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…

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Swinhoe's Petrel Update

A Swinhoe’s Petrel was retrapped in the early hours of 9th July during a petrelling session in the Havens. It was the second bird to have been caught here last year (i.e. the male which was retrapped on several occasions between early August and early September, the other bird was also a male, but was trapped only once, in July), so we’ll now be following the procedures agreed with the BTO and outlined here.
It was the sixth petrel-ringing session of the season and the first one that we’d played the full mix tape (the previous nights having all been quite light, so we decided to stick to just Storm Petrel calls to increase our chances of catching anything). It was the first really dark night and, after a total of 107 Storm Petrels ringed during the first five sessions, we ringed 47 last night; showing what a good night it was. There was also a Leach’s Petrel regularly singing around the nets (although skilfully avoiding them).
The phones have been pretty non-stop since 7am this morning with people wanting to know more about the bird (so not much chance for us to catch up on sleep!), so this seems a good a time as any to answer some of the questions we’ve been getting:

·      We shall not be playing Swinhoe’s calls during routine petrelling sessions from now on.

·      The Swinhoe’s Petrel calls we’ve been using have come from the excellent Petrels Night and Day book.

·       Owing to the vagaries of the Shetland weather we simply cannot advertise the days we’ll be Storm Petrel ringing in advance; we may be able to give an indication in the morning that we’ll be considering a session that night, in which case we’ll be happy to let people know what we’re thinking (but sessions can be cancelled right up until the last minute if there are changes in the weather or other unexpected circumstances).

·       We will not be ringing Storm Petrels either tonight or Thursday due to the forecasted weather conditions. No decision has been made on days beyond that.

·       There are no plans to fit any sort of tracking device to the bird. The advice we’ve received is that there are no tags small enough to remotely offload the data and that it is still very early days in the field of long-term attachments of tags to storm-petrels, so attempting to fit a tag to discover the winter movements of the bird would not be advisable. There wouldn’t be a huge amount of value to be gained from finding out its daily movements, given that it’s an out of range vagrant and isn’t breeding in the area.

The reason for the change in practice from our usual Storm Petrel ringing sessions is due to the unusual behaviour of this particular Swinhoe’s Petrel. The vast majority of petrels we catch are roaming birds that do not stay with us (we know from retraps etc that they are birds that are below the expected breeding age, whilst ringed birds from our breeding colonies are not caught in the nets in the Havens). This Swinhoe’s Petrel developed the habit last year of returning to the nets during every session and repeatedly in the same night on some occasions, unlike any of the other 3000 or so petrels we’ve caught in my previous three years on Fair Isle. We have no objection to people seeing the bird if we catch it (as I hope the folk who visited last year will agree) but feel it’s best for this bird if it is not repeatedly attracted to the nets.
Another factor to bear in mind this year is that is currently one of the best years for breeding seabirds in recent times. Last year’s almost total failure of several species meant we had more time to spend on Storm Petrel ringing, whereas that time is likely to be reduced this year due to the increased monitoring work, a very happy situation to be in!
It’s purely speculative at the moment, but one theory for this Swinhoe’s Petrels behaviour is that, whilst Storm and Leach’s Petrels roam between colonies as non-breeding birds (after spending their first summer further south than the UK) before eventually settling upon somewhere to breed at about four years old, this bird may be an adult that has been unable to locate another Swinhoe’s Petrel in the North Atlantic, hence its unusual behaviour. This perhaps lends a little support to the theory that UK Swinhoe’s Petrels are lost vagrants rather than part of a North Atlantic breeding population (one of the Tynemouth individuals returned for five years, suggesting it would have been at least six years old when last retrapped, by which time it probably should have been at a breeding colony).
Just to be clear, this is the first time that the Swinhoe’s Petrel has been seen (or heard) this year and we will be reporting any further sightings through the usual channels. If it does keep coming to the nets regularly despite Swinhoe’s Petrel calls not being played, we’ll review the procedures again.
I hope that this helps answer any questions people have got, if you do have any others though, please email me at (which is easier than me trying to keep abreast of all the goings on of social media).

Many thanks

Thursday, 3 July 2014

A New Hope: Fair Isle's seabirds so far.

As most people will know, there have been a series of very poor years for Fair Isle’s breeding seabirds, reflecting the situation over a lot of the Northern Isles. On Fair Isle several species have declined quite dramatically (although none have been lost as breeding species) and productivity has often been poor (with some species producing no young at all in some years), with a lack of food the primary cause.
There are still a few crucial weeks to go in the breeding season yet, but there are some early signs of optimism for the seabirds this year. This is very much a ‘from the notebook’ update, and some of these figures are likely to change as we put things together properly later in the season, but here’s a quick species by species update of how things are going:

Fulmar - one of the later breeding birds, it’s too early to say much on how they’re doing, although the population plots seemed fairly similar to last year.
Storm Petrel – no information on the breeding status, but the Storm Petrel ringing season has started well, with over 50 in total trapped in two nights in the Havens. A Leach’s Petrel was also caught, which, intriguingly, had been ringed on Fair Isle in August 2013.

