January is a good time for me to think ahead and start to make some of the more practical preparations ready for the 2022 season. Although I offer some walks all year round, there are still preparations that I need to make every year to ensure that everything is up to date.

Mute Swans
Mute Swans

I have written an article for the 2022 Islander magazine which will accompany my advert. If you have a copy of the 2021 Islander magazine, you can find me on page 72 and I will let you know where I feature in this year’s publication once it is available. The Islander magazine is free and is an excellent source of information for the islands.

I have been busy with some other marketing opportunities during January. Wild Orkney Walks now has a listing on the VisitScotland Travel Trade website which will open up opportunities to work with international travel agents. I attended a Travel Trade Webinar last week which gave some really useful information about this new market and the opportunities it can bring businesses.

The other new opportunity I have taken advantage of this month, is joining Destination Orkney which, I have discovered, is free this year due to the pandemic. So, if you take a look at Orkney.com you can find my listing for Wild Orkney Walks.

Cormorant
Cormorant

If you follow Wild Orkney Walks on Facebook, you might have seen the post I shared about the Orkney Nature Festival, which I am pleased to say is going ahead this year! I am on the steering group for the Orkney Nature Festival with many different hats on – I am the rep for the Orkney Field Club, my business and I also attend as a volunteer with the festival. We had a very productive meeting, deciding on the dates and brainstorming some ideas for events to put on, so watch this space for more details but the dates are 19th – 22nd May.

I am delighted that email enquiries are starting to come in for the summer season, and I have some bookings in the diary already. It’s great that folk are thinking ahead and booking in advance, and it should be noted for the first week in June, I have very little availability.

Pied Wagtail
Pied Wagtail

January Walks

I started 2022 with a lovely walk around Orphir Bay on the 1st January. We were lucky with the weather and managed to get our new bird lists off to a respectable start with 43 species, including a Sparrowhawk and a Hen Harrier. I also found some Pink Purslane in flower on the 1st January, the same flower which I saw the day before on the 31st December.

On the 2nd January, we joined the Orkney Field Club for their New Year Ramble. We did a figure of eight loop, taking in 2 different walks with a stop for lunch in the community gardens in Finstown. We saw a great variety of wildlife including some flowering Lesser Celandine, a Little Grebe, Goldcrests and an Otter to end the day.

I have been trying to get out for as many walks as the weather allows for this month, partly to try and lose a bit of the Festive weight, and also because I am taking part in Doddie Aid this year. I have enjoyed lots of lovely walks around my local patch and some that are further afield at Gurness and Brodgar.

On a rather blustery Sunday, we opted for something a bit more adventurous and walked from Marwick Bay over to Northside, Birsay. This is a lovely walk to do at any time of year, and there is lots to see. On this day, we saw Purple Sandpipers and Turnstones on the rocky shores, Wigeon in the sheltered bays and I spotted my first Kittiwake of the year flying below the cliffs of Marwick Head. There were also Brown Hares in the fields doing a bit of boxing, Spring is definitely on the way! We did this as a 2 car walk but it could be done both ways in a day.

Island Trips

January has been a good month for islands with trips to Shetland, Papa Westray (Papay) and Stronsay this month.

Shetland was at the beginning of the month, my partner just had 2 jobs booked in and both in scenic areas for walking and wildlife. The first, was down at Toab which is near Sumburgh and I knew from a previous holiday in Shetland, that the Pool of Virkie was nearby. I enjoyed a walk through the village and along the road past Virkie where I spotted my first Shelducks of the year. I thought this was quite early for them to return, but there were 5 of them busy feeding. The Pool of Virkie is also very close to Sumburgh airport, so I quite enjoyed watching various flights coming and going.

Pool of Virkie
Pool of Virkie, Shetland

The other area I walked was at Sandsayre, which is where the Mousa ferry leaves from in the summer months. I had a nice walk along the coastline where I got great views of Purple Sandpipers and Turnstones busy feeding.

Papay was the next island to visit and for this we were flying as it’s not so easy to get to by ferry in the winter. I love the peedie Islander plane, you get such a good view of the islands as you fly over, giving quite a different perspective. This was my first time on the “shortest scheduled flight in the world” which goes from Westray to Papay in less than 2 minutes! I had a great day walking on Papay and I saw lots of wildlife including Fieldfares, Shovelers, Barnacle Geese, Hen Harriers and a Peregrine while waiting for the afternoon flight to Kirkwall.

The last island this month was Stronsay, which we had also visited in December. This was a shorter trip as we were able to get a boat back at lunchtime. I walked from Rothiesholm back to the village of Whitehall (approx. 5 miles), and met up with my partner who only just finished his job in the nick of time, for getting the boat home. The weather was mostly good although I did get a good soaking as I was on the last stretch to the village, but I can’t really complain. There was lots of good birds to see, and some noticeable differences from the last visit. For instance, in December, I remember seeing lots of Redwings but only one Fieldfare, however this time, I only saw one Redwing but lots of Fieldfares busy feeding in the fields.

Wildlife seen in January

I have seen a fantastic variety of wildlife this month including birds, mammals, fungus, lichens and even some wildflowers!

On the 1st January, we saw daisies, dandelions, gorse and pink purslane on our walk, and when we joined Orkney Field Club for their walk on the 2nd we found Lesser Celandine flowering in a sheltered ditch. I also found some Lesser Celandine flowering on Papay.

I mentioned earlier, in the Walks section, that we had a walk at Gurness. We had gone to see the flock of Snow Buntings which you can find there most winters, and we got some really nice views, not just of them, but also Purple Sandpipers which were busy feeding in the kelp at the water’s edge.

There’s also been colour in the form of fungus and lichens found on my walks. I have very limited knowledge of these, but I do love the bright colours. The Yellow Brain Fungus can usually be found growing on dead gorse, and it is one that I see on my Hidden Gem Short walks.

We did go for a “twitch” one Sunday to see the Little Egret which had been reported at Loch of Sabiston, near Dounby. We walked a short distance along the road/track where we saw Fieldfares, Redwings and Stonechats perched on the fences. After a quick scan of the loch, I spotted the Little Egret feeding, although I took a few record photos, they weren’t good enough to make it onto the website, but I have included a photo of the loch and a Fieldfare instead.

Sabiston Loch
Sabiston Loch

Fieldfare
Fieldfare

My WeBS survey this month was quite productive with a good variety of birds seen including Wigeon, Teal, Long-Tailed Ducks, Snipe, Slavonian Grebes, Ringed Plovers and Dunlin. As I was just about to stop scanning the bay, I picked up a large flock of waders wheeling around and as I watched them, I was keeping everything crossed that they would land on the point in front of me so that I could count them, and they did! It took a little while to count them as there were so many, but my totals were 50 Ringed Plovers and 70 Dunlin.

In the weeks leading up to the RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch (28th – 30th Jan), I discovered that the female Sparrowhawk previously seen in the garden, was still around and had a particular liking for Blackbirds. This meant that the garden was quiet for birds, and along with the stormy weather that was forecast I wasn’t holding out much hope.

I waited till the winds had died down a bit, and did my hour of counting on the Sunday morning. Thankfully, the birds must have known and I got a nice variety including a Robin and a Dunnock which I hadn’t seen recently. My end result was:

  • Blackbirds 9
  • Chaffinch 3
  • Dunnock 1
  • Greenfinch 1
  • House Sparrow 12
  • Robin 1
  • Rock Doves 2

No photos though as the windows were too salty after Storm Malik!

I will leave you for this month with a video I took on Papay of some ducks with the soundtrack provided by nature.