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Standing out from the crowd

The last albino animal I have ever got close up to, in the flesh as it were, was on the Italian island of Asinara off Sardinia’s northern coast. Here there is a population of over 100 miniature albino donkeys freely roaming across the island. We cycled the length of the island recently, in unseasonable cold and with rain, past many of them unperturbed by our presence. The island formerly a prison for Mafioso and Red Brigade convicts houses the only global population of these miniature white donkeys.

This albino starling we photographed last week on another island, Sanday in Orkney. It was flying and feeding with a group of ‘normal pigmented’ starlings including this years young also seen here. This white bird appeared to be an adult and it would seem has survived at least one season in Orkney, where you think its blonde plumage would make it a conspicuous target for predators. Greater black backed gulls and Great Skuas where on the hunt nearby.

We also watched a female Marsh Harrier on Sanday (not the best photo) hunting over reed beds. This 'duck hawk' or 'moor buzzard' as it is sometimes called, continually circled her patch pursued by irate oystercatchers and lapwings nesting nearby – their chicks were definitely on the menu. With wings held in a shallow 'v' shape she would drop from only a few meters, as she quartered the ground. If lucky she would emerge with a small bird or mammal or perhaps a frog before returning to her usual roost on a post to feed. She was on her own and a long way from the normal breeding areas for Marsh Harriers in the UK (south and east of England). With no nestlings to feed or mate to support her she cut a forlorn figure, continually harried if she ventured just a few meters from the relative security of the reed bed.


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