Sunday 17 October 2010

Rough Justice!

Saturday was a great day! It started with an MDS from the Shetland Grapevine - the dynamic duo (RR & PVH) reporting a Rough-legged Buzzard over Toab, South Mainland Shetland. Twenty minutes later Mark Newell reported a Buzzard sp over Sheep Rock that drifted west. As I was going out the door I got call from Phil Harris "We've just ringed 57 Redpolls, mostly Mealies with a few Lessers!!!" Blimey - what a total! Birds in! I hurried out! I was on SE so ventured first to Haa and confirmed that the Blyth's Reed was still on the South Harbour beach, along with ten Chiffchaffs and three Blackcaps, a couple of hundred Starlings and a few common waders. I continued on census but there appeared to be nothing new in - apart from a few small parties of Redpoll flying over. I bumped into PAH at Schoolton and he told me the King Eider had been seen again off Buness and they had trapped a female Northern Bullfinch this morning. He was regaling his Redpoll-trapping exploits when Mark Newell rang again at 1000 hrs "I've got the Buzzard again! Its a Rough-leg! Over Burrashield!" Phil and I ran up to Aesterhoull and scanned the north but couldn't see it! Alan Bull then rang to say it was over him at the School, heading east....but we still couldn't see it!! We were then told it had drifted back to Hill Dyke and we eventually got on it, circling very high in the sky over Burrashield.....and climbing higher. I scoped it from the Kirk and clocked its shape and white tail base, before it disappeared into the cloud! At last! After 12 years and three dips, I can finally add Rough-legged Buzzard to my Fair Isle list!!! I thought that was the last we'd see of it, but half an hour later Mark Breaks had it over Meoness, heading north and I picked it up over Sheep Rock and watched as it drifted west again, dropping in height all the time. I had excellent views as it passed Setter, it even hovered a few times as it headed towards Hoini. It was last seen heading out to sea until it was a tiny speck at 1145. However at 1230 it was seen again over the shop.On census I saw two female Northern Bullfinches (one with a ring) at Klingers Geo. After lunch I went over to Buness to look at the King Eider - a nice, if slightly grotty, bird. As I arrived back at the Obs PAH had the Redpoll tape playing and a couple of birds flew in. One was large and white - a Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll! The Rough-leg was seen departing for North Ron (once more) at 1420, however at 1440 it was seen arriving there - impossible for it to be this bird! We deduced that there must have been two birds!!! Awesome! (Our second bird was reported at North Ron that evening). I spent half an hour that afternoon on the South Harbour beach watching and photographing the assortment of birds there, including the Blyths Reed. A really nice time.
With a Barred Warbler and seven Yellow-browed Warblers plus Little Bunting and an estimated 100+ Mealy and 15 Lesser Redpolls also on the isle it was turning out to be a great day! At 1630, Simon phoned to say there was a Red-flanked Bluetail at Vatnagaard!!!! For a few seconds I contemplated not going for it - it was our third this autumn! But I did. It was a nice bird, though not as obliging as the previous two. On the way up the burn I flushed a grey warbler which disappeared into the marsh and I couldn't refind it. Oh well!
Today was totally different - a strengthening SW'ly wind with few birding highlights to speak of although most people caught up with yesterday's Arctic Redpoll and the Blyths Reed was still faithful to a somewhat breezy beach and the Little Bunting to Haa. The cracking adult male Black Redstart at Busta was well-visited. Three Yellow-broweds were still around.
Its really nice to spend some time with my parents and Dad is enjoying seeing birds he doesn't normally see at home. The kids are already working through all the board games in the house with them and Lubo is quickly learning to accept my Mum!

Saturday 16 October 2010


Its 11.20 pm and I've somehow just deleted the whole of todays blog entry. I am really annoyed! Its too late to retype it all so I'll have to tell you all about it tomorrow. In the meantime here are a few of my pics from today....

Friday 15 October 2010

Mark's King!

Todays highlights in no particular order......Blyths Reed, Lois Smallwood, Little Gull, Little Bunting, Martin Culshaw, King Eider, my Parents,Yellow-browed Warbler.
Alan Bull arrived too!

Thursday 14 October 2010

Becca's Tick! Becca's Pic!

