Saturday, 31 August 2013


Waders are one of my favourite group of birds and Shetland offers a good variety. In spring the colours of the northern waders are superb, normally a good passage of waders comes through the isles during May, but even in June some waders normally found in the Artic at that time, stay behind, these are possibly non breeding birds.

Shetland does have a few waders on the edge of their range for breeding, such as Black Tailed Godwit which are from the Icelandic population. These birds have bred annually since 1948, recently up to 4 pairs have nested, usually around mires although sometimes in heather. The rare breeding Red Necked Phalarope has around 70% of its breeding population in Shetland, with Fetlar having the highest density.

Sanderling usually start appearing at the beginning of May and increase throughout the month , usually into double figures with the last about mid June in the southern mainland. The Pool of Virkie and other beaches are favored places to find these birds. Odd birds can still be found in Unst into late June.

The other year we manged to see the Curlew Sandpiper down at Boddam, this very confiding bird mixed with Dunlin and Ringed Plover

Turnstone is another Artic wader that can be seen in good numbers throughout the year, with smaller numbers in June and July when they move to their breeding grounds further north. A few birds have shown signs of being on territory but no firm evidence has been found of breeding. Displaying birds have been seen in Fetlar, on Ronas Hill and the south mainland. They prefer rocky coast lines most of the time, although they can also be found feeding inland in fields with other waders, this is an unusual occurrence in other parts of the UK.

Dotterel can sometimes be found on Ronas Hill during May, these birds are very confiding and can be found nesting on Scottish mountains

Even now as birds start to move south, they are still in good breeding plumage and the variety can be even greater than in Spring.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

No 1 bird song

With out a doubt the number 1 bird song has to be the Nightingale. This bird when seen may not look spectacular but as soon as it starts to sing you have to take notice.

Nightingales are very rare visitors to Shetland with only 7 spring records, the last one on mainland Shetland during this season appeared at Ireland, Bigton on the 25 April 2010 , with the majority of the 87 records from autumn birds. The birds seen in Shetland are from the southern Europe population

It is a little larger than a Robin, brownish with a Rufus tail, and buff white below

Near to Sheffield they used to be found in Clumber Park, but have long since gone so its over to Whisby Park in Lincolnshire where about 12 pairs breed. Else where we have come across singing birds down at Rutland water, again none this year, in Norfolk and especially in Suffolk with Minsmere a good place.The RSPB indicates that around 6,700 male, although, the BTO estimates 7,500 males, can be found in England, especially in Essex, Kent and Sussex. The BTO estimate that between 3.2 - 7 Million birds are present in Europe

Once you nip over to France, you can tell the difference, with birds even around the Calais area. The most abundant areas we have found , area down in the Camargue and over at Waghausel in Germany where they are abundant. Birds sing both day and night, although only unpaired males sing at night and I can listen to them all day. They generally can be found in song from April to early June. Its not often you see them as they tend to sing from deep inside bushes, but they have to come out to feed so its worth spending some time in the area to see them.

The song ` A nightingale sang in Berkeley Square' is much more likely to have been a Robin

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Black Guillemott

Black Guillemot (Tystie as it is know in Shetland) is a bird usually encountered as soon as you enter Shetland waters. Favouring the east side, black dots soon are identified as Black Guillemot as we pass Sumburgh heading into Lerwick , another good spot to see them at close quarters.

These are one of my favourite birds and I first saw Tysties at Portpatrick in Galloway back in 1976, they are also the emblem of the Shetland Bird Club.

Unlike the Common Guillemot, they nest in loose colonies among boulders or in crevices which makes counts difficult, back in 2000 around 16,000 individuals were counted which is 10% of the British population. They are prone to oiling, with 729 dead birds recovered after the Esso Bernicia oil spill in the winter of 1978/89. After the Braer oil spill in 1993, 219 birds were found oiled. These incidents had an effect on breeding numbers, with birds lost to otter predation also having an effect. On Fair Isle about 50% of breeding pairs were taken by cats between 1997 and 2000. Add to this predation by Gt Skua,  Hoodie crows (eggs) and Brown rats all added up to significant losses.

Numbers in recent years have shown an increase and have almost doubled in population on Mousa from 99 birds in 2007 to 194 birds in 2010, although this increase seems to a halt since. Throughout the islands it is believed that a 20% increase has occurred since 2007

This year breeding is late but adults usually find food easier than the Common Guillemot, favouring Butterfish, with sand-eels only 17% of food brought to chicks.This year we watched a bird fishing  in mid Yell, it followed a pattern of going in a circle around the pier and was only disturbed for a short while when a Red throated Diver flew close by

After fledging, young birds form loose flocks and are flightless for a few weeks. Main sites at this time are in sheltered voes around Unst, Fetlar and Yell, Mousa and around Scalloway.

Shetland birds tend to be resident  thought to move only around 15 Km from the breeding site.