Gannet – a total island count of 3591 Apparently Occupied Nests (AON) is over 300 down on last year and may just be a sign of the population levelling off in recent years. Productivity may turn out to be poorer than usual (although it’s still very early – the last chicks may not fledge until October) and a worrying sign has been several adults seen dead or dying, apparently coated in some form of pollutant.
Gannets on Yellow Head, there are a few chicks visible on this picture.
Shag – although the population is still at a much lower level since the 1980s and 1990s, there has been a slight increase in the population plot (to 24 pairs from 21 last year). Productivity seems fairly healthy across the island, with several large young now present in nests. 
This Shag has caught a Butterfish, but it is presumably the availability of Sandeels and Gadoids that is helping the productive season we're having so far.
Arctic Skua – a rare glimmer of hope for one of Fair Isle’s most beleaguered seabirds, as the number of Apparently Occupied Territories (AOT) has increased from last year’s low of 19 to around 26 this year. Of these though, several pairs have not laid eggs, whilst many pairs have a clutch of just one, indicating that the adults may be in poor condition. There is some hope of chicks appearing imminently, but it’s still a long way to go before it can be considered even a half-decent season for the Skooties.
An Arctic Skua performing a distraction display.
A sign that the birds may not be in the best of health included this clutch of two, one of which was a runt egg.
Bonxie (Great Skua) - a record year, with upwards of 350 AOTs already noted (the final total is likely to be nearer 400). There are plenty of chicks now roaming the moors, whilst the adults have been notably more aggressive this year, suggesting that they’re in good health and perhaps even that they’ve a certain confidence that this is going to be a good season for them.
A pair of Bonxies on Hoini protect their chick (the first to be ringed this year on Fair Isle).
Kittiwake – a surprise resurgence (albeit a tiny one), as several years of declines have been reversed and the number of AONs has increased by almost 200 to 963 (although that’s still just a fraction of the 19,000 or so pairs that used to nest on Fair Isle). Productivity has shown a wee bit of promise as several nests have chicks – although the really crucial time is now coming up to see whether they can break a run of three consecutive years with no chicks fledging from the island at all.
Kittiwake chicks just visible under an adult in Dog Geo. The number of AONs and Trace nests recorded this year more or less matches the number of loafing birds recorded last year. These little hints that many seabirds may not be breeding, but are still present, gives a little hope that we could see recoveries in even the most badly hit of populations if conditions improve.
Other Gulls – Common Gulls appear to have fared badly in the small colony on Buness, with most nests having apparently been predated. They have managed to raise a chick to a reasonable size on Goorn though, and there is at least one nest down the island. The three large breeding species appear to be having a reasonable season with 55-60 pairs of Herring, 4+ pairs of Lesser Black-backed and 5+ pairs of Great Black-backed Gull all recorded so far.
Herring Gull chicks on Goorn.
Arctic Tern - 98 AON have been noted (up from 29 last year, but numbers in the last decade have fluctuated between 0 and 818 breeding pairs). Predation has been an issue though and, although some chicks have now hatched, it’s too early to say whether this season will produce any positives.
Although the predated eggs showed signs of having been taken by avian predators, a dead adult showed clear signs of cat predation (including bitten off feathers); for already hard hit seabird populations, this really doesn't help.
Common Tern – a pair that have hatched three chicks on Shalstane are a pleasant surprise as the period 2006-2013 produced only one nesting attempt.
Common Tern chick having been ringed.
Guillemot – more (relative) good news, as the numbers in the population plots have gone up to 1354 individuals (an increase of over 400), which represents the highest count since 2010. There are also encouraging signs that there will be chicks fledging this year, with several now not far off. A 21-hour feed watch saw good numbers of gadoids and sandeels being brought in by the adults (tracking work has shown that the adults have only travelled as far as North Ronaldsay or nearer to collect food, rather than heading down to Fraserburgh as they have been in recent years, a similar situation to Razorbills).

Razorbill – a small increase in the number on the population plot was welcome, but far more so has been the high success rate of the pairs that have bred. Several young have already fledged and it could turn out to be one of the most productive years in the last decade for this species.
Several Razorbill chicks have been ringed and are ready to fledge.
Tystie (Black Guillemot) – the population plot showed an increase to 196 breeding plumaged individuals, the highest count since the population crashed after 1997 and a hopeful sign that they are recovering on Fair Isle.

