Sunday 25 June 2017

Shetland Breeding birds

Shetland is internationally important for its seabird colonies and also for the number of breeding waders, many of which are on the decline.

Its been interesting this year to find a number of Oystercatchers nesting in unusual situations, one on an old fence post - wide enough for a nest, two pairs on a roof and another in a pile of gravel- The farmer wanted to resurface his road but had to wait for the Oystercatcher to lead her young down through the gravel.

                                                               Gt Black Back gull taking a crab- far better then an egg

Oystercatchers are very noisy at the moment and a flock of 25 birds has been feeding in the field next to our house which has just had the grass cut for silage. In addition 17 Curlew are regular visitors but tend to feed away from all the other birds.

                                   Ringed Plover seem to be doing well, breeding on the beach and moorland as well

Curlew are very numerous throughout the south mainland, especially around Spiggie, sometimes close to Whimbrel.

Flocks of Lapwing are also gathering, hope these aren't failed breeders. One flock of 38 was notable for this time of year. Snipe are still drumming and Redshank as always very noisy if approached.

I have just completed my third Shetland Breeding bird Survey in the south mainland, results as follows:

Plot 1                                      2015                       2016                      2017

Oystercatcher                           2                              4                            3
Lapwing                                    0                              0                            0          
Curlew                                      1                              1                            1
Snipe                                         0                              1                            1
Redshank                                  0                               0                           0
Ringed Plover                           1                              0                            0
Skylark                                      8                              6                            6                
Meadow Pipit                           6                              5                            8
Wheatear                                   0                              1                            1
Blackbird                                  3                               3                           2
Twite                                         1                              0                            2
Wren                                          0                               1                            0
                    Total Pairs          22                            22                          24
Plot 2

Oystercatcher                             1                              0                             0
Lapwing                                      1                              2                             3
Curlew                                         2                              1                            2
Snipe                                            0                              0                            0    
Redshank                                     1                              1                            1            
Ringed Plover                             0                               0                            0
Skylark                                        4                               5                            4
Meadow Pipit                             7                               3                            5
Wheatear                                     1                              1                            1
Blackbird                                     1                              2                            2
Twite                                            1                              0                            1
Wren                                             0                              0                            0
                  Total Pairs               19                            15                         19

Elsewhere there may be three pairs of Robin nesting in Shetland this year with a new pair at Tresta which nested in a plant pot.

A total of around 76 species of bird now regularly nest in Shetland, with  Linnet, Grey Wagtail and Swallow recently added.

                                                      Brown Rats at Boddam could be taking Shelduck eggs

With a number of scarce breeding birds such as Red Throated Diver, Whimbrel and even Arctic Tern needing extra protection , the RSPB have issued a notice to people with dogs to keep them on a lead, and to be aware not to disturb nesting birds.

             Red Throated Diver on the nest, taken from the far side of the loch so not to cause disturbance

Many birds can easily seen away from the nest, Divers come down to the coast to feed as do terns so if you do find a nest on your walk please leave the spot as soon as possible as Skuas, Gulls and Corvids are just waiting for an opportunity to raid a nest.

The Boddam Shelducks never seem to have much luck, this year they are left with 2 + 4 young, not much return from an original brood of 10 each

                                                 Young Shelducks have done well to get to this stage in life

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Sunday 18 June 2017

Arctic Terns

You just have to admire the Arctic Tern, it travels more than 22,000 + mile a year as it flies from the Antarctic to Shetland and back each year, seeing more daylight than any other animal.

The Guardian newspaper claims that an Arctic Tern returning to the Farne islands in England clocked up  59,650 miles in one year, the longest migration ever. As Arctic terns can live up to 30 years of age they will clock up thousands of miles

Tern colonies in Shetland have been suffering for many years as adult birds have failed to find sufficient sandeels. The last two years have been better but so far this year i have only see a few terns with small fish- not a good sign.

Sea birds always like to bathe in fresh water and terns are no exception. Places such as Grutness, Scatness & Spiggie give plenty of opportunity and the birds gather together for safety

In 1980 a study (Bullock & Gomersall) revealed that there was 32,000 arctic terns in 369 colonies in Shetland. Numbers in 2014 are thought to be around 43% less than in 1986, for instance on Mousa in 2015, 300 Arctic Terns were present but on 20 pairs attempted to breed

On Noss in 2016, 72 nest had been recorded , the most in a decade. Only 5 chicks survived due to heavy predation from Skuas and gulls.

With 73% of Arctic terns concentrated in the Northern Isles , Shetland is an important place for all seabirds with 21 species breeding

Although this report does not contain information on Arctic Terns it is well worth a read

This contains information on the beached bird survey i take part in

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Tuesday 13 June 2017


I do love to see Kittiwakes although in Shetland numbers have dropped dramatically as sand eels have become scarce. Sumburgh for instance had around 3,000 breeding birds about 25 years ago now they are less than 300. 

A study by M G Richardson in 1981 found 54,300  birds with Noss, Fair Isle,  Foula (estimates from earlier years )

The sound of Kittiwakes call are one of the highlights of visiting a seabird colony. Unfortunately this is becoming less common as numbers plummeted throughout the Shetland colonies. This is all down to the lack of food- Sandeels.

Its a complex food change, the food sandeels feed on  Zooplankton has reduced by 70% and this is down to the sea warming which has also affected the food Zooplankton feed on - Phytoplankton which is blooming out of sync. 

Kittiwake- Sandeel - Zooplankton - Phytoplankton

This is resulting in less  sandeels, this complex system is not helped by the fact that nutrient poor warm water species are now replacing the cold water nutrient rich Zooplankton. In addition sandeels are now feeding deeper down in the ocean which give less feeding opportunities to birds such as Kittiwakes which feed near the surface

They did have a slightly better year last year but i am interested to see whether this has continued.

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Thursday 8 June 2017


I decided to go down to Spiggie late yesterday afternoon as a Honey Buzzard had been seen in the area earlier in the day and it was a good a place as any to start

The weather didn't look too promising as i journeyed south, thick fog moving in and the wind picking up.

As i arrived at Spiggie, i found the area completely clear of fog but the wind had picked up from virtually nil earlier in the day

I searched the north side of the RSPB reserved first noting a pair of Mute swan and several Tufted, Mallard and Teal.

Moving slowly down the west side it was easy to see a number of waders close up with Curlew, Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Snipe,Dunlin,  & Redshank. Plenty of Greylag as  well with large number of Starling feeding in the fields.

At the southern end marsh i checked to look through a large flock of Tufted, over 95 present North - South. A female Goldeneye was a nice find and two Grey Heron resting up near one of the pools

Checking the fence posts a large raptor caught my eye, first i thought female Marsh Harrier but as it turned its head it revealed its self to be an Osprey. It had caught a fish and had virtually finished it 5 mins later.

Harassed but several Oystercatcher it decided to take off flying low south over the loch and finally ended up on the small beach which separated Spiggie from Brow marsh

It sat in the water for a while before flying back up the loch, by this time the wind had strengthened and it had become quite cold so i left after reporting it. This year has been very good for Osprey sightings in Shetland and this one a late bird, my first Shetland Osprey

This is more likely to be  a Scandinavian bird rather then one form the increasing Scottish population

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