Wednesday, 30 April 2014


28th-29th April
After the mixed feelings of the 27th, when dipping a 5th for Britain was only partially compensated for by finding another 5th for Britain (I can find reference to records in 1985 in Cornwall, 1993 in Suffolk, 2006 on Shetland and the Scilly bird last autumn, so my previous reference to the Caspian being a 6th for Britain may have been wrong – let me know if you know otherwise) and a fantastic day’s birding, Sunday saw us determined to track down the Cretzschmar’s. We were given fresh hope when checking the references on the previous records saw mention of the fact they were both elusive (and indeed the first bird wasn’t seen for three days after being discovered) and that they often frequented heathery areas and cliff edges. Surely we hadn’t overlooked it yesterday by skimping on coverage of Brecks and the Rippack…? However, against that was the ‘big bird blindness’ that had affected the Wardening team so far, with the literally big birds (Crane, Buzzard and Hen Harrier) all being missed and now being joined by the ‘big bird’ in the more conventional birding sense of the term.
After the planned Tystie survey was abandoned due to fog, the Wardening team swept across the areas less well covered on 27th, but to no effect. Eventually, we decided on the best option being to get back to regular census and hope it would turn up somewhere for us…
Things started well after lunch, when the fog cleared for good and a ringtail Hen Harrier was picked up circling over Ward Hill, perhaps most significantly it was seen by the whole team – the ‘big bird blindness’ had gone, surely that was a good omen! 
The second Hen Harrier of the spring circled over Ward Hill with a few Bonxies, but was generally ignored as it gained height and headed north towards Shetland.
About 15 minutes after receiving a text to that effect from Ciaran, I took a call from Richard, ‘I’ve got the bunting, it’s in the Gilly Burn feeding with a Wryneck’. A smooth scrambling of vehicles and people saw everyone catching up with it shortly afterwards and enjoying great views in the sun of a stonking male Cretzschmar's Bunting. If Deryk’s pictures yesterday had been jaw-dropping, the field views were awesome – it was so blue and orange! A couple of Shetland birders took advantage of the Good Shepherd sailing a day early (to avoid high seas on Tuesday) to get in to the island late on and enjoy great views in Boini Mire for a couple of hours before dusk.  It was present again on 29th, usually in Boini Mire, although it could go missing for periods as it presumably wandered the island again. What a bird and what a great start to the spring!
Cretzschmar's Bunting. An absolute stunner (photo by Roger Riddington).
The general theme for the 28th was of birds lingering, with not much new in: the Caspian Stonechat, Red-breasted Flycatcher, 2 of the Short-toed Larks, Great Grey Shrike, 5 Wryneck, Blue-headed Wagtail and Tree Sparrow all still present, whilst slight increases were noted for Swallow (38), Sand Martin (6), Blackcap (27) and Lesser Whitethroat (6), all enjoyed in the lovely sunshine of a perfect spring afternoon (temperatures soared to about 12 degrees), surely this is one of the best ever spells for April on Fair Isle?
The Caspian Stonechat showing its distinctive tail pattern. Of the four previous records, three were autumn birds, with the only previous spring record being found by Roger Riddington and Paul Harvey at Virkie (just 'up the road' from Fair Isle) in May 2006 (photo by Roger Riddington).
The morning text from Paul Harvey (one of the successful twitchers, along with Roger Riddington) that there was a flighty male Mandarin in South Harbour on 29th was, technically at least, the most significant from a Fair Isle point of view, being only the second island record (the Caspian Stonechat currently languishes as the 42nd Siberian Stonechat for the island, although it would be nice to think there was a chance of a split in the future…) but was dipped by a slightly groggy (the bunting celebrations perhaps going on a little later than ideal) FIBO team. I think it’s safe to say that, nice bird though I’m sure it was, if we were going to miss anything this week, that’s probably the one that we’re least concerned about!
The day went on to produce a similar total to the 28th, with the Cretzschmar’s and Caspian Stonechat both leading the line, and 2 Short-toed Larks, 4 Wrynecks, Great Grey Shrike, Blue-headed Wagtail (with a female flava Wag also present), Tree Sparrow and 2 Iceland Gulls all present, but there were perhaps a few more arrivals, with Short-eared Owl, Goldcrest, 2 Grey Wagtail, 4 Siskin, 12 Reed Buntings, 3 Pink-footed Geese and 35 Purple Sandpipers all new (or increased in numbers), along with a slight rise in Blackbirds and Robins.
Another gratuitous Cretzschmar's Bunting shot. After being so elusive for 24 hours, it showed very well in Boini Mire at times later (photo by Roger Riddington).
The Caspian Stonechat went missing for a large part of 29th, before being seen at Burkle in the afternoon, and adding another species to Deryk's impressive garden list!
There are still reasonable numbers of common migrants around. This Collared Dove was flushed from Dronger before sheltering in Wester Lother. Given the other birds present this week, it's tempting to wonder whether this bird could have come from somewhere in the Middle East and be a 'pioneer', like the birds that first colonised the UK 60 or so years ago. We had news back from the BTO recently that a Collared Dove ringed on Fair Isle in July 2013 was found dead in northern Highland earlier this month.
Small numbers of Snow Buntings are also still scattered around, with the males appearing increasingly monochrome.
 The main surprise was a Little Bunting near Steensi Geo, the first spring record since 2010. With early records of Red-flanked Bluetail (possibly 2), Red-breasted Flycatcher and this, there seems to be some backing of the theory that a good autumn for eastern migrants, followed by a mild winter, may result in records of those species returning north. With north-easterly winds for a day or two yet, will there be more, and what will be next: Olive-backed Pipit? Yellow-browed Warbler? or something even rarer?  It feels like anything is possible at the moment…
It's not all about the rares; the seabird breeding season will shortly be upon us and Puffins are now back in good numbers. Hopefully the birds and weather will coincide to allow us to have a full count of the island population this week, which may give an indication of whether the winter storms have had an effect on our numbers; we recently received news of two more of our birds (ringed as a chick in 1998 and an adult in 2010) found dead in France this winter.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Bunting tells me I'm into something good.

