17th October 2018
Established 1872. Online since 1996.

Rare European vagrants stop off for a look with no egrets

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The little egret, which has been around in the North Mainland for several weeks, was at the Sullom Voe Terminal this week. Then another little egret appeared at Easter Quarff on the 19th.

Slim and elegant, this all-white plumaged, medium-sized heron has a dark bill and black legs with contrast­ing bright yellow feet.

Two elongated nape feathers form delicate plumes in breeding adults. The little egret is a very rare vagrant from Europe, mostly seen in spring from late April to mid-June. This species formerly bred in southern areas of Europe, North Africa and Asia but its range expanded into Western Europe, and in 1996 little egrets bred in England where there is now a small, established breeding population. In Scotland, migrants are usually seen in estuarine and coastal areas or by lochs Other bird migrants this week included a drake surf scoter at Dales Voe in Delting, the drake lesser Scaup at the Loch of Benston, a red-necked phalarope at the Scord beach and two sandwich terns at Virkie. The marsh warbler was still singing at Hoswick, the lesser grey shrike was in Bressay until the 17th and there were also records of willow warbler, quail and crossbills.

Andy Foote, Volker Deecke and members of the project team re­search­ing killer whales were on the Midsummer Cruise around the North Mainland. The cruise was organised by Brydon Thomason of Shetland Nature Cruises & Tours, with specialist guides providing commentaries on birds, archaeology and geology.

Leaving Toft, the ferry went through Yell Sound, heading past Gruney to the Ramna Stacks. The sun shining on these jagged rocky stacks, with white foam curling at their bases, was very impressive. We then headed around the point of Fethaland towards Uyea passing some of the oldest rocks in Shetland.

These ancient Lewisian gneisses are from 2000 million to 2900 million years of and are the roots of an ancient mountain chain.

South of Uyea is an awe-inspiring coastline cut into pink Ronas Hill granite, with the spectacular remote cliff-foot beach at the Lang Ayre.

Fractures in the rock enable rapid sea erosion, so the cliffs are very unstable resulting in scree slopes and prominent sea stacks. At the mouth of Ronas Voe, the pink granite lies adjacent to darker volcanic rocks formed along a geological fault line which can be clearly seen in the cliffs. We then moved down the dark, volcanic coastline north of Eshaness with a fine view through the rock buttresses of the Grind of the Navir. Past the lighthouse, we rounded the isle of Stenness and then passed the “drinking dinosaur” shape of Dore Holm of Grocken. As we re-crossed the fault line, the geology changed from volcanic to red granite as the Heads of Grocken came into view. Our destination was the familiar dramatic stacks of the Drongs, before making the return trip back to Toft. Definitely a great way to celebrate midsummer and thanks to all involved. Especial thanks to Jonathan Swale for providing a copy of his geological information.

Joyce J M Garden