Welcome to the latest news and updates from the Orkney Native Wildlife Project. New to our project blog and want to find out more about the project, how to volunteer with us, or have a question?  Visit our FaceBook page, our website, or email us at stoatsightings@rspb.org.uk

Our eradication team has been out in all weathers and now that the network of around 5,700 trap boxes is fully active recorded 237 stoats caught in March alone. This brings the total stoats caught to 1,300 since the project began.

As the recent April showers brought surprising snow and storms to the isles this Easter, our Education Officer Holly Peek, shares with words, photos and art what joys an Orkney spring can bring.

This season’s changes to Orkney’s native wildlife

……and breathe, you made it through the shorter days and things are starting to look a little brighter. There’s no doubt about it winter is tough on Orkney, never mind during a pandemic.

  Admittedly the dark skies, the aurora, noisy winter bird flocks and this year’s snow certainly help us appreciate the beauty of winter, however, the sense of relief we are feeling now that the days are getting longer, lighter and warmer is immense – spring is on its way and it’s not only us that have noticed.

Hares are getting ready to pop their boxing gloves on in an attempt to impress a potential mate. As I write this, they are half-heartedly chasing each other outside my window – this will soon change into a full boxing match over the coming weeks. Skylark song has suddenly appeared in several places throughout Orkney. When trying to attract a mate skylarks don’t just sing, they constantly sing whilst fluttering up and down, chasing off any potential competitors – impressive for such a little pair of lungs. Birds can sing for long periods of time on what would appear to be a single breath because their breathing mechanism is different to ours, allowing oxygen rich air to constantly reach their lungs. You can test this out next time you hear a skylark by trying to hold one note, on one breath, for the same amount of time as the skylark sings... good luck!

As I sit here with my office window slightly open, I can hear curlew ‘bubbling’ overhead and ravens ‘croaking’. I have also seen a handful of ravens showing off with their impressive acrobatic skills – flying upside down, swooping and diving – again all this to attract a suitable mate. Spring is definitely in the air.

One of the biggest show-offs is the hen harrier, otherwise known as the skydancer, and for good reason. These impressive birds of prey soar and plunge through the air to show they are worthy mates. The dance between a pair is like nothing else. One of those spectacles you just must stop and watch, because no words come to you. Well, maybe you’ll manage to muster a ‘wow’ every now and then. RSPB Scotland Cottascarth in the west is one of the best places to take in this amazing spring highlight, however a lot of people on Orkney can claim to have hen harriers in their ‘garden’ which is incredible! 

Towards mid to late spring the circus will be in town, this circus appears every year at the same time and location without fail. I’m talking, of course, about a circus of puffins – as ‘circus’ is a collective term for a group of puffins. Let’s face it puffins are loved by so many, a firm favourite for the public. I’ve never heard anyone say ‘I wish I had spent less time watching those puffins’ and why would they? Puffins are full of personality and I could watch them sort their burrows out and waddling over the cliffs all day – you will never regret an afternoon spent with a circus of puffins.

You may have noticed flowers are starting to become visible, a true sign that spring has sprung. Towards the end of spring keep an eye out for the rare, tiny, and incredibly important Scottish primrose. This plant can only be found in the very north of Scotland, the best places on Orkney to look for it are Yesnaby and RSPB Scotland North Hill on Papay Westray. 

It’s been a long time coming but spring is on its way, and the accompanying bird song is great for a spot of mindfulness. 

On a calm morning or evening, take yourself to a quiet corner of Orkney, close your eyes and listen to the bird chorus. And I mean really listen, clear your mind of everything else, feel the spring sun on your skin and take time to notice how you feel. If it helps you to concentrate take a piece of paper and pen with you and ‘draw’ the sounds you are hearing, having moments like this really lifts me and I hope it helps you too. Come on spring, you beauty!

Join the team

For the chance to enjoy Orkney every season you can join our team protecting Orkney’s native wildlife. We need lots of different skills to drive the world’s largest stoat eradication, from field workers to office support. We are currently looking for someone to lead our community engagement to keep Orkney residents and visitors informed, particularly as we emerge from pandemic lockdowns. You can find more details online. The closing date for applications is 30 April 2021.