Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Quack Quack Tick

4th-17th February
A trip off the island for the BOC AGM saw me making the long haul down the country to Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory, so it would have been rude not to have made the most of it with some birding as I went. Although it was nice to catch up on a few species that are unlikely to make it to Fair Isle (Tawny Owl, Pheasant, Green Woodpecker etc) it was also a good chance to call in on a couple of lingering rare ducks (and catch up with family and friends of course!). Sadly, I also made it to the Stadium of Light, but we'll skip over that one for now.
The BOC meeting was interesting, it was a good chance to catch up with representatives of other Observatories and the BTO and share experiences of our work and thanks to SBBO for being excellent hosts.
Not much was happening bird-wise as I left Fair Isle (the snow gradually melted over three days or so), so I was fairly relaxed about being off the island and was even more pleased when I met up with David Steel (heading up to his new role on the Isle of May) and we picked up the Black Scoter off Cheswick in Northumberland (and fish and chips in Seahouses).
Rather fortunately, the sea was fairly flat calm and, although the bulk of the Common Scoter flock soon drifted out to quite a distance, a small group remained closer in. This group contained the Black Scoter, as well as Red-breasted Mergansers, Red-throated Diver and a couple of Slavonian Grebes (all of which are technically visible in this photo).
Although it was a very distinctive bird when viewed through the scope (butterbill being a great name for the male of the species), the distant meant that views through the camera were not as convincing. I think this is it!
The journey back saw me in Aberdeen on a glorious sunny day, with around six hours to spare, so a walk up to Donmouth to finally get a crack at the Harlequin seemed the obvious choice. After a brief period where it was hiding from view (although Dipper, Kingfisher, Goosander and other species were good to see), I met the finder of the bird, who told me where to stand to expect a view.
A distant Kingfisher through a fence - a rarer bird on Fair Isle than Harlequin!
Within a minute, a dumpy duck [it's more Micky than Niall (harle)Quinn] had flown up the river and landed alongside us!
Harlequin in the company of a Goldeneye.
It eventually swam to the riverbank then came back towards us, where it sat on a barrel in the river about four metres away!
With a 400mm lens, it was pretty difficult to get the whole bird in view as this uncropped image shows! What a great bird! 
Anyway, after a day where we almost flew back to Fair Isle, but then didn't, I eventually arrived home in time for a little flurry of new arrivals for the year as SSE winds encouraged birds to get on the move.
Oystercatcher numbers have built up to at least 36.
A Ringed Plover on 13th was followed by a Hen Harrier the following day (the first winter record since 1997) then Woodpigeon and Red-breasted Merganser on 16th, whilst this morning has seen a flock of four Chaffinch in the Obs garden.
There's nothing like getting excited over a Woodpigeon to remind you of what it's like birding in the Northern Isles in winter!
Chaffinches are often one of the earliest migrants, but this is an early date for birds to be moving through (although small numbers are not unusual as overwintering birds).
There are a few daffodils in the garden, new birds coming through and the deadline for staff applications coming up at the end of the week, it's starting to feel distinctly sort of spring-like.
A wonderful aurora last night wasn't matched by the quality of my photos, but it was nice to get back to the family and have the bonus of Northern Lights and birds coming through.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Do you want to build a snowman?

26th January - 3rd February
If you've got small children, you've probably seen Frozen at least once and are likely to have some of the songs stuck in your head. We certainly have today, after a rare day of lying snow on Fair Isle, a 'snow day' for the kids and some sledging out the back of the Obs. Having brought one sledge to Fair Isle (which has been, if anything, too many sledges since we arrived), we've since had another child -  so we were very thankful to friends who had previously found a sledge washed up in Busta Geo, scrubbed off all the algae, seaweed etc and delivered it to the Obs this morning so we could have a sledge each for the girls!

The first snowman we've built in the Obs garden I think (the last one we made was two years ago and was up at the airstrip).
Of course, it's not all sledging and snowmen (although a day of that never does anyone any harm) and the office work continues to take up a fair bit of time as we get ready for the ever approaching 2015 season (and with bookings opening for 2016 on 1st March, that as well!). A couple of things to be aware of, are:

  •  The 2015 Prediction Competition  - have a go, you could win a couple nights at the Obs 
  •  There are just over two weeks to apply for Job and Volunteer vacancies for the 2015 season, please help spread the word amongst your friends if you think they could be a part of the FIBO team this year.

