Wednesday 30 September 2009

'Wake me up when September ends'

Cool, blustery NW'ly with regular showers! Not the best day for birding, but frantically birding we all were, desperately trying to save this September from being the worst on record for rarities!
At around 10.30 it happened - Chas Holt & Steve Turner found a Pechora Pipit in the Kenaby crop. Woohoo! and fitting that it was a Fair Isle special (our 42nd record) that broke the drought! It gave us the run around but eventually everyone had satisfactory views as it picked its way along the tattie furrows and when it flew the distinctive call was ticked by many too!! Happy days!! and reminiscent of the rarity-free September of 2004 when that month was saved by an adult male Red-flanked Bluetail on 29th and then October brought a host of rarities, culminating in Chestnut-eared Bunting and Rufous-tailed Robin!!!!!!
However the floodgates have not opened yet as although another Common Rosefinch was discovered there was little else to report, though I did add Great Northern Diver to the house list!! October tomorrow.......

Welcome Leo!

Its gotten decidedly cooler! The wind yesterday, although lighter had moved round to the north. Having said that, we had a glorious warm sunny afternoon (9.5C) but as soon as the sun started to go down, the temperature plummetted - to 6C by midnight.

Birding was still quiet for the time of year - never before has a Common Rosefinch raised so much interest!!! The next best things in have been 3 large Common Redpolls, a Short-eared Owl and a Pintail. The Richard's Pipit still frequents Quoy/Schoolton and shows very well at times. Lapland Buntings are still increasing with a flock of ten seen near Pund, a few others elsewhere, and one or two more trapped at Chalet.

After two weeks of weather-enforced rest, the two ponies were taken to meet the kids coming out of school and Hollie, Fyntan, Raven, Ythan and Lowri all took turns in riding Storm while I tried to persuade Bijoux to keep up. Back at Kenaby an hour later, I left them all picking poo whilst Lubo and I continued on our quest for a Buff-bellied Pipit.........and failed!

It was a day of celebration however as my niece gave birth to a baby boy........and it was also Hollie's brother's birthday!!

Monday 28 September 2009

Send for the Doctor!

The westerly winds continue, veering more northerly today - and getting cooler. Even with more ex AWs on the isle (Chas Holt has recently joined the throng) good birds are still hard (impossible) to find. Thus, the most notable birds have been geese, of the Pink-footed variety, with around 1,400 present on Sunday and still several hundred today. Greylags have started to appear also and two Barnacles put in an appearance plus a few Whooper Swans. In fact birding has been so slow that we have taken to trapping lots of Starlings to aid the long-term research on this species and have almost run out of colour-ring combinations!!
A small influx of Chaffinches has (sadly) set the pulse racing - 16 so far, and three each of Icelandic Redwings and Common Redpoll dropped in today, along with five Chiffchaffs, whilst Snow Buntings have climbed to over 40.

However, potential dip of the year may be the 'wholly dark large Petrel' reported by The Good Shepherd crew just a few miles north of Buness. Neil's description fits Bulwers better than Swinhoes!!!

One good thing about having so many ex-AWs around is that we have enough folk for a game of footie in the hall, three teams of three in fact!! Excellent! After a couple of hours running around the hall, interspersed with the occasional moment of footballing magic (perhaps not!) it was decided that enough was enough and we all congratulated ourselves on getting through without serious injury ;-)

The early morning flight for the High School bairns never made it due to the wind until the early afternoon but both schedule flights (slightly hairily) got in. So Lachlan eventually got out.......and Dr Martin Culshaw arrived to occupy his still warm bed and after having successfully twitched Sandhill Crane and Taiga Flycatcher in the preceding days! Congratulations Martin!

Saturday 26 September 2009

Del's New Hoodie!

No change in the weather! Despite a promising-looking sea, a single Sooty Shearwater was the only thing of note in a whole hour yesterday.....and another this morning, with three Cormorants. On land yesterday we had a 14 Whooper Swans, male Tufted Duck, the Richard's Pipit, a Lesser Whitethroat and a Dunnock and now over 30 Snow Buntings.

