Shetland Conservation Officer Matt Willmott gives us a little glimpse into a days birding in early Spring here in Shetland.

Part of Out Skerries - photo credit Matt Willmott

Heading to Out Skerries for the first birding trip of the spring always comes with an air of expectation and Sunday (31st March) didn’t disappoint.

Departing Vidlin in blue skies, with light wind (a gentle southerly) turned into more optimism as we were greeted by several Robins, Chaffinch and Redwing on the quayside as the ferry docked on Skerries. Birds from the south, and birds departing to the north.

A male Chaffinch - photo credit Beth Aucott

The next 6 hours yielded a good haul of common migrants on virtually every fence post and stone dyke, as birds were busy foraging for insects and seeds for their onwards journeys. The small, sheltered beaches and seaweed strewn areas were particularly busy, with a total of 31 Chiffchaff and over 50 Goldcrests noted. These birds all looked in heathy condition, many of them probably born last year, and will be hopefully able to complete the next leg of their journey with full bellies!

A Goldcrest - photo credit Beth Aucott

Other notable ‘drift’ migrants which we perhaps think of more ‘resident’ were over 40 Robin, 15 Song Thrush and 25 Dunnock, all of which are uncommon breeders in Shetland so are heading elsewhere and simply using Skerries as a fuel station. Amongst the good numbers of common migrants were rather more unexpected species including a Jack Snipe, 3 Yellowhammer, 4 Reed Bunting and 1 Hawfinch.

We can only begin to guess where some of these birds will end up, but the numbers of birds seen today, and sheer energy apparent in their feeding (hovering and flycatching), clearly showed the importance of these remote islands as an essential ‘cog’ in the migratory wheel!’