I also managed to briefly get my email inbox empty (for the first time in my history I believe) and work on the 2014 Annual Report is coming along nicely. If anyone has photographs that they think could be suitable for the report and would be happy for us to use them, then please get in touch.
Juvenile Glaucous Gull (centre), on a snow-dusted rock in Mavers Geo on 1st February . Do you have better photos than this?!
Bird sightings have been largely unremarkable since the last update: 4 Pink-footed Geese on 1st were the first of the year and seemingly arrived with a few more Greylags (152 were counted on 2nd), a couple of Iceland Gulls and a Glaucous Gull were seen and the Buzzard and Sparrowhawk reappeared, whilst a small arrival of thrushes at the end of January saw Fieldfare numbers rise to at least 57. Full details of recent sightings are updated regularly on the FIBO website .
At least two Water Rails remain, although mostly elusively like this bird on Barkland on 30th January. 
A few Twite have returned to the garden in the last couple of days. Another poor photo, but can anyone else produce a picture of Twite on a nyjer seed feeder in the snow?!

It looks like the snow may hang on just long enough to scupper flights for the next day or two, but if there is any transport, I'll be away for the next week or so. Hopefully that won't be when the snow melts to reveal a Gyr Falcon or something similar lurking on the island!

Monday, 26 January 2015

Oycxiting Times

18th-25th January
The Big Garden Birdwatch was a highlight of Saturday. In the absence of  having taken many other pictures during the week, I'll pepper this update with BGBW shots.
After a dark, windy winter it is still pretty windy, but getting a bit lighter now and there are a few reminders that it will eventually be spring again. Although Oystercatcher is not really a summer migrant, it is one of the many species that abandon us (Turnstone, Redshank, Curlew, Snipe, Purple Sandpiper and possibly a few Woodcock are the only waders that remain right through the winter, whilst passerines are limited to the resident Fair Isle Wren, House Sparrow, Starling, Rock Pipit, Hooded Crow and Raven, with the four common thrush species usully present in varying numbers, a handful of Robins and a few Skylarks and Snow Buntings often overwintering), so it was good to get one in the Havens whilst doing the Beached Bird Survey yesterday, the first on the island since 10th November. The BBS produced, amongst other more typical finds, a dead juvenile Herring Gull that had been ringed in one of the Fair Isle breeding colonies in July 2014.
Rock Pipit was an expected one for us, but counts as an 'other species' on the RSPB form, as there won't be many British gardens that expect this species.
Other new birds owed more to the bad weather than any signs of spring, with juvenile Iceland Gull sightings on 19th, 23rd and 25th and Glaucous Gulls on 23rd (and adult and juvenile), 24th (one juvenile) and 25th (two juveniles), with a bit of seawatching producing Little Auk and blue Fulmar (20th) and Great Northern Diver (23rd). Cold weather further south and south-easterly winds were probably responsible for our first Lapwing (21st) and Brambling (22nd) of the year, with the latter also the first January record since 2003, along with Golden Plover (20th-21st), a flock of 25 Twite (20th) and a small increase in Fieldfare and Song Thrush.
Not countable on the BGBW (it didn't land in the garden), but this Glaucous Gull (bottom bird) flew over, having clearly annoyed these two Great Black-backed Gulls, which harried it for some time.
Amongst the wildfowl, the Shoveler and 2 Barnacle Geese both lingered and there were 8 Wigeon and 2 Long-tailed Duck, whilst other species still present included Peregrine, Merlin and Water Rail.
The House Sparrow flock peaked at 11. They don't always stay at the Obs throughout the winter, but as we haven't been away on holiday, they've had a constant supply of feed, so haven't had to decamp down the island this winter.

