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Birds from warm and cool climes meet in county

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Wildlife Sightings by Rob Hughes

Short-eared owl.
Short-eared owl.

When the bird sightings list brings together contrasting bird names with Lapland and snow mentioned alongside Mediterranean, you know migration is ongoing.

Late swallows were still in Castletown and Thurso in mid-October whilst many whooper swans have already returned from Iceland. It’s a great time to build up a good day list of birds.

It has been a very good year for finches, with brambling seemingly having had a particularly good breeding season. They usually associate with the chaffinches that have also been coming across from Scandinavia in large numbers recently.

A hawfinch was at West Dunnet on the 16th. It was a nice surprise to see a flock of 72 goldfinches drop into the tree behind our garden and start queuing for our sunflower seed feeder, 36 was our previous record. Yellowhammers, skylarks and reed buntings are also heading south through the county.

A hoopoe added a splash of colour to a garden in Roster on the 11th. Usually breeding in Southern Europe, this could be the individual that got disorientated and ended up on Whalsay, Shetland, the previous week, starting to re-orientate its way back south.

From a similar area, two juvenile Mediterranean gulls were in Thurso with a little gull on the 16th. Mediterranean gulls are rapidly expanding their breeding range and may well start breeding in Caithness in the next few years.

A honey buzzard flew south over Thurso on the 16th, heading back to Africa for the winter from Scandinavia.

As I mentioned at the start, in contract to these warm weather species, the first snow bunting of the season was seen at Murkle on the 6th and a Lapland bunting flew over Castlehill on the 28th. Little auks, which breed in the Arctic, were seen in Dunnet Bay and from the Northlink on various dates through October.

A Leach’s petrel was in Dunnet Bay on the 10th whilst sooty shearwaters were seen from the coast during onshore winds.

A yellow-browed warbler was in Reay on October 1, which was nice given their low numbers in the UK this year, thought to be linked to wildfires and a poor breeding season on their breeding grounds in Siberia. We could expect over 20 in the county in a ‘normal’ year for the species. Siberian chiffchaffs are also noticeable by their absence.

Over the next few weeks, we might expect to see a few more owls about, perhaps short-eared or long-eared owl sitting on fence posts along roadsides. White-tailed eagle sightings may also become more frequent with first-year birds roaming around.

There have not been many fieldfares returning with the redwings yet, so they will be due on mass in the next few weeks, and I expect more snow buntings to be reported along the beaches.

Away from birds, I still had two red admirals flying around Castlehill on the 20th, and common and Soprano’s pipistrelle bats flying around the garden on the 22nd. A minke whale was seen off the Northlink on the 29th.

Rob Hughes.
Rob Hughes.
  • To report any sightings, email Rob at: xema_sabini@hotmail.co.uk

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