I wouldn't class myself "birder" nor even a "birdwatcher." I'd say I was more a general nature lover. However, this glorious sunny Thursday, I became a lunch break "twitcher." A male Siberian rubythroat was the bird I wished to see. Any bird with Siberia in the name has a whisper of mythology about it.
After attending to business in town, I drove into Gulberwick to where the bird was found yesterday. I met folk walking down the track who were glowing having had excellent views, and they assured me that I too would have the same good fortune. After twenty minutes or so I'd seen blackcap, pechora pipit, sparrowhawk, the rear end of something disappear through a fence, and had a blether with some of Shetland's birdwatching community. But no rubythroat.
Time ticked on, and then suddenly - tadaaaa! The Siberian rubythroat appeared. What with the sound of clicking cameras and cooing sounds of appreciation, I felt like I was at an award ceremony amongst the paparazzi. We were treated to great views of the bird as it fed on the ground. A female blackcap appeared to have taken quite a fancy to this handsome mysterious male, following him around and tilting her head. The redness of the throat appeared all the more vibrant when the bird was on the grass, the sun catching it at just the right angle. Beautiful.
A massive thank you to the owners of the garden for being so obliging and thanks to anyone who has been inconvenienced with the increased volume of traffic. I reckon there will be a few contented birders/twitchers/birdwatchers/nature lovers in Shetland this evening - and I am glad to be one of them. I hope that the people travelling to Shetland to see it have a successful trip. The Rolling Stones Ruby Tuesday lyrics come to mind "Yesterday don't matter if it's gone."
Firstly, apologies for the lack of updates here lately. Have you missed us??
It's been all go here in Shetland, with literal and metaphorical highs and lows. In the last couple of months our work has taken us low to beneath the sea (via hydrophone on a Chris Watson sound recording course, run with our Shetland Nature Festival partners as a part of the Year of Natural Scotland) to the islands' highest point (partnership work with Shetland Islands Council inspired by John Muir taking Anderson High School pupils up Ronas Hill) .
This past weekend there was sad and good news.
The sad news was that the Puffincam chick has not made an appearance this year. It appears that a problem developed around hatching time and the chick did not survive. It's looking like a very poor year for our breeding seabirds here in Shetland, and we'll update you as the season progresses.
The good news was that our Loch of Spiggie whooper swans have brought out four cygnets. They're small and vulnerable and gorgeous. If you are visiting Spiggie, please look from the roadside rather than accessing the lochside.
I hope we see you at one of our reserves or events in the next few weeks!
Do you remember what you were doing 20 years ago, on the 5th of January 1993? I do. I was a local Shetland lass who loved nature and suddenly this happened -
The Braer oil tanker ran aground at Garths Ness, and started leaking more than 80,000 tonnes of light crude oil.
With the Braer Anniversary this weekend, I've been taking a peerie walk down Memory Lane. I was a teenager, living just a mile or so from the wreck site and Wildlife Response Centre, which was based in the local Scout Hut. I simply had to volunteer to help with dealing with the wildlife casualties. I’ve memories of walking coastlines, collecting dead or oiled birds and other wildlife, observing and recording the oil, birds, otters, seals, fish and other marine life. Oh, and the weather - it was wild to say the least!
I remember the media descended on the islands, I think increasing the population by ten percent! It was strange to have the eyes of the world watching events around my community.
At the time, I didn’t understand the complexities of what was going on with the Wildlife Response Co-ordinating Committee, the politics and such like. I just wanted to help. It was certainly a time of emotion and experience for everyone and was a life changing event for me. Actually, it’s probably a reason why I now work for the RSPB! Now I can look back with more experienced eyes and better appreciate the work of all the individuals and organisations that did their bit to help. You can read Shetland’s oil spill contingency planning and response here on the Shetland Oil Terminal Environmental Advisory Group site.
Looking through photos today, I felt a bit teary seeing the suffering and dead animals again. That side of things was dreadfully saddening, and it was the worry that we all felt - how bad would it be? I also feel glad and proud to have met some fantastic people, people who came together in horrible conditions to help.
I am going to take the local Shetland RSPB Wildlife Explorer Group to the site on Sunday – exactly twenty years and one day after the tanker grounded. There's no sign of the ship now. Instead, we'll be looking for porpoises, seals, great-northern divers, long-tailed ducks, rock pipits and so on. It’ll be easy to describe the effects of oil pollution to the bairns and how individuals and organisations can help. The difficulty comes trying to communicate the problems that we face now, like the shocking amount of rubbish littering our sea and shore and climate change.
They’re big big issues that makes dealing with the Braer oil spill seem simple in comparison. The problems are not insurmountable though and in twenty years time I’ll surely be blogging that I am proud of the individuals and organisations who have successfully tackled these problems. Won't I? We can all do something and you can find out about the steps you can take to help nature through the RSPB website.
Best wishes from windswept Sumburgh Head.