Signs of spring in air already

This being the last week of February, there are increasing signs of spring’s arrival.

The last of the winter atlas counts are complete, before breeding birds begin to return. Already, good numbers of shalders are now back in the North Isles, but there is also a distinct greening up of the isles now that the snow has finally disap­peared.

Foliage of several plants is growing apace – lesser celandine, thrift, scurvy grass and of course dandelions, while sycamores and willows are showing good signs of new life. There are even a few flowers out. It will be interesting to watch the fortunes of some of our iconic plants following the cold winter weather.

Before the snow came I went to Baltasound to check out how the white butterbur was doing, and found that, although the number of plants in this particular patch are becoming fewer, those remaining were well in bud.

With moderate shelter from trees, it was no surprise last week to find several in flower, with just a small amount of frost damage around the edges – a welcome clue that the year is moving on.

Although not a native plant in Shetland, or even in Britain, its natural range is from southern Norway and Sweden southwards in continental Europe. Its much more familiar cousin in mainland Britain is the ordinary, pink-flowered butterbur, another early flowering plant, but this has never been confirmed in the North Isles, old records being regarded as confusion with another Shetland colonist, coltsfoot, due to a similarity in the appearance of the leaf.

It was still the long stayers that were dominating the North Isles birding scene last week. Firstly let’s diffuse the suspension by saying that the shore lark on Lambaness was seen again last Monday, having therefore survived the fairly prolonged spell of snow. However, it has not been reported since then.

The seven tundra bean geese remained on Lambaness all week, while on Sunday another bean goose, presumed also to be a tundra rather than a taiga, was seen at the Houb, Whalsay.

A goosander was present at Uyeasound last Sunday, while a hen harrier was seen at Cullivoe, Yell, on the 19th. Glaucous gulls are still showing up around Burrafirth with not only first year birds, but second year and adults. The adults at least should be leaving our shores soon for more northern climes.

Wrens have been conspicuous by their absence these past few months. Hard winters are not good for wrens who find it difficult to feed and thus generate energy to survive harsh conditions. However, last week one at least appeared and, although not singing yet (though they do sing here in some Februarys), at least they are around and hopefully getting into breeding condition. They are certainly a welcome sight.

Wendy Dickson


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