On track for a record-breaking species year list from Noss NNR?

Midsummer (‘Simmer Dim’ in Shetland) seems a good time for an update on how the season has been going so far, and looking forward to what else is in store on Noss. Craig Nisbet and Andy Denton, Noss’ seasonal wardens tell us more.

Puffins – easy on the eye, tricky to monitor.

Puffins – easy on the eye, tricky to monitor.

May and June are always busy months when we try to do the majority of seabird monitoring. So far we’ve completed an all-island puffin count in which we recorded 1032 individuals. They are a tricky species to census accurately given that they nest in inaccessible burrows, so we have to count attending adults before they incubate in mid May to give an approximation of breeding numbers. We’ll do another count in mid July, which is expected to be higher as it will include non-breeding sub-adults.

Puffins are also the subject of an innovative new citizen science project run by RSPB this year called Project Puffin. We’re asking all visitors to Noss (and every other puffin colony in the UK) to take the classic photo of a puffin returning to land with a bill full of food. You should then send these photos to the project which will help the RSPB research team to learn more about the puffin’s diet. Given their decline over recent years it’s more important than ever that we understand what puffins are feeding on, and it’s great that we can all help in the age of digital photography. Please visit the Project Puffin website  for more information including how to submit your photos.

My first ‘Puffarazi’ contribution for Project Puffin.

My first ‘Puffarazi’ contribution for Project Puffin.

We have also now completed the first of two bonxie (great skua) productivity monitoring visits to the plot in the centre of the island. Bonxie chicks were first recorded on 16 June, so the colony is not a welcoming place to be at the moment. For this reason we’re asking visitors to keep to the coast during their time on the island to leave the birds to raise their chicks in relative peace. Andy and I will revisit the plot in early August to see how many chicks reach fledging age from the 65 breeding sites recorded.

Bonxies at sunset.

Bonxies at sunset.

As well as monitoring the seabird populations we also record passage migration, which in Shetland can be a rewarding process. This spring Andy and I have had an exceptional start to the season, with 102 species recorded already! The season got off to an incredible start, with Britain’s twelfth record for hermit thrush being discovered on 19 April. This was only the fifth record for Shetland and caused quite a stir, with two boatloads of local birders making the journey over, keen for a look at this rare North American vagrant.

Hermit thrush on Noss – 19 April 2017.

Hermit thrush on Noss – 19 April 2017.

The following few weeks saw several spring ‘falls’ of more common passage migrants, including willow warbler, whitethroat, redstart and pied flycatcher. During one such fall on 1 May we discovered what we thought was a kestrel. After a good look and some cracking photos we continued onwards in the hope of another mega rarity around the next corner. A wryneck the following day was a lovely addition to the year list, but it wasn’t until 24 May that an eagle-eyed birder named Philip Wilson came across my photo online and noticed identification features of our kestrel that were consistent with its Southern cousin, the lesser kestrel! After closer inspection, and much discussion with prominent birders throughout Shetland and the UK, it became apparent that we had actually found Shetland’s second lesser kestrel, and only the third modern day Scottish record.

Lesser kestrel on Noss – 1st May 2017.

Lesser kestrel on Noss – 1st May 2017.

Other notable records this season so far have included common crane, mute swan, ortolan bunting, rustic bunting, marsh warbler and red-necked phalarope. With autumn still to come, hopes are high for another record-breaking year list, having set the previous record in 2015 with 122 species.

With migrant and vagrant birds causing as much excitement as they have this season, it would be remiss of me to not mention the frequency of killer whale sightings. Killer whales are regular visitors to Shetland waters, and the introduction of the ‘Shetland Orca Sightings’ Facebook group has enabled more people than ever before to catch a glimpse of these spectacular marine predators. A pod of between eight and nine passed through Noss Sound on 23 May with Andy, Juan and several visitors enjoying the spectacle.

Noss Open Day takes place this year on Saturday 1 July, and once again marks the start of the Shetland Nature Festival. The open day is a great opportunity for local families and visitors to come to Noss and enjoy a variety of activities including marine viewing, guided walks and face-painting, with Dynamic Earth once again hosting a tent, and a barbecue catered for by Bressay Community Hall.

Guided walk last year at the Noup.

Guided walk last year at the Noup.

We are also hosting a guided walk as part of the Nature Festival on Tuesday 4 July, where you will be able to join the warden to learn more about the seabirds, mammals, plants and history of the island. For more information about the open day, or to book your place on the guided walk, please call the Lerwick office on 01595 693345.

For regular news and updates from the island follow our Birds of Noss Facebook group.

If you’re planning a visit to Shetland this summer, Noss should definitely be high on the list of things to see. A couple of things to remember before you plan your visit:

  • The Noss ferry operates daily between 10am and 5pm between late April and Wednesday 30 August 2017, except on Mondays and Thursdays.
  • The ferry service is subject to sea conditions – please call the ferry information line on 0800 107 7818 after 8am on the morning of your visit to ensure the ferry is running.
  • The cost of the Noss ferry service is £5 per adult, and £3 per child (5-18) / student. Under 5s are free.
  • Remember to allow 3 to 4 hours to do the full walk around the island.
  • The weather in Shetland is changeable, and the terrain on Noss is challenging in places. Please be prepared with stout footwear and waterproof clothing.

There’s more information on the Noss NNR website.

All photos by Craig Nisbet/SNH except for killer whales by Andy Denton/SNH.

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