Sunday, November 4, 2018

R-E-S-P-E-C-T for the R.S.P.B.: Europe, Part 2: Orkney

After leaving Edinburgh we arrived in Orkney where, despite preparing for the worst, we found the most consistently lovely weather of our entire trip. Orkney is a small archipeliago just north of mainland Scotland, chockablock with RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) sites, including important seabird nesting habitat for Atlantic Puffins, Razorbills, etc. Our trip happened to correspond with migration, and some of the species we were desparate to see had already left for the year. And some, like Common Redshank, were abundant at just about every stop.

View from down the road from the house where we stayed

Scenes of Orkney - Grass, Sheep, Coast

Common Redshank

Common Redshank

Common Redshank

Common Redshank all tucked in, but still showing a shank

Common Redshank coming in for a landing

Our first dedicated birding destination was the Loons RSPB Reserve, featuring the first of several bird blinds that made this pair of Americans super jealous of British birding culture. The blinds we’re used to are dilapidated, bare, unwelcoming hovels, heavy on plywood and graffiti, light on everything else. Now we were enclosed with glass windows, provided spare binoculars and field guides, posters hanging on the walls, and none of it vandalized. We also have the perfect vantage for picking out cryptic Common Snipe.

Common Snipe

Common Snipe

Barn Swallows - Notice the white bellies compared to the North American Barn Swallows

Happy as Loons at the RSPB Loons Hide

The beautiful mural in The Loons Hide

We checked out some rocky coastline near Warebeth Cemetary, overlooking Hoy Sound. The resemblance to the Oregon coast was striking here, except the cormorants were Shags, the crows were Hooded, and the oystercatchers Eurasian. We could definitely use some wagtails along the Oregon coast.

It was a bit chilly and windy

Eurasian Oystercatchers

Eurasian Oystercatchers

Shags

Hooded Crow

Enjoying the rocky, coastal views 




For all the Mute Swans we’ve seen we’d never “counted” them before due to their sketchy provenance. So it was funny that now that we were in the U.K. where native Mute Swans abound, we should run across… an uncountable swan! In this case, it was a Black Swan. Native to Australia, they were introduced to Europe, and especially to Britain, for ornamental purposes.

Black Swan

Red Knots in Flight

We stopped at Cottascarth RSPB, a well-known spot for Hen Harrier, and were successful, although it was so far away as to be near the limits of perception. But more importantly, check out this bird blind! It’s glorious. It’s part bird blind, part Hobbit home. Again, this is something that’s available to the public, without supervision.

The sign leading to the hide to find Hen Harriers

"Do you know where to find the Hen Harrier, sheep?"

A lovely, quaint cottage-looking bird hide

The inside of this bird hide was just as beautiful with this lovely bird mural

Cozy and waiting to spot a Hen Harrier (successfully!)


Reminds me of Yoda



Our first and last birding stop in Orkney were both at the Peedie Sea (peedie being slang for small), in Kirkwall, Orkney’s capital. The “sea” was a great opportunity to get close looks at shorebirds, including Red Knot and Ruddy Turnstone – old favorites from when we lived back East. More excitingly were our lifer Common Ringed Plovers, even though they look nearly identical to our familiar Semipalmateds.

Red Knot and Ruddy Turnstone

Best Friends



Common Ringed Plovers

Adorable!



A shorebird party mix - Common Ringed Plover, Red Knot, and Dunlin

Besides shorebirds, we were able to get right up on top of the Rock Pipits, who seemed much more adapted to people and city life than American Pipits, even landing on buildings. We were able to compare them to the Meadow Pipits we had seen earlier this trip. With such photogenic birds, it was hard having to leave.

Rock Pipit

Rock Pipit

Rock Pipit

Rock Pipit

Rock Pipit

Meadow Pipit

Meadow Pipit

We really enjoyed seeing the European corvids. They seem a bit more edgy than our North American ones. And they sound just as cool as they look!

Hooded Crow

Jackdaws

Jackdaws

Rook

Rook

Rook


This ended up being our shortest stay on our travels, but it was well worth the detour. Shoutout to our friend Kate for showing us all around the island and getting us to all of these fantastic places. Hopefully we’ll be back again when we can see the breeding colonies in their full glory!

Black-Headed Gull

Black-Headed Gull

Harbor Seals playing a game of "Don't touch the lava!"

You guys... This Highland Cow!

Tufted Ducks at the Peedie Sea

View of Kirkwall