Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Back in the Birds

17th April
Hello again! Sorry for the lack of updates, I’ve been away on a couple of training courses. It’s always a risk leaving Fair Isle in a migration period, but thankfully I didn’t miss anything major and the best bird of the last couple of weeks even waited until I was back before it arrived! I’ll not give you a full rundown of what I’ve been up to (although it was a good to revisit some of my old haunts including Loch of Strathbeg, Loch Garten and the Farne Islands) as there have been far too many things happening here that I need to update you on as the slow start to the spring suddenly gave way to a deluge of arrivals. We’ve also had the arrival of most of the rest of the team for the year, so it’s all go.

Thanks to a few extra shifts from Richard and Will and help from Deryk, the full census was completed daily whilst I was away and there were some good birds found. Three species that went missing from the island last year put in an appearance: Slavonian Grebe (a breeding-plumaged bird on 8th), Stonechat at Burkle on 15th-16th (earning Teresa the infamous Mars Bar that visitors from last autumn may remember) and Stock Dove (on Meoness from 16th and without doubt the highlight of the last couple of weeks as it was a Fair Isle tick for me!). In order of appearance, the year list was also boosted by:

4th April: Common Redpoll
8th April: Red-throated Diver
9th April: Whimbrel (Fair Isle’s earliest ever by three days), Brambling (increasing to 11 on 13th), Siskin, Yellowhammer
10th April: Green Sandpiper, Wheatear (with numbers increasing to 17 by 16th)
11th April: Chiffchaff, Ring Ouzel, Black Redstart, Lapland Bunting (with another on 15th-16th)
12th April: Whooper Swan, Long-eared Owl (trapped in the Gully), Greenfinch (two)
13th April: Carrion Crow
14th April: Sand Martin (two), White Wagtail, Goldfinch (two)
15th April: Greenshank (two), Swallow
16th April: Swift (the earliest on Fair Isle by almost two weeks and a week earlier than any other Shetland record), Short-eared Owl
The Obs garden has been full of birds, including a couple of Goldfinches.
Other notable records included: a lingering ringtail Hen Harrier until 3rd, with another on 9th-11th in a very good spring for this species; Waxwing (with four on 12th then singles on 13th-14th); Coot (7th-8th in Hesti Geo); a new female Great Tit (13th-16th); two Water Rail (14th); 120 Purple Sandpiper (11th); Jack Snipe (5th and 14th-15th); littoralis Rock Pipits (3rd and 10th) and regular sightings of Sparrowhawks and Kestrel.
Look no ring! The new female Great Tit arrived less than a fortnight after the wintering bird departed.
Migrant numbers built up during the period, with several species peaking on 12th when there were 112 Blackbird, 93 Robin, 36 Dunnock, 30 Song Thrush and 7 Woodcock. Other highest counts included 5 Grey Wagtail (4th), 20 Mistle Thrush (11th), 29 Chaffinch (13th), 84 Redwing (14th), and 18 Woodpigeon, 5 Goldcrest and 230 Meadow Pipit (all 16th).
Breeding birds are starting to build up, with Puffins around in larger numbers (although still not settled on land), at least 40 Bonxies now present and up to 11 Lesser Black-backed Gulls (16th).
So, that’s you up to date on Fair Isle, we’ll get more detailed information up on the Latest Sightings page of the website soon. In the meantime, there’ll be more regular updates on here, hopefully with more birds (it’s already been pointed out by a few people that the bad weather has arrived on the island at the same time as me, so hopefully the birds won’t stop arriving as well!).

PS - I hope all of the Newcastle United supporting readers of the blog are happy that I didn't even mention the score from Sunday.

A bit of breaking news from the Good Shepherd: a large bull Killer Whale was seen about eight miles north of Fair Isle this morning (17th), the third sighting of Orca from the Good Shepherd this year; hopefully we’ll get some from the island soon.

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