May Highlights

There is certainly a lot more life around in Shetland at the moment, lambing is in full swing and I’ve been seeing a lot more migrant birds on the feeders and flitting around amongst the bushes in my garden. The House Sparrows and Common Starlings are singing and calling and busy building nests and I was also delighted to see four different types of bumblebee species in one day.

Around the rest of Shetland, the last of the breeding migrants such as the Arctic Terns and Red-necked Phalaropes are returning and passage migrants such as the Red-backed Shrikes and the spectacularly coloured Bluethroats will be passing through this month.

In Focus- Arctic Skuas

The Arctic Skua (Stercorarius parasiticus) is a scarce relative of the more common ‘Bonxie’ (Great Skua). It is known in Shetland as ‘Skooty Alin’. They are a migrant species starting to appear in late April and into May.

They are a sleeker looking bird than the Bonxie, almost falcon like with long, dark pointed wings and a long point in the centre of their tail. They can come in two colour phases, the more common dark colour morph and scarce pale colour morph.

They are often seen swooping and diving over the sea, attacking smaller seabirds such as terns forcing them to drop their meal allowing them to steal it.

Dark Arctic Skua
Copyright Rob Fray
Pale Arctic Skua
Copyright Rob Fray

In Britain they nest only in the north and west of Scotland, normally on moorland areas close to other seabirds such as tern colonies. The most recent data for Shetland in 2017 showed there were 58 pairs recorded nesting but only 4 chicks fledged. Unfortunately, this has been the trend for many years throughout the Arctic Skua’s UK breeding range resulting in them being added to the IUCN Red List of threatened species.

Moth of the Month- Silver Y

The Silver Y (Autographa gamma) is one of the few day flying moths. They are an immigrant species, starting to appear in May and seen up until October. On sunny days during southerly winds, they are sometimes seen in large numbers visiting flowers and gardens.

They get their name from the conspicuous metallic silver Y shape on the forewing.

Silver Y
Copyright Rob Fray

In other news…

The Northern Raven (Corvus corax) is the UKs largest member of the Corvid family. In Shetland dialect it is known as the ‘Corbie’. They are completely black with a metallic sheen to the feathers and a large thick bill. They are resident in Shetland where they can be seen most commonly on farmland but can also be seen in areas of Lerwick.

Northern Raven
Copyright Mike Pennington

They pair for life, nesting on sea cliffs and rocky crags. They are unusual in that they nest very early in comparison to other species with nest construction from January until early April. In 2017 the first recorded fledglings were seen on Foula on 15th May. It is assumed they nest early to coincide with food abundance which in some part may be linked with lambing season. Ravens will take live and scavenge on dead lambs making them unpopular with crofters and for which they were historically persecuted. As with all birds they are now protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 which states it is an offence to intentionally kill, injure or take any wild bird.