The St. John's Pool website has been revised and updated with the generous support of 'The Birds of Scotland Fund awarded by The Scottish Ornithologists Club' (SOC).
For more information please visit their website at:
23 Jul 2015 23 July – It’s been a funny old year

The news in brief:
Coolest spring for 48 years or something, I believe I heard – and so it would seem in breeding results.  BH gulls well down; Many Sandwich terns started with 2 chicks but fledged only 1;  Greylags didn’t breed and Mute swans only had 1 cygnet and first clutches of Lapwings were late or got predated; Little grebes didn’t even nest.

The ‘Submarine’ photo hide has produced some very encouraging images thanks to Messers Devonport and Hamblin and Karen Munro. Thank you all.  Here’s a very selected short list of some of them.

3B0A3014MHA_249914MHA_2497583B0A2824GADWALL PAIRRedshank (Tringa totanus) adult in wetland habitat, Caithness, ScotlandShoveler (Anas clypeata)-3603MHA_248864MHA_248544MHA_247736MHA_247790


The Sandwich terns did pretty well. Original cohort (32 pairs max.) produced at least 21 big chicks probably more and I’m sure most fledged but unfortunately the second cohort that arrived around 10 June and comprised 10 pairs were not so lucky.  Despite the terns getting to chick stage by 7 July the pool was regularly hammered by a bonxie (Great skua) which spooked the Sandwiches very badly and by 21 July almost everything had gone, including 99% of Black headed gulls.

Sandwich Tern (Sterna sandvicensis)-2458Sandwich Tern (Sterna sandvicensis) chick bathing-2900Sandwich Tern (Sterna sandvicensis) St John's Pool-2706Sandwich Tern (Sterna sandvicensis) food pass-5392Sandwich Tern (Sterna sandvicensis)-5505


New breeding species:
Gadwalls have threatened to produce the goods for over 10 years… yesterday they did!  A female managed to avoid being seen with her 4 ducklings for 2 weeks at least but these high quality shots were bagged at dusk last night – not by any of the above professionals!


Also Blackcap(s)? singing in May/June and July in the garden could possibly have been the same bird as, the relentlessly low temp seems to have persuaded many species to go easy on the displaying.  So, pencilled in til we see fledglings.

New species for SJP – Red-necked phalarope:
These two beauties appeared for a brief few minutes before pointing skywards towards Iceland in June.  Species total – 208.

Pair of Red-necked phalaropes 13/06/15  R. Foster

Pair of Red-necked phalaropes 13/06/15 R. Foster

24 Apr 2015 24 April – New Photo Hide kicks off
 |  Category: Breeding species, Caithness birds, The Works, Wader migration  | Comments off

It’s 24th April 2015 and work on the temporary bird photography hide at St. John’s Pool is nearly finished.

Some images have already been captured which hopefully give an idea of the potential:

Through the springtime especially there’s an interesting selection of breeding and migrant birds that’s constantly changing;
Viewing available on three sides so there’s favourable lighting conditions throughout the day;
Just enough space for three adults – but plenty room for two;

Black Headed Gulls in early morning mist   24/4/15 D. Devonport

Black Headed Gulls in early morning mist 19/4/15   D. Devonport


Shoveler drake / 24/4/15  D. Devonport

Shoveler drake  20/4/15   D. Devonport

This is the ‘cooking version’ of a more well appointed hide planned for 2016.

It’s been designed for keen bird photographers who want a completely refreshing and exciting new angle on their subject.

Please note:  this is a functional hide – the facilities are very basic and entering is through a low trap door and down a couple of steps. You will be sitting in a steel tank approx. 1m below water – in order to see the birds at nearly water level.  Viewing is through windows covered in camouflaged material through which there is a restricted view and through which the camera lens is projected.   A tripod is essential for quality photographs.  Please bear this in mind if you are an inexperienced photographer.

The hide will only be available by appointment to hire on a daily basis – please contact via email for details on booking.


