Wednesday 30 December 2015

Mourning all

Just when you thought that was that for 2015, news came in the at a Mourning Dove had turned up in Lerwick. This long distant migrant from southern Canada was the first record for Shetland and the 5th for Britain.

It was found on Saturday morning in a garden and lucky for us it stayed around the next day when we saw the bird in company of Collard and Rock Doves. This was a big twitch for Shetland with just seven of us looking on. The bird did little other than do a bit of preening in the hour I watched.

It is also known as the Rain Dove and is one of the most abundant and widespread bird in North America. It is thought that in some years as many as 70 million birds are present.

They can raise up to 6 broods in one year.

It is exceptional for birds to migrate over water, they usually fly in flocks at low altitude during the day. Not all Mourning doves migrate and some winter in Canada.

They prefer small wooded glades and open farmland avoiding dense woodland

On nearby Clickimin Loch the wintering Goldeneye had gathered with Tufted Duck and a few  Mallard
A happy new year to each and everyone of you, thanks for reading the blog, more to come next year. In the meantime take a look at my other blogs:

Wednesday 23 December 2015

Pre- Christmas

After nearly a week of gales, rain and cloud last weekend was dry, sunny with the wind picking up late Sunday. I was busy all day on Saturday but on Sunday managed to get out around Sandwick for a few hours.

Down at Sandsayre a small party of 8 Long Tailed Duck kept flying one side to the other. Most of the rocks by this time was covered by high tide but this concentrated the waders. Numbers seemed lower than usual with Oystercatcher (8) Turnstone(14) Purple Sandpiper (4) Ringed Plover (1) stood together most sleeping.

Down at the Wart, lots more waders feeding on the grassland- Curlew (177) Golden Plover (122) Turnstone (22) Lapwing (46) Redshank (4) several Hoddie Crow, Greylag (66) while a passing Merlin put everything up . Several small flocks (around 50 in each) of starling fed close together and several Blackbird and Fieldfare could be seen scattered among the sheep.

On the way back home a migrant Kestrel flew up from beside the road.

On the rarer front, the Rough Legged Buzzard has been seen occasionally around the village of Sullom. The Lesser Scaup is at Loch of Benston and the Oriental Turtle dove is still in Scalloway.

With the weather being so changeable I don't think I will for the next few days so all the best Christmas

Saturday 19 December 2015


When a report comes out its generally grim news for birds. In Shetland we seem to have a reasonable population of Curlew, that based on numbers seen by me and not done by surveys. But it seems overall that Curlews are one of five upland species that has been added to the Red data List. Two of the other 4 species Merlin and this year Grey Wagtail which breed in small numbers in Shetland, the other two Dotterel and Whinchat are very occasional visitors.

The total upland birds on the Red List now stands at 12 species. Out of a total of 244 breeding  species , 67 species are now at risk which is 27% of the total rather than the 21% in the last survey. Only Bittern, Dunlin and Nightjar have been given the all clear and downgraded to Amber.


In addition three seabird species have been added to the Red list for the first time, all these breed in Shetland. The Puffin, Shag and Kittiwake may come as a surprise to some especially to those who just enjoy watching birds. Its been a well know fact that Kittiwake numbers have fallen at all sites around Shetland, many years ago the Kittiwake call was one thing that everyone who visited Sumburgh or Hermaness would have heard regularly, now its rare.

                                                                                                      Puffin - Sumburgh

Puffins are everyone's favourite so this one may come as a shock and may gain support as it is one of Britain's most popular birds. Very few Puffins brought sand eels back to Sumburgh cliffs this year. Although the terns seem to bring back numerous eels down at Grutness a mile or so away.

Another bird I have enjoyed watching this year was Corncrake, which may have bred. This is another one declining with numbers dropping by a 1/5th with almost all areas being affected. They are normally short lived birds - 2 years, but numbers can recover quickly given the right habitat. Two birds took up territories in Shetland this year to my knowledge. On nearby Orkney 38 males called in 2014 but this dropped to 16 calling males in 2015.

                                                                                                Corncrake - South Mainland

Shags can easily suffer a bad breeding season as they are early nesters and often have nests washed out by high Spring seas and wet weather, this is often the case at Sumburgh. Britain supports 45% of the world population so its important that we understand how Global warming is affecting bird populations.

New plankton species brought into our seas due to Global warming is less suitable as food by Sand eels which are an important food source for Puffins, Guillemot, Razorbill, Kittiwake , Divers and Terns. Over 120 new species(inc lots of new insects) have been recorded in the UK since the 1990's as recorded by the RSPB, while others are now having to retreat northwards and may be lost from the UK list.

                                                                                         Arctic Tern dramatic decline in Shetland


For one, less King Eiders are seen in Shetland, more summering Long tailed duck could be seen in the 1980's and 1990's, they are very rare now. BTO surveys have indicated that northerly breeders are moving 3.3km further north each year. Birds such as Barn Owl, Nuthatch are quickly spreading into Scotland, these species very rare in the 1990's

A survey conducted by the BTO has indicated that the north has had a very poor 2015 breeding season. This is down to a cool wet spring and summer which has affected long distant migrants such as Willow and Sedge Warblers, these both have problems crossing the desert on migration.

                                                                                                 Willow Warbler  - Sumburgh

Now as I said earlier it is easy to assume that a species is doing well by occasional observation but the only accurate way is to do survey's like the RSPB and BTO. In Shetland I quickly joined two surveys, the Breeding bird and Beach survey the latter continues throughout the year and submit records every time I go out in the field.

                                                                                                 Whimbrel - A rare breeding Bird

Everyone can make a contribution by submitting records its easy enough to do when out walking and never assume that someone else has sent in records. The Shetland bird club has indicated in the past that most of their records relate to migrants (mostly rare) while common species go under recorded.

