Brodgar RSPB reserve
This spectacular reserve, five minutes drive from Heddle, surrounds the Ring of Brodgar and the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site. It is enclosed by the shores of Lochs Stenness and Harray. You can take an easy circular walk of around 40 minutes.
It is is mostly agricultural land, with pockets of wetland and grassland, attracting a wide range of waders and waterbirds.
Springtime should find wading birds, ducks and skylarks in noisy lyrical courtship display. Look out for short-eared owls, merlins and hen harriers hunting over the reserve.
During Summer seven species of breeding waders and eight species of ducks flourish in the wetland. Look out for lawings, curlews and shovelers all busy feeding their chicks. You will find rare great yellow bumblebee among the wildflowers, especially red clover and arable weeds.
These Bumblebees are present well into September, when Waders form flocks around the shore. This is also a great time of year to look for autumn migrants. Look for skylarks, reed buntings and twites in the stubbles and bird crops. As Winter takes grip look out for flocks of farmland birds such as twites and lapwings, plus hundreds of wading birds such as golden plovers. Look around the loch for large flocks of wigeons and teals.
Cottascarth and Rendall Moss RSPB reserve
This place is a wildlife enthusiasts dream. While only a few minutes drive from Heddle, Cottascarth remains a hidden gem. In spring you can hear the bubbling call of curlews displaying on territory over their moorland nest sites, skylarks and meadow pipits displaying. Springtime at Cottascarth is also famous for Hen Harriers Skydancing, a wonderful and timeless sight.
During summer you will see these hen harriers hunting over the heather moors, merlins in pursuit of pipts and larks and due to the excessive daylight, normally nocturnal short-eared owls prowling the reserve.
The area has a darker past; about 1 mile to the north of the Cottiscarth RSPB bird hide, a bit further up the hillside in rough ground and very evocative lie the lonely graves of the Men of Harray.
During the severe winter and famine of 1696 twelve men set out to gather shellfish off the north side of the bay of firth. Harray is Orkneys only landlocked parish and these men were exercising feudal rights to this somewhat distant foreshore. Sadly they never made it and a severe blizzard led to there deaths in this lonely if beautiful spot.
Most of the graves can still be found but only with someone who knows where to look.
Hobbister RSPB Reserve
Just ten minutes drive from Heddle on the North side of Scapa Flow is the Hobbister reserve. The reserve is a patchwork of upland habitats including heather moor, bog and wet heath, in addition to 30 m high cliffs, tidal sandflats and saltmarsh over-looking Scapa Flow. It is also here that are found the peatlands which Highland Park use to flavour their famous brew.
Hobbister is quite a large reserve with much of the northern side left to wilderness. The area most visited is on the seashore, just east of the beautiful Waulkmill Bay.
This variety of habitats provides a great cross section of species. During Winter birdwatching from the shore can provide excellent views of three species of divers and Slavonian grebes in the Flow.
Springtime brings the haunting call of curlews displaying on territory over their moorland nest sites, skylarks and meadow pipits displaying. Red-throated divers display on the lochs and can be seen fishing in Scapa Flow. Fulmars and black guillemots are dotted along the low cliffs.
In summer expect to see hen harriers hunting over the heather moors, dashing merlins in pursuit of pipts and larks. Large colonies of gulls can be seen. Look for hunting short-eared owls, reed buntings and twites near the coastal path. On a walk down to Waulkmill Bay, look for the small, ancient aspens clinging on to the cliff sides.
During Autumn look for stonechats in and around the scrub, but most interest will be in Scapa Flow off the coastal path and Waulkmill Bay where wintering waterbirds can be seen. Long-tailed ducks, divers, shags, Slavonian grebes and black guillemots can all be found at this time.