In previous blogs we’ve talked about the surveys we carry out and recently, the team have been spending time number crunching and writing annual reports, so thought it would be nice to share how species have fared on some of our sites this year. 
Loch of Spiggie

At Loch of Spiggie our surveys are targeted on waders and wildfowl (ducks and geese). Waders have had a good year with an increase in breeding pairs of curlew to five pairs compared to last years three pairs. Oystercatcher and snipe numbers also increased whilst redshank pairs remained at five, the same as last year. We also had two pairs of ringed plover breed on north-west marsh – the first ones since 2010. The team were also thrilled to discover red-necked phalaropes breeding on the reserve – our site manager even managed to spot the chicks. 


A pair of shoveler bred on Setter marsh whilst mallard numbers increased from last year. The number of tufted duck pairs was down but we saw a high number of chicks in broods this year. Three mute swan nested around the loch through sadly no eggs hatched in one of the nests. The whooper swan pair that nests on Brow loch had six cygnets and moved between the two lochs. 

A Whooper swan
Whooper swan

Although Arctic terns didn’t breed on the rafts we installed this year, a couple of pairs successfully bred at the edge of the loch further south. The rafts were used however, by a pair of pied wagtails, who fledged three young. 



The survey season start with our black guillemot survey where we recorded 95 breeding adults, slightly up from last years count of 92. 

A pair of black guillemots sit on a rock
Black guillemots on Mousa

Unfortunately, the storm petrel census, which was due this year, couldn’t go ahead due to HPAI (Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza) so we’ll keep everything crossed it can be carried out in 2023 instead. 
The shag population followed the trend of lower numbers seen elsewhere around Shetland. This is thought to be due to poor winter weather rather than avian flu. 

This year we surveyed the whole island for waders and recorded breeding snipe, ringed plover, redshank, oystercatcher and dunlin. 

Although we couldn’t carry out our proper surveys for Arctic terns as it involves walking right through the colonies and it was decided the risk was too high with HPAI present, we did manage to get some rough counts from a distance. The terns had a really good year, doubling the number of adults compared to 2021. 

The red-throated divers successfully fledged a chick. 

It just happened that a whole island count of skuas was due this year. The team counted 36 occupied great skua territories. The last full island count was in 2017 and had 60 occupied territories, so as expected with HPAI, numbers here have dropped dramatically. We’ll be monitoring bonxies going forward to help us develop a better understanding of the long-term effects of HPAI. 

A great skua stands on a ridgeline

Other birds recorded breeding on the island this year included eider, wheatear, twite (good numbers of young seen), rock pipit, wren, starling, meadow pipit, skylark, herring gull and great black-backed gull 


On our two reserves in Yell, we do annual monitoring of waders on three 1km square plots to give us a snapshot of how they are doing. We recorded 8 breeding wader species this year – dunlin, whimbrel, oystercatcher, golden plover, snipe, curlew, redshank and lapwing. Apart from redshank and whimbrel, all species saw an increase in numbers this year. One of the plots is on an area of the peatland that got restored over last winter so it’s going to be really interesting to see how the numbers change over the next few years. 

Dunlin and golden plover

We were also due a whole reserve survey for skuas and gulls in Yell this year. The survey recorded breeding great black-backed and herring gulls as well as a colony of common gull on one of the hillsides. Across the two reserves we had a total of 45 great skua territories and 2 Arctic skua territories. In 2017 these numbers were 91 and 5 territories respectively. 

Although a lot of our work on our managed sites in Fetlar is focussed on red-necked phalaropes, it does make the mires suitable for other waders which we monitor every year. We have the same 8 breeding waders as can be found on our reserves in Yell and all of them except dunlin saw an increase in numbers this year.  

This year we had 28 apparently breeding red-necked phalarope males on Fetlar, spread across all of our managed sites which was fantastic news, and a real boost after carrying out habitat management and getting grazing established on sites. The number is slightly lower then last year, but we’ve had a very wet summer, so some off-reserve areas of habitat will have stayed wet enough to be suitable for breeding this year. 

 A group of red-necked phalaropes feeding on water

It's always very satisfying at this time of year to take some time to reflect on how the season has gone and what has been achieved. We’ve already started thinking about next year and are continuing with practical work across the sites. Next week I’ll share a highlight of the year with you all – a success story that we weren’t quite expecting! 

Until then