After another sharp spell of stormy, wet weather, Shetland paused last night and caught its breath. Walking outside the backdoor in Lerwick into the stillness of the early evening I could hear a Common Snipe calling somewhere in the darkness of the town – a new bird for that particular house.
More evocative still were the ships in Lerwick harbour sounding their horns at midnight – first one horn distantly, a mournful blast – and then others answering around the harbour from the very north mouth right down into the heart of the town. They sounded like large, melancholy prehistoric beasts calling out to one another.
I’d spent New Year’s Eve attempting, in dreadful weather conditions, to see either the Rufous Turtle Dove last seen in Scalloway some fortnight ago or the Mourning Dove first seen in Lerwick on Christmas Eve. I caught up with the latter last Sunday, albeit briefly and without the benefit of either binoculars or camera. Yesterday afternoon, in driving rain, I couldn’t find either dove.
This morning though was a peach – a fine, still, sunny New Year’s Day. A cracking adult Iceland Gull was a good start to the day, and shortly after that I found the Mourning Dove roosting in the shadowy depths of some trees. A distant record shot was all I could muster in the circumstances – it didn’t seem like a propitious time to be knocking on doors and asking to go into gardens!
This Mourning Dove is only the fifth ever for Britain – all of them have been on islands, and the bulk of them have been in Scotland. This was the first record for Shetland, arguably somewhat overdue in this magnet for lost birds. While I couldn’t contrive to see both this and the Rufous Turtle Dove in the space of a single day, I’m still pretty pleased to have caught up with two rare pigeons in the space of an otherwise usually quiet month in Shetland.
While the fine weather (and a good bird) lifted my spirits no end, for others today was a day to settle grievances. Two Starlings were fighting bitterly in the lanes above Scalloway, rolling over and over, bills flashing, wings beating, and squabbling angrily. What had caused this violent dispute? Was this some heartfelt grievance over a mate? Or something as prosaic as a fight over food?
Whatever the cause, today was too fine a day for fighting. I was pleased to see them split up and go their separate ways.