Puffin – it’s too early to say much about how they’re getting on, although the last visit to Greenholm seemed to show that around a quarter of the nests have failed, suggesting a similar productivity to last year if the remaining chicks go on to fledge. Many have been seen coming in with decent sized fish (compared to the last few years at least), and we’ll have more details on that shortly, with Puffin food watches due shortly.

No doubt there’ll be a few more twists and turns before the end of the breeding season (a day of heavy rain forecast for tomorrow may be the first potential hazard), but things are looking much more positive than they were by this time last year. Whatever you do to wish for luck, do it for our seabirds now please.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

There is a Season, Tern! Tern! Tern!

21st-27th June
After starting the period murky, a couple of days of easterly winds brought sunshine, then rain before the wind switched to the north and things started to feel distinctly cooler. With an increasing swell and grey skies, there was almost an autumnal feel and, as the longest day came and went, there was certainly the sense that the seasons had turned.
The end of spring, as sun rises on the morning of 22nd June (photo: Ciaran Hatsell)
After the first attempt at counting the nesting Arctic Terns on Buness was interrupted by the finding of the Bridled Tern last week, the first attempt to cross to Shalstane to count tern nests suffered a similar fate, when two Roseate Terns were discovered on the rocks there on 24th. It won’t make as many headlines away from Fair Isle, but this represented only the 4th record for the island and the first multiple occurrence. Nowhere near as rare, but equally important for the year list was the Sandwich Tern that called into North Haven briefly on the evening of 26th. Five tern species in a year is as good as it gets on Fair Isle (the maximum in any previous year is just four species, with Arctic, Common and Sandwich the most regular, joined by very occasional vagrants) and the rather good year for rarities (both national and more local) continues.
After previous records in May 1988, July 1996 and July 2013, the two Roseate Terns found at Shalstane on Tuesday were a surprise.
The other rarity of the period was a Blyth’s Reed Warbler, which was trapped at the Obs on 25th and was still present to 27th. Remarkably, it was already ringed and proved to be the bird that had been at Virkie (in the south of Shetland Mainland) on Sunday. Not a huge distance by any means, but interesting that it had started apparently reorientating. After an autumn Blyth’s Reed Warbler trapped on Fair Isle in 1993 that later moved to Sumburgh, this is the second movement of a ringed bird of this species between here and Shetland (the only movements involving birds trapped in the UK that I’m aware of).
The very plain wings and short primary projection are good indicators of Blyth's Reed Warbler, as is the lack of any rufous tone, the overall dull brown coloration and the facial pattern.
For a species such as Blyth’s Reed Warbler, a ringing recovery is probably the only way of proving a movement of an individual between two sites, but for other (particularly larger) rarities, individual plumage features may also provide clues. Two such examples have surfaced this week, with the Honey Buzzard seen in late May looking very like the North Ronaldsay bird of the previous day and a Bridled Tern picture from Northumberland seemingly now confirming what seemed the most likely scenario anyway – that the bird on the Farnes is the same individual seen on Fair Isle.

The Honey Buzzard from late May (thanks to Keith Betton for the picture from North Ronaldsay), showing obvious similarities in wing and body plumage and wear on the primaries, all suggestive of the same bird being involved in both sightings.
When seen initially on Fair Isle, it was thought the Bridled Tern may have lost a feather in the right wing, although closer views revealed that not to be the case and in fact it appeared the feather may just have been damaged. A photo taken a couple of days ago in Northumberland shows exactly the same apparent damage, confirming the same bird is responsible for both sightings.
Despite the late date, there were still a few migrants on the move with the 25th seeing Pied Flycatcher, Whinchat, Robin, Woodpigeon and Mealy Redpoll arrive and there was also Kestrel (22nd), Whitethroat (23rd), 2 Blackcaps (26th) and a new Marsh Warbler singing at Skerryholm (25th), with the two Marsh Warblers lingering throughout at the Obs.

There’s always speculation about birds moving this late in the spring and it seems possible that some are late overshoots, whilst others (including the Pied Flycatcher and one of the Blackcaps, both females with brood patches), could be failed breeders wandering.
On the subject of breeding birds, it’s still looking relatively positive for the seabirds, hopefully I’ll get a blog update on the season so far for them posted soon.
It looks like we’ve got northerlies for a while now, so any lingering spring migration will surely be brought to an end, but I’d not rule out anything the way this year has been going.
Garden Wildlife. Grace and Freyja enjoying the morning sunshine at the Obs.

