Sunday, 15 January 2012

Iceland Gulls in January 2012

Iceland Gull is generally considered to be a scarce, but regular, winter visitor to Shetland in small numbers. From about January 7th 2012 larger than usual numbers began to appear in the islands, and it soon became clear that a major influx was taking place.

With this in mind, a co-ordinated Shetland-wide count was organised by members of the Shetland Bird Club, and others, for Saturday 14th January. Observers were despatched far and wide to locate as many birds as possible, in order to try and record the influx as best as possible. We've received virtually everything now, although there may be one or two extras to add in later. Below is what we've come up with so far:

Unst (total 24)
- 4 (all 2nd-winters)
Norwick - 1 (2nd-winter)
Baltasound - 3 (all 2nd-winters)
Westing - 1 (2nd-winter)
Belmont - 13 (4 adults, 4 3rd-winters, 4 2nd-winters, 1 1st-winter)
Uyeasound - 2 (adult and 2nd-winter)

Yell (total 12)
Sandwick - 7 (2 adults, 2 3rd-winters, 3 2nd-winters)
Mid Yell - 1 (2nd-winter)
Ulsta - 1 (2nd-winter)
Hamnavoe - 1 (2nd-winter)
Loch of Littlester - 1 (2nd-winter)
Burravoe - 1 (2nd-winter)

Fetlar (total 1)
Just one 2nd-winter on the island

Whalsay (total 22)
- 15 (5 adults, 3 3rd-winters, 4 2nd-winters (one of which was dead) and 3 1st-winters)
Hamister/North Voe - 2 (1 adult, 1 3rd-winter, both showing characteristics of Kumlien's Gull)
Skaw - 1 (adult)
Vaivoe - 1 (2nd-winter)
Challister - 1 (2nd-winter)
Brough - 1 (2nd-winter)
Huxter Loch - 1 (2nd-winter)

North Mainland (total 2)
Voe - 1 (2nd-winter)
South Collafirth - 1 (2nd-winter)

West Mainland (total 13)
- 5 (1 3rd-winter, 3 2nd-winters, 1 1st-winter)
Burrastow - 8 (5 adults/3rd-winters, 3 1st/2nd-winters)

Central/East Mainland (total 55)
Voe - 3 (1 adult, 2 2nd-winters)
Laxo - 3 (1 adult, 1 2nd-winter, 1 1st-winter)
Lunna - 1 (2nd-winter)
Dury Voe - 4 (2 adults, 2 2nd-winters)
Brettabister - 1 (1st-winter)
Scalloway - 6 (all 2nd-winters)
Loch of Tingwall - 1 (3rd-winter)
Lerwick - 36 in total; 35 (8 adults, 5 3rd-winters, 20 2nd-winters, 2 1st-winters) at Shetland Catch, and 1 (1st-winter) at Breiwick

South Mainland (total 15)
- 1 (adult)
Scatness - 1 (adult)
Fleck - 1 (adult)
Boddam - 1 (3rd-winter)
Clumlie - 2 (adult and 2nd-winter)
Scousburgh - 3 (2 2nd-winters, 1 1st-winter)
St Ninian's Isle - 1 (2nd-winter)
Gulberwick - 1 (1st-winter)
Wester Quarff - 4 (unaged)

Fair Isle (total 8)
2 adults, 1 3rd-winter, 5 2nd-winters (one of the 2nd-winters was found dead)

Grand total: 152
We'll continue to update the totals as and when more information is received.

There was some evidence that birds had moved on over the last few days (or relocated to other sites within the islands), particularly on Unst, where there had been 33 at Belmont on January 11th (compared to 13 on the 'count day') and 13 at Skaw on January 10th (compared to 4 on 'count day'). In addition, careful scrutiny of the ages of birds in Lerwick has shown that at least 44 individuals have been present during the last week.

It is fairly safe to say that the January 2012 influx is the largest to ever be recorded in Shetland. The previous biggest arrival was in January/February 1983, which produced at least 120 birds. In addition, the record site count has also been broken this year - the previous highest count at one individual site was 31 in Lerwick in January 1993.

An interesting aspect to the arrival in January 2012 is the make-up of the ages of the birds involved, with much larger numbers of 'older' birds than would normally be expected, and a strange dearth of 1st-winter individuals. This is something that we hope to expand upon in due course.

Observers who specifically went out looking and participated in the co-ordinated counts were:

Rob Brookes (north Unst)
Mike Pennington (south Unst)
Brydon Thomason (Fetlar and north Yell)
John Lowrie Irvine and Brian Marshall (Whalsay)
Jim Nangle and Lynn Thomson (Yell)
Rob Fray (south Yell, central and east mainland)
Gary Bell (north mainland)
Rory Tallack (west mainland)
Paul Harvey and Pete Ellis (Lerwick)
Juan Brown (Scalloway, Tingwall Valley, Burra and Trondra)
Jim Nicolson and George Petrie (Cunningsburgh to Gulberwick)
Roger Riddington and Glen Tyler (south mainland)
Naomi Scott (Papa Stour)
David Parnaby and Tommy and Henry Hyndman (Fair Isle)

In addition, casual records that added to the totals were received from Martin Heubeck and Mark Chapman, and a couple of records have been gleaned from various news services.

Our grateful thanks to everybody who took part.

Rob Fray