Sunday 26 April 2015

Migration has started

With the excellent weather this week it was good to get out down the south end of Shetland. the variety in the landscape always seems to attract good birds. As we left our house we could hear Skylarks singing something we could leave expect to hear around Sheffield. A pair of noisy Oystercatchers flew over put up a pair of Herring gulls which have taken over ruling our field.

More Lesser Black Backed Gulls have arrived back on their breeding grounds, far behind the Fulmars which have been on ledges for some months. Down at Sumburgh many Puffins crowd the ledges, while many more people are coming down for a visit.

Many Wheatears are showing, Chiff chaffs early migrants can also be seen around any large vegetation. It was good to see our first swallow catching insects over a quite Sumburgh airport. On the sea winter visitors are still with us and an increasing number of Gt Northern Divers are in the bays, some in winter plumage others moulting into breeding plumage.

Long Tailed ducks are still in small parties, the largest 18 birds looking superb on the still blue sea. Small numbers of eider are still in display mode, a lot of chasing and calling going on. All the Black Guillemots seen over the past week are in breeding plumage, the same cannot be said of the waders.

Turnstone are just about showing signs of their Rufus breeding plumage but are still in large flocks. Oystercatchers are mostly in pairs, but we did see three large flocks of over 50 birds, perhaps these are on the move further north. A few Bar tailed Godwit have arrived with most on the coast. Lapwings, now in smaller numbers are displaying over a number of sites while the bubbling Curlew calls come down from the hillside.

A few rare migrants are now cropping up and we had excellent views of a Sandwick Tern fishing just in front of us, catching one small fish in 5 attempts. A wary Green Winged Teal is still at Spiggie, giving some brief views while on the west side a male American wigeon comes and goes. A few Long Eared owls have been roosting close to us

A lingering Iceland gull is still visiting the same field at Quarff as it has done since December and also another one joined a flock of gull while we watched the  Green Winged Teal down at Spiggie. The odd snow bunting can also be found together with small numbers of Brambling and Redwing.

During an evening visit to St Ninian's isle it was great to see another five Gt Northern Diver close to the Tombolo and a  large flock of  58 Long Tailed Duck. A roost on the far side of the bay, produced a flock of 89 Oystercatcher
                                                    A sad sight, this dead Gannet at St Ninians Isle

This weekend we came across a Whimbrel back from Africa and a fly over Black Kite just north of Sumburgh Airport

Sunday 12 April 2015

Down on the beach

I really enjoy getting onto the beach, its not something we could do very often living 70 miles away before moving to Shetland.

Over bank holiday weekend we visited Meal beach at Burra.  Before the gate a large amount of plastic had been stored , taken off the sands, this didn't seem to make any difference as the high tide line was littered with lots of other plastic items. Being a west facing beach the waves bring many items, such as car seats bottles, boxes, cartons, rope, buoys and many other things.

The other day there was an article about McDonald's fast food company, when 4 Happy meal balloons were washed up on South mainland beaches. McDonalds have been contacted but all the reply said is that they are not really concerned and that the balloons are biodegradable something that most people will disagree with.  You would have expected a balloon dated 2014 and having travelled in the ocean some distance to have started to decay if that was the case.

Bear in mind that the closest McDonalds in 160 km away. Balloons seem to attract a number of animals and birds who think its food. Its an alarming fact that in the last 15 years the amount of marine litter washed up on UK beaches has more than doubled. The majority of this litter is plastic which never really breaks down. A lot of plastic absorbs toxic chemicals which are very harmful to our wildlife.

It has been suggested that 100,000 marine mammals and one million birds die every year as a result of digesting it. A plastic bottle may take 450 years to break down !! micro plastic can hold concentrates of organic pollutants such as PCB's which can enter the food chain and accumulate (Thompson et all 2004)

On average there is 46,000 pieces of plastic floating in every square mile of sea. A lot of fishermen have joined the Fishing for litter  campaign, 200 Shetland and Scottish fishing boats have landed over 600 tons of  marine waste   (2013) and in eight years an amazing number of 35 million empty drink cans.

                                                                                       Fulmar eating wood

A recent study found that 95%  of dead Fulmars had a substantial amount of plastic in their stomach.In one case where a Sperm whale was washed up on a beach in Spain it was found to have 17 Kg of plastic in its stomach

                                                                           Fulmar eating a piece of cloth

Meanwhile the 28th year of Da Roar Redd Up will take place later this month on the 25 & 26 April this is where around 20% of the Shetland population turns out to collect rubbish from beaches and ditches around the island, last year over 65 tons of waste was collected. This is an incredible amount and just goes to show how much people values the environment in Shetland.

Saturday 4 April 2015

First signs

Its surprising how quickly Spring arrives, for a few weeks we have been seeing Fulmar back on the cliffs, noisy Oystercatcher back in the fields and a few migrants such as Goldcrest and Chiff Chaff. Daisy have now been joined by bright yellow primroses and the days are getting longer.
                                                                                 Only one Puffin present so far

After a few days of sunny mild calm weather April 1st brought an April fool in the form of snow. For a few hours blizzard conditions prevailed, giving a good covering of snow, but by morning it had all disappeared as early morning rain had erased all traces of white.

Spring watch was on Friday night showing, at least down in England lots of Spring activity was happening. Chris Packham et all asked for 5 signs of spring to be recorded and sent in.

1. First oak leaves
2. First 7 spot ladybird
3.First Hawthorn flowers
4. First Swallow
5. First Orange Tip butterfly

That's going to be a problem to all of us in Shetland as basically we will only be able to submit the swallow records and possibly the 7 spot ladybird.

The other day i was contacted by Paul Harvey who asked whether i would like to take part in the Shetland Breeding bird survey. This requires two visits to a given location, the first between April 20th and May 10th. The second between May 20th and June 10th, following set transect routes and recording breeding activity.
                                   The Shetland Wren, numbers fluctuate depending on how bad the winter has been

I have been allocated two squares in the Sandwick area and will use the BTO codes to record species. Both these squares have been covered in the past but the observers have now left Shetland. I have been involved with similar surveys in Sheffield, these have included Farmland birds, hedgerow birds, Woodland Birds and wildfowl, each very interesting and it is good to compare year to year results.
                                              Blackbirds are with us all year, but just how many breed in Sandwick?

Without surveys such as this, its down to guess work on whether bird species are either decreasing or increasing. I am still continuing the beach survey in Sandwick which takes place throughout the year on a monthly basis. Also last year I also recorded both Bee and Butterfly records, which both had a good year as the weather was mostly dry and sunny throughout the Spring and Summer.
                                            White Tailed bumblebee
Today we had our first visit of the year to Sumburgh Head, despite the showers about 20 people could be seen looking over the cliffs. with everyone wanting to see the first Puffin back on the cliffs. We only manage to locate one Puffin on the north side which only stayed a few minutes before flying down to the sea. 

Despite scanning through several large flocks of auks on the sea we couldn't locate any more. Impressive numbers of Guillemots and fewer Razorbills joined Fulmar and Shags on the ledges. A few Rock Dove flew over and over 30 Twite fluttered between the cliffs and the look out post in front of the lighthouse.

Few birds could be found around the lighthouse, with only Robin (2) Blackbird (3) and a Wren showing, no sign of any Snow Bunting that had been seen earlier in the week.