Friday, 20 June 2014


20th June
Not too much to report today, with Guillemot and Bonxie monitoring taking up most of the time. The only bridles on show today were those we were counting in the Guillemot colonies (as part of a repeat of a national count done in the 1980s) as the Bridled Tern was nowhere to be seen. That was until news broke of what must presumably be the same bird making its way to the Farne Islands, where it spent a decent part of last summer. A quick calculation would suggest that if it had left Fair Isle immediately after we last saw it yesterday, had flown in a straight line with just 3 hours allowed for resting up and was found as soon as it had turned up on the Farnes, then it must have averaged 17mph for the duration of the trip. With a decent NW wind behind it, that doesn’t seem unreasonable, although it was clearly in a hurry to get there as it would have had to pass several other tern colonies on the way.
Despite searching at Shalstane, there was no sign of the Bridled Tern here this evening either (or the Laughing Gull), although given the wanderings of the bird last year, any Shetland listers who failed to catch up with it may not be entirely without a chance of pulling it back. No doubt there is more to come from this bird yet (and a quick search of the Birdguides database show a number of records from the North Sea over the last decade or so which could, just maybe, hint at its story having begun further back than last year). We've been very lucky to catch up with this stunner, as presumably it was only the better breeding season for seabirds that saw it drawn into the (larger than recent years) tern colony here. With no Little Terns ever recorded on Fair Isle, Sandwich Tern a scarce visitor (with no records this year) and just a couple of Common Terns recorded so far in 2014, it perhaps gives you an idea of how unlikley a vagrant Sterna (or Onychoprion) is here.
The finding of the Laughing Gull yesterday coincided with the football and was nicely timed for the weekly addition of the Fair Isle Times to merge the two into an unlikely topical joke! © Neil Thompson, Fair Isle Times
The surveying today carried on the general theme for the summer of it looking like a reasonable breeding season for seabirds on Fair Isle (with a similar picture for Shetland as a whole), although it is still early days. Certainly the Bonxies seem in good spirits and rude health; with a couple of the decent kicks I took today including one that caught me across the temple and jaw!
The wind is set to go easterly tomorrow, although the charts suggest it’s very localised and is unlikely to bring anything in the way of surprising migrants (although it could bring more fog), but we’ll still be checking, so you never know. Also, by Sunday the days will be getting shorter again - autumn is on its way!

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Having a Laugh

17th-19th June
The Bridled Tern remained on the island throughout and drew a few admirers from Shetland, although it became more erratic in its appearances, disappearing from Buness on the morning of 17th and not reappearing until around seven hours later when it was at Shalstane (near South Light, so at the opposite end of the island to its previous appearances).

On the 18th it was seen in the morning only (again around Shalstane, although it also took a couple of tours up the island when the fish it was bringing in for the Arctic Terns were spurned) and it wasn’t seen at all on 19th until ex-Assistant Warden Rebecca Nason and Phil Harris spotted it at Shalstane again at about 4pm. 
Displaying to an Arctic Tern on its first day (photo: Roger Riddington)
And following an Arctic Tern in flight. The behaviour is certainly very similar to the 2013 bird on the east coast of the UK and would suggest a bird that has been without a partner of the same species for a while! (photo: Roger Riddington)
Phil phoned the Obs so we could let our other guests know, then phoned back a minute or so later to tell us that there was also a Laughing Gull there!
Ha ha. Another amazing rarity to add to the spring haul (photo: Ciaran Hatsell)
After initially being found in the Arctic Tern flock, the Laughing Gull switched to Kittiwakes for a while, but seemed equally as unimpressed with them and was last seen drifting off east round Meoness, although it may yet reappear.
Although not quite in the same league as Bridled Tern, this is still a remarkable rarity; only the 10th for Shetland and the first for Fair Isle since the only previous record in 1975.
Susannah has had a tremendously poor run with Laughing Gulls over the years and it looked like her luck was out with this one as well as it has disappeared by the time she arrived. Thankfully, just a couple of minutes later (as we were watching the Bridled Tern sat on Shalstane), Richard picked it up right over our heads. It even called a couple of times - sounding not dissimilar to Bridled Tern!
After initially disappearing west past Malcolm’s Head, it thankfully reappeared around the South Harbour and showed to all those on the island who were interested in this smart American vagrant.

