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2015 programme

If you'd like more information regarding any event, please give the local RSPB Scotland team a ring on 01856 850176 and we'll be happy to help.

 

Wednesday 13 May

Nature photography workshop with Charles Tait - full

When: 9.30 am – 4.30 pm

Where: Woodwick House and West Mainland

Price: £35

Hone your photography skills during this day-long workshop with professional photographer and travel writer Charles Tait, author of the Orkney Guide Book.

We’ll practise techniques in the wildlife-rich grounds of Woodwick House before heading off by minibus in search of West Mainland’s natural highlights, including an exciting range of birdlife, spring wildflowers and spectacular geology. 

A light lunch at the Orkney Brewery and morning and afternoon refreshments are included in the price. During stops we may roam a maximum of 1.5 km over uneven ground, with regular comfort breaks throughout the day. All levels of experience welcome – we’ll focus on making the most of whatever kit you have to get closer to nature. Booking required.

 

Wildlife from the water with the Kirkwall Kayak Club - full

When: 7-9 pm

Where: Churchill Barriers (exact location tbc following weather assessment)

Price: £3

Take to the water for a magical evening of kayaking in the shelter of the Churchill Barriers.

Arctic terns dive for fish all around and bonxies regularly patrol overhead here. We'll look out for shags and red-breasted mergansers feeding nearby and perhaps catch the mournful whistles of tysties floating across the water from their nearby nests.

Qualified instructors from Kirkwall Kayak Club will take care of you throughout the evening and we’ll have tea, coffee and hot chocolate on hand to warm you up afterwards. No experience necessary, though you must be a confident swimmer and prepared to learn how to paddle unaided. Open to those aged 18 or over. Please note this event is particularly dependent on suitable weather conditions. Booking required.

 

Into the Gloup with the RSPB Local Group - full

When: 7–9 pm

Where: Skaill, Deerness

Price: £15

Venture into the Deerness Gloup by small boat, the best way to experience this magnificent sea cave with an opening in the roof.

The trip promises a range of wildlife to spot - nesting seabirds clamour from the cliffs all along this stretch of coast and on the return journey we’ll pass a common seal colony. 

Seating on board is uncovered, and boarding involves a slight step up/down between the boat and the pier with the boatman on hand to assist. Open to those aged 7 and over. Please note this event is particularly dependent on suitable weather conditions. Booking required.

 

Thursday 14 May

Not-quite-dawn chorus with Professor Peter Slater - full

When: 6-8 am

Where: Binscarth Wood and Wasdale, near Finstown

Price: free

Immerse yourself in the heart-lifting spring chorus of Binscarth Wood, home to wrens, dunnocks, chaffinches, blackbirds, song thrushes and more. 

You won't find a more fascinating guide - Professor Slater, former Professor of Natural History at St Andrews and current President of the Orkney Field Club, quite literally wrote the book on bird song!

We'll cover a maximum of 3.5 km at a gentle pace, following an unsurfaced path (sometimes muddy) with gentle slopes and some narrow swing gates. Booking required.

 

Explore Russadale with the Orkney Field Club - full

When: 2–4 pm (meeting at 1.30 pm)

Where: Russadale

Price: free

Discover the birds, flowers, mosses and insects of this little-known spot in the company of some of Orkney’s finest naturalists. The wide range of habitats includes heather, grassland, ponds and a sheltered quarry, promising a world of biodiversity in a small area. Bring binoculars and a hand-lens if you have them. 

As Russadale is hard to find, we will meet at 1.30 pm at the Finstown car park and drive to the site together (please get in touch if you don't have access to a car). Exploring at a very gentle pace, we may cover up to 2.5 km - it depends how much we find! The terrain is rough, including rocky and wet areas. Guide dogs only. Booking required.

 

Working the Map book launch

When: 7.30–9 pm

Where: Upper Library, Stromness Academy, Stromness

Price: free

Join us over a glass of wine for the launch of Working the Map, a unique collection of recollections, writings and poetry about Orkney created by John and Fiona Cumming and Morag MacInnes. Contributors from around Orkney will be reading from the new work.

Inspired by sailing voyages with the Cape Farewell Foundation to the Inner and Outer Hebrides, Working the Map examines the relationship between islanders and the isles they inhabit, a relationship which is now being tested by the effects of climate change. All too often we turn to science for a sense of perspective, ignoring the voices of those who work the land and sea. This book is intended by its creators as a modest forum for these voices.

The Upper Library is wheelchair accessible. No need to book. Copies of Working the Map will be available to purchase on the evening and afterwards from Stromness Books and Prints and the Orcadian Bookshop in Kirkwall. 

