Arctic redpolls arrive from Greenland to savour a milder winter away from snow

THERE was definitely a northern feel to the North Isles last week.

An Arctic redpoll took up residence in Norwick, Unst, for a few days from 1st October, in company with some common redpolls.

There are two different races of Arctic redpoll that occur here – this individual was identified as a Hornemann’s, the larger paler race which actually occurs from Ellesmere and Baffin Island in northern Canada through to Greenland, this latter from where ours are thought to come.

And what a stunner it was – an almost ghostly bird in flight, but when it landed, often within touching distance of its admirers, it fed happily on seeds.

In the Arctic they have the reputation of being one of the most northerly wintering passerines (or perching birds), existing where snow is blown away by strong winds to expose plant seeds for them to feed on.

With longer feathers than most birds, ending in fluffy tips, they act as highly efficient insulators, enabling this species to winter up to 68°N where overnight temperatures can drop to -60°C.

A lot of the time this individual fed inside a silage ring feeder or down among the vegetation in a ditch, where it was quite well hidden, but at times it was more adventurous, flying across the nearby parks and landing on a fence, when it stood out like the proverbial sore thumb – an open invitation to any merlin or sparrowhawk moving through, but none were apparently in the vicinity.

Then last Friday a second Arctic redpoll of the same race was located at Cullivoe in north Yell, with a brief sighting of another at Burravoe, Yell, last Monday.

Meanwhile, from the far east came a pechora pipit to Leagarth in Fetlar, showing for just the last day of September.

Breeding in northern Siberia from the Pechora river (hence its name) to Kamchatka, Shetland has a bit of a monopoly on this much sought-after species that normally winters around the Philippines and Indonesia. However, those that do make it here are thought to be on a kind of reverse migration.

Although it does have a rather hard, diagnostic flight call that quickly separates it from other pipits, if it rises silently, a good view of this often skulking species is essential to separate out its finer points from other pipit species.

A pectoral sandpiper was at Funzie, Fetlar, last Monday, while last week’s American golden plover was seen near Uyeasound on the 30th. The little egret seen for just one day near Haroldswick the previous week, reappeared on the Houb at Baltasound, near where it was unfortunately found dead on the road last Monday.

A Lapland bunting blew in to Skerries on the 30th along with 16 snow buntings. Snow buntings were also seen at other locations.

Small groups of both fieldfares and redwings were also arriving, as did a few waxwings. And the first whooper swans were seen Unst at the end of the week – a family group of four on Easter Loch.

Wendy Dickson


Get Latest News in Your Inbox

Join the The Shetland Times mailing list to get one daily email update at midday on what's happening in Shetland.