Hands-down the best single site we birded in Europe was Marwick Head RSPB in Orkney. Located in the northwest of Orkney’s mainland, the place was a dream-come-true, even if we missed out on some highly desired birds. The landscape is simply breathtaking, and the birds weren’t bad either. (You can see our last blog post from Orkney here).
The parking lot abuts a little rocky inlet where we had a group of Common Eiders feeding along the near shore. Eider faces are so damn weird. This little group of juveniles were moving and shaking, moving their little feet, probably stirring up some grub, and then dunking their heads underneath to claim their prizes. They were really fun to watch.
While enjoying these funky-faced ducks, we enjoyed the White Wagtails, Meadow Pipits, Eurasian Curlews, and Eurasian Oystercatchers that danced around on the rocks. Making our way onto the main trail, a Stonechat found himself perfectly at home atop some stones.
|Stonechat on stones!|
|The barbed wire makes this Stonechat look so tough|
We followed the footpath that led uphill to the vantage where you can overlook (in the right season) the colonies of seabirds nesting in the cliff face. On the way up, we saw a couple of old familiar faces – Northern Wheatears (which we saw in France two summers ago), and flying Northern Gannets.
|A spectacular view!|
The trail brought us under the flightpath for a hundred or so Northern Fulmars zipping close overhead. So close, in fact, that we had a tough time keeping them in focus (a blessing and a curse, as Adrian Monk would say). With our main telephoto lens still suffering from internal moisture due to the incessant rain we had in Edinburgh the previous day, I had a hell of a time (even more so than usual) taking pics of the flying Fulmars. However, my frustration was about to take a turn as we started to descend the cliff.
|Maureen amongst the dozens of Northern Fulmars flying above|
|Nick taking pics of Northern Fulmars|
|Northern Fulmar slicing through the air|
|Northern Fulmar belly shot|
In that moment, all we could do is bask in this epic encounter, observing behavior at its finest with these beautiful birds. We had never got to really appreciate Northern Fulmars to this extent until right then. What could look like just another gull in passing to a novice or someone not really paying attention is actually quite an elegant looking seabird, who is also pretty darn cute.
At the same time we had to keep our eyes out for Great Skuas, which passed by much less frequently. And judging by the photos, a Parasitic Jaeger (or Arctic Skua, as Europeans call them) or two also slipped through. Oh, by the way, Orkney has some fun names they have come up for birds. Parasitic Jaeger is called Skooitie Allan, Northern Fulmars are called Mallimacks, and Great Skuas are called Bonxies! Adorable.
|A big chunky Great Skua|
We can’t imagine what this place is like in peak season – as it was, we could barely contain ourselves amid the swarm of activity all around us. A pair of small finches, called Twites, made for a nice farewell present on our way out, although they made it that much more difficult to leave.
|Great Cormorants and gulls|
|One happy gal|
|One happy guy|
An unplanned stop when we originally started planning our UK adventure turned out to be our overall best birding spot! We even fit in a bit of history and culture on this trip, checking out the Neolithic sites, standing stones, and Viking relics, including the St. Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall. Thanks again to Kate and her family for inviting us and welcoming us into their home and showing us around this truly spectacular place.