27th April

Cretching: the terrible feeling resulting in having missed a major bird, from the ‘churning’ and ‘wretching’ feeling felt in the pit of the stomach

Well, where to start? The day began well, with a calm, sunny day and Ciaran finding a Short-toed Lark in the Havens before breakfast. More migrants were around and the next highlight was found by Richard just before lunch – a Red-breasted Flycatcher at Burkle.
The Red-breasted Flycatcher that started everything off today...
All good so far and, when Sunderland won 4-0 at lunchtime, it seemed like the day was just perfect, what could possibly go wrong...
Then things started to get a bit crazy. Deryk phoned to say he had a Cretzschmar’s Bunting at Burkle! Amazing stuff and the FIBO team were soon on hand, but sadly a few moments too late – the bird had flown. It turned out that Deryk had been photographing the Red-breasted Fly (an addition to his Burkle list no less), when the bunting crawled out the grass in front of him. Lucky? Well yes, but birding generally involves a fair chunk of being in the right place at the right time and if anyone has earned their birding luck on Fair Isle it’s Deryk.

Wow. A nice surprise to find in your garden (well, lambing paddock next to the house). Photo: Deryk Shaw
Although Fair Isle has recorded half of the previous British records of Cretzschmar's Bunting, this is the first since 1979. Photo: Deryk Shaw
We set off scouring the suitable bunting habitat in the area (which is most of the island it turns out), but despite six solid hours of pacing fields, ditches, beaches and anywhere else that looked like it might prove a hidey hole for this outrageous eastern rarity, there was no sign of Fair Isle’s third, and Britain’s fifth, Cretzschmar’s.
However, with all the attention being paid to the south of the island coinciding with more birds clearly arriving, it was no surprise that more was found. There were several sightings of Wrynecks, a Short-toed Lark at Midway was proved to be a second bird when the original was found back on Buness, then a third was discovered on Meoness, and there were generally migrants scattered across the island. With hope (and light) fading, a very pale Stonechat hopped up onto a fence at the Meadow Burn, before turning and showing a pure white rump and, most importantly, a ‘wheatear’ tail pattern. A Caspian Stonechat, the sixth for Britain, and not a bad consolation prize for a whole day in the field.
The intial view showing the distinctive tail pattern.
The huge white collar and white rump were obvious.
A really smart bird and a better way to end the day after the despondancy of missing a huge rare.
The overall pale appearance and orange restricted to the upper chest made for a distinctive bird even before the diagnostic tail pattern was seen.
The left wing appeared not to show any damage, which would  suggest that this was not the bird seen in Sweden and Norway recently, which had a chunk missing from the seventh primary (despite that birds trajectory putting it directly on course for a Fair Isle visit).
The Wardening team had a late dinner (a meze style meal, that seemed have been put on particularly to mock our epic dip of a species from the same part of the world as the food) before an entertaining Log trying to get the correct totals of migrants made more complicated by the criss-crossing of the island by all of the team.
The final totals for the day made for an outstanding read, especially for April, with: CRETZSCHMAR’S BUNTING, CASPIAN STONECHAT, Eastern Subalpine Warbler, 3 Short-toed Lark, Red-breasted Flycatcher, 7 Wryneck, Great Grey Shrike, Blue-headed Wagtail, 33 Willow Warbler, 32 Chiffchaff, 25 Blackcap, 3 Sedge Warbler, 3 Lesser Whitethroat, 2 Whitethroat, 10 Redstart, 3 Black Redstart, Whinchat, 5 Pied Flycatcher, 27 Tree Pipit, 13 Ring Ouzel, 167 Fieldfare, 9 Redwing, 33 Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, 28 Robin, 6 Dunnock, 22 White Wagtail, Tree Sparrow, 51 Brambling, 8 Common Redpoll, Crossbill, Chaffinch, 12 Reed Bunting, 13 Snow Bunting, 41 Swallow, 6 House Martin, 2 Sand Martin, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, 3 Green Sandpiper, 2 Jack Snipe, 7 Whimbrel, Kumlien’s Gull, Iceland Gull, 174 Wheatear, 204 Meadow Pipit, 2 Linnet, 2 Collared Dove, 7 Woodpigeon and 2 Tufted Duck.
The second Short-toed Lark of the day, near Midway. After two years of single records, three in a day is a good haul.
Wrynecks are also enjoying a very good spring, this one at South Harbour was joined by another later in the day.
More easterlies tomorrow could deliver more birds, but I’d settle for the Cretzschmar’s being refound – I’d swap the four Sunderland goals today for another chance at it (well, three of them maybe). Clutching at straws, there’s never been a one-day Cretzschmar’s Bunting on Fair Isle (or elsewhere in Britain) so, if there’s still hope that Sunderland won’t get relegated, there’s still hope for us refinding this outstanding mega.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Anas mirabilis

