Ivory gull highlight of quiet month in north

DECEMBER was a fairly quiet month for wildlife in the North Isles. The highlight has to be the first winter ivory gull found at Oddsta in Fetlar on the 14th. Ivory gulls are high Arctic in distribution, and it is a while since one of these much sought-after birds has been seen here.

First winter birds have quite a speckled plumage and are arguably more attractive-looking than the more pristine white adults. Carcases of dead cetaceans are an attraction to them, following them as they float in the sea currents. As for the Fetlar bird, the following day it was seen to fly inland but was not relocated thereafter. It is possible it may be the same individual seen last month in Lerwick. Several glaucous and smaller numbers of Iceland gulls also continued to show across the isles.

A golden plover seen in Baltasound on the 18th was thought to be an American golden plover. Other interesting and colourful visitors during December included a common buzzard over Baltasound on the 2nd, a shore lark on Lambaness, Unst, on the 18th and a couple of little auks in Bluemull Sound on the 22nd. Five Slavonian grebes off Baltasound was a good count on the 10th. Goosanders are always exciting birds to see – two graced Uyeasound in the first week of December. A scattering of water rails was noted from Out Skerries to Unst.

Winter visiting thrushes seem mainly to have moved on so a count of 20 fieldfares in Cullivoe on the 16th was notable. A song thrush was also seen at the same location on the 5th and 6th. Slightly more unexpected was a pied wagtail at Saltness, Whalsay, on the 19th; these birds are normally summer visitors, moving further south in Britain for the winter. Here they often form large roosts on buildings and around street lights in towns and cities where the overnight temperature is a few degrees higher than out in country areas.

A bat found in a house in Haroldswick on the 10th was presumed to be a Nathusius’ pipistrelle – presumed because without a comprehensive set of measurements, it is not easy to specifically identify them. Having been apprehended in a tea towel, it was taken to Halligarth in Baltasound where it flew off strongly on release. There are three species of pipistrelle that occur in Britain, the other two being common and soprano. But Nathusius’ is the only confirmed species of pipistrelle so far found in Shetland.

And so another year has gone full circle and it is once again a pleasure to thank everyone who has helped towards making North Isles Wildernews a good, and hopefully interesting, reflection of the wildlife scene in the extreme north: for submitting records, for alerting folk to interesting and sometimes puzzling sightings, for allowing folk to roam around land and peer into gardens. I do try to include as many observations as possible and also pass all relevant ones on to the Shetland Biological Records Centre. So, thank you to all; it is much appreciated, and I wish you all a happy and interesting coming year.

Wendy Dickson


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