Feisty goings on in swan lochs

Last year a pair of mute swans spent a lot of time on the lochs at Uyeasound, Unst. They didn’t look to be fully mature birds – males don’t breed until they are four years old, females a year younger.

However, what is presumably the same pair are now back again, and beginning to get quite territorial, mainly towards the whooper swans that are still using the Easter Loch.

In particular, there are two juvenile whoopers that seem to have lost their parents for whatever reason, and last week they were getting some unwelcome attention from their slightly weightier cousins.

While juvenile mute swans are often driven away from breeding territories as soon as their plumage becomes predominantly white, around the time of late autumn or winter, young whooper swans stay with their parents throughout the winter and normally remain as a family group as they migrate back to their breeding areas, in this case Iceland. So whether these two mute swans attempt to breed this year, and what will happen to the whooper cygnets, will become clearer over the next month or so.

Spring was definitely put on hold last weekend, even taking a step backwards last Sunday. But earlier last week, a few trips around Unst revealed most of the usual suspects. There was definitely a feeling of moving on. Now that the cold weather and snow have finally (?) gone, lapwings have started arriving back. Lapwings are notorious for making cold-weather movements when the ground is frozen or covered with snow and they cannot feed. They often move south-west into Ireland. However, those returning now will be both our local breeding birds as well as migrants en route to Scandinavia.

Likewise large numbers of redshank were apparent in the North Isles last week. Another species not coping well with severe winter weather, once again it will be breeding birds returning with the migrants, but the large numbers suggest they may have got held up further south and are now making up for lost time. In this case, the migrant birds are likely to be of the Icelandic race heading up in that direction.

Wendy Dickson


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