Out Skerries – 2021 In Review

Blyth’s Reed Warbler June 2021 – copyright Nick Addey

I’m not normally a big fan of annual reviews before Auld Lang Syne has been sung. There’s no birding being done on Skerries though so it seems pretty safe to say stumps have been drawn. If any of the residents turn up a Bittern or Glossy Ibis on the burn in the next few days I will update this post in due course.

Headline Birds

White-tailed Eagle May 2021, copyright Simon Mitchell

White-tailed Eagle – first record

White’s Thrush – second record

Nightjar – second record

Golden Oriole – second record

Temminck’s Stint – second record

Gadwall – fourth record

Blyth’s Reed Warbler – seventh record

Olive-backed Pipit – ninth record

Coverage

There was considerably less coverage outside of the peak migration seasons than in many recent years with no resident birders. In the spring a productive day trip occurred on 14 May and then birders were present from 21 May to 11 June. In the autumn Shetland birders made day trips weekly from 13 August to 10 September. Visiting birders were then present from 24 September to 13 October and finally 15-24 October.

Winter

Following the influx of Blue Tits and Great Tits into the isles in 2020 one of the latter remained until at least February. No records have been published in the second winter period.

Spring

A Mistle Thrush was seen on 16 April. A day visit during something of a fall on 14 May was headlined by a drake Gadwall but also produced Blue-headed Wagtail, Grasshopper Warbler and 35 Willow Warblers.

Eight Tree Sparrows on 22 May was a very good count by recent standards. Good coverage and rain to drop migrants produced scarce birds over the next few days including up to 3 Bluethroat as well as Red-backed Shrike and Icterine Warbler. On the 29th a White-tailed Eagle flew straight through the isles and 2 Red-backed Shrikes were present. A late Snow Bunting was present on May 31st.

June began with the first of a couple of male Grey-headed Wagtails in the month and a Common Rosefinch on the 1st. A spell of easterlies brought a Marsh Warbler on the 2nd followed by a male Blyth’s Reed Warbler initially in the same garden on the 3rd. Other birds seen at this time included up to 3 Red-backed Shrikes, 3 Icterine Warblers, 2 Marsh Warblers and a very showy male Bluethroat.

Two very good birds for the islands appeared at the end of the spring, when quality not quantity is often the order of the day. A Temminck’s Stint was seen on the ground before leaving north east on the 5th. A brief Golden Oriole by the airstrip on the 8th could not be relocated. Another Common Rosefinch was seen on the 10th.

Golden Oriole June 2021, copyright Nick Addey

Autumn

An early autumn visit on 13 August was productive with Greenish Warbler, 2 Icterine Warbler and a Barred Warbler. Up to 3 Barred Warblers and 3 rose finches were seen on other visits during the month. On 22 August a juvenile Hen Harrier and a Wood Warbler were also seen. On 5 September a Red-backed Shrike and 2 Common Rosefinches were logged.

The end of September kicked off with two Common Rosefinches and the first of very few Yellow-browed Warblers on 24th. The following day a Nightjar roosting on a wall was just the second Skerries record. As things began to turn up elsewhere on Shetland in brief easterlies a Rustic Bunting and 2 Barred Warblers were found on the 29th.

Nightjar September 2021, copyright Dave Bywater

Early October kicked off with an Olive-backed Pipit and three Bluethroats on the 3rd, and a Marsh Warbler and a Grasshopper Warbler on the 4th. Three Shorelarks were discovered on the 5th and lingered for a few days before there was another lull in sightings.

A Little Auk on October 12th showed winter was round the corner. A Red-breasted Flycatcher on the 16th was a surprise with little else on the move. Strong south easterlies on the 18th promised thrush arrivals and delivered, and among them was a White’s Thrush seen briefly at the airstrip. Three Yellowhammers came in the same day and were still present when the last birder left.

White’s Thrush October 2021, copyright Stephen Dunstan

Summary

The lack of easterlies for much of the main migration period in the autumn will be what many birders on Skerries and elsewhere on Shetland at the time will remember. As ever there could be quiet spells, but the higher than average spring coverage meant that one first for the isles and four seconds was actually quite respectable. You can go to Skerries in poor weeks weather wise and it’s undoubtedly tough, but when you get the right conditions the birding can be exhilarating and 2021 definitely had its moments.

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