Orkney 31st May – 7th June



1st June

Robin Sutton’s Bird List ( will open up in Excel )  Orkney 2014 List

What a difference a week makes – glorious weather for the first couple of days of our second Orkney trip. The Pentland Firth was like a millpond for our ferry crossing yesterday, and there are quite a few ‘glowing’ faces after being out in the sun all day today.


There were wader chicks everywhere at the Loons RSPB reserve, but star of the show was a beautiful black-tailed godwit in full brick red breeding plumage. A few pairs nest on the reserve.


Despite a severe decline (about 50% over the last decade) in seabird numbers breeding on Orkney, Marwick Head was still an impressive sight, and we had excellent views of puffin, guillemot, razorbill, kittiwake and fulmar. A herring gull stole and made short work of a razorbill egg.


The Brough of Birsay, a tidal island, was our first archaeological site of the week, with Pictish and Norse remains.




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Overlooking the seabird cliffs Marwick HeadDSC03400 small

Marwick Head (with Kitchener Memorial) and Brough of Birsay beyondDSC03407 small

Ripple pattern in sandstone, Brough of BirsayDSC03410 small

Returning over the causeway from Brough of Birsay

2nd June

Our luck is holding, good weather again today.


A real treat for the botanists this morning as we explored the cliff top at Yesnaby – Scottish primrose, adder’s tongue fern, creeping willow, buck’s horn plantain, sea milkwort and crowberry. Plenty of birds as well – puffin, black guillemot, fulmar, eider, Arctic and great skua, kittiwake, Arctic tern, rock dove, wheatear, rock and meadow pipit, snipe, redshank, lapwing, ringed plover and oystercatcher.


The afternoon was spent visiting the World Heritage sites that make up the ‘Heart of Neolithic Orkney’ – Skara Brae, Maes Howe, the Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar.


A very special day, rounded off with an excellent meal at The Standing Stones Hotel.

Overlooking Yesnaby Castle  small

Scottish primrose, Yesnaby small Skara Bay and Skaill House small

Overlooking Yesnaby Castle

Yesnaby Castle small

Yesnaby Castle

Ring of Brodgar small

Ring of Brodgar

Stones of Stenness 2 small

Stones of Stenness


Stones of Stenness small

Stones of Stenness


Tuesday 3rd June

Could this be the best picnic spot in the world? That was the thought as we sat with the cackling and wheeling fulmars looking out over the Old Man of Hoy. Our botanists literally had a field day, searching out the various bearberries and willows. We all enjoyed watching the menacing bonxies and a family of ravens, and some eventually managed to see a well camouflaged mountain hare.

As ever, the Dwarfie Stane was impressive, but perhaps even it was overshadowed by an amazing funnel cloud moving across the hillside opposite. We sent photos to the Met Office website, and by Wednesday morning they had responded confirming our cloud ID skills and saying what a good example it was. The wonders of modern technology.

Returning to Orkney Mainland by ferry, we had absolutely stunning views of a great northern diver in full summer plumage. For quite a few of the group this was a bird they really wanted to see, and I have never had better views than this – they must be pleased.

After our evening meal we had a very successful otter watching expedition. Robin had found a family, female and two well grown cubs, which were using a drainage pipe as a holt, and we were there in time to watch them emerge and spend a considerable time fishing the tidal lagoon. Again, with a line of telescopes set up, everyone had great views. There was also a corncrake calling away in the field behind.

A very successful day.

Robin found it - Alpine Bearberry small

Robin found it .. Alpine Bearberry

Alpine Bearberry small

Alpine Bearberry

Bearberry 2  small

Alpine Bearberry

An atmospheric St John's Head small 

An atmospheric St John’s Head

Bonxie at work - predated fulmar eggs  small

Bonxie at work – predated fulmar eggs

Fulmar and sea pinks  small

Fulmar and Sea pinks

Fulmars  small


Funnel Cloud small

Funnel Cloud at Hoy

Funnel cloud, Hoy small

Funnel Cloud at Hoy

Oak Eggar moth caterpillar  small

Oak eggar moth caterpillar

Photopraphing the Old Man small

Photographing the old man

Rackwick Bay small 

Rackwick Bay

Scrabster ferry and Old man small

Scrabster ferry passing the Hoy

Scrabster ferry passing the Old Man small

Scrabster ferry passing the Hoy

Sea Campion, Old Man of Hoy small

Sea Campion

The Dwarfie Stane small

The Dwarfie Stane


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Great place for a lunch

The best picnic spot 1  small

Taking a break

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Wednesday 4th June

A wet day today, but that didn’t stop us.

