Friday, 30 April 2010

Mountain Plovers

A dull, damp day with cloud sitting on the hills. Birding highlight of the day was the two splendid Dotterel near Restens Geo, found by Adam The Wheatear Student! A 'flava' Wagtail flew over the boys when they were putting up the Oysterplant fence at South Light. There were also alot (20+) White Wagtails in the area too. Simon had a Common Sandpiper and a couple of Tree Pipits on census and Jack reported an increase in Arctic Skuas - around 20 up north - but generally it is still pretty quiet.

Simon brought me a gift this afternoon - a Whimbrel he caught with a tripwire trap on South Haven beach! Nice!

The cloud eventually lifted this afternoon to let the planes in, carrying two much-needed joiners for the Obs and the High School bairns, home for the weekend causing lots of excitement at Burkle!

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Red Mites Return!

A quieter few days again although Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper and Common Tern were all added to the yearlist on 28th. A Shelduck, a pair of Pintail, 5 Teal and a Red-breasted Merganser were duck highlights. Goose numbers have dropped but there are still c100 Pinkfeet and 15 Barnacle Geese present. Raptor passage was noted with Short-eared Owl, Sparrowhawk and Kestrel all passing through. On the passerine front 12 Rook, 6 Willow Warbler, 3 Sand Martin, 3 House Martin and c10 Swallows and a mealy Redpoll were new.

We have staff coming out of ears and nothing for them to do!!
Lubo is going through a difficult, awkward, nervous adolescent stage!
Ponies are to be wormed today, then moved to a new paddock on Sunday!
Chickens, despite our best efforts, are unfortunately not totally free of Red Mites!

Monday, 26 April 2010

Itchy & Scratchy!

Sunday dawned with a SE'ly wind.....and some birds!
There was nothing exceptional but House Martin (3), Common Redstart and Lesser Whitethroat were all added to the year list. The most abundant species to arrive was Wheatear with c300 on the isle. A couple of Grasshopper Warblers were (uncharacteristically) showing exceedingly well along Hill Dyke and another was flushed from a ditch at Pund. A few other hirundines were noted - at least ten Swallows and a Sand Martin and a scattering of thrushes included one Ring Ouzel. Five Arctic Skuas were the first since they were added to the year list on 12th and a Blackcap was the first since late March. Other arrivals included Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, 8 Whimbrel, 3 Dunlin, 6 Chiffchaff, 2 Willow Warbler, 2 Brambling, 2 Yellowhammer and a Reed Bunting.

The mini-fall at least provided a welcome distraction and short-term release from the worries over the Obs! Hollie, mum and the kids took the ponies out for a walk and they (ponies and children) were as good as gold. Hollie then noticed that Storm was rubbing alot so she investigated and found he had a few lice! I was called in to help groom and treat them later that evening. We (the whole family, minus mum) also got the bikes out and cycled to the Obs - which meant that Lubo got a good run out, because of course he just had to be in front all the way!

Saturday, 24 April 2010

A Canalag?

The wind finally moved out of the north today, to a very wet SE'ly. A very few birds arrived, including a Ring Ouzel and a couple of Black Redstarts but strangest sight was the hybrid Canada x Greylag Goose in amongst the large flock of geese still present.

I've heard back from the Sea Eagle folks and our bird was a first year male released on the east coast in 2009. Prior to arriving on Fair Isle, it was last been seen at Alyth, Perthshire on 16th March. This morning it was seen on Shetland Mainland.

Building work at the New Obs has (predictably) finally reached crisis point and we have no option now but to cancel most of our May bookings as the building will not be habitable in time. It has been a terrible decison to make and I have spent the whole afternoon on the phone, passing on the bad news to our booked guests. Thankfully, virtually everybody was very understanding of our predicament and although disappointed at not being able to come to the new obs they also felt sorry for us. Some have managed to find space in the B&Bs but others cannot and to these we have offered a free holday at some other time as some form of consolation. I can only apologise again to those people affected and Thank you for being so understanding. I would also like to thank the other B&Bs and Margo & Bill of Springfield for rallying round to try and help us.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

The Flying Barn Door!

