Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Subalpine Surprises

Subalpine Warbler is a scarce migrant to Fair Isle with 85 records (including the five this year that await formal acceptance by the relevant committees). All bar four have been seen in the spring and there have been 50 males, 31 females and 3 left unsexed.
So far, so simple, but various papers have been published looking at the relationships of the differing subspecies found within the Subalpine Warbler complex, culminating in Lars Svensson (2013) proposing a three-way split, namely:

Western Subalpine Warbler Sylvia inornata, comprising S.i.inornata of northwest Africa and S.i.iberiae of Iberia and parts of southern France and northwest Italy. The males of this species are generally extensively orange-brown below and both sexes show a small, rounded white tip to the second outermost tail feather (T5).

Eastern Subalpine Warbler Sylvia cantillans, comprising S.c.cantillans of southern Italy and S.c.albistriata of northeast Italy, Greece, western Turkey and the Balkans. The males of this species are generally brick-red on the throat (more orange on S.c.cantillans) and upper breast, with usually a more distinct cut-off from the white breast than Western Subalpine Warbler. T5 shows a distinctive pointed white wedge.

Moltoni’s Warbler Sylvia subalpina Found in Corsica, Sardinia and northern Italy, the males are more salmon-pink below than the other species and both sexes show a similar tail pattern to Western Subalpine Warbler, making identification of females a somewhat unknown quantity.

Most of the Fair Isle records are currently unassigned to any of the three species (being accepted as ‘Subalpine Warbler’), but prior to this year, at least 13 had been attributed to Eastern Subalpine Warbler. [It’s worth noting that the recent taxonomic work has seen the various scientific names changed around a bit (cantillans previously being used for Western birds for example).]
Annual records of Subalpine Warbler on Fair Isle (there is also a record from 1908). The species is now a virtually expected scarce annual migrant on Fair Isle, with the last blank year back in 1999.
This year has been a very good one for Subalpine Warblers on Fair Isle, with five birds recorded. One of these (a male at Schoolton on 13th June), wasn’t trapped but was a fairly clear Western Subalpine Warbler based on the extent and tone of the colour of the underparts and the tail pattern.
The Schoolton bird showed very well (often alongside a Blyth's Reed Warbler!).
A bird at Burkle from 3rd May to 21st May also showed the underpart colour and tail pattern (and also call) of Western Subalpine Warbler.
The Burkle bird was heard singing on several occasions and was typical of the extended stay of several individuals of this species in recent years on Fair Isle (photo by Deryk Shaw).
DNA analysis of the other three birds has thrown up some surprising results:

First of all was a bird trapped late in the evening of 25th April, which lingered to 2nd May, although it was rather elusive as it toured the island and was seen on only three dates during this spell. It was largely lacking its tail when it was found, although the regrowing feathers appeared not to show any white wedge. The restricted pinky throat patch appeared a closer match to Eastern though and given the damage to the tail, it was provisionally identified as such, with the knowledge that a DNA sample would be able to confirm (or otherwise) the identification, allowing the bird (caught just before dusk and very light, presumably having just arrived on the island) to be released as quickly as possible. The DNA results have now come back and showed the bird to be a Western Subalpine Warbler after all.
Note the typical tail pattern of Western Subalpine Warbler, but the pinkish colour restrictedto the throat and upper breast, more typical of Eastern. The lighting in the ringing room may well have effected the apparent tone of the pink colour.
A male identified in the field as Eastern Subalpine Warbler on 8th May was trapped in the Gully and the identity confirmed by the distinctive tail pattern. DNA analysis went a stage further though and showed it to belong to the subspecies S.c.cantillans, the first confirmed record of this subspecies in Britain. DNA analysis of the first British specimen of Eastern Subalpine Warbler (a male collected on Fair Isle in May 1908) showed it to belong to S.c.albistriata (Collinson et al 2014), so Fair Isle now boasts the first British records of both subspecies of Eastern Subalpine Warbler.
It's interesting to compare the extent (and tone) of the underpart colour of this Eastern bird compared to that of the Western bird above. This subspecies was previously lumped with Western birds and, apart from showing the distinctive tail pattern of Eastern, it is easy to see why.
Finally, a female trapped on 16th May, which lingered at the Obs until 27th May showed the rounded white tip to T5 that suggested it was a Western Subalpine Warbler, however, DNA analysis has proved that the bird was a MOLTONI'S WARBLER. There is currently only one accepted record of this species from Britain, a bird collected on St Kilda in 1894 that was identified from DNA analysis (Collinson et al 2014), with two further records (both from Shetland in spring 2009) currently being assessed by the BBRC (Stoddart 2014).
Presumably, Moltoni's Warbler has been overlooked in the UK, especially as females are apparently virtually identical to Western Subalpine Warbler. However, since a popular bird on Unst in 2009 that brought the key identification features  (particularly of the distinctive males) to the attention of many British birders, I'm not aware of any other claims of Moltoni's, which suggests that they may well still turn out to be rather rare. 
Assuming that the three-way split is adopted by the BOU, this will prove to be a bonus tick for anyone who enjoyed this showy little bird (and adds to the already very impressive list of very rare birds recorded on Fair Isle in the spring).
So, a somewhat surprising turn of events and an example of how birding is being aided by advancing technology. Perhaps we may be able to contribute to using confirmed records such as these to try to identify ways in which female Moltoni’s may be identifiable in the field (the distinctive Wren-like rattling call of this bird was not heard).

