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U3A Birdie Group - June 2019

by Liz Lea - 19:05 on 22 June 2019
8 members spent 2 nights on Papa Westray getting a pretty good flavour of the place with a tour around Holland farm steading by Jocelyn Rendall, attendance at the legendary coffee morning at St Anne's church and taking a guided walk withJames Butcher, the RSPB's summer warden. Our delicious 2-course evening meals, kindly provided by two Papay ladies, ensured we were energised for our birding.
The spectacular species were a corncrake identified by its rasping call, a red-backed shrike busy hopping from the fence lines down into the grass below to catch prey and a red-necked phalarope twirling round and round on the water at Wheelie's Taing. Otherwise we saw pretty well the full compliment of Orkney's summer birds (the number of wrens hopping around the walls/houses/fences was remarkable - very cheery and tame wee birds!). Should I mention the vociferous, strutting turkey cock who saw us off ? A lot of gobble but not much fight, thank goodness. We were rewarded with primula scotica in flower, a frog and a common seal pup. As these are born between tides and we saw it just as the tide was beginning to flow back in, it must have been very young indeed.
Two other highlights were 'Julian Branscombe's lump', a small mound not far inside the entrance to the RSPB's Mull Head maritime heath reserve. Here Julian has found some 42+ plant species such as limestone bedstraw, mountain everlasting and, only the week before, a plant new to Papay, moonwort. We were pleased to find this, identify the others and a few more to boot.
The other highlight was the two hours we spent on the Holm of Papa Westray. We went down into the 'Maeshowe type' tomb. At either end of the long passage there are cross sections under which one has  to tummy-crawl in order to find the decorative carvings. Tim was the only one who opted out! Walking around the island we found the stalled tomb and marvelled at the shag families packed closely together on their little niches. There were goodly numbers of tysties too. As a bonus, Tim Dodman kindly took us round the back of the island in the Dunter. From Papay the Holm looks like a long low submarine with a (brick) periscope. It was a surprise therefore to find there are some impressive low, chunky cliffs on the far side.
Our accommodation in the hostel - we occupied  all 6 rooms- was warm, welcoming and comfortable. It is a grand place to stay as it is centrally placed for an exploration of the island and right next to the shop. All in all we thoroughly enjoyed our stay though the weather could have been more consistently dry.

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