Our weather in October has been fairly typical for Orkney with 4 seasons in an hour, never mind a day! Storm Babet made her presence felt but we certainly didn’t experience the storm damage and flooding that the rest of the country did. We have also had some beautiful, calm days so I have certainly taken advantage of those!
October turned into quite an exciting month for wildlife, particularly birds, as a prolonged period of Easterly winds drove lots of migrating birds into Orkney. Islands such as Sanday, Westray, Papa Westray and North Ronaldsay enjoyed lots of rarities, but some did turn up on the mainland too, although I didn’t get the chance to go and see them all.
Some rarities which we enjoyed seeing during October – Cattle Egret (a lifer for me) and a Ring-necked duck which was very obliging for the local birders. The Ring-necked duck is a North American visitor and was often found in the pools in front of The Loons RSPB hide.
Storm Babet brought in huge numbers of winter thrushes with hundreds of Redwings, Fieldfares and Blackbirds but there were also smaller numbers of Song Thrushes and Ring Ouzels to be seen. Every autumn we are visited by flocks of winter thrushes which come to feed on our berries.
Another autumn/winter visitor which comes for our berries are Waxwings, and who doesn’t love a Waxwing! Every so often, there is an irruption of Waxwings where we see hundreds of these birds migrating from Scandinavia in search of food, and this year seems to be a “Waxwing Winter”. They favour trees/shrubs with berries and can often be found on contoneaster, hawthorn or rowan trees as well as bushes with rosehips. If you want to try and attract them to your garden, they do love apples, but they are a bit fussy and prefer them cut in half! They are often found feeding on berries around supermarket car parks and take a moment to listen to their call – it’s such a lovely sound and can often alert you to their presence.
Storm Babet drove a few birds our direction, and after discovering a small flock of Brambling taking shelter behind the wall in our front garden, we started putting some seed out. The small flock of approx. 6 birds soon grew to 17 and we enjoyed watching them for a few days until it was time for them to move on.
Our over-wintering birds like Long-tailed ducks, Slavonian grebes, Whooper swans, Barnacle and Pink-footed geese, Wigeon and Great Northern divers are also back.
One sunny, calm day I made a packed lunch and set off for a walk on my new local patch to Warebeth beach. I was sitting on the beach enjoying my picnic, listening to the Ringed plovers calling when I noticed a slightly different bird feeding at the waters edge. On closer inspection, I thought it was probably a Grey plover and when it flew, my initial ID was confirmed as I could see it’s black armpits. Here’s a short video of it feeding:
On a Wader Walk at Evie with a client, we were lucky enough to see a small group of Twite feeding on the Sow Thistle seed heads at the back of the beach. They are such delightful peedie birds and it’s always a joy to see them.
During October, there were still several Swallows being seen regularly with the odd sighting up till the 31st October. These are likely to be birds that have bred further north and are migrating south but feeding up on the way.
Usually by the time October comes most of our wildflowers have gone over, however I did see quite a variety of flowers including Sow thistles, Ragwort, Bell heather, Thrift/Seapinks and Dandelions. It is also a good time of year for seeing lichens, autumn leaves and there are lots of berries for the birds to eat.
We did have some relatively calm days in October, with sunshine and even a bit of warmth which meant that there were still a few insects around. While walking around Stromness, I saw two different Ruby Tiger Moth caterpillars. They can have different colour forms, the first one I saw was quite brown while the second was a much richer reddish colour, see photos below.
On a recce for a Bespoke walk out in Deerness, a visit to Sandside Bay on a sunny day produced Silver y moths and a Peacock butterfly. As you can see from the photo below, the Peacock butterfly is looking quite ragged but still beautiful.
There were also lots of Red Admirals still around in October, and on my Hidden Gem Short Walk round Orphir Bay we were lucky to spot this one sitting still in the grass verge.
October is always an exciting time as the Grey seal pupping season gets well underway. On my first visit on the 4th October, there were just 5 pups but it was good to see lots of females hanging around the beaches waiting to pup. On this walk, I also had an amazing view of a Peregrine Falcon flying right above me.
By the end of October, the number of pups had reached 62 and they seemed to have survived the storms as there were no casualties. My Seal Pup Walk is one of my favourites to do, and in addition to the Grey seals, there is also the chance to see a lovely variety of birds and some dramatic scenery.
The other mammal which I have seen a few of while out on walks is the Brown Hare. They are such fantastic animals to see and watch, and we are so lucky to be able to get such good views of them. Here’s a photo of one, doing it’s best to blend into the hay bale:
As we move into November, what other interesting migrants will turn up I wonder?
I will leave you for now with some other wildlife and scenery seen this month.