Bird of yesterday should have been mine! I was on SE census and had reached as far as Schoolton with not alot to report, apart from several hundred Greylag Geese doing their utmost to confuse anybody trying to count them! A warbler hopped up on teh wall in the corner of the garden and immediately disappeared over the other side. I had a brief flash of a cocked tail, revealing warm, light orangey undertail coverts. "Was that a Raddes?" I muttered to myself. I (and Lubo) shot round the other side of the garden but could see nothing. I spent the next 20 minutes thrashing Schoolton Ditch and the Quoy veggie patch (except of course I wasn't 'thrashing' any vegetables, Triona!!!) but to no avail. I then got an emergency call from the Obs "There's no power!!" I gave Hollie a few things to try but she phoned me back a few minutes later to say nothing's worked. "Damn!" I asked her to pick me up from Aesterhoull. Ten minutes later she phoned me to say she was parked at Easter Lother but couldn't see me!! "I said Aesterhoull!!! Not Easter Lother! Ya Numpty!" Anyway this delay gave me time to head over to the Shop where the Shetland Wildlife group were photographing a Long-eared Owl sat right out in the open on the windowledge of the Stackhoull Greenhouse.
After lunch and with powere restored to the Obs, I was on plane duty at 3pm so did some office work then after the plane was returning home in the car to change out of my fire kit when Becca phoned to say she had "a probable Dusky at Quoy!"
I was just round the corner so quickly arrived just in time for it to disappear. I dropped off Phil (who was with me in the car) and went home to change. Ten minutes later Becca relocated it behind Quoy and on first views it appeared to be a Raddes, although in the poor light, a very dull one!! It was typically highly mobile ranging between Quoy and Kenaby, but unfortunately never ventured into Burkle garden! I was pleased for Becca - a self-found lifer!

The OBP was still present at Schoolton and Simon (yet again) reported an Arctic Redpoll!!!
The Raddes was still present today and was much more obliging, showing well at Schoolton although the OBP seems to have gone. The Blyths Reed on the other hand has resurfaced on the beach at South Harbour, showing exceptionally well to a small crowd assembled there. A Little Bunting at Haa seems to be the only new arrival today!
Hol's Mum also departed yesterday, leaving the children having to almost fend or themselves at the Obs as I am out all day and Hollie is cooking. They have had fun playing in the new Warden's house so even though we will not now be moving in, at least they can say they were there!

Tuesday 12 October 2010

Cold Shower!

Another calm day but a bit cooler than of late as the light wind moved into the north. Highlight of the day was the arrival of Mark Newell bringing news of the first Little Auk of the autumn from the Good Shepherd. He also had a Sooty Shearwater. Bird of the day could have gone to Simon's Arctic Redpoll, if anyone else had managed to catch up with it. Most people had to be satisfied with great views of the OBP as it wandered around Schoolton garden! My north census was curtailed by a call from the Obs "There's no hot water!!" I dutifully returned to the Obs and several hours later managed (thankfully) to get it all working again! With a couple of hours left of afternoon daylight, I headed north once more but hardly saw a thing. It was nice to be out though - and I'm sure Lubo appreciated it too. He is really loving this 'double census' at the moment, but it doesn't seem to be tiring him out one bit.......unlike me!! With no new rares to photograph today, I've included a few of Becca's nice shots of various-colours of Chiffchaff, Mealy Redpoll and a nicely composed Yellow-browed.
This evening I sneaked home to watch Scotland giving a very reputable performance against the current Football World Champions and although we lost 3-2, we were within ten minutes of clawing back a draw. Fyntan was on the edge of his seat and was really disappointed when Spain scored the winner! A good game nevertheless and better than watching Boring, Boring England!

Monday 11 October 2010

The Late Milvus!

A bright, sunny day with a light NE'ly breeze made it very pleasant to be out, with or without any birds! Thankfully, there were lots to be seen and it was Simon's turn to claim 'Bird of the Day'. I was working my way up Malcolm's Head with Goldcrests, Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and Robins flitting about on the cliffs when I got the call.....a distorted message about 'a probable Blyth's Reed at the Haa'.....'I've left Micky with it. I'm on the way to twitch the OBP at Schoolton!' Simon already has several Blyth's Reed Warblers on his Fair Isle list, but Olive-backed Pipit was strangely missing! Its not now! Anyway, I descended Malcolm's Head and ventured over to the Haa. The bird had gone missing, but a walk along Walli Burn relocated it. I had good though fairly brief views before it flew and was lost again. I birded my way back to the Obs for lunch (with Becca & Phil for company, picking up a Barred Warbler at Midway.
After lunch I lugged a carpet around for a bit then headed back to the SW cliffs. There were lots of birds but limited to a handful of species, with nothing rarer than a couple of Yellow-browed Warblers and the Treecreeper, which has now moved to Hjukni. I was on Hoini late afternoon when Micky Maher phoned to tell me about a Red Kite being mobbed by two Ravens. I turned round and spotted them travelling up the east coast. I phoned round to tell everyone and continued on my way. I met Jack at Gunnawark who reported that North was pretty quiet. He did clock the Kite though.

Some good totals were achieved (see the website for numbers) and it looks fairly settled tomorrow so hopefully some more rares will turn up....

Sunday 10 October 2010

So Much for Optimism!

A light ENE'ly overcast day but with far, far fewer birds. Jack found the best birds today on his southwest census. He first texted me about a Dotterel that had joined the Grey Plover on Hoini, then an hour later he sent me an SOS message asking me for help to relocate a probable Olive-backed Pipit he had just flushed from Vaila's Trees. Phil & I ventured over and we refound it in Lower Stoneybrek garden. We got good but brief views before it flew again, enough to confirm the identity. Nice! It came back and we waited for everyone else to arrive, getting good views of a Yellow-browed Warbler in the meantime, however it flew again of its own accord and was lost. It was seen again briefly in the afternoon but there are still several Obs guests who haven't caught up with it - perhaps tomorrow! Rob found a new Red-breasted Fly on the Hoini cliffs and Si had a couple of Yellow-broweds at Easter Lother. The Barred Warbler lingered at Auld Haa and the Treecreeper at South Raeva. Other interest was provided by various flavours of Redpoll - including a couple of Lessers. Forgive me for perhaps sounding a bit greedy but considering the optimism felt last night, today was a little disappointing!!!

