December started off with a cold Northerly wind and a light covering of snow on the ground, however the weather throughout the month has been fairly typical of an Orcadian winter with plenty gales, a couple of storms, rain, snow and sunshine. Despite the cold, there were a couple of plants flowering in the garden on the 1st December.

The BTO conference started on Monday 29th December and ran through till Saturday 4th December, and once again it was all online this year. They held a variety of talks throughout the week, the ones I “attended” were Rewilding (Knepp Estate), Songbird Studies and Wondrous Waders. All of these talks can still be accessed through the BTO YouTube channel and are well worth watching.

I did some volunteering with RSPB Orkney at the beginning of December, where we were doing a variety of jobs including cutting back some of the willows and clearing the reed beds to open up channels for Water Rails. I always enjoy the chance to get outside and do some habitat management work with the RSPB during the winter.

RSPB Loons Reserve
RSPB Loons Reserve, Orkney

I also attended a volunteer event hosted by the Orkney Native Wildlife Project held at their offices where we heard talks about seabirds in Orkney, and other volunteering opportunities with the project. We also had the opportunity to watch 2 of the stoat detection dogs in training with one of their handlers which was really interesting.

During December I worked on the new descriptions and photos for the walks that I am offering in 2022. There are changes to some existing walks/routes and some new ones too. I am also hoping to add in more “seasonal” walks/day trips throughout the summer. News of these will be posted on my website and Facebook page nearer the time. I have removed the separate Covid page from my website and have incorporated the information into my Terms & Conditions page, which I have also taken the opportunity to update.

In addition to updating the website, I have updated my listings on Facebook, Google and VisitScotland.

It’s certainly been a busy month for admin, but it was good to get it all done and updated before Christmas.

Walks

We did 2 different walks along the Birsay coastline in December, the first, earlier in the month was a circular taking in the whale bone. This is always a stunning bit of coastline but very dramatic in the winter months with the big seas crashing against the rocks.

The second walk we did, was on Boxing Day, and this time we ventured in the opposite direction and headed along the coastline towards Costa. This is a really lovely stretch of coastline which gave good views looking towards Noup Head on Westray. Already, there were some healthy looking clumps of Scurvy Grass leaves and Crowberry growing on the clifftops.

We enjoyed a lovely walk at Brodgar mid December where we saw the sun setting behind the Hoy hills and the moon rising over Harray loch. This is always a lovely area to walk with lots of wildlife and stunning scenery to see.

Between Christmas and New Year we headed up to Marwick on a sunny and relatively calm morning. For a change, we headed along the coastline to the Fisherman’s Huts and a bit beyond instead of walking up to Marwick Head.

In need of some more aerobic exercise after Christmas, we headed up Midland Hill in Orphir. Although it was quiet for wildlife, the views from the top were amazing! While up there, I got a notification from OMMRI about a pod of 50 Common Dolphins in Scapa Flow, between Houton and Hoy. As we were up the hill behind Houton, we thought it would be worth a look and I did manage to spot them, unfortunately it was too far away for any photos but still amazing to see, even from such a distance away!

We managed one island trip in December to Stronsay. My partner had a job to do there, so we headed out on the 29th December for the day. Because of the winter timetable, it’s a long day, leaving home at 6.20am and not getting back home till after 7pm in the evening, meaning we had to take breakfast, lunch and dinner with us! I enjoyed a nice walk along quiet island roads doing a bit of birding whilst my partner was working, then we met up and did some walks and wildlife watching till it got dark.

Despite the time of year, we saw 38 species of birds including a Sparrowhawk, a Hen Harrier, a pair of Pintails and a very confiding group of Sanderling busy feeding on the beach.

Wildlife

There’s been a nice variety of birdlife in the garden this month with a couple of slightly rarer visitors for my garden. We had a male Blackcap visiting the garden for a few days, so I made sure there was plenty of apple out for him. Blackcaps enjoy apples but they do prefer them to be cut in half.

We have also had a couple of brief appearances from a Brambling, and a few Chaffinches visiting, which I don’t get in the garden very often.

The usual cast of garden birds includes Greenfinches, House Sparrows (Spuggies), Blackbirds, a Robin and an occasional Dunnock. I sometimes get Goldfinches visiting, usually in ones or twos, but one day I did spy a “mini” charm of 8 Goldfinches feeding on the grass seed heads which was lovely.

I did my WeBS count on Sunday 19th December, on a nice calm morning round Houton Bay. As it was such a still morning, you could clearly hear the calls of the Long Tailed Ducks – one of my favourite sounds, it always brings a smile to my face in the winter months. There were also nice close views of Slavonian Grebes and a Great Northern Diver.

Sunrise
Sunrise on Christmas Day

Our last walk of 2021, was on Hogmanay when we ventured out for a walk round Orphir Bay on our local patch. There were lots of Redwings and Fieldfares, and a few plants in flower – Pink Purslane, Gorse, Daisies and Dandelions.