DAY 1 Saturday - Late afternoon sailing
from Aberdeen to Orkney
We depart Aberdeen harbour in the late afternoon aboard the cruise-standard
Northlink ferry for our evening sailing to Kirkwall, Orkney. En
route we may see several species of seabird including Gannets, Fulmars
and Arctic Skuas. With luck we may also encounter Harbour Porpoise.
and Bottlenose Dolphins. We arrive at Kirkwall and transfer to our
DAY 2 Sunday - West Mainland
We spend the day in the West Mainland exploring a variety of superb
habitats. The Loch of Stenness and nearby Loch of Harray are both
nationally important for their populations of wildfowl and although
numbers tend to peak in mid winter we will still encounter hundreds
of birds including Greater Scaup, Goldeneye, Pochard, Wigeon, Red-breasted
Merganser and handsome Long-tailed Ducks. Nearby stand the remnants
of the Stones of Stenness - a ring of stones that reach over six
metres in height - and the truly spectacular Ring of Brodgar which
contains 27 of the original 60 stones and dates back to around 3000
BC. Cottascarth moors and Burgar Hill are famed for their birds
of prey due to an abundance of Orkney Voles and we will spend the
rest of the morning watching sky-dancing Hen Harriers, Short-eared
Owls, Kestrels and with luck, Merlin. Red-throated Divers are also
present in the area as are handsome Golden Plovers and Curlews.
We continue north and take lunch at 16th Century Earls Palace or,
tide permitting, walk out to the Brough of Birsay. In the afternoon
we take a leisurely walk to Marwick Head which hosts thousands of
Guillemots, Razorbills and Kittiwakes. Returning south we end the
day at The Loons RSPB reserve, which is one of the finest marshes
in the north of Scotland. No less than seven species of wader and
eight species of duck breed here and we should encounter Shoveler,
Teal, Wigeon, Pintail, Snipe, Lapwing and Water Rail. With luck
we may also be fortunate to see a handful of Black-tailed Godwits
in their rich brick-orange summer plumage. After dinner (and weather
permitting) there will be an optional excursion to photograph the
sunset at the Ring of Brodgar or Standing Stones of Stenness.
DAY 3 Monday - Hoy
We take the ferry from Houton across Scapa Flow to the spectacular
island of Hoy. En route we should encounter small parties of Great
Northern Divers in their impressive summer dress along with Black
Guillemots, Long-tailed Ducks and Eiders. Much of Hoy is composed
of upper rather than middle old-red sandstones which have been weathered
into a complex of steep, craggy and truly impressive hills rising
to over 1,500 feet - a landscape unique within Orkney. We head out
to the delightful crofting township of Rackwick and from here, follow
the coastal footpath to probably the most famous landmark in Orkney
- the Old Man of Hoy. The 450 feet high 'Old Man' rises dramatically
from the sea and the view of 'him' and St Johns Head from our cliff
top vantage point is truly awesome. Hoy is home to one of the largest
Great Skua (or 'Bonxie') colonies in the world with over 1,900 pairs
breeding on the island along with 200 pairs of Arctic Skuas. We
should also find Golden Plovers, Wheatears, Rock Pipits and Arctic
DAY 4 Tuesday - East Mainland
We spend the day exploring the varied habitats of the East Mainland.
We search Inganess Bay and the southern edge of Shapinsay Sound
for Great Northern, Black-throated and Red-throated Divers, Slavonian
Grebes, Velvet Scoters, Long-tailed Ducks and Red-breasted Mergansers.
The shoreline is home to large numbers of Turnstone and among them
we should find Purple Sandpipers. Loch of Tankerness holds good
numbers of freshwater wildfowl and waders may include Greenshank,
Black-tailed Godwit and Common Sandpiper. Deer Sound is a spring
stronghold for Great Northern Divers and its sandy bays at Mill
Sound and St Peter's Pool hold an impressive array of waders such
as Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Dunlin and Redshank. We'll spend the
afternoon on the extreme eastern tip of Mainland visiting Mull Head.
