Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Colour-ringed Whimbrel and Rock Pipit

During 1986-88, Murray Grant colour-ringed 97 Whimbrels to monitor brood survival and return rates of adults. Although sightings of these birds were reported from Fetlar until the 1990s, there had been none since. This summer, Allan Perkins was working in Unst and Fetlar studying the breeding success of Whimbrels, due to the worrying decline in thier numbers in the last few years. On 9th May he was rather surprised to spot a colour-ringed bird on Fetlar, although it was 31st May before he could confirm the colour-ring combination. It had originally been ringed as a breeding adult on Fetlar on 1st June 1986. At 24 years, this is easily the longevity record for this species and, as Whimbrels don't normally breed until they are two or three years old, this bird may well be over 26 years old.

More detail, and photos, are on the BTO Demog Blog.

A colour-ringed Rock Pipit which was breeding on Whalsay this spring is now known to have been ringed in at New Aberdour in North-east Scotland in February. It is the first proof of a Shetland breeding bird emigrating for the winter, although there is a a previous record of a Shetland-bred chick being found in Scotland. There are also several other records of full-grown birds ringed in Shetland and found in Scotland in winter. Although these could be migrants, the evidence would seem to suggest that a proportion of Shetand Rock Pipits leave the islands in winter.

In addition, a colour-ringed Starling seen on Out Skerries recently does not appear to be a Fair Isle bird - although it's origins are still being tracked down.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Our Eiders are Faroese

The latest edition of the BTO's journal Bird Study includes the following paper: Subspecies status of Common Eiders Somateria mollissima in Shetland based on morphology and DNA by Robert W. Furness, Barbara Mable, Fiona Savory, Kate Griffiths, Stephen R. Baillie and Martin Heubeck.

Using DNA from specimens of Eider found dead in Shetland, and biometric data collected from a cannon-netted sample ringed in the 1980s, it is concluded that Shetland Eiders are closely similar to birds from the Faroe Islands,  subspecies faeroeensis , and distinct from the nominate mollissima to which all Scottish Eiders
have been conventionally assigned.

Interestingly, Eiders from southern Iceland are more similar to faeroeensis according to DNA, despite differing in plumage and being assigned to a different subspecies borealis. As has been suspected for a while, they conclude that the taxonomy of the Common Eider group may be in need of revision.

The allocation of the Shetland Eider population to a new taxon, found nowhere else in the UK, has clear implications in conservation terms, especially as the population is in long-term decline.

Wandering Orcas

We received the following e-mail from Andy Foote recently, telling us about the wandering of one pod of Killer Whales which are regular visitors to Shetland, although as you can see they are now known to wander from at least Caithness to Faroe.

I thought the mammal watchers that check out the sea mammal sightings web page might be interested to know that one of our regular Shetland groups (27, 34, 73, 74 and 27's new calf 151) made it on to Faeroese TV this week, see below for the link. Hans Eli Sivertsen who sent me the link also took some great shots, and he also photographed the same group off the Faeroes last year. They were last seen in Scottish waters off Wick back in June.

The link to Faroese TV is here, with the Orcas appearing towards the end (at about 19:20).