Still something to snipe at – and the thyme is now for herb

ALTHOUGH the pace certainly slackened off last week in the North Isles, it has been one of the best springs here for migration for quite a while.

However, a few interesting birds were still to be seen. Golden oriole seems to be last week’s featured bird. Up to two were present in Baltasound for several days midweek.

A Slavonian grebe was at Burrafirth on the 10th. Birds of prey were represented by a peregrine at Burravoe, Yell, on the 7th and a kestrel, also in Yell, on the 11th.

Red-backed shrikes continue to pass through, though now in smaller numbers, with just one male at Baltasound last week.

Small migrants included a scattering of marsh warblers at Norwick midweek and an Arctic redpoll of the exilipes sub-species, also at Norwick from the 12th until at least the 16th.

This smart sub-species breeds throughout the Arctic with the exception of Greenland and

some of the Canadian Arctic islands.

Snipe are still “chippering” when the weather is not too inclement. The sound varies quite a lot in volume which gives it a ventriloquial quality.

<b>A snipe at Uyeasound giving its “chippering” call. </b><i>Photo: Wendy Dickson</i>

A snipe at Uyeasound giving its “chippering” call.
Photo: Wendy Dickson

I was listening to one near Uyeasound recently, thinking at times it was quite close, but unable to see the bird. Then all of a sudden, there it was, fairly near the road but seemingly unaware of my presence. Made during the breeding season, both in flight and on the ground, it is considered the snipe’s equivalent to a song, but once young are around, this sound is thought to help locate wandering chicks.

Talking of chicks, quite a few recently hatched eiders have been seen, and a number of young starlings are now making their presence felt. A baby common seal, still with part of the birth sac attached to its back, was seen on the old pier at Haroldswick last Sunday, and again next day.

Plenty of thyme is now brightening the North Isles, often growing in close proximity to birdsfoot-trefoil. Who would ever put mauve and bright yellow together, yet in the wild it always works perfectly.

A plant that keeps a fairly low profile, however, is heath bedstraw. Its small white flowers, in short-stalked clusters emanating from the stem, are said to have a sickly fragrance which I find hard to detect.

Like all but one member of the family, the flowers lack sepals. It grows unobtrusively on grassland, moors and heaths on acid soils throughout Shetland. However, the first evidence of its presence in Shetland was in Unst, recorded as “rare, Hermaness, July” 1837 [sic] by Thomas Edmondston.

Wendy Dickson


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