Saturday 9 October 2010


The day started with a moderate SE'ly wind with a bit of low cloud and ended brighter with a gentle Easterly breeze - good conditions for a fall! And there was a sizeable fall - mainly of thrushes and Robins with a few Blackcaps and Goldcrests but, despite me receiving regular texts all day about rares elsewhere in Shetland as I stomped around the rarity-free North, the rarest bird on this isle was yesterday's Treecreeper which was still present in South Raeva. However, a Little Gull, a Red-breasted Fly, a Barred Warbler, a couple of Yellow-browed Warbler and a Hawfinch were seen. The biggest (and I mean BIGGEST ;-)))) arrival today was Phil Harris!!! He and Becca (Nason) have come to stay the last days of our 'reign'! Other well-known faces now here are: Tony 'Tickopoly' & Carol 'Jigsaw' Vials; Bert 'In 1975....' Mitchell; and Mark 'The camera' Breaks. We are sure some decent rarities will arrive over the next couple of days and with Phil, Becca & Mark here to help us, I am sure they will be found.......and well photographed!

Friday 8 October 2010


This post could be entitled "Yet another one gets away" as Rob Hughes had a small thrush-type bird down the cliff at South Naaversgil this afternoon but without a phone (or a 'scope) he had to run all the way to the airstrip to find someone - Me! who was on plane duty. I sent him back up there and joined him, along with Simon, half an hour later. On the way there, I received a phone message from one of our birder guests, Andy Mears "Del, there's a Treecreeper in the Raevas!" Blimey! A real Fair Isle mega! The last one of those was back in 1998 - the year before I arrived! Unfortunately, Rob's bird had just disappeared before we arrived. We spent the next hour or so scanning the geo for it. There were lots of other birds; Rock & Meadow Pipits, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Robins, Dunnocks, Blackcaps, Chaffinches, Bramblings, Siskins etc but no sign of the bird in question. The temptation of another Fair Isle tick meant that I (and Simon) had to leave whilst there was still enough light. We motored to South Raeva but couldn't find the Treecreeper. Andy & Paul (Pearson) then arrived and found it for us, feeding on the almost sheer rockface!! Thanks guys. A nice cold, crisp looking bird, obviously of the continental race familiaris (as have all seven of the other Fair Isle records). Here is one of Paul's pics, plus my blurred effort!

There was a small arrival of birds this afternoon with more Redwings, Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests around than during the (rather quiet) morning plus a few Yellow-browed Warblers, a Little Gull and a Hawfinch to spice things up a little. The weather forecast looks good for the next few days so we are expecting great things - and judging by what has been arriving elsewhere in Shetland this afternoon, I think we have just cause to be optimistic!

The schools broke up for the October Holidays today so most of the High School bairns came home but Lachlan didn't as he is on a Universities trip, seeing what its all about and seeing which ones he might like to go to, however as he wants to do Veterinary his choice is limited to Glasgow or Edinburgh.....and they are only visiting the latter. They get back to Shetland tomorrow, but he is then going to Orkney for a weeks veterinary volunteering!! I hope we will see him at home sometime!!

Wednesday 6 October 2010

Raising the Barr's Hopes!

The morning started with a full-scale search for yesterday evening's "possible PG" and although I did see a darkish-tailed 'loco', it had no other features of PG that I could see during the brief flight view before it disappeared. Seven of our guests also disappeared this morning, including that lovely Essex rabble - the bar seems incredibly quiet this evening!! After the 'loco' thrash, I headed north but the cliffs were pretty quiet but I did hear about a dark morph Honey Buzzard down south. I tried to spy it from Ward Hill, but failed!
This afternoon I was phoned up about (another) 'interesting loco' in Schoolton Ditch (where I had a Gropper two days ago). I ventured over and after a couple of flushes everyone (especially Mr Barr) was getting quite excited - it appeared to have a dark tail - but not much else was seen. To save it being constantly flushed, I decided to trap it. We set a net and caught it on the second push - a Gropper! Unlucky Dougie!
Two Little Gulls were also seen today - an adult in Hesswalls and a first-winter in South Haven. Were these the same birds as yesterday?
A charter plane came in today bringing in some much-needed supplies for the shop. Hurrah! The guests can have toast in the morning!
Hollie had another hard day in the kitchen again today as its Phil's two days off, but I think her evening might have been just as hard!!! It was nice however, with the slightly lower numbers, to be able to have Mum and the kids with us for dinner - and they all greatly enjoyed the chocolate sponge & chocolate sauce pudding.

Tuesday 5 October 2010

"The one that got away" (not another one!)

