NHS Shetland - Survey - March 2021

Exotic birds excite local twitchers

Bird on a wire - a grainy shot of one of the seven adult bee-eaters seen perching on an overhead power cable on Wednesday evening. Photo Hugh Harrop

A SMALL flock of one of Europe’s most brightly coloured birds has appeared in Shetland thousands of miles from its normal habitat.

The seven bee-eaters that drew crowds of excited birdwatchers on Wednesday should have been heading to sub-Saharan Africa from their breeding grounds in southern Europe and the Middle East.

Instead they appeared at the end of a quiet road in Tingwall, north of Lerwick, where they were seen catching insects before disappearing late morning on Thursday.

Local wildlife tour guide and photographer Hugh Harrop said bee-eaters were becoming an annual sighting in Shetland as a result of the changing climate.

The lesser grey shrike seen at Lunna this week. Photo Hugh Harrop

One was seen on the isle of Unst in June, but this week’s show has been by far the largest number ever recorded in the isles.

“This is a bird that is gradually pushing north because of climate change, so sightings might become more frequent,” Harrop said.

“It is one of the most exotic looking birds in Europe with its bright yellow, ginger, black and turquoise colouring. It’s the sort of bird you go overseas to see and here they are right on our doorstep.

“Watching them catch bees was absolutely amazing, they just swooshed around like birds of prey catching bees in flight and then perching on the hydro wires.

The citrine wagtail at Quendale. Photo Hugh Harrop

“Then this morning we saw them suddenly circling around, then rising higher and higher. We could hear them calling and then we just lost them, they seemed to be drifting south.”

Bee eaters are more often seen in the south and east of England after they have been blown off course on their way to the breeding grounds in spring.

However this year two pairs bred in a quarry in Cumbria, and one pair bred on the Isle of Wight in 2014.

The strong south easterly winds Shetland has experienced this week have brought several rarities to the isles, including a lesser grey shrike in Lunna, a pallid harrier at the Loch of Spiggie and a citrine wagtail at Quendale.

More images of these birds are available at the Shetland Wildlife Facebook page.