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by Barbara - 23:52 on 20 May 2015

On Wednesday 20th May 9 birdie group members enjoyed a fine, dry morning to explore Olaf's Wood in South Ronaldsay. This little-known gem is rather out of the way and there's not much parking space but it's so worth while to visit. No one had told the birds that we were coming so most of them seemed to have made other arrangements for the morning, influenced by the recent cold weather and the westerly wind. We were so lucky to have former bird warden Andy Mitchell to show us round. Andy's love of the place came through clearly as he outlined the 30 or so year history of the wood which started with a grant for the original plantation which, through the enthusiasm of several local nature lovers, has been extended, improved and maintained.

Andy’s knowledge of the wood, the landscape and the birds is extensive and he made the visit very memorable. An expert bird ringer, Andy took us to his ringing hut and outlined the procedure of using mist nets, no easy task as every species brings its own concerns and traits which must be considered by the ringer in order to ensure safety for the bird (and for the ringer). Wrens are apparently very feisty and woodpeckers will try to drill through the ringer's hand given half a chance. We were shown an array of specialist ringing tools and gained insights into the wealth of knowledge which has to be acquired by trainee ringers before they are allowed to operate alone - or even to own the tools required for ringing.

What did we see - lapwing, oystercatcher, wood pigeon, swallow, jackdaw and Orkney's ubiquitous gulls featured in the fields around the wood, but we heard rather than saw the woodland birds - the descending trill of a willow warbler accompanied us at times but the sparrowhawk which has nested in the wood for the past few years proved elusive until the very last moment when we were in the cars ready to leave.

We had intended to have a look at Barrier 4 beach as well but the wood had proved so interesting that time ran out, though we did note that there had been hardly any sightings of little terns on the beach so far this season.


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