A brisk southerly wind picked up during the afternoon, to make birding quite difficult. Will Miles and a few others opted then for seawatching and it seems like they made the right choice. First of all an adult Little Gull drifted past South Light, then 15 minutes later a Grey Phalarope whizzed by. Nice! I meanwhile was slogging my way round southwest census for the second time of the day but apart from a few extra Blackbirds and some nice field mushrooms (guess what Hollie will be cooking for the veggies tomorrow?!), it was no better than this morning. As the late began to fade, Will Miles phoned to say he (and Micky Maher, plus the 'never to see a PG' Douglas Barr) had just seen a 'loco' which looked good for PG! I'd just reached Burkle to drop off my fungal hoard so grabbed a mistnet and jumped in the car. We set the net up at the end of the cabbage rig where it was seen to go in and walked it.......Nothing! A thrash of the surrounding area also produced nothing better than a Short-eared Owl. Maybe tomorrow!? This evening the aforementioned Dr Miles delivered an entertaining talk on 'St Kilda - the one that got away' and why there should be a Bird Observatory (and no Great Skuas) on St Kilda - so he's had a busy day!!!

Monday 4 October 2010

Right Hand Search!

Wind moved into the south today but it didn't seem to have much impact on migration. Several visitors were pleased to finally get the Arctic Redpoll, on Lerness and some cracking photos were obtained. The ringed Bluethroat remained at Setter and one person reported a flyover Crossbill. I was on SE census where the highlight was a 'loco' in Schoolton Ditch which on flushing I assumed was the Lancey but it looked too big, too long-tailed. I flushed it again and confirmed it as a Gropper!! Bird of the day however did not come to light until the evening, when I was shown a photograph of a first-winter Little Gull!!!!
Another good sighting was a GBB Gull wearing a yellow darvic ring and black lettering, which reminds me that yesterday there was a Barnacle Goose with a faded green/blue darvic and black lettering.

The couple of hours before tea was spent fumbling around the village hall in a fire suit, heavy boots, big helmet, thick gloves and with breathing apparatus strapped to my back, trying to find a casualty. It was very hot and sweaty - and that's without a hint of a fire!! All in case one day there should be a fire!

Sunday 3 October 2010

Loco - motion! Woo-hoo!

October has started well with the first Lancie of the year on Saturday, however it could have been so much more......Simon called me from Da Water with a "possible Lancie!" I was at South Light at the time but quick-marched all the way to his side, receiving a text from Jack on the way reporting another 'loco' at Restens Geo. I tramped around Da Water for 20 minutes with Si, but to no avail - no sign at all! Damn! I returned to my SW census, turned up a pulse-quickening 'acro' at Meadow Burn which after good views was just a Reed Warbler. I'd got as far as Boini Mire and was enjoying nice views of the Little Bunting there when Si phoned again "I've got another one in Schoolton Ditch - it looks good for Lancie". I ventured over, picking up a few birders on the way. A line of ten or so waded through the reeds and flushed the bird - a tiny, grey, short-tailed loco, which in the few seconds flight view I had, was obviously a Lancie. But that wouldn't be enough for BBRC! So we had to get better views. Fortunately on the next push, it flew across to the Quoy veg patch where I had excellent views of all the salient features, except undertail coverts, but it was such an obvious Lancie I didn't need them!! Quality! At lunch, Jack had no further luck with his 'loco' and I heard about another one, that was lost, near Pund!

So, four 'Locos' - one nailed! On Sunday, I decided to trap the bird to stop it being pestered by birders desperate to get a decent view of it. This was easily achieved and Jack was pleased to get a very special ringing tick and the crowd delighted to see it at close quarters. Hopefully it shall now be left in peace! Yet another 'loco' was discovered near Dronger today. I was on north census and met the finders so went to check it out - just a Gropper! Disappointingly quiet today, despite good conditions - the Arctic Redpoll was seen by one lucky sole with a Barnacle Goose and Stonechat the only arrivals!
New week starts tomorrow........the wind switches to SW and there's a slight chance the boat may go!!!!

Thursday 30 September 2010

Quack! Quack! Oops!

The wind finally dropped be replaced with mist and drizzle! so only marginally better birding conditions! The 'Wood' Duck was flushed from the Gully by one person going ahead of the early morning trap round - much to everyones annoyance. The Buff-bellied Pipit was seen at North Light and the Little Bunting was much appreciated at the shop and the Buff-breasted Sand lingers at Barkland but once again it wasn't until the afternoon, when the mist cleared for an hour or so, that birds began to drop in. First of all, the Duck was relocated in the Gully and once everyone was gathered, (during which time a Hawfinch dropped in), a slow advancement was made towards the edge. Peering over, the duck could be seen asleep on the bank and was quickly identified as a Mandarin! Not a potential first for Britain, but a nice first for Fair Isle!!! At least one person was happy!
Everyone dispersed once again and I headed back north. There were many Songies and more Redwings than of late plus a few Blackbirds and Ring Ouzels. I saw a flock of 25 Siskin (there was over 100 on the isle, including a flock of 60!) and a handful of Yellow-browed Warblers, a Short-eared Owl and a Greenfinch. Best however was found as the light faded fast, just before I headed for home - a Great Grey Shrike at the Mast! Thankfully, Rob had also headed north. He missed the mandarin but got all the way to Dronger and Ward Hill where he was compensated with first a flock of Twite at Dronger containing an nice white Arctic Redpoll and then an Olive-backed Pipit on the back of Ward Hill. Jammy!!!
At log it was evident that birds had come in during the brief spell when the isle was visible fom the air, including alot of finches with 85 Chaffinch, 180 Brambling, 5 Greenfinch and 210 Siskin!!! A Swift was unusual so late and there were a few more common warblers and a couple of Rosefinch.