Highlight of the day.......and indeed the year so far was this magnificent White-tailed Eagle found by Jack on North census. An immature bird sporting turquoise wing tags with a white No. 8, it soared across the isle from west to east and back again, all the while being harassed by Bonxies, gulls and Ravens. If you thought Bonxies were big birds, it absolutely dwarfed them! There are c800 Pinkfeet still present this evening and a Black Redstart at the Obs was the only noteable passerine.

The other noteworthy sighting was that of the islander plane - once in the morning and again in the afternoon! It brought in the local Conservative Party candidate but the least said about him the better!

First and Fifth!

I awoke on Tuesday 20th to the sounds of geese, of the Pink-footed variety, flying over the house. A glance out the window indicated that there had been a significant arrival with several hundred scattered over Meoness. Venturing outside, the bitterly cold strong Northerly wind, frequent wintry showers accompanying the sights and sounds of large numbers of Pinkfooted (plus a few Barnacle) Geese and I could surely be forgiven for thinking that it was late October on Fair Isle, not late April!!? However, the lack of thrushes (in fact any significant numbers of other migrants) and an absence of birders hinted otherwise. I consulted 'the boys' and a total of at least 1,225 Pinkfeet (SIX times the previous record spring count) and 39 Barnacle Geese plus c100 Greylags could be seen at once from various vantage points. Obviously, Fair Isle is a preferrable location to Iceland at the moment!! Other than that there was a Long-eared Owl showing well in Lower Stoneybrek garden (until it was flushed by a photographer - Oops!), a Red-breasted Merganser and two Common Scoter offshore, a handful of Whimbrel, a couple each of Greenfinch and Linnet and a smart male Snow Bunting.

Ash clouds and rough seas are not helping the Obs get finished any faster!!!!

At home - Pat (the mother-in-law) is helping enormously (tidying, cleaning, cooking, sewing, filing, labelling, shopping, posting, taxi-ing etc etc) so we allow her a couple of glasses of vino at the end of the day to relax and let her entertain our guests (Alan Bull and Carrie Gunn - the newly arrived seasonal Ranger) for a while before she disappears upstairs to bed with Stieg Larsson! Alan is helping out too - ploughing through the 2009 Systematic List for me, in-between bouts of fitting together flat-pack furniture! Carrie joins us from Caithness, so not too long a journey for her and she even survived the Good Shepherd with her stomach intact! She seems a nice, friendly 'normal' girl, so hopefully I've made a good choice for the Ranger position!?

The 20th was a day of celebration for Storm, our Highland pony, who turned five years old and also for Lubo, the dog, who reached his first birthday!! Not sure they really understood the fuss but Lubo accepted his extra chews with pleasure! However, neither of them seemed to want their combined birthday cake of mashed rabbit and sugar-beet!!!

Lambing continues apace on the isle, despite the wintry weather, and as well as a new calf, Neder Taft now also have a funny-looking Anglo Nubian goat kid!

Friday, 16 April 2010


The wind has picked up, still from the north-west and as a result birding has been quiet. The male Garganey remains, commuting between Utra Scrape and Da Water, whilst the pale-bellied Brent Goose remains faithful to South Harbour. A superb summer plumaged Slavonian Grebe is in Furse. Five Pink-feet are with the Greylag flock and a Long-eared Owl was spotted roosting in Vaila's Trees. The first Tree Pipit of the year was seen on 15th and a Carrion Crow today. Passerines have been generally scarce with hardly any thrushes or warblers, a single Yellowhammer and six Siskins being the only other things of note.

The big talking point has been (as in the rest of the country) the volcanic eruption in Iceland, which has sent a huge cloud of volcanic ash in this direction. The air smells and tastes decidedly odd (sulphurous) and there is a fine covering of ash deposited on the Burkle Velux windows. It has disrupted air travel nation/world-wide and even the local islander has been ordered not to fly. It does not stop sea travel however and the Good Shepherd made an extra sailing today to deliver passengers to/from Shetland and pick up some more supplies for the new Obs.

