The month began with 6 very successful days on the island of Fetlar. Red-necked Phalaropes were, of course, the stars of my stay. These beautiful shorebirds have an unusual breeding strategy that is the reverse of that normally seen in avian species: it is the females that are the brightly-coloured, dominant sex who fight over the right to mate with the more plainly-plumaged males.
Early one morning, while I was quitely sitting by one of the northern meres, a noisy, battling group of 6 Phalaropes, 5 females and 1 male, flew in and landed right in front of me. For the next 15 minutes a violent tussle ensued with the females quite often forcing the male under the water, half-drowning him in their eagerness to mate with him.
About 90% of the British breeding population of Red-necked Phalaropes breed on Fetlar.
Red-throated Divers are common on Fetlar and can be easily photographed from the roadside at Loch of Funzie.
Other northern specialities on the island included Arctic and Great Skuas.
Arctic Skua was, by far, the scarcer of the two with he dark morph being the more prevalent form. They were easiest to find on the moorland surrounding the airfield, but could also occasionally be seen pretty much anywhere on the island.
There are several Great Skua colonies on Fetlar, with the biggest one that I found being on Lamb Hoga.
The footpath I was following went straight through the middle of it which meant I had to run the gauntlet of being constantly dive-bombed by these aggressive birds.
Not all the aggression was directed at me, however, and there were frequent aerial battles as the birds defended their nest territories from their neighbours.
Also on the moorland, close to the skua colony, were nesting Golden Plover and Whimbrel.
All around the headland, numerous Fulmars were soaring on the updrafts generated by the freezing cold northerly wind hitting the cliffs.
Back at Funzie, several pairs of Oystercatchers were nesting in the fields beside the road.
The Arctic Terns were very photogenic in the evening sun as they hovered above the edge of the loch looking for fish in the shallow water.
At the other end of the island, at the old pier, a pair of Ringed Plover were nesting on the pebble beach.
The photo below shows the typical weather I experienced for the whole week: mostly sunny with just a few short rain showers. About as good as you can reasonably hope for in northern Shetland!
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