26th April
Gadwall going north over the Havens, I’m watching it to see if it lands’. Quite an exciting way to start the day, but Richard’s early morning call was to get even better, ‘IT’S TURNED, IT’S HEADING SOUTH!’. Suddenly, one of my Fair Isle bogey birds was potentially gettable. Sure enough, a quick dash downstairs and, as Richard’s live commentary continued, it turned north again and went bombing over the Good Shepherd. Although I was peering into the sun, the silhouette was distinctive enough (well, it was good enough for a Fair Isle tick, I’d probably not have got a description of it past a committee) and I had my second Anatidae addition to my Fair Isle list in two days.
A Gadwall that presumably looks similar to the one Richard found - although this is one of my holiday photos from Tenerife, not the Fair Isle bird, of which I had slightly less convincing views. It was the first Fair Isle Gadwall since 2011.
The decent early start to the day continued with a couple of Green Sandpipers and a Lesser Whitethroat added to the year list, but then things slowed down as the fresh north-easterly wind brought some heavy showers and conditions deteriorated. Highlights seen before the rain set in included two Wrynecks (one of which may have been newly arrived) and a Great Grey Shrike (which was later trapped in the Vaadal).
Our second Great Grey Shrike of the spring and also the second to be ringed. Spring records are scarcer than autumn ones and this is only the second spring since 1993 to record more than one.
There appeared to have been a clear out of many migrants, with the only increased counts noted being the 9 Tree Pipits and 3 Jack Snipe.
Although Brambling numbers decreased, there were still at least 40 around, with many of them feeding around the Obs.
A few Mealy Common Redpoll also lingered around the Obs. Measurements of trapped birds so far suggests that the recent arrival has been of relatively small Mealies, perhaps suggesting a more southern origin than some of the larger, frostier autumn birds we often get.
Sunday seems set fair for easterlies and sunshine, although it may well bring fog later on, then we're due to have northerlies for a lot of the week, which is likely to slow down migration. However, Dave Wheeler has suggested that by the end of next week, we could have a return to the south-easterlies which seem to have been prevalent this year. It's already been a good start, but easterlies in May could see things getting even more interesting...

