It has been a very cold, dry Spring with winds coming from the North/NE/NW most days and I think some wildlife, especially the wildflowers have been a bit slow this year. It’s certainly feeling a bit milder now, as I write this, and I have my sandals on which is always a good sign!
I have been busy with lots of admin work this month as I made preparations for restarting my walks on the 17th May. Once I had the majority of indoor admin done, I was able to get out and about on walks doing my recces. Every year I do a recce for each of my walks just in case there are changes I need to make to the route and/or risk assessment. It also allows me to check the distance and timing of the walk. My partner, friends and family get dragged along on my recces, although usually they don’t need much persuading! This helps to make it a bit more realistic in terms of timing and they sometimes highlight things that I haven’t thought of.
I have also been working on some other projects this month, including a Bespoke walk, an itinerary for a private tour and a programme of walks which I will be offering for the Orkney International Science Festival this year.
Bespoke walks and wildlife guiding are additional services that I offer, as well as the walks that are listed on my website. As they take more time and planning, they are priced per hour rather than per person. If you would like to know more about these, then please do get in touch with my be email or phone. https://wildorkneywalks.co.uk/services/
My walk recces for this month have included my Hidden Gem walks (both short and long). The Hidden Gem Short walks last 2-3 hours and the long walks 5-6 hours. All of the Hidden Gem walks are on my local patch which I have got to know very well during Covid and lockdown. I introduced 2 new walks to my Hidden Gem offerings, one of which is included in the Short walks – Gruf Hill. It is a lovely walk following a reasonable path/track in the Orphir hills, with lots of lovey wildflowers and stunning views.
Another recce I did is for a circular walk at Swanbister, which is approx 4 miles in length. It is a really lovely place to walk with lots of birds, flowers, insects and beautiful scenery too.
One of my favourite bits of coastline to walk is at Mull Head. This is a local nature reserve with a lovely variety of habitats and wildlife. It’s on my website as a 4 hour circular walk, however the route can vary depending on the pace of the walk. It can also be done as a shorter or longer walk, but I would recommend a minimum of 2 hours to fully appreciate the scenery and views.
As mentioned above, I have a Bespoke walk coming up in June, so the recce for it was done this month. For this walk I was focussing on the plants/wildflowers, more information on this will follow next month after I have done the walk.
It is fantastic to have the freedom to visit the islands again, and I have managed to fit in a few day trips this month to Hoy, Westray and Stronsay. My highlights for each island are different, as the islands all have their own characters/specialities.
On Hoy, we saw a fantastic variety of raptors including White Tailed Eagle, Peregrine, Kestrel, Buzzard and Hen Harriers. You might also have seen the news this week that Golden Eagles have returned to breed on Hoy for the first time in 40 years which is very exciting news! https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/golden-eagles-breeding-again-in-orkney-after-almost-40-years/
For our day on Westray, we ventured up to Noup Head in a vehicle (this is an adventure in itself due to the condition of the track). But we were rewarded for our efforts as we watched Gannets flying by with nesting materials as we had our picnic. A walk along the clifftops revealed lots of Gannets, Guillemots and Razorbills getting ready to breed, as well as Kittiwakes collecting nesting material and ‘paddling’ their nests. One of my favourite sounds has to be Kittiwakes, and of course, a visit to the seabird cliffs isn’t complete without the smell of guano – I love it, for me it’s part of the whole experience.. Keep an eye on my Facebook page for videos of the Kittiwakes and other wildlife.
We also managed to fit in a visit to Stronsay where the weather turned out to be much better than what was forecast. We enjoyed a lovely walk along the coastline by the Vat of Kirbister. It was also great to see the Fishmart Café open, so we happily supported a local business by having coffee and cake!
Another island visit albeit not Orkney, was a brief visit to Shetland where my partner had a job. This involved getting the overnight ferry from Kirkwall to Lerwick, we then had a day to spend wildlife watching, before returning to Kirkwall that evening. We did take advantage of the chance to see an American visitor in Shetland – a Hooded Merganser, and what a stunning bird it was.
We were also lucky enough to spot 2 Otters mating (I say we, it was I who spotted them whilst we were having a hot coffee in the car). We sat and watched them for ages, as they were oblivious to us and passing traffic. Check out the video on my Facebook page.
Later on, we visited Meal Beach on Burra, where my partner spotted a female Pied Flycatcher having a preen, and we found some Moss Campion, a new flower for me.
Despite the cold weather, it has still been a great month for seeing wildlife. The seabirds are back on the cliffs, and other birds busy nesting. My male Stonechat stopped singing for a while, a sure sign that they were nesting, and the other day I spotted 3 juvenile Stonechats in my garden with both parents keeping an eye on them. We’ve also had a young Meadow Pipit in the garden being fed by a parent, and the male Blackbird is making regular foraging trips to my garden collecting worms and caterpillars, so they must have a nest nearby.
In the garden, we’ve seen some Bumblebees and Carder bees, and plenty of hoverflies. Occasionally I spot a Green Veined White fluttering through and I did spot a Magpie Moth caterpillar on the wall of the house.
There’s a nice bit of variety in the wildflowers now with Birds Foot Trefoil, Lousewort, Milkwort, Red Campion, Thrift and Spring Squill all flowering now, with lots of other flowers out too. I’ve also been able to identify the male & female plants of Creeping Willow, something I only learnt last summer, so I was chuffed that I remembered it this year.
I am pleased to say that I have now received my 2nd Covid vaccine and I am very much looking forward to seeing you all on my wildlife walks throughout the year.
I will leave you with this little video I took on one of my walk recces, something I’ve never witnessed before and it was only the ploughed fields this was happening on.