Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Instormnia

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…

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 fibo@btconnect.com (which is easier than me trying to keep abreast of all the goings on of social media).

Many thanks
David

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.

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