Sunday, 12 July 2015

Colour-rings in Spring 2015

With over 378,000 birds ringed by FIBO, there have been some remarkable movements logged, with ringed birds recovered as far away as Brazil, Canada, Russia and South Africa amongst others. In recent years, an increase in colour-ringing projects has enabled us to find out details of movements of individual birds without having to catch them, improving our knowledge of which birds are passing through Fair Isle.
This spring has seen a remarkable run of colour-ring sightings on Fair Isle, with birds arriving on the island from far and wide. Below is a summary of these sightings:

Snow Bunting

On 19th April a Snow Bunting was seen with colour rings up at South Naarversgill. The bird was flighty and took a little tracking down but the ring combination was eventually clinched. It was first ringed as a young female at Glenshee Ski Centre, Braemar on 2nd January 2013. The bird was seen in subsequent winters back at the site, last sighted there on 29th March 2015. It was last seen on Fair Isle on 21st April. The bird was assigned to the nominate race nivalis and it is likely it was on its way to more northerly breeding grounds in Scandinavia or Greenland.

Pied Wagtail
 A Pied Wagtail first sighted at the Obs on the morning of 22nd April and was very flighty and elusive, eventually relocating to South Light (2 miles down the island!) where the combination was clinched. The bird was ringed at Radipole Lake, Dorset on 31st October 2014 and was the second Pied Wagtail to have been colour-ringed in Dorset seen on spring passage through Fair Isle (the first was in 2011).
Black-headed Gull
Sighted several times before the ring was fully read, this bird was around the Shop area on 21st and 22nd May. The bird was ringed on Vassoy, Rogaland, Norway on 18th June 2014 and seen on the Ugie Estuary in the Grampian Region on 29th July 2014.


Acolour-ringed Turnstone was seen briefly near Mid-Geo on 17th May but the details weren’t obtained until the following day, when it was feeding around South Light in a small group of Turnstone. The bird was ringed on 17th August 2013 at Leihoek, Petten in The Netherlands.

Purple Sandpiper
The first colour ringed Purple Sandpiper to be sighted on Fair Isle, this bird was ringed on the Swedish island of Nidingen on 16th November 2013. It was seen feeding around the seaweed in Mid Geo near the Puffinn on 19th May and was also seen in South Harbour.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Spring summary

You may well have spotted that I haven't been that good at keeping the blog up to date (and that's perhaps a bit of an understatement), but hopefully you have all been keeping an eye on Fair Isle news via our latest sightings page (updated daily), our facebook page or our Twitter account.
Below is a bit of a random collection of images from the spring since my last update. We'll also publish an update soon on some of the more interesting piece of ringing news from the spring and then there should be seabird news to report.  
Arriving almost exactly a year after the first Fair Isle record, this male Moltoni's Warbler was the rarest bird in national terms recorded during the spring. The distinctive underpart coloration was surprisingly variable in the field, but the rattling call and DNA analysis confirmed the identification beyond any doubt. (photo: Lee Gregory)
Having been newly 'promoted' to BBRC status, Tawny Pipit chose to make its first arrival on Fair Isle for 10 years. (photo: Lee Gregory)
Another species that has just gone back on the BBRC list is Rustic Bunting; this bird at Utra was our first since 2013. There have been no autumn records since 2009. (photo: Lee Gregory)
We all knew we'd had to get an Egret eventually, the main debate was whether it would be Great White or Little that would find us first; in the end it was the larger of the two that became Fair Isle's 385th species.
The first non-BBRC Blyth's Reed Warbler for Fair Isle. The species has been annual on Fair Isle since 2009, during which time there have been 15 records, equalling the number seen during the rest of FIBO's history. (photo: Lee Gregory)
Two Greenish Warblers arrived on the same day in spring, both were typically mobile. (photo: Lee Gregory)
Greenish Warbler meets Fulmar.
The first 'pink' Rose-coloured Starling on Fair Isle since 2007. This is a lovely retro 'record shot', although the initial views were much better as the bird landed on a net pole in the garden as the team were ringing a Crossbill. (photo: Chris Dodd)
The first Nightingale since 2012 was trapped at the end of June. Susannah missed the last one as she was in Lerwick having just given birth to Freyja and was in Lerwick for this one as well, although just for a meeting this time rather than a baby. (photo: Ciaran Hatsell)
Three Hobby sightings were all far enough part in dates to suggest they involved different birds, all sadly proved untwitchable. (photo: Lee Gregory)
Two Cranes put on a great show as they flew down the island, fed on Malcolm's Head for a while, circled out to sea a couple of times then ended up near Hoini. (photo: Lee Gregory)
The regular site of Bull's Park again attracted Dotterel, with a trip of four present for a couple of days. (photo: Lee Gregory)
One of the most memorable days of the year was Fair Isle's best ever seawatch on 13th May, when 40 Long-tailed (including the group in the photo above) and 13 Pomarine Skuas passed South Light, eclipsing all previous records for both species. (photo: Lee Gregory)
A very confiding adult Long-tailed Skua spent most of the day around Gilsetter and the Parks a few days later. Nice.
The 'epic' seawatch had started quiet quietly, with a blue Fulmar (above), an Arctic Tern and a Black-headed Gull the only 'notable' birds from the first 45 minutes! (photo: Lee Gregory)
Although the westerly winds restricted migration somewhat, most of the expected scarcities put in appearances (only Wood Warbler and Corncrake were missing from the usual annually occurring species. Totals included: 3 Short-toed Larks, 6 Red-backed Shrikes, 3 Bluethroats, 3 Common Rosefinch, 5 Icterine Warblers, 2 Wrynecks, 7 Marsh Warblers, 5 Hawfinch and an Osprey.  This male Red-backed Shrike was at Taft, where it posed atmospherically! (photo: Ciaran Hatsell)
One of the 5 Hawfinch from the spring. (photo: Lee Gregory)
Despite the westerly winds, there were very few Lapland Buntings, although this very smart male graced the Obs feeders for a couple of days .(photo: Lee Gregory)
Common migrants were generally only present in small numbers, so the traps have been quieter this year than 2014, although a few surprises still appeared including this Long-eared Owl. (photo: Lee Gregory)
littoralis Rock Pipits passed through in small numbers in the spring and also included three birds in late June, at least one of which was breeding on the island (photo: Lee Gregory)
With more time on our hands due to spells where migrants were thin on the ground, we were able to concentrate on other things. The Obs garden has been significantly extended, sightings of birds with colour-rings and darvics increased and even Redpolls got a lot more attention! This interesting bird was present in mid-June and in the field looked rather large and pale, although measurements when it was trapped suggested 'Mealy Redpoll' was the  most likely identification - most Mealys at this time of year aren't as pale as this one though. (photo: Lee Gregory)
No doubting this beast, it's a 'Greenland Redpoll' - dark, stripy and dwarfing the Twite. During its stay it reached a weight of 24.6g, more than double the smallest Lesser Redpoll caught this spring (11.1g). If the Redpolls end up being lumped, they'll surely be one of the most variable passerines we see in Britain (photo: Lee Gregory)
This one was another intruiging beast, large (much bigger than the Mealy on the left) and pale. It was already ringed but, annoyingly, it resisted all attempts to catch it.
Whatever they all are (this one was dark enough to suggest Lesser, but measurements were closer to Mealy), they can be really bonny birds and they certainly provide plenty of opportunities for conversation!





