Migrants moving out

WITH a whiff of wind from the east, the pace of bird migration moved up a gear last week. An ortolan bunting found at Norwick on the Tuesday stayed until the end of the week, though it proved flighty and elusive.

Ortolan bunting is a very scarce passage migrant in Shetland. Slightly smaller than a yellowhammer, in all plumages its common characters are a bright eye ring on a bland olivey head with a pale stripe towards the throat and warmish-buff underparts. Breeding over much of Europe and the Middle East, they have, however, suffered a notable decrease in range linked to changes in agricultural practices.

The supporting cast proved to be quite varied. A common rosefinch was found on Out Skerries on the 1st, while several barred warblers were located. Other warblers included whitethroats and lesser whitethroats, garden warblers and blackcaps, reed, marsh, wood and plenty willow warblers.

Several pied and spotted flycatchers were around. Whinchats showed up in quite good numbers right across the north isles, while a red-backed shrike was on Whalsay on the 1st and 2nd. Three tree pipits were on Fetlar on the 1st, with another at North Dale, Unst, on the 5th, while a scattering of swallows flew into north Unst on the 8th. Small numbers of wrynecks were found throughout the north isles, one unfortunately being subsequently found dead at Baltasound on the 4th.

A common redpoll put in a brief appearance at North Dale on the 5th. Redpolls are a very complex group of species and subspecies which are sometimes difficult to separate. ‘Common’ redpoll comprises both ‘mealy’ which mainly inhabit northern Eurasia from Norway east to Kamchatka and very occasionally breed in Shetland, and ‘north-western’ which hail from Greenland and Iceland.

As for wading birds, a ruff was on Whalsay on the 2nd. Sanderlings continued to move through with up to 20 on Norwick beach last week. In south Yell a greenshank, whimbrel and four bar-tailed godwits were seen last Monday. The common buzzard appeared at Norwick again on the 2nd while a kestrel was at Aywick, Yell, on the same day.

A selection of fungi are appearing. Several waxcap species are showing, while horse mushrooms are fairly plentiful around Unst. Shaggy ink cap, Coprinus comatus, also known as lawyer’s wig, is a pretty distinctive fungus. When first appearing, the slightly egg-shaped cap is covered in prominent scales. As it grows, the cap starts opening out and curling up at the edges as the pale scales turn black, the whole gradually dissolving into a black inky fluid which contains the spores. An inhabitant of disturbed ground among other places, two little groups were found growing beside the Hermaness car park last week.

Wendy Dickson


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