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Welcome to Caithness Birds

This site is designed to help visitors find out what's going on in the county - all you need know about Caithness birds - and how to get there... fast!

Whether you're just learning about birds or have years of experience, this service will hopefully help you get even more out of your birdwatching.

Happy birding

01 Dec 2016 1 December – Hard sell
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Hopefully the promotional piece above says it all?!  There may not be a next print run if the numbers don’t add up so the advice from Caithness SOC is – “don’t miss the deadline or you might be disappointed”.  Merry Christmas – even tho. Santa won’t be filling any stockings with a sparkly new copy of BoC!

16 Nov 2016 16 November – 3 new records for Caithness in twelve months
 |  Category: Migration, NEW SPECIES, Winter stuff  | Comments off

Without bleating about it, it would be fair to say that the county is hopelessly ‘under-powered’ when it comes to resident birdwatchers.  For those not familiar with the ‘scene’ in Caithness, it might be a surprise to learn that it is possible to birdwatch regularly without meeting a single fellow birder, sometimes for months on end.

This clearly has one major advantage for those content with solitude and finding their own birds.  The downside is indisputably, that we miss far more than we record.  Evidence of this stark fact can be derived from the number of  scarce and rare species found by visiting birdwatchers. These include birds new to Caithness. Recently accepted and, still to be submitted records, include: Sandhill crane; Upland sandpiper; Fea’s petrel, Lesser whitethroat (subspecies ‘halmondendri’); Dunlin (subspecies ‘hudsonia’). 

In the past twelve months three new records have been added unofficially but with clear photographic evidence – and all have been found by visiting birders.  Hats off to them all and  “thank you”!

New to Caithness - Two-barred crossbill adult (illustrated) and 1st year males somewhere in the county on 10 December 2015.

New to Caithness – Two-barred crossbill adult (illustrated) and 1st year males somewhere in the county on 10 December 2015.


The gull in question below was spotted and identified by Dan Brown as it fed in the surf at Castlehill with a frenzy of other gulls – including at one point, a Bonaparte’s gull.  The features which point to this extremely rare hybrid between American herring gull (smithsonianus) X Glaucous gull (hyperboreus), include the combination of pale inner and darker outer primaries; the all dark uppertail and long bill.

There have been very few (<5?) records of this hybrid in the UK and Ireland.

Nelson's gull' / Castlehill 29 January 2016 D. Brown

Nelson’s gull’ / Castlehill 29 January 2016 D. Brown


Nelson's gull' with Herring gull in foreground / Castlehill 29 January 2016 D. Brown

Nelson’s gull’ with Herring gull in foreground / Castlehill 29 January 2016 D. Brown


Below are two photos taken this week of a large falcon which spent up to five hours in view as it fed on its prey. In the considered opinion of one expert this bird shows characteristics of a first year of the highly migratory sub-species calidus which is a holarctic breeder, some of which migrate as far as South Africa.

Probable 'Tundra peregrine' (sub-species 'calidus') (location witheld) 11/11/16 K. Cuthbert

Probable ‘Tundra peregrine’ (location witheld) 11 November 2016          K. Cuthbert


Probable 'Tundra peregrine' (location witheld) 11/11/16 K. Cuthbert

Probable ‘Tundra peregrine’ (location witheld) 11 November 2016 K. Cuthbert

11 Nov 2016 11 November – The last post …was 5 month’s ago!?
 |  Category: Uncategorized, Winter stuff  | Comments off

SOC illustrated talks have become must see events in recent years, but despite standards now at such a high level the club is still in awe of the images and presentations which we have been privileged to see.  I’ll keep this one brief – the pictures by Ken Crossan from his winter trip to Japan speak for themselves.  All the ‘target’ species were not only seen but beautifully captured. Here are a few from the September show. Thanks Ken!

From top down:
Steller’s sea eagle
White-tailed sea eagle
Setsuri river at dawn
Whooper swans
Red-crowned crane
Steller’s and White-tailed sea eagles




Whooper swans

Red-crowned crane calling.

Steller's and White-tailed sea eagles on ice / Japan 2016 K.Crossan

09 Jun 2016 9 June – The Bird Race 2016 – Post-match analysis
 |  Category: Breeding species, Migration  | Comments off

There was a time (c.1990s) when the prospect of a ‘Bird Race’ would fire at least 5 people up in the club, enough to want to actually go through the inevitable torture.  The reason?  Difficult to say but it’s a bit like Everest – because it’s there.  Possibly more birds in Caithness?

Fast forward 20+ years and well what do you know – 4 or 5 people signed up to the very thing.  It’s not REALLY a race (hoho) said Team Manson… that’ll be Manson then. But we (Team B) knew fine well this was a thinly veiled cover for some high octane birding.

So, The Challenge? up to 24 hours in (and out) of a car chasing down as many species within the county as possible.  Simple.

28th May 2016 was a day like no other in Bird race history. It wasn’t freezing, wet or windy. Hot it wasn’t, but ‘pleasant’ is as good as Mediterranean.

