The wildlife

It’s hard to capture the magic of an Orkney spring, but here’s a taste of what you can look forward to in May...

Lose yourself in the spring music of curlews, lapwings and skylarks. Meadows and wetlands are bursting with breeding waders like redshanks while wigeons, shovelers and pintails nest around the lochs.

Take a walk along the cliff tops to see them studded with the brilliant blue of spring squill. The heaths and grasslands are beginning to bloom and it’s often the peak time to catch the spring flowering of the rare and tiny Scottish primrose Primula scotica.

Peer down on bustling cliff-side seabird cities, packed with raucous fulmars, guillemots, puffins and kittiwakes. Black guillemots (known as tysties in Orkney) whistle mournfully at nesting spots around the coast while Arctic terns dive gracefully off shore.

Scan the sea in calm weather for orcas – they start appearing in Orkney waters in May, hunting for the resident seals and porpoise.

Spot lingering winter visitors, like great northern divers and long-tailed ducks, now in their breeding finery and ready to return to their Arctic breeding grounds.

Keep an eye out other bird species that are moving through at this time of year – an easterly wind can cause Scandinavia-bound songbirds like bluethroats, grey-headed wagtails and red-backed shrikes to pause in Orkney.

Listen for the wonderful rasping calls of the first corncrakes returned from Africa. Their voices emerge from fields where they nest unseen, but you might just catch a glimpse now before they’re totally lost in the growth of lush meadow and wetland vegetation.

Find a high point on the moors and look out for short-eared owls, hen harriers, great skuas (known locally as bonxies), Arctic skuas, merlins or perhaps a secretive red-throated diver flying from its breeding lochan to feed in Scapa Flow. 

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