Friday, 25 April 2014


26th April 
Butterfish, butterfish, ra ra ra.
We thought that today could bring more birds, and when 40 Brambling erupted from the garden in the morning and 8 Mealy Redpolls were at the feeders, it looked like we were right! Census in a moderate easterly breeze and fairly regular drizzle was certainly producing the goods, with several migrants scattered around the island. As the skies finally cleared just before lunch, it seemed that we could be in for a good afternoon and that prediction was swiftly realised when Ciaran found a pair of Garganey on Da Water. Not only were these just the 22nd and 23rd individuals of this delightful duck to make it to Fair Isle, but they were also a Fair Isle tick for me (which you may well remember meant I could have a pint for the first time since 4th March!).
Quack! The first Fair Isle Garganeys since 2010 and the first multiple record since 2000.
Other highlights from the morning included year ticks in the form of Pied Flycatcher and Whitethroat (with three of each seen), whilst Great Grey Shrikes were at Gilsetter and the Mast (presumably the same bird, although I suspect that more than one may have been involved in recent sightings) and Wrynecks were at Linni Geo and Roskillie.
The Great Grey Shrike near the Mast, with an accompaniment of Meadow Pipits and Wheatear.
It was straight back into the field in the afternoon and amongst the migrants present, were the first Blue-headed Wagtail (a fine male in the Havens then later at Utra), Arctic Skua and Sedge Warbler of the year, whilst another Wryneck was found, this time at South Harbour.
Not a bad day all in all, but things got even better when the nets, which had been opened in the hope of ringing some of the many finches around, produced a hitherto unseen male Eastern Subalpine Warbler late in the evening.
With a contrast between the brick red throat and the paler underparts and the chunky 'moustache', the Subalpine Warbler looked good for 'Eastern', although the tail pattern appeared ambiguous. However, most of the tail was regrowing, having been lost earlier in the spring, which made interpretting the details more difficult. (photo: Ciaran Hatsell)
The final totals of a very impressive day were:
Eastern Subalpine Warbler, 2 Garganey, Great Grey Shrike, 3 Wryneck, Blue-headed Wagtail, 285 Brambling,  44 Ring Ouzel, 321 Fieldfare, 57 Song Thrush, 11 Redstart, 4 Black Redstart, 7 Tree Pipit,  25 White Wagtail, 7 Crossbill, 10 Common Redpoll, 3 Pied Flycatcher, 3 Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler, 22 Chiffchaff, 17 Willow Warbler, 15 Blackcap, 19 Swallow, 3 House Martin, Red-throated Diver, 2 Grey Heron, 2 Kestrel, 2 Arctic Skua, Common Sandpiper, Short-eared Owl, 15 Teal, 64 Snipe, 95 Common Gulls, Iceland Gull and 12 Black-headed Gulls.
House Martin. It's almost art, but mostly it's just out of focus. I must try to take some better pictures tomorrow.
Although Saturday is likely to be quite windy, it’s still from the east and calmer conditions on Sunday could make for a very promising weekend (I’m not quite as optimistic about the football, but at least I’ll be able to drown my sorrows now!).

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Building up...

24th April
We went for a good mix of weathers today, with fog and a strong south-easterly, then clearing visibility as the wind eased slightly before fog returned, then brought rain with it, then cleared a bit before the rain became heavier as night fell. Although early indications were that there was perhaps not that much new, things started picking up later on and the prospects are looking very promising for tomorrow.
Not quite a migrant at every turn today, but by the evening, there were certainly birds starting to pop up across the island.
A Hawfinch over Schoolton was the best of the new migrants and a Great Grey Shrike at Hesti Geo was presumably yesterday’s bird relocating down the island (although given its location and the conditions, a new arrival wouldn’t be out of the question). Also new were the first Grasshopper Warbler and House Martin of the year (both in the famous ‘Wirvie triangle’), whilst an Arctic Tern fishing in North Haven late on was also the first of 2014. Migrants increasing in numbers included 6 Redstart, 10 Willow Warbler, 19 Ring Ouzel, 28 Fieldfare, 16 Brambling, 5 Mealy Redpoll, 10 Reed Bunting, 9 Swallow, 2 Siskin and Grey Wagtail. Surely with that cast, there’s something even better waiting to be found in the morning…
Other birds adding to the interest today including the Kumlien’s and Iceland Gulls, 4 Whimbrel, 2 Jack Snipe, 5 Dunlin, 2 Tufted Duck, Whinchat and 21 Snow Bunting.
Unbelievably, there are still easterlies forecast for a few days yet and, with lighter winds and hopefully improved visibility tomorrow, there’s a growing feeling of ‘anything could happen’.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Wry, Wry, Wry, Delightful

