Welcome back to the RSPB Shetland Blog,  

The team have been busy in the last few weeks number crunching and writing our annual reports and thought now was a good time to share the results with you all.  


Our main survey season starts with the whole island Black Guillemot or Tystie survey. It’s a great way to start the season and the results show an increase in birds this season, with 109 breeding plumage birds recorded, up from 95 the previous year.  

The Storm Petrel Census did go ahead this year, being run by the Conservation Science team. They are still crunching the numbers, but the initial figures are an estimated 14,000 pairs on Mousa, this is up from the previous census.  


Photo: Storm Petrel Chick. Quick picture taken while ringing the chicks, as part of the long term ringing program.  Credit: Beth Aucott 

Great Skua, it was decided following Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) to survey the whole of Mousa again this year. The numbers were down with only 10 Apparently Occupied territories (AOTs) being recorded, which is down from 36 last year. We will keep monitoring Bonxies going forward to help develop a better understanding of the long-term effects of HPAI.  

The Arctic Terns numbers were also down this year. The Terns arrived back to Mousa late and seemed to take a long time to settle. There was a small colony by East Ham that was predated. 

2 pairs of Red Throated Divers nested on Mousa this year, unfortunately they both failed at nest stage. 

Shag numbers were up this year. Last year was a particularly wet year which seemed to affect them across Shetland.  


Photo: Shag plus two chicks in nest. Credit: Beth Aucott 

Other breeding birds recorded on Mousa this year included Dunlin, Meadow Pipit, Herring Gull, Great black-backed Gull, Fulmar, Rock Pipit, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Puffin, Redshank, Eider, Wren, Starling, Wheatear, Twite, Skylark and Snipe. 

Ramna Stacks and Gruney  

The team managed to get across to Gruney this year to undertake an island biosecurity check as well as survey for Leach’s Petrel. We had 4 responses to playing the call, but the response rate varies so much we are hoping to get across for an overnight next year to undertake a more comprehensive survey.  


Photo: Site manager Kevin surveying seabirds on the cliffs, Long term Volunteer Sophie and Assistant Warden Lizzy listening for Leach’s Storm Petrel.  Credit: Beth Aucott

Loch of Spiggie  

Our surveys at Loch of Spiggie focus on Waders and Wildfowl (Ducks and Geese).  


One of the successes of Spiggie this year was 2 pairs of Lapwing, we didn’t have any last year. There was one male Red necked Phalarope regularly seen, but our site manager could not find any young, so we are unsure if they were successful or not.  

Ringed Plover and Redshank remained level with last year’s totals, 2 and 5 respectively.  

Curlew numbers are down by 1 this year with four breeding pairs being recorded. They seemed to take a while to settle to breed as the growing season started late, and chick numbers were picked up after surveys.  

Oystercatcher and Snipe numbers were also down this year. Oystercatcher down from to 5 breeding pairs, and Snipe down from 22 pairs last year to only 12 pairs this year.  


We had good number of ducks on our counts this year. Tufted Duck fledged 12 young from 2 pairs, Mute swan fledged 2 young from a single pair. Mallard numbers are also up from 12 last year to 18 this year.  

Whooper swan winter counts from 2022, the peak count was 89 adults and 13 juveniles. We have started this years winter counts, so if you are around Spiggie it’s a great time to see them.  

The Arctic terns once again didn’t nest on our tern rafts. However, they were regularly perching on them, with the reserves team regularly seeing food passes occur. So hopefully next year will be the year!   


On our Yell reserves we monitor Upland Waders on 3 plots. With the addition of Wast Neaps to the North of Lumbister, we did baseline wader surveys for here as well. These are the same 1km squares every year which gives us an overview of how wader numbers are doing on our reserves. We had breeding Dunlin, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Snipe, Golden Plover, Redshank and Lapwing. Our wader numbers are all up again on the wader plot which has peatland restoration work 2 years ago, this is a great sign. We are looking forward to seeing how the numbers change as more and more of the site is restored. The neighbouring windfarm development has now been consented, which makes us even more determined to make our reserves the best they can be for Peatland Habitats and the species they support.  

We also had two pairs on Merlin nest on the reserve this year. One pair successfully fledged 4 chicks, the other pair failed at the egg stage. This was the first year they have attempted to nest in the enclosure plot which was set up for Merlin in the 90’s!  

We also surveyed the whole of our Yell reserves for Skuas and Gulls again this year following HPAI, as expected the numbers are down. There was only 1 recorded AOT for Arctic Skua, this is down from 2 last year. Great Skua are down from 45 last year to just 24 this year. In 2017 these number were 5 and 91 respectively.  


Photo: Great Skua. Credit: Lizzy Grieve 


We monitored for waders on all our Fetlar reserves, and the combined totals for Fetlar are a bit of a mixed bag. With Redshank, Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Curlew and Ringed Plover number all up from last year. However, Golden Plover, Dunlin, Snipe and Whimbrel were all down.  

This year we had 21 apparently breeding Red-Necked Phalarope males on Fetlar across all our managed sites. This number is slightly down from last year, which we are fairly certain is down to a predation issue. However we have taken this opportunity to undertake a massive program of habitat management work this autumn which hopefully will lead to even more favourable conditions for the phalaropes as well as other waders.  


Photo: Red Necked Phalarope. Credit: Beth Aucott 

Till next time,  

Reserves team Blush