Although summer is our main survey season, we do still like to keep an eye on how some of our wintering birds are doing. We have some fabulous volunteers who do these counts for us but this week our volunteers who do the winter swan counts are away. This meant I had the chance to do it. It’s a fairly simple survey – count all the swans on Loch of Spiggie, making a note of if they are whooper or mute swans, and whether adult or juvenile. The counts happen weekly, and as with all our surveys, because we have consistent records for previous years we can see if numbers are increasing, decreasing or stable. 

a family of whooper swans on a loch

The weather has been a bit wild up here recently but yesterday was calm, so I made the most of it and got down to Spiggie with my telescope to count some swans. It is fantastic at the hide at the moment - I’d highly recommend any locals pop down there and take a moment in nature. There is a good number of whooper swans who are being very vocal. Amongst them are a large number of wigeon who’s quieter whistles can be heard amongst the swans. Tufted ducks are out on the water, with the occasional pintail and Slavonian grebe amongst them. 

a single whooper swan has it's back slightly to the camera whilst some vegetation can be seen hanging from it's bill

Although a few whooper swans breed in Shetland, most of them spend the summer in Iceland, Scandinavia, northern Russia and northern Asia and migrate to Scotland, amongst other places, for the winter. Family groups make the migration together and this year's cygnets will remain with their parents over the winter. Some of the birds I counted yesterday will stay here for the winter whilst others will be using Loch of Spiggie to feed up before continuing further south. The easiest way they can be told apart from mute swans is buy their bills; whooper swans have long bills which are mostly yellow with a black tip and mute swans have orange bills with a black base. As their name indicates they are also very vocal making a loud whooping noise! 

Let us know if you manage to see any whooper swans! 

Here’s a brief run down of some of the sightings on our sites over the last couple of weeks.   

Loch of Spiggie 
Late September saw a few exciting sightings with a marsh harrier hunting between Loch of Spiggie and Loch of Brow on a number of occasions. Great-spotted woodpeckers are still being seen in Shetland with one right by the hide. Most of our breeding waders have either left or gathered into winter flocks whilst species such as jack snipe and purple sandpiper have returned for the winter. Other wader sightings include a group of black-tailed godwits and a pectoral sandpiper. Numbers of wildfowl are increasing with whooper swans, mute swans, wigeon, teal, pintail, tufted duck and shoveler all present. It may be stretching the reserve boundary a little but it’s worth mentioning the least bittern, a first for Britain that was found at Spiggie beach car park last week. Sadly it didn’t survive after it’s very long journey but thank you to the locals that stepped in to help it out. 

Sumburgh continues to have a steady trickle of common migrants pass through with common whitethroat, goldcrest, garden warbler, snow bunting, yellow-browed warbler and lesser redpoll passing through. Those who have braved sea-watching have managed to spot sooty and great shearwaters. On the sea a velvet scoter hung around for a few days whilst the eider and long-tailed duck flocks are building up. A grey phalarope was also seen. Redwings have been seen amongst the rosa and in the fields up to the lighthouse whilst fulmars are still around on the cliffs 

Until next time