 

Friday 15 May

EXTRA Not-quite-dawn chorus with Professor Peter Slater - full

When: 6-8 am

Where: Binscarth Wood and Wasdale, near Finstown

Price: free

Immerse yourself in the heart-lifting spring chorus of Binscarth Wood, home to wrens, dunnocks, chaffinches, blackbirds, song thrushes and more. 

You won't find a more fascinating guide - Professor Slater, former Professor of Natural History at St Andrews and current President of the Orkney Field Club, quite literally wrote the book on bird song!

We'll cover a maximum of 3.5 km at a gentle pace, following an unsurfaced path (sometimes muddy) with gentle slopes and some narrow swing gates. Booking required.

 

Wild Westray with Westraak - full

When: either 8.45 am-6.20 pm (for those travelling by ferry) or 9.45 am-4.45 pm (for those travelling by air)

Where: Westray

Price: £35

Journey to Westray, the ‘Queen o’ the Isles’, for a full day’s exploration of its magnificent wildlife, landscape and heritage.

Graham Maben, your experienced tour guide, will tailor the day to make the most of weather conditions, but highlights you can look forward to include RSPB Scotland's Noup Cliffs nature reserve, home to tens of thousands of clamourous breeding seabirds; the spectacular geology of the Aikerness Cliffs and (with luck) Scottish primroses nearby; the beautiful beach and dune landscape of Grobust and its seals; the Links of Noltland, site of ongoing archaeological excavations; and a cliff-top stroll to Castle o’Burrian, the finest puffin-watching spot in Orkney. 

We'll be walking a maximum of 600 m at our various stops, mostly over uneven grass or sand, at a gentle pace. There are no stiles or gates.

A light lunch and transport to and from the ferry or airfield on Westray are included. Please book your own travel to and from Westray at either www.loganair.co.uk or www.orkneyferries.co.uk. Unfortunately, due to the flight timetable, those travelling by air will not be able to visit Castle o’Burrian. Booking required.

 

Red-throated diver watch with RSPB Scotland

When: 10.30 am-4.30 pm

Where: RSPB Scotland Birsay Moors nature reserve, West Mainland

Price: free

Our new hide on top of Burgar Hill overlooks a secluded lochan where red-throated divers nest - drop in and with luck you catch these elusive birds at home. 

There are few more stirring sights in Orkney in spring than the wailing, yodelling, crashing and splashing of courting red-throated divers, with each bird flawlessly matching the other’s moves. We'll have tea and coffee on hand as well as footage from last year's red-throated diver webcam, which captured some fantastic close-up views of this behaviour.

Burgar Hill offers a great view over Eynhallow Sound towards Rousay, and you'll also want to admire the hide itself, decorated with fantastic red-throated diver artwork by pupils of Evie Community School.

There is parking right outside the hide, including one accessible space, and the hide is suitable for wheelchairs. No need to book.

 

Wildlife of Scapa Flow on the Dawn Star II - full

When: 7-9.30 pm

Where: St Mary's, East Mainland

Price: £30

Scapa Flow is one of the world's great natural harbours, as valuable for wildlife as it was for the British Navy in the First and Second World Wars.

You'll learn about both wildlife and history from skipper Laurence Tait on this atmospheric evening exploration by small boat, from the Viking longships that anchored here over a thousand years ago to the guillemots, razorbills, shags and fulmars that surround you today. Listen for the 'ah-ooo's of male eiders floating across the water, spot rafts of long-tailed ducks floating together and keep an eye out for peregrines along the cliffs.

Boarding involves stepping across from the pier into the level boat with a steadying hand available. Suitable for children aged 1 and over, with some covered seating and a toilet on board. Please note this event is particularly dependent on suitable weather conditions. Booking required.

 

Saturday 16 May

Holms of Copinsay with the RSPB Local Group - full

When: 10-11.30 am

Where: Skaill, Deerness

Price: £10

This small boat trip to see Black Holm and Corn Holm, tiny islets off Copinsay, is a must for spectacular wildlife and scenery.

Enjoy the bracing sea air, spot seals and seabirds in their element, and keep an eye out for early puffins in particular. 

Seating on board is uncovered, and boarding involves a slight step up/down between the boat and the pier with the boatman on hand to assist. Open to those aged 7 and over. Please note this event is particularly dependent on suitable weather conditions. Booking required.

 

The Big Walk with RSPB Scotland - one place left

When: 10 am-5 pm

Where: RSPB Scotland Hoy nature reserve, Hoy

Price: £20 (RSPB members £16)

Hoy offers some of the most spectacular scenery in Orkney – and this day-long hike takes in the best of it.