I've hardly been at Burkle lately but the kids seem well cared for and Dad seems to have accepted that he wasn't going to get off today. I've not told him yet he may not be going tomorrow either!!
I have relocated our lone missing lamb - it has somehow got in with Dave's sheep at Field. I'll need to go and fetch it back sometime. Lachlan phoned up this evening to inform me he spent the day in an abbatoir with the Vet, observing how cows are slaughtered - all part of the experience he needs to get into Vet School next year. He is already volunteering at the Lerwick Vets each Saturday and is going to Orkney in the October holidays to stay with Vet Alan Wilson (Brian & Mary's son) and shadow him for a weeks work experience. With his five 'A's already achieved at Higher, all this experience and his affable personality, I am sure he will do well at his interview at either Edinburgh or Glasgow. Hollie and I are very proud of him!

Wednesday 29 September 2010

Wood or Plastic?

A very strong SE'ly greeted us this morning making birding difficult (and planes a 'No!'), then in the afternoon this was combined with heavy rain, making birding almost impossible!
I ventured round south-west census, searching mainly the cliffs, with a (failed) detour for a Corncrake at Leogh! It seemed quieter than yesterday with a few Ring Ouzels, Redstarts and three Short-eared Owls the highlights. I was on the top of Hoini, lying on my belly peering over the cliff, scanning for migrants below when Simon rang "I've just had a Wood Duck in the Gully!!! It flew south and I've lost it!". Nice! but not worth running for - especially as its been lost. I continued to complete census, trapping a Robin in the Plantation and a nice field mushroom along Hill Dyke! Jack reported that the Buff-bellied Pipit was still frequenting North Light and Si had the other Buffy (the Buff-breasted Sand) still at Barkland. Just one Yb Warb was seen. Over lunch, the rain started and by the time I had finished doing a few post-lunch essentials - answering e-mails, phone messages, the bar totals, mending a toaster...... it was tipping it down and really not worth going - not even for a PlasticWood Duck! It was 'possibly' seen fleeing from a ditch near the airstrip towards Ward Hill by one person - obviously a very wild bird (the duck that is, not Pete - he's a little lamb!).
No planes got in but the Coastguard helicopter did and when I saw it, it crossed my mind that perhaps Hollie's Dad (who was due to depart today) had ordered it - he doesn't do being stuck very well! He hadn't, but apparently he had looked into it!!!
Following one of Hollie's magnificent Lasagnes for dinner, a lively evening in the bar was (apart from the obvious) mainly down to Carrie's excellent 'Birdie Pub Quiz' incorporating 'Birdy General Knowledge', 'Mystery(?) Bird Photos', 'Bird Logos', 'Bird Anagrams' and 'Local Knowledge'. It was highly entertaining and showed many of our guests to be total numpties. Well done Carrie!

Tuesday 28 September 2010

and the come-down!

Following the euphoria of yesterday, I was eager to be out this morning, even although the freshening SE'ly wind meant that my census (SE) was likely to be less productive than the other two areas. It started off good with a Rosefinch in the garden but after that it was a hard slog with not alot to show for it - a Spot Fly in Busta Geo and a 100 strong flock of Brambling at Kenaby. Simon texted me about a RB Fly in Easter Lother and Jack about another one in Linni Geo. Another was found in Guidicum by visiting birders. My morning highlight was watching the Buff-breasted Sand feeding with a Curlew Sand at Barkland. It was a subdued lunchtime table but I reminded them all it was an afternoon island - as witnessed yesterday, so everyone headed out again with extra determination to find something. News of a Lancey on Foula only served to strengthen my resolve!! As the light faded I was resigned to not finding anything but had great views of one of the two Hen Harriers hunting around Kenaby and could have got some great photos if the light had been better! Evening log call indicated one or two birds had arrived; singles of Stock Dove, Corncrake, Moorhen, Water Rail and Long-eared Owl. Songies reached 160, Goldcrests 80, Brambling 140 and Lap Bunts195.
I received a warm welcome from all the kids when I dropped in at home for a quick cuppa late afternoon before I drove up to the Obs to help Hollie in the kitchen. Grandma and Grandad are really great (and believe me we couldn't cope without them) but I think the kids are missing their parents. Hol is cooking (for 40 hungry birders) once again, but just for two days this time to let Phil have his days off.
Anyhoo, with the lack of rares today, heres a photo of yesterday's star capture!