Black-tailed godwit  23/4/15  J. Smith

Black-tailed godwit 23/4/15  J. Smith

Black Headed Gulls in morning mist  19/4/15  D. Devonport

Black Headed Gulls in morning mist 19/4/15 D. Devonport

01 Mar 2015 1 March – Pre-season friendly
 |  Category: The Works  | Comments off

If my life ….or living, depended on (not the 5 day or even the 2 day but) the accuracy of the 1 day weather forecast(?!)  – I’d either be starving or dead.  Is  performance-related pay even a thing at the Met. Office?

Fortunately we didn’t pay any attention, and yet again dropped in on a cracking morning for working on the pond.  That must be as close to a 100% record since we started.  Then after lunch and the CCV AGM, the clouds dropped and it began to get unpleasant outdoors.  Perfect timing – so well done us. In 2.5 hours we got a heap of important sorting done:

Old hide roof fixed (cheers Paul) and now Oystercatcher friendly with gravel in place – sorted;
Wobbly ramp – sorted;
Arctic tern site, de-weeded – and nearly sorted.

As ever, a great craic and a great result. Thanks Team CCV … and friends.


18 Feb 2015 18 February 2015 – Ring out the old… Ring in the new
 |  Category: Caithness birds, Garden birds, The Works, Wildfowl migration, Winter records  | Comments off

Is it ever too late to say ‘Happy New Year”?  Not sure, but there it is. Where did the last 4 months go??!

Big plans for 2015 sort of in the making – which will hopefully bring added value to the experience at SJP.  Updates coming soon on groundworks…

Snipe (6) on 18/2
Oystercatcher (1) – first bird on pool on 16th Feb
Curlew (c. 20) around and ‘singing’ just.  After the plummeting fortunes of Redshank in past 20 years – I think all Curlew flocks need monitoring.
Greylag >50 roosting on pool
Teal (50-60) ditto
Wigeon / Mallard  (30/30) at least ditto
Gadwall (1m / 1f)


Barnacle goose SJL 8/2/15

Barnacle goose SJL 8/2/15


Barnacle goose (2) with Greylags around loch 8/2/15


Ring-necked duck (female in centre)  St. John’s Loch  21/01/15

… and from last autumn

Ring-necked duck (ist year male)  St. John's Loch 4/10/14  DB

Ring-necked duck  (Adult eclipse male) St. John’s Loch 4/10/14 DB

Ring-necked duck (1) a female this time – makes about 5 I believe for the site inc. the first for Caithness way back in 1978;
Ruff – the flock of 8 from December which hung around with 300+ Lapwings have been whittled down to 3 by February.  The rest could easily be in the Loch of Mey area. According to Birds of Scotland 3 the number of wintering Ruff in the country is a max. of 20.  So, 8 would be quite a chunk of that I’d say.
Glaucous gull (1st winter) from 8-10 February. Still in Dunnet / Mey area.  There might only be <5 records here? Must check.
Water rail (1) the 2 from Dec became 1 and seen into early January in the garden

13 Oct 2014 4 October – Records tumble

The weather system at the start of October brought some of the best autumn birding for a few years.  Force 6 southerlies on 2 October delivered an astonishing number and range of seabirds into, and past Freswick Bay. All four skua species (a probable Caithness ‘First’)  plus the first Balearic shearwater since 1995 amongst the passage of Manx and Sooty shearwaters, and a spectacular feeding frenzy of kittiwakes numbering 3 – 4000 made for an unforgettable Caithness seawatch… well for one particular birder anyway.  Patchwatch enthusiast Dan was right on cue yet again to score well at Skirza.

And so after a quiet day in between (apart from a record flying flock of 6 Slavonian grebe coming in to land on the loch)  the 4th October dawned and I decided it might be a good idea to go and check through the mass of Tufted ducks that had appeared overnight.  It looked like a lot.  And so it was – somewhere around 750.  In amongst them 20+ Scaup and a heap of Gadwall and a Pintail – which fortunately DB needed for his Dunnet list.

