A very colourful migrant was the male wood duck on the Loch of Brow last Thursday.
The male has beautiful metallic blue-green upperparts, with a green patch and fine white lines on the head. The chin and upper throat are white, and the sides of the neck and the breast are a dark red speckled with white.
Wood duck is an American species which is kept in many wildfowl collections in Europe. Its natural breeding range is in the eastern USA, in south-east Canada and there is an isolated population in the Pacific.
It is closely related to the mandarin duck. All British records have been considered to be escapes. However, genuine transatlantic vagrants have been recorded in Iceland.
It was noted that the male on the Loch of Brow was fully winged, didn’t have a ring and was very wary.
Common migrants, such as willow warbler, chiffchaff, blackcap, greenfinch, chaffinch, brambling, linnet and siskin continued to be recorded at several locations.
Our garden was enlivened by a flock of five siskins which remained for a few days, feeding on peanuts. Siskins have been recorded annually in spring since 1970, and bred at Kergord in 1992, 1994 and 2001. They generally appear in the islands in March, with peak spring passage in April and May, but in 2008 there were small flocks of siskins recorded in February.
Siskins breed in the coniferous tree areas of Europe and Asia, being found from Scandinavia through Europe, northern parts of Asia and into northern China and Japan. In Scotland they are now breeding throughout most areas, their populations increasing as more conifer plantations mature, thus providing a supply of seeds.
Siskins favour pine, alder and birch seeds, but their small, neat bills are also suited to feeding on the small seeds of sitka spruce and larch so their range has extended, along with forestation. They have also adapted to eating peanuts and are increasingly coming into gardens to feed.
The males are particularly attractive, having black heads and bibs, greenish-yellow breasts and rumps, yellow on the sides of their tails, and dark wing-bars, with contrasting yellow markings. Females are duller, greenish-grey above and more heavily streaked below but with flashes of yellow.
Siskins are very active and acrobatic, bounding in to feed in a close flock, swooping down to land together and then flying off again like a scatter of colourful confetti.
Other notable migrants this week were the ring ouzels at Sumburgh, goldfinches at Scousburgh and Cunningsburgh, a hawfinch at Cunningsburgh and the male ring-necked duck at the Loch of Tingwall. The red-head smew is at the Loch of Benston in Nesting and the two tundra bean geese are still in Mousa.