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Westray Natural History

the natural history of Westray

Grey Seal - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey

Have you seen a male Grey Seal?

The Grey Seals around Orkney are a classic combination of curious and wary. They are alternately fascinated by me and worried by …

Wheatear - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey

Wheatear

I’m flushing Wheaters with every walk and drive on Westray. There isn’t a path or a road which doesn’t have a wary …

Sanderling - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey

Sanderling #4

The Sanderlings of summer on Westray were a joy to get close to. Lying on the beach, keeping still, and watching them …

Sunset Westray - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey

Sunset over the waves

It’s sunset on Westray and I’ve abandoned the car on the grass and marched off to the sea. It’s magnificent in this …

Arctic Tern - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey

Attacked by Arctic Terns

I’m off for a walk on the Westray coast. Today I’m heading from Mae Sands to the Knowe o’ Skea. It’s not …

Wrens - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

Feeding the family

Being a baby bird means knowing when to keep your mouth open. Many have exaggerated gapes, decorated in bright colours to encourage …

Starlings - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey

Star Starling

When a Starling flies by I always take notice. They are spectacular birds, either on their own or in flocks of thousands …

Grey Seal - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey

Why the long face?

I’d like to know why Grey Seals have a long sloping head. What’s the evolutionary advantage? What’s the adaptation for? What does …

Horsetails at Roadmire - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

Horsetails at Roadmire

The Horsetails at Roadmire are beautiful. Their stalks and leaves are covered in harsh mineral silica. They’re a bit scratchy and hard …

Wren - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey

Something’s moving

There’s something moving in the field next to Einar. I can see flower stalks trembling. It’s moving along behind the wall. All …

Sea Rocket - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey

Sea Rocket

There’s Sea Rocket, Cakile maritima, on the beach at the Bay of Swartmill. It’s a member of the mustard family. This is …

Starlings - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey

Neighbours

Not everyone can get on. Conflict is inevitable. When we are all packed in too close to one another then tempers are …

Spray - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey

Splash!

The seas are magical here. There are exhilarating waves at the Knowe o’ Skea. Out on the skerries, the wary Shags gather, …

Common Gull - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey

Uncommon Common Gulls

There’s a young Common Gull, Larus canus, flying past. They are very elegant fliers: Just as we have done for much of …

Starlings - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

Patterns

The Starlings at Einar make incredible abstract patterns on the wires.

Sanderling - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey

Sanderling #3

Westray has a certain palette of colours. It’s a world of muted blues, greens and purples; of greys and more greys. The …

Dock - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

Dock

Stumbling across the thick grass behind the bay I see these tall flower spikes. I’m struck by their contrasting colours. And, as …

Sanderling - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey

Sanderling #1

There are Sanderling on Mae Sands. They are energetic beyond imagination. They work the tideline as if their lives depend upon it, …

Turnstone - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey

Ruddy Turnstone

There’s a Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres on the beach at Mae Sands. It’s just turned this stone over. They are very smart in …

Ringed Plover - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey

Small, dumpy and short-legged

The RSPB says, “The ringed plover is a small, dumpy, short-legged wading bird.” Read more. That’s not very complimentary, is it? I …

Swallow - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey

A life of contrasts

In late summer I checked the outbuildings at Einar for Swallows. Many of the nests were empty. This one wasn’t. It must …

Grey Seal - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey

Hook-nosed Seapigs

The scientific name of the Grey Seal is Halichoerus grypus. It means Hook-nosed Seapig. Everyone needs a rest after eating. I was …

Puffin - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

Peering Puffins

If Puffins can’t find an earth burrow, or if they live in a place with predators like rats and stoats, they will …

Wren - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

Jenny at home

There’s a commotion in the bushes. It’s Britain’s noisiest bird in noise per weight; the Wren. My 1935 Outline of Nature says: …

Linnet - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

Linnet at West Kirbest

A trip to West Kirbest results in a beautiful view of this male Linnet in full breeding plumage: It’s a farmland bird. …

Bridled Guillemot - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

Bridled Guillemot

Visiting Noup Head on Westray is always exhilarating. It’s even more exhilarating the closer you get to the edge of the cliffs. …

Lichen on cobble - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

Lichen on cobbles

I’ve been inspired by seeing how limpets have colonised a crack in a rock from year to year. I think I might …

Puffin - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

Sunset Puffins

It’s a distinctive silhouette which has graced the shores of the UK for thousands of years. But now, due to marine pollution …