Monday 30 July 2012

Shetland seal populations are in decline, between 2007 - 2010 harbour seals numbered just over 3,000, a decline from the previous survey 2000- 2005 when 6883 present.

Seals are protected by law under the new Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 so it was disappointing to hear last week, that two men stand accused of unlawfully killing seals at a salmon farm in Vaila Sound Shetland.

Marine Scotland received 7 applications to shoot seals under licence. Of these, an application of 341 Grey seals, was reduced to 109 to be shot under licence, where as an application of 32 common seals was reduced to 6. This was a 10% reduction from the previous year.

Both Grey and Common seals can live for over 30 years. Approx 38% of the Grey seal population can be found in UK waters (around 111,300) with nearly 90% of these in Scottish waters, 30% of all common (harbour) seals can again be found in UK waters (36500), a decline -  40% in 2006.
                                                            Grey Seals around Noss

The distemper virus of 1988 and 2002 is thought to have had little effect on the Scottish population . Recently, mutilated carcasses of a large number of seals have been washed up on UK beaches. Unexplained 'cork screw' lacerations have been found on the dead seals. In Norfolk, 50 seals have been found, but in parts of Scotland, up to 10% of the breeding population have been found dead. No one is sure why these deaths have occurred. So far no seals with these lacerations have been found in Shetland, although seals with these injuries have been found as close as Orkney.

Orcas (Killer whales) may be to blame for a large number of seal deaths, especially common seals. Researchers have estimated that between 1997- 2006 around 1600 Common(harbour) seals may have been taken, but this is thought to be a massive underestimate. More Killer whales are being reported in Shetland waters each year !.
                                           Common seals on Mousa
                                            Easter Quarff
The decline in Sandeels may also be to blame in the falling numbers of seals as these play an important part in their diet.

It is always great to see seals , which tend to be very inquisitive and to see them hunting underwater is quite a sight.

Saturday 21 July 2012

Shetland breeding birds
With only 70 species of regular breeding birds I thought I would run a quiz to find out what people know about which birds are more successful common breeders than others in Shetland, excluding Fair Isle.

The results are in , and like all good quiz's we have had a break, so here goes !
Most people guessed the the bird that has successfully bred the most number of years between 1965 - 2010.
Yes it was the coot just coming ahead of the Whooper swan. Everyone failed to identify the non-breeder which was the Blue Tit.
So here is the list in order, with the bird with the most years at the top.

1. Coot (16 years) 1972 first year, then 1974, 1976, 1977, 1988, 2000-2010
2. Whooper Swan (15 years) which started breeding in 1994, then 1995, 1996, 1999, 2000-2010
3. Snowy Owl (9 years) discovered by Bobby Tullock breeding on Fetlar in 1967, then successful breeding until 1975. We saw one of the two female young on Fetlar in 1987, just behind the school.The last sighting of  these birds occurred 18 9 1992.
4.Robin (7 years) first in 1989, then 1991, 1992, 2007- 2010
5. Chaffinch (6 years) bred for first time in 1973 then 4 years between 1986- 1993, and 2010
6. Glaucous Gull (5 years) One paired up with a Herring Gull and bred 1975- 1979
7. Tree Sparrow  (5 years) First in 1970, 1976, 1977, 1979 then 2006
8. Greenfinch (4 years) first recorded breeding in 2006, then 2008-2010
9. Chiff Chaff (3  years) first in 2005, followed by 2009 and 2010
10. Marsh Warbler ( 3 years) First in 2002, then 2005 and 2008
11. Sedge warbler (3 years) 1996, 2002 and in 2007
12. Reed Warbler (1 year) Bred at Halligarth, Unst in 1973 the only breeding record for Scotland until recent colonisation of Southern Scotland

And finally, Blue Tit which has never bred. It has only been recorded in Shetland just over 100 times between 1965-2010, between October - March, with October being the best month. A surprise to those bird watching in England where it is a common breeding bird. But don't forget in Shetland there is very little woodland.

Hope this has been helpful and that you may have surprised by a few of the answers.Let me know your thoughts !!

