Arctic waders make their return from the far north

THE RSPB report of a serious decline of seabirds in Orkney and Shetland is one that is clearly being mirrored throughout the North Atlantic.

It appears that food supplies around Shetland are becoming patchier, and the seabird colonies are failing due to food shortages.

In species such as the guillemot, one adult incubates while the other fishes. If the return period of the foraging adult becomes extended due to increased time searching for food, the incubating bird becomes stressed and hungry and abandons the egg.

An increase in sea temperature is causing changes in the marine food web which is affecting pre­dators near the top of marine food chains such as seabirds. It seems that the decline of our seabirds can be attributed to global warming.

This week also saw the launch of the consultation period for the Marine Bill by the Scottish Government.

It is proposed that a new body, Marine Scotland, which would incorporate existing organisations, would be responsible for establishing a holistic planning regime for the marine environment. The aim would be to ensure that appropriate acti­vities take place in appropriate coastal and sea areas to achieve both conservation and sustainable economic development.

Appreciation and understanding of the “Seas Around Us” was the aim of an educational exhibition at the NAFC Marine Centre in Scal­loway, open to the public on a couple of afternoons during the Shetland Nature Festival.

The Touchy, Feely Tank was surrounded by eager children doing just that; dipping into a variety of sea life including velvet crab, edible crab, spider crab, lobster (with front claws tightly bound), Norway lob­ster, sea anemones, starfish and sea cucumber.

One aquarium held an agile com­mon octopus, goldsinny and ballan wrasse, an albino sea urchin, a topknot (small flat fish) and sea cucumbers.

Over in another aquarium the main attraction was a male lump­sucker, although not in his bright spring breeding colours now. Lump­suckers come inshore to spawn and the male guards the eggs for five to six weeks until they hatch.

In large tanks were a variety of fish including wolf-fish, dogfish, thornback rays, cuckoo rays, turbot, brill, plaice and rockling. In a tall, clear tube was suspended a mussel rope with attendant barnacles, sea anemones, sponges and worms.

Our visit was greatly enhanced by the enthusiastic and helpful staff, and the exhibition was a great advertisement for the establishment of a custom-built aquarium facility in Shetland to interpret “the seas around us” for locals and visitors.

Arctic waders are returning from their breeding grounds now, with around 40 sanderling in the South Mainland on the 15th.

Several knot in their colourful breeding plumage have been observed at the Pool of Virkie. The entire underparts of the adults in summer are a rich chestnut while the upperparts appear scaly.

A surf scoter, a local rarity, was still at Dales Lee, Delting, on the 14th. A male stonechat and a juvenile have been seen in the Black Gaet area, suggesting that stonechats may have bred in the area. Common crossbills are still around with 15 at Sumburgh Head on the 13th.

A moth, trapped at Scatness by Steve Minton on the 7th, has now been identified as a dark spectacle, the first record of this species for Shetland. The dark spectacle is very local on mainland Scotland and the Inner Hebrides but is common in parts of England and Ireland.

This moth has distinctive mark­ings on its forewings and reddish-brown on the lines across the wings. The name “spectacle” refers to two pale, dark-rimmed marks on the front of the thorax so that, when viewed head-on, the moth looks as if it is wearing a pair of outsize spec­tacles. There is also a simliar species of moth called the spectacle.

Joyce J. M. Garden


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