Starlings were the commonest species recorded, with a peak of 24. They made amazingly short work of fat-laced pine cones and slices of apple.
Wintering Blackbird numbers across the island seem to have dwindled a bit recently, this immature male is the only one using the Obs garden regularly. The only other bird to call in was the wintering Robin (Rock Dove and Fair Isle Wren managed to miss our chosen hour).
Guillemots had returned to the cliffs early in the period as another reminder that spring will get here eventually, but as the wind increased, they dissipated again. The bulbs daring to start poking through in the garden are having a similarly stop-go start to the year, with fresh green shoots being regularly burned brown by wind and salt spray.
Preparing food for the BGBW. The Good Shepherd sailed fairly recently, so we've not had to rely on lard-filled pine cones for ourselves yet. Mmmmm lard.
The girls were quite excited and Grace managed an impressive 45 minutes at the window before being distracted. The culprit being ...
...a Fair Isle Mouse (a slightly larger form of the Field Mouse), which took advantage of some bird seed that had  been dropped at the back door.
As we cling to the few signs that spring is on its way, there's also the chance to relive last year's excellent birding, with an article on Birdguides summarising the excitement of breaking the Fair Isle year list record (subject to the various rarities committees accepting all the rarity records of course)  and start to wonder what 2015 will bring. We'll be running the Prediction Competition again this year, so get your thinking caps on (check the tab above for last year's rules, which I'll be updating shortly) and start dreaming. 

Sunday, 18 January 2015

You aint seen nothing like the harlequin.

10th-17th January
So, not only did my attempt to conjure up a Harlequin on Fair Isle fail miserably, I also managed to curse my attempts to see the Aberdeen bird – a total lack of planes during the week meant I was stranded on the island and had to Skype into the FIBOT Directors’ meeting. In fact, there hasn’t been a plane since 8th January (and there was only one managed to make it in that day, which was fully booked, so the last chance to leave Fair Isle if you weren’t scheduled on that one was on 6th January!), but the Good Shepherd made its first voyage since the first week of the month yesterday, so the island is now stocked up on perishable foods. We’re always grateful to the ferry crew who endure some rough crossings at this time of year to make sure the island is still capable of functioning (whilst we could have managed without salad for a while, the delivery of all the island’s fuel, animal feed etc also relies on the Good Shepherd running) and thanks to Robert and Fiona for the late-night opening at Stackhoull last night to make sure everyone can have a boiled egg for Sunday breakfast (Freyja was so excited by the greenery that came back from the shop that she's been wearing a cucumber as a hat!).
The weather has continued with the strong (sometimes ridiculously so) westerly wind, which has shifted slightly more NW in the last couple of days, making it cooler, so the accompanying showers have become increasingly sleety. It looks like next week could well be more settled, with the wind coming more from the east, which may encourage a bit of bird movement.
If I had been able to get off the island, I'd have had 36 hours on the Northlink in return for 5 hours in Aberdeen. I'd then have got stuck for a night in Shetland before having to come home on the Good Shepherd. With seas like these, it was probably the first time I've ever been glad the plane didn't come in.
Things have been very quiet for new arrivals, although Susannah turned up a Shoveler on 15th (which was still present on 16th). A very rare bird at this time of year (only the second January record for the island in fact), I wonder what the odds are that it was actually from across the Atlantic (the weather would certainly have helped and there have been Blue-winged and Green-winged Teals arriving on Orkney)?!
A rather old-school record shot of the Shoveler.
A Long-tailed Duck (in Ditfield on 16th) was the only other addition to the year list, with 3 Tundra Bean Geese, Sparrowhawk, Merlin, Peregrine, a Mealy Redpoll (a small, darkish individual that was probably the same one seen earlier in the month), a small handful of Water Rails and Woodcock amongst the lingerers.
The Tundra Bean Geese teamed up with the two lingering Barnacle Geese for a short while.
The main interest remained in the gulls though, with 7 Glaucous Gulls on 10th (one of which was an adult, so a different bird to the 9 seen the previous day) and 2 Iceland Gulls on the same day, with one or two juveniles of each species remaining throughout the period. The 10th and 11th also saw further sightings of the 2nd-winter Kumlien’s Gull, which seems to be using Fair Isle as shelter when the weather gets too bad for its presumably largely pelagic lifestyle.
Another ropey record shot, this time of the Kumlien's Gull (left) with a rather manky Glaucous Gull. There has to be a chance this is last year's bird returning.
So, much of a muchness here so far, but it’s been a good week for getting on with the office work and hopefully there’ll be more time in the field next week and more to report.
Boy oh buoy. The oddest catch of the week, this fender must have taken an interesting journey to get to the top of the Gully trap in westerly winds. It may have come from somewhere down the island, otherwise it's had to make its way up the cliffs somehow. 