The next stage for FIBO is to try to identify as many of our previous records as possible, which is where we are appealing for help from anyone who has photographs (particularly of the tail pattern), field notes or sound recordings of any records of Subalpine Warbler from before 2011 (or the female in April 2011). Please get in touch if you do as we’d love to be able to attribute as many of our previous records as possible to the correct species.

Many thanks to Professor J.Martin Collinson for the work on the DNA analysis and, of course, to my Wardening team and the others who were responsible for finding the birds in the first place!
Collinson, J.M., McGowan, R.Y. & Irestedt, M. 2014. First British records of 'Eastern' and 'Western' Subalpine Warblers. Brit Birds 107: 282-297
Stoddart, A. 2014. Assessing and recording Subalpine Warblers. Brit Birds 107: 420-424
Svensson, L. 2013. Subalpine Warbler variation and taxonomy. Brit Birds 106: 651-668

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Sunday Funday?

30th August
Willow Warblers have been around in decent numbers in recent days, with most crofts and geos holding the odd one or two.
Arrivals continued in the pleasant birding conditions on Saturday and, with the team out in the field all day, there was a pleasantly full feeling to Log. The highlight was our first Short-toed Lark of the autumn, found by Richard on Meoness, with other scarcities represented by 3 each of Wryneck and Common Rosefinch and 2 Barred Warblers.
Recent Rosefinch sightings have mostly been from the few small patches of oats around the crofts, or the dense rose bushes in various gardens. These two were found on the slightly atypical habitat of the cliffs of Copper Geo before moving to Moss Geo.
Grasshopper Warbler, Redstart and Blackcap (3) also made their seasonal debuts, whilst notable counts of other species included 5 Little Stints (the highest count for 6 years), 13 Pied Flycatcher, 44 Willow Warbler, 4 Garden Warbler, 3 Whinchat, 3 Fieldfare, 2 Swift and a Reed Warbler (which was trapped in the Gully, bringing the number of Reed Warblers ringed this year level with that of Blyth’s Reed).
Little Stints are annual on Fair Isle (just about), but often only one or two are seen a year, so today's count was notable. This one was on the wet flush behind North Naaversgill.
Most of the Pied Flycatchers were on the sheltered west cliffs, this bird was at Dronger.
It’s been a good year for easterly winds, but that seems set to come to a (hopefully temporary) end from tomorrow, with westerlies forecast for the next week and beyond (not that they are always without birds of course). However, the forecast for today does look rather promising indeed, with easterlies stretching all the way from the far end of Scandinavia.
Taken from the brilliant http://earth.nullschool.net/, this shows where our winds are coming from this morning.
For a few days now we’ve been predicting a classic ‘Sunday lunchtime rare’, I certainly think we’ll have more birds today, but is this very pleasant birding spell about to be topped by something even better? We’ll find out soon…

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Getting better...

