Friday 20 June 2014

Arctic & Long Tailed Skua Skua

The smaller Arctic Skua or Skooty Alin (Shetland name). is in decline and it is estimated that in the UK only 2,100 or so birds are nesting. 10% of the nesting birds can be found in Shetland.

This bird is reliant on other birds finding food, such as Puffin , Kittiwake and Arctic Terns and it tends to nest close to these. The problem for seabirds is that they cannot find enough food to survive and this has affected numbers of Arctic Skuas.
                                                                     Arctic tern just one of the birds targeted

They can be seen moving fast low over the sea chasing auks and terns, forcing them to disgorge their food and then the skua picks this up, this is called Kleptoparasitism. Some birds are now taking eggs and in some areas small birds.

They come in two colour forms- dark birds & light phase , they breed together but the light phase birds are more common the further north you go.

Around 7-8 pairs of nesting birds used  to be found on Hermaness but it is now down to one pair, although they haven't managed to raise any young for a couple of years. The same goes for birds on Noss and on Mousa. Gt Skuas are forcing these birds out and numbers have dropped by....., Gt Skua taking the best breeding areas and also predating young Arctic Skuas. The future looks bleak as it does for so many of our seabirds.

They are very fast in flight and can be easily told by the narrow pointing wings showing white, a long tail- although short compared to the long tailed Skua

The Long tailed skua is a scarce migrant passing Shetland in May as it heads up to the arctic breeding grounds. An adult male bird did take up territory on Burra for three seasons but did not return during 2013. It seem to associate with an Artic Skua. It would come low to investigate any person in the area.and seem to feed on insects found in a marshy area.

Tuesday 17 June 2014

Still not over yet.

I thought spring migration was at an end last week but I was wrong. This week I have had a third Icterine warbler, a  common crane up at Eshaness, a Great Reed Warbler (one of two) round the corner from where we are staying and a couple of days ago a Blyth’s Reed Warbler which sang and showed well for a couple of days. Another bird was present at the same time at Scatness

The identification of Blyth’s Reed Warblers are always difficult this was easy as it sang all the time. They breed in NE Europe including Southern Finland in bushy swamps, no swamps here but it did spend all its time in a very dense bushy garden. It resembles a Marsh Warbler, but its rump is slightly rustier colour in tone, the wings more rounded, and the 2nd primary shorter than the 5th- difficult in the field. The bill is longer than the Marsh and the supercilium shorter and indistinct. The song was given from both low down but occasionally high up and is very distinct. I did have a brief view of one last year but over two hours the bird performed superbly.

Unlike the Gt Reed Warbler which was in dense cover beside a burn after nearly three hours it emerged and flew out down the burn onto a branch, gave a brief song then disappeared again. It’s a large warbler with an unmistakable song, which I have often heard in France.

My third Icterine warbler of the spring was in a garden at Grutness in the south mainland, I had been checking this area on a regular basis since we arrived 8 weeks ago so it’s nice to find something unusual. It breeds in Eastern Europe but is a rare but regular visitor to Shetland; in fact this was my third Icterine Warbler of the spring, all giving good views. Having a greenish/ Grey upper part and yellow under parts which distinguishes it from all other warblers except the Melodious Warbler but has blue grey legs.

A Crane was on moorland near Eshaness, its very large grey and cannot be taken for anything else.  I was just stopping but had two cars (rarer than the Crane) on the single track road and had to move forward to the next passing place. When I returned I just managed to see it flying off north, hence no photo.

This may be the last spring record but birds will be returning south on migration very soon- it’s a very short season for some. I am looking forwards to photographing Crossbills which seem to turn up from July on.
Its been good catching up with a few of Shetland specialties such as Whimbrel (above), this is a declining wader mainly found in the northern islands, especially on Fetlar and Unst.