Friday, 9 January 2015

Gull Force

9th January
A Rock Pipit; just because this little fella has been faithful to our garden all winter (with only House Sparrows, Starlings, Rock Doves, a Robin and the occasional Blackbird for company), so I thought he (or possibly she) should get headline billing in a blog post.
The gull nests on Greenholm will have been nicely cleaned off for the start of the next breeding season, with some high seas in recent days.
With the Shipping Forecast for sea area Fair Isle warning of a Force 12 westerly last night (in the end, it was very windy, but the worst of the conditions passed to the south of us), we knew we were in for a blowy time, and hopefully the sort of conditions that would see large numbers of gulls sheltering around the island.
Gull flock on Ditfield, how many white-wingers can you find?
In the end, numbers weren't actually that impressive this afternoon, probably only around 300 or so gulls were present, but amongst them were an impressive 9 (nine) Glaucous Gulls, with 5 in a loafing flock at Ditfield, another flying around in the bay there and 3 together in South Harbour (alongside an Iceland Gull) amongst a group of gulls feeding around the tideline. That's the highest Glaucous Gull count on Fair Isle since 1996 (although somewhat short of the record count of 300 on 24th November 1969!). Interestingly (well, sort of) 1996 was also the year I saw two Harlequins at Girvan (the first of three mentions of that species in this blog post...).
Iceland Gull riding the waves in South Harbour (and doing so a lot more successfully than the Great Black-back to its left!).
The 3 Tundra Bean Geese reappeared for the first time since 1st January and other typical winter fodder included Merlin, Snow Bunting and Peregrine (the latter being the first of the year).
Peek-a-boo. The three Tundra Bean Geese that have presumably been lurking in a ditch or back of a field somewhere for the last week or so. 
Merlin at Upper Stoneybrek shortly before it went off chasing a Snow Bunting.
Field views of the first Peregrine of the year.
So, we've survived the first big blow (thanks to everyone who got in touch to check we were ok), and the forecast tonight is 'only' a violent storm 11. We've got some strong westerly winds forecast for the next wee while, but hopefully enough of a calming in the weather mid-week to let me get down to a meeting in Aberdeen (just ten minutes or so walk from the Harlequin that turned up a few days ago...). Perhaps there could be more white-wingers turning up soon, I'm not sure that westerly gales in January will bring much else, but who knows, after all 11th January is the 50th anniversary of a pair of Harlequin (I'm working on the Beetlejuice theory that because I've mentioned it three times, a Harlequin should turn up here now) and the 45th anniversary of Great Bustard on Fair Isle...
Not really relevant to this blog post, but here's a picture of a Woodcock in the Obs garden in December. Very small numbers of this species probably winter on the isle.
The light and sea at this time of the year provide a constantly changing display that is just one of the reasons that Fair Isle is a special place to live in the winter (picture: S.Parnaby).

Monday, 5 January 2015

Happy New Birds (and some old friends from 2014)

Happy New Year to you all. It’s been a rather blustery start to the year, with some strong winds, heavy rain showers, a bit of hail and a rather nice display of Northern Lights.
A visit to North Light on the night of 4th January failed to produce any of the hoped for Northern Lights, but despite it being too cloudy for any aurora, my Dad still managed to get arty with his camera (photo: D.Parnaby Snr).

