Welcome back to the RSPB Shetland blog

We’re properly into survey season at the moment and taking advantage of all the good weather windows to get our work done. The team have been all across Shetland, carrying out surveys at Spiggie and Mousa aswell as on sites we manage on Unst and Fetlar.

We have a couple of plots on Lumbister, Yell, where we carry out wader surveys each year. This gives us a snapshot of how waders in the wider area and can highlight if there are any problems. We’re particularly interested in them this year as one of the plots is an area that was covered by our peatland restoration work over the winter. Through NatureScot Peatland Action fund, supported by the Scottish Government, we had the opportunity to rectify the damage and return the habitat to a healthy state with greater biodiversity. Working with local contractors, peat dams were built to slow the flow through gullies and ditches, and reprofile the edges of peat hags. This allows surface water levels to reach the vegetation layer which will contribute over time to peat formation again. It should also be in good condition for breeding waders – something we’re hoping our survey results will show.

The wader plots are very enjoyable to do, as it feels pretty special to be out in remote places, just you and the wildlife. However they are a physically tough survey to carry out. We have to walk out to the start point before following the survey route itself which consists of  5, 1km transects, and then there’s the long walk back to the vehicle. This is all over peatland and heather so not easy going. The survey this week was after a night of rain so the ground was rather wet underfoot but the site looked incredible. Survey snacks and dry socks to put on afterwards are essential!

A little wet underfoot

The highlight for me this survey was the number of dunlin on site. Where I lived previously we only saw dunlin in the winter so having the chance to see these charming little waders in breeding habit and hear them sing is delightful. I also got to witness some interesting behaviour with a dunlin following around a golden plover. It is thought they do this to take advantage of the golden plovers wariness and relying on them to alert the dunlin to the presence of any threats. This behaviour has led to dunlin being know as the plover’s page.

A dunlin and golden plover
A dunlin and golden plover side by side

Recent sightings:

Sumburgh Head –  Puffinsguillemotskittiwake, fulmar, razorbills and shags can be seen on the cliffs. Great skuasherring gull and great black-backed gulls are regularly seen flying around. A hobby was seen in the area at the end of last week and today staff were treated to orca going around Sumburgh head whilst they were up there working.

Lumbister – It was a successful survey day with golden plover, curlew, snipe, great skuas, redshank, oystercatcher, lapwing and  whimbrel all being seen in suitable breeding habitat. A short-eared owl was a nice surprise.

Loch of Spiggie – Curlew, redshank, snipe, oystercatcher, ringed plover and lapwing are all still present around the reserve. Two pairs of mute swan are still on eggs whilst the whooper swans on Brow loch have hatched 6 cygnets. A little stint and a knot have also been seen feeding around the edges of the loch

a brood of mallard ducklings
Some mallard ducklings at Spiggie

Until next time