Heron puts on feeding show

NOT a very easy week for wildlife or the watchers, but still some good birds to see.

Glaucous gulls continue to show in reasonable numbers, with probably at least half a dozen around north Unst as well as a couple of the smaller Iceland gulls. With such strong northerly winds, it is perhaps surprising that more have not been found.

A little grebe was seen briefly along the shoreline at Baltasound on the 19th. Five species of grebe occur in Shetland from time to time but none of them commonly.

Little grebe, also known as dabchick, is classed as a scarce passage migrant and very scarce winter visitor. Breeding widely across mainland Britain where populations are fairly sedentary, those from northern and eastern Europe tend to be more migratory and it is likely that those visiting us hail from these areas.

As its name implies, it is the smallest of the visiting grebes. Size apart, in winter plumage, little grebe is best distinguished as a short-necked, fairly greyish-brown bird with darker upperparts, pale underparts and a white throat, often looking quite “fluffed-up” particularly at the back.

Grey Herons don’t normally breed in Shetland though there is one old North Isles record of a pair being flushed from two eggs at Rouska, Fetlar, around 1900. Nevertheless grey herons can be seen here in small numbers just about year round.

Normally very wary and taking off at the slightest hint of a car approaching, one flew in to Haroldswick last week while I was parked. It began fishing, but soon started getting hassle from a hooded crow which caused it to fly between rocks, getting a little closer all the time until it got flushed by another car.

They probably feed on things like butterfish and rockling, and just when you think they may be “nodding off” will suddenly become very alert and lunge forward to stab a fish. Success is no means guaranteed, but their eyes are obviously able to cope with reflection on the water surface.

Wendy Dickson


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