Phil meanwhile spent much of the day running back and forth from the garden with bags of whoosh-netted Starlings, but he also trapped a Rock Pipit and a Hooded Crow - amazingly yet another ringing tick for me!!

Despite the wind strength, the favourable SW'ly direction meant that the planes have been getting in this week. Friday afternoon's plane brought the High School bairns home for the weekend and Lubo was extremely pleased to see Lachlan - as of course were we all, but the rest of us managed NOT to pee over ourselves in the excitement!!

Myself and Hollie had more on-site discussions with the Obs workmen, discussing finer details of the internal layout of the building and have to go back again with measurements of this and that.

Thursday 24 September 2009


The relentless strong westerly winds and showers continue and hence there is very little exciting to report on the bird front - a few more Snow and Lapland Buntings perhaps and the Richard's Pipit remains. A Robin is new at the Mast......where on this date last year I was showing people a Brown Flycatcher!! What a difference a year makes!! A few other things were seen however - Peregrine & Merlin, Cormorant, Garden Warbler, an abietinus Chiffchaff, a Chaffinch, a new 'northwestern' Common Redpoll and 6 Linnets are also new.
The Burkle ringing list is set to increase as Phil Harris, who is staying with us here with Becca Nason (yet another ex-AW), has cleared and baited a patch for a whoosh-net.
Myself and Hollie visited the Obs site to answer a few queries the workmen had and also had a good look around inside. Its coming on! Meanwhile, Terry Todd and his digger were hard at work outside, landscaping the excess topsoil into an area of wee pools for waders etc
Sounds like Darts club tonight may be very busy!

Tuesday 22 September 2009

More Laps

After another windy sleep-interrupted night I began to think that the old Obs wasn't so noisy in a storm after all! My watch alarm failed to wake us - I'd forgotten to reset it after using it to remind me of Fire Training the previous evening - and with the lack of sleep we'd managed to sleep through the kids getting up! Consequently, it was a mad rush in the morning to get the said children ready for school. Lowri arrived, as he does most school mornings, whilst they were still eating breakfast and so rather than walking or cycling to school, I ran them there in the car! A check of Dave Wheeler's weather page saw it had reached 45 knots overnight, so nothing too severe. The wind remained strong all day from a WSW direction which meant that, despite there being more birders on the isle, birding was pretty quiet. The highlight was probably the two Sand Martins that have battled their way here and there was a Song Thrush at the Obs. Pink-feet continue to move and 265 were logged whilst the sea produced 3 Red-throated Diver, a Manx Shearwater and 6 Wigeon.

I spent a good part of the day making final (I hope) amendments/corrections to the Fair Isle chapter of the new Observatories Book that is due out (hopefully) this Christmas - which incidentally is only 94 days away!!!

I nipped out for an hour or two late afternoon and in an easing wind had reasonable views of the Richard's Pipit as it strolled around in long grass at Schoolton. Simon meanwhile has increased the Lapland Bunting ringing total to SIX - ringing ticks all round!

Monday 21 September 2009


With a fresh SSW'ly wind blowing, it was a quiet weekend for birds. The undoubted highlight was the new Little Bunting trapped in the Vaadal, however the Lapland Bunting trapped a few minutes later at the Chalet was also nice - and a ringing tick for yours truly!! A (the) Richard's Pipit was seen on Meoness.

The new Obs is coming on - the panels and flashing to the exterior have almost been completed and electricians and plumbers have arrived to start fitting out the interior. I was able to look around upstairs for the first time and it is an impressive building.

Hollie took the ponies out on Saturday around the east loop (without me!!) along with the kids and Lise. The children are apparently improving their riding technique and the ponies were as good as gold - apart from being spooked by some 'strange' new patches of tar on the road, causing a few sidesteps and snorts! They had their feet trimmed too - the ponies not the children!
A well-attended party at Setter on Saturday night meant Sunday was a very lethargic day, but a 'possible Great Snipe' claim spurred me and Lubo to thrash around Buggarts, Da Water and Boini Mire but to no avail.

