Surprised by Puffins

P1150580P1150591P1150592Not quite sure why we decided to go to Yesnaby today. It was a bit of a spur of the moment decision but it was the right one. Didn’t get a site of the rare Primula scotica. If I had this blog might have been about flowers.

 

 

Nor did we take a Geiger counter, if we had this might have been about campaigns against drilling for Uranium on Orkney. Instead we were treated to an unexpectedly close encounter with puffins.

 

 

P1150606The reports aren’t in as to how successful the 2015 breeding season has been but we hope that it will be as good as 2014 (a good year apparently). What else can I say but there’s some interesting facts about puffins here

P1150611We did look at the waves coming in off the Atlanic and Yesnaby Castle a small stack similar to the Old Man of Hoy (which I thought looked like Sponge Bob on a surf board!)P1150616

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Wind Blasted on South Ronaldsay

P1150510The main problem with Orkney is that there is so much to see and do. There is also a temptation also to jump on a ferry and go and see more stuff on other islands. That temptation has been resisted so far but today we did go as far South as we could in the car. This involved going from Mainland across the Churchill Barriers which have provided an important link to Burray and South Ronaldsay. Strangely being more remote even though accessible by car, they have a different feel and today, it was a very windy one! Marvellous views over Scapa Flow and the Pentland Firth means Hoxa Head was a good spot for more WW2 defences. what a spot to be posted to.

P1150514I was hoping for the glimpse of a harbour porpoise or even a killer whale alas not just great skuas, black guillemots, fulmars, razor bills and a rather shy seal.

 

 

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The mission today was to get to the end of the island and see the Tomb of the Eagles. Another important burial tomb as it was found undisturbed. But we were slightly distracted by the beautiful tapestries and rugs created by Leila Thompson. Her use of wool to create the light, look and feel of Orkney is just astounding.

We did make it to the Tomb of the Eagles as always the last ones there and it was worth the trip. The artefacts, beautiful tools and mace heads, jewellery and of course what can be discovered about the lives of the people buried there from their remains is amazing. By 40 you would have been old. Though life was tough the disabled were looked after. Most died in their 20s, even the children showed evidence of arthritis from the wear and tear of a hard life. People didn’t have cavities but abscesses probably killed some. We really don’t know how lucky we are!

P1150525Also on the site is a strange bronze age hut where it seems people spent time heating water. We can only speculate why – perhaps it was a spa those warm stones would have been great for a massage. But then again maybe it was something much more practical.

On the way home we stopped by the First ChurchP1150569ill Barrier to take in the scene with the block ship there, but I got rather distracted by this gorgeous bandit of a bird – the ringed plover.P1150574

 

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Orkney Rocks

Yes Orkney rocks today and not in the sense of Orkney rocks but Orkney rocks (sandstone, Devonian, Stromness flagstone granite etc!). So yes todays wild adventures started at the Orkney Fossil and Heritage Centre what a great little museum (with a super café to boot).

P1150465To think that lots of the rock under our feet is in the region of 350 million years old really does make one think (well me anyway!). Inspired by rocks I went out on to the beach created by Churchill Barrier no 4 to create my own little bit of rock art.

I was aided (?!) by a very friendly little pooch who was intrigued by my activity. Think his owners thought I was a little strange but hey.

P1150470Was lucky enough will looking at one of the block ships sunk now in the sand as opposed the sea to get a glimpse of a short eared owl cruising through the dunes.

Interesting how we can set out to do one thing (in this case stop unwanted Uboats entering Scapa Flow) and end up actually creating eco systems. Nature is wonderful in its capacity to take much of what we throw at it, and do something with it.

P1150489But a bit more on humans, a jewel in the crown of Lamb Holm (well the only jewel perhaps!) is the Italian Chapel alternatively in my book “It’s Amazing What You Can Do With an Old Nissan Hut (or two)”.

This exquisite little place was created by Italian PoW’s towards the end of WWII and really is a really amazing testament to the creativity that can be achieved even when P1150482under, I would imagine, a fair amount of stress and boredom. All the painting, iron work and carving was done by the PoWs even down to the carving of a font. They scavenged materials from where they could including scrap wood and metal, not to mention a fair amount of concrete – but the result is both astounding and moving.