Power birding - DB takes a break 4/10/14

Extreme birding – DB takes a well-earned break  4/10/14

Ring-necked duck (ist year male)  St. John's Loch 4/10/14  DB

Ring-necked duck (adult eclipse male) St. John’s Loch 4/10/14  D Brown

WIth the breaking strain of a Kit-Kat, DB did a 180 and drove back to St John’s.   A few minutes later, having successfully added Pintail to the Year list, the call goes up “Ring-necked duck in fairly close”.  Correct – but not easy to pull out of the heaving mass of diving ducks.

The afternoon was simply amazing:  Pinkfeet almost constantly going by, and in amongst them, tens of Barnacle geese; Tufted ducks arriving for about a couple of hours and pushing the total way beyond anything I’ve experienced on St. John’s.  A record breaking Gadwall gathering and on top of that, the most Slavonians I’ve witnessed here.



3 Bewick swans over Ham 4/10/14  D.Brown

3 Bewick’s swans heading south over Ham 4/10/14  D.Brown

BEWICK’S SWAN 3 – probables south over Ham with Pinkfeet 4/10/14.  A (sort of) New species – viewed from the loch not from the house. This group was picked up at a great distance but importantly, tagged on behind a long string of Pinkfeet.  This is quite unusual, but the ‘jizz’ of the birds and their speed of wingbeat and flight, pointed very much towards Bewick’s.  We both concurred that the ID was debatable but that Bewick’s was almost certainly the right call.


Tufties - just part of the >1000 bird flock on St. John's 4/10/14 DB

Tufties – just part of the >1000 bird flock on St. John’s Loch  4/10/14  D Brown

Tufted duck >1000
 – St John’s Loch 4/10/14  RECORD COUNT for this site
Greater scaup 52 – St John’s Loch 4/10/14   Max. count 120
Barnacle goose
 82 – south over St John’s Loch 4/10/14
Pinkfeet 4936 – south over Dunnet Head to Ham  4/10/14
Gadwall 32  St John’s Loch;  70 Dunnet Bay 4/10/14 – Possibly some duplication but a county record in Dunnet Bay
Ring ouzel 1 – Brough 4/10/14  (DB)
Slavonian grebe 7 – St John’s Loch  3/10/14 – RECORD COUNT for this site with 6 or 7 on 5th October

YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER 1 – Most probably the second bird here this autumn on 7th and 9th October – calling infrequently and hardly getting close to giving itself up. Very frustrating.
Blackcap 3m/2f – in same studio tree on 8/10/14. RECORD COUNT for this site plus Chiffchaff at the same time
Garden warbler 1 on 8/10/14
Brambling 6 on 8/10/14
Redwing 20-30 on  6/10/14




15 Sep 2014 15 September – Gripping yarns

Yellow-browed warbler / Noss Head 26/9/13 C Griffin

Not seeing either Tree pipit or Kingfisher in or from the garden this year was – let’s say, difficult.  But to be fair Dan Brown was right there and nailed em both. Well played sir.  Today, it was very very close to being a hat-trick of dips in 2014, when Paul Higson heard and saw a Yellow-browed warbler in the garden as he waited for me to walk up from the hide. I saw a silhouette and heard precisely nothing.  And so it remained nerve-wrackingly til 3pm when I tried another stroll round the car park.  One call.  Never saw it, but quite satisfied it was a YB warbler.  After a 25 year wait – perhaps not the way I was hoping to get it on the list, but species no. 204 it certainly is.


Work parties in recent times have been a delight and successful days in every sense: great company; good food; oh and a heap of work sorted, invariably in cracking weather.  Yesterday’s sesh ticked all the boxes yet again – so a massive “Thank you” to The Ranger Service and CCV, inc. Louise, Karen, Paul, Sam, Phil, Phillip and Neil. … and Rosemary.  Cheers very much as ever and greatly appreciated one and all.  Don’t know how the place would survive without you!

Not only was Sunday simply a glorious day but Paul put in an extra effort today to finish the roof on the old hide.  As the last warmth went out of the torched roof felt, the rain started to come down.  Couldn’t have been scripted any better.

Great view - but check out the undergrowth

Great penthouse view for the nesting oystercatchers – but check out the undergrowth

One roof - well past its sell-by date

– it went down a long way.  One roof – well past its sell-by date

Bish bash saw saw  - 5 hours later..