Today we are greeted with another blowy grey day as a strong SW'ly makes birding difficult. The main arrivals so far have been Alan Bull and Steve Turner (both ex AWs) off the morning plane. Its good to see them but its been so long since Steve was here that I had to give him a map to find his way round - I'm sure it'll all come back to him pretty quickly though! They immediately went out and re-found the Richard's Pipit at Boini Mire, whilst Simon found yet another (unringed) Little Bunting in North Haven.
A Shetland Wildlife Tour group also arrived this morning so I do hope we can find some birds to make it worth their while, although looking at the forecast it could be difficult - perhaps a nice Dendroica warbler!? The day progressed with parties of Pink-footed Geese passing overhead, totalling some 200 whilst the afternoon plane brought in another ex-FIBO stalwart, Mark Newell. Fun times to be had at Taft the next fortnight!!!!

Friday 18 September 2009

Double Figures!

I missed another posting last night due to 'a stop press space-filling Fair Isle Times emergency' from Lise at 1830hrs. Then, moments after I'd agreed to get something to her that night, Robert texted me.... 'we thought we'd start Darts club tonight, usual time usual place'.....What? We don't start Darts club til after the last Lerwick boat, usually the first week of October!! I informed him of my promise and said I'd try and get along. Anyway, I rapidly (well, rapid for me) typed up a page of how the 2009 seabird season went and she seemed pleased (relieved) with that and got to Darts just after 9pm.
The other big news from yesterday was that Fyntan reached double figures - he is TEN! and very proud. Unfortunately it wasn't all fun & games for him as on the way to school he came off his bike and really hurt his knee. Raven & Ythan raced to Quoy and raised the alarm and he was taken to the nurse by Stewart. Patched up, he then had to come home to recuperate. However, by lunchtime he had recovered enough to go to school - in time for a loud rendition of 'Happy Birthday' and a Smartie encrusted cake!

There appears to have been little in the way of arrivals the past couple of days but definitely some departures, however the Arctic Warbler, Yellow-browed Warbler and at least one Common Rosefinch are still here on a gloriously warm, bright day with a light SW'ly wind. The only arrival of note (so far) is the first Richard's Pipit of the autumn.

Back to was a pleasant evening despite my top score only being a couple of 100s. Robert claimed top prize by somehow achieving 156......and no treble 18s involved!!!

Wednesday 16 September 2009

Jigsaw Complete!

Apologies for no entry yesterday - I was up at 0530 to help gather lambs for the last shipment to the Shetland marts followed by census, another new Obs site meeting, computer work and in the evening we had a small 'farewell' gathering for our Wheatear student Adam, who left today. The Little Bunting was (and is) still present, but now sporting a shiny ring!
Today started well. I was answering a couple of e-mails whilst I finished breakfast prior to heading out when I spied a warbler in the garden. I raised my 'bins expecting it to be just a Willow but a stronger face pattern and long supercilium had me running out the door, even though I couldn't make out any wingbars! It gave me the run around but I managed to nail it as an Arctic Warbler - a nice addition to the garden list!! It disappeared whilst I was back inside phoning everyone but eventually all saw it at Kenaby later that morning. Meanwhile the first Yellow-browed Warbler had turned up too and Bluethroat, Red-backed Shrike, 2+ Barred Warblers and Common Rosefinch were added to the day list - the last to the garden list also!
But, prior to all this the barge with the last pieces of the giant 3-D Obs jigsaw arrived early this morning and by mid-afternoon the last pod was carefully slotted into place. Woohoo!!

Monday 14 September 2009

At Last!

