Storms force kittiwakes in
Kittiwakes spend the winter months at sea, with the range of birds from Scottish colonies extending throughout the north Atlantic to Greenland and eastern Canada.
They also over-winter throughout the North Sea and the eastern Atlantic. Their main diet is small fish and fish offal, but they also take small planktonic invertebrates from the surface of the sea, either when floating or in flight.
Small fish are generally caught by plunge-diving, rather tern-like behaviour, although kittiwakes are less graceful as they keep their wings extended throughout the manoeuvre.
Small numbers of kittiwakes occur inshore off Scotland during the winter, but prolonged Atlantic storms can bring large numbers close to the coast.
The new year started with the two national rarities in their usual locations – the white-billed diver was at Kirkabister, South Nesting, while the drake king eider was still in Mousa Sound. The coal tit, which arrived during the autumn migration, was still at Sandgarth, Voe.
A bean goose, a local rarity, was recorded from Sandwick with a further two near Bigton. The latter individuals were identified as Tundra bean geese.
Bean geese are closely related to, and resemble, pink-footed geese but have orange legs and bills. They are rare migrants from northern Europe or Siberia.
Although five sub-species are recognised by some authorities, there are two forms occurring in Europe which are generally recognised as distinct sub-species – the taiga and the Tundra bean goose. The latter breeds further north and winters further south.
Arctic gulls are still around with 12 Iceland gulls around the Shetland Catch factory on the 7th. Other records include an adult at Cunningsburgh which is unusual as most records involve first winter birds.
There are other scattered records of both Iceland and glaucous gulls. A shelduck and a woodcock were at Spiggie, with other records of woodcock from Levenwick, Sumburgh Head and Cunningsburgh.
A goldfinch was at Gulberwick on the 1st and chaffinches were at several locations, with a large flock of 140 at Veensgarth, Tingwall, on the 5th. Flocks of this size are unusual in Shetland in winter.
There were two meadow pipits at Melby on the 9th and I observed one feeding in the short turf beside the Clickimin Loch on the 2nd. There were also a few fieldfares at various localities, and a flock of 60 snow buntings was at Kettlaness, Burra, on the 2nd.