The Christmas festivities have seen a Panto, Carol Service, Guising, New Year Party, 'Christmas Tree' party, another New Year Party and a good deal of socialising besides. We're back to work now though, with Directflight taking bookings for 2015, so plenty of calls and emails to get through about people staying at the Obs this year as well as report writing etc as we look forward to what is bound to be another exciting year on Fair Isle.
Birding has produced some decent bits and bobs, but actually very little that hasn’t been lingering since the back end of 2014. The Buzzard is the pick of the bunch amongst those, in fact it’s such a scarce bird in Shetland that it has been added to the local description list at the start of 2015 – so it becomes our first description of the year, despite having been present since October! Three Tundra Bean Geese (re?)appeared on 28th December and also made it to the New Year (although they have been dropped as a local description species after several influxes in recent years), whilst other highlights include Glaucous Gull, Iceland Gull, Mealy Redpoll, Water Rail, Merlin and, more unusually, two Sparrowhawk, amongst the 48 species now recorded in 2015 (thanks to Logan for the regular text updates during the last few days letting me know how he was getting on with building the year list up).
A wintering male Sparrowhawk was joined by this immature female from early January, which became the first bird to be ringed on the isle in 2015 when it was caught in the Plantation today (photo: Dave Parnaby Snr).
So, whilst things are relatively quiet, I’ll have a quick review of a few things from 2014, starting with some darvic-ringed wildfowl that were seen by quite a few of our visitors. It was a good year for sightings of these individually marked birds, with the first two being Whooper Swans ‘Yellow BTB’ and ‘Yellow BTD’ that were both ringed in Iceland on 5th August 2013 (and seen again in Iceland on 20th April 2014) before being seen on Fair Isle on 29th September 2014. The next Whooper to be individually identified in a strong autumn passage of the species was ‘Red BLL’, ringed in February 2012 at Martin Mere WWT (in Lancs), next seen in December 2013 at Welney (Norfolk) before turning up on Fair Isle on 7th October.  Long-staying Whooper Swans on Fair Isle rarely do well (there are only about seven years where birds have successfully overwintered and two of those years were a bird that hung around with domestic geese!), so when BLL was still present with a couple other Whoopers at the start of November and ignored the chance to head south with a few small groups of her species that moved through the island, it didn’t look good. Indeed, with the death of her occasional companion on 24th November it seemed only a matter of time before BLL also succumbed. However, one islander took pity on BLL and went out every day with food (to the extent that we had our own mini-version of the WWT ‘swan lake’ events, with BLL flying in every day at the same time to the field where she was being fed) and this did the job as she was last seen on 1st December, having apparently continued her migration.

BLL pictured in late October by Ciaran Hatsell. Keep your eyes open for her in Norfolk (and elsewhere) as we'd love to know where she's gone.

Also of interest was the flock of 130+ Barnacle Geese grounded on Fair Isle by poor weather from 6th October for a few days. Amongst these, we were able to pick out four darvic rings: NAP, SAZ, SID and PVI. NAP was ringed as a female gosling at Aalesund (Norway) on 2nd August 1996 (making her older than some of our staff!), SAZ (the partner of NAP) was ringed as an adult male at the same site in July 2000, with both birds having not been seen since spring migration through Norway in 2013. PVI was ringed as an adult female in July 1999 and was last seen in March 2014 at RSPB Mersehead. Despite the name, SID was actually a female, ringed as a yearling in July 2000 and last seen on spring migration in Norway in 2014. Interestingly, the last sighting of SID in winter was at WWT Caerlaverock in November 2011, whilst SAZ last winter record was from the same site in December 2009 – so I wonder where they now spend the winter? Many thanks to the WWT for getting back to us so quickly with the details of these records.
Part of the Barnacle Goose flock that contained the darvic-ringed birds.
FIBO 2013 Annual Report - out now. The front cover features a Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll photographed by Steve Arlow.
On another subject entirely, the 2013 Annual Report is now available, with copies having been sent out to FOFI members in the autumn. If you’d like a copy, please send a cheque for £12 (which includes p&p to UK addresses) or phone with your card details.  As well as the systematic list, ringing report, seabird report and monthly summary there are write-ups on the remarkable Swinhoe’s Petrel records (including a paper on biometric, sound and DNA analysis), Red-eyed Vireo, Sykes’s Warbler and Collared Flycatcher, a short paper on DNA in modern birding by Professor Martin Collinson and plenty more besides.
Some of the displays of Aurora have been pretty impressive (more so than my camera allows me to show here), always one of the highlights of a winter on Fair Isle.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Many Happy Returns!

