The black kite, recorded on 27th April, is still around, and on 5th May it was seen perching on fence-posts along the main road above Fladdabister.
These kites scavenge on carrion and, in Europe, are often seen along motorways feeding on road-kills. A very rare vagrant to Britain, with around seven records each year, most are seen in the southern part of the country. The black kite is a medium-sized bird of prey with dark brown plumage, and it has a pale, mid-brown panel across the inner wing, a lighter brown head and a slightly forked tail.
A great white egret was at the Loch of Spiggie last week. This species is also a very rare vagrant from Europe. Around the size of a grey heron, the plumage is all-white, but this bird was not always easily observed as it frequented ditches around the loch.
Since the early 1980s there have been increasingly frequent records of this species in Britain where it is now considered to be an annual vagrant. The breeding range has expanded into north-west Europe and there is a tendency for more great white egrets to winter in western and central parts of Europe. It is thought that Shetland records may originate from the small breeding population which has become established in the Netherlands.
Another of last week’s visitors to the Loch of Spiggie was a ruddy shelduck. About the same size and proportions as a common shelduck, this species has a bright orange body with a pale, cinnamon-buff coloured head and neck, contrasting with the black rump, tail and flight feathers.
Like the wood duck, ruddy shelduck records are considered to be from captive or feral populations. However, in 1892 there was an influx of wild birds into north-west Europe, including Scotland, although these records are still considered debatable by some. For this reason the ruddy shelduck is on the British list, but it is placed in Category B which means “recorded in natural state in Britain only before 31st December 1949”.
Other wildfowl recorded this week include two male garganey, a male gadwall, a pair of shoveler on both the Loch of Spiggie and the Loch of Hillwell, and a shoveler on the Loch of Trondavoe.
The male shoveler has a colourful plumage with a green-black head, chestnut flanks, white breast and black back and stern, while the female resembles a female mallard. Both drake and duck can be recognised by their huge bills, even at a distance.
Shovelers are scarce passage migrants which have bred in Shetland. They are almost annual at the Loch of Hillwell, where they feed in the shallow, nutrient-rich waters.
Also at Hillwell were up to 30 swallows and two sand martins. “Sea swallows” were also evident this week as Arctic terns, the last of the summer breeding seabirds to return, came back to the islands in increasing numbers.
There were a few other migrant records including a long-eared owl in Lerwick and also chaffinch, brambling, greenfinch, common redpoll and lesser whitethroat. Siskins were recorded at several locations (including the female which is still in our garden) with a flock of seven at Cunningsburgh. There was a blackcap at Voe and also reports of wood pigeons from several sites.
I had two otter encounters this week. The first was when I was giving a friend a lift home. My friend noticed a large dog otter emerging from the loch so I stopped the car and waited. He came purposefully up the burn and crossed the road in front of the car, before bounding up the field.
The second encounter was as we were returning from a folk festival concert, when we heard the high-pitched whistles of otter contact calls and then briefly glimpsed the dark shapes in the water.
Joyce J M Garden