21st-23rd April
Oysterplant in Muckle Uri Geo.
Although the wind remained from an easterly direction, the rest of the weather proved a bit of a mixed bag and hampered the birding at times. Fog on Monday cleared in the evening, then a clear day on Tuesday also saw a rather harsh NE wind before a very promising start on Wednesday was quickly overshadowed by thick fog coming in from the start of census.
The poor visibility on 21st felt as if it was stopping us unleashing the potential of the easterly winds, with new migrants including the first Tree Pipit of the year, a Stonechat, Grey Wagtail and Black Redstart presumably the tip of the iceberg of what was out there. A few wildfowl and waders were also located, including 2 Tufted Duck, 3 Goldeneye, 4 Whimbrel and an impressive peak of 106 Golden Plover, whilst lingering birds included a Stock Dove and Redstart.
Migrants had clearly increased on 22nd, but were not easy to find in the strong blustery wind, with the first Wryneck of the year in South Raeva the highlight. There was also a Short-eared Owl, the first Common Sandpiper of the spring, 2 Goldcrest, Tree Pipit, 2 Kestrel and peaks of 8 Willow Warbler and 12 Brambling, whilst other sightings included a badly oiled male Peregrine (possibly the remnant of the breeding pair suffering from skirmishing with Fulmars) and the lingering Kumlien’s and Iceland Gull (with the latter also present on 23rd). Not a bad day, but it improved further with a timely call from Deryk (about 30 seconds before the start of Log!) to say he’d just had a Crane head north over Quoy. The Wardening team dashed out the Obs and scanned from various high points, whilst Susannah took the more measured and sensible approach of driving down the island with the guests and actually seeing the bird, which headed off towards Hoini into the gathering darkness and out of sight by the time the Wardens made it down the island. Ah well, hopefully there’ll be others this year!
A slightly calmer wind and clear skies saw no sign of the Crane on the early morning of 23rd, but it was clear there were more birds in, with the morning traps and nets producing a lively selection including a Wryneck, 2 Ring Ouzels and a Redstart.
The Wryneck caught in the Plantation this morning was an early sign that it was going to be a good day.
However, with the wind swinging slightly towards the SE, a real pea-souper came in and birding became quite difficult for most of the day (and pretty much impossible in the North). Still, with birds having arrived early on and a few things probably still dropping in during the day, a healthy total was logged, with the highlights comprising 4 Wryneck, a Great Grey Shrike (the second of the spring) and the first Whinchat of the year.
Further Wrynecks were seen at South Harbour (the bird pictured), Field Ditch and Haa/Nether Taft. After a poor year in 2013 when only 3 were seen, it's good to have got the year off to such a positive start.
Other notable migrants included Redstart, Tree Pipit and Black Redstart, whilst several species increased in numbers and produced counts of 22 Chiffchaff, 16 Blackcap, 30 Robin, 14 Ring Ouzel, 26 Song Thrush, 9 Fieldfare, 5 Common Redpoll and 7 Reed Bunting, with two Kestrels (trying to hunt Twite from the Obs roof) and the lingering Black-tailed Godwit completing the roll call. So, a pretty impressive set of birds (especially considering it’s still only the third week of April) and the wind is set to stay in the east for a few days yet…

Monday, 21 April 2014

Never Mind the Buzzard

20th April
Easter Sunday certainly proved to be another day that looked good for raptors, except this time it actually was, with Quoy Stuart picking out a Buzzard heading north over Shirva in the morning. Unfortunately, with conditions pretty much perfect for rapid progress north, it wasn’t seen by any of the FIBO team as it seemingly passed straight through. At about the same time, Richard found the year’s first Redstart (a cracking male in the Kirn o’Skroo) and it seemed like things were about to kick off, but that turned out to be the peak, with the pleasant conditions enabling a small arrival of warblers (15 Chiffchaff, 5 Willow Warbler and a Blackcap) and 8 Swallows but not a huge amount else.
A selection of corvids present include up to 8 Carrion Crow and 5 Rook, most of which are probably lingering birds.
Other migrants included two each of Lesser and Mealy Redpoll, 3 Reed Bunting, Fieldfare, an increase in Collared Dove (to two) and 30 Snow Bunting. Golden Plovers increased to an impressive 65, there were also singles of Jack Snipe, Black-tailed Godwit and Whimbrel and two Red-breasted Mergansers passed Buness.
Monday has started with thick fog, delaying the start of census and early indications are that it has prevented much new from finding us, with few migrants around the traps or nets. Hopefully things will clear later and birds will start to drop in…

Sunday, 20 April 2014


17th-19th April
Is that the sound of spring springing (the weather has certainly felt pleasantly warm, with a southerly wind for the last couple of days), the gambolling of lambs, the upwards trajectory of Sunderland’s season following the ‘mini-revival’ of the last couple of games (although admittedly still being bottom of the league suggests ‘upwards trajectory’ might be a bit strong), or perhaps most likely, it's the sound of Wardens excitedly bouncing up and down as the forecast looks rather promising for next week, with potentially 7 days of easterlies to come. I’m confident enough of something good that I’m going to extend my Lenten alcohol abstinence to the next Fair Isle tick or BB rare we get!
Fulmars on the cliffs at Easter Lother (there are also a few Puffins tucked away in there). Seabirds are starting to get serious now - not long until the breeding season is upon us.
There’s been nothing extraordinarily unusual during the last three days, but the birding has been quite enjoyable none the less. Wader passage provided a couple of year ticks with Black-tailed Godwit (18th-19th) and Greenshank (19th), along with Whimbrel (singles on 18th and 19th) and an increase in Golden Plover to 36 on 19th.
The other new species for the year were Sparrowhawk (18th, with the only other raptor a male Merlin on 17th) and Stock Dove on 17th-19th (it took me three years to get Stock Dove on my Fair Isle list, so it’s always a good bird to see here). Other columbidae included a peak of 13 Woodpigeon and a new Collared Dove (19th).
A few more warblers included Blackcap (17th), 2 Willow Warbler (19th) and an increase in Chiffchaffs to 9 on 18th and 13 on 19th (with two of these singing); the lack of other warblers will presumably soon be rectified given the forecast. Other signs of spring included an increase in Sand Martins to 7 on 19th, when there were also 5 Swallows and 129 Wheatear (the largest count of the year so far). Thrush numbers also showed small signs of arriving in the increasingly promising conditions, with 3 each of Ring Ouzel and Blackbird, a Song Thrush and 19 Redwing on 19th. Finches were also on the move in small numbers, with the second Goldfinch of the year (18th-19th), the first Common Redpoll for a while (19th), Crossbill (17th-18th), and up to five Chaffinch, 3 Brambling, 3 Siskin, and 2 Linnet.
Male Linnet at the Obs (19th). Will the reasonable spring showing of this species result in the first confirmed breeding on Fair Isle this year?
Other migrants included 2 Black Redstart and Grey Wagtail (18th), Goldcrest (18th-19th), 3 White Wagtails (on both 18th and 19th), single Water Rails on 18th and 19th, up to 20 Snow Bunting, 2 Reed Bunting (17th and 19th) and a small passage of corvids, including a peak of 13 Carrion Crow and 4 Rook (18th) and 2 Jackdaw.
More wintry were 2 Pink-footed Geese (17th-19th) brought in by strong westerlies on the first date and the lingering juvenile Kumlien’s and Iceland Gulls (both to 18th), with other hangers-on including the Tree Sparrow at Haa (to 19th) and Lapland Bunting (a bird at several locations in the North on 19th was probably the bird seen earlier in the month at Suka Mire).
We have a sunny day with southerlies forecast on Sunday (no doubt another ‘it feels good for a raptor’ day, which so far haven’t proved too successful) then the easterlies start to kick in. Will it live up to the hype? Well we’ve certainly got hope, which is half the fun (kind of like being a Sunderland fan).

