Greylag geese include a few imposters

INTERESTING sightings remained a feature of North Isles wildlife last week.

An adult little gull was located at Westing, Unst last Saturday. Little gulls are always exciting to see. Adults in winter plumage have a distinctive dark underwing (a feature shared with the much rarer Ross’s gull) but what sets them apart from that species is the dark cap.

While they are very scarce in Shetland, particularly in the North Isles and so late in the year, little gull is not a British breeding bird at all, being found in summer mainly from the Baltic right across to western Siberia. Other scarcer gulls were at least four glaucous gulls around Unst.

Wildfowl continued to show in good numbers with plenty of whooper swans at Uyeasound in Unst, and Cullivoe in north Yell.

Greylag geese are around in large numbers with some still apparently arriving from further north. But they all need close scrutiny as occasionally other species are among them, such as the six European white-fronted geese at Baltasound on the 14th, present until at least last Sunday.

The white-fronted goose gets its name from the white patch around the base of the bill found on adult birds. But they are much smarter than that, with dark transverse markings on the buff-coloured belly, again just on the adults. Juveniles, however, are much more somberly marked but fortunately usually in company with adults.

Two subspecies occur here, the Greenland white-front, a slightly larger bird which is identified by its orange-yellow bill, which breeds in Greenland and winters mainly in Ireland, and the European white-front with a pinker bill, whose breeding grounds are across northern Russia and Siberia, leaving there to spend the winter mainly in north-west, central and southern Europe.

In among good numbers of tufted duck and goldeneye at Uyeasound, a couple of scaup were found on the 14th. An adult white-billed diver was frequenting Bluemull Sound last Sunday, with a little auk and about a thousand eiders in the same vicinity.

Meanwhile, a late red-throated diver was seen off Baltasound last weekend. A water rail visited Out Skerries, while moorhens were noted at Baltasound and near Burravoe.

Sidney and Barbara Priest got a pleasant surprise when they found a long-eared owl sharing their Unst garden at Baliasta for the day on the 12th, apparently unfazed by any activity as it roosted on a sawn-off tree.

Wendy Dickson


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