So the end of another fascinating day on Orkney and a well (vegetarians/vegans look away now)  earned – all this exploring builds an appetite you know, dinner (late birthday) P1150491was on the cards. I was treated to what is considered to be the best restaurant on Orkney – The Foveran just reopened after a refurbishment it was great. The North Ronaldsay Mutton was very tasty and met my requirements for eating meat – it should at very least be free range. I don’t think you can get any freerer for a sheep than roaming the beaches of a remote Orkney island eating seaweed!.

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Wild Day – Late Kick Off

The wind was howling and the rain blowing this morning – so saving the dancing in the rain for a more pleasantly wet day! I put off my wild 1/2 hour to go and experience 5000 years of human history on Orkney at the museum in Kirkwall – phew. What amazed me about that, is how acquisitive we are as a species. Even the Neolithic people had ornaments and jewellery (though perhaps imbued with more powers and mystery than we can imagine). But by the time we get to the Victorians there are cases and cabinets stuffed full of things. If I think about a modern home (and how quickly things are changed and disposed of), I shudder rather.

P1150424Anyway back to the wild experience. As with most days on Orkney the weather changed and the sun came out giving us lovely views over Scapa Flow from the RSPB reserve at Hobbister. Strangely we saw fewer birds there than we have anywhere else on Orkney so far! But the light, the air, the shapes and colours were wonderful.  So it was marvellous just to sit and take stock.

P1150426I have been looking at the plants on Orkney and the spring (yes still very much spring here) flowers are very pretty. But I think my favourite plant so far is the cotton grass. No picking allowed of course but I did have a stroke of one. Oh so soft and tactile.

 

 

P1150430The views of the hills of Hoy from Hobbister with the dramatic skies of Scapa Flow were also fantastic. As the light was so clear and bright it was an evening to spend watching the view rather than the telly (no Spring Watch either which helped!).

Then what better way to round off the day than with a late walk up the hill to see P1150451a gorgeous sunset (10.15pm) and listen to the sound of a cuckoo – which I was quite surprised about.

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The Last Days of Maes Howe

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The rain hasn’t stopped for whole seasons
crops don’t grow,
the animals are sick.
All are hungry and cold.
There are squabbles and fights.

The news goes round
it’s agreed.
The cairns must be closed up
But what of those freshly dead?
– So many as disease
ripped through communities

A scramble to prepare the last
who’ll be placed in the niches.
One sorry gathering in flickering light
Prayers said by a people clinging
to the dying rays of hope.
Knowing there’ll be no more winter sun
to resurrect the spirits of those
gone before.

Crouching to leave
the last lamp light
fading from the chamber.
Wails go up as the first stones clatter in
then silence as work goes on
all play their part.

They are buried our kith and kin
Their spirits can no longer join us.
Cut off we are like boats loosed in a storm
and scattered to the four winds.

© Ali Walters June 2015

 

 

 

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A Summer Visitor to Skara Brae

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A Summer Visitor to Skara BraeP1150368

Come in, come in
out of the wind.
Warm your self by the fire.

Now tell us your news.
We’ve fresh crab or wild boar
let me sprinkle it with green herbs.
Taste our fine honey.
and have a cup of ale.

Sing, sing I see you have a whistleP1150390
give us a song about the collection of the stones
Have they come from every island yet?

They’re to be raised very soon,
when the days are at their longest.
There will be feasting and
celebration a plenty.

 

 

 

Rest, rest now
take a place in the cot
There’s a fleece for your back
and a fine skin for your cover.
Don’t mind the wee one he’ll budge
Me no, I’ve nettle to twine
and seaweed to gather
I’ll take my ease
when the dark comes.

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Sunshine and Puffins

P1150298After the gales of last night the day dawned grey, cloudy and showery. But with some scrutinising of the weather forecast, and deciding to believe it, a trip to the Brough of Birsay was planned. Oh and a consult of the tide times forewarned is forearmed wben going to an island that is cut off by the tide every 6 hours.

