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Winter is a great time for spotting sea ducks and divers around the coast and in our sheltered bays. Great Northern Divers are a regular sight and many arrive from their breeding grounds still sporting summer plumage. Long Tailed Ducks which, unusually, look smarter in the winter plumage can be seen along with Eider, Red-breasted Merganser and Red-throated Divers. Freshwater also attracts wildfowl at this time of year, with Wigeon, Goldeneye, Pintail and Teal all easy to see at North Loch or Loch of Langamay.
When tangles of kelp are thrown onto the island’s beaches during winter storms, they provide excellent foraging habitat for wintering waders. Much of Sanday’s east coast has been classified as a Special Protection Area (SPA) for the internationally important populations of Purple Sandpiper and Turnstone. Wintering Ringed Plover, Sanderling and Bar-tailed Godwits are also present in nationally important numbers.
Spring is the time when passage migrants make their way back to northern Europe including different species of thrush, pipit, lark, finches, waders and warblers. We look for the first signs of breeding in our resident birds such as Oystercatcher, Snipe, Lapwing, Curlew and Redshank as they call and display. Birds of prey like Hen Harrier and Short-eared Owl which seem to almost disappear in the depths of winter become much more obvious hunting in fields.
Wader numbers increase considerably in late April/May by large numbers of passage birds who stop off to feed en route to their breeding grounds. Turnstone in particular use Sanday as a staging post to feed amongst the cast kelp before continuing north to their Greenland breeding grounds.
By summer, all of these birds should be in full breeding mode with established pairs at nest sites. A walk along our white beaches wouldn't be complete without the ominous shadow of a Great Skua (Bonxie) eyeing you up or a stylish Arctic Skua harassing another seabird to hijack its dinner. Even a round of golf takes on new dangers here on Sanday as both Arctic Tern and Artic Skua have nest on the course!
Summer is also a busy time for seabirds such as Puffins, Black Guillemot, Razorbill, Guillemot, Fulmar, Kittiwake and Terns which can all be seen from our coast. Sadly, like all seabird colonies around Scotland, the colonies in Orkney have suffered disastrous declines in breeding populations and survival of young over recent years.
Autumn is another exciting time, spring migration in reverse with many visitors passing through plus the added perils of stormy weather which can blow far flung travellers off course. Although it is always sad to say cheerio to all the summer breeders and await their return the following year, autumn can bring its own joys and surprises. Waders return in large numbers and winter thrushes such as Redwing and Fieldfare are once again a common sight in fields.
With its proximity to North Ronaldsay, Sanday has had its fair share of rare autumn migrants, such as Swainson's Thrush, Arctic Warbler, Brown Shrike and Blyth's Reed Warbler - with no doubt plenty more to come!