April Highlights

In April the days are getting longer, and signs of spring are starting to show. Spring bulbs are flowering, birds are starting to sing, and the early migrants are returning. This being Shetland however, there is still the chance of freezing weather bringing snow and winter winds ready to give our poor daffodils a battering!

In Focus- Skylark

My favourite sound of the summer is the Skylark (Alauda arvensis) singing and it is in late March into April that they really get going. We are lucky here in Shetland as they are still a very common bird but in many parts of the UK they are in decline and it is now rare to hear their song. The Shetland name for a Skylark is ‘Laverek’

Skylarks have an amazing song-flight. It can be really difficult to pick out one singing against the sky as they fly so high. This song-flight may well have evolved to attract females. The higher, longer and more spectacular the song, the more a female might be attracted. If he can sing that well for that long and avoid predators, then he should make a good dad for my chicks!

Skylark (Alauda arvensis)
Rob Fray

Moth of the Month- Brindled Ochre

The Brindled Ochre (Dasypolia templi) is common in north and northeast Scotland including Shetland and Orkney.

Adult females overwinter in drystone walls and outbuildings before laying their eggs in the spring on Wild Angelica and Hogweed. Once the eggs are laid the females do not survive much past May.

Larva hatches in April-July where they stay in the host plant until pupating. Mating occurs in autumn after which the males die and the females find a spot to hide for the winter.

Due to their lifecycle, they are one of few moths in Shetland that are likely to be seen in both spring and then again in autumn.

Brindled Ochre (Dasypolia templi)
Paul Harvey

In other news…

Other highlights this month include some of our most favourite returning migrant birds.

The first Atlantic Puffin was spotted on the cliffs at Sumburgh Head on 5th April this year (2020) via the cliff cam. Webcams can be viewed here. The Puffin is one of Shetland’s most iconic birds and loved by both residents and visitors alike. The Shetland name for the Puffin is ‘Tammie Norie’.

The Great Skua is another of the early returning migrants with the first few being spotted in late March and early April. The Shetland name for the Great Skua is ‘Bonxie’ and is one of the most commonly used Shetland bird names.

Atlantic puffin (Fratercula arctica)
Rob Fray
Great skua (Stercorarius skua)
Rob Fray

March Highlights

It feels like we are starting to emerge out of the winter, the days are getting longer, the clocks spring forward and nature seems to be waking up. Bulbs are poking their heads above the soil and the first buds are on appearing on the bushes.

In Focus- Common frog

Common Frogs (Rana temporaria) are the only amphibian found in Shetland; they were introduced to the islands in 1895 at Brough Lodge in Fetlar with further introductions in the 1920s in Scalloway and Lerwick. Common Frogs are now present throughout the isles including Foula and Fair Isle.

March is a great time to see Common Frogs as they wake uo from their winter hibernation and start aggregating in large numbers at ponds to breed and lay their spawn. One of the best places to see them is at ‘Da Gairdens’ in Sand on the west side of Shetland mainland. The gardens are open to the public all year round and have areas of woodland, gardens and three large ponds.

Common Frogs (Rana temporaria)
at Da Gairdens

Moth of the Month- Hebrew Character

The Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothic) is a common and widespread species over the whole of the UK, and is typically the earliest moth to emerge in Shetland, being recorded in March and April. It has a distinctive black mark on the forewing which is unique amongst spring-flying moths, and it is this mark which gives the moth its name as it is shaped like the Hebrew letter ‘nun’.

In other news…..

Other highlights this month include the first Goldcrests (Regulus regulus) pausing in Shetland during their migration from further South to Scandinavia. The Goldcrest is Europe’s smallest bird, is easily recognised by its distinctive gold stripe over its crown. They are a common migrant and garden visitor where they can be seen flitting around bushes and shrubs catching small insects.

If you are lucky you may spot another of Shetland’s early passing migrants, the European Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola). This scarce migrant may be seen in open areas perched on fence posts and dry stone walls. The stonechat gets its name from the noise it makes which sounds like two stones being chipped together.

Goldcrest (Regulus regulus)
Rob Fray
Male European Stonechat
Rob Fray
Female European Stonechat
Rob Fray