Welcome to the RSPB Shetland blog!
It was busy last week with lots of preparation for the season ahead, across our suite of managed sites.
Last week also signalled the start of the monitoring season, with the first count on one of the sites completed, and always a great start to a new season- the puffin count.
So what does this involve?
We have to gauge as accurate a count as we can for returning adult puffins at Sumburgh Head. A 6 am start with a team of 4 counters, we split up into twos and head up from the main car park to the tip of Sumburgh Head in the south- with one group on one side of the headland and the other pair on the other. We then aim to count all puffins on the cliffs, on the sea close inshore, and more tricky, those in flight too. The latter normally involves an undercount as to not overcount or double count those birds leaving the cliffs and flying around before returning. We split the cliffs into sections and carry out a thorough survey, ensuring we move positions to view all hidden birds. The second counter will concentrate on birds on the sea or those definitely distinguishable as separate birds in flight. Once the route is successfully walked we combine our totals from the two teams, to get our adult puffin count for the season.
This is always a challenging process, as it involves looking at the weather, and a watchful eye on growing numbers before settling on the right morning to potentially get the best count. An early morning or late evening start is best as this is when numbers are at their highest. This year we counted 588 birds on the headland- which despite being a good count, was exactly 400 down on the count last year. This could be a combination of us not getting the peak numbers quite right, or a reflection of the widely reported auk casualties last autumn/winter across the UK.
We might chance another count soon, but will need to be quick, to not miss the opportunity. As once the females start to lay in their underground burrows the cliffs will be absent of puffins for a while, with only intermittent sightings.
This week, we head to RSPB Mousa to make some path improvements as well as carry out an early morning black guillemot (Tystie's) count too from the entire island.
Lots to look forward to and a busy season ahead- see below for a round up from our main sites.
A round up of sightings across our sites.
Sumburgh Head: Good numbers of puffins, razorbills, guillemots, kittiwake and fulmar back on the cliffs with smaller numbers of shags. A nice arrival of goldcrests and robins around the headland with a few bramblings and a single goldfinch too. Wheatear numbers are still low, with only a handful being seen, and the first great skuas of the year are being seen too.
Loch of Spiggie: Wildfowl numbers remain stable with winter visitors and passage birds now merging- goldeneyes and tufted ducks are the most numerous, 8 long- tailed ducks, a pair of pintails and the usual good number of teals, wigeons and mallards have featured too. The occasional sighting of great skua and Iceland gull have added to the interest. Along the loch edge waders are starting to become more territorial with curlews, redshanks, snipe and oystercatchers becoming more settled. The first greenshank of the year also appeared.
Fetlar- great skua numbers have increased and nearby to sites the Shetland wide influx of hawfinch has featured with up to 10 in Fetlar alone. Brambling are scattered in large numbers too.
Until next time- bye for now. Kevin
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