2022 highlights of a wilder Orkney life (part 2)
August in Orkney can be quieter than May, June or July when it comes to bird life. In 2022, August was hectic for me, as I spent time on the low cliffs with Westray’s seabirds.
A minute and counting
Common Guillemots have a couple of forms – they show polymorphism. There’s the usual brown-headed version and there’s the limited-edition bridled version, with fine white eye-liner:
Elegant, aren’t they?
In 2022 I tried to get birds in flight shots I was happy with, and this is one of my favourites. Puffins are surprisingly tiny and fast and furious fliers, so spotting one with fish from a distance as it approached the colony, following it, and getting a sharp image was a considerable challenge.
That must have been one very satisfied puffling. In fact, with that beak full of fish, it’d be almost as happy as I was with this photograph.
A trip to Noup Head and a blustery wind made Gannets twist and turn in the air as they paddled with their feet, adjusted their wings and finally whirled off across the sea
They’re always entertaining when the wind’s up.
Ground-nesting Sandy Laverock
I knew there must be a Ringed Plover nest here somewhere, because one of the adults did a whole ‘broken-wing’ act to draw me away from it. It was almost impossible to spot, so I hurried away and lay with my binoculars until it returned to the nest. The eggs lay on a small bed of stones in a circle bare of vegetation.
The eggs are 36 x 25mm. I didn’t measure them, I just looked that up in the British Trust for Ornithology’s bird facts.
Oystercatchers in buttercups and bill-tip clines
Fields of Buttercups made a wonderful backdrop to Curlew and Oystercatcher alike.
Oystercatchers are loud in volume and loud in plumage. There are no words for skulking, camouflage or whisper in the Oystercatcher’s vocabulary.
The Arctic Skua family
The Arctic Skuas on the Westside of Westray had a chick. It appeared to be bigger than they are. It was easy to see the family because they attacked me as I walked along the coastal footpath. Here’s one of the adults:
Luckily the ferocity of their attacks diminished as the chick got larger. I always wore a hat.
I was told about a Red-Throated Diver in the bay, so scurried along there, as it was a new species to me.
I waited until it dived and ran down the beach to the shoreline and crouched waiting for it to surface.
It came up just in front of me.
The Black Guillemots of Aikerness
I had a few trips to the far north of Westray in 2022. It’s a great place to go, as it’s too far for most people to walk, so the wildlife remains undisturbed. On the cliffs of Aikerness sat a group of Tysties, or Black Guillemots, as they are known outside Orkney.
It’s hard to look at that photograph and not think that they’re laughing.
Twinkle twinkle little Puffin
Evenings on Westray are special when the sun sets slowly over the North Sea. I enjoyed watching Puffins gather in huge floats in the bay and fly in wild ungainly circles and figures of eight, inspecting landing and nest sites as they fluttered past.
Puffin silhouettes are very distinctive.
Juvenile Puffin flypast
Last summer I spotted a young Puffin which still had the dark face and narrow beak of a juvenile. Puffins spend their first three to five years at sea and only return to land when they are sexually mature.
I wonder what the evidence is of where and when they find a mate? Do they find love at sea or on land? The natural world still has so many secrets from me and maybe from us all.
In 2022, I discovered the new sport of Synchro Puffin, which should be a new Animal Olympics sport. Or should that be Animalympics? Maybe not, that was a cartoon.
Final Puffin evening
When it was time to head out to the Castle o’ Burrian to see the Puffins for a final time, the light was unexpectedly gorgeous, despite the grey skies all day.
The sun was warm and a deep yellow as it sparkled on the sea in the bay. It’s my lasting memory of Orkney in 2022.
Thanks for joining me on the journey.
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