Aerial view of the tiop of a small island showing cormorant bird nests dotted around the point.

At Holm

image: Gunnie Moberg

Here at Orkney Archives there is a long corridor, off it are strongrooms that hold valuable archive documents that can tell us a lot about Orkney. There are other rooms that contain valuable archive people, one such office houses the Orkney Biodiversity Records Centre and Sydney Gauld. Sydney has identified the beautiful pattern of dots on this photograph as Cormorant nests and revealed the location as being a colony on Holm of Boray, just off Gairsay, Orkney.Take a look at this google map image.

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Holm meaning small island is an Orkney dialect word and is pronounced ‘home’.  The exception to this is the parish of Holm pronounced ‘ham’ but then it is not an island but a bay, so no confusion at all! Dr Ragnhild Ljosland sorts it all out in this link here. Cormorants set up  home on the holm some time ago, however numbers have been declining across Orkney. The Cormorant is known by the name Great Skarf. Eday folk are known by the teu-name Scarfs, the island being a favourite of the birds.

A crowd of shags gather on the hulk of a sunk blockship, both ship and birds are in sihouette against the shimmering sea, purplish hill and sky. The porthole of the wreck stares like an eye.

image: Gunnie Moberg Blockship (Parliament of Scarfies)

In dialect both the Cormorant and Shag carry the name Skarfie, Scarf or Skarf. In her book of Orkney dialect bird names, Teeos and Tea-floors,  Margaret Flaws records that Skarv is also used across Scandinavia for both Cormorant and Shag, differentiated by the prefix Storskarv for the Cormorant and Toppskarv for the Shag. The name is a description of the sound the birds make. The old name for the Cormorant of Hibleen / Hibling is thought to have a connection with the Faroese name for the bird of Hiplingur. (Flaws 1997)

Shag young brown and fluffy sits next to the adult shafg all black and sleek, they perch on apale rock, darkness behind.

image: Gunnie Moberg Shags:Mother and Chick

These images and most of the ones featured in the last post are published in the book Gunnie collaborated on with George Mackay Brown Orkney Pictures and Poems 2006. There are still a few copies of this book around to buy, try Gunnie’s husband Tam’s bookshop in Stromness or browse it in the Orkney Room at the library here in Kirkwall.

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