Pink-footed visitor arrives to join Sandwick tundra resident

The tundra bean goose was still at Sandwick this week, along with a pink-footed goose.

The darker head and neck, along with dark grey upper parts, small dark bill with orange patch, and orange legs and feet, assist in distinguishing the tundra bean goose from the closely-related pink-foot.

In flight only the pink-foot shows contrasting pale grey upper parts. When flying, a tundra bean goose looks long-necked and long-headed and has the dullest, most uniform coloured wings of all the grey geese.

The tundra bean goose, a northerly sub-species of the bean goose, is a rare migrant to Shetland, wintering in France, Spain, Italy and the Balkans, and breeding in the tundra regions and Arctic Ocean islands.

As a sub-species, an individual was first recorded in Fair Isle in 1976 with the next record of two tundra bean geese from the Spiggie area in 1994. Two years later, six were identified in Unst, with another two in the south Mainland. In 2002/ 2003 six were in the south Mainland.

All these birds were recorded in winter but in 2005 there were two in June. There were no reported records in 2006 and 2007. This winter has seen several records of tundra bean geese in the south Mainland, along with the flock of seven at Lambaness in Unst.

In general, tundra bean geese arrive here in winter, probably moving from the continent in response to cold weather. In Scotland, this sub-species is also recorded as a passage migrant from December to March.

On 16th March a pair of collared doves in Lerwick were reported to have chicks in the nest. These elegant, pale grey-buff doves have long tails and a narrow black bar on the neck. They are more often heard than seen, uttering harsh gull-like alarm calls and a monotonous tri-syllabic cooing. They feed on spilled grain and other seeds.

Originating from south and east Asia, the collared dove expanded its range very rapidly in the 20th century. The species first bred in Britain in 1955, reaching Scotland in 1957. The first Shetland record was on Fair Isle in 1960.

During the winter of 1964/65 three remained in Lerwick, and in 1965 Dennis Coutts found a pair breeding in a garden there. Since then, collared doves have bred annually and are now established residents. Lerwick and Scalloway are the main breeding areas, but they also nest at other sites on the Mainland and bred in Unst from 1970 to the mid-1980s.

Checking previous Shetland breeding records, nest building and incubation has been recorded as early as January with fledged young by May. Studies from Dornoch, have shown that the first clutches were usually laid in mid-April. Collared doves have a prolonged breeding season and may raise up to three broods. Migrant birds pass through the islands in spring.

Elsewhere this week, the male ring-necked duck, a rare vagrant from North America, was on the Loch of Asta, along with a male scaup. Two goosanders were on the Loch of Strand.

These saw-billed ducks, related to the red-breasted merganser, are scarce passage migrants and winter visitors to Shetland. The coal tit was still at Sandgarth, Voe and there were a few reports of pied wagtails, including one of the alba race outside the Tesco supermarket. A sparrow­hawk, chaffinches and a common redpoll were at Wester Quarff.

Joyce J M Garden


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