Sunday, 26 April 2015

Gone West.

14th-25th April
Shag on nest, we're all hoping for a breeding season as good as the last one...
A long time since an update, but not a huge amount to report. I'm currently looking after Freyja who's down with a cold and I'm starting getting some feeling back into my face and fingers after censusing Buness and the Havens and doing the Beached Bird Survey this morning in a rather cold NW wind. Once Susannah's back from Kirk, I'll be heading out round the rest of North, which I'm not expecting to be an entirely enjoyable experience!
Shetlantarctica. The scene on Saturday as winter returned to the Northern Isles, although we got away with just a few wintry showers on Fair Isle.
The recent period has seen largely westerly winds, with a calmer period over 17th-20th that brought a few more signs of spring, but with north-west winds dominating the forecast for the foreseeable future, it looks like the early part of this spring is going to be a real contrast with the amazing spell of late-April migration last year.
Calm weather was enough to encourage the family down south for a picnic, and was even nice enough for coats to be shed (although not the wooly hats!).
We've not been without a few highlights though, chief of which was the brief appearance of a pale-bellied Brent Goose in South Haven on the morning of 25th, the first Brent on the island since spring 2010. A general theme of the highlights not being passerine-based was continued with the arrival of first one, then three, then five Gadwall from 20th-22nd, sadly the increase didn't continue and we were left with just the second-largest ever Fair Isle flock. I've mentioned before the 'island-network' of news, and it's interesting that Noss and the Isle of May have both recorded Gadwall in the last week, islands where they are even greater rarities than Fair Isle. It's the sort of species that doesn't feature on Birdguides, so perhaps a larger than normal movement of them wouldn't get picked up so easily - anyone else out there recorded Gadwall on their patch when they didn't expect it? Other wildfowl have been generally thin on the ground, although the first Whooper Swan of the year appeared from 21st and a couple of Pink-footed Geese have also passed through.
Two of the Gadwall being photobombed by the still present Mute Swan. I wonder if the swan hangs on until the autumn and gives a few of our regulars a Fair Isle tick? It seems to have made friends with the Whooper Swan recently, which could be interesting...
Other avian highlights have included a smart breeding-plumaged Slavonian Grebe (19th-23rd), only the 5th spring record in the last 18 years of this species which is a more regular autumn visitor.
The rather smart Slavonian Grebe, it could be watched chasing fish underwater in the clear waters of the North Haven, where it moved with impressive speed.
Wader passage has brought the first Whimbrel (16th), Knot (17th), Greenshank (18th), Black-tailed Godwit and Common Sandpiper (both 19th) of the year, with the first Arctic Skua of the year returning on 25th. Other migrants have largley turned up despite the weather rather than because of it and numbers haven't been great as we've been relying on the brave (or foolish) individuals that have pressed on regardless. First arrivals have been represented by Willow Warbler (14th, with just a few after that), Blackcap (18th, with no more than two since), Tree Sparrow (a flock of 3 that arrived on 20th at the Obs and increased to 5 two days later), House Martin (21st), Sand Martin (22nd), Grasshopper Warbler, Tree Pipit and 2 Kestrel (all of which turned up in unpromising westerly winds on 25th).
A few White Wagtails have been passing through, as well as a few 'Greenland' Wheatears, both typical migrants in westerly winds.
One thing that isn't weather dependent is the arrival of cetaceans and after three unidentified dolphins were seen on 19th, we got the one that most people were after - Killer Whales. Initially seen by Jane as she was searching for colour-ringed Starlings in South Harbour, the three animals (including two adult bulls), moved up the east coast, with the rest of the Obs team (well, all of the team except me, as the sighting occurred at exactly the time I was called up to the airstrip for fire duty for the incoming plane) able to get out onto Buness or Roskillie to get good views as they went past.
Killer Whale photographed by island resident Joe Butler with his phone as it swam under the cliffs at Buness.
Interestingly, one of the bulls had a fin that was totally collapsed to the right hand side, exactly the same as one that spent several hours off Fair Isle in a group of 15 animals in June 2013, there has to be the chance that the same animal is involved in both sightings (although unfortunately, it wasn't photographed on this occasion).
So, it just goes to show that it's always worth being out there, whatever the weather - and if we keep telling ourselves that in the next 10 days of westerlies, we might start to believe it!

