Excitement as rare warbler joins autumn migration

THIS week brought the biggest “fall” of autumn migrants to Shetland for over 10 years. National rarities included an Arctic warbler at Exnaboe, a citrine wagtail at Quarff, a great snipe at Quendale and a lanceolated warbler at Sumburgh Head.

A lanceolated warbler has heavily streaked pipit-like plumage and skulks mouse-like in long grass. It is a rare migrant from Siberia, and all the Scottish records have been of birds in first winter plumage. The peak period for arrivals is from mid-September to early October. This migrant is often considered as a Fair Isle speciality, as around 76 per cent of records are from Fair Isle. Most lanceolated warblers are only seen for one day.

Arctic warblers are rare autumn migrants from north eastern Europe but are recorded annually, mainly in September, with almost half of the recent records coming from Fair Isle. They have greenish-grey upperparts, whitish underparts and a long white stripe above the eye with a bordering dark eye stripe below. The great snipe is a rare vagrant from north east Europe, again most frequently recorded on Fair Isle. Larger, stockier and shorter-billed than a common snipe, it is best identified when flushed by a white-bordered, dark wing panel and barring on the underparts and underwings.

Locally rare species included a honey buzzard, which visited Spiggie briefly, and a goshawk reported from Sumburgh Head on the 14th. Other birds of prey species reported were short-eared owl, marsh harrier, sparrowhawk, merlin, kestrel, peregrine falcon and osprey. Wrynecks were recorded from several localities including Sumburgh Head, Toab, Quendale, Boddam, Quarff, Trondra, Gott and Bressay. Wrynecks are scarce passage migrants which belong to the woodpecker family. Looking like a long-bodied warbler, the upperparts are intricately patterned in shades of brown, black, rufous, buff and lilac-grey. A black stripe runs down the back of the crown, visible as the bird turns its head. The common name of wryneck is derived from its habit of twisting its head round when alarmed. The wryneck’s main diet is ants but it eats other insects also. Common migrants were widespread with high numbers of species in some localities on the 13th and 14th, such as 120 chaffinches at Trondra, 35 common redstarts at Sandwick, 30 willow warblers and 11 pied flycatchers at Quarff, 21 whinchats and 11 song thrushes at Toab, 12 spotted flycatchers on Noss and 10 tree pipits at Scatness. There was a considerable variety of other passerine species with records also of barred, icterine, reed, garden, wood, sedge, yellow-browed and grasshopper warblers; chiffchaff, lesser and common whitethroat red-breasted flycatcher, blackcap, robin, fieldfare, gold­crest, dunnock, swift, com­mon rosefinch, common crossbill, rose-coloured starling and yellow wagtail.

Joyce Garden


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