13th November 2018
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Dead ducks and eiders

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A RAFT of about 1,000 eiders is currently frequenting Bluemull Sound but it is always good when something different is found among them, such as the female king eider last Friday.

Queen eiders are much more challenging than males, superficially resembling their common eider counterparts. However, once you get your eye in, the head profile is slightly different, with a shorter bill and the plumage of a little warmer colour, depending, of course, on the light. King eiders are much more of an exclusive Arctic species than our common eider, though there are races of common eider up in the Arctic. I was quite surprised to see a hedgehog early last Wednesday morning after the previous week’s very cold spell. With the climate warming up, hedgehogs seem to be hibernating later and later, and are known to wake up periodically during a mild winter spell. But where had this one been during the sub-zero temperatures? A few days later I encountered a common gull flying towards me with a small mammal in its beak which it dropped on the road. A quick reverse and I managed to confirm it was a freshly dead rat, which had probably ventured out too far in search of food.

It was probably the cold and lack of food that was responsible for the barn owl unfortunately found dead in Skerries on the last day of November. Barn owls are fairly scarce visitors to Shetland and come in either the white-breasted race that breeds throughout mainland Britain, or the dark-breasted form which breeds across central and eastern Europe. This individual was a pale-breasted bird.

However, another bird that didn’t cope with the cold snap was a male mallard that I found frozen into some flood water on Burrafirth links last Saturday. I have seen water birds get their legs frozen into water before, but as there didn’t appear any signs of this individual trying to escape, it is possible that just the cold temperature caused its death as it roosted on the water overnight.

Wendy Dickson