Bish bash saw saw – 5 hours later… Paul & Sam nearly sorted the mess

Da- daaa. One new nest box for the oystercatchers. Just add one beach

Da- daaa! One new nest box for the oystercatchers. Just add a beach – but first…

Terminator 2 - just warming up for a fight with some felt

The top coat. Terminator 2 – warming up for a fight with some felt

Makin' 'e coles -the old Caithness name for the wee stooks

Makin’ ‘e coles -the old Caithness name for the wee hay stooks. 1920 or 2014?  Thanks for the history lesson Neil

All bee-cause - Louise enjoying a well-earned rest

Hay to bee – It’s a direct line to helping the bee-cause: remove the cut grass year on year, and more flowers will prosper. Louise taking a well-earned break

Painting can be 'Philarious'.  Phil & Phillip having a good old laff - when they should've bin working!

Painting can be ‘Philarious’. Phil & Phillip having a good old laff – when they should’ve bin working!


01 Sep 2014 1 September – Mud skool
 |  Category: Garden birds, Non-passerine migration, Passerine migration, The Works  | Comments off
Dambusters  21/8/14

Dambusters 21/8/14

Tide going out  26/8/14

Tide going out  26/8/14


It’s not rocket surgery – ‘waterbirds’ love mud.  But it’s been so wet, can’t find any in Caithness – so we’d better make some.  Four dambusters; a bunch of digging weapons and < 1 hour later… we’re through.  The tide starts going out and by Monday things are looking good… good enough to eat?  Apparently so. The first Water rail I’ve seen on the scrape enjoyed it and was still around 3 days later – result!

Water rail  SJP  30/8/14

Water rail  SJP 28-30/8/14



12 Aug 2014 12 August – Sandwiches steal the show
Season 2014 Report Card – a bit late, but incredibly, there are still things happening:

Black-headed gulls – mostly went about 6 weeks ago with their 800-1000 ‘kids’ but today – there was still one last juv kicking about the pool;

Shoveler and last duckling - June SJP

Shoveler and last duckling – June SJP

Juv shoveler - June SJP.  Not sue where this came from... loch of mey?

Juv shoveler – June SJP. Not sure where this came from… Loch of Mey or here?

Shovelers – difficult to call, but a best guess would be 2 females had broods of 9 and 11 – otter got in while electric down, and thinned them out in a couple of visits – probably 3 juvs fledged – a single and a double; a chance a third pair bred on lochside as had glimpses of the adults in May/June and a possible brood this week.  Also a couple of recently fledged juvs and a female on pool in late June.


Fledgling Sandwich and parents - end of June

Fledgling Sandwich and parents – end of June

Record roost - 100+ Sandwich terns in June

Record roost – 100+ Sandwich terns in June… soon to be whooped by 50%


Sandwich terns – Headlines: 40 minimum pairs laid;  40-50 chicks fledged;  roost broke record count in early July with >150 on a couple of nights;  Common gulls took late broods and clutches from maybe 5 nests so totals would have been >50 fledged.  Things looking very good for 2015.
Lapwing  7-8 pairs probably fledged 1-4 maybe more?
– 2 pairs fledged 2 – 3 chicks
Redshank – maybe a pair bred but not on the pool – pretty dismal outlook for next year.
Tufted duck – 6 broods maybe 50+ ducklings. Most taken onto loch where minimum 20 seen in late July
Teal – didn’t breed for second season in a row
Mallard 5 broods and min. 30 ducklings
Little grebe 1 pair eventually nested successfully after 9 failed attempts – and still on nest today but success not certain yet…
Moorhen – 1 pair 2 broods of 4 and 4
Coot – 3 pairs min with 4-5 chicks not fledged yet
Common gull – 3 or 4 pairs bred with >9 fledged

Big redpolls in mid-June...?

Big redpoll in mid-June…?

Seriously big redpolls in June

Seriously big redpolls in June with Greenfinch and juv Goldfinch

REDPOLL COMMON (TYPE) – adults seen up to mid-June and then in August looking very worn.