OK, apologies first – I had to go off the island in October for a short while and then Susannah was away with the kids, so I was helping to cover the Administrator’s job as well and then there was just so much to catch up on that I didn’t know where to start with the blog. Then more stuff happened so there was no spare time, then I went away with the kids for a long-weekend visiting, which the weather made into a long week, we brought back norovirus, then it was nearly Christmas, so sorry for not keeping the blog up to date. Hopefully you were able to keep in touch with the news throughout the autumn via Facebook or Twitter though.
Little Bunting and Brambling (Paul French). It was a very good autumn for the former species.
This seems a good a time as any to try to summarise things though and where better to start than with the birds:
Red-flanked Bluetail, Skinner's Glig (Paul French). Relocated here four days after being ringed at the Obs and not seen during the intervening days.
It was a strange autumn in some respects, with some of the ‘big rares’ just missing us and a perception that Fair Isle had a quiet autumn, but with White’s Thrush, Grey-cheeked Thrush (our 2nd consecutive year with a record), Lanceolated Warbler, Red-flanked Bluetail (trapped at the Obs) and an intriguing ‘Stejneger’s’ Siberian Stonechat, along with back up in the form of a couple of Arctic Warblers, seven Olive-backed Pipits, three Red-throated Pipits, a decent spread of scarcities and some really good thrush falls that brought good numbers of Robins, Woodcocks and other common migrants, the birding was rarely less than very enjoyable. I suppose we’re the victim of our own success in some ways, with a roll-call of rarities that would surely be the envy of most other sites (maybe even counties) in the UK, but one that didn’t quite hit the heights of previous years and perhaps paled in comparison to our immense rarity-filled spring.  
The Siberian Stonechat that arrived in late October and appears to be a very good candidate for Stejneger's Stonechat.
Two of the three autumn Red-throated Pipits were smart adults, including this stunning individual brilliantly photographed by Steve Arlow
As the autumn progressed though, it became apparent that our epic spring had left us with a rather healthy year list and, despite a couple of quiet spells where we hadn’t added that many species  (mid-August and late-September in particular producing some decent conditions, but not many new birds), we were still in with a sniff of the record.
When I last left you, we had just added Treecreeper, our 212th species of the year on 9th October, but there weren’t too many gaps in the year list that would make the five species needed to equal 1992’s record 217 species easy to find. In fact, we had to wait almost a week before the next addition, our seventh ever Firecrest on 15th, followed two days later by a brief Rough-legged Buzzard, then strong westerlies saw the most obvious gap remaining filled with the first of several records of Greenland White-fronted Goose (21st). Two species to go to equal the record and we eventually cashed in on a displacement of Nearctic passerines with a superbly showy Grey-cheeked Thrush at the Obs on 24th
This Firecrest in the Raevas was one of the highlights of the autumn in terms of looks.
This Grey-cheeked Thrush kept up the recent good run of autumn American passerines, with 10 individuals of 6 species in the last eight years (that's more than St Agnes in the same period I believe), keeping up the discussion on whether this apparent shift in the focus of trans-Atlantic waifs is weather or observer related.
Another quiet spell followed, with further westerlies eventually giving way to some more productive winds at the end of the month that produced more birds (including the Stejneger’s Stonechat), but no additions to the year list.  
A very good year for Great Grey Shrikes saw four individuals recorded in the autumn. This bird was at Lower Stoneybrek and was later caught at the Plantation and remained around the Obs until 10th November.
We were well into the second week of November (very much the 90th minute of the migration season to use a football analogy) when Susannah struck with her finest birding moment on Fair Isle to date, a Shorelark at Lower Leogh on 10th; species number 217. The wind stayed in the SE for the next week, birding was fairly intense (whenever the rain allowed) and eventually another wave of thrushes brought in species number 218 – a smart male Bullfinch in the Wirvie Burn on 17th. There were no more new species after that, although in early December the BOU upped the total by one more with the splitting of Moltoni’s Warbler (see here for details of that one from the spring, our rarest bird this year as it turned out). We've still got over a week to go, so it's possible this remarkable year will spring one last surprise, but we'll settle for 219 species! You’ll find all the up to date sightings here.
