There’s nothing like a male goosander to brighten up a day of horizontal sleet showers. One was at Uyeasound on the 7th and was definitely the brightest and most interesting bird of last week in the North Isles. And it, or another, was at Baltasound on the 10th.
Goosander, one of the sawbills, gets its name from its size, being about the largest of our duck species. With his pale pink-suffused neck, breast and underparts contrasting with dark green head and blackish back, the male goosander is a real dandy of the bird world.
In contrast, the female is much more subtly coloured with chestnut-head and thick, drooping crest, but a mainly greyish body. Because of this striking plumage contrast, at one time male and female were described as separate species, the female being the “Dun Diver” of 18th century authors.
Although not quite so colourful, the black and white male goldeneye is a pretty smart bird, its name revealing its most colourful feature. Male goldeneye also have a prominent white spot on the cheek. As with most ducks, again, the female is more subtle but distinctive, with a chocolate brown head and dark body, as she needs camouflage when she undertakes incubation of the eggs later in the year.
Good numbers of goldeneye have been seen around north isles’ lochs recently, as they feed up and display before moving to their European breeding sites. Goldeneye is a species that also breeds in parts of Scotland, where nestboxes have been provided. From these, the young making death-defying leaps to the ground within hours of hatching. However, in Shetland the species, although it has been recorded in every month of the year, is regarded as a winter visitor.
A whooper swan that I saw at Easter Loch on 3rd January had a yellow darvic ring on one leg inscribed with two letters and a number. As it lifted its leg out of the water to have a scratch, I managed to read the combination and have now heard that this is the first sighting of this individual outside Iceland.
It was ringed as a male cygnet in August 2006 in an area called Jokuldalsheidi which is in north-east Iceland, roughly between Egilstaddir and Lake Myvatn. It was seen in the same area again in August 2007, but may well have overwintered on the coast up there with other non-breeders. This winter could be the first time it has ventured south. To me that whole scenario is as exciting as finding a rare bird.
In a week that exhibited very mixed weather conditions, the North Isles wildlife scene livened up a bit. The strong winds last weekend brought a lot of gulls close inshore, among which were at least four glaucous gulls around north Unst last Monday, mostly first-winter birds but with one adult at Haroldswick.
Finally, another interesting record involves the shore lark on Lambaness, Unst, first reported there on 18th December, but which appears to be spending the winter there.