Cleat on the way past though, and we were rewarded here with a juvenile Curlew sandpiper. Very nice.


After lunch I decided to do ‘a shorter walk’ although with hindsight (and reference to a map) it was still 9 km so perhaps it wasn’t that short at all. As it rained pretty solidly all afternoon, there were several times where I had wished my walk had been considerably shorter than it ended up being. As such, the birding was a bit challenging although I still managed to wheedle out a Yellow-browed warbler from a garden and a flock of 9 Lesser redpoll, 2 Sedge warblers (easily the latest birds I have ever seen in Scotland) and a couple of Robin, and another Yellow-browed warbler made itself known by calling from deep in the shelter of the monstrous jungle at Roo farm. After that, I called it a day, and trudged home in the rain.
 

Mark Lew1s

My real name is Mark Lewis
September 22nd

I spent another morning watching the waders coming up on the high tide at Cata sand - but not before we got a drive-by Yellow-browed warbler from the car as we travelled through Lady. In spite of the numbers of birds present, I still couldn't manage to pull anything more interesting out of the large numbers of Dunlin (691), Bar-tailed godwit (558) or Grey plover that were present. Still, it was a beautifully calm morning and I enjoyed the close views of the waders and the opportunity to record sounds from some species that I only ever record on nocturnal migration. Decent numbers of Meadow pipits and Skylarks were on the move overhead and the usual Sanday sounds of Ravens, Starlings, Snipes and Linnets were never far away.

From Cata I wondered round to the pools at Cleat. The Curlew sandpiper was still present with 65 more Dunlin, a Redpoll bounced over and a Blackcap lurked in one of the gardens. Back via lady again, with a Robin and a Willow warbler to show. It was such a good morning for birding - such a shame there didn't feel like there was much about.

After lunch I was back up to North Loch. I had initially planned to do some recording from the concrete huts at the south end of the loch, but a big bad bonxie came through and flushed everything and gave me an idea. As all the birds were up, I snuck to the edge of the loch and hid in the reeds, hoping that the birds would come back to the water and close to me. It was pretty successful, with a group of Black-tailed godwits coming in and a few others passing by. Ruff were present, a Barnacle goose looked a little lost among the 6 or 700 Greylags - not half as nonchalant as the adult White-fronted goose that had gone over with greylags as I approached along the North Loch loop earlier - a Sanday tick for me, no less. A short-eared owl was drifting around the scene and there were 300 or so Teal lingering in the nooks and crannies at the loch's edge. On the way back around I happened upon the 'resident' Great-spotted woodpecker again, and as my friend and I waited for our lift to arrive, a Chaffinch, the first of our trip, went overhead.

Slow, but extremely pleasant birding for my last full day on the island.
 

Mark Lew1s

My real name is Mark Lewis
September 23rd

The last day was sunny, calm, and very birdable - but not very birdy! I wondered around the Lopness area, which is the part of Sanday just before you get to Start Point. It is surely the place to be when it is all kicking off, but unfortunately this was not going to be one of those days. A great northern diver flew over, but the stubble fields, weedy margins, and gardens were all devoid of new birds. Some Black-tailed godwits lingered in a field, and some Robins and Willow warblers were still hanging around in their gardens of choice. It wasn't all doom and gloom though as one of the others found a Barred warbler - who knows whether that was new in or something that had lain hidden deep in a Rosa for a few days.

After lunch and packing (for me - the others had another day to find something) we headed around a few spots before ending up at Roos loch. Here, we toiled over a tricky aythya before heading southward towards Stove. I'm still not sure we all fully made our minds up on what the duck was (nothing rare - possibly a scaup x tufty or maybe just one or the other!) but we did enjoy some redpolls, including one Common redpoll, and there were three Siskin hanging round as well. Stove was quiet apart from a shelduck and plenty of dunlin on the estuary - and that was that - time for me to jump on the boat. Until next year...
 

Mark Lew1s

My real name is Mark Lewis
So - apart from the seawatching it was a quiet week. Our list gained a chunk or respectability on the last day when someone found a Buff-breasted sandpiper - but we've definitely had better weeks. That said, the seawatching was superb fun. It was nice to do some birding as a group, the Great Shearwaters were amazing and who could tire of the sooty shearwater close-ups.

In spite of that, a team that was essentially three for the week managed 121 species, which is pretty good going, and included some really nice stuff. Lapland and Snow buntings, Wood sand and wood warbler, White-fronted goose, Mediterranean gull (really rare on Orkney), several Great-spotted woodpecker, and all on top of a nice selection of 'common migrants' at the start of the week.

That's the beauty of Sanday. We can only take a week, so we take a week on an Island where we know we have a great chance of something rare, and we know there'll be plenty to fall back on if the rares don't go to plan. Plans are already being made for next year...
 

Steve Keen

Well-known member
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.
I presume when you say "only five Sanday Records" you mean Lady Boy Sanday records?
 

Mark Lew1s

My real name is Mark Lewis
Yes - I have no idea how many Russ has seen! I'm sure you've had a couple too, but they've always been rare for us.
 

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