Thursday, 17 April 2014

West and Recuperation

12th-16th April
After a rather frantic start to the season in terms of birding, things slowed down considerably with the onset of some strong (gale force at times) westerly winds, bringing with them heavy rain at times.  The break in this was the 15th, with a lighter southerly wind bringing a few birds in, but otherwise it was a bit of a slog at times.
The view west from North Light - as seen in the opening credits of 'Shetland'! Windy weather has created some impressive seas, although the gales and rain of recent days may have also been responsible for the apparent failure of the Peregrine nest.
The mini-fall of the 15th brought the first Tree Sparrow of the year (found by Tommy shortly after his arrival back from holiday), along with 12 Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler (to 16th), Blackcap (with another having been seen on 13th), three Swallow, Sand Martin (with another on 16th), 13 Woodpigeon, a flyover Redpoll sp? and light corvid passage that produced 3 Rook and 5 Carrion Crow (with a hybrid Hoody and 2 Jackdaws the following day). There were also increases in other species that had been lingering, which included counts of 9 Robin, 14 Dunnock, 5 Chaffinch, 20 Snow Bunting and 65 Twite, whilst the Lapland Bunting in Suka Mire may have been the bird seen a few days ago there. Wheatears arrived back with a bang (or a ‘chack’ at least) on 15th, with counts not having not exceeded 13 until then, when numbers leapt to 85. Puffins were also back in numbers and have been coming ashore at their regular haunts – it’s good to have them back and Grace and I will no doubt be out one evening soon to chat to them on Roskillie!
Tree Sparrow (left) at the Haa.
The Haa sparrow flock also contains a white-tailed male House Sparrow and this rather odd individual (photo: Deryk Shaw).
Other sightings of note during the last few days included the first two Whimbrel of the year (in Gilsetter on 14th), Jack Snipe (13th), 2 White Wagtail (14th-15th), Linnet (13th-15th), 2 Merlin (16th) and the lingering Kumlien’s Gull (to 16th), with an Iceland Gull as well on 13th and the general increase in the summering residents included a peak of 287 Meadow Pipits on 16th. Interesting wildfowl were represented by Shelduck (12th), Long-tailed Duck and Goldeneye (both 14th), whilst a Cormorant offshore on 16th was the first of the month.
Bonxies are back in good numbers now, with this individual joining the gulls outside the Obs squabbling over kitchen scraps.
Other interest during the period was provided by ‘Shetland’; as justice caught up with the Fair Isle murderer and we can all sleep easily at night again! Those of you have been to the island will have noticed a few incongruities (the shots of the inside of the Chapel were disappointing as we think ours is much prettier than the one they used, and it was odd to see telephone wires on what was meant to be Fair Isle), but it wasn’t meant to be a documentary and we enjoyed watching it. It was good to see a couple of Fair Islanders (including Alice our childcarer) making it in as background extras as well (I have to say, the fame hasn’t gone to her head though). The good news is that they have commissioned another series, so maybe we’ll see Jimmy and his team here again, I’m sure they’ll be welcome (although they might find the DirectFlight staff having words with them after rather unkindly referring to the ‘death plane’!).
Anyway, back to birds; it’s been steady away for the last few days, but with Dave Wheeler’s forecast for the weekend and beyond now reading: 'Rain and cloud at first on Saturday clearing later as fresh SW’ly winds become lighter E’ly. Sunday perhaps drier and brighter with light to moderate E’ly winds. Possibly staying mainly dry and bright through next week with mostly light winds, these mainly E’ly in direction' things may be about to get very interesting again. The second half of April can be pretty good anyway and with a few early migrants having pushed north already, I reckon there's got to be a good chance we'll pick up another description or two by next weekend (I'll take a punt on a rare lark as the highlight). We are of course open to visitors now and with a special rate of £50 (all inclusive) per person per night available until 11th May, it could be worth a gamble...

