North Isles burst into bloom

Last week was a good one for cetaceans in the North Isles. On the 10th, at least eight, maybe as many as 10 killer whales were seen off Funzie, Fetlar. Then on the Monday, about six killer whales were off Haroldswick, though no adult male was seen with them.

In addition, there were about 25 white-sided dolphins at the same location. And then again on the morning of Tuesday 12th, a large pod of white-sided dolphins were noted making their way north off the east side of Yell. On the same day a small number of harbour porpoise were noted in Burra Firth, Unst.

The week started quietly for birds, with a hawfinch at Brough, Whalsay, on the 12th, while a grey wagtail, tree pipit and four sand martins were at Norwick, Unst. Next day a sedge warbler was singing at Baltasound.

But with a shift in the wind direction last Friday, the North Isles came alive with migrants over the weekend. Whalsay hosted a rustic bunting along with two bluethroats, an icterine warbler and cuckoo. Skerries had an amazing five bluethroats, a wryneck and a red-backed shrike, one of the latter also being found on Fetlar, which also matched the total of five bluethroats on the Saturday. Unst, meantime, had a further two bluethroats, and an icterine warbler at Baltasound on Sunday.

All the islands also had a supporting cast of whitethroats and lesser whitethroats, wood and garden warblers, chiffchaffs and willow warblers, pied and spotted flycatchers, redstarts and a few black redstarts along with a handful of reed buntings.

Swallows were fairly wide­spread and both house and sand martins were also seen. A very late waxwing was at Baltasound last Saturday, while a snow bunting was at Lambaness on the 11th.

Yet another male garganey was at Haroldswick last Friday – what a good spring it has been for seeing them. A sparrowhawk was around the Norwick area earlier in the week with it or another at Baltasound last Friday.

As to wading birds, a few com­mon sandpipers passed through while a greenshank was in north Unst on Saturday. Arctic waders still pass through – several turn­stone looking incredibly smart in their black, white and chestnut plumage, a sanderling still moult­ing into breeding plumage and a couple of purple sandpipers were at Norwick last weekend. Lapwings were seen at Haroldswick with recently-hatched young.

The North Isles also burst into bloom last week, with plenty of cuckooflower and bogbean complimenting the marsh marigold in the damp areas, while red campion is now coming out in several places. Thrift is also out in a number of places.

This time of year is notoriously quiet for moths so it was a pleasant surprise to find a marbled coronet in the Burrafirth trap last Friday morning.

Marbled coronet is an attractive species that is widespread if local throughout the British Isles. In colour the species varies from a fairly strong black and white which this individual was to almost brown, a colour particularly found in Shetland. The adults fly during May and June. The larvae of this species feed on sea campion and other campion species that occur near beaches which is a favoured habitat.

Meanwhile, several folk have remarked that bumblebees were numerous round the North Isles last week – a very welcome sight.

Finally, Willie Laurenson got a surprise when a large frog hopped out while he was working at the peats near Loomer Shun by Saxa Vord at a height of about 190 metres – quite a high-level frog.

Wendy Dickson


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