The cliffs are home to an array of seabirds including Fulmar, Kittiwake,
Razorbill and Guillemot and the maritime heath supports blazes of
Spring Squill, Thrift and Birds-foot Trefoil. Further inland the
vegetation is largely heather-clad and among the Crowberry, Bell
Heather and Ling Heather we may see Short-eared Owls hunting for
voles. If we have an east wind with us, we'll check a few migrant
hotspots for any recently arrived passerines. We may be lucky enough
to encounter Red-backed Shrike, Wryneck, Bluethroat - or something
DAY 5 Wednesday - Westray
Today, we travel by ferry from Kirkwall to the island of Westray,
where we find one of Britain's largest seabird colonies on the cliffs
at Noup Head. En route we will see good numbers of both Grey and
Harbour Seals and we'll keep a sharp eye out for cetaceans with
the diminutive Harbour Porpoise being the most likely. The spectacular
cliffs at the Noup are home to up to 45,000 Guillemots, 26,000 Kittiwakes
and 1,500 Razorbills along with smaller numbers of Puffins, Fulmars
and Black Guillemots. The maritime heath support Wheatears, Meadow
and Rock Pipits, Oystercatchers and Golden Plovers and an abundance
of wildflowers. Loch of Burness holds Britain's most northerly breeding
population of Little Grebes along with a variety of other ducks
and waders such as Snipe and Redshank. The beautiful bays at The
Ouse and Tuquoy are excellent for migratory waders and we should
encounter Bar-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Grey Plover, Curlew, Sanderling
and Dunlin. Recently arrived Sandwich, Common and Arctic Terns will
be busy displaying overhead. We leave Westray in the late afternoon
to sail back to Kirkwall.
DAY 6 Thursday - South Ronaldsay
Burwick on South Ronaldsay is the southernmost point in the archipelago, and it boasts a wonderful viewpoint south across the Pentland Firth. John o'Groats and Dunnet Head on the Scottish Mainland seem within touching distance!
As well as being a great place to see Shags close up at their nests, Puffins, Gannets and auks are never far away. It's also great sea-watching and cetacean spot: Killer Whales have been recorded on several occasions. Hoxa Head is also worth a visit for its wildlife and military history.
Commanding the southern entrance to Scapa Flow, we've seen nine species of cetacean here, and if the sea state is good we will try our best to find the diminutive Harbour Porpoise Puffins and Black Guillemots nest here, Gannets hunt here and raptors patrol regularly - this really is one of Orkney's most special places. Great Northern Divers are also regular offshore. In between we'll visit one of Orkney's strangest woodlands - a natural migrant hotspot - and look for newly arrived flycatchers, shrikes and warblers.
DAY 7 Friday - West Mainland & Skara
Today we retrace our steps and head back to the diverse and varied habitats of the West Mainland.
Primula scotica, which grows only in Orkney, Caithness and north Sutherland and nowhere else in the World, can be found in scattered colonies on several cliff-tops between Stromness and Yesnaby and we will spend time searching at the latter locality for this botanical gem. Like a miniature, amethyst-coloured polyanthus, it is in bloom from early May. We also visit one of Orkney's most famous antiquities - the ancient village of Skara Brae. Skara Brae is the best preserved Stone Age village in Western Europe and was occupied from 3100 BC to 2500 BC. The villagers are thought to have lived on the shore of a freshwater loch, farming cattle, sheep, possibly deer and also growing arable crops much as today. For millennia it was hidden under the dunes until a sandstorm in 1850 revealed its existence. Nearby we will visit a tiny Sand Martin colony and spend the afternoon once again exploring the superb Loons RSPB reserve and Loch of Stenness. We return to our hotel at Harray for our farewell dinner and then transfer to Kirkwall in the evening to board the south-bound ferry to Aberdeen for our overnight sailing.
DAY 8 Saturday - Arrive Aberdeen
We arrive in Aberdeen harbour at 0700 hrs giving plenty of time
for onward connections.
2020 Operating Dates
Sat 25th April
Sat 2nd May
Group Size - maximum 8 travellers
Great Northern Divers - lots!
Crane - found by us!
Ring-billed Gull - found by us!
Long-tailed Tit - a vagrant to Orkney
Orkney Vole - endemic!
Scottish Primrose - lots!
Early Purple Orchid