Monday 30 May 2016

Nesting time

Nesting time is a very stressful time for birds and birders alike. Some birds have already had a rough time throughout the winter, birds such as auks - Puffin, Guillemot and Razorbill spend the winter far out at sea. Others migrate a large distance, spending time down near France, Spain and even Africa

Shags (above) are early nesters, preferring lower ledges on cliffs, not the best spot in early Spring. As often is the case, nests get washed out in high seas, leaving one option, but to re-lay their eggs. Most of all the nests at Sumburgh Head got washed away a few years ago.

Fulmars can be seen back on the cliffs in January, adding life to the otherwise empty cliffs. These are master flyers gliding effortless in even the strongest winds. They build a nest mainly with small stones or make a shallow depression in grassy areas.

The couple of photos above show the brood patch, keeping the eggs nice and warm. These birds have increased over the years and have few predators. The nasty smelling oily liquid shoots out from the tube on the nose , anything that gets coated doesn't last long. These bird defences are said to have stopped the re-introduction of White Tailed Sea Eagles in Fair Isle, with many Eagles covered in the oily substance unable to fly and are possibly the reason why Shetland only has a pair or two of Peregrine Falcons.

                                                            Comfortable ?

One problem for Fulmars is the amount  of plastic they are picking up at sea and digesting which eventually kills them.

Kittiwakes have been having a bad time for many years, all down to the lack of Sand eels. Numbers at Sumburgh head dropped to 1/10 of the 1980 population in recent years and no signs of recovery.

Kittiwakes like a well lined nest with plenty of mud to build and cement the nest. These bird regularly collect mud from the pool at Grutness.

                                                                                                               Tug of war

Mallard young have already hatched out and are seemingly well guarded by their parents, but with Skuas and gulls on the look out for an easy meal, many never survive to adulthood

Birders try and estimate whether its been a good or bad breeding season- more of that to come soon

Wednesday 25 May 2016

Getting Better

The recent Green Warbler ID was confirmed recently when the DNA results came back positive, which will please many people.

This weekend the fog closed in so Saturday we didn't go out, this is a common problem in summer in Shetland, unlike the rest of England which tends to have fog in February and November. Spring migration is still slow here, only a few warblers but surprisingly Osprey (3) put in a good show with birds staying around a few days.

                                                                                                 Singing Chiffchaff

It was interesting to find a Sanderling with rings at Grutness this week, this is the same bird I photographed last year on the same beach, it was originally ringed in Spain in 2014. On the beach was a further 8 Sanderling and 4 Turnstone. Coming in close was a superb Gt Northern Diver  which stayed inshore for 5 mins before returning to its normal position, mid bay.

                                                                                          Turnstone looking superb

Several Arctic Terns also fished very close to the shore, catching small fish before returning to the colony a short distance away. Here a dark phase Arctic Skua put up many Common Gull as well as more terns and even a Ringed Plover flew up to see it off.

                                                                                                        Arctic Terns

Sunday was opposite to the day before with wall to wall sun without any wind at all and migrants coming in. First off was a singing Chiffchaff and Whitethroat at Grutness followed by Swallows (3) by the pool.

                                                                                                  Gt Northern Diver

At Sumburgh gardens a Savi's warbler turned up but only gave brief views. Only one person  managed to get any photographs as it moved too fast. The last time I saw one was down at Minsmere in the reed bed, again only giving glimpses. The best views have been down in France at several different  sites.

More Swallows passed over , then a male Kestrel was mobbed by a flock of Starling. As we arrived home, news came in that a Common Crane was showing in Dunrossness . I went down for this Monday afternoon but it was long gone disturbed by a tractor.

Also in Lerwick Monday midday, an Icterine Warbler sang briefly and showed three times but too many twigs and leaves in way for photos. A second visit later in day and no sign of the bird, but I did disturb  a Sparrowhawk from the garden which flew off with a small bird in its talons. Hope it wasn't the warbler. Also present, two singing Chiffchaff and Robin (2) with 9 Collard Dove and Wood pigeon (2). A further two Icterine Warblers have also been found at Tresta and on Whalsay.

A walk along the  Lerwick coast was reasonably productive with Grey Seal (8) one with a nasty gash along its neck. Around 60 Arctic Terns, Turnstone (22) Dunlin (3 pairs) Oystercatcher (2) Ringed Plover (1 pair), Red Breasted Merganser, Mallard, Black Guillemot, Shag, Gannet, Puffin, Common Guillemot, lots of Meadow Pipit, Wheatear and Skylark

Thursday 19 May 2016

Hat Trick

After a Dalmatian Pelican turned up in Southern England Shetland hit back with a superb find by Mike Pennington last weekend at Baltasound, Unst - a Green Warbler only the second ever UK British record, the other coming in 1983 on the Scilly isles. Just to be sure, it was caught and ringed but DNA was also taken to prove a point, that just how weird things have become in the birding world.


Several people ID the bird as a Green Warbler from catching the bird, so its a bit unusual for DNA to be taken, not heard about this before. This was the trigger for a mass migration of birders to Shetland, many hiring aircraft just to make sure they had the best chance to see it. We haven't been up to see it but many Shetland birders have, even if they only managed brief views. It went missing for 6 hours at one point, so not the easiest bird to keep track of.

                                                                                                       Lesser Whitethroat

On Sunday visiting birders ran into a problem, the Yell- Unst ferry broke down. News that the Green Warbler was still in the same place must have made the journey more frustrating, fortunately they managed to get the ferry running again later.

That's now a hat trick of superb birds in Shetland over the past few weeks. The first the Rose Breasted Grosbeak at Burra, followed by the Calandra Lark on Fair Isle and then the Green Warbler, what next.
                                                                                            Arctic Terns displaying

Back down to earth, well the south mainland, where last weekend it was cold with north easterly winds. It's been great to hear and see many Arctic Terns back on breeding grounds, many have been displaying by presenting sand eel's to their partners. Herring gulls have been trying to steal these but the terns have chased them off so far.

I was watching two pairs of Lapwing in a marshy area, they successfully chased off Herring Gulls from the area but one gull found a nest a stole an egg, although not a Lapwing egg the Lapwing ganged up and drove the gull away. They followed and dive bombed the gull, constantly calling but had no luck with the gull flying off into the distance.

A few smaller birds showed with Lesser Whitethroat and Chiffchaff at Grutness and Spotted Flycatcher in the quarry and on Sunday a singing Willow warbler (good to hear one again) and Whitethroat at Geosetter.


Counts of Turnstone (38) at Sanick beach and Sanderling (16) Grutness as well as Oystercatcher (56) in fields all showed summering birds.


Over the past few days a number of Osprey have been seen with two at Spiggie, also an Icterine warbler turned up in Lerwick

South Mainland Birds this weekend

Gt Northern Diver, Red Throated Diver, Shag, Razorbill, Common Gull, Herring Gull, Gt BB, Arctic Tern, Greylag, Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Dunlin, Curlew, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Wheatear, Starling, House Sparrow, Wren, Blackbird, Gt Skua, Arctic Skua, Fulmar, Sanderling, Turnstone, Hoddie, Raven, Spotted Flycatcher, Chiffchaff, Lesser Whitethroat, Rock Dove, Willow warbler, Twite, Redshank, Moorhen, Shelduck, Whooper Swan, Tufted duck, Wigeon, Shoveler, BHGull, Snipe, LBB, Mallard, Whitethroat, Black Guillemot, Common Guillemot. Teal.