Monday 27 September 2010

Pitta Patter!

What a beautiful day and I'm not just talking about the wall to wall sunshine, blue sky and very light SE'ly wind!! Morning census was effectively just a very nice walk, except for Simon who found a Hornemanni Arctic Redpoll on Hoini whilst trying to relocate a Red-throated Pipit that had just flown over him. I had a few Pied Flys and Goldcrests in the north plus a Yellow-browed Warbler and the Buff-bellied Pipit still at North Light. However, it all kicked off after lunch. I'd got as far as Furse on my way back north when my phone rang. It was Hol "Rob's found a Red-flanked Bluetail in the Gully!" Awesome! Everyone assembled at the top of the Gully and watched as it flitted about, flycatching around the conifer at the entrance to the trap. After half an hour I ran the trap, caught it and briefly showed it to the admiring crowd. After ringing it was released into the Obs Plantation. An hour later news was circulated that there was another one at the Mast!! I meanwhile was at Easter Lother chasing a large pipit but it was extremely wary and flighty so I couldn't get anywhere near it. I texted the AWs who duly arrived with 'scopes, just as I had to leave for plane duty! After the plane I walked briskly up to the Mast to join the elite group who have now seen two Red-flanked Bluetails in Britain on the same day! This second bird was duller than the first - a first-winter female? Whilsty watching this I phoned Si to see if they had relocated 'my' pipit. They had and it's a Richards Pipit! With that sorted, after the 2nd Bluetail I decided to spend the last hour before tea/dark checking the ditches in Vatnagaard and Suka Mire. I turned up two Bluethroats. Birds were obviously coming in all afternoon and final totals at log of 15 Yellow-browed Warblers, 5 Bluethroats and 95 Song Thrush were beaten by the 120 Brambling - some of which ended up in the ringing room as the light faded and they came to roost at the Obs Plantation.
This evening we were treated to a colourful slide show from Chris Gooddie about his quest to see all the Pittas of the world  in a year. It was thoroughly enjoyable and those birds put our Bluetails to shame! Anyway, its been a long, tiring but exhiliarating day and I don't have the energy to sort out photos so you'll have to wait for pics of Bluetail! G'night!

Sunday 26 September 2010

Sylvia Clive!

A cracking day for weather and okay for birds! The rarest bird wasn't nailed - a pre-breakfast report of the PG Tips couldn't be confirmed.........or was it the Nightingale at the Mast, which I didn't get up to see and now wish I had as the lone photograph seems to show an obvious grey supercilium!
The Buff-bellied Pipit at North Light seems to be getting tamer, meaning the boys with the big lenses have managed to get some absolute pin-sharp frame fillers! The Buff-breasted Sand still dances between the bull's feet at Barkland. A first-winter Glaucous Gull yesterday was the first of the autumn and was the rarest new arrival of the day. Today however, a scattering of new-in Garden Warblers gave us hope that something rarer may arrive but it wasn't until the evening that I came across a nice Subalpine Warbler in the Leogh roses and at the same time Simon reported a Hen Harrier past Pund, then another half an hour later at Gilsetter.
Most of my day yesterday was spent chasing and man-handling sheep! It was the big hill caa, to remove the lambs and count the ewes. By the end of the day I had fifteen lambs - eight for the pot and seven for replacements next year, half of which had escaped by the evening as we hadn't got round to mending the fence! Ooops! This morning we (myself, Hollie, Mum, Dad, Fyn, Raven, Ythan & Lubo) set out to recapture the escapees, an operation that was very successful except that there was still one missing! I heard a lamb with a purple spot on its rump (our mark) had been seen near Setter so we motored up there to retrieve it but all we found was one with a big orange splodge on its back - a breakout from Schoolton, so we caught it, tied it up, bundled it into the boot of the car and returned it to its croft. It had escaped again by the afternoon! We patched up our fence, so hopefully ours will stay put and the other one will turn up somewhere! Our hill ewe quota was very low but hopefully will increase on the next gather in a fortnight!

Thursday 23 September 2010


The wind switched from a nice, gentle SW'ly to a cool, brisk N'ly today. One benefit of which was that it blew away the low cloud that was lingering on the hill yesterday which meant that planes got in, bringing many anxious birders desperate to see PG Tips and/or Buff-bellied Pipit. The former was indeed still frequenting Upper Leogh garden and all the new arrivals were driven straight there when they landed and were absolutely delighted to get excellent views. Their thoughts then turned immediately to the Buff-bellied Pipit, but alas Jack reported 'No sign!' at North Light - hardly surprising given the strength and direction of the wind! It'll no doubt still be here somewhere! The Pipit searchers were however compensated by finding a cracking Hornemanni Arctic Redpoll near Easter Lother. The Buff-breasted Sandpiper remains at Barkland, Citrine Wagtail was at South Harbour pre-breakfast, Yellow-browed Warbler at Vaila's Trees and Rosefinch at Taft. Jack stumbled upon a Corncrake near Bullock Holes which, after walking along the road a few yards allowing him to get "amazing views" then promptly flew and disappeared into Furse!

