19th February 2018
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Tystie time with smart plumage on show

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A black guillemot, more commonly known as a tystie, in smart summer plumage is a familiar sight through­out Shetland.

The emblem of the Shetland Bird Club, tysties favour rocky shorelines and offshore islands where they generally breed among boulders and in rock crevices. They usually lay two eggs and the young are fed on small, inshore, bottom-living fish, especially butterfish.

Tysties are sedentary, with most of the Shetland population remaining around the shores in winter, rarely moving more than 15 kilometres from where they hatched. The first young fledge in early August.

Common crossbills continue to be recorded throughout the isles, with a flock of 90 at Scatness on the 12th. I even saw a small flock on Papa Stour this week, as well as having a couple in the garden. These finches attract attention by their calls – a distinctive, metallic-sounding “glipp-glipp-glipp”, usually repeated in a series of notes. Calls can vary in pitch and volume from individual to individual.

There were few other migrants recorded: a hobby was seen on Bressay on the 7th and there was a singing chiffchaff at Tresta on the 12th.

The Shetland Nature Festival continued this week, although the fine, settled spell did not. On Wed­nes­day a group braved the lively sea journey to Papa Stour. After a welcome cup of tea, we walked to the Stofa, a partial reconstruction of a 13th century one-roomed timber building which once belonged to a medieval Norwegian nobleman, Duke Hakon Hakonsson.

After an interesting talk from Jane Puckey about the excavation and the reconstruction, we continued along the road towards the air strip. Karen Hall from SNH explained the various natural history designations which protect the wildlife and geology of the island, and the importance of the marine environ­ment. The clear, unpolluted waters around the isle support a wide variety of marine life and Papa Stour is internationally important for its rocky reefs and sea caves.

The exposed coastal scenery around the island has been shaped by coastal erosion into a spectacular series of cliffs, stacks and natural arches. Christie’s Hole is a sea cave where part of the roof has collapsed, providing a view of the beach at the back of the cave. The cave extends further inland, where another cave roof collapse appeared in the 1980s.

Underlining the dynamic geology of this stretch of coastline was a recent cliff face rock fall, showing as a pink scar against the dark red of the volcanic cliffs.

The inaccessible, pebbly cliff-foot beaches are the breeding ground for grey seals in autumn. Returning from the coastline we crossed the short heath on the scattald, enjoying the resident bird species such as ringed plover, Arctic skua, Arctic tern, wheatear, lapwing and oystercatcher.

On Saturday evening Mike Dil­ger, currently the resident natural­ist on the BBC’s The One Show, gave the last presentation of the festival, entitled “The Trials and Tribulations of a Natural History Presenter”. Although the audience was small, he delivered an energetic, very inter­esting, and extremely funny talk, accompanied by clips from the series he had worked on. He ex­plained about the importance of continuity in dress and appearance, the problems with the vagaries of the weather and the unpredictable behaviour of wildlife. Talking about the type of camera shots used, he gave examples of the length of time in days that it could take to capture eight minutes of film for a particular programme. However, what shone through was his boundless enthu­siasm for natural history and his ability to convey his knowledge and interest to others.

On Sunday a friend and I were on the art and wildlife trail in Yell, visiting artists who are inspired by the Shetland environment.

This was a super day out, led by Howard Towll, the Shetland Amenity Trust ranger for the South Mainland and well-known wildlife artist. It in­cluded a visit to one of the small seabird colonies at Neapaback, near Burravoe, which was like a micro­cosm of the well-known larger colonies with representatives of most of the familiar breeding seabirds – puffins, common guille­mots, razorbills, shags, fulmars and kittiwakes. Offshore were gannets and Arctic terns, while an elegant Arctic skua patrolled the cliffs, looking for a suitable victim to rob of its fish catch.

Joyce JM Garden

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