Autumn migration:
Common sandpiper – single on 17-19/7; 22/7
Green sandpiper – single(s) on 17/7; 31/7
Greenshank – single(s) on 16/7; 23/7;  26/7;
Redshank – 1 on 17/7; 3 on 26/7;
Lapwing – 650 around and over pool in August
Ruff – 5 in formation 12/7; 2 possibles on 12/8 at lochside.
Whimbrel – 1 over to land lochside on 17/7
Pochard – pair in front of hide 26/6
Scaup – 1 juv on pool 28/6
Common scoter – 1f on loch on 22/7
Mistle thrush – 1 or 2 juvs in garden on  30-31/8/14.  First  ever juvs recorded in garden


09 Jun 2014 6 June – “Whit?!” Spotted crake – for one night only

An expedition to Durran loch on 6 June, produced three Water rails calling and at least one Grasshopper warbler singing  – but no crakes, corn or otherwise.  I arrive back at St John’s at midnight and couldn’t quite believe, that above the din of the Black-headed gulls, and through the double glazing I could hear the distinctive ‘whipping’ of a singing Spotted crake.  Wow – never expected that.  The bird sang til at least 0230 on 7th but wasn’t heard subsequently.

Spotted crakes used to be regular in the county during the late 1990s and into 21st century, but have become far more infrequent, as with Corncrakes.  Maybe this is a weather issue, who knows, but whatever, hearing these secretive and enigmatic waterbirds anytime after dark is usually the only way anyone gets to know they’re around.  Actually seeing one, never mind photographing one, is extremely rare epecially in Caithness.

A new species for the ‘garden’ taking the total to 203.

Spotted Crake / Greylake 16 9 09  Jim Almond

Spotted Crake / Greylake  16 9 09  Jim Almond

03 Jun 2014 3 June – Sandwich & shoveler show continues

The two headline stories of 2014 breeding season are the continued success of Sandwich terns which, as of today, have almost certainly hit 33 nesting pairs – with many chicks already walking about.  On 2 June there were 90 adults in the roost and some of them seem to be starting to nest.  Failed Arctic tern colonies on the east coast of Moray Firth may also indicate problems elsewhere and hence maybe explain the new arrivals of Sandwich terns.

Sandwich terns with clutch of two / SJP  May 2014

Sandwich terns with clutch of two / SJP May 2014

90 Sandwich terns at roost SJP  3/6/14

90 Sandwich terns at roost SJP 3/6/14


Shovelers have now bred for three years in a row 2012 – 2014.  A female appeared with her brood of 11 ducklings for 20 mins on 1 June. No chance for a photo opportunity though as they disappeared into the poolside veg.  …and haven’t reappeared since.  Hoping this is the same form as last two years when the very attentive mother kept her youngsters away from the gulls and crows for the first 10 days.  We’ll see.  Up to three drakes still hanging around.

Shoveler drake  SJP 20/5/14  D. Devonport

Shoveler drake SJP 20/5/14 D. Devonport

Other stuff: All a bit thin really as no Wood sandpipers so far and other waders also less numerous – apart from Ringed plovers which have been seen locally in very large numbers (flocks of 400 – 500) and resulted in the first over St John’s Pool in many years on 19/5;  Black tailed godwit on 29/5 and 3/6; Little gull 1st summer occasionally up to 1/6;  Greylags have bred for second year in a row on loch with 7 goslings; Garganey roosting and feeding up til 1 June.

Garganey  / SJP still present on 1 June  D. Devonport

Garganey / SJP still present on 1/6/14  D. Devonport

On 23 May the wind swung to the north and it rained.  Usually this means there’s shelter in the garden. When this happens we get some birds: Swallow 25; House martin 15; Sand martin 5; and a Spotted flycatcher almost all day but there were 150+ hirundines across the loch.

Spotted flycatcher  St. John's  23/5/14

Spotted flycatcher St. John’s 23/5/14

Swallow in the rain  / St. John's  23/5/14

Swallow in the rain / St. John’s 23/5/14

House martin  St. John's  23/5/14

House martin /  St. John’s  23/5/14