21st November 2018
Established 1872. Online since 1996.

Migrants include taiga bean geese

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THERE have been recent records of a Hume’s warbler from Unst and Whalsay and, on the 11th, there was one in Bressay.

Hume’s leaf warbler is very similar to a yellow-browed warbler but has duller, more greyish-green upperparts with less distinct markings. The call note is also different and it is an important factor in confirming the identifi-cation of this species in the field. It was formerly considered a sub-species of yellow-browed warbler and was first identified in Scotland in 1991.

The first three Shetland records were in 2003, one record also being from Bressay. All the Scottish records have been in November as Hume’s leaf warbler is a late autumn vagrant from central Asia. It breeds from the north-west Himalayas to southern Russia and northern Mongolia.

Also in the recent fall of migrants was another national rarity, an olive-backed pipit, with a record of one at Toab on the 5th and one at Beosetter, Bressay, on the 7th. This species of pipit is a rare migrant from Siberia with over 50 per cent of the Shetland records from Fair Isle.

Local rarities this week have included two taiga bean geese in the South Mainland and the coal tit, still at Sandgarth, Voe, on the 6th. The blue tit also remained at Fladdabister for a few days.

Blue tits are common, familiar garden birds, widespread through­out Britain but absent from the far north of Scotland including some of the islands. They are resident over most of Europe and generally stay in the same locality, but in central and northern Europe they undergo irregular movements and sometimes reach Britain in autumn.

Waxwing numbers continued to increase last week, although the majority appear to have moved on now. The largest flock was 30 at Maywick on the 6th with a further 20 at other locations in the South Mainland and another 14 in Lerwick. There were 70 snow buntings at Virkie on the 7th.

There was a scattering of chiffchaffs and many of those showed some characters of the Siberian chiffchaff. This sub-species differs in plumage being mostly grey-brown above with clean white underparts and a distinctive contact call. Chiffchaffs are usually absent from Shetland by mid-November and birds arriving here in late autumn originate from more easterly breeding grounds. There have also been several records of woodcock. This well-camouflaged wader is larger than a snipe and has a rich brown, barred and mottled plumage. It is a fairly common passage migrant and a scarce winter visitor with the majority recorded in October and November.

On migration it favours lying up on hills but will also come into gardens and wooded areas. When flushed, it flies with audible whirring wing beats and is dis-tinguished from a snipe by its large, bulky body and broad wings.

The migrant fall also included sizeable flocks of redwings and fieldfares. While travelling around Bressay last weekend, censuring the swan population, we came across several flocks of these northern thrushes, the warm reds of the redwings glowing in the bright sunshine.

Fieldfares are also very attractive birds seen at close quarters, their grey heads and rumps contrasting with rich brown upper parts and the warm buff striations on the throat. The largest fieldfare flock was on the Ward Hill, and at the summit were several male blackbirds, also migrants, looking rather out of place in such a bleak, windswept environment.

Other notable migrants reported this week were a red-breasted flycatcher, several chaffinches, greenfinches, brambling, a very late willow warbler, a stonechat, blackcaps, common crossbill, long-eared owls, a water rail, a black redstart and a grey wagtail. Waterfowl have included two pintail ducks at Clumlie, a scaup, European white-fronted geese and a great crested grebe at Bigton.

Joyce Garden