A few unusual birds continued to appear across the North Isles last week. The most obvious was a golden oriole around the Saxa Vord Resort and North Dale areas on the 24th and 25th.
A female-type, or “ringtail” hen harrier was an unseasonal find as it flew over Camb, Yell, on the 23rd. Haroldswick not only hosted two sandwich terns on the 22nd but was visited by 14 swifts two days later, perhaps moving before a minor weather front. Not only one but two quail were both heard and seen at Ungirsta during the week. Four siskins were at Skerries on the 27th, with a lesser whitethroat at Baltasound next day.
Crossbills, however, still dominated the birding scene last week with numbers increasing all across the isles. Small flocks are seen flying in all the time as an influx seems to be under way. Frances Wilson was delighted by four red-plumaged adult males alighting briefly on her garden fence, no doubt visiting from the larger number present in nearby Halligarth. I hardly dare say this as it could all change very quickly, but so far this year most of our seabirds seem to be having a reasonably good season. Guillemot numbers on Hermaness have increased from nearly 6,000 individuals in 2004 to nearly 7,000 this year, while razorbills have frequently been seen catching good-sized sandeels close inshore during the week. Some puffins have also been seen bringing in useful-sized sandeels, though it seems a little worrying that some young puffins are coming to burrow entrances, presumably looking for food, and getting predated.
Young bonxies are around on Hermaness while two pairs of Arctic skuas are nesting there this year – a 100 per cent increase on last year. Arctic skuas are such exciting birds – I watched a couple at Norwick last weekend exhibiting their amazing flying skills as they twisted and turned in tight circles trying to persuade common gulls to regurgitate a meal for them. Many gannet chicks are hatched out and adults can be seen fishing all around the north end of Unst as well as others passing on their way further afield. They can travel up to 200 miles if necessary. It is also very encouraging to see terns breeding in a number of places, bringing in fish for the recently-hatched young. And kittiwakes around the north coast of Unst, while nowhere near numbers of some years back, seem to be doing well with young being fed.
Meanwhile, Scottish Natural Heritage is carrying out a consultation on both Hermaness and the Keen of Hamar National Nature Reserves and would appreciate any feedback from the general public.