We beat the coach tours to the Italian Chapel, and, as with the first group a couple of weeks back, marvelled at what the PoWs had achieved. It is hard to believe that the statue of St George slaying the dragon is made of concrete and barbed wire.

Stopping to look at the Churchill Barriers, we found a long-tailed duck asleep amidst a group of loafing eiders. It took quite a while to identify it, mainly because its head was tucked away under a wing, and it had no intention of waking up, not even for a second. When we returned and had another look several hours later, it was still asleep – though it had turned around. Several of the party were convinced we had ‘planted’ a stuffed bird!

Eddie entertained us by donning his bargain rain cape every time we stopped, over the top of his gortex jacket of course. We all thought he was crazy, till he took it off, shook the water off it, and sat there in the bus in a perfectly dry jacket. We were all sopping wet, and quickly steamed the windows up.

We found the oyster plant still in flower on our South Ronaldsay beach, and spent quite a while lying on the sand to photograph it. With the weather improving, a brief stop to view Windwick Bay ended up being considerably longer than planned when we spotted a peregrine falcon flying offshore, shortly joined by his mate. Robin and I are experienced peregrine watchers, having guarded a nest site many years ago, so we kept watching the pair until they flew in to a cliff, giving away the location of their eyrie. When we trained our powerful telescopes on the cliff, we could see both adult birds and a couple of youngsters. Now I have to say that the cliff was a long way off, and several of the group did have difficulty seeing the birds, even down the telescopes. At least everyone had seen them flying, so, especially after the ‘stuffed’ duck episode, they did believe us!

The final visit of the afternoon was to the ‘Tomb of the Eagles’, where the Simison sisters, whose late father Ronnie discovered the tomb, again gave a comprehensive introduction to the Stone and Bronze Ages on Orkney. The visitor centre and exhibitions are a revelation – you actually get to handle the artefacts found when the sites were excavated. Visiting the ‘burnt mound’ and the tomb itself, we were saddened to learn that since our visit 2 weeks ago, someone had attempted to steal one of the skulls displayed in a side chamber(see photo in first Orkney trip report), setting off a minor collapse in the process. The skulls have now been removed, but hopefully will be replaced when repairs are complete. Disappointing, but the tomb still has the mystical and spiritual atmosphere that so many people experience when they enter.


Anonymous small

Anonymous !

Eddie, the Caped Crusader, escapes from the Tombe of the Eag small

Eddie, the Caped Crusader, escapes from the Tombe of the Eag

Skateboarding small


Marsh Orchid and horsetails small

Marsh Orchid and horsetails

Oyster Plant small

Oyster plant

The Oyster Plant small

Oyster plant

St George and the Dragon small

St George and the Dragon



Thursday 5th June

On the way out in the morning we stopped off at the RSPB Loons reserve again, and picked out a small group of pink-footed geese, late travelling north perhaps. After quite a while searching, we eventually found a pair of hen harrier flying over the moors in Dirkadale, another RSPB site.

After visiting Dounby Click Mill, a stroll along the beautiful Sands of Evie brought us to the Broch of Gurness and lunch. Before visiting the broch itself, we had time to watch an absolute feeding frenzy of seabirds out in Eynhallow Sound. We noticed that the male Arctic terns were courtship feeding the females on the shore below us, and mating was still taking place. We thought this very late, and would have expected the birds to have chicks by now. Hopefully they will still have time to raise the chicks before heading off on their staggering migration to wintering grounds in the Antarctic; Arctic terns have the longest migration of any animal, and must see more daylight in a year than any other animal. With a lifespan of 20+ years, they certainly clock up the air miles! A few Arctic skua were harassing the terns for their fish (skuas are kleptoparasites), and a very lazy common seal stayed on its rock until washed off by the rising tide.