The auction for Stuart Thomson's historical spinning wheel, made from pieces from both old & new Observatories towards the funds for the latter is going well and I received a bid of £750 this morning!

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Sterling Work!

Following a brief flurry of activity in late March/early April, things have quietened down again. However thats not to say there hasn't been anything to see........a (big) Canada Goose arrived on 4th, a Grasshopper Warbler on 8th (which was singing at Schoolton the following morning), a Lapland Bunting on 9th, a Sand Martin on 10th, Whimbrel & Arctic Skua on 12th and a fine male Garganey on 14th. Aside from these there has been a trickle of Chiffchaffs, Wheatears and finches with the odd Willow Warbler, Black Redstart, Dunnock and Reed Bunting thrown in. Bonxies are up to around 30 and a similar number of Wheatears are back - many still sporting their colour rings from previous years. And on that note - three colour ringed Twite have arrived, one of which we had ringed (without colour rings) back in 2008!! Jack caught a Long-eared Owl in the Gully this morning whilst two Rooks have been trapped in seperate gardens!

Meanwhile, the Bird Observatory is progressing. A large shipment of furniture arrived on the Snolda ferry last week and with the help of a large team of islanders and their lorries, tractors and trailers it was all delivered up to the Obs and into the building in 2 and 1/2 hours. The bedroom furniture was all put in-situ and three men that came with it stayed behind to unwrap and fit legs and handles. The lounge & dining rooms furniture had to be left stacked in the Interpretitive Room until a later date, when we'll have somewhere to put it. Its always a bit nailbiting having to choose so much stuff from photos on the Internet without seeing/feeling it in the flesh but myself & Hollie are delighted with all the furniture we chose. Sterling Furniture ( have delivered us good quality furniture and overcome the difficulties of getting it to us - even with the original vessel, The Filla, having an accident just two days prior to our needing it and being taken out of commission which meant that they could not bring the large lorry they were hoping to bring to Fair Isle with all the furniture inside and it all had to be manhandled on/off the Snolda. The two new generators have also arrived and we now have power! Just the water pipe, gas supply, main staircase, kitchen, lounge, library, shop to go now......and not forgetting the Bar!!

The wee kids are all home again and the big one back in Lerwick as the Easter Holidays come to an end and school starts once again. They had a great time ski-ing, although Ythan wanted to come home after falling over for the umpteenth time on his first day, but he was much better after that and even did some wee jumps by the end of the week!
Lambing started last Friday, so there are a few bleary-eyed crofters around now and the Neder Taft coo had her calf - a bonnie bull - this afternoon! And we have a (less bonnie) bull of our own - Alan Bull - who has come to help out for a week or so! Nice to see ya Bully!

Friday, 2 April 2010

Home Alone!

Been away from the isle for a few days with Hollie, shopping round Lerwick for bits and pieces for the new Obs. Lachlan, back from his shopping spree in Aberdeen with the Setter 'eens was left in charge of the house and menagerie, a job he seemed to cope with, although judging by the number of times he phoned us, he was obviously a bit bored!! He took delight in informing me he had added Ring Ouzel to the Burkle garden list - a nice male that was still present when we returned on Wednesday afternoon.

Whilst in Lerwick we picked up the Obs people carrier, which has been at the garage since December, filled it to the roof with some of our purchases and drove it down to Grutness. It should hopefully come back to Fair Isle on next week's boat. The weather whilst we were out was atrocious, not as bad as some parts of Scotland, but bad enough! So it was a great surprise when, whilst we were attempting to shelter from the wind and driving rain/sleet in Lerwick on Wednesday afternoon, we were instructed to get to Tingwall! It was apparently clearing and the plane is going! By the time we got back to (now sunny) Fair Isle, it was like it never happened!
Other than the Ring Ouzel, a few more Pied Wagtails, Wheatears, Robins, Song Thrushes, Goldcrests and Chaffinches arrived in my absence.
April Fools Day brought a pre-breakfast Swallow, followed onto the yearlist by a Yellowhammer. The other noteable thing was the increase in Robins, with over 60 logged.
Another couple of additions arrived today - a cracking male Lesser Redpoll and a ringtail Hen Harrier.

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