Saturday, 17 May 2014

From the Subalp to the Ridicul-ibis

14th-16th May
The Hermit Thrush this morning in Furse.
All the excitement on 14th was centred round the lingering Hermit Thrush which was glimpsed at Aesterhoull early in the morning but then led the Shetland birders who’d come in to look for it a merry dance until it was relocated at Vaila’s Trees at one o’clock. Despite showing quite well, it then disappeared for a further three hours before reappearing in the same place and finally leaving everyone happy with their lot – the bar was a happy place that evening!
A Fair Isle tick for me was this parachute on 14th. Rumours that it was a Shetland birder who had been desperate to see the Hermit Thrush but was unable to get a seat on the plane proved not to be the case.
The only other new birds of any note on the same date were Goldfinch (with presumably the same bird on 16th), Greenshank, Jackdaw and singles of Fieldfare, Song Thrush and Redwing. Lingering highlights included the Caspian Stonechat (still just as beautiful a creature, even though it has been reduced to an ‘also present’ thanks to its long stay), the male Western Subalpine Warbler at Burkle, an odd assortment of 10 Greylag, 2 Pink-feet and a Barnacle Goose, a male Goosander, Snow Bunting (to 15th at least), up to 10 Mealy Redpoll and the Kumlien’s Gull (which is more erratic in its appearances now, being seen only on 16th).
The Caspian Stonechat - still showing well. He's become one of the family and will hopefully become a lifer for several people in the future if it is split from Siberian Stonechat (surely it's only a matter of time - there's a pint behind the bar for any of the BOU who happen to be visiting Fair Isle if that helps!).
With strong SW winds and fog in Shetland, there was no transport to or from Fair Isle on 15th and bird highlights were also limited, with a Glaucous Gull probably the pick of the new bunch.
The first Glaucous Gull of the month was at Nether Taft before roaming the island.
With the winds still quite strong and from the SW, it seemed like the sunshine might be the highlight of the 16th, but no, there was more to come from this already fantastic season. First up there was the reappearance of the Hermit Thrush on the beach at Furse, a real bonus for the birders who had just stepped off the plane for the start of their holiday and were whisked straight to their first mega of the day.
The Hermit Thrush showed well at times but was also capable of disappearing for long periods.
There was clearly hirundine passage going on, with the totals for the day of 122 Swallow, 16 House Martin and 2 Sand Martin (although no Red-rumped Swallow, despite it really feeling like there should be – if birds could be brought into existence purely by the power of positive thought, we’d have got one today) and corvids were also on the move with 30 Carrion and 3 Hooded Crows joining the resident Hoodies and Ravens.
With the ringing totals for the day standing at ‘1 Chiffchaff’, it was perhaps a surprise when Richard trapped a female Western Subalpine Warbler in the Vaadal just before lunch and the consensus from the ever positive Assistant Wardens was that there was more to come from the day, although other new migrants were limited to our first Yellow Wagtail of the year (all the previous flavas having been Grey or Blue-headed birds) and 3 Ring Ouzels.
The fourth Subalpine Warbler of the year (with two each of Western and Eastern now recorded) was also the fourth to be trapped. It's the 41st to be ringed on Fair Isle (10 of which have been since 2011) and has made for a best ever ringing year for this species. With a male and femlae Western now both present on the island it could be interesting if they meet up!
That ‘more’ came in the form of a first for Fair Isle, which was picked up circling the Houll just after lunch by a visiting group (the same group who found the Hermit Thrush earlier in the week) – a Glossy Ibis! Perhaps the most predictable ‘first’ for Fair Isle, but none the less, a great bird to see.
Thankfully there are no plumage features needed for this one, otherwise the silhouette-only views may not have been enough - but this is a fairly distinctive beast!
A stressful wait  followed for everyone at the Obs as, despite being on the scene in rapid time, the bird had been put off landing at Da Water by an entourage of mobbing breeding species (skuas, gulls, Lapwings and Oystercatchers being amongst the most vociferous) and had disappeared. Having checked many of the suitable damp patches, we were heading for the waters of the north when Richard picked up the distinctive, slightly bizarre, shape of the Ibis heading south over Roskillie. It passed over the Obs and again tried Da Water, but was eventually seen apparently heading south, perhaps back to North Ronaldsay?
Having had records from either side of us on and off for the last few months, this one almost felt overdue. North Ron confirmed they hadn't seen 'their' Glossy Ibis today, so there seems every chance that the strong SW wind had encouraged it to try a wander.
So, this spring that keeps on giving is due for a couple of days of southerly winds followed by a potential week of easterlies. Surely there isn't more to come?...


  1. Hi David, a question about Subalpine Warblers on Fair Isle: what are the proportion of records that are Eastern/Western? Intrigued to know if there are patterns in occurrence of each. Andrew

  2. Hi Andrew
    Of the 85 records prior to 2014, 16 are currently attributed to Eastern. However, it's not clear how many of those would be acceptable given current knowledge on identification (although most were males), nor how many of the other records may also be Eastern birds (many are left unassigned in the reports and so the actual proportion is likely to be much higher). In the four years I've been here, I think the totals are running at six each for Eastern and Western and two unraced.

  3. Thanks David. That's really interesting.


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