28th-29th August
The wind has stayed in the east for the last couple of days, with heavy rain overnight on 28th/29th and again from late afternoon on 29th. With the strong, gusty conditions on 28th, birding was a bit trickier as a lot of the birds present were staying sheltered in dense rose bushes, but there were a few new bits and pieces in, although the highlights of 2 Barred Warblers, 3 Common Rosefinch and a Wood Warbler were all probably lingerers. Kestrels had increased to 4, Pied Flycatchers to 11 and the first Whinchat of the autumn was seen, whilst the consolation for those on a choppy Good Shepherd crossing (it is smooth and pleasant sometimes, honest!), was around 20 White-beaked Dolphins about 6 miles north of Fair Isle.
A couple of Barred Warblers have been lingering around the crofts, often showing well at times. (photo: Alex Penn)
A sunny start to 29th saw a totally blank 7am trap round, with that score equalled two hours later, however it soon became apparent that there were actually new birds in, with the walk to Chalet producing 10 Willow Warblers and then 2 Wrynecks following each other around the Chalet garden, whilst the Common Rosefinch and Wood Warbler were both still present at the same site. By the end of census, 5 Wrynecks had been found, with a new Barred Warbler joining two lingering birds. There were also the first two Sparrowhawk of the autumn and the first Common Tern and Carrion Crow of the month, with increases noted for Willow Warbler (47), Garden Warbler (7), Whinchat (2) and Rock Pipit (293) amongst others. There was also a Reed Warbler, Swift  and 2 Fieldfare to add to the haul.
It was a quiet autumn for Wrynecks in 2013 (with just one recorded), but 2014 has already seen 8 in this season.
An obvious increase in waders was particularly notable around the Skadan and it produced the first Little Stint of the year late in the day, with a Whimbrel also amongst the larger numbers of commoner species.
A little hint for how the 30th will go, with the rain easing off just before 7am and the wind also dropping, so it looks like really promising conditions. There are at least a couple of Willow Warblers around the Obs and morning traps produced Reed, Garden and 2 Willow Warblers (as well as Rock Pipit and 3 Fulmars!), so it suggests we could be in for a good day…

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Autumn Arrivals.

26th - 27th August
Many of the seabirds have drifted away from the island now, although there are still decent numbers of Bonxies around, as well as a few Arctic Skuas, including these two juveniles at the Mast (incidentally, this 'flock' of juvenile Skooties contains double the number of youngsters of this species to have fledged from 2011-2013).
Another very calm and sunny day on 26th brought our first Icterine Warbler of the autumn (trapped at the Plantation) and an increase in Common Rosefinch to 3, with Barred Warbler and Wood Warbler remaining and a few increases in common migrants to suggest we were maybe at the start of something even better. The 27th opened calm and bright again after another busy night Storm Petrel ringing (the morning mist-netters passed the Storm Petrel team in the lounge at about 5.30am!). A Leach’s Petrel was also heard overnight, with the final total of birds caught being 227 (including 197 ‘new’ birds).
After a poor autumn for Wood Warbler in 2013 (with just one record), this year is already much better, with probably 5 individuals recorded so far.
Although things started relatively slowly, the wind started to pick up from the east through the day to a fairly fresh breeze by the evening and it brought more birds with it. Willow Warblers were the most obvious species present, with 60 logged around the island and there were also increases in Pied Flycatcher (6), alba wagtails (99 – mostly White), Tree Pipit (2) and Garden Warbler (5), whilst counts of 341 Meadow Pipit, 290 Rock Pipit, 280 Twite and 107 Wheatear all added to a satisfyingly busy census. The Common Rosefinch flock had increased to at least 4 (that was the most seen together, there could easily have been double that number on the island with various ones and twos seen in widely scattered locations), there were still 2 Barred Warblers around the Stackhoull area, a Wryneck dropped into the Obs briefly, the autumn’s first Red-backed Shrike was mobile on the west coast around Grey Geo and Wood Warblers had increased to 3 (the lingering bird was still at Chalet, whilst new individuals were at Furse and South Naaversgill). So, a very satisfying days birding and it felt like the forerunner to the chance of more birds. We’re due some stronger SE winds, which will make the birding more difficult, but could bring a selection of new species before the winds drop towards the weekend before switching to the west by the start of September.
Daily census, increasing migrants, several scarcities, a good forecast – the autumn is all coming together nicely now and hopefully we’ll eke out a few more decent birds in this promising spell of weather.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014