You have to EXPECT the UNEXPECTED when birding in Shetland.

Monday 16 July 2012

I thought I would run a little quiz to find out how much people know about the breeding birds in Shetland. For this you need to list the birds in order of how many years they have bred between 1965 - 2010( most numerous at number 1 and down to the species with least number of years.)

In addition one species has not bred at all in Shetland can you guess which ?

In no particular order
Blue tit, Chaffinch, Chiff Chaff, Coot, Glaucous gull, Greenfinch, Marsh Warbler, Reed warbler, Robin, Sedge warbler, Snowy Owl, Treesparrow, Whooper swan

either use comments box at bottom of this post or e-mail me at

list as
1. brownblogger  12 years
2. greenblogger    9 years

I will post the results in a few days so keep checking, its just a fun quiz so no names will be used !!
Corn Bunting a former breeder

Thursday 12 July 2012

I have just been invited to give another two illustrated talks on Shetland

16 8 12 - History of Shetland - Crosspool Probus, Sheffield
 5 3 13  - Puffin around Shetland - Oddfellow Group Eastwood, Nottingham

Two photos which provide alot of comments

The top one, Westside Shop was on Unst and photographed in the late 1980's I think. It's great that most shops in the sticks sell almost anything (look in the right hand window). Sadly this shop is long gone and has now been converted to a house.

The second, is a bus shelter at Baltasound on Unst, This is amazing as it wouldn't last two seconds in any other area in the UK. Each year the bus shelter's image is changed by the people living in the house next door, inside a TV, computer, pictures, plants and a settee. We always look forward to seeing what is next. It even has its own website at

Saturday 7 July 2012

Rain, rain rain - and this is supposed to be Summer.
This years seems to be a wash out in many places, blamed on the Jet stream which has moved south over the past couple of years. Floods in many places cannot be good for wildlife, especially when occurring in spring and summer when birds are breeding and adults finding it difficult to catch insects or when nests are washed out, eggs are cold.
                                          Looking south from Sandwick towards Sumburgh head
                                          Is this coming down in sheets, buckets or cats&dogs?

However, the rain does benefit certain birds which rely on boggy habitats, such as marshland and wetlands. Shetland has its fair share off wet weather, you can see this as you come across many lochs(over 1500), numerous small burns and wet meadows which are good for Snipe, Redshank, Lapwing, Curlew and Dunlin as well as special birds such as Red throated diver and Red necked Phalarope.

When drought conditions prevail and habitats dry out the birds have to move on. This apparently has happened in the flow country in Sutherland where it has been tinder dry, with very few birds about.

You have to feel sorry for the wildlife living in the water, especially those like the pond skater which moves about on the water surface. Just check out the photos below to see the effect that one droplet of water has never mind millions of drops causing a trampoline effect- I feeling sick already!
Individual water droplets are beautiful, coming in many different shapes, it all depends what moment you press the shutter and how much it has bounced off the water surface.

The one below looks more like a diamond than a water droplet

Monday 2 July 2012

I was interested in the recent Black Kite sightings in Shetland, which may have involved two birds. I last saw a Black Kite on Yell back in June 1997 which still sticks in the memory. In addition I have been lucky enough to have also seen birds at Rothervalley Country Park , Sheffield, Burnham in Norfolk and down near Stamford during the past twenty years. The UK has around 7 sightings per year.

By far the most sightings I have had come from France and Germany. This year I noticed more Black Kites further north of La Rochelle which is great news. The French population is increasing with numbers in excess of 26,500 but Russia still holds top spot in Europe with around 35,000-50,000 birds although this population is decreasing. The Black Kite is considered to be the most numerous raptor in the world.

The most significant numbers I have seen include 200+ just south of Lourdes (2010) following tractors doing hay cutting and counts of over 300 birds on a number of occasions at Entressan rubbish tip near La Crau in the Camargue.

Black Kites are scavengers often stealing food from other birds and a number of Black Kites seem to be spending alot of time around the White Stork nests at La Teich and near Rochefort this June. All photos from France.