Sunday 28 June 2015

No whales

The Sam Simon anti whaling vessel left early from Lerwick on Friday as the weather closed in. This vessel was previously owned by the Japanese as a research ship. This ship will join up with two other in Faroe trying to stop the mass death of whales.

Around 1,200 pilot whales are killed each year as they are driven in shore by locals in small boats and then slaughtered, blood turning the sea red. The aim of the ships are to make sure they divert the whales away from the Faroe coast and stop the smaller boats from reaching the pods that swim past the islands during the summer.

Having seen a pilot whale in Whiteness Voe west Shetland earlier this year I cannot understand why anyone would wish to harm them in any way.

This weekend was anything but summer either in weather, as it was foggy or birds seen. Ok we did come across a singing Chiffchaff at Grutness and a couple of swallow down at Sumburgh farm. With the cold damp weather this is having an affect on breeding birds with very low numbers of Arctic Terns around.

Earlier in May they brought large sandeels in but now few are bringing in any fish and these that are are bringing in very small fish. The Grutness colony is very quiet this year, but both Arctic and gt Skuas still come over looking for opportunities to catch young birds or in bound terns with any food.

We did come across Meadow and Rock Pipits, Wheatear, Starling, sparrow & Skylark with food, along with food laden Oystercatcher , Herring Gulls. Very few Wren about this year, but a few more pairs  of White Wagtail.

Unst  is the place to be with Great Reed Warbler & King Eider , with Rustic Bunting down at Sumburgh quarry. Its amazing Shetland has been so poor for migrants this year with several Bee eaters on the Outer Hebrides and a good range of birds as close as Orkney.

                                                                                             Young Common Gulls

                                                                                                  Male Mallard in eclipse

Tuesday 23 June 2015

Late Migrants

I was down in the south mainland recently and was talking to someone who had returned from Fair Isle a bit disappointed. About 5 mins after talking to the birder I had a very brief view of a shrike which skipped over the wall of the garden down at Grutness.  Migration has been very very slow with very few easterly winds so it was a nice surprise.

The day before around 5 Red Backed Shrikes had been found in Unst , but as far as i know none in the south mainland. The Shrike reappeared a few mins later, in the corner hidden by some branches. Again to shot off over the wall but by this time i had identified it as a female Red Backed Shrike.

It was back again but closer and in a more open situation allowing for some decent photo opportunities, after a few mins it moved again into the corner where it posed for more photos out in the open.

Over at Quendale it was windy but some birds showed straight away with a Whitethroat and Siskin on the list. A largest warbler darted between bushes before briefly posing for a few photos and then heading off towards the water wheel. The large warbler, didn't sing but it showed a brownish buff above and faint olive tones below.

It was a Marsh warbler, a few had been seen throughout Shetland a few days before and these are normally late migrants so it seems to fit the bill.

On the way back home we stopped off at Spiggie, just in time to see two young Whooper Swans appear next to their parents. Breeding Whooper Swans seem to be increasing in number, but most are out in the West or up in the northern isles.

Its good to see Terns bringing in Sand eels, although many don't get back home due to being attacked by Skuas and gulls.

Even though spring has been late, cold and wet many birds are now feeding young

Monday 15 June 2015

Spring Waders

Shetland is fortunate in that it has a good number of breeding waders, some rare but also is a stepping stone for waders moving to and from their arctic breeding grounds.

At this time of year all breeding birds have passed through Shetland but a good number of waders also summer here, most in superb coloured plumage. I like Sanderling, these even look smart enough in winter plumage moving like clockwork toy as the run before the waves.

This time of year they have smart rustic plumage, some a deeper colour than others being that bit nearer full breeding plumage. They always call to other Sanderling as they feed by probing the sand or bladder wrack seaweed.

They don't seem spooked as much as other waders so by a slow approach you can get quiet close. Often they are joined by Dunlin, Turnstone (in superb colours) and also Ringed Plover.

On the moors Curlew blend into the the browner heather, noted first by their distinctive call. Their smaller cousin the Whimbrel can be seen throughout Shetland with the largest population in Unst, Yell and Fetlar. Its always good to see these birds, but again as they also blend into the landscape its their distinctive call that draws you to the birds.

Oystercatchers seem to the most numerous bird breeding on any suitable habitat, young have hatched out but some birds are still sat on eggs. They defend their young against all predators such as Gt Skua Gt Black Back  and Herring Gulls. They certainly liven up an area with their constant kleeping and chasing about.

Snipe , Redshank, Dunlin and a good number of Ringed Plover nest on moorland. The latter is unusual in this respect. Snipe are busy drumming and chasing high in the sky, Redshank alert everyone to a predator.

Lapwing are still present in reasonable numbers but like the rest of the UK they are in decline. They prefer damp areas and many are still in display mode dive bombing and just pulling up before crashing into the ground. Often they nest where a high density of sheep occur and some eggs may be lost as a result. At least they don't have Goshawks predating them as they do in the Peak District, well they did until the raptors became persecuted