21st-25th August
It's that time of year when the Storm Petrel ringing season coincides with autumn migration and sleep is at a premium. We know it would make sense to finish the petrelling sessions early, but it's been such a good season it's hard to drag yourself away from the nets! Catches in three figures seem to have become the norm now, and we're onto over 2000 birds ringed so far this season, whilst the last three sessions have also seen us ring a Leach's Petrel and catch Storm Petrels with Norwegian (2), Portuguese (2) and Danish rings. With the calm weather proceeding oncoming easterlies, there are also migrants on the move, so census, nets and trap rounds are in full flow as well, in fact by my reckoning, the 46 hour period between 7am Sunday and 5am this morning will have seen about 90 minutes without the Wardening team either catching or counting birds ('FIBO never sleeps' seems to have become our motto, although I dare say the next day of rainy westerlies might test that!).
Interestingly, there has been no sight nor sound of the Swinhoe's Petrel for the last four ringing sessions.
Elsewhere, wader migration has slowed down a bit, but the passerine migration is picking up. After a new Wryneck and lingering Barred Warbler and Common Rosefinch on 21st, hopes weren't that high for the 22nd when a freshening northerly breeze with a hint of west in it seemed set to curtail arrivals for a while. However, it quickly became apparent from the number of Willow Warblers around (45 were logged by the end of the day) that a reaonable fall had unexpectedly taken place and 5 Barred Warblers, Common Rosefinch, 4 Pied Flycatchers and 5 Garden Warblers were amongst the species noted before the day's highlight was located at Chalet, with a smart Arctic Warbler showing well in the garden for the afternoon. 
Arctic Warbler at Chalet, the 7th consecutive year of occurence on Fair Isle for the species (photo: Alex Penn).
A few lingering birds over the next few days were joined by the first Kestrel and Tree Pipit of the autumn (24th), whilst a Wood Warbler, a new Barred Warbler (to join 2 lingering birds) and a new Common Rosefinch on 25th had taken advantage of the rather lovely conditions to arrive.
Barred Warbler at Barkland  (photo by Ciaran Hatsell).
The same weather (sunshine and no wind) also provided perfect conditions for cetacean watching on 25th, with the first dolphins of the year noted off North Light in some style: 5 White-beaked, 4 White-beaked and a Risso's were all noted, along with 18 Porpoise around the island.
Dolphin watching off North Light this evening (photo by Ciaran Hatsell).
It looks like Tuesday is set to be another calm and pleasant day, but will it be migrants, cetaceans or more petrels that are the highlight? Or maybe all three...
The time really flies by in the autumn, with September nearly upon us already. Nothing emphasises the passage of time like your child's first day at school though - Grace is enjoying being one of the 5 pupils at Fair Isle Primary, after starting last week.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

First Autumn Update.

