Friday, 25 March 2011

Mark: Arriving on North Ronaldsay

This new blog is to provide more of an insight into observatory life, its work and the staff. It’s a brief and fairly light-hearted summary of day to day goings on, and will be updated by a different member of staff each week. It’s also where we’ll be advertising up and coming Observatory and Island events.

So I’m Mark, and I moved to North Ronaldsay last week along with my girlfriend Fleur and our dog Pumpkin. After much deliberation we made the decision to make the move north from Lands End to the northernmost of the Orkney Islands for the next year and will be living and working at the Obs.

So why on earth did we decide to move to North Ronaldsay?

Pumpkin sniffing for Locustellas: you may laugh, but how many dogs have Brown Shrike, Baird’s Sandpiper and Subalpine Warbler on their find list!

The tale begins last autumn. Rael (one of the wardens and a good friend of mine) had been nagging me for ages to come to North Ron for some autumn birding and last autumn I did with another mate – Shetland birder Rory Tallack. We had a good couple of weeks with decent migrant numbers and plenty of scarcities, and we turned up a few rarities: Pied Wheatear, 2 Blyth’s Reed Warblers and Britain’s second Rufous-tailed Robin (ok, so the latter was picked up dead, but that’s not the point!) I was struck by the potential of what is very much an under-watched Island with a strong track record for rarities – I knew I’d be back.

So... we arrived last Friday, were greeted by Alison off the boat, and quickly whisked up to the observatory for a cup of tea – I’m drinking my 50th brew of the week as I write this, but I promise I have done some work in between. I was running dangerously low on pants (It took four days to drive a van to Wick, get a boat to Orkney, load a container with 70 odd boxes and a bed onto another boat destined for North Ronaldsay, go sightseeing on Orkney mainland, have a cup of tea/pint and get the afore mentioned boat to North Ronaldsay!) so we spent our first couple of days unpacking boxes, having a bit of a sort out of our stuff and generally getting to know our way around the Observatory and parts of the Island. The highlight of Saturday was definitely Ireland thumping England in the rugby, but the low point was Wales being rubbish against France.

From a birding point of view spring is only just starting around here, so for the past week we’ve been censusing the Island in the mornings and getting on with a few jobs in the afternoons. We’ve begun with trying to create some habitat in the Obs area for the mass of rarities we expect to find in the autumn, so Sunday afternoon was spent working on a new plantation near the heligoland traps. Plantations on a windswept Island don’t happen overnight, so this rather labour-intensive process requires assembling a network of old wooden pallets to act as a windbreak before planting our willow, fuscia and rosa cuttings in the sheltered areas. With this complete, Monday and Tuesday were spent stripping grass from around trees previously planted to give them a better chance of growing, and rotivating a field next to the observatory as part of the Twingness croft land plan for 2011. This area is to be planted with spuds in about 3 weeks time, and with a large flock of Twites, plus a few Linnets, Skylarks and Chaffinchs already occupying the field, a Pine Bunting seems likely to be in there this time next week! Finishing early on Tuesday an (unsuccessful) attempt was made to catch some of the Skylarks at Kirbest – if any ringers out there have any suggestions on how to catch, them I’m all ears.

Rotivating near the Obs: hours of fun!

On Wednesday, I was required to help with the punding of sheep over lunch (those which become the famous North Ronaldsay mutton, fed on sea-weed), so a few hours were spent in the morning assembling pallets in another plantation beside a small pool, again close to the observatory, before we did our census in the afternoon. Thursday was spent planting the many willow cuttings taken from the surgery, more rosa and fuscia, and some irises around the pond. We plan to build a new heligoland trap in this area once the cover begins to take; if only plants and trees grew like they do in Cornwall, we’d have Nuthatches breeding in no time! Onto Friday, and with the rain coming down outside, planned work to re-build one of the old heligoland traps progressed only to discussion stages and I’ve come inside to write this... and it’s time for my 51st cup of tea!

Planting trees: it may not look pretty, but it works (sometimes)!

Next week's update will be provided by Rick.

1 comment:

  1. Nice post to get a blog under way. There's always room for more North Ron news on the net! Hope you're all settling in. Regards, Graeme