Curlew sandpiper at Scatness among late spring migrants passing through

There were still a few late spring migrants passing through the isles this week.

A curlew sandpiper was seen at Scatness. The curlew sandpiper is a scarce passage migrant, more commonly recorded in autumn. The summer breeding plumage is particularly striking, with scaly reddish upperparts and rich brick-red underparts. Slightly larger than a dunlin, this wader has a distinctive slightly decurved bill, although the curve is not as pronounced as that of a curlew. Curlew sandpipers breed in Arctic Siberia and winter in Africa, parts of Asia, Indonesia and Australia. Their breeding success depends on the lemming population. If there are high numbers of lemmings the Arctic foxes will feed on these rodents. However, in years when the lemming populations are low, curlew sandpiper chicks are predated on instead.

Alma Duncan saw a large bird on her croft in Mid Walls on the morning of the 14th.

It was in the marshy area beside the burn, and she realised from the size and its cloak of grey feathers that it was a common crane. One was seen on the West Mainland at the end of May so this may have been the same bird as they can be long-staying migrants. This species is a rare migrant from Europe with most being recorded in spring. These elegant birds feed in shallow waters, mainly on plant material but they also take invertebrates. They fly with loud clanging calls, head and legs out-stretched, My bird of the week was a male lesser grey shrike on the east side of Bressay on the 16th – with thanks to the expert birders for information and assistance in locating it. Lesser grey shrikes are rare migrants to Shetland, and rare vagrants to Scotland. Over 60 per cent of the sightings are from Shetland and Fair Isle. They breed from East Europe through Asia and southern parts of Russia with a few isolated populations in southern regions of Europe. During the first part of the 20th century the breeding range has contracted eastwards with a resulting decline in the number of migrants seen in Britain.

A male marsh warbler has been singing at Hoswick since the 10th. There were five brent geese at Scatness and a quail at Virkie. A first summer little gull was at the Loch of Tingwall on the 10th and a drake surf scoter at Dales Voe on the 14th.

There have been several reports of sea mammals. Volker Deecke sent an update on the pod of five killer whales which have been seen around Shetland coasts. On the 7th the group were seen heading north at Ulsta and relocated at West Sandwick where they attempted to take a common seal from the West Sandwick Holm. The team was able to take distant identification photos which appear to confirm that they were Busta, Linga, Lunna, Billan and Ossa. A minke whale was recorded off Sumburgh Head on the 8th. On the 11th a large bull killer whale was observed heading north off the west side of St Ninian’s Isle in the evening and a minke whale was off the north end of Mousa. Three killer whales were also seen off Sumburgh Head on the 12th. On the 13th a basking shark was in Mousa Sound in the afternoon.

Joyce J M Garden


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