Hoopoe puts isles in the pink

Last week was a colourful one for North Isles wildlife and Whalsay was certainly “in the pink”.

Surely one of the most sought-after birds to see in Shetland must be a hoopoe, one of which was around the Marrister to Brough area from the 10th at least until Sunday night.

With its pink body, amazing broad, black and white striped wings and a prominent crest when raised, it is an extremely striking, medium-sized bird that is more usually found in south-west Europe. Pink of a different tone came in the hawfinch, also in the Bonnie Isle, around Symbister to Saltness. These large finches with their extremely strong, stout bills and plumage more of a rusty pink shade, arrive in the North Isles fairly regularly in small numbers. But on their breeding grounds in Europe and, rather sparsely, mainland Britain, they can be extremely secretive birds. Whalsay also hosted two black redstarts.

Skerries, meantime, was visited by two long-eared owls. Their plumage may not be a striking colour, though it is wonderfully patterned, but the eyes have it – a bright orange when flashed open.

Keeping the colourful theme going, a yellowhammer was found at Fetlar on the 10th. Yellowhammer used to be a pretty common bird of agricultural land at one time, but alas, their numbers have plummeted quite consid­erably in recent decades. Males have a wonderfully soft, bright yellow plumage offset by a chestnut rump, while females are more subtle in colouration and rather more streaky.

Another splash of colour was provided by a single common crane at Lambaness, Unst, on the 9th, though sadly it didn’t stay for the finer points of its plumage to be admired. A rather more truly monochrome, but magnificent bird, which appeared at Loch of Watlee, Unst, on the Monday night of last week was an osprey, probably en route to Scandinavia.

In among the euphoria of migration, it is sometimes easy to overlook our colourful breeding birds. Take the lapwing, for instance. From afar in poor light, you tend to see it in monochrome, but get closer with a bit of light and its colours are magnificent. The back is shaded in everything from deep blue through green to mauve, while the undertail feathers, often only seen as the bird bends over to feed, are a rich chestnut.

And at this time of year, particularly, the longer crest of the male is very obvious as it gets caught in a gust of wind. Their flight is very diagnostic also, with those long, very rounded wings and typical flapping flight. A delight to watch.

Wendy Dickson


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