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Highland Ranger Service In Caithness
Notes From the Rangers In 2002

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Walks In Caithness 
Nature Diary - Caithness

28 July 03
Whale Sighting
From Mary Legg - Highland Ranger
Just to say that we had more killer whales in the Caithness waters this weekend. We were told that they were in Gills Bay about 7pm Sat night and moving west. We drove down to the west of St. John`s Point and picked them up eventually just to the west of that. they were so close inshore that we almost missed seeing them but my son spotted the large dorsal of the male. We ran down to the coast and had great views of them. There was a sub pod of 5 animals one large male with enormous dorsal fin three other adults and one smaller one.
They appeared to be circling around as they edges the coast possibly herding up salmon between them.   They crossed straight over the bay at Mey and then we picked them up again at Skarfskerry.  They finally disappeared out into deeper  water and swam rapidly into a beautiful sunset in the direction of Dunnet Head. 
A memorable experience
Mary Legg.

7 August 2002
Walking On History

3 August 2002
National Whale and Dolphin Watch weekend took place on the 27/28th July, over 1000 people took part throughout the UK. The Ranger Service ran watches on Saturday at Dunnet Bay and Gills bay and on Sunday at Strathy Point and Lybster.  In Dunnet Bay we saw about 6 bottlenose dolphins but they stayed quite far out towards Murkle and Thurso. We had about 10 people on that watch and they saw the dolphins.  See National Report

At Gills Bay we only had a quick glimpse of one fin possibly bottlenose dolphin again. Last year at Gills there was a large group of harbour porpoise there for several weeks but they are absent at the moment. The bottlenose dolphins are known to attack porpoise and so they may be keeping them away.

Sunday was a washout with thick fog and rain, only two of us braved the elements at Strathy Point but we had one good sighting through a gap in the fog of a bottlenose dolphin just swimming by. We got nothing at Lybster. Records of cetaceans are always welcome and you can get a recording form from us if you wish to watch on a regular basis, winter records are very useful indeed. A date for your diaries - Saturday 31st August and Sunday 1st September we will be repeating the cetacean watches so get in touch or just come along if you are interested.

Other news the house martins on the centre have fledged their young this week, at least four and they are flying around the dunes learning the essentials of insect catching and ariel acrobatics.

We had a ringed plover nesting on the pebbles just near the centre and she has managed to rear two young who are now running along the beach with her learning about life. The nest was in a very busy section of the beach but the eggs are so well camouflaged that they were not detected by beach users. There was one egg left in the nest, which failed for some reason but 2 out of 3 isn't bad I suppose.

The cliff nesting birds have finished rearing young (except the fulmers) and most of them have gone back off to the open ocean. I did a guided walk at Duncansby Head yesterday (Thurs) and all the guillemots, razorbills and puffins are gone.

Many of the other Caithness breeding birds are now quiet and hiding away moulting feathers and resting after the rigours of chick rearing. It wont be very long before many begin to migrate south and the swans, geese and ducks begin arriving form the north and east.

Keep enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of nature around the county and anything of interest you come across then please let us know - 01847 821531.

26 July 2002
Also a quick note for the nature diary there are approx 6 bottlenose dolphins in Dunnet Bay this morning and they seem to have been around for several days - seen on Wednesday evening in the bay.

Nature Diary From Paul - 12 June 2002

Breeding season now in full swing, eider ducks with young in harbours around the county and a few pairs of shelduck in some harbours also. Ringed plovers are now with chicks dashing around searching for food along the coast. We have seen terns sitting but in lower numbers than last year.

The breeding rafts that we constructed at St. Johns Pool have been a success, there are 3 pairs of arctic terns sitting and on the two floating rafts along with a black headed gull pair. The rigid platform had an oystercatcher successfully rear chicks on it and they all appear to be keeping the otters from predating them.

The swallows have failed to return to Mary's house in and the numbers seem to be down in the Barrock area. House martins have just completed building nests at the visitor centre and they are a great sight flying around the dunes feeding on those nuisance midges.

There are a couple of groups of common scoter in the bay perhaps 50 birds in total at the moment, along with both great northern and red throated divers.

