Saturday, 11 April 2015

Swan Luck

3rd-10th April
Although we've passed the snow, the winds have remained largely westerly based and the spring has taken a while to get going. A bit of easterly on 3rd brought a few birds, whilst lighter southerly winds in the last couple of days have finally made it feel like we're out of the winter. There have been ten additions to the year list in the period, with the undoubted highlight being the Mute Swan found by Ciaran on 8th during a Tystie survey. After circling the island a couple of times, it settled on Da Water where it is still present. Interestingly, the first person who walked down to Da Water didn't flush the bird, in fact it swam straight towards them, suggesting it's come from somewhere where it's used to getting the odd bread crust or two! It's only the 10th Fair Isle record (and just the second in the spring) and our first 'any other birds' species for Log in 2015.
Quack. A classic island rarity, its circuits of the island before settling on Da Water allowed it to be added to a few house lists (and Susannah's kitchen window list). It also provided points for just two people in the Prediction Competition, with Henry from Haa the only person to get three points for a spring prediction. Photo: Susannah Parnaby.
Two Greenland White-fronted Geese (4th-5th) were the other main highlight from some (very) light wildfowl passage that also included the year's first Shelduck (3 in South Harbour on 8th).
Logan and Tommy added White-front to the year list when they saw these two birds fly in off the sea at Meoness, with views after that generally distant. Photo: Ciaran Hatsell.
The typical harbinger of spring for most of the country, the Swallow made its first landfall on Fair Isle on 9th whilst the first Wheatear (a far more typical sign of spring for Fair Isle) was late, with the first not arriving until 7th April and small numbers building up after that. Incidentally, as far as BBC Springwatch goes, the Swallow means that's us done for spring on Fair Isle as the other signs of spring for their 'Big Spring Watch' are: Hawthorn, English Oak, Orange-tip butterfly and 7-spot Ladybird, the first three of which are not found on Fair Isle and the latter's only live appearance was a stowaway that arrived in the Obs Christmas tree last year (to add insult to injury, they then missed FIBO off the map of British Bird Observatories, ha'way man Chris, get it sorted!)!
Here be dragons. I'm all in favour of an increase in the licence fee if it means the BBC can afford the couple extra inches of paper needed to include the whole country on their map next time! (image from BBC iplayer).
Other firsts for the year included some typical early season migrants, with Dunnock, Siskin, Linnet, Collared Dove and Cormorant all logged in ones or twos. Migration has been generally slow, with very few species arriving in any decent numbers. Meadow Pipits and Skylarks are now generally in three-figures, but, other than 37 Goldcrest and 20 Blackbird in light easterlies on 3rd and Redwings arriving from 6th to a peak of 91 on 9th, most migrants have struggled to get out of single figures.
A Linnet in the Obs garden, feeding alongside its commoner relative (on Fair Isle at least), Twite.
Signs of the start of the breeding season have been emerging as well, with Shags on eggs early this year (with the first noted on 4th April), Gannets also confirmed as incubating, Puffins returning to land from 3rd and the skies full of bird song whenever the sun has come out. An encouraging report as a follow up to last year's successful breeding season is the sighting of one of 'our' Shags on Noss last week (thanks to Andy Denton, the Noss Warden for the sighting).
Red HCE on Noss earlier this week. Photo: Andy Denton (SNH). 
'Red HCE' was ringed as a chick on Fair Isle on 11th July 2014 and was still here until at least 27th September and was then on Noss on 7th April. With 90 Shags colour-ringed on Fair Isle in 2014, there will hopefully be more sightings to help us understand the movements of our breeding birds. It's always interesting to get news from other islands, sometimes it's directly relevant (regular updates from North Ronaldsay BO about the White-tailed Eagle that turned up there yesterday were greatly appreciated for example, although unfortunately it chose not to continue north) and other times it bears no relevance to Fair Isle, but is fascinating none the less. An example being one of the Isle of May's more remarkable records, with a sea-going Red Grouse providing an unexpected first for the island. If ever anything shows that there'll always be unexpected happenings in birding, then this is it and it helps keeps our hopes up despite the forecast for at least ten more days of westerlies!

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