We'll start by heading over to the strikingly beautiful bay of Rackwick by minibus, pausing on the way to look for the sea eagles nesting on the Dwarfie Hamars. Walking from Rackwick, we'll then head round the cliffs to the Old Man of Hoy, Orkney's iconic sea stack. From there it's a breathtaking cliff-top walk to St John’s Head, the highest vertical sea cliffs in Britain. This whole stretch of coast is alive with raucous seabirds, including puffins, and offers superb views of the Atlandic with a chance of whales or dolphins.

After that we'll cut inland, looking out for bonxies, hen harriers and mountain hares, to reach the summit of Cuilags. From here you can see the whole Orkney archipelago on a clear day - fingers crossed! A steep descent then takes us back down to the welcoming Beneth’ill Cafe, where you can relax until the return ferry at 6.30 pm.

Although we may need to tailor the route to suit weather conditions, please be prepared to cover about 14 km over rough and remote terrain, including one particularly steep descent. The price includes all minibus transport on Hoy and a packed lunch from Beneth’ill Cafe. Please arrange your own travel to and from Hoy at www.orkneyferries.co.uk (select the Graemsay route for travel to north Hoy) and note this event is particularly dependent on suitable weather conditions. Booking required.

 

Berriedale and the Old Post Road with RSPB Scotland - full

When: 10 am-5 pm

Where: RSPB Scotland Hoy nature reserve, Hoy

Price: £20 (RSPB members £16)

Discover some of Hoy's most special wildlife spots on this gentler walk through the valley between Ward Hill and Cuilags.

After a minibus ride to the lovely Rackwick bay, we'll head out along the Old Post Road, a track leading between these two giants. The hidden valley with its scattered pockets of native trees is home to a wide variety of moorland wildlife, from sundews and beetles to red-throated divers and merlins. 

Along the way we'll pause at Berriedale, the most northerly native woodland in Britain and a remnant of the ancient forest that once covered Orkney. In its cool, mossy shade we may catch the song of willow warblers.

We'll be back at Beneth’ill Cafe in time for afternoon tea, after which there will be the chance to go by minibus to look for the sea eagles nesting on the Dwarfie Hamars before the ferry back at 6.30 pm.

This route covers about 8 km, mostly following a remote but well-trodden track. The price includes all minibus transport on Hoy and a packed lunch from Beneth’ill Cafe. Please arrange your own travel to and from Hoy at www.orkneyferries.co.uk (select the Graemsay route for travel to north Hoy). Booking required. 

 

Rockpooling with RSPB Scotland

When: 2-3 pm

Where: Brough of Birsay, West Mainland

Price: free 

A host of fascinating marine creatures lurk in the pools at the Brough of Birsay - starfish, hermit crabs, sea urchins and sea anenomes and even the occasional sea slug, squat lobster or scorpion fish.

Come along to discover their secrets with Lindsey Taylor, RSPB Scotland's Community Learning Officer in Orkney. 

No need to book, just meet at the Brough of Birsay car park. Suitable for all ages (really, it's not just for kids!).

If you'd like to explore further before or after the event you could walk over to the Brough of Birsay itself, an uninhabited tidal island which is home to puffins as well as the remains of Pictish and Norse settlements. The tidal causeway is generally clear for two hours either side of low tide, which is at 1.53 pm on this day, but please take care and adapt your plans to the weather conditions.

 

Sunday 17 May

Into the Gloup with the RSPB Local Group - full

When: 10 am - 12 pm

Where: Skaill, Deerness

Price: £15

Venture into the Deerness Gloup by small boat, the best way to experience this magnificent sea cave with an opening in the roof.

The trip promises a range of wildlife to spot - nesting seabirds clamour from the cliffs all along this stretch of coast and on the return journey we’ll pass a common seal colony. 

Seating on board is uncovered, and boarding involves a slight step up/down between the boat and the pier with the boatman on hand to assist. Open to those aged 7 and over. Please note this event is particularly dependent on suitable weather conditions. Booking required.

 

Nature Festival service at St Magnus Cathedral

When: 11.15 am

Where: Kirkwall

Price: free

Join the Rev. Fraser MacNaughton to celebrate and reflect on the natural world through the Sunday service. (Look out for the Arctic tern and Scottish primrose in the magnificent stained glass window above the entrance to the cathedral.)

 

The 2015 Nature Festival cruise around Swona on the John O'Groats Ferry - cancelled due to sea conditions forecast

When: 11.30 am - 1.30 pm

Where: Burwick, South Ronaldsay 

Price: adults £20, children aged 5-15 £14, children under 5 free

Nature rules this small and magical island, uninhabitated since 1974, which lies in the Pentland Firth within sight of the entrance to Scapa Flow.

Opportunities to see Swona up close are rare; take this chance to circumnavigate the island and hear its story, and the stories of the wildlife to which it is home, with expert commentary. 