The bottlenose dolphins are still around the Dunnet Bay area (over 2 weeks now). I led a walk along Holborn Head on Monday evening and we had great views of about 5 or 6 of them really close in to the headland. Unfortunately had a confirmed report of a dead minke whale at Sarclet recently, we were able to collect the baleen plates and hope to use them in the display eventually. Any cetacean sighting please let the Ranger Service know (01847 821531).

Had two recent sighting of painted lady butterflies, these are migrant butterflies from southwest Europe and North Africa and not very common in this area. Early migrants may lay eggs on various plants including thistles and nettles, the caterpillars give rise to a second generation during September and October but these die when the cold weather arrives. Other butterflies on the wing are the green veined white, small tortoiseshell and the red admiral. We have just discovered another colony of small blue butterflies in the Dunnet area, which are also on the wing.

Poplar hawk moths and puss moths are also on the wing just at the moment. The poplar hawk moth is large with grey-brown and sculptured wings, it has a reddish patch to the base of the wing, which is hidden, when it is resting, it shows the red if it is disturbed. The puss moth is similar in size to the poplar hawkmoth, grey to white with fine black zigzag marks on the forewings. The name is derived from the cat-like fluffy hair covering the body, both species caterpillars feed on poplar, willow and sallow.


6 May 2002
Nature notes are that there are a lot of migrants now back. Willow warblers, sedge warblers, swallows an early swift and sandwich and arctic terns. The sunny weather has been a great boost and some lapwing are actually with young. whimbrel are passing through on their way north. They look like a smaller version of curlews and have a flight call of seven notes. A grey phalarope was seen in breeding plummage at Dunnet Bay and eider ducks can be heard calling offshore. A very un ducklike call more like a croon and growling sound. a pied billed grebe( American bird) has also been seen offshore at Harrow harbour. A first for the county.

17 April - Afternoon Update From Paul
Saw several sand martins at Sannick yesterday (Tuesday) back from Africa, also 3 pairs of wheatear and 2 bonxie (great skua).

17 April 2002
Signs of Spring  - Paul
Cuckoo heard singing yesterday 10th this is early, usually later in month or May. First swallow seen flying along coast at Berriedale heading north on Saturday 6th, soon see the mass arrival of swallows ready to nest in the barns and old buildings around the county. A sand martin was also seen just recently.

Wheatear have started arriving back in the county particularly along the coastal moors one seen by a local landowner near Duncansby this week. The same landowner had a large group of ravens flying high over Duncansby in the same week.

A male snipe was displaying about 2 weeks ago near St. Johns Loch, diving and creating the 'drumming' sound using the widely spread outer tail feathers, sounds like rapidly repeated huhuhuhuhu. Yellowhammer are now singing their 'little bit of bread and no cheeeeese' song in the fields. Expecting anytime now the arrival of the warblers such as willow warbler, sedge warbler and grasshopper warbler (Newtonhill Community Woodland in Wick is a good place to hear grasshopper warbler in summer).

The summer seabirds are now arriving around the coastline, guillemots, razorbill and puffins are all gathering on the sea around the breeding cliffs. Black guillemots or tysties are around now with their black plumage and obvious white wing patches, if you see one close check out the bright red legs. There is a flock of kittiwakes in Dunnet Bay at the moment, often rising up in a large circling mass calling their name 'kittiwake kittiwake'. I saw my first great skua or bonxie as its otherwise known on the 2nd of April flying over Duncansby Head.

The best places to go in North Caithness to watch seabirds are Duncansby Head, Dunnet Head, Holborn Head and Dunnet Bay (good for great northern divers) and in East Caithness Noss Head, The Castle of Old Wick, Lybster Harbour, Latheronwheel Harbour, Dunbeath and Berriedale (particularly for kittiwakes).

For other bird watching there are public hides at the Loch of Mey and St. Johns Pool.


As well as birds there are other signs of spring; the first sighting of a bumblebee was on 17th March during a walk along the East Coast. There are quite a few small tortoiseshell butterflies around at the moment feeding on the spring flowers such as celandine and coltsfoot. The tadpoles are developing in the pools and the number of small flies is increasing. I was watching two pipistrelle bats feeding over the garden near Halkirk on the evening of the 8th at least they were happy for the fly hatch.