A small number of Hobby have been seen, yesterday at Sumburgh head, at Eshaness and in Unst, this is not a common bird in Shetland, the last one I saw here was back in the 1990's at Hillwell. Other raptors have included a red and Black Kite which just passed through

Friday 13 June 2014

Spring still going

Spring is still with us in Shetland and migration in full flow. Lots of interesting birds have been passing through the islands adding to the 70 odd species that breed in Shetland. In my last blog I covered some rare birds which I had seen and they continue to arrive with Bee-eater, Golden oriole, Glossy Ibis which is moving regularly between Orkney and Shetland, Rustic Bunting and Blyth’s Reed warbler to tempt birdwatcher to travel north- I haven’t seen these this year but, I have managed to catch up with another Icterine warbler, Gt Reed Warbler, Red Breasted Flycatcher and Crane. I have been out and about seeing lots of common migrants.

                                                     Above Red Breasted Flycatcher at Geosetter

Often birds don’t appear in their normal habitats; Blackcaps move along walls or fences, white throats and lesser whitethroats along streams and Redstarts normally a woodland bird, on cliffs. Every small bird is worth a look, a sparrow can suddenly become a Rosefinch, a Shetland Starling becomes a Rose coloured starling.
Working a patch is the best way to see movement and I have been covering a few locations in the south mainland. This year I have been surprised with the number of Chiffchaff, Willow warbler, Blackcap and Spotted Flycatcher that have arrived


 Coming up on holiday for a couple of weeks a year can only give you a taster but spending more time in an area always reaps benefits with something unusual turning up.
                                                                        Green sandpiper

Records are important to provide an overall picture of the state of the bird life in Shetland and the Shetland Bird report provides all this information. There is always room for improvement and the number of common birds is under recorded, rare birds always attract a lot of interest. They also do a lot of good work in recording the state of seabird populations which unfortunately is still in decline.
                                                               Cuckoo Hillwell/ Quendale
In addition to sending in bird records I have also started to record Bees, Butterflies and also the location of Polecat Ferrets which seem to be wide spread and abundant.

In Shetland there are not that many birders and those that are here are mainly English, when I have been out and about I have met up with Rebecca Nason (Now in Lerwick), Logan Johnson (Yell) both bloggers, Henry Hyman –another interesting blog from Fair Isle, Jim Wood , Hugh Harrop and Gary Bell who live in the south mainland.

Tuesday 10 June 2014

Sumburgh Head

Sumburgh Head is one of the most accessible seabird colonies in Britain. It’s easy to see Puffins just look over the wall, they often give close views. They are one of the most recognised birds in the UK, although people often think they are looking at young birds because they are smaller than expected.

On one occasion a couple of Americans arrived in a taxi, looked over the wall and claimed that they were looking at penguins instead of Puffins, they immediately got back in the taxi and left before anyone could tell them they had made a mistake.

This year the Puffin cam won’t be in operation as rabbits have taken over the burrow. Mind you the last three years have seen the young Puffins predated at this site. Numbers Puffins are far lower in number than they were twenty years ago and will continue to decline with the lack of available food.

Other birds such as Kittiwake, Guillemot, Razorbill, Fulmar and Shag are present but in far smaller numbers than when we first visited back in 1987. We did have the good fortune to see a Brunnich’s Guillemot, only the 3rd record for the UK at the time which appeared in the main guillemot colony.

Small birds such as Twite, Starling, Wren and wheatear can be seen and last year I photographed a male Rosefnch. In July don’t be surprised to see Crossbill feeding on the cliffs, not the normal place you would expect to see them.

On Tuesday this week Princess Anne arrived in Shetland to officially open the new RSPB Reserve at Sumburgh head. It was not the best day with fog and rain but at least she could land at Sumburgh airport, if it had become thick fog then the plane may have been diverted to the north mainland. Security was tight and only 250 invited guests were allowed up to the lighthouse area.

                                                        Princess Anne arrives at Sumburgh airport

The lighthouse is the oldest in Shetland, originally designed by Robert Stevenson In 1822. Now In the lighthouse buildings, new interactive displays allow an appreciation of the ocean ecosystem around Shetland. In summer it is possible to see from Sumburgh cliffs, Killer and Minke whales together with dolphins and porpoise.

The £5.4 Million pounds that the RSPB have spent, which were part funded by European money, have now made this the flagship of the society and can only be good to highlight both Shetland and the plight of the seabird population. What can be to stop the decline which is affecting all the Scottish seabirds?. Lessons may be learnt from the stable Welsh populations.

This week I found a dead Puffin on the beach at Levenwick showing that many birds are in poor condition.