The first day of May and Skerries was visited by a red-rumped swallow. Not only do these birds have a different plumage to our more familiar barn swallow, but a different personality or jizz as well.
Red-rumped swallows are normally found across southern Europe where they are fairly common. The rump is actually more of a rusty-red, paler near the tail, while the nape of the neck is similarly coloured. The flight is a little different too, slower with rather more gliding. But what delightful birds they are.
Meanwhile, a little egret turned up in Fetlar on the same day. These members of the heron family with their dazzling white plumage, elegant head plumes and black legs terminating in yellow feet, are gradually spreading northwards through Britain from southern Europe.
Little did Heather Macaulay realise the interest it would cause among local birders when a goldfinch arrived at her Uyeasound garden bird feeder on the Monday evening, where it remained all week. The following morning she noticed some of the bairns from nearby Uyeasound Primary School walking past, and invited them to creep quietly round the corner and see the bird which obligingly continued feeding throughout. With their red, white and black heads and extensive yellow in the wing, these striking birds are very scarce visitors to the North Isles.
The number of common redpolls at Brough, Whalsay, rose to six during the week, while a lesser whitethroat was also seen there. At Skaw, also in Whalsay, a whinchat and tree pipit were located last Saturday. Meanwhile, at Skerries a common whitethroat was seen on the 29th. A few willow warblers have also been noted in one or two locations. Small numbers of siskins have been seen with four at Cullivoe, Yell and a couple at Whalsay. A sand martin was at Uyeasound last weekend where numbers of barn swallows were up to about ten.
A sparrow hawk was in Unst on the last day of April, while perhaps the first Arctic tern of the year was at Haroldswick last Saturday.
A pair of gadwall were at Uyeasound on the 2nd. Males, however, lack the showy plumage of other dabbling ducks, being mostly shades of grey but with black undertail coverts while in flight a prominent white and chestnut patch is visible on the upper wing. A visit to the Keen of Hamar at the weekend revealed that some of its star flowers are opening up for business. Quite a scattering of early purple orchids were out, while moss campion was also coming into flower.
Although early purple orchid is a widespread plant across Britain, here on the Keen, which is the plant’s main Shetland stronghold, it has evolved as a smaller plant than normal, and with unspotted leaves. Moss campion is cushion-like, the flowers on the south sides coming out first. As the season progresses so those on the top and then the north side flower, thus giving it an extended season.This rounded shape is, of course, a very efficient adaptation to resisting the strong winds and all else that the Shetland climate produces, especially in the exposed places the plant grows. But the cushions also hide a warm secret – the temperature inside is about 10ºC higher than on the outside.
A few more butterflies appeared last week. Two more presumed overwintering peacocks were noted, one at Norwick on the 28th, one at Leagarth, Fetlar on the 30th, while Fetlar also hosted a red admiral at Hamars Ness on the 27th.