We’re now well into August, which means there’s less than two weeks left for you to squeeze in a visit to Noss, Shetland’s spectacular seabird island, tucked away beyond Bressay to the east of Lerwick. Read on as Reserve Manager Craig Nisbet tries his level best to entice you to visit Noss National Nature Reserve.
News from July would typically centre on the varying fortunes of our breeding seabirds, and it’s been another mixed bag to report on this year. Exciting news this season could also have been the first known record of a Harbour Seal pup on the shores of Noss, having been seen regularly with its Mum around Noss Sound since first being detected at no more than a few days old on 2nd July.
There was even the annual Noss Open Day to report back on, with over 200 visitors, lots of excellent kids’ activities, a couple of well received guided walks and outstanding catering organised by Bressay Community Hall.
But to top all of this, and without doubt the biggest news of the season so far (in the wardens’ humble opinion!) was the appearance of a Paddyfield Warbler in the garden on 22nd July.
As well as being the first record for Noss, it was also the first July record for Shetland, and only the third July record for Britain. As only the 109th record for Britain, this is a genuine national rarity. With the closest breeding grounds in Finland and Eastern Europe, and wintering grounds in India and China, it’s likely that this bird will have flown off in the wrong direction on passage, to find itself in an insect-rich patch of hogweed in the garden of a small island in Shetland.
That being said, it seems to be feeding happily, and the fact that it’s stayed over two weeks now would indicate that it may be moulting, and would therefore be likely to stay a while longer yet. It’s enticed a number of keen birders over to Noss, and despite its ‘LBJ’ (‘little brown job’) appearance, it’s even evoked the interests of some non-birding visitors too.
To read more about the exciting news you can visit the Rare Bird Alert blog post from 22-28 July 2015, written by Mark Golley (link posted by Andrew Denton on 30th July on the Birds of Noss Facebook group).
Elsewhere on the island, there was good news to report with the completion of the all-island Guillemot count this year. With 24,456 individuals counted, we recorded a 9.8% increase on the previous count of 2009, which in reality indicates a relative stability when compared to counts from the last 10 years. Guillemots, as with Razorbills and Puffins, are now leaving the island, leading their young out to sea to continue their growth in a marine environment, away from the cumbersome burdens that land dwelling brings for auks.
Gannets continue their development on the cliffs, with some chicks now nearing fledging age. The dark-plumaged large chicks will soon plunge to the sea and survive on the excess store of fat built up whilst being well fed on the nests.
Other birds have had mixed breeding success. Arctic Terns have failed once again after a successful year last year; gull productivity is up this year; and Arctic Skuas look likely to fail, with the only chick on the island developing a malformed wing. Wader numbers continue to build up with Turnstone, Sanderling and Knot all likely to feature heavily in August, and with the brief sighting today of a Green Sandpiper on the beach at Flitsands, hopes are high for an exciting season of autumn migration.
An encouraging record this year was that of the elusive Small Adder’s Tongue, found this year by our colleague Glen Tyler. With 14 plants recorded in one localised patch, it’s easy to see how it may be overlooked!
Another search for an elusive species proved less fruitful, with lichenologist Paul Cannon from Kew Gardens visiting in search of the under-recorded fungus, Multiclavula vernalis. Paul was on hand, however, to give me a crash course in lichens of the hill dyke, of which 9 were identified with a further 20 plus being left to avoid my own personal information overload!
Regular updates continue through the Birds of Noss Facebook group, so to keep up to date with news from the island, or to look back at some pictures and stories from the season so far, log on and join the group today.
Stop Press : the Paddyfield Warbler left Noss after 26 days, making it the third longest-staying individual on record in the UK. With easterly winds forecast for Shetland in the latter part of August, who knows what other interesting migrants and vagrants will grace our shores!