If accepted, this female Moltoni's Warbler (identified by DNA) will be just the 4th British record and a first for Fair Isle of this newly split species, making it our rarest bird on the Isle this year in national terms. Of course, all the stats on the year list etc are with the proviso that the various committees who adjudicate on rarity occurrences agree with our identifications (we’ll have submitted around 70 records to the BBRC, SBRC and SBCRC by the end of the year)
So, thanks very much to the team and our guests and visitors for all the hard work needed to get to this impressive total. In the grand scheme of things, a year list record maybe doesn’t mean a great deal, but it’s a great way to remember a really good birding year, in which other ornithological highlights have included three new species to the Fair Isle list (Glossy Ibis, Bridled Tern and Moltoni’s Warbler – with Caspian Stonechat, Southern Italian Eastern Subalpine Warbler [they really need to sort the taxonomy and names of this species out soon!], sinensis Cormorant and possibly Stejneger’s Stonechat amongst the new subspecies noted, although the latter subspecies may well have occurred previously), the best seabird breeding season for several years and the highest number of birds ringed since 1998. 
The Obs team at the start of the season (none of us looked like this by the end of the year!). Other staff members came and went, each bringing their own strengths with them. Another year of a good bunch of people and some lasting friendships.
There are plenty of other things to catch up on, but I think I’ve gone on long enough for now, so I’d just like to take advantage of the season of goodwill to catch up on a few thank yous to everyone who has helped FIBO and Susannah and I through our fourth year running the Obs. First of all to all the FIBO staff (and we include the visiting RSPB researchers in this, as they feel very much like part of the FIBO team); we’ve seen our fair share of blood, sweat and tears this year but we’ve enjoyed having all of you here, we want to thank you for all your efforts and we’re glad we’ve made some friends who we'll hopefully stay in touch with well beyond our FIBO years. Also, to all our volunteers, we hope you enjoyed your stay as much as we enjoyed having you here and we look forward to seeing some of you here again. Technically also volunteers have been our various family and friends, particularly our parents, who have provided all manner of help when visiting us. Also falling into the category of volunteers are the FIBOT Directors and we want to thank you all again for your help during the year. The work that the Directors put into the successful running of the Obs, be it sorting finances, shifting vans or engines from Grutness, manning stands at Birdfairs, running research projects or just answering our enquiries about everything from petrels to people carriers, is very much appreciated (and a special thank you to Roger Riddington, who stood down as Chairman this year). We also appreciate the support given to us by JNCC, SNH, SOTEAG  and the Seabird Group. The Fair Isle community is a unique group of people and it’s obvious to say that FIBO couldn’t run the way we do without their support, so thank you to everyone on the island, especially those who have answered our calls for help during the course of the year. Of course, without all of you who support the Obs by visiting, being members of FOFI or sending donations, there wouldn’t be a FIBO, so the biggest thanks is due to you. Personally, I have to thank Susannah as well (and not just for the Shorelark!); running an increasingly busy Obs (it was another record year for visitor numbers) and looking after me and the kids isn't easy (in fact, I reckon it must be the hardest job at the Obs) but she does it very well, as I'm sure anyone who has visited us will agree with. Thanks love.
A busy year, but a fun one, for us, the Obs team, visitors and islanders, with plenty of highlights all round (photo: Ciaran Hatsell).
So now the shortest day has passed, we’re finally getting caught up with the office work and our thoughts are turning to the rapidly approaching 2015. Staff and volunteer vacancies are now up on this very blog if you’d like to join us as part of the team next season (although note that we’re out of the office until 5th January, so we’ll not be able to answer emails until then), but for now, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, may all your birding in 2015 be fun. 
Christmas is coming, the Tundra Bean Geese are getting fat (well, they've been lingering on the island for over a month now and seem to be doing quite well, although numbers have dropped from 13 to 9 this week).

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