Two teams of 2 and 3:
Team ‘M’ comprised 2 battle hardened birders, Maughan & Manson – ten times captain of the winning squad – undoubtedly a ruthless and efficient combo.
Team ‘B’ fortunately had a secret weapon… ‘B’ – code for ‘Brown’ – a skilled ‘hunter’ of all things avian. The rest of Team B (the Ballast) helped confirm ID and ‘tick’ as applicable. What a breeze!

The final scores on the doors were actually impressive considering the appalling spring.
Team ‘M’ – 107 / Team ‘B’ 119

However the underlying story as ever is what defined the race and indeed the breeding season in Caithness 2016.  Some very surprising  species missing or almost missing just shows the effect of bad weather badly timed. Here’s the combined high and low lights:

Cuckoos – everywhere – we stopped counting at about 18: the other lot were similarly swamped;
Osprey – 4 min. inc. breeding pair but at least 6 in the county on the day;
Wood warbler – 1 new breeding site;

Golden eagle / south/ 28/5/16  E. Maughan

Golden eagle / ‘South’ / 28/5/16 E. Maughan

White-tailed eagle / 'South'  28/5/16  D. Brown

White-tailed eagle / ‘South’ 28/5/16 D. Brown

All surpassed by the pod of 9 Orcas from the Pentland Firth, which team ‘B’ were able to enjoy at their leisure for a couple of hours at Dunbeath.

Grasshopper warbler – 0
Dipper – 0
Corncrake – 0
Merlin – 0
Barn owl 0 (just the wrong night – there are plenty of BOs around Caithness)
Coal tit – 1
Water rail – 1
Kestrel – 1
Quail – 1
Tree pipit – 1
Little grebe – 1
Wheatear – 2 or 3
Swallow – very few
Arctic tern – ditto


TEAM B: (r-l) Dan Brown/ Heaher Byrne / Julian Smith

TEAM B: (r-l) Dan Brown/ Heaher Byrne / Julian Smith


Most of these species are probably victims of the cold weather at the end of April which may actually have killed a large proportion of summer migrants.

The Post-match celebrations were a revelation and everyone agreed (even Manson) that it was a vintage Bird race… same again next year?!

04 Jan 2016 4 January 2016 – Birds of Caithness – Released into the wild
 |  Category: Atlas, NEW SPECIES  | Comments off

Well to say it’s a relief to have published ‘Birds of Caithness’ on time would be a major understatement. From first ‘tetrad bashing’ to final typographical amends has taken over 8 years – felt like 800!  Whatever – it’s done and despite a few minor issues the editors can at last relax.  Feedback from customers has been very positive so far and even if the texts have some embedded flaws nobody can deny the quality of many of the images. But what this book is all about is describing the status of the birds of Caithness today.  So, the central part of the publication and without which the project would have been meaningless, is the maps.  And for these we have to thank Iain Outlaw again for his excellent work.

However, no sooner did the DVD ‘hit the shelves’ – but it seems it might need a revised edition. The Caithness List may have to be updated if the bird below is confirmed.

Get out there and start birding again!!

New to Caithness - Two-barred crossbill adult (illustrated) and 1st year males somewhere in the county on 10 December 2015.

New to Caithness – Two-barred crossbill adult (illustrated) and 1st year males somewhere in the county on 10 December 2015.


16 Nov 2015 16 November – ‘Birds of Caithness’ DVD launch
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Red-throated divers displaying.  D. Devonport

Red-throated divers displaying. D. Devonport

After only eight years since ‘laying’ down the idea, the culmination of an extraordinary amount of effort by many many people is about to ‘hatch’.

Caithness SOC hopes that ‘Birds of Caithness’ will ‘fly’ in early December.  To place your order please contact:

We sincerely hope you enjoy finding out about the county’s incredible birdlife through the texts, maps and stunning photographs which feature in the publication.

19 Apr 2015 19 April – Raptor-tastic Caithness
 |  Category: Migration, Winter stuff  | Comments off

Since the SNOWY OWL appeared last autumn – and reappeared in a couple of places, there has been a good selection of scarce and rare raptors across the county. For sensitive locations the place names have been kept confidential but the following have been sighted over recent months:

GYR FALCON – Female(?) at Watten and Reay area since February at least;
ROUGH LEGGED BUZZARD 1 seen in Watten area at start of the year may have relocated to Rumster – or not, but there were 3 seen on 15th April at two sites with 2 birds together on the ground;
WHITE-TAILED EAGLE 1 – reported flying over Wick on 11th April
Golden eagle
1 – feeding on a carcass near Wick w/c 13th April;

Still feels wintry by that selection – things seem to warming up so let’s hope for a repeat of the amazing HOBBY and a HONEY BUZZARD double at Dunnet Head from June last year

22 Feb 2015 22 February 2015 – Spring time spring tide
 |  Category: Migration, Winter stuff  | Comments off
Kelp bed at Dunnet Beach 22/02/15

Kelp bed at Dunnet Beach 21/02/15

Exposed kelp_ Dunnet Beach 22-02-15

Exposed kelp at Dunnet Beach 21/02/15

It may not feel quite like it yet but the birds moving through suggest that the breeding season was cranking up. Along with many garden birds Skylarks have been singing on their breeding sites since early February. But then it snowed inland a couple of days ago – and suddenly there’s a ‘big’ flock on the move, 150+ at Skitten.  Nothing to quite match some of the more impressive early spring movements of the 1990s viz. 500 – 1000 in a day over Dunnet Head, or an astonishing 3000 across Dunnet Bay following hard snow showers.

