A visiting Sassanach

I shall be motoring up from the South east of England over three days - arriving on Mainland Orkney june 6th,

I would like to ask you good people what I may expect to spot both on land and in the sea at that time of year? I am a keen - albeit novice birder and intend to make the most of my visit, which has been many years in the planning.

My local reserve is Elmley Marshes, which is lucky to have a very wide and diverse assortment of bird/mammal life - however If I need to see that something special then I feel that Orkney could be the place.



Always let your conscience be your guide

  • Hi AC, I used to be the Warden at Elmely marshes and am now at Onziebust in Orkney. It is late in the evening, and i will respond to your queery tomorrow.

    Barry O' Dowd

  • Hi AC, I shall paste a reply to a similar request resently. Give me a ring on 01856-821395 for furhter information. Two good places to pick up bird literature on Orkney are the Touris Office in Kirkwall and the RSPB office at 12 North End Road, Stromness.

    Thanks for getting in touch.  June is a great time to visit Orkney, so I'm sure you'll have a great time.  With patience you have a good chance of seeing short-eared owls along the Hillside Road on our Birsay reserve between Evie and Dounby.  There are various lay-bys where you can watch from.  There are also owls around the RSPB Cottascarth (Mainland), Hobbister (Mainland), Trumland (Rousay) and Hoy reserves.

    Hen harriers can be a bit more tricky at this time of year as they tend to be quite secretive once they have small chicks.  You have a reasonable chance of spotting one along the Rackwick Road on Hoy or on one of our other moorland reserves (as for short-eared owls).

    Light is obviously abundant in Orkney in June (it barely gets dark!), though the weather is changable, to say the least- it creates some very interesting effects for photography.

    For my money, the best place to get close to puffins in Orkney is Papa Westray.  This is not the easiest island to get to, but there are special rates for flights (Loganair) if you stay overnight.  Papa Westray has the added bonus of wonderful views of breeding black guillemots and other seabirds, plus large colonies of the rare Scottish primrose.  Many people go to Westray, where the Castle of Burrian puffin colony is bigger and there are amazing sea cliffs covered in seabirds (including gannets, which are hard to see close up elsewhere in Orkney) on the RSPB Noup Cliffs reserve on Westray too.  If you were visiting Hoy anyway, there are puffins which are easy to spot in June around the Old Man of Hoy, but not ideal for photography as they tend to be quite distant.  If you want to stick to Mainland Orkney, there are plenty of options for spotting puffins there too- notably at the RSPB Marwick Head reserve.

    We do get shearwaters and petrels, but both are hard to see as they tend to only come to shore at night.

    Red-throated divers are much easier.  They can be seen on many of our moorland reserves, but the best place to view them from is Burgar Hill Hide (Mainland) at Lowrie's Water (HY345257) because you can watch from the hide, happy in the knowledge that you are not causing a disturbance to the birds as you enjoy wonderful views.  Hen harriers, short-eared owls and merlins are often seen from the hide too, so it's probably a good option for the species you want to see.  Follow the A966 toward Birsay Moors and look for a signpost when you see the wind turbines on the top of the hill (the hide is off the access road).

    There are RSPB guided walks almost every day in the summer on one or other of our reserves.  I would suggest you keep an eye on the website for details.  It would be a good idea to pop into the RSPB Stromness office (12-14 North End Road) when you arrive in Orkney, for up to date information, guided walk dates and reserve leaflets.  You can also get information and advice in the Tourist Information Centre in Kirkwall, where the RSPB show live CCTV footage of various nest sites in Orkney (usually hen harrier).

    I hope this advice helps and you have a wonderful holiday.  

    Best wishes