Or more accurately, that blog title should read ‘Whimbrel calling’ – it’s been the sound of the summer here. Whimbrels have suffered a steep decline in their numbers in recent times in Shetland; and so too have the numbers of breeding Arctic Skuas. Is that a random, unrelated coincidence? Probably not. Whimbrels usually nest near to Arctic Skuas, and in good years for Arctic Skuas the Whimbrels seem to benefit from the proximity of the intensely territorial skuas – the latter drive away potential predators with a tenacity and vigour that needs to be seen to be believed.
A good year for Arctic Skuas is one when they’re finding plenty of successfully breeding seabirds like Arctic Terns to kleptoparasitise. (Now there’s a Scrabble word!). If the terns are finding plenty of small fish to bring to their young, the skuas have plenty of fish to steal, and they too should have a good breeding season. And so too, presumably, will any Whimbrels who nest nearby.
This summer I have a gut feeling I have been seeing more Arctic Skuas than in recent years. And also hearing a few more Whimbrels – they have a bubbling call that carries across the moors. I’ve been hearing them on Mainland, Unst, Yell, Fetlar and at home on Whalsay. One thing’s for sure – there are, for the first time in a decade, reasonable numbers of successfully fledged Arctic Terns all over Shetland. Let’s hope that success is repeated by the Arctic Skuas… and the Whimbrels.