Rain geese heard yodelling in firth

Spring certainly sprang last week – skylarks and wrens were singing, oystercatchers and lapwings display­ing, and the first rain geese heard “yodelling” in the firth.

Interestingly though, having driven through Kergord last week and seen the lesser celandine coming well into flower, it was interesting to compare that in the North Isles which is significantly later, at least here in Unst, with little sign of any flowerheads even appearing just yet.

An unusual passenger found a novel way of hitching a lift across Yell Sound on the ferry Daggri last Tuesday when a kestrel was reported perched on the bow visor for the trip.

Following on from the female stonechat reported in last week’s Wildernews, a fine male was seen in Burrafirth on the 17th, with another two males reported from Skerries on the 19th.

Stonechats are fantastic birds. Characteristically perching on a fence post or tall plant stem, they have an upright, confident stance. With an almost angular-looking head, in full breeding plumage, males have a black head with a white half-collar, dark upperparts and tail with a whitish rump, while the upper breast is a rich rust colour. Females are a more subtle version of the males, but with no white on the rump. Although stonechats occasion­ally breed in Shetland, they are best regarded as scarce passage migrants in both spring and autumn.

Those apart, there wasn’t quite such a flurry of activity as the pre­vious week. A greenfinch showed up at Baltasound on Monday, 16th March when two were also present at Skerries. Next day, a rook was seen on Skerries following on from one reported in Norwick, Unst, a few days earlier.

Meanwhile, Fetlar was graced by a yellowhammer last Friday, while the following day an Alba wagtail was also at Skerries. Alba refers collectively to two subspecies, pied (mainly breeding in Britain and Ireland) and white (breeding in Faroe, Iceland and across continental Europe) wagtails, but unless you get other than a flight view and cannot see the colour of the upperparts, it is not possible to differentiate them.

And yes, the shore lark continued to show on Lambaness, at least until the 19th, while a male goosander has been present on the lochs around Uyeasound for quite a while now and three northern eiders were off Sound Gruney in Bluemull Sound on the 21st.

However many good bird sight­ings there may be during the early part of the year – and there have certainly been some good ones in the last few months – I still hanker after getting the moth trap going. Finally it all came together on the Tuesday night and next morning produced 45 Hebrew characters, which rose to 68 three nights later, when they were joined by the first brindled ochre of the year.

Hebrew character is the expected species at this time of year, but no less exciting for that. Named for the usually dark, saddle-shaped hiero­glyphic mark on the upper wing, there is a lot of variation in both the mark, which can occasionally be extremely pale, and the background colour of the upperwing.

Regarded as resident and com­mon throughout Shetland, they overwinter as a pupa in an under­ground cocoon, and usually fly as a single generation from February to July, though the trap here usually gets a few only until the end of April. The larval foodplants are many and varied but probably around here include bilberry, meadowsweet and common nettle.

Wendy Dickson


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