Other stuff on the move and equally as impressive – was the sea.  The tide on 21st February was apparently the biggest in the past 20 years. When it went out it left kelp beds at the north end of Dunnet beach high and… damp.  A very rare sight indeed.  But even rarer on the beach was a hat-trick of Glaucous gulls: a first winter; a second winter and an adult all together.

18 Jan 2015 18 January 2015 – ‘Birds of Caithness’ gets grant funding
 |  Category: Atlas, Features  | Comments off

In December 2014, after  a long and challenging year Caithness SOC managed to attract enough donations to match fund the club’s biggest ever project – Birds of Caithness  The Breeding and Wintering Atlas 2007 – 2012.

Firstly, the club would like to thank everybody who has generously contributed, and without whom, this publication would simply not be possible. Secondly, and importantly, we would like to acknowledge the support and encouragement of Caithness & North Sutherland Fund’s David Shearer – whose professional administration of the club’s application was greatly appreciated.

It is proposed to publish the DVD, hopefully at the end of October 2015.  For more information please click on the ‘Atlas’ link  on the home page.


21 Oct 2014 18 October – Migrants in the sun – another cracking SOC trip
 |  Category: Features, Migration, NEW SPECIES  | Comments off

To say we’ve had it lucky as an SOC group – would be exactly right!  Summer, winter, spring and autumn outings have all been a great success over the past couple of years – and all helped by very obliging weather.  Saturday’s expedition to Noss Head was no exception – but to see 18 degrees from the middle to the end of the day was a major surprise.  The temperature and lack of wind turned a memorable trip into one to dine out on for year’s to come.

The option to go for east coast migration turned out to be a good call.  In fact from the word go it ‘felt’ right.  A dunlin parked in the middle of the road on the way to Noss Farm was an encouraging omen and seemed to suggest things might just line up for us. And so it was.  The morning could hardly have been scripted better, and the lack of a BB rarity didn’t appear to matter.

The first stop at the cottage almost produced the entire suite of ‘British’ thrushes with only Mistle, apparently not lurking in the tiny bunch of conifers.  An extremely obliging Ring ouzel was a ‘tick’ for some of the team and gave tremendous views, unlike the Lesser whitethroat which evaporated into the undergrowth – but not before our ‘Tour Leader’ Dan Brown had grabbed it on film.

Ring ouzel / Noss Farm 18/10/14   D Brown

Ring ouzel / Noss Farm  18/10/14   D Brown

Lesser whitethroat of Asian race blythii  Noss Farm  18/10/14  D Brown

Lesser whitethroat of Asian race blythii   Noss Farm  18/10/14       D Brown

On towards the lighthouse, and the sadly out-of-commission Heligoland trap had miraculously been functioning on auto?! Not only had it ‘caught’ an incredibly helpful Siberian chiffchaff, but then, right on cue, with the audience anticipating a bit more of a show – a Common chiffchaff sidled up on stage and posed.  For beginners and experts alike it was a textbook moment in fieldguide illustration.

Siberian Chiffchaff  / Noss Head  18/10/14  D Brown

Siberian Chiffchaff / Noss Head 18/10/14 D Brown

Common Chiffchaff  Noss Head  18/10/14   D Brown

Common Chiffchaff  /  Noss Head 18/10/14     D Brown

A few minutes later a redstart lead us a bit of a dance around the farm buildings before giving itself up and posing long enough for a shot.  Turned out to be a splendid Black redstart and another ‘lifer’ for some.

Black redstart  / Noss Head  18/10/14   D Brown

Black redstart / Noss Head   18/10/14   D Brown

Meanwhile Redwings and Song thrushes were pouring in from the east and tumbling out of an azure blue sky.  What a morning!  Time for a break.

SOC squad (minus photographer) autumn 14  Noss Head  18/10/14   J Smith

SOC squad (minus photographer) autumn ’14   Left to right: Sinclair Manson, Eric Maughan, Heather Byrne, Dan Brown, Catherine Nicol, Lesley Oliphant.  Noss Head   18/10/14  J Smith

Just as we thought we could relax DB decided to go walk-about and persuaded a Woodcock to do a flypast and add yet another new bird to some of the team’s life lists.  Just to make sure everybody had  seen it well enough the bird was ‘asked’ to repeat the demo – and did it in style.

DB & Woodcock / Noss head  18/10/14  E Maughan

DB & Woodcock / Noss head 18/10/14 E Maughan

Noss Head itself produced at least two more Ring ouzels amongst the thrushes in the whins and the first Snow bunting for most this autumn.

Snow bunting  /  Noss Had  18/10/14   D Brown

Snow bunting / Noss Head 18/10/14  D Brown

The club would (as if he didn’t already know!) like to say a massive ‘Thank you’ to Dan for his exceptional skills in locating and identifying pretty well everything. Cheers.