One very golden frog

ALTHOUGH spring migration is just about at an end now, it will all be starting in reverse again soon.

Just a few crossbills, swifts and house martins last week across the North Isles, along with a lesser whitethroat at Burravoe, Yell. A quail was at Haroldswick on the 27th, and a couple of great northern divers in the Cullivoe area for a few days.

Last Saturday, in company with Mary Ellen Odie, it was time for our second visit at Burravoe, Yell, for the BTO 2007-2011 Breeding Atlas.

Four pairs of wheatears, two with fledged young, was the most numerous species, but fledged meadow pipits were also around, while the starlings, blackbirds and wrens had long fled their nests.

A dunlin made sure we knew we were unwelcome as did rock pipits and ringed plovers. But gone are the days when Arctic skuas, golden plover and lapwing used to breed in this square.

The starkest observation on our walk, however, was seeing virtually no birds feeding over the sea – one or two tysties, single numbers of tirricks and the occasional shag – apparently no food available for them there.
Yet last weekend, I was watching a razorbill in Burrafirth that appeared to have food in its bill. Repeatedly diving to top up its supply, through the telescope I could see that they appeared to be sandeels. Once satisfied with its catch, a quick bathe preceded it taking off back to the nest.

Then last Sunday morning a large melee of gannets was also in the firth, diving repeatedly on a shoal of fish, then resting satiated on the water for a while before leaving. So there is food in some places.

Back to Burravoe. Once our survey was complete, we went up to the Brunthill croft near Wellgate – a lovely meadow where orchids were still in flower, if past their prime. Here are northern marsh and heath spotted orchids, yet the most prominent flowerheads were those of robust hybrids between the two, something that orchids are well known for. But also here, and several other parts of nearby Burravoe, ragged robin was prolific.

But this dampish site with a small area of iron-rich standing water had one more pleasure in store – a half-grown and very golden frog making its way through the damp grass. It stopped obligingly every few feet to give us a better look before hopping into the clear water.

Shetland’s only amphibian, it is thought they were introduced during the late 19th century, though probably to Yell only since the 1960s. Notoriously spread by children who delight in collecting spawn in early spring to be watched as it matures to tadpoles, this is probably quite a help in some places with our recent late cold spells and snowfalls.

Wendy Dickson


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