Birds, moths and snails

SOUTH-EAST winds at this time of year mean one thing – the start of autumn migration. And fairly predictably, it was Whalsay and Skerries where most birds showed up.

Pride of place goes to the paddy­field warbler that was caught and ringed at Skaw in Whalsay last Sunday. Described as a cross between a reed and sedge warbler with a distinct rusty shade to the rump and tail, this species breeds far to the east of us.

In the same plantation, a barred warbler was found on the 16th, while next day the supporting cast across Whalsay and Skerries inclu­ded wood, reed and several willow warblers, spotted flycatcher and fieldfare, along with wood and green sandpiper. Two-barred crossbill num­bers are now on the wane but a juvenile was seen at Tresta, Fetlar, on the 12th. A late report is of a pod of five killer whales seen off the Harolds­wick and Clibberswick area of north-east Unst on the 9th.

This month’s unappreciated plant is silverweed. Although a native to Shetland, growing mostly on coastal grassland, it is somehow regarded as a weed when it enters our garden spaces.

But what an attractive weed. As its name tells us, the undersides of the toothed leaves have a kind of silvery sheen. These were apparently once used by soldiers and travellers as a cool lining for their hiking boots.

The yellow flowers, often mis­taken for some sort of buttercup, are open from May to August. A member of the rose family, it spreads by means of runners which root at leaf junctions.

From late prehistoric times these roots were used as a crop in upland areas of Britain right up until the potato was introduced, and later in times of famine. Apparently when boiled, baked or even eaten raw, the taste is said to resemble parsnip. So maybe we should appreciate the value of this plant a little more.

The garden snails found recently in Unst are now confirmed as the first record of that species for the island.

A tiny fly-like creature, spotted by Lesley and James Gray in their house at Mid-Yell, turns out to be a kind of owl midge or moth fly. Under magnification, the promin­ently black-veined wings show rows of hairs on the undersides, as does the body.

While the most abundant moth at the end of last week was the antler moth, which gets its name from the antler-like markings on the wing, the most unusual was a twin-spot carpet, not one that seems to come to light very often.

Wendy Dickson


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