22nd April 2018
Established 1872. Online since 1996.

Crossbills bring touch of colour

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DURING the first week of July records of common crossbills have continued from various locations, the highest number being a group of 18 at Sumburgh.

The males are particularly striking, coloured crimson, often mixed with orange, with the brightest feathering on the crown, rump and underparts.

Common crossbills specialise in eating conifer seeds, especially those of spruce, larch and pine, so the birds arriving in Shetland need to find alternative foods. The most favoured of these are the buds, flowers and seeds of heather, thrift and sycamore. They also feed on a variety of other species such as Rosa rugosa, dandelion and grasses.

The common crossbill breeds very early in the year and then may move out of the breeding areas if there is a shortage of conifer seeds. Therefore, most of those which occur in Shetland arrive during the summer from Scandinavia.

Other migrants recorded this week on Mainland included a whitethroat, a wood pigeon, a turtle dove and a peregrine while there was a sandwich tern and a reed warbler on Noss. In the last week of June migrants recorded included a common rosefinch, a siskin, a hawfinch, a blackcap, a willow warbler, woodpigeons and a lone waxwing at Voe.

The Shetland Nature Festival got off to a fantastic start last Saturday with an excellent evening in the Garrison Theatre

Jonathan Swale of SNH gave an illuminating, and often humorous, summary of the history of the rocks of “Da Auld Rock”. His talk on the geology of Shetland took a complicated subject and made it both interesting and lively.

He was followed by Simon King, superb wildlife film cameraman and presenter. He invited questions from the audience and backed up his answers and anecdotes with some wonderful film footage. He shared his passion for wildlife with the audience and explained what he hoped to achieve while living in Shetland.

The next day was the North Isles nature cruise aboard the Yell ferry Daggri. Strong north-east to north­erly winds curtailed the trip around Muckle Flugga but we did make it to west of the Neap on the Herma­ness National Nature Reserve.

There are around 17,000 pairs of gannets at Hermaness and the air was filled with these large seabirds tilting past, the sun glinting on the white-capped sea with the regimented white dots of the gannet colony on the cliffs and stacks as background. Ahead rose the impressive rocks and skerries which make up the Muckle Flugga group, crowned with its lighthouse, and beyond, the Out Stack, the most northerly island in Britain.

While we were sailing toward Muckle Flugga a minke whale briefly surfaced, showing the characteristic backward curved dorsal fin before crossing our bow, surfacing once more and then disappearing back into the heaving sea. Being at the bow of the ferry I was fortunate enough to see it.

On 8th June there was a humpback whale at Catfirth in the morning and the pod of killer whales, which were at South Nesting bay last week, moved through Noss Sound on the morning of 1st July.

On the 26th there were two pods of killer whales, numbering 30-35 animals in total, observed from an oil rig east of Shetland.

A double lobed moth was trapped by Steve Minton at Scatness on 4th July, the only previous Shetland records of this species being in 1996.

Since returning from Edinburgh earlier this week I have been running my moth trap on Bressay. Species caught have included dark arches, dusky brocade, small square spot, silver ground carpet, ingrailed clay, true lover’s knot, clouded bordered brindle, beautiful golden Y, silver Y, angleshades, lychnis and large yellow underwing.

Almost all visitors who come to Shetland want to see an otter. While entertaining friends, who had just spent the day in Fetlar looking for otters, an otter crossed the field below the house, emerged on to the road, trotted along the verge and disappeared into a neighbour’s garden. An otter was also seen recently in the car park at the Bressay ferry terminal, peering out from under a parked car. Sometimes wildlife comes to you rather than vice versa!

Wendy Dickson