This really is an amazing spring for Fair Isle, with most folk now agreeing that this has been the best for the island; certainly it’s the best for high quality rarities. Even the last couple of days of strong westerlies hasn’t been enough to stop the current run (although similar conditions in early June 2012 brought a Ring-billed Gull and Hornemann’s Arctic Redpoll, which shows you can never really switch off from the possibility of surprises). There’s not too much else to report really from the last few days (not that we’re complaining with the birds we’ve got!), just the odd migrant passing through – with all the details here: .
This spring of seemingly never-ending good birds will have to come to an end soon surely – although it’s only six weeks until the first Barred Warblers could be with us, and who knows what the autumn could bring…

Monday, 16 June 2014

Terned out nice again

11th-16th June
I can feel something good coming’, Ciaran Hatsell. 16th June 2014 11.45am.

I don’t think we’ll get to count the terns, there’s going to be something good found first’, Richard Cope. 16th June 2014 2.10pm.

My Assistant Wardens were certainly brimming with confidence that, despite a couple of days of north-westerly winds, we were due a good bird. Still, with seabird monitoring work dominating the daily routine, our chances of finding something seemed diminished.
Indeed, on a distinctly un-unlucky Friday 13th it was down to Rob to find the goodies, when (having finished his RSPB seabird tracking work for the day) a wander down the island to check the areas that the Wardening team hadn’t got to produced a Blyth’s Reed Warbler and cracking male Western Subalpine Warbler virtually side-by-side at Schoolton!
The Blyth's Reed could be very skulky, but would occasionally show well (although this is the closest I got to a shot showing all of the bird at once).
The Western Subalpine Warbler on the other hand was more of a show off! (photo: Richard Cope)
Not only did Richard enjoy views down to a few metres, but the bird approached him as he moved through the grass, apparently on the look out for insects he may have disturbed! (photo: Richard Cope)
Back to today though and, as we all headed out to Buness to check on the progress of the Arctic Tern colony after lunch, it was Richard’s guess for the ‘how many nests will there be’ sweepstake that was to prove the most prescient…
No sooner had we spread out to begin our first sweep, than an unfamiliar honking call caused me to look up...
'The moment' captured by Ciaran on his phone. (photo: Ciaran Hatsell)
What I saw then caused my eyes, brain and mouth to fall horribly out of synchronisation, but despite my incoherent gruntings, the rest of the team were able to work out that I was pointing at a bird flying right over our heads – a BRIDLED TERN!
A very distinctive bird, but not one that was widely predicted to turn up on Fair Isle.
There was a classic moment of rarity panic as notebooks, canes and even cameras were dropped as we all took in the astounding sight of a mega rarity (the 6th Birdguides ‘!!!’ moment of the spring for Fair Isle) floating around just over our heads.
Generally, the views were excellent, often just a few metres above our heads, when it would often call as well. (photo: Ciaran Hatsell)
Despite a slightly worrying half an hour or so when it disappeared, it eventually showed well to everyone on the island (including Nick Riddiford whose confident prediction that we’d get something good when he was off Fair Isle was thankfully proved wrong by less than two hours!) and even a few quick-off-the-mark Shetland twitchers who made it in on the last flight. There were a lot of happy faces in the sunshine this afternoon!
The Arctic Terns didn't seem to know what to do about the Bridled Tern, often mobbing it as it came in to land. On occasions it was seen to follow individual Arctic Terns, seemingly trying to display to them (and at one point it towered up rather high as it joined in a display flight with a pair of Arctics).
It's the first Bridled Tern for Fair Isle (and Shetland) and is presumed to be the bird that roamed the North Sea last summer.
Last July I had a trip off Fair Isle that, on a birding level, proved to be a disaster; I missed Swinhoe’s Petrel, 8 Two-barred Crossbills, Marsh and Icterine Warbler and a group of Killer Whales. Thankfully, I caught up with most of the birds when I returned home, which made up for the fact that my plans to twitch Rock Thrush in Aberdeenshire and Bridled Tern on my former work place of the Farnes were both scuppered when they shifted off just as I got south. The fact that the Tern then went back to the Farnes after I returned to Fair Isle and even had a sojourn to the Ythan Estuary (about five miles from where I lived before moving to Fair Isle) made it a little bit personal between me and it, but all that is now forgiven!
A total stunner and a superb bird to finally see! Surely it's the first first for Fair Isle that involves an individual that both the Assistant Wardens have seen the previous year (Ciaran from his time working on the Farnes, Richard from a fortunately timed visit to Aberdeenshire)!
All the other recent sightings are at: and, although things had otherwise been a bit quiet of late, a trickle of Marsh Warblers has seen the ringing total for the spring rise to six, whilst the Gadwall remains and a Common Rosefinch (11th) and at least 3 Red-backed Shrikes have all also arrived.
What next? Who knows... Fair Isle has never exactly been predictable, but this year is proving pretty amazing so far and there's still a while to go yet!

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