I was consigned to the passenger seat on the trip up there after being somewhat distracted when I was driving by the sight of a Hen Harrier drifting across the moors!

The Brough was once home to Picts P1150341and then Vikings who even had covered drains and even a sauna (perhaps!). Now it is an outpost for wildlife on the Atlantic coast of Orkney Mainland.

We went in search of puffins.

 

 

P1150308There were a few seals hanging around, eider ducks, ravens, great skuas, oyster catchers of course, razor bills, fulmars – one with a nest to impress! The views were wonderful (and the forecast of sun was spot on). The one thing I was rather disturbed to see were feral cats on the island – can’t be good for ground nesting birds like puffins. It seemed like we weren’t to have any joy seeing these dear little birds.

P1150325So I amused myself taking pictures of razorbills which were there in abundance. We chatted to some of the other visitors some local all looking for the elusive puffin. One couple of old hands gave us a hint and said with some patience and – “getting our eye in” we’d see them. So we settled to a spot (sheltered from the Atlantic breeze) and trained our binoculars on a patch of cliffs.

P1150328Hurrah – we were rewarded, not the closest encounter ever, I know there are places where they just gather around your feet. But given the feral cats I was happy to see them on the cliffs. What this does for their breeding prospects I don’t know. These Pierrots of the bird world look so sad but are adorable.

 

P1150340I spent a fair while watching their comings and goings and could have stayed longed. However the tide doesn’t wait so there was a need to get back to the mainland ahead of it. We went for a bit more of a wander around the Brough. and sat in the sauna to admire the views!

We appeared to be the last ones to leave as water lapped up the edges of the causeway but on turning back for a last look at the causeway we saw two figures ambling down the hill. P1150356A group of onlookers were willing them to hurry and they did seem to put on a bit of a spurt as they suddenly realised their predicament. To all our reliefs they crossed safely though with somewhat damp feet! Just goes to show the tide waits for no man – or woman as it was in this case!

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30 Days Wild Official Start Date

After the wild weather yesterday things had calmed down somewhat this morning. The day started sunny and clear with fine views across to a field where there were at least 4 hares foraging. I’ve never seen so many in one go and there were plenty more around.

P1150269Lunch was spent by Scapa Flow, where the sun shone, the wind blew, the wind dropped and the rain trifled with us. The perfect place to be if you like to experience a range of seasons in one day.

P1150271A circular walk took in bluebells on the edge – can’t say I’ve ever seen bluebells on a cliff top before. But then I was also quite surprised to find a beautiful little patch of woodland within a few hundred yards of the cliff – trees being somewhat scarce on Orkney.

P1150289It was quite a magical little dell and of course I got to hug a tree (not like me at all!), and take more pictures of bluebells. Funny seeing them in June – feel like I’ve gone back in time by about a month.

 

 

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Out of the wood it was back to the more typical views of Orkney and home for tea and scones. Later the weather closed in again. With gale force 8 possibly 9 expected later.

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31st May Take Two

P1150252Never one to let the weather get the better of me after looking at the delicate artic terns in the lovely St Magnus Cathedral – Kirkwall it was time to head out into the weather. A trip to the Ring of Brodgar was called for – my but it was wild and woolly there.

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At least after being blown about we had a car to retreat to this lapwing chick wasn’t so lucky it just had to brave it out, as did the cygnet on the loch which took refuge for a while on its parents back.

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Still all ended well the sky turned blue and apart from a brief hailstorm followed by an amazing rainbow the evening was beautiful.

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Day 2 Very Wild Weather

Cape Wrath to Rattray Head including Orkney

Strong winds are forecast

24 hour forecast:

Wind
Southeast 5 or 6, veering west or northwest 6 or 7, occasionally gale 8, backing south 4 or 5 later.
Sea state
Slight or moderate, becoming moderate or rough. (looks pretty rough in Scapa Flow to me!)
Weather
Rain, showers later. (Rain is an understatement!)
Visibility
Moderate or poor, becoming good later.

P1150248Even the sheep are looking a bit miserable. So off to explore the wilds of Kirkwall today I think, though with waterproofs to the ready, getting to the car could be an adventure in itself!

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