Chiffchaffs still hanging on in isles

MIGRANTS, such as chiffchaffs, were still present on Mainland this week.

In general, most chiffchaff records peter out in mid-November although there have been a few in late November and December. Successful overwintering is rare and the latest recorded date for this species is the 28th December.

A few waxwings are still around but in much smaller numbers than previously.

A mistle thrush was at Toab on the 15th.

A mistle thrush is larger than the more familiar song thrush, with longer wings and a longer, fuller tail. The wing feathers are much greyer with paler edges, and there are more irregularly marked spots on the underparts.

In flight, the undersides of the wings are pale and there are white tips to the outer tail feathers. Flight is more powerful than that of the song thrush and the call note is distinctly different.

In Shetland the mistle thrush is a scarce passage migrant with a few records in late autumn and winter. The arrivals are probably from northerly breeding populations which undergo annual migrations.

Sizeable flocks of snow buntings continue to be recorded, with the largest flock this week being 50 birds at Tingwall on the 16th.

Snow buntings are easily iden­tified by their warm brown plumage, with white underparts and white patches on the wings. The undulat­ing, dancing flight of a flock flying upwards and then dropping suddenly to the ground resembles a shower of snowflakes but these birds are also “snow” birds as they breed on high mountain tops where snow may still be lying.

About 50 pairs breed in Scotland, but these are largely sedentary in winter, moving to lower ground in the locality. Large numbers of immigrant birds arrive in Scotland from mid-September onwards. In Shetland, there are past records of huge flocks of 1,000 – 2,000 snow buntings, but migrants have become scarcer in the last 20 years or so. The highest autumn count in the 1990s was 480 at Sumburgh in 1996. Other passerine migrants this week included common crossbill, reed bunting, brambling, the coal tit (still at Sandgarth, Voe on the 13th) and a grey wagtail.

Waterfowl has included up to five European white-fronted geese and the male ring-necked duck which remains at Tingwall.

There have been reports of woodcock and some large flocks of golden plover with a flock of 350 at Effirth on the 17th and I was watching a similar-sized flock at Maryfield, Bressay on the 16th.

Other migrants reported were a sparrow hawk, a peregrine, a long-eared owl, a water rail and there is an Iceland gull at the Shetland Catch factory in Lerwick.

Joyce Garden


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