A night heron is the latest avian stranger to set foot in Shetland, with one being spotted in Reawick this morning.
Resembling nothing so much as a stunted haegrie with a dark cape, the black-crowned night heron (Nycticorax nycticorax), to give it its full name, is the only member of its genus in Europe. It is normally found no further north than France where it comes to breed.
The species was last seen in Shetland in 2008 although the wing of a dead bird was found on the beach at Sand Voe in 2012.
Reawick man Doddie Anderson first saw the heron near the road below his house. It took off as he tried to get near enough for a photo, but only went as far as nearby wetlands, before settling at a crook in the burn leading down to Reawick beach. He called birdwatcher Julie Redpath, who managed to identify the bird.
As word of the night heron filtered out, twitchers, some with lenses “as big as tar barrels” started to flood into Reawick. Later in the morning, the rare bird was still content to sit in the burn as photographers snapped away.
Shetland Amenity Trust natural heritage project officer Paul Harvey said that the visitor was only the ninth live night heron seen in Shetland since the 1970s when records began. The last two, in Fair Isle at the same time, but not as a pair, were seen in 2008.
“It should be in the Mediterranean now really,” he said. “It’s usually a nocturnal bird that roosts through the day and feeds at night. It has a black cape and black head and in the beautiful light this morning the black cape looked almost iridescent green.”
It was more usual, he added, to see them flying out from their Mediterranean roosts at dusk as they head off on their fishing forays.
Unfortunately, there is no guarantee the night heron will find its way back to warmer climes. One of the birds seen here a few years ago was found dead later.