23rd September 2018
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In search of botanical treasures

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WHAT a great idea to have a Shetland Festival of Nature.

Beginning last Saturday, I decided to treat myself to a trip to Skerries to encompass the guided walk led by North Isles ranger Rory Tallack. And what a treat it was!

The feeling was good on the ferry trip out with near perfect weather and a nice light. Five folk were on the walk, which set off from the pier on Bruray but soon crossed the bridge to Housay, or West Isle as it is usually known.

The overwhelming impression as we walked along was how many wild flowers there were – so much red campion, birdsfoot trefoil, kid­ney vetch, yarrow and hogweed.

Heading up to North Ward for our lunch stop, we encountered several patches of creeping willow. But as we did a circular tour of the island we came across the real botanical treasure on Out Skerries – English stonecrop (Sedum anglicum). This is almost its only site in Shetland (another is on the east side of Mainland) but it seems to be doing very well here on areas of limestone. And our visit was timed to perfection with plenty in full flower but many more flowerheads still in bud.

Hogweed may not be everyone’s favourite plant, but here many of them were absolutely covered in flies, in particular hoverflies – I have never seen such large numbers, of several different species.

A lot of micro moths took off in advance of our footfall, but macros that were identifiable included silver-ground carpets and quite a few migrant silver Y moths which seem to be pretty plentiful at the moment. A few red admiral butter­flies were also seen in Skerries last week, but the only ones on our walk were large whites. Altogether a most interesting and enjoyable experience.

Last week some birding friends visiting from Northumberland asked me: “What sort of places do blackbirds nest in up here?”

I gave them a few answers, like inside outbuildings and shrubbery where available. But during our trip round Unst, the question answered itself when we took a look inside the Viking longship Skibladner at Haroldswick. There a blackbird nest with several healthy-looking young was pointed out to us just inside the ship’s rim, the adults entering and leaving underneath the soffits.

Apparently this is the second brood there this year, it having also been used last year. And the next day in Skerries I was shown another nest in an unusual site . . . inside the discarded remains of a Rayburn-style oven with a hole in the closed door. Definitely an adaptable species.

Wendy Dickson