The day started bright and calm with the wind just east of north. The sea looked pretty smooth - good for the barge bringing more pods. My orders were to meet the morning plane and pick up Dave Okill and Pete Ellis (two FIBO Directors) who were coming to see the new Obs. Hollie came with me and we were at the airstrip saying 'goodbye' to Chris Cox (another FIBO Director who had been up for a few days) when I got a text from Simon - 'Little Bunting at Setter'. Yes, at last its about to kick off! The plane arrived, I swapped one Director for two more and got another text - 'Bluethroat at Schoolton'. We arrived at the Obs and discovered that the barge had been in overnight with more sections. The guys were mightily impressed with what they saw........ but were pleased also with the Red-backed Shrike I discovered in the Obs Plantation. By lunchtime the wind, though light, was definitely from the SE (at last!) and the sun was very warm! I heard of another Bluethroat at Pund and was itching to get round North census but was required for a meeting with the Project Manager so reluctantly had to ask the AWs to do it for me. Landscaping, access and water issues (hopefully) dealt with I dropped the two daytripping gents back at the airstrip and headed home. Just enough time for a cuppa before Fire Training after the plane. Response times, spraying foam, checking BA sets and replenishing the appliance took us up to tea time.
After tea, Lubo (who was as desperate as me to get out) and I went out for a brief thrash around before dark but most birds had already gone to bed.
Jack phoned later to reel off their totals, including 385 Meadow Pipit, 251 Skylark, 70 Wheatear, 24 Willow Warbler, 17 Grey Heron, 15 Cormorant, 7 Lesser Whitethroat, 6 Garden Warbler, 4 Chiffchaff, 4 Lapland Bunting, 2 Whinchat, 2 Sand Martin, 2 Bluethroat and single Merlin, Kestrel, 'mealy' Redpoll, Siskin, Pied Flycatcher, Barred Warbler, Linnet, Dunnock, Common Rosefinch and Reed Bunting. Nice! More tomorrow? I hope so. Only seven pods to go!!!!

Sunday 13 September 2009

Trot on!

A much calmer day and although the wind was still in the north-west, it was very light and it was dry. Surely there would be some birds today? The answer was 'Very little'. The highlight, by a long way, was had by Jack - a juvenile Dotterel over Ward Hill. The best the south could muster were two Barred Warblers, a Common Rosefinch, a Chiffchaff and the first (six) Pinkfeet of the autumn! At least three Lesser Whitethroats were also an increase whilst Ruff, Sand Martin and two Common Crossbill are presumably lingerers. Census counts were actually dominated by Skylarks (155) and Meadow Pipits (680).
In the afternoon I was persuaded by Hollie to help her exercise the ponies. So, along with Fyntan, Raven, Ythan & Lowri we went around the east loop and all four bairns 'had a shot' at walking and trotting on Storm, whilst Bijoux ambled along behind.
The builders were expecting the barge again today with more of the Obs pods, but despite keeping a watchful eye, I never saw it come by the south end.
Late news this evening.....Simon's had a Marsh Harrier over Hoini!!

Saturday 12 September 2009


Awoke this morning to the house rattling to another westerly blow and (fortunately?) the low cloud and drizzle put paid to any thoughts of a sea-watch! So, no barge, no Good Shepherd and no planes! After breakfast and whilst various island children arrived to play, I busied myself on the computer in the hope that the weather might improve later but by 11am it hadn't and I felt I had to get out - and Lubo certainly thought so! I was on southeast census this morning and with the westerly wind driving the drizzle, I decided that the east cliffs probably held my best chance of finding any migrants. However, other than pipits, Wheatears and Twite I barely saw any passerines - a couple of Willow Warblers and a Sand Martin. My AWs reported much the same as previous days but there are now two Lesser Whitethroats plus a Common Whitethroat and a Ruff.
Its been a fantastic autumn for field mushrooms but I kept forgetting to take anything to carry them in so have had to leave them for others but today Hollie gave me a carrier bag as I went out the door and instructed me to pick some. I duly returned home just before 2pm with the bag bursting with big mushrooms - so thats tea sorted, Mushroom Something!
After a noisy lunch, all the kids went up to Schoolhouse to watch a film, the weather had brightened (even enough for the plane to get in) so Hollie and I headed over to pick up pony poo!! Lovely!

Friday 11 September 2009

Happy Birthday

I'll start todays posting with a clarification of a comment in yesterday's - the boiled rotting potato peelings were not for today's tea, but for next door's pigs!!!