We had a report of several porpoise feeding offshore at Strathy Point last week, but they don't seem to have reached the bays over the North Eastern side yet. I saw one porpoise on the 4th March in Dunnet Bay swimming towards Murkle Bay and nothing since. Anyone with cetacean (whales, dolphins, porpoise) sighting please inform the Ranger Service as we are very interested, particularly in winter sightings.

Contact the Caithness Ranger Service on 01847 821531 for the North and 01955 607758 for East Caithness.

8 April 2002
From Marina Finlayson East Coast Ranger

Small tortoiseshell butterfly at Achreamie. First I've seen this year.

7 April 2002
First swallow was spotted yesterday i.e. 6th April at Berriedale - summer is on its way. First wheatears also spotted at Inchnadamph - they'll be heading our way soon!
Marina Finlayson - Ranger

15 March 2002
First sighting of a harbour porpoise swimming in Dunnet Bay on 4th March about 9.20am around Castlehill Harbour.. Just looking at some long tailed ducks and it swam straight into view of the binoculars, about 30 metres off shore heading towards Murkle Bay. We believe the porpoise move away from here in winter but are unsure where they go. Anyone seeing winter cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoise) please contact ranger service.

Birds beginning to pair up and sing regularly, Mary heard the first proper song from chaffinch the other day, skylarks singing for a while now (sounds of summer). Listen out for early morning blackbirds and the lapwings strange call in the fields just now.

Spring flowers appearing everywhere, daffodils, winter aconite around my garden and seeing coltsfoot popping up around the county. Coltsfoot sometimes known as 'sons before fathers, because it flowers before the leaves appear.

24 February 2002
I've been monitoring Keiss beach this afternoon and there is a lot of bird activity around the rock pools at the moment.
Red shank, oyster catcher, herring gulls, black-backed gulls, dunlin, ringed plover, curlew, lapwing, starlings, long-tailed duck, eider duck, shag, blackbirds, stonechat, .....just to mention some.
There is nothing rare to report but the sheer numbers make viewing very interesting. Plus the beach is a great place to walk when everywhere else is covered in snow!
Cheers for now.
Marina Finlayson
East Caithness Ranger
Highland Council Ranger Service

22 February 2002
Its worth looking in the coastal fields and harbours as there are "white winged" gulls about. These birds quite often overwinter with us and I spotted a glaucous gull in a field on Sunday.  The glaucous is black backed gull in size and the Iceland is herring gull in size.  The feature to look for is the lack of black plummage.   As they mature their plummage changes from milky white in the first year to snowy white year two the mature bird has a pale grey mantle. Small groups of golden plover are around at the moment flying overhead in small flocks calling "tlee ooee. There is a large flock at the T junction at Wester loch in a flooded field on the Keiss side of the road.

Recent Birds Sighted By Rangers
12/02 Black throated diver Loch Watten

12/02 Red Breasted Mergansers  - Keiss beach

16/02 Red Throated Diver  - Wick River

16/02 Male Hen Harrrier  - Newtonhill Woodland

16/02 Peregrine Falcon  - Near Lower Gillock Farm, Wick

9 February 2002
First skylark heard singing this year over Barrock and first small tortoiseshell butterfly on the wing (come out of winter hibernation) same day Barrock

7 February 2002
Rough-Legged Buzzard, larger than Buzzard (53-63cm) with rather long narrow wings and lengthy tail, has feathers on legs unlike buzzard. Feeds mainly on rabbits and rodents. Seen around the Wester area, between the loch and forestry. Seen last week but unsure if still here.
Tuesday 5th February, approx 80 snowbunting around mid-sands at Dunnet Bay, been around most of winter, numbers fluctuate.
February 2nd, 100 Twite on beach at Dunnet Bay, very high tide at the time, several greenfinch mixed in with them.
Spring's on its way, snowdrops flowering at the moment, winter aconite flowering, lovely yellow petals. Daffodils beginning to emerge and leaves of lesser celandine sprouting up all over my garden.
Winter still not over, please keep feeding and watering the birds.