A rare vagrant turtle dove has been hopping around the gardens of North Roe for over a week.
The oriental or rufous turtle dove is only the third official record of the species in Shetland and one of fewer than 20 sightings in the entire UK.
The bird, a somewhat brighter version of the turtle dove, is normally resident in the open woodlands of central Asia, from where it migrates south to India for the winter. This one had evidently taken a wrong turn heading northwest instead of south.
The previous sighting was in November last year, when one was found in a garden in Scalloway, with the only other record in Shetland some years before that.
The “bonny bird” was at one point in such poor condition that Mid Gard resident Malcolm Cowie took it in overnight in case his cats nailed it while it was resting on the ground.
Mr Cowie’s first inkling that a strange visitor was about came last Monday when his grandson Scott told him he had seen the bird in the playground of the North Roe school
“He was all excited about it because he knows I like photographing birds and things,” said Mr Cowie who, along with his wife Marion, had come to pick Scott up after school.
It was not long before the bird came into the Cowies’ garden and Mr Cowie started snapping photos. The dove appeared so “tame” that he was able to get close to where it was feeding in the bushes. After that, he let it be, to get on with its feeding, and made sure the cats were kept inside.
Mr Cowie put his photos of the bird on the Nature in Shetland Facebook page. “When I started putting photos up I used to name them but stopped, as I was invariably wrong.” However, the dove was quickly identified by other birdwatchers.
The next morning Mrs Cowie found the dove sitting on the ground at the side of the house. “We decided we could not leave him there for the cats, so I just walked up and picked him up and he made no effort to escape. We kept him in a box overnight.”
The next day Mr Cowie phoned wildlife photographer Jim Nicolson, who had been concerned about the rare migrant, and several other birders to let them know he was about to release the bird which would be a rare photo opportunity.
Once released, the dove headed once more for the school but was soon back in the Mid Gard gardens where a nourishing diet of seeds saw it gradually regain its strength.
“It’s a lot stronger now than it was the first day,” Mr Cowie said on Wednesday. “According to the experts these birds have an in-built directional system but they sometimes get their wires crossed and instead of turning left, they turn right. This one is completely lost.”
The experts were also able to say that the bird is a youngster, less than a year old.
It is difficult to say what the prospects of the dove ever returning to its breeding ground are. The one seen in Scalloway last year was next seen in Faroe, still heading in the wrong direction.
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