Right then, where to start?! Sorry it’s been a while since the last update, it’s been a particularly busy summer and the time has flown by since I last did anything to the blog. First of all, all is well in the Parnaby family; Grace starts ‘big school’ today (and is very excited about it), Freyja is growing up fast as well (she’s chatting away and generally enjoying life) and we’ve had visits from both sets of parents this month (and many, many thanks to them all for their help during their ‘holidays’).
The children have enjoyed the summer and have made regular visits to the hills to help me locate skua nests (you can use the stoops of Arctic Skuas on the kids to triangulate the location of a chick quite successfully!), although here they are enjoying the more relaxed atmosphere of the Puffin colony on Roskillie.
We’ve had a turnover of staff at the Obs as well, with Angela ending her stint as Cook (all at FIBO wish her and her family well now they’ve moved on from Fair Isle), Kharis coming to the end of her contract as Domestic Assistant (and hopefully coming back to visit so she can finish my knitting lessons) and Alice finishing her spell as Childminder (and we send her good luck with her studies and thanks for being a good friend to the kids). They’ve been replaced by the familiar faces of Ann (returning as Cook) and Marilyn (our Childminder in 2011), whilst Terri has arrived for her first season as Domestic Assistant. We’ve also had Langdon come and go as a JHMF volunteer and currently have Alex and Raeannon filling similar roles.

Bird wise, it’s continued to be a really good season for many seabirds, I’ll do another update on them at some stage (hopefully!), but whatever else this season brings, one of the standout memories will be the enjoyment of seeing, hearing and smelling a healthy seabird colony in full swing.  
At least a dozen Arctic Skua chicks have fledged, with most of them going on to survive the attentions of Bonxies. This fledged chick on Gilsetter is about to be fed by a parent. After just one chick fledged in the previous three years I've been here, this has been a fantastic season (although breeding numbers are still low).

Guillemots (like this one with its fledged chick) and Razorbills have both had their most succesful seasons for some time, the sound of Guillemot chicks calling could be heard drifting in through the lounge windows on still evenings in late July for the first time since I've been on Fair Isle.

Kittiwakes are another species to have done well, with youngsters fledging from several nests - the first ones for four years. A small increase in the population was noted as well, although we're still over 18,000 pairs down on the counts of 20 years ago. Shags have also had a much more productive season than recent years, although they are also much reduced in numbers

