North Sea, Scotland, Iceland wildlife highlights

This video is called Barrow’s goldeneye (species of duck found in northwestern USA).

In Europe, Barrow’s goldeneyes live only in Iceland.

This blog has already posted about a sea journey, from Iceland to the Faeroe islands, to Fair Isle and the Isle of May in Scotland, across the North Sea to Zeeland province in the Netherlands. This was 19-28 September 2015.

Highlights of that journey were:

Barrow’s goldeneyes, harlequin ducks, great northern divers, gyrfalcons, ptarmigan and northern lights in Iceland.

13 species of marine mammals, including:

30 fin whales
9 humpback whales
1 blue whale
25 orcas


10,000’s of fulmars
60 sooty shearwaters
25 storm petrels
Blyth’s reed warbler, common rosefinch and yellow-browed warblers during landing on Fair Isle
Yellow-browed warbler at sea and on board the ship

North Sea, Scotland, Iceland wildlife video

This video shows a sea journey, from Iceland to the Faeroe islands, to Fair Isle and the Isle of May in Scotland, across the North Sea to Zeeland province in the Netherlands. This was 19-28 September 2015. Ms Neeltje Groot-Schamp made this video.

It shows birds, whales and dolphins encountered on that voyage.

Fortingall Yew, Britain’s oldest tree’s ‘sex change’

This video from Scotland is called Fortingall Yew Tree, Perthshire.

From daily The Independent in Britain today:

Britain’s oldest tree, the Fortingall Yew, is ‘undergoing a sex change’

The Fortingall Yew is estimated to be around 5,000 years old making it older than Stonehenge

Alexandra Sims

The oldest tree in Britain is undergoing a sex change after 5,000 years, according to botanists.

Perthshire’s Fortingall Yew, estimated to be around 5,000 years old making it older than Stonehenge, is considered male as it produces pollen, as opposed to female yews which bear red seed-holding berries.

However, botanists were shocked when “three ripe red berries” were spotted on one of the ancient yew’s branches this year, suggesting at least part of the tree had become female.

Max Coleman, of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh who discovered the berries, said it was “quite a surprise to me to find a group of three ripe red berries on the Fortingall Yew when the rest of the tree was clearly male.”

“Odd as it may seem, yews, and many other conifers that have separate sexes, have been observed to switch sex,” Mr Coleman added.

“Normally this switch occurs on part of the crown rather than the entire tree changing sex.

“In the Fortingall Yew it seems that one small branch in the outer part of the crown has switched and now behaves as female.”

The three seeds have been collected and will be included in a project to conserve the genetic diversity of yew trees across Europe, the Caucasus, Western Asia and North Africa where they grow.

The project will involve hedges at Edinburgh’s Botanic Garden being replaced with a conservation yew hedge grown from cuttings and seed collections from wild populations and significant yew trees such as Fortingall‘s yew.

The hedge will be a “genetic resource of more than 2,000 individual trees, each of which will have a story and can be traced back to their origins in Britain or beyond,” said Mr Coleman.

The ancient Yew is planted in Fortingall Church yard and is thought to be one of the oldest trees in Europe.

The area immediately surrounding Fortingall is thought to have been an Iron Age centre with the tree at its focus.

Scottish hen harriers tagged

This video is called [male] Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus) sitting on the heath.

From Wildlife Extra:

Hen harriers tagged in new conservation project

Scottish hen harriers are being tracked via satellite tags so scientists can better understand the threats these rare birds face and identify the places they are most at risk.

The satellite tags transmit the locations of the harriers on a regular basis, and members of the public will be able to follow the movements of two individuals on a new website. For security reasons the information available online will be displayed with a two week delay.

Hen harriers used to be widespread in the British uplands but were pushed to the brink of extinction come 1900. Since then, numbers have slowly increased but there are still only around 505 breeding pairs in Scotland.

Bea Ayling, manager of the Hen Harrier LIFE+ Project, said: “Hen harriers suffered 20 per cent declines across Scotland between 2004 and 2010 and urgent action is needed to help conserve this species. Illegal killing by humans remains the main problem for these birds despite them having full legal protection for many years. This is because their usual diet of small birds and voles may also include red grouse, thus bringing them into conflict with gamekeepers. Several hen harriers have disappeared in recent months in northern England and one bird, named “Annie”, was found shot dead on moorland in south-west Scotland earlier this year.

“By fitting satellite tags to harriers we can track them accurately to see where they go and find out which areas they’re getting into trouble. We can also gain valuable information on breeding sites, nest locations and, should the worst happen, be able to locate and recover the bodies of dead harriers far more easily. The timely recovery of dead birds may also assist the police and prosecutors in bringing the perpetrators of crimes to justice.”

Northern bottlenose whales off Scotland

This video from the Sea Watch Foundation in Britain is called Northern Bottlenose Whale Species Identification.

From the Nebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust in Scotland:

Northern Bottlenose Whales Inshore off Skye

A pair of northern bottlenose whales has been seen since Friday in Loch Slapin: a sea loch on the southwestern coast of Skye. Highland Council Countryside Ranger Ellie MacLennan spotted and identified the whales while walking last Friday 16 October. Ellie reported the whales to HWDT and British Divers Marine Life Rescue (as there is always the risk that deep-diving whales in shallow waters are at risk of stranding alive).

To date, it seems as though the pair of whales (possibly a mother and calf/juvenile) are doing well despite concern that they are in shallow waters. They were last seen heading towards deeper water on Sunday 18 October. Northern bottlenose whales are a deep-diving species belonging to the poorly known family of beaked whales that usually inhabit offshore waters. This particular species occasionally turns up in inshore waters particularly during the autumn months. Of all the beaked whales, northern bottlenose whales are the most likely to occur inshore and may spend days or even weeks close to the coast before moving on (e.g. Broadford Bay in 1998… BBC video).

Although the migration routes taken by species are still poorly understood, it is believed that they migrate between colder waters (where they spend summer) to the north of here, and warmer waters to the south. The peak in sightings and strandings in the west of Scotland between August and October each year fits with an inshore southbound route, where some enter the Minches and even the Inner Sound / Sound of Raasay around Skye.

A big thanks to Ellie MacLennan for the images and sighting reports.

Pied wheatear on Shetland islands

This video says about itself:

Pied Wheatear – Oenanthe pleschanka – Bonte tapuit / Mortsel – Belgium / 11-11-2014

Catching flies in the evening sun, on a pile of manure.

Shetland Wildlife in Scotland reports on Twitter that yesterday at Vaylie they saw a first winter female pied wheatear.

This species, breeding in Asia and the southeast of Europe, is rare in western Europe.

Rare birds on Orkney islands, Scotland

This video is about a red-breasted flycatcher in Sweden.

The Rare Bird Network reports today, on Twitter, about the Orkney islands in Scotland:

Orkney: BLUETHROAT 1 today on Westray. Also Red-breasted Flycatcher 1 & Yellow-browed Warbler 6+