As ever, the broch set the imagination going as to what life was like here 2500 years ago, and just who had the power to build such structures? Perhaps an even better question is who had the skill to build them? I wonder who first came up with the design.

Just along from the Broch is an area of very young rock, aeolianite, which is very rich in plants, so we spent a while there searching out orchids, pansies and cowslips. Robin also introduced us to identifying plants by smell and taste, an interesting concept. I’m not sure some of the flavours will catch on though!

A few hours were spent exploring the impressive buildings in Kirkwall – St Magnus Cathedral (our only Viking cathedral), The Bishop’s Palace, the Earl’s Palace and Tesco’s. Yes, that’s right, Tesco’s. We should have known some people couldn’t be trusted on their own.

The evening was spent back out at Marwick Bay watching the otter family and listening to the corncrake.


Cowslips small


Dounby Click Mill small

Dounby Click Mill

Dune Pansey 1 small

Dune Pansey

Exhibition at the Broch of Gurness  small

Exhibition at the Broch of Gurness

Eynhallow Sound small

Eynhallow Sound

Contemplating the Broch small

Contemplating the Broch

Group at Broch of Gurness  small

Group at Broch of Gurness

The Broch of Gurness small

The Broch of Gurness

Interior, St Magnus Cathedral small

Interior St Magnus Cathedral

Interior, the Broch small

Interior, The Broch

Interpretation board, Aeolianite small

Interpretation board, Aeolianite

Panorama, the Broch of Gurness small

Panoramic Broch of Gurness

Photographing aeolianite small

Photographing aeolianite

The Oracle speaks small

The Oracle Speaks

Botany by smell small

Botany by smell




St Magnus Cathedral, door small

St Magnus Cathedral door

St Magnus Cathedral, interior small

St Magnus Cathedral interior

St Magnus Cathedral, window detail small

St Magnus Cathedral window

Tombstone, St Magnus Cathedral small

Tombstone , St Magnus Cathedral

The Bishop's Palace, Kirkwall small

The Bishops place , Kirkwall



The Earl's Palace, Kirkwall small

The Earl’s place, Kirkwall




Friday 6th June

Trying to ignore the sad fact that it was yet another birthday for me, we headed off, via Rendall Doocot, to take the Rousay ferry from Tingwall. There were plenty of birds to see from the ferry, with excellent views of great and Arctic skuas, but the big talking point was a very small bird on the sea seen by a few lucky people. Sue and Kevin thought they knew what it was, Eddie didn’t – but, after consulting the bird book, they all agreed it was a phalarope, almost certainly a red-necked.

The Westness Heritage Walk linked a whole string of archaeological treasures within a short distance, 5500 years in less than 2 miles! We moved from Neolithic tomb to Iron Age broch to Pictish burials to Viking Hall to C18th farmstead to Victorian estate house. Mind boggling.

A little wetland area on the walk proved very good for birds (including teal, gadwall and garganey) and plants.

We all watched for the phalarope from the return ferry, but no luck. Plenty of other birds though, including hundreds of greylags with young.

Common Seals, Midhowe small

Common Seals Midhowe

Corn drying kiln small

Corn Drying Kiln

Flotilla of Greylags  small

Flock of Graylags

Lunch, Midhowe  small

Lunch at Midhowe

Midhowe Broch  small

Midhowe Broch

Midhowe Broch 2  small

Midhowe Broch

On the Rousay Ferry  small

Onboard the Rousay Ferry

Rousay ferry small

Rousay Ferry

Scoping small


Squab, Rendall Doocot small

Squab, Rendall Doocot

Taversoe Tuick cairn small

Taversoe Tuick cairn

Watching seals small

Watching Seals


Saturday 7th June

The end of the course, but not before another seabird cruise on the Pentland Ferry. Plenty of auks, kittiwake, gannet, fulmar and skuas, especially as we passed close to the islands of Stroma and Swona.




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