January has certainly been a month to remember but perhaps for the wrong reasons! The big winds and stormy weather has been relentless. While we are used to having gales force winds and the odd storm in the winter months, it does feel like it has been worse than normal, although, what is normal with the weather these days?
From the 21st to 24th January, Storms Isha and Jocelyn certainly made their presence felt. Even today, on the 31st January, the wind is gusting at 60mph and our power has just gone off.
Also, unusually for Orkney, snow brought the county to a standstill with Storm Isha’s big winds causing some horrific drifting. The main roads were impassable and the advice from Orkney Islands Council asked folk not to travel. Many people were offering beds for those that were stranded and couldn’t get home. Although the conditions were horrific, it was nice to see the community pulling together to help each other out.
I’m sure that some of our wildlife will have succumbed to the cold spell and the heavy snow, but there have still been a few calm days where I have been able to get out for a walk and some wildlife watching.
The beginning of January is always an exciting time if you are a birder, a new year means a new year list and the anticipation of what you might see in the year ahead. There are some local birders who try to get 100 species by the end of January, but I have not tried that yet, maybe one year.
There was a bit of controversy over the Glaucous gull when we put the photos on Facebook, various theories were suggested including a large Kumlien’s gull (sub-species of Iceland) and a Glaucous/Herring hybrid while others agreed that it was a Glaucous gull.
We had a wander in Finstown as some of the woodland species had been spotted in early January (Treecreeper, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Bullfinch, Long-tailed tits and Coal Tits). We didn’t see them all, but we did see the Great Spotted Woodpecker and Coal Tits, which are always nice to have on your Orkney list.
On some of my local patch walks, I am very lucky to be seeing Short-eared owls regularly. They are such beautiful birds although they are not the easiest bird to photograph! Here’s a bit of video of one.
The RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch was over the weekend of 26th to 28th January. We were hopeful that our regular cast of garden birds would make an appearance (Blackbirds, Collared Doves, House Sparrows, Chaffinch, Dunnock, Wren, etc). Below is a video showing some of our garden birds feeding in the snow, although the snow had disappeared before the Big Garden Birdwatch weekend.
Of course, that particular weekend we had gale force wind and rain, and I think our birds had obviously taken shelter elsewhere. We had a total of 6 species – Rook, Starling, Jackdaw, Blackbird, Collared Dove and Rock Dove. On Monday 29th January, we had our usual cast of birds back in the garden, including our female Chaffinch! How do they know? We also noticed this Jackdaw with a deformed bill, it is still managing to feed but has it’s own unique style.
My last couple of walks in January were on very calm, sunny days – the calm between the storms!
Although we don’t see many flowers in January, there are signs of plants coming to life, especially in the more sheltered areas. I have seen some healthy looking Lesser Celandine plants in ditches and while walking the coastline there is plenty of Scurvy Grass coming through.
In the garden, we have had daisies and buttercups flowering, despite the weather.
While on my WeBS count in January, this colourful lichen brightened a grey day.
On the 1st January, my partner and I led the Orkney Field Club’s New Year Ramble, which was a lovely circular walk around Stromness. We had a beautiful calm, sunny day and after lunch, while making our way down from Stromness Waterworks, we were lucky to spot a pod of Orcas in Hoy Sound. It was such an amazing sight and what a fantastic way to start the New Year!
I have seen several Brown Hares this month with some mating/courtship behaviour in the field behind our house. There was a pair mate guarding, where the male stays close to the female and tries to stop other males from getting near her. But then, another male appeared and was obviously following a scent trail in the field which led him to “our” pair. There was chasing and a bit of boxing too. Did you know, when you see hares boxing, it is usually the female seeing off the unwanted attention of a male? We lost sight of them as they moved around the field, but then this morning (31st January), we noticed that “our” female was back in her little hollow in the field, but alone. So, we are now wondering if she has been mated? There is another pair in the field showing signs of courtship behaviour – mate guarding, boxing and a bit of mating. It’s fascinating to watch them although they do successfully distract me from my work!
In case you haven’t seen my post on Facebook, I have started a little project this year which I hope to continue and expand on in future years. I have set up a blog “Stromness Saunters”. The aim of the blog is to walk the same route once a month and note the changes in nature’s calendar.
I would really appreciate it if you could spare a moment to read my blog, and if you like it, why not follow the blog or leave a comment?
As we move into February, let us hope that the weather improves and we see a few more signs of Spring in the countryside. This Woolly Bear caterpillar was seen on a walk at Brodgar in January, hopefully it won’t be too long before we are seeing more of them.