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Meet the Team

9th-11th April
Fair Isle Wren (by Mark Rayment). This bird, in the North Haven, is probably the most popular Fair Isle Wren in the world with photographers and provides a 'sub-species tick' for many visitors.
A quiet few days as the westerly wind increased and slowed migration right down. And, with today’s Shipping Forecast giving a ‘Storm 10’ warning in Fair Isle, along with squally showers, it’s unlikely there’ll be much found today, but who knows…
Gales and rain aren't ideal weather as the lambing season is picking up pace, although at least the temperature is remaining relatively good for the time of year.
The light wildfowl passage (although Fair Isle is never going to be rivalling Slimbridge for duck numbers in fairness) brought the first Tufted Duck of the year to the island and the Pochard and Goldeneye both lingered to 10th. Almost all common migrant numbers decreased (Fieldfares falling from their peak of over 600 earlier in the week to just 5 on 11th for example), with the only increases being shown by Collared Dove (to 3 on 10th), Jackdaw (3 on 9th-10th) and Siskin (the two increasingly fat males lingering in the Obs garden were added to by another on 11th), whilst a smart male Lapland Bunting was in Suka Mire on 9th. One of the Siskins and a Chaffinch were singing at the Obs on 10th, providing a nice flavour of spring, whilst a Peacock butterfly on 9th was an unusually early sighting of this not quite annual visitor. Guillemots still failed to provide much hope for the breeding season, with very few around and an occasional dead individual still being washed up on the beaches.
Spring Lapland Buntings are always a treat (by Ciaran Hatsell)

Purple Sandpiper (by Mark Rayment). South Harbour is providing great views of this species and Turnstone at the moment.
The regular sightings of Iceland Gull continued, with two on 9th and 11th and the Kumlien’s Gull was still present to 10th at least, with five Snow Buntings on 10th.
With the season now up and running, the new team are complete and settled in and it's all going well. They're a great bunch as some of you will hopefully find out when you visit this year and between them they'll be feeding us, keeping the Obs clean and tidy, looking after the kids (and us sometimes) and hopefully finding that first for Britain that Fair Isle must be due soon...
A 'Glitz and Glamour' themed party last night gave the team a chance to meet the islanders, with everybody seeming to enjoy themselves. Many thanks to everyone who came up from down the island, despite it being a very busy time, with the lambing starting to kick off.
The 2014 team, as they should look...
...and how they looked last night. Note the various interpretations of 'glitz and glamour'!
So, this is the 2014 season now ready to go, we're all looking forward to it and hope you are too.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Nice weather and Ducks.

6th-8th April
Although there were a couple more additions to the year list in the form of Willow Warbler (7th-8th), and Goldfinch (at the Obs on 8th), the best bird in Fair Isle terms was the Pochard on Da Water (8th). With just 56 records (of 70 individuals), it’s not a common bird on Fair Isle and last year’s record was the first for six years, although there was also another male earlier this year at the Haa, so we’re going through a decent spell for them. Other wildfowl on the move included a Pink-footed Goose (6th-8th), Goldeneye (7th-8th) and Red-breasted Merganser (7th).
Almost as widely twitched as the Bluetail(s). Quack.
The most noticeable arrival were the Fieldfares, which after first being noted arriving late on 5th, peaked at 665 on 6th, with numbers then dwindling on later dates. Other migrants also started decreasing in amount, although there were still reasonable numbers of Robins and Dunnocks around. There were also decent counts of Meadow Pipit (195), Skylark (150), Woodpigeon (11 on 8th), Pied Wagtail (18 on 8th) and Wheatears cracked double figures for the first time with ten on 7th. Light corvid passage saw counts of six Carrion and 18 Hooded Crows (7th) and Jackdaw (6th, with 2 on 8th). 
Despite hundreds of Fieldfares being present, I've managed not to get a decent picture of any of them, sorry.
Small numbers of other birds around included up to 7 Goldcrest, counts of 8-14 Chiffchaff, Blackcap on 6th and 8th, Black Redstarts on 7th and 8th, up to 2 Siskin, 2 Linnet on 7th, Common Redpoll on 6th-8th, up to 12 Snow Buntings, Short-eared Owl, two Collared Dove (8th) and a blue Fulmar which passed over Ditfield on 6th.
It’s been a good spring for Jack Snipe, with a peak of four on 7th, there were daily sightings of Woodcock and Golden Plover increased to ten.
Two Iceland and a Kumlien’s Gull were lingering on 6th with one of the former still on 8th.
Breeding bird news included the resident Peregrine pair being joined by a third bird on the island, the first Gannet eggs noted on 7th, daily sightings of Bonxies and an increase in Puffins, with 20+ on 6th and 8th; still a long way to go, but pace should start picking up from now on.
So that’s the bird news up to date. I’ll leave any comment on the Fair Isle based episode of ‘Shetland’ that was on last night until everyone who’s recorded it has had the chance to watch it, but I don’t think I’d be giving away any major plot twists by saying my telescope made its anticipated TV debut!

