Thursday, 19 December 2013

Marsh Harriers

I have just been looking back through this years notes and again picked up on a superb day on Fetlar. With a couple of bus tours led by Martin Gardner and Gary Bell and a few other cars on the ferry we soon lost them as we decided to go direct to Loch of Funzie. Typically over the last couple of years the Red Necked Phalaropes were not coming out to play, so instead we turned our attention to the Three Red Throated Divers over the far side of the Loch. An Artic Skua was constantly dive bombing them so they must have brought back food, perhaps a sand eel.

Moving on a Whimbrel landed close by and call, which drew our attention to 5 snow buntings feeding opposite the lay by, as it turned out these were Siberian Snow buntings (Later identified by Martin Gardner), a number of Dunlin also fed in the same area with a couple of Golden Plover.

After some great views we made our way over to the hide on the mires of Funzie, just in time as it started to rain. Not much on except a number of Snipe so after a good scan around we made our way back to the car and down to the Brough Lodge in the hope of seeing an Otter. I just got out of the car to get my Telephoto lens out and saw a large bird of Prey coming in off the sea in the fog. As it approached it could be clearly seen as a male Marsh Harrier, it passed straight over head and then close to the lodge was mobbed by Hoddie Crows. After evading them it moved off North to be lost in the mist and although both tour mini buses came round the corner at that time they failed to see it. Good job I managed to get a few photos, shown in an earlier blog

This is not the first time we have seen Marsh Harriers in Shetland during our spring visits, on two other occasions we also saw individual birds at Loch of Spiggie. Birds of prey of any kind are not common in Shetland as only Merlin breed with the occasional Peregrine. Most birds in Shetland arrive in May , 2012 didn't prove very good but back in 2011 several May birds were present in Unst, Fetlar and the mid- mainland. This bird is still a very scarce bird in the northern isles.

I remember when Marsh Harriers was down to only 1 pair of breeding birds, in Suffolk back in 1971, but thankfully they have recovered to such an extent that you can see them at most reed bed sites. One of the best near to us is at Goole, Blacktoft Sands where in winter around 30 birds gather to roost, a great sight. Another good spot is in the Camargue when back in 1990 we saw 33 birds in the air at once as we scanned left to right.

There seems to be plenty of food in the reed beds, and several times we have seen them catch rats, even doing a handover in mid air which was a superb sight.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Little Egrets

It still seem odd seeing Little Egrets  in Shetland where they seem out of place, well for now. There has been a massive expansion of Little Egrets in the UK. They bred in Britain for the first time in 1996 and never looked back, the BTO has estimated a massive 16, 350% increase since then. Its good to see that some birds are on the up.

Its very easy to recognise with its all white plumage and yellow feet. It can be found beside water, marshy areas and even on the coast. It is very numerous in France and we have seen many all over but especially in the Camargue where massive heroines occur. At one site over 250 pairs could be seen along with other herons such as Night Heron, Grey heron and Cattle egrets. Very noisy but will live in my memory for along time.

The most I have seen in one place in England is down at Frampton Marsh where 28 could be seen together, more local to Sheffield birds are often seen at Old Moor Wetlands (RSPB), Rothervalley Country Park, Potteric Carr at Doncaster and odd birds elsewhere.

In Shetland we first came across one bird at Loch of Spiggie many years ago, but Shetland has a habit of turning up Mediterranean species. I doubt whether they would breed in Shetland as they nest in trees, which are rarer than the birds. You never know though, you could find them at Kergord or Halligarth (Unst) in 20 or so year time, keep your eyes open they are hard to miss

The other week one bird turned up in Unst, they can be found any time April - December and have been seen over 20 times in the isles.