Still a mild fresh SW'ly wind but the barge bringing the Obs pods has managed two trips in as many days and with half of the pods now here, the building is now starting to look very impressive. North census was extremely quiet - five Wigeon the highlight - whilst elsewhere only new things were a Merlin and a reported Lesser Whitethroat. Lapland and Snow Bunting were also seen.
Quiet is not a word that would describe Burkle after school though! Ythan turned SIX today and the whole school and nursery (all 11 of them) came round for a party!! I stayed for half an hour, then just had to take Lubo had for a walk! We returned an hour or so later, just in time for some Birthday cake! All kids left after feeding their faces and playing and I don't think there were any arguments!

Thursday 10 September 2009


Red or green, Hollie's garden at Burkle has it by the bucketload along with broccoli, spinach, tatties, lettuce, courgettes and not to mention the forthcoming peas, beetroot, carrots and onions or to forget the indoor plethora of tomatoes and cucumbers. Its harvest time at Burkle and anybody who remembers her little garden at the Obs will be impressed!
The weather calms further, down to a Force 4 SW'ly and my morning census of Southwest turned up a handful of Willow Warblers, a couple of Tree Pipits, a Bar-tailed Godwit and a male Crossbill plus a Barred Warbler at Leogh and two Rosefinches at Houll. My AWs turned up a Blackcap, Lapland Bunting and another Tree Pipit and between us we logged over 400 Meadow Pipits.
After three hours of computer work I (and Lubo) headed back out mid-afternoon. I decided to try Hoini for a Buff-breasted Sandpiper followed by a Great Snipe search around Pund/Setter. Just as I reached the top of Hoini, the heavens opened and I immediately regretted leaving my waterproof at home. By the time I reached Setter I was soaked with nothing to show for it but two Snow Buntings. I trudged home, rubbed the pup dry, peeled my wet clothes off and jumped in the shower.
After a lovely tea, I entered the kitchen to wash up and was greeted by a horrible stench - not from Lubo this time but a pan of over-ripe tattie peelings boiling away on the stove. This was quickly evicted and windows opened. Tonights washing-up tunes came from Rod Stewart! I wonder what tomorrows awful smell will be?

Wednesday 9 September 2009


A noisy night in Burkle as the wind rattled and shook the building but morning arrived and although still windy its much less strong. A look at Dave Wheeler's weather page shows it peaked at c50knots at around 9pm. Greeted this morning to a terrible stench emanating from the porch. Obviously Lubo (the dog) has sore guts!! Kicked the dog out and Hollie and I cleaned up whilst the kids readied themselves for school. Kids gone to school and said dog fed I took him out for a walk around south-east but there appears to be nothing new in, a few Willow Warblers and Whinchats about all to report this morning. Went up to the Obs site to check if the pods had survived the gales. Other than a couple of tiles dislodged from the one that has not been fixed in place the answer is 'yes!' Its really taking shape now! Forecast for next few days is good so hopefully get the bulk of them here once the sea calms down.
A thrash around this afternoon didn't produce much more - a count of 34 Teal and a Redstart. Called in at the Chalet and AWs have had a Greylag Goose, a couple of Lapland Buntings (actually first seen yesterday) and a Snow Bunting. Hmmm, it'll soon be winter! The ringed Barred Warbler remains. Its nice to have a windmill working again although the regular power cuts a few days ago were a bit infuriating!! I'm gonna have to get a UPS for my computer!

Tuesday 8 September 2009


The first severe gales of the autumn have arrived today - a little early - a gale force S'ly (at present) but incredibly warm! Its a big blow (pun intended) to the Obs building contractors who can't do alot in this. There are now 9 new Obs pods on the isle but its too risky today to be swinging them from a crane or to be balancing oneself in a cherry-picker. Birding is predictably quiet with a single Barred Warbler the only thing of note. Spent much of the day tying things down in preparation for the worst of the weather this evening - the wind is due to move round to the west and pick up to force 9-10 with gusts of 80mph. We've moved the ponies to the Kenaby north park so they can shelter by the barn!

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