The most important event of the day however was the arrival of Phil the Chef!!!! Yippee! Not because we are sick of Hollie's cooking - far from it, she is an excellent cook - it means she can at long last get a well-deserved break from it! Becki is looking forward to having Phil in the kitchen again too!!!

Wednesday 22 September 2010

The Best Cuppa!?

A great day!! Its close to midnight so don't have the energy to think/write but suffice to say that Fair Isle came of age with her 21st Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler!!!! I had heard there was a (probable) Grasshopper Warbler near Leogh at 7.30am, then whilst on SE census got another text from its finder saying it was still on show and "Worth a look". I was nearby so ventured over where the consensus seemed to be it was indeed just a Gropper, the bird duly hopped up on the wall and I declared that it "looks like a PG to me!" (I had already seen four on the isle over the years, so had an advantage). And so it was! Nobody could have wished it to perform better than it did over the next two hours - frequently sitting out in the open and hopping onto walls! Awesome!! And Jack has since become a 'loco' fan!

Simon had already reported that the Buff-bellied Pipit was still at North Light, whilst the other Buffy (the dainty wader) remained at Barkland. Throughout the day a few Yellow-browed Warblers (well three) turned up, a Barred Warbler, three Rosefinch and Simon found a Citrine Wagtail briefly frequenting the Havens, the new Obs pools before I clocked it flying over Dutfield on the way home to lunch. - the last time it was seen!
Anyway, aside from birds.....the cloud base was up and down all day which eventually meant that no planes got in leaving some frustrated birders at Tingwall and some frustrated Obs workmen on Fair Isle!!!
Right, must sleep........roll on tomorrow. Lancie? Pech? Grays?

Tuesday 21 September 2010


A quieter day than yesterday, despite seemingly great conditions with a growing easterly breeze and showers. Thankfully the Buff-bellied Pipit was still present to brighten up my morning north census, although a few minutes previously I'd also been watching a spritely Yellow-browed Warbler in the Kirn o' Scroo. Simon had another YBW in the Gully and the Buff-breasted Sand was still at Barkland. Still lots of Lap Bunts around and also Meadow Pipits and Twite.

Ann Smith's party left us on the Good Shepherd today and were replaced with a few familiar faces. I hope they (especially those poor kids) survived the crossing - they should have as it was a smooth sea first thing.

At Burkle, our sheep flock has grown with Iain Stout selling us three nice Texel lambs, which promptly escaped from the field - twice in one morning!!!

Monday 20 September 2010

Jack Scores!

Just a couple of photos for now....

Saturday 18 September 2010


Todays highlight was the two fine Buff-breasted Sandpipers at Barkland..... although the arrival of three of 'the Essex Boys' was also a delight!! Jack was ecstatic to have finally caught up with one of his most wanted birds and if he'd got out into the field sooner, he'd have found them himself! Curlew Sandpiper, Slav Grebe, Black Redstart and four Snow Buntings were also all new in.

The wind has finally eased, though what there is is pretty cold for the time of year! This did mean however that, after several days of 'No Hope!' the planes got in. The boat didn't go though as there was still too much swell, so the plane did two extra runs to get everyone where they needed to be. So, as well as Pete, Clive and Gary (the Essex Boys) we are also host to Ann Smith's entourage of family and friends, some very, very young and others not so! Therefore the Obs is now almost full to bursting with hungry mouths - a challenge to poor Hollie's portion control!!! Hang in there Hol, just a few more days until Phil returns!!

We just have two workmen here now (not counting islanders Brian, John, Darren and Ian) working to get the project finished. Ray is desperately painting the Warden's house as fast as he can before the carpet fitters arrive on Monday. Stevie has downed his joinery tools to help him out!

At Burkle, Fyntan turned eleven yesterday, so he has now caught up with Lowri again! Hol's Mum, Dad and the kids all came up to the Obs for tea, where we sang the obligatory 'Happy Birthday' as Hollie paraded the cake in. However, Fyn only managed to blow out ten of the candles in one breath so I told him that was the 'age test' and he'd failed and would have to stay ten for another year before he can try again. I don't think he believed me!

Monday 13 September 2010

On the List!

Keep forgetting to mention that the BOURC have recently announced that the 2008 Citril Finch has been accepted onto Category A of the British List.


Autumn birding is picking up with increased numbers of common migrants now. However we are just lacking the rarities with best birds of recent days being an elusive Short-toed Lark and a Common Buzzard that went straight through. Yesterday (12th) a few nice waders dropped in....... a Curlew Sandpiper on Buness was joined an hour later by a Little Stint, then a Pectoral Sandpiper with the Golden Plover at Barkland flew down to Da Water, where it remained for the rest of the day - and was very approachable.

Work on the Obs building is creeping along, the garage has now been completely re-clad and the roof finished. The joinery work in the Warden's accommodation has been completed and the painter is in now, doing his thing before the carpet fitter comes to finish up. However we have heard that he cannot come until November, so it looks like we shall never live in it!! There is still a leak in the roof (between pods) to sort out and a fair few facings etc to go on the outside. The main guesthouse internally is however pretty much finished - even the troublesome showers!!!