There'll be seabirds all around at this busy time of year and keep your eyes peeled for whales or dolphins en route. Arctic terns breed at Swona's northern end, while puffins nest in burrows along the low cliffs to the east - look out for them whizzing past on their way to fish. We may catch a glimpse of Swona's famous feral cattle, descendents of the small herd left behind 40 years. Their gentle grazing encourages rich swathes of wildflowers. 

The ferry is wheelchair accessible - boarding is via a flat gangway - and there is plenty of covered shelter. Refreshments are available on board. Booking required.

 

Open day and photography competition launch at the Stromness Museum

When: 10 am - 5 pm

Where: Stromness 

Price: free

The whole first floor of Stromness Museum is dedicated to the natural history of Orkney. Originating from the collection of the Orkney Natural History Society established in 1837, the museum retains its Victorian charm. 

Pop in to learn more about Orkney's wealth of wildlife, with free entry all day. Don't miss this year's summer exhibition either, 'Art and Artefacts from the Ness of Brodgar dig', which hosts some of the finds from the ongoing excavation of this enigmatic and impressive Neolithic site.  

The museum is launching a photography competition to bring its Victorian bird collection to life. Take up the challenge of the Great Orkney Bird Shoot and use your camera to capture Orkney’s birds in their natural habitat. The competition will run from the Nature Festival to the end of October. Two categories of 16 years & under and over 16s will be judged by award-winning wildlife photographer Raymond Besant.

The ground floor of the museum is wheelchair accessible, and the first floor can be accessed via a chair lift. No need to book.

 

Archaeology workshops with Dr Ingrid Mainland and Dr Jen Harland 

When: every half hour from 2-4 pm

Where: Stromness Museum

Price: free

What can a bag of bones tell you? With two of Orkney's expert archaeologists involved, the answer is - as you'd expect - an awful lot!

Learn more from Dr Ingrid Mainland and Dr Jen Harland, who will be running hands-on animal and fish bone workshops throughout the afternoon to complement the museum's 'Art and Artefacts from the Ness of Brodgar dig' exhibition. Macro camera techniques will help bring the hidden world of bone structure to light.

All ages welcome. No need to book. The ground floor of the museum is wheelchair accessible, and the first floor can be accessed via a chair lift.

 

Sea eagles: past and present with RSPB Scotland and the Tomb of the Eagles

When: 7-8.30 pm

Where: St Magnus Centre, Kirkwall

Price: free

Big, beautiful and back in Orkney - how could we overlook the county's first pair of nesting sea eagles in nearly 150 years?

Join Rhian Evans, RSPB Scotland's Sea Eagle Officer for East Scotland, to hear more of the sea eagles' story: from their long history and cultural significance in Orkney all the way through to their national extinction in 1918, and the reintroductions that have now successfully taken place in Scotland. Rhian is one of the few people who has been up close and personal with these 8-foot birds, having been closely involved in recent reintroductions on the east coast.

Thanks to the team at Tomb of the Eagles, bones and talons will be on display from the famous Neolithic burial tomb at Isbister, South Ronaldsay, that was found to contain sea eagle remains.

The St Magnus Centre is fully wheelchair accessible and the hall has an induction loop. No need to book.

 

And some special additions...

Hoy in Mind with the Pier Arts Centre - postponed due to weather conditions forecast

When: Saturday 16 and Sunday 17 May, 10.30 am-3.30 pm on both days

Where: Rackwick, Hoy

Price: £115

This two-day artist-led workshop will explore the iconic landscape of Rackwick. Working outside, directly in the environment, you'll have the opportunity to experience the landscape from your own perspective through the application of observational drawing and painting skills.

The area been a draw for artists over many decades. In more recent times it has been a particular focus for two artists represented in the Pier Arts Centre Collection – Sylvia Wishart (1936-2008) and Bet Low (1924-2007) – whose work will provide a backdrop and frame of reference for the events.

This is one of a series of events presented by the Pier Arts Centre as part of the Festival of Museums 2015, which we are delighted to share as part of the Nature Festival too.

The price includes all materials, the ferry to Hoy and transport while on the island. You must be 16 or over. For further details and to book, please contact the gallery directly on 01856 850209 or at carol.dunbar@pierartscentre.com.

 

Children’s art workshops with the Pier Arts Centre are available as well - postponed due to weather conditions forecast

When: Saturday or Sunday, 11 am-12 pm or 1.30-2.30 pm

Where: Rackwick, Hoy

Price: free

Join in with an hour-long session of art activities exploring colour, form and texture in the landscape.

Children must be aged 5 or over and be accompanied by an adult. No need to book.

 

A Small water creatures course run by the Orkney Wildlife Information & Records Centre is also taking place on the Saturday. For more information and to book, please e-mail or call the Centre on 01856 873166 (ext. 3026) or email biodiversity@orkney.gov.uk.

 

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