18th February 2018
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The art of nature well-honed at festival in Fetlar

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The second Shetland Nature Festival has come and gone, though unfortunately the weather caused it to finish with a whimper rather than a bang, when the all-day North Isles Nature Cruise, organised by Brydon Thomason of Shetland Nature, had to be called off due to a poor forecast.

It was doubly disappointing after our fantastic spell of weather the previous week. Nevertheless there were some tremendous events taking place around the North Isles.

Two festival events on Fetlar last Tuesday proved enthralling. In the morning a walk around the Loch of Funzie and down to the Mires where the hide is situated produced splendid views of both a male (for a few of us) and a female red-necked phalarope, a couple of red-throated divers, whimbrel flying round and calling and Arctic terns.

A spotted redshank had been seen from the hide on a distant pool prior to our arrival but had, alas, flown off. Also, despite the six of us joining the two volunteer RSPB wardens, Dave and Ross, looking along all nearby fences, the long-staying red-backed shrike also proved elusive. In the afternoon we had the choice of monitoring storm petrels or creating wild art on the beach. Choosing the former, three of us walked part way up Lambhoga to an old wall where, although there was no response to taped calls, there was definitely that distinctive “essence of storm petrel” at two promising cracks in the wall, although the young birds we could hear were probably starlings.

But what a treat we had up there with close up views of both dunlin and golden plover in fine breeding plumage, both sporting black bellies and the latter with black on the face and fore neck as well.

Making our way back through the marram grass, a swift was circling overhead. Walking back along the beach we were able to admire the imaginative wild art created by Maegan and Robert Johnson – an orca and a male eider made out of stones, shells and seaweed, with kelp stems for waves – fantastic. A really good day of events on this lovely island.

A talk at the Wind Dog Café in Yell on the killer whale project by Andy Foote last Wednesday evening was very well attended and revealed some fascinating facts.

Unfortunately the guided walks with the North Isles ranger across Unst’s two national nature reserves were a bit of a battle with the strong northerly wind. Nonetheless, several folk turned up for Hermaness on the Wednesday where at least some puffins were seen along with all the usual suspects.

Nearly a dozen folk turned up on the Keen of Hamar the following day, the one I chose to go on, which also marked the start of the UnstFest. However, it wasn’t just the wind that affected what we saw.

It quickly became very obvious that the recent hot dry spell had caused a lot of the special flowers to maybe “peak too early” and then die off, probably through lack of water. For that reason only one plant of Edmondston’s chickweed had just one remaining flower, but Arctic sandwort could not be found anywhere, despite some intensive searching.

On the plus side, the first fragrant orchids on the far side of the reserve were in flower, and for the more energetic it was down on your knees to smell the quite strong “fragrance”.

Yet again it has been a very varied and interesting programme put together this year by the RSPB, SNH and the Shetland Ranger Service.

Just space for a few more sightings. An immature hobby was seen around Balta­sound on the 11th and may have been around for a few weeks. Crossbills still continue to arrive and dominate the wildlife scene. Several painted lady butterflies are still around as are a number of red admirals.

Wendy Dickson

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