The Year has Turned

It is said up here that winter begins after the County Show (the 2nd Saturday in August). And it is amazing how often this is the case. There is an edge to the wind, evenings are definitely cooler, and the land is getting ready for winter.

The bird life knows winter is coming. The starlings are flocking in their hundreds, and so are the lapwings. The gulls are changing their behaviour, feeding more off the pasture, and the oyster catchers are clubbing together in groups.

I was looking out of Steve’s kitchen window the other day, and saw a bird I didn’t recognise. It was the size of a blackbird, but it appeared to have a big ruff round its neck. I didn’t have binoculars ro hand, but I did have my camera, so took a pic through the window:

two blackbirds

The one on the left is a female blackbird (brown and spotty not black) but I still couldn’t recognise the one of the right. Zooming in on it solved the problem. It is a male blackbird in moult – the ruff was the old feathers starting to come out!

moulting blackbird

I used the same technique yesterday morning when there was a huge twittering outside my Flotta house. I could see about a hundred birds alighting on the roof of a nearby house, making a lot of racket, jostling for position. By the time I got the camera a lot of them has flown off, but some remained.

baby swallows on roof

The day was very grey so the photo isn’t brilliant, but zooming in shows that these are young swallows, flocking before setting off back to Africa. You can see their chestnut bibs on their white chests. They will not get their iconic long tail feathers until they are older.

baby swallows closer

Scottie and I had a wander round West Hill on Friday, and the changes were apparent there too. Across the sound, the hills of Hoy were wearing their winter colours:


Back on Flotta itself, the cotton grass (also called bog cotton) was still out:

heath inc cotton grass

This plant is called after the seed heads which look like cotton.

PhotoELF Edits: 2013:09:01 --- Save - Overwrite --- crop; resize

However, for the spinners amongst you, you can NOT spin cotton grass. When you handle it, it just disintegrates. I don’t care how many books talk about things made from bog cotton, it isn’t possible!!

The colour of Scotland in autumn is purple, from the heathers. That is the colour of the Orkney hills just now. It is looking lovely (and would look even better in the sun!!)


Closer to, you can see how thick the flowers are this year. Last year a storm in the middle of August stripped the flower heads before they could bloom, but they have made up for it this year.

heather close up

Meanwhile, but in my garden, my pots have bloomed very well without me!

pots all

The next step will be to plant the spring bulbs, but I am not thinking about that yet!

15 thoughts on “The Year has Turned

  1. Beautiful, Liz! Thanks so much for sharing. It’s so hot here that the school system actually cancelled classes during the past week (no air conditioning). I’m looking forward to a bit of cool weather.

    There’s a very odd duck at our local pond, and I keep seeing it when I don’t have either binoculars or glasses. I’ll try to remember the tools today, and will hope that it’s still there. It’s hanging with the mallards, but it isn’t one.

    1. If you don’t have binoculars with you, take a pic with a camera, zooming in as far as is practicable. then you can zoom in on the photo, and you have the same sort of magnification as binoculars (or better) and the thing doesn’t fly away!!

  2. Even further down south – West Midlands- there is more than a hint of autumn in the cooler evenings and mornings. The heather looks amazing, have missed seeing it up on the Yorkshire Moors this year.

  3. I love all of your photos of your area and your explanation of what I’m looking at. I learn something new each time and I so enjoy seeing the countryside. Here is Missouri USA I’m looking forward to a break in our 100 degree days, so looking at your photos of coming autumn/winter provide a cool moment.

  4. What lovely photos! I was in Orkney in June, and I was amazed by the bog cotton. It really does look spinnable. Are you sure? 😉

    The islands are beautiful. All of the plant and animal life was so interesting to me. I was thrilled to be able to see some of the plants up close. The heather was not in bloom when I was there, of course, so I am delighted to see your photos.

  5. When I was married in 1971 I sent to Scotland for “scottish” white heather buttonholes for the men and also a horseshoe – only disposed of them a few years ago.

  6. Here in Texas, the seasons are: Almost Summer, Summer, Still Summer and Christmas. We are passing from Summer into Still Summer. I can’t wait for Christmas!

  7. I would love to have some of the bog cotton (our bog here has little – and what’s there grows in the middle of damp patches, where I’d have to fly to reach it:() – not for spinning alone, but to card it into wool – makes for nice flecks in brown wool! and in one of the old “piecework” magazines there was a collar made from bog cotton bolls, if I remember correctly (not spun though!). our ancestors always found a way to use resources… and we have an autumnal feel over here too just now – the diseased sycamore leaves always come down early after a fairly dry year!
    enjoy the weekend
    Bettina (from ireland, where I am hoping for an indian summer after two very wet autumns)

  8. Love all your photos and the nature notes about Orkney, but think your photo of Hoy is just marvellous, the colours well, I should love some wool that looks like that to make a sweater,

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