Friday, 9 August 2013


Over 2,000 hits, thanks everyone !

Shetland has many spectacular seabird colonies such as Sumburgh, Noss, Hermaness, Eashaness, Foula and Fair Isle. Within the many species found breeding at these colonies, the Guillemot (Longwi , Loom )as it is know in Shetland, is one of the most common.

Taking a boat trip around Noss is a great way to get close to Gullimots and other seabirds and many birds can also be seen at close quarters in Lerwick harbour feeding.

Colonies are found either in thousands or just a few pairs, nesting low down in Geos or as in Hermaness on high cliffs. The noise and smell coming from these colonies is memorable as is the sight of the packed birds. Birds lay one egg onto the ledge, no nest material is gathered.

Numbers have been dropping, like all seabirds, due to lack of food , in particular sand eels. According to the Shetland bird Club which monitors breeding success, sand eels formed around 98% of fish brought to chicks. Adult birds are often away from the colony trying to find food, leaving young birds unattended for long periods leaving the way for predation by Gt Skua, Gt Black Back and Herring Gulls. In storms many young and nests are washed away, with Sumburgh head birds particularly affected in several years.

When the young leave their nest , they dive into the sea and are escorted by adult birds eastwards to the Norwegian coast. Birds start to return to inland waters around October and can be sometimes found feeding in Sheltered voes throughout the winter. Mortality can be high in some years and beach surveys have revealed as many as 1,500 dead birds, as in 1994. In oil related incidents many Guillemots are found dead, in unrelated incidents between December 1978 - April 1979 over 8,000 were found oiled

The number of the bridled form among breeding colonies is between 19% - 29.6% .


During our visit in 1989, we were very fortunate to come across a Brunnich's Guillemot, at that time only the 3rd living bird found in UK waters. Again it was located on the cliffs at Sumburgh head by members of the Shetland Bird Club who were undertaking breeding bird surveys. This one found by Martin Heubeck is the only British record in a breeding seabird colony. The nearest breeding colony to Shetland can be found in Iceland, where there is an estimated 2 million pairs.

Next we look at the Black Guillemot
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Friday, 2 August 2013

Wind Turbines

OK i know its only one bird but the White Throated Needle Tailed Swift a rare bird to the UK from Siberia was killed by a wind turbine in the Outer Hebrides the other week. It is NOT an isolated incident. With the proposed wind farm in Shetland its worth looking at some information on the subject.

Scotland has at present 1400 wind turbines but these only produce 20% of total electricity for Scotland. When the wind drops or stops the turbines stop generating. You might think that in Shetland the wind never stops blowing and you would be wrong.

Its not just the visual impact, the turbines are very noisy, generating levels of noise compared to a jet plane taking off. Even the so call small domestic wind turbines produce noise like an un-silenced pneumatic drill. So what would it be like living near by !!!

People go to Shetland for the beautiful landscapes and wildlife, which provide a better quality of life, provide inspiration and refreshment as well as enjoyment. It can reaffirm a persons identity. The John Muir Trust did a recent poll and highlighted that 43% of the people in Britain visit scenic places for their beauty and would be less likely to visit if they had wind turbines. The Net economic benefit of wildlife tourism is £65 Million.

What about else where

In the America the US Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that 440, 000 birds are killed each year with collisions with wind turbines and by 2030 this number would increase to one million birds as the number of turbines increases.

In Spain, the Spanish Ornithological Society in Madrid estimate that between 1 - 18 million birds & bats die each year, hitting the turbines. Over 100 Griffin Vultures are killed each year as they migrate over the Strait of Gibraltar.
                                                                     Griffin Vulture

On one Norwegian island , Smole which has 68 turbines, 9 White Tailed Sea Eagle have been killed in 10 months, and the breeding population has reduced from 19 pairs to 1 pair. In 5 years 40 White Tailed Eagles have been killed on the island.
                                                  White Tailed Eagle over Fitfull Head

In February 2012 UK planning laws now mean that bat and bird assessments must be conducted as part of the application process, The suggested area for the wind turbines in Shetland covers important breeding areas for Red Throated Diver, Artic Skua, Merlin , Golden Plover and Whimbrel which are all protected and declining birds.
                                                             Artic Skua - Central Mainland

Once they are erected the landscape will be destroyed, less people will want to travel to Shetland, often considered to be the UK last wilderness and the bird populations beyond recovery. The RSPB are pro- renewable energy and appose about 6% of all applications, they are against sites that have rare breeding birds or on a migration routes, both of which refer to the whole of the Shetland islands.

It is hoped that further reduction to the proposed 103 wind turbines may occur once they have gone through a further 12 weeks of consultation. The islands are too small to support such a large number of turbines

Check out the links below for further information : - Shetland News No more room for large wind farms The Scottish Wild Land Group  - Terrible death of a bird being hit by turbine blade