Monday, 13 April 2015

Gentilis Relish

11th-13th April
A couple of blustery days brought a few bits of note, with the 11th seeing a few Pink-feet on the move and a small fall that included 10 Fieldfare, 2 Brambling and a Sparrowhawk, with Wheatear rising to 28, then Shoveler and 82 Golden Plover on 12th. Full details, as ever, can be found on our latest sightings page, which is updated more regularly than this blog if you want to keep up to date with daily sightings from Fair Isle.
Wheatears are finally arriving in slightly more reasonable numbers (photo: Ciaran Hatsell).

A few other common migrants have been on the move, including a couple of Collared Doves.
The 13th seemed even more promising when a very calm morning saw a few Redwing and Twite caught in the Obs mistnets, before Ciaran phoned with the startling news that he'd flushed a GOSHAWK from the wall next to Ditfield ('It was huge!'). Some frantic searching by the team failed to relocate the bird and so, after returning to the Obs for breakfast, we started to head out to census with the hope that we'd pick it up somewhere around the island. We hadn't even made it to the cattle grid (I hadn't even got my boots on in fact), when Ciaran heard the 'cronk' of a Raven overhead and looked up to see the Goshawk directly overhead.
An absolute whopper. As was pointed out on Twitter, a good ID feature is when you realise the 'crow' mobbing it is, in fact, a massive Raven! It was noticeable that the Raven tended to mostly keep a sensible distance from a predator that could almost certainly cause it some problems should it have wished.
You can follow FIBO on Twitter on @FI_Obs if you would like up to date bird news from Fair Isle.
It circled for a short while, then headed south with its, rather respectful, chaperone. It was later seen from Wirvie as it circled high and drifted north, presumably heading to Shetland as there were no further sightings.
We were even able to add the Goshawk to the kitchen window list as it performed a couple of circuits over the Obs. Only the 6th record for Fair Isle and the first since 1996, this one wasn't really on anyone's radar.
Interestingly, North Ronaldsy BO recorded their 11th Goshawk a couple of weeks ago, which lingered for a few days then appeared to drift off south. Could this have been the same bird making another attempt to return north? There certainly seem to be similarities between the Fair Isle bird (left) and the North Ronaldsay bird (right, photo by Stephen Rutt). Many thanks to NRBO for supplying the picture, as well as interesting comments about the similarities of the birds. Please let us know if you have any thoughts as to whether these are the same birds.
If they are the same, that gives us hope that we've still got a chance of catching up with the White-tailed Eagle that was seen on North Ronaldsay a few days ago!
Returning to the site it was first flushed from later revealed a freshly dead, partially eviscerated rabbit. Nearby was the plucking post, although most of the fur had blown away by the time we returned with a camera (photo: Ciaran Hatsell). The rabbit was pretty impressively dealt with, but the picture is a bit gory for the blog, so you'll have to email and ask for a copy if you're interested!
The rest of the day didn't really matter in some respects, but it still went on to produce the first Ring Ouzel of the year amongst impressive counts of Meadow Pipit (520) and Skylark (332), as well as an increases in Chiffchaffs (9) and Bonxies (at least 40 were back on their breeding grounds).
A flighty Ring Ouzel at Busta Geo was the first of the year (photo: Ciaran Hatsell).
The recent run of interesting wildfowl continued with two each of Pintail and Shoveler, whilst the Mute Swan remained (although it had a little fly around today, so maybe it's looking to move on - although perhaps it's more likley that it was following someone home after they'd fed it!).
Quack. (Ciaran Hatsell).

Still all westerlies in the forecast at the moment, although we're doing reasonably well off them so far, so maybe we shouldn't get too disheartened, and it's still early...
photo: Ciaran Hatsell

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