THERE were a lot of birds around the North Isles last week. Let’s start with the more unusual buntings – a little bunting put in an appearance at Sandwick, Whalsay, on the 7th, a reed bunting was in the same island next day and a Lapland bunting was found feeding in a ditch at Lambaness, Unst, last Friday.
An adult bluethroat showed well at Norwick early last week, while a red-breasted flycatcher was located in Whalsay on the 8th. Hawfinches are always good birds to catch up with; one put in an appearance at Baltasound on the 9th. A few waxwings have also been putting in appearances. Two new Hornemann’s Arctic redpolls appeared at North Dale, Unst, and Burravoe, Yell, respectively.
Best wader was the pectoral sandpiper, a new world species, found at Haroldswick last Saturday. Three scaup were on Loch of Cliff last weekend while a female long-tailed duck was seen at Haroldswick. A few tirricks have been seen at both Burravoe, Yell, and north Unst.
But two species definitely dominated last week – the redwing and the snow bunting.
For my money, one of the most exciting experiences is to be caught up in a mass arrival of redwings. You’d think that after crossing the North Sea from Scandinavia, the first thing they would want to do on reaching the coast is to land and rest. But no, constantly calling to each other, they land momentarily as if to make sure it is solid ground, but almost instantly take off again as others overtake them. Their excitement is totally infectious. Mostly night migrants, many of the birds arriving here will have bred far to the east of Scandinavia, and will move on possibly as far south as Iberia or north-west Africa for the bulk of the winter, though individuals will characteristically spend successive winters in totally different areas. But en route they will stop off at various places in the British mainland to gorge themselves on berries.
Most of the snow buntings arriving here will have come down from Iceland. Last week several flocks were seen ranging in numbers from 15 to 50, although single individuals have also been around. Last Saturday in near gale-force winds at Lambaness, I had the pleasure of both the sight and sound of a flock of about 35 come in off the sea and fly right over me – a magical experience.