SPOTTED flycatchers are fairly common passage migrants, with most of the autumn records in September. The adults are not spotted but juveniles are heavily marked with round, buffish spots above and brown scale-like markings on the light coloured underparts. Adults are greyish-brown with whitish underparts and dark streaks on the head and throat. A spotted flycatcher sits very upright on a perch, flicking its tail, before darting out to seize flying insects and returning to the same or a nearby perch. Large or stinging insects are beaten against the perch to subdue them before they are eaten.
The majority of the common migrants had moved on by last weekend when the SBRC Autumn Bird Course, led by Paul Harvey, took place. I joined the course for one day when we travelled around a sunny south mainland on the 6th. First stop was the Pool of Virkie where the moving dots on the shining wetness of the mudflat resolved themselves into redshank, curlew, dunlin and ringed plover. At the sea’s edge two bar-tailed godwits were feeding. Four common terns were roosting on the far shore and a grey heron flew in. Turnstones, bustling around among the seaweed and small stones near the banks, were joined by a lone sanderling. Several swallows were feeding above the nearby fields.
At Grutness we added lesser black-backed gull and kittiwake to herring, greater black-back, common and black-headed, along with gannet, shag, bonxie and fulmar. In the Sumburgh area we watched a flock of twite, a couple of linnets, numerous meadow pipits, blackbirds, wheatears, house sparrows, ravens, hooded crows and starlings. Driving on to Quendale we saw lapwing, oystercatcher, teal and a large flock of golden plover. Near Garthsness we added rock pipit, knot and a whinchat. Whinchats are fairly common passage migrants, breeding over most of Europe, the migrants reaching Shetland probably originating from Scandinavian breeding populations.
On the Loch of Spiggie were both mute and whooper swans, wigeon, tufted duck and a moorhen. There were over 200 greylags in a field above the loch and Paul found us three ruffs in another field. Returning to Scatness, a female pintail was discovered among a small group of mallards. Over 50 species were recorded on the Saturday and a further day’s birding on the 7th in the east and west mainland brought the course total to 70 species for the weekend.
A citrine wagtail was at Garths Voe, Sullom on the 8th. This rare migrant from Eastern Europe is similar to a yellow wagtail but is slightly larger with a longer tail. There was also a lapland bunting at Scatness and a little gull at Virkie. The little gull, smaller than a black-headed gull, has blackish eye and ear markings and flies with a tern-like, buoyant flight. It is a scarce passage migrant although recorded almost annually. Little gulls breed from Siberia through into the Baltic regions.
Bumble bees are making the most of the Indian summer weather Shetland has been enjoying. Flowering bushes, such as fuschia, are attracting large numbers. The commonest is the northern white-tailed bumblebee which has a black thorax with a yellow band and another yellow band on the abdomen followed by a black band and then a white tail. Shetland bumblebees are also on the wing, easily identified by the orange thorax and abdomen. While visiting the west mainland the bird course participants found a garden bumblebee which is a scarce species in Shetland, usually found around gardens or crops between June and August.
When a friend’s brother was off mackerel fishing in Mousa Sound on the evening of the 8th they saw at least a dozen “neesiks” or harbour porpoises which were still in the area when they returned an hour and a half later. Previously this summer only one or two porpoises had been seen in the area at one time. They described the sillocks like “rain on the water” on Monday evening so the porpoises may have been feeding on the shoals.