Bird News for North Hill and Noup Cliffs – June/July 2012

The number of Gannets nesting at the RSPB’s Noup Cliffs reserve on Westray has once again increased to a whopping 623 nests! Considering that Gannets only started nesting on this reserve in 2003, that’s a pretty impressive increase in a relatively short amount of time. Most of these breeding pairs now have small, fluffy white chicks, so keep an eye for them.

Arctic Terns are also doing well this year, with over 150 nesting pairs on Papa Westray and a further 300 or so pairs nesting on Westray in several different colonies across the islands. Most of the terns in these colonies are currently incubating eggs, but many are also now looking after young chicks! Arctic Terns are very protective of their eggs and chicks so please view the colonies from afar and do not approach any colonies that you come across, especially as the colonies are very prone to disturbance and may abandon their nests if disturbed. Please do not try to attack the terns – they are just defending their nests!

Guillemots and Razorbills are all now looking after young chicks, both on the North Hill reserve on Papa Westray and at Noup Cliffs reserve on Westray. The Guillemot and Razorbill chicks are getting quite big now and soon will be jumping off of the cliff ledges into the sea! Evenings are the best time to visit these reserves if you want to watch the ‘jumplings’ flinging themselves off of the cliffs! Many of the nesting Shags are also now looking after chicks of various sizes, but these will hang around for quite a bit longer, and won’t leave the cliffs until the end of July. The Kittiwakes also now have chicks! These cute little balls of fluff can be seen in most of the nests at Noup Cliffs, but unfortunately none nested on the North Hill reserve this year. These chicks will also be around until the end of July whilst they gain their juvenile plumage. Puffins are being seen at both reserves on a daily basis, so keep your eyes peeled if you want to see these popular little birds coming out of their burrows or hanging around on the cliff ledges. Evenings are generally the best time to see Puffins, but they can often be seen during the day as well, especially at Castle of Burrian on Westray, where there are a few hundred pairs nesting!

Fulmars can be found nesting all around the coastline of both Westray and Papa Westray, so you may come across quite a few of these birds – our relative of the Albatross! They should all be on eggs by now, with chicks soon to follow, and will defend their nests violently – by spitting their oily, fishy gastric fluid at you! So if you come across a nesting Fulmar, keep away, unless you like to smell of rotten fish! Black Guillemots, or ‘Tysties’ as they are known here, can also be seen around the coastline, usually in the early morning or the evenings, sitting out on the rocks and cliffs near their burrows and singing their nice little whistling tune. They are very lovely little birds, well worth watching if you see any.

Both the Arctic Skuas and Great Skuas will now be looking after eggs, and some even have chicks at the moment too. These birds are extremely aggressive in the defence of their nests – you will be attacked if you get too close. If the Skuas do start swooping at you, remain calm and keep walking – you will leave their territory eventually. Watch where you put your feet though as the eggs and chicks are often very well camouflaged, and the adults will be much more annoyed if you tread on them! Please do not try to attack the Skuas, they are just defending their nests!

Most of waders and gulls are also looking after young chicks, so keep a look out for them as you go around the islands. Wader chicks (such as Oystercatchers, Lapwings, and Curlews) can be very difficult to see as they are also well camouflaged and will hide when people get near to them, so they can be difficult to spot! Some of the gull species may swoop at you if you unwittingly get close to their nests, but they will not hit you, so again just keep on walking until they stop chasing you. Most of the small ‘songbirds’ such as Sparrows, Starlings, Skylarks, Wrens and Meadow Pipits now have flying young, and can often be seen feeding their young on walls and fences or in fields and trees, so watch out for the young ones!

Corncrakes seem to be doing well this year, with 6 males heard calling on Westray and at least 1 on Papa Westray, making Westray the best island to visit if you want to hear (or possibly even see) one this year! Corncrakes are usually only heard at night, with 11pm – 3am being the best time for hearing them call, but they can be sometimes be heard in the daytime as well.

July is not the best month to see migrating birds, but anything is possible! Some waders have started to come in already, with two Sanderling seen on Papa Westray on the 4th July. Golden Plovers have also started coming in, and several unusual warblers have been seen across Orkney last month, so please do keep an eye out for anything unusual whilst visiting Westray and Papa Westray. Please report any unusual sightings to the RSPB Warden on 01857 644 240.

July is a good month for wildflowers, and many beautiful species can be found across both of the islands, but especially look around the coastline, where species such as Thrift, Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Kidney Vetch, and Sea Campion can be found in flower. July also brings the second flowing season for the Scottish Primrose, a tiny little primrose that is only found in Caithness, Sutherland and six of the Orkney isles, with colonies on both Westray at Aikerness, and Papa Westray on the North Hill reserve.

July is also a good month for seeing whales and dolphins, both of which have been seen in Orkney recently! On the 26th June a pod of 5 Orcas were seen off of the West coast of Papa Wesray, moving north along the coast and were enjoyed by many locals and visitors alike! A pod of Risso’s Dolphins were seen from Noup Cliffs earlier in the year as well. You are more likely to see whales and dolphins when the sea is calm, so remember to scan the sea occasionally if you’re out on a nice calm day. And please call the RSPB Warden or tell one of the locals if you do see any whales or dolphins, so that other people can come and see them!

For any more information about the RSPB reserves on Westray (Noup Cliffs) or Papa Westray (North Hill), please contact the Warden on 01857 644 240. You can also keep up to date with what’s going on at all of our Orkney reserves by visiting the RSPB blog at: http://www.rspb.org.uk/community/placestovisit/orkney/b/orkney-blog/default.aspx.

The RSPB Warden runs wildlife tours around the North Hill reserve on Papa Westray every Wednesday and Saturday afternoon until the end of August. If you would like to attend one of these tours, please call the Warden on 01857 644 240. Booking and stout walking shoes are essential!

Thanks to Sarah R.S.P.B. Warden for providing this report.