WE returned from holiday to the recent storms – a stark contrast to the gentle, warm colours of the Perthshire autumn which we had been enjoying.
This year is particularly good for autumnal colours in the deciduous trees, the colours being more intense when colder weather occurs before the trees have absorbed most of the sugars from the leaves. Leaves such as maples, which turn crimson, have a particularly high sugar content.
Wildlife highlights included red squirrels, roe deer, great spotted woodpecker, tree creeper, great crested grebe and dipper. In the glens, near the Cairngorm National Park, we watched golden eagle, red grouse, ptarmigan and numerous herds of red deer. Autumn is the rutting season and the mountains echoed to the roaring of the stags as they bellowed out challenges to rivals.
In Shetland bird migration has continued over the last fortnight with the appearance of four nationally rare bird visitors, all originating from Siberia.
The rarest was the vagrant White’s thrush which appeared at Kergord on the 13th. The other rare migrants were a pechora pipit at North Roe on the 14th, a lanceolated warbler on Foula on the 15th and a Siberian stonechat at North Collafirth on the 19th.
Local rarities have included both a long-tailed tit and a coal tit at Sumburgh. Long-tailed tits breed in Britain, but birds reaching Shetland are very rare vagrants from Europe. A long-tailed tit is a small bird with a very long, slim tail (about 14cm in length including the tail).
A further two coal tits were found at Sandgarth, Voe, on the 24th by Beth Gerrard and were still there on the 27th. A coal tit, also a British breeding bird, is even smaller (around 12 cm in length) and is readily identified by a bold white or yellowish patch on the nape and has two white wing bars.
Scottish coal tits rarely move more than 10 km from where they have hatched and previous Shetland records have involved birds belonging to a race which breeds in continental Europe. It is probable that the recent coal tit records are birds from the continental race.
The grey phalarope is another rare migrant to Shetland. This small wader is slightly larger than a red necked phalarope with a shorter bill and, in winter plumage, is white below and grey above with a dark eye patch.
Grey phalaropes have a circumpolar breeding distribution in the high Arctic and winter off Africa. Migration routes to and from the breeding grounds are well away from land and they winter far out to seas. Their appearance in Shetland is associated with westerly gales, usually in autumn. One was seen flying past Eshaness on the 20th. However, last week’s storms blew unprecedented numbers close inshore, involving an estimated 25-30 individuals. The highest number recorded in one locality was eight at Scalloway on the 26th.
Other recent migrants have included brambling, redpoll, stonechat, chaffinch, blackcap and a waxwing. There have been several flocks of snow bunting and other northern visitors such as Iceland and glaucous gull, great northern diver, purple sandpiper, bar- tailed and black-tailed godwits, barnacle geese, and Greenland white-fronted geese. Whooper swan numbers are also starting to build up with 63 at Spiggie on the 22nd.
Eleanor Roy saw an unusual bird in the Robertson Crescent area of Lerwick on the 23rd. As she got closer, she realised it was a white sparrow. There was one photographed in Lerwick a few weeks ago so it may be the same individual.