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Tarsigery Jiggery Pokery

3rd-5th April
Another good spell of birding saw a reasonable turnover of birds, plenty of migrants around and some more highlights. The outstanding one was a Red-flanked Bluetail in Swarzi Geo on 5th.
One of those 'wow' moments, when one of the birds flicking up onto the cliff face isn't a Robin.
The same bird as that on 30th March? Hmm, maybe! On the side of the argument favouring two birds: it's done well to hide unseen for five days given that we’re out censusing every day (including a day sticking to the coastline when we did the Tystie survey); after a couple of days of blasting SE winds it would have seemed more likely that if it was refound it would have been in the crofts, not still on the SE coast of the island; it would be Britain’s longest staying spring Bluetail (I think); there’s been a decent turnover of birds since the 30th; two rares in close proximity aren't unprecedented (there were two White's Thrushes on the same day on Fair Isle's east coast a few autumn's ago).
However, it appears very similar in plumage to the previous sighting (although I’m not sure how much variability there would be at this time of year;  photos online and in the British Birds article by Paul Leader on ageing Asian chats would suggest that finding obvious plumage differences between two individuals could be tricky); it’s not far from the previous sighting; and spring Bluetails are still pretty rare, so a second spring one in a week would maybe be asking too much? Unless the photos throw up any obvious differences (or clinching similarities), then we’ll probably never know for sure, but we'll submit both sightings with our thoughts and we'll see what BBRC decide.
What a lovely bird. Ciaran certainly thought that this individual was a touch bluer than 'his' bird. I realise that I'll not get much sympathy for having to decide whether our two Bluetail sightings this spring are the same bird or not!
The 5th also saw the arrival of the first Bonxies and Puffins (which are later than usual this year, but for the second year in a row arrived back on the same date as each other) and the first Swallow, Sand Martin and two Blackcap of the year. The most notable migrant arrival though were Fieldfares, with a gradual trickle during the day becoming a deluge later when the final total was logged at 434. There were also notable increases in some other species, with 81 Blackbird, 37 Redwing, 24 Chiffchaff, 165 Meadow Pipit, 13 Chaffinch, 8 Goldcrest, 63 Snipe and 4 Jack Snipe. Perhaps all these extra birds could lend the ‘two bluetail theory’ some extra weight?

There'll probably be better pictures of Puffins taken on Fair Isle this year, but there'll be no others of the first one of the year!
The year list had also ticked along with the first Linnet (4th) and Crossbill (3rd) as there was a general small passage of finches.
The Linnet has been fattening up with the Twite in the Obs garden. After 2012's possible breeding attempt things fizzled out last year, but it may just be a matter of time befoer they colonise.
One of two Crossbill in the Havens (photo Mark Rayment)
Other notable sightings recently included the Kumlien’s Gull still present (5th), with at least two other Iceland Gulls during the week, Short-eared Owl, 6 Pink-footed Geese (4th-5th), Grey Heron and a slight rise in gull numbers as Common and Lesser Black-backeds start returning to their colonies.
Iceland Gulls are regularly seen around the island as birds head back north. 
Purple Sandpipers are also increasing as birds move north. These ones nearly cost me my gloves, which I put down on the rocks as I was taking the photo, forgot about, then spent about 20 minutes trying to refind before the tide came in.
With the wind now in the south there has to be a chance of more arrivals before a week of more westerly based winds perhaps slows things down a bit. There seems to be a hint of SE in the forecast again for the back end of next weekend, which will be rather nice timing if it turns out to be the case. I'll not be trying anymore predictions after my 'run of good form' was brought to a spectacular end by West Ham on Monday night (I've a horrible feeling I can predict how things are going to go for Sunderland this season now), but I don't think it's too much of a gamble to say that spring is here now (the first lambs have appeared down the island) and the birds are on their way.
The borealis type Eider (right): note the yellow bill and white 'sails' on the mantle. This drake remained off South Light until 4th at least.
Interestingly, when I approached the flock, the borealis type bird drifted away from them and headed further out, usually in the company of a female (which perhaps shows the hint of a sail on this photo, although it wasn't noticeable in the field).

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