Friday 27 September 2013


Mute swan

Its hard to imagine an area without Mute swans, but it wasn't until 1992 that Mute Swan nested in Shetland, on the Loch of Tingwall. This was after an arrival of  birds over a period 1970 to 1992. Back in the early 1900's 4 attempts were made to introduce Mute Swans to Shetland, with birds brought up from Orkney, but these were wiped out when men returning from the WW1 shot all 10 birds.

Birds now usually breed each years with varying success. In 2011 six pairs nested but only 3 pairs were successful all of these in the west mainland. The previous year 12 pairs nested but little information is available on their success.

While mute swans are now common throughout the UK, I can remember when only one pair nested in the Sheffield area, and while they were successful one of the adults was shot by an air gun but somehow managed to survive. Birds at this time were suffering from lead poisoning from ingested lead shot from fishing., thankfully this doesn't happen now.

Whooper Swan

This is a bird I have always liked, a true wild bird that from 1994 has bred in small numbers throughout Shetland. Chicks fledged in 6 out of 8 years between 1994-2000. Some birds are very territorial and conflict occurs with mute swans trying to nest in the same area. In 2011 9 pairs bred of which 5 raised young. The best year was in 2009 when 8 pairs raised 23 young, which was also the best year for Mute swans as well which raised  16 young from 9 pairs. Shetland has around 50% of the UK breeding population

In November the Shetland Bird Club organises a survey to record how many birds arrive in Shetland. Counts in the past reveal that numbers of birds in Shetland have declined from the 1980's when as many as 300+ birds arrived, now counts of around 200 or less are the norm. Birds don't stay around long and start to move on in December when food starts becoming scarce

For me the sound of incoming Whooper swans means that winter has arrived.

Saturday 21 September 2013

Kergord - a place for common species as well.

Kergord in the central mainland is a well established group of trees which attracts many rare migrants. However it is a place for seeing some common birds as well.

If you want to see the most northerly rookery in the UK then you need to visit Kergord. Birds fly in from all corners to the nests which can be easily seen in the trees to the west of the main wood. The first breeding birds at this site occurred on 27 April 1952, eight birds successfully reared young and birds have bred annually since.

As they are very noise they are hard to miss, especially in spring when they are building nests. These Rooks are very localised, so any birds away from this area may be migrants.

For some reason birds were shot from the mid 1970's to the early 1990's, as they feed on harmful invertebrates it seem strange, although it is thought that birds were shot for their feathers which were used in the helmets of those taking part in Up Helly Ha festival

It is thought around 200 pairs nest in Shetland.

Wood  pigeon
Another bird , attracted to the trees of Kergord is the Wood pigeon, which is considered a very scarce breeding bird. This species also attempts to breed in Unst at Halligarth and may be a couple of other sites, but compared to other parts of the UK is not as wide spread. In the 1970's some birds nested on the ground in long heather above Kergord.

On migration birds can be found in single numbers around Shetland but they have normally departed by the end of October, double numbers are usually on found away from possible breeding areas in May and June.

Around Sheffield it couldn't be more common with breeding birds even found in the city centre, although Sheffield is now considered to be the 3rd most green city in England, so it's no wonder. Often birds make a simple nest of only a few twigs crossing each other, then the eggs laid direct onto this construction. I have even been able to see the eggs looking directly up through the nest.

In Autumn it is easy to find large roosting sites, one only a few miles from our house normally has around 7,000 birds. Birds are also attracted to farmland in Autumn especially those planting autumn crops.

Now you wouldn't say that either species has a great song, but both are very noisy throughout the year. Our cat gets very cheesed off with a wood pigeon that constantly calls down the chimney.

Saturday 7 September 2013


The other year while we were in Shetland we talked to a RSPB helper down at Sumburgh about the plight of our Seabirds and he pointed out a chart showing that a tagged Razorbill had traveled all the way down to Aberdeen to catch some food, showing just how scarce sand-eels are locally.

Razorbills nest, in most instances lower down the cliff than Puffins, they often go unseen by most non birders. By those in the know they can be found in pairs usually outside crevices and can be noisy. The have a stout beak with a white band across so easily identified from the similar coloured Guillemot. Only one egg is laid and birds partner for life.

Birds are normally long lived, which helps sustain the population, especially if few young survive. On ringed bird apparently reached the age of 41 but most live until they are around 13 years old.

Razorbills, like other auks have short wings ideal for swimming underwater. They normally spread out from other birds when feeding. Adults bring only one fish at a time to their young and at this time much of the foraging is done close to the breeding site.

Razorbills can be easily seen at Sumburgh, Noss, Foula and Hermaness but numbers like all seabirds are in decline and are currently being monitored by the Shetland Bird Club.  A few birds ringed at Hermaness and in Fair Isle had  been found dead around Cornwall but others may be found around the coast of Norway

The UK population is thought to be around 187,000 pairs (Seabird 2000 census)