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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