Monday, 20 August 2018

Killer Whales & the last Puffins

We that's it for this year as we said farewell to the Puffins at Sumburgh. Last weekend there were 100's of Puffins on the cliffs and flying around but by Tuesday it was down to just one bird.

Its along winter for these birds as they head out into the North sea where they spend the winter in extreme conditions. The colourful beak become black and will only grow back as the new breeding season approaches.

As for the young ones, it a test of endurance to see whether they are fit enough to survive the heavy seas. It looks like this year has been a good one for most of the seabirds with many birds bringing in fish. Arctic terns are still bringing fish for their young around the coast and many are still very aggressive.

It will be very interesting to see how Seabirds are doing in Shetland as a whole with the Seabird census now complete. Seabird deaths are down by half on last year (as per beach surveys) with only 48 birds found in July.

Whether the Sandeel population is expanding is another matter. Sandeels are food for the ever increasing Herring populations, the sunny weather the best summer in Shetland for years many have increased the plankton that Sandeels feed on or the  sea currents may have been favourable bringing a good number of Sandeels north from Orkney.

What ever the reason its been very welcome to thousands of birds.

Gt Skua chased off by Fulmar

Last week we caught up with Killer Whale Pod 27. which is a group of 7 including two large males. Having just missed them coming in close at Garthsness we headed north to Scousburgh bay and about an hour later they started to come into the bay

They first spent a lot of time in the outer reaches making a few kills before moving towards us and many others looking from the cliff tops. It was great to have two photos below published in this weeks Shetland Times.

A couple of divers tried to get close but the whales came passed them quickly

It was a great sight even though the sun was in the wrong direction . Its been a while since any Killer Whales have been in the south mainland as many seals have already been eaten this year. They are spending more time hunting around Yell and Unst.

Several Minkie Whales have been seen around Noss and further a field with 15 in a pod off Muness, Unst today

Migration has started early, apart from the Crossbills a few weeks ago, Marsh, Arctic,Barred and Icterine warblers have been seen, mostly in Unst and on Fair Isle. An unusual migrant was a Treecreeper seen on a wooden hut (well we don't have many trees) More common migrants such as Willow Warbler, Swallow, Kestrel, Wood Warbler, Pied Fly and a few Black Redstart are now arriving

Come and join me on a Beginners photography course at Islesburgh, Lerwick. Many other courses also available

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Sunday, 5 August 2018


When news came in that Crossbills had been seen in Lerwick, there really could be only two spots- not many conifers in Lerwick

I went down to the conifer at Sound, the one that had Parrot Crossbills last year. Lots of pine cones laid on the road, a good sign

Then the Crossbills started to call, at least three birds and they were soon found feeding on cones on the lawn. They seemed very settled and allowed a 12 foot approach.

They were soon off, flying round before landing all together in the tree, four birds this time, again calling.

August is a good month to find Crossbills in Shetland, a few days before at least a dozen were found at Sullom and in Unst.

Once the birds had come down to the cones on the road they allowed even closer approach, this time within 5-6 feet. Not concerned at all, feeding all the time until a car came down the road and then they took off landing a few feet away in the tree,

A couple of birds carried cones back and forth and occasionally a squabble broke out, with the adult birds winning out and at least two occasions. No need really as there were at least 50+ to feed on.

Crossbills have distinct mandibles, crossed at the tips that can allow them to get to the seeds.

Crossbills are early breeders but can breed any month. Apart from one brown Juvenile bird the rest were females, would have been great to see a Red male.

These have been the best views I have had most of the others have been high up in Conifers

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Close encounter with Seabirds

Anyone starting to get interested in birds should start with a visit to a seabird colony. In Shetland we are fortunate to have several large ones, the best at Sumburgh, Noss and Hermaness but also lots of smaller ones but just as interesting

Puffins always draw a lot of attention and rightly so, they are so interesting to watch and are very colourful. It looks like they may be having a good breeding season for a change with a good number bringing in fish, mostly Sandeels

When you get close up these little birds are even more amazing, look at the stitching around the beak, only an expert could do that.

How different they are in winter when they shed the colourful beak and take on a darker, dirtier look. But then most people wouldn't be out in the north sea where they are found during the dark winter months.
I have only found one dead Puffin on the beach I survey which is good news

Pufflings are just about ready to fly, these come out late in the evening before they jump off the cliffs, some 600 feet high up. Parents then guide them out to sea away from predators such as Skuas

Fulmars can be found through Shetland, some on inland cliffs and even nesting on the ground on Mousa.

They hardly make a nest so it was interesting to see the above Fulmar tackling a piece of wood, surely not to use in a nest.

Please check out my other blogs  (about Shetland during WW2 and what can be seen now)

Friday, 20 July 2018

Wind Farms - Protection?

How important wind has become, in the local news this week a proposed 50 turbine windfarm in  Yell , Energy Isles the firm behind the project. If you look at the directors you can see a few folk from Viking Energy, they say the usual things like we have home grown opportunity which can have a direct and positive effect on our local economy'. These will be 200m high


One new thing they are trying is now 37 companies have bought 10,000 Energy Isles shares in an effort to win some support.  

Another wind turbine which had been propose for Levenwick has scrapped plans as it failed to find funding, funding for another one at Laxo also failed to find funding on the same day.

                                                                                                           Golden Plover

Complaints were centred around the effect on the potential impact on birds, but although the RSPB had been consulted it did not object, this is not the first time they have decided not to put there weight behind an objection - you have to ask yourself what is their purpose !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Glad I left them years ago.

                                                                     Arctic Terns nesting on moorland

The propose 103 Viking Energy wind farm which will have turbines as tall as 145m,  awaits a decision in Spring 2019 as to whether they will receive subsidies to allow an interconnector to be established from the Scottish mainland to Shetland to allow the export of power.

                                                                                                     Meadow Pipit

If it gets the go ahead others will spring up in addition to the main project, a further 80+ are proposed in Yell , 17 already confirmed with Peel energy . Another 12 planned for Lerwick to Gulberwick to Scalloway with Peel energy.

Shetland will be destroyed all for a 25 year life span.

So you would think that a conservation body such as the RSPB would object.

RSPB Scotland has said it "strongly supports" wind farms, but in locations where turbines do not pose a risk to birds.


Look at this though

The RSPB claimed that the projects, in the firths of Forth and Tay, would together result in the deaths of "thousands of gannets, puffins, kittiwakes and other seabirds from iconic internationally protected wildlife sites like the Bass Rock and the Isle of May" each year.


Now as far as I can see Shetland is one of the most important areas for Seabirds, we should see some results soon from the current Seabird Census. In addition, Shetland is a major site for migrating birds just how many birds will be lost to wind turbines, that's not counting the cost to our breeding birds such as Red Throated Diver, Whimbrel, Arctic Tern, Skylark or Curlew, for one I don't want to see any.


From the many tourists I have spoken to none wanted to see wind farms they see too many down south and want to come to Shetland to see one of the most unspoilt landscapes in the UK