A Puffling, one of several that were reared this year.
And a comparison of typical beak-fulls in 2014 (left, by Richard Cope) and 2013 (right) being brought in to the young Puffins.
Although the abundance of small fish in Fair Isle waters has been the reason for the much better year for seabirds, it's not clear why sandeels and other species have reappeared in such numbers. It may just be a one-off, or it may be the start of a better run of years, but either way, we've enjoyed it.
As July came to an end, migration was predictably slow, although a good series of Manx Shearwater records included 15 on 30th, the second highest Fair Isle count. Storm Petrel ringing showed that there were really impressive numbers present, with three-figure catches the norm. Leach’s Petrels were heard during most sessions and the Swinhoe’s Petrel was also present on several nights (it was last recorded on 1st August, with a busy session on 5th/6th producing no record of it and 75 minutes on 15th/16th August also drawing a blank). The weather in August hasn’t allowed for many sessions, although we may enjoy a slightly calmer spell later this week, which could allow us to try again.
Storm Petrel ringing has again proved very popular with lots of our guests (photo by Glen Tyler).
Although August opened with south-easterly winds, things were generally quiet until 5th, when new migrants were headlined by a Barred Warbler (with 3 more arriving on 15th). The 6th produced the best bird of the autumn so far in Fair Isle terms, with a Red-necked Phalarope at Utra, whilst there was also a Greenish Warbler trapped in the Gully and the next day saw a Wryneck appear in the Plantation. 
Logan Johnson found this juvenile Red-necked Phalarope, the 25th for Fair Isle and the first since 2005.
This Greenish Warbler was the second of the year, but the first in the UK this autumn. What was presumably the same bird (a similarly bright individual with a ring on the right leg) was in the south of Shetland the next day. Fair Isle also recorded the first Barred Warbler and Wryneck of the autumn for the country.
Further scarcities amongst the small numbers of common warblers and other migrants included Common Rosefinch and Marsh Warbler on 15th and a couple of Wood Warblers, whilst the biggest surprise has been the occurrence of Blyth’s Reed Warblers on 14th and 16th, the first August records for Fair Isle. Also unexpected was the return of the Kumlien’s Gull, which has lingered on the island from January to June (and was probably the Iceland Gull present on a couple of dates in July).
The second Blyth's Reed Warbler of the month (and 5th of the year!). The first involved four of the Wardening team spending about three and a half hours in the Gully (and at least two people ending up knee-deep in the stream), whilst the second was slightly more cooperative, appearing on the fence outside the AW office window. The bird on the 14th was the joint-earliest ever autumn record in the UK, although it's high fat score (6, with a weight of over 15g), suggested it had probably been present nearby for a day or two at least. Both were first-winter birds.
The somewhat extreme weather from 9th (more on that later) produced some good numbers of waders, with highlights including a Fair Isle record 4 Wood Sandpipers and up to 19 Ruff, 22 Common Sandpipers (the second highest autumn count), 10 Green Sandpipers and 9 Greenshank. All the sightings are listed in full at: http://www.fairislebirdobs.co.uk/latest_sightings.html
The wader scrape has been looking rather impressive after some good repair work by the team on the sluices earlier in the year.
Other wildlife has included a twitchable Basking Shark off Skadan.
This Sitochroa palealis (also known as Sulphur Pearl) was found by Susannah in the Obs garden and was a first for Scotland, having never been recorded further north in the UK than East Yorkshire.
A good spell of butterfly records included a few Small Tortoiseshell (like this one at the Obs) and Peacock, with reasonable
numbers of Red Admiral and Painted Lady.
Congratulations to Mr and Mrs Veitch-Thomson after a wonderful wedding, during which the whole island was filled with their friends and relatives. The day started with a wonderful sunrise, although the weather did deteriorate somewhat...
The biggest island news has been the wedding of Inness Thomson (eldest son of Pat and Neil Thomson of Lower Stoneybrek) and Karen Veitch on 9th August, which coincided with a record-breaking rainfall for Fair Isle, when a week of sunshine was brought to an abrupt end by 5.5inches of rain! The rain really was a rather dramatic event, with roads (and the Obs car park and garage) flooded and a bit of movement around the island as a huge amount of water rushed to the sea, taking large chunks of the island with it.
Gilsetter became a lake for a while.
The Vaadal stream  became the Vaadal river (as did the road north).
If it's going to rain on your wedding day, you're better off having a record-breaking day rather than just some drizzle! It was certainly a memorable day for everyone, with the shuttling of guests up and down from the Obs rather interesting as the water levels rose and the roads became decent wader habitat (I had to stop for a Green Sandpiper on the road at Field at one point). The Fire Service came to check out the Obs to see if we would need water pumping out of the car park, but thankfully some frantic late-night ditch digging by the team was enough to prevent the building flooding.
Water rushing down the Gully provided some dramatic rapids.
A lot of changes were visible after the flood water had receded, with the Gully having been somewhat hammered. Notice the amount of rocks that have been thrown through the fence surrounding the Gully plantation. The Mills have survived, but have been severely undercut and the first hefty winter storm is likley to see some more movement.
A large land-slip at Wester Lother will have destroyed a few late Shag nests and also seems to have done for our anchor points used for accessing the colony here.
Smaller land slips have occurred in several areas of the island, this one is at Wirvie. Fair Isle is not a big island, and I do worry that if bits keep falling off, there'll be none left eventually!
So that’s an update on life on Fair Isle in the last month, but what will the next month bring? The AW’s are back from their holidays refreshed and ready for the autumn, the forecast suggests we may get easterly winds from the end of the weekend (still time to book a late room at our special August rate, if you fancy taking a chance…) and I’ll try to keep the blog more up to date from now on!
There are several areas of cliff-top that look likely to see more movement during the rest of the year, so please be careful if you're visiting us this autumn. I'm a bit worried that this one looks rather like the crack in the skin of the Universe that caused Dr Who a few problems.

Monday, 21 July 2014

All at seabirds.