                                                                                      Starling an under recorded species

Sunday 29 November 2015

Rufus Turtle Dove & Whoopers

Just as winter weather arrived in Shetland news of a Rufus Turtle Dove in Scalloway came through late on Wednesday. Luckily it stayed and I managed to see it on Saturday in between heavy rain.

It was easy to find being opposite where the Eastern Bonelli Warbler was found earlier this year. A small group of birders looked into a garden towards the dove which was sat in a tree, according to the other birders the bird had only just reappeared after a few hours absence.

The Rufus Turtle Dove, only the second record for Shetland soon came down to feed on the ground with 5 Collared Dove and a host of starling and sparrow.

The light was very poor, so I had to pump the ISO up to 4000 at F/5.6 only giving around a 1/60. The dove was constantly moving so I had difficulty in getting a sharp photo.

The only previous Shetland record refers to a bird seen on Fair Isle 31 October - 1 November 1974 These Doves breed in eastern and centre Asia and are rare visitors to the UK. This rare `meena' bird breeds in the western most part of the range. Only three other records refer to this species
  • 2003: first-winter, Hill of Rattar, Caithness, 5 December to at least 24 March 2004
  • 2002: juvenile to first-winter, Stromness, Orkney, 20 November to 20 December
  • 1975: juvenile to first-winter, Spurn, E Yorks, 8 November
This is the first mainland record for Shetland

Elsewhere in Shetland the Lesser Scaup is still at Loch of Benston, a couple of Bullfinch in Scalloway and the odd Kestrel and Sparrowhawk linger. Lots of Fieldfare and Redwing still around the moors but Blackbird numbers have dropped. Locally we have a couple of wintering Robin and lots of Raven displaying.

Lots of wintering Whooper swans can still be found on Spiggie with lots of Tufted, Goldeneye, Teal, Mallard and occasional Pintail, Pochard and Shoveler , Little and Slavonian Grebes

A couple of Mountain Hares have been seen dead around the Cunningsburgh area, I am just waiting for a decent day to get back onto these moors for a closer look at these white Hares.

Sunday 8 November 2015

Winter Birding

It's been a very poor week weather wise, well for us people anyway. Very low thick cloud , dense fog and some rain, although mainly still.  A lot of migrants have now passed through Shetland but we have had numerous winter visitors arrive, including a few Waxwings in the last few days.

Thousands of Fieldfare, Redwing and Blackbird dominate birding at the moment with the grassland around Spiggie holding lots of these Thrushes. They are often very nervous and hard to approach even using your car.

Lots of Geese can still be found in this area, with large numbers of Greylag and smaller numbers of Barnacle and Pinkfeet. One Lesser White Fronted is still with Pinkfeet in the area, this has been in Shetland for about a week.

Long Eared and Short eared are still present and i had a superb view of a Long Eared Owl which was disturbed by workers, it flew out of bushes and circled round coming within about 12 feet before flying off to another site.
                                                                                                 Kestrel Levenwick

Short Eared Owls seen down at Sumburgh Far and Quendale but distant views in poor weather. Robins are still around as well at a number of places, together with a few Goldcrest and ChiffChaff. As for Divers a few Gt Northern are reappearing with 3 in Scousburgh Bay, West Voe (3) and Grutness (2) and a couple of Red Throated Diver at Grutness and near Virkie.

Waders are just as visible as thrushes with large numbers of Curlew in fields often with Snipe & Geese with Golden Plover especially in Sandwick . Turnstone, Redshank, Sanderling, Oystercatcher and Purple Sandpiper along the beaches and Ringed Plover in small numbers with most already down south.

Large numbers of Whooper Swan are now present at Spiggie with 110 the other day and a further 36 at Hillwell. Wigeon , perhaps 300+ around Spiggie have been joined by Mallard, Tufted, Goldeneye and Teal with small numbers of Pintail and Shoveler.

It was good to see 2 Iceland gulls down at Hillwell, then another at Grutness and Sandsayre a few days after. Late January through February is the best time to see white winged Gulls, especially down in Lerwick Harbour

Humpback Whales have been seen, with Muckle Roe (3) and another down at Virkie / Grutness area. Missed both of these, but this time of year seems to be the best time to find these whales, especially when its calm. A few Killer whales had been seen from a boat around Foula as well this week

Newspaper reports have been indicating that more action must be taken to reduce marine litter. Representatives from 11 countries have been meeting in Shetland to discuss the best way to implement an action plan, Even with Da Voar Redd Up, the amount of plastics washed up on Shetland beaches is very disturbing, with wildlife especially vulnerable. Lots of birds pick up and eat plastic and then die as a result.

Not good news for Puffins with the RSPB adding this species and Turtle dove to the List of endangered species.  Although Puffins are longed lived the success rate in the past 20 years has been low and monitoring at Fair Isle indicates a drop in number from 20,000 birds in 1986 to 10,000 today.

Young birds are not returning to the original breeding grounds, sandeels are reducing possibly down to warming of the oceans across their range and weaker birds may be dying at sea in winter.

                                                                                                  Grey Heron Spiggie

One good piece of news is that Shetland's Red Necked Phalaropes males have increase from 40 in 1996 to 60 in 2015, with the stronghold being in Fetlar. Another 10 birds have been fitted with small radio transmitters  after one bird was tracked on a 16,000 mile journey to the Pacific Ocean and wintered down in an area between the Galapagos islands and Peru. Scandinavian birds winter down in the Arabian Sea.This is the first time a European bird had tracked travelling such a  distance. Well done to the RSPB