One of the unknowns when visiting Orkney is what the weather will do. With the islands’ propensity for wind it can change quickly so we decided to make the most of this morning’s sunshine and head over to Marwick Head, an RSPB reserve on the west coast of the mainland.
The walk up to the top of Marwick Head took us past the beach, which was alive with Oystercatchers. I caught a few shots of them on the sand before a dog walker passed through and scared them all into the air. I quickly changed my settings and went for some in flight shots – the first time I’ve tried this with my new camera. I rapidly realised how out of practice I am at tracking birds in flight – aircraft are so much easier because they’re bigger and move in a predictable way! However, it was gratifying to find that, on the occasions I managed to keep the birds in the viewfinder, the camera did a good job of focusing on such speedy subjects.
When we reached the top of the cliffs we had an excellent view down over the nesting birds. We could see lots of Fulmars pairing up on the face of the cliff and it was enchanting to watch their quirky courtship ritual, cackling gently and trying to pinch each other’s beaks.
Elsewhere on the cliffs we saw some ravens and a bazaar of guillemots – surely one of the most unusual collective nouns in the English language! We were thrilled to see wild ravens as they rarely make it as far east as East Anglia, but I understand they’re actually quite common on Orkney!
On top of Marwick Head stands the Kitchener Memorial, an impressive square tower remembering the crew of HMS Hampshire, a Royal Navy ship which sank on stormy seas just off the coast here in 1916. Lord Kitchener (familiar to most people from the well known ‘Your country needs you’ recruiting posters from early in World War I) was on board when the ship sank and only twelve of the 667 crew survived. One can only imagine the effort required to build the memorial in 1926 when the only access to the location is via a farmer’s track – simply transporting the stone up the hill would have been a gargantuan job. It was restored in 1916 and now looks resplendent on the clifftop, complete with a slate wall engraved with the names of all those lost on HMS Hampshire.
31 March 2018