It’s been a busy summer, with seabirds taking up a lot of our time – a welcome change from many recent years. It’s also been busy at the Obs, with a virtually ‘full house’ for much of the last month, so there’s not been a lot of time for keeping the blog up to date – sorry about that!
The Swedish training ship the Atlantica called into Fair Isle for a night and its crew were responsible for a sizeable percentage of the 37 people watching the World Cup final in the Warden's flat!
A generally busy time of year also saw the first Sheep Hill of 2014. Here Ciaran takes a yowe off to be clipped (Ciaran is the slightly taller of the two). Photo by Carol Jefferies.
Amongst the birds, the obvious highlight has been the Swinhoe’s Petrel, which is still present in the Havens (although it is only recorded when we have Storm Petrel ringing sessions taking place, obviously). There’s been Leach’s Petrel also regularly recorded at the trapping sessions, usually arriving simultaneously with the Swinhoe’s and the two are often heard calling together; a nice comparison. In order to try to make the most of the Storm Petrel ringing (we currently stop for the night if the Swinhoe’s Petrel is caught to ensure it isn’t caught more than once a night), we’ll be trying out other sites around the island to see where else we can catch Storm Petrels without the Swinhoe’s coming in. That means for the next week at least we’re very unlikely to be ringing in the Havens (we’ll put a further update out on Storm Petrel ringing on 28th July).
There's a long way to go for the Arctic Skuas, but some have large chicks now, whilst in other nests, the chicks are just hatching.
However it's been mixed news for the Bonxies, where record numbers nesting are not going to produce a massive amount of chicks judging by the evidence so far. Cannibalism in the colony has been noted, usually a sure sign that there isn't enough food to go round. Of the two ringed chicks I have found eaten, both were near their nests, suggesting that the parents were away for extended periods foraging when the youngsters were attacked (or that older chicks are killing their younger siblings in times of food shortage).
The other good bird that has been lingering is the Marsh Warbler in the Obs garden, whilst the oversummering Chiffchaffs (at least a couple of them) and Robin have been joined by the occasional unusually-timed migrant, with Blackcaps on 30th June-1st July and 7th July, Willow Warbler (1st July), Lesser Whitethroat (2nd July), Song Thrush, sporadic Mealy Redpoll sightings (of up to two birds) and a Whitethroat (which is ringed and very likely one that has summered quietly somewhere unseen on the island - an apparently injured bird seen in mid-June suggests it could have been lurking in the heather keeping out of sight). Also summering was the male White Wagtail, which was still present at Easter Lother Water. A few Collared Doves were expected birds of mid-summer, as were the autumn’s first three Grey Herons (heading south on 11th) and a Quail flushed from Mire of Vatnagaard on 3rd July continued the good spring for the species. Less usual were the House Martin (11th), Sand Martin (17th) and especially the Great Spotted Woodpecker which flew south over the Obs on 12th and was seen near the base of Malcolm’s Head on 15th – the first July record for Fair Isle! Also not expected at this time of year (although not as rare as the woodpecker) was an Iceland Gull on Meoness on 11th and again on 16th-17th.
A good selection of plants and flowers can be enjoyed at this time of year, including Sundews (although this one was close to a particularly aggressive Bonxie, so was only enjoyed briefly.
Another addition to the year list came in the form of Ruff on 12th July, the highlight from the typical build up of waders that occurs at this time of year, whilst offshore there were Manx Shearwaters daily from 2nd-5th (14 birds recorded in total) and four more during 15th-18th, a reasonable showing for Fair Isle, where seawatching is not really a major feature of the birding year. Staring out to sea can have its advantages though, with a distant group of five Killer Whales (including a couple of mighty bulls) off North Light on 14th, although the two on 1st July were much closer as they came right into South Haven and then Mavers Geo. Unusually, this couple were seen at half past midnight and were first seen by people by on the nets at a Storm Petrel ringing session (on a night that was light enough to be able to read petrel rings by the net at 1am, despite there being no moon!).
The atmospheric setting looking west from North Light, as photographed here by Ciaran Hatsell (and featured in the opening credits of the BBC series Shetland).
We’ve got a period of easterly winds coming from central Europe on the way now, which would be ideal conditions at almost any time of year except mid-July, but there are still birds moving out there, so maybe there’s still a chance it could deliver us a surprise yet…

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