Thursday 31 October 2013


Shetland can boast of five different species of diver visiting its shores. Just before we arrived in Shetland this May, a Pacific diver was seen at Grutness. Previously a few have been seen down south of the coast of Cornwall but this is a rare diver.

Black Throated Divers are very rare as well in Shetland again with only the odd bird seen mostly in Winter

Shetland is also one of the best places to see White Billed Divers with a few each year. These  can occur during the winter or spring but most April to June and this species is normally  found breeding in the Arctic. Bluemull sound and Kirkabister are regular places these birds turn up. Our only sighting was back in 2003 when one turn up at the end of May on Fetlar.

One of my favorite birds is the Gt Northern Diver, its a classy bird, with bold black and white markings and a large beak. Although larger numbers are seen in winter there are always a good number summering around Shetland and most years we see several birds some of which are in superb summer plumage.

This year we got the closest views ever  with the adult plumage bird at Scalloway marina which was very confiding and gave excellent  views.

It always seem to do a circuit ending up close to the boats. Other close views of adult birds have occurred at Grutness on a few occasions and Scatness, on Fetlar and Unst. The largest flock in June was 5 at South Nesting several year ago, but all these were immature birds.

We when first visited Shetland in 1987, Red Throated Divers seem to be on every loch, but like most birds that rely on sand-eels they have declined although with a closer look you can still find them on waters and the sea throughout the islands.

They nest on small peaty lochs where an island is used for nesting.  Breeding success seems to have been better in 2012 than the previous year although water level were down due to the lack of rain at some regular breeding lochs

Shetland has been blessed by a number of very rare birds which has created a massive interest in the birding world. The highlight is the Cape May Warbler , only the second for northern Europe and the first twitch able since 1977. This was found by Mike Pennington on Unst and within days over 200 twitchers descended on Unst, some by ferry and the more wealthy by plane, with 11 planes landing directly on Unst. 

Friday 11 October 2013

Shetland House Sparrow

While everyone is out chasing rare birds, just give a thought to the more common birds such as the House Sparrow. Back in the 1980's I have a very interesting chat with a person who just chased rare birds, he had no time for the common ones, he had seen one so why look again !

Common birds are really the bread and butter of birding, yes Shetland turns up many rare birds and they are worth going to see, a vast amount of information is collected on these. Just stop a minute and check out the recent Shetland Bird reports and you will see the words, ` very little data received' or there may be a few comments, but people don't see the need to record information on this or other common birds.

Go on to say 2050, house sparrows are in decline in most places, they have become the rare bird !!!
Take London where sparrows have declined by around 68% in the last 17 years. No clear cut information is available but several theories have been put forward such as:
A chemical additive in `environmentally friendly fuel' , cats, magpies and Sparrowhawks

Nationally the BTO has studied the problems , a 71 % overall decline since 1971. Farmland sparrow are fairly well understood, but urban one not so much
Again they give five main reasons 1. Loss of favorable food 2. increased predation 3. loss of nest sites 4. Increased pollution and 5.increased levels of disease.

In Shetland the population seems OK, and it is always a joy to hear the short chirping call, or the males aggressive trilling. Without proper research  while numbers may look alright, how do we really know. We need to provide alot more information to the Shetland Bird Club , or see the work of a group in Skeld, Shetland by visiting

They are catching and ringing sparrows to check distribution and numbers in the area. Keep up the good work. Why not start by recording how many sparrows come into your garden during the week, its a great way to make a contribution without much effort and everyone can do it.

Any counts are important , while walking along the shore line at Virkie I recorded a maximum of 214 House sparrows over five walks. Back home in Sheffield, we had no house sparrows in our first garden for 6 years before moving to another house in the south side of Sheffield. Because we are the only house to have a bush this is used for nesting and sheltering, without this we wouldn't have any !!, so even a small area can make a difference.

Its near relative the Tree Sparrow is a rare breeder and is usually best seen either late April or May in very small numbers . In recent years autumn passage is light with only the odd bird present September - November

Friday 4 October 2013

Great week

Shetland has certainly come up with the goods again this Autumn and its barely started. This week a Hudsonian Curlew ,  Brown Shrike a recent Baltimore Oriole, Pechora Pipits, Little Bunting, Artic Warbler and Artic Redpoll could be seen. Its not a season we have visited Shetland so we are looking forward to the time we are able to get to see the whole season and see what turns up.

One thing that is always impressive is any large flock of birds. This time Snow Buntings, possibly around 3000 birds at present with 1500 in one flock in Unst. What a sight this must be, the largest one I have seen was 70 and that was impressive.

 They look like little snow flakes and the fly past. Having already seen Snow Buntings in breeding plumage , including a group from Siberia on Fetlar, I will be looking forward to a trip- 70 miles + to the coast to try and find some, looks like a good year. This is the only problem being so far away from the sea. Occasionally the odd Snow Bunting turns up on the Derbyshire Moors but these are difficult to find. The coastal birds always seem very confiding.

It was good to hear about the ruling on the Viking wind farm on Wednesday, the campaign group Sustainable Shetland are claiming a major victory against the Scottish Government when a judge quashed the decision to grant consent to Viking Energy to erect 103 wind turbines across central Shetland. Parties will have 21 days to appeal against the decision.

                                                                Good news for Whimbrel

I received the Shetland bird report 2012 this week and as usual it is superb, with some great photos and detailed accounts on the birds recorded its a must to buy. Copies can be obtained from Rob Fray , Sunnydell, Virkie, Shetland ZE3 9JS. I do like the more detailed reports on how the seabirds are doing, most unfortunately are not doing well again