21st September 2018
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Now you see it, now you don’t – evasive shore lark

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It has featured in this column since last December. It has disappeared for days on end and then reappeared. It survived the lying snow. But it has given me the slip just about each time I’ve gone to look for it.

And this time, after it hadn’t been seen for about 10 days, I’d just about given up hope as I drove along Lambaness. Then … there it was, on the track right in front of my car in a rain shower – the shore lark. It flew off almost immediately with a group of other birds which, when they returned, turned out to be snow buntings, but, alas, on their own.

I watched the buntings for about 10 to 15 minutes before they flew off high and I was left to drive to the end of the track to turn with but a brief view of my quarry. But I had just started off when there it was again. Anxious not to disturb it, I carefully opened the window and snapped, trying not to shake, with either excitement or my uncomfort­able stance. And then it began to rain harder, and the lark at first crouched down and then flew off to shelter somewhere. Wow. At last. What a treat.

Those other long-stayers, the seven tundra bean geese, were also still on Lambaness all week, as was the one at the Houb, Whalsay, also now confirmed as a tundra. Surely they and the lark will be undertaking the next part of their migration soon. But there were some other birds around too. A pink-footed goose was in Fetlar during the week. Two long-eared owls were located at Balta­sound last Saturday – this is a species of which a few individuals used regu­larly to winter in Unst, but seem­ingly not so now. A species that has been showing up more regularly in recent winters, however, is the scaup; two of these ducks were in Uyeasound on the 28th. A smart pair of goosanders also frequented the same location at the end of the week.

More signs of spring were obvious last week. I heard of several wrens across the isles now singing to proclaim themselves and their territories, while a couple of skylarks showed up in Lambaness last week­end. A handful of redwings and field­fares were around Norwick last Sunday.

Also in Unst the first summer-plumaged black-headed gull of the year that I have heard of put in an appearance at Haroldswick on Fri­day. Most of our gulls have a fairly minimal change of plumage between winter and summer. But the black-headed gull has a noticeable change between the seasons. In winter plumage it has a mainly white head with a dark spot around the ear and a variable dusky line running over the crown, whereas in summer its head becomes totally dark – choc­olate brown for the most part rather than black, it has to be said, with a narrow white ring around the eye. Other gulls during the week were an Iceland gull at Uyeasound on the 28th, as well as a couple of very pale glaucous gulls around north Unst, one certainly being a second winter bird. But the forecast for the coming week suggests spring may be put on hold for a while.

Wendy Dickson