The highlight at Burkle in the past few days has been Ythan's seventh birthday on 11th! It was a bit of let-down really as we (his parents) have been so busy/disorganised that we ended up having to buy almost all his presents from Stackhoull Stores which, whilst being a great place for more than all your everyday essentials, is hardly the place to go birthday shopping for a seven year old - or anybody for that matter!! He did have a joint birthday party with Oisin Bracken in the hall the day before though which everyone seemed to enjoy immensely, especially Grandma!!

In preparation for becoming crofters we are now proud owners of ten Cheviot ewes!!

Thursday 9 September 2010

Just say "I do!"

How the time flies!! I've been so busy that am now well behind with blog updates so I'll give a brief update of September so far, starting with a bird that actually arrived on the last day of August.......the second Arctic Warbler of the autumn already. This was actually discovered and trapped by one of the four couples who were here for 'the interview weekend' to find a suitable pair to take over running the Obs next season after Hollie and I leave. Nice one Ian & Sally - a great find and capture! After finding one himself two weeks earlier, Jack was delighted to be allowed to ring this - his dream bird - himself. Following release, it showed well intermittently in the Obs Plantation that afternoon and the first two days of September. The first Slavonian Grebe of the autumn, Icterine warbler, 3 Barred Warbler, 7 Rosefinch and a scattering of common warblers were also seen on 1st but the real highlight of the day was the Lapland Bunting invasion. A flock of 50+ was seen on Ward Hill and many smaller parties were also seen giving a total of at least 185 for the log - over twice the previous record!! A Wryneck the following day eluded most people but most caught up with at least one of the three Barred Warblers present and the five Rosefinch whilst they couldn't avoid seeing and hearing Lapland Buntings, of which there were (just) 140! Apart from the continuing presence of large numbers of these buntings, other highlights of the first week or so of the month have been the passage of common migrants with all the common warblers, flycatchers, Redstart, Whinchat and Pipits passing through in varying numbers. For a full rundown of daily numbers, please look at the Latest Sightings page on the FIBO website. A reminder that autumn really is progressing fast has been the arrival of the first few (winter) thrushes and finches with a handful of Song Thrushes, Fieldfares, Chaffinch and Brambling all dropping in on the past few days. Following these migrants have been raptors with peak day counts of 11 Kestrels and a record seven Sparrowhawks.

Aside from the good numbers of migrants the main news has been the appointment of the new FIBO Warden & Administrator. The press seems to have been full of the news however for those that don't read the papers.........following a very stressful few days on the isle (as much for myself, Hollie and the Directors present as for the prospective candidates), David & Susannah (and baby Grace) Parnaby were chosen to be our successors. It will inevitably be a sad day when I hand over the reins, but I do wish them every success in their new venture and hope they approach the role with the commitment and energy it demands (and FIBO deserves) and that they also sample the immense enjoyment that we have had during our 12 seasons of running FIBO and living on Fair Isle. Thankfully, we are still doing the latter!!!
The new building is an excellent place to stay and all our guests have been very impressed with it and we have now even held our first Wedding Reception!!!! The marriage of Jimmy Stout's cousin Marilyn to Gordon took place in the Chapel and later (because the Village Hall is out of action due to having its roof replaced) the whole island were invited to a buffet meal, with music and dancing at the Obs. It was hard work for all the staff but we pulled it off and everyone agreed it was an excellent venue and a truly great evening!

Okay, thats enough words for one posting.....

Wednesday 18 August 2010

"I just love em"

Autumn is starting to pick up with more warblers appearing. Willow Warblers (eg 20 on 14th) make up the bulk but a scattering of Garden Warblers, a couple of Blackcap plus Grasshopper and Reed Warbler have also been seen. Highlights however have been the delightful Wood Warblers (up to three from 11th), Barred Warblers (3+ from 14th) and best of all an Arctic Warbler (14th-15th). The latter was discovered by my AW Jack Ashton-Booth (remember that name folks!) who was ecstatic to find one of his "dream birds" and to watch Arctic, Barred and Garden Warblers all together on top of one small bush at Shirva! All the photos with this post are his. Other recent sightings include Blackbird & Common Rosefinch (10th), Kestrel (11th), Sand Martin (14th) and a trickle of common waders, including Ruff (11th & 12th), Green Sandpiper (11th & 16th) and two Black-tailed Godwits. The breeding Sedge Warblers are now feeding young whilst the Swallows at the Mast are trying for a second brood!! Lets hope the marauding cats don't find them!
At the Obs, work continues with the building completion and going through the snagging list - including persuading the water from the showers to run down the drains instead of into the bedrooms - which will be nice!
At home, kids went back to school today, except for Lachlan - who is stuck here due to rain & mist/low cloud preventing the planes from getting in. Hollie and I have become proud (grand)parents again as our broody hen (actually Triona's hen we have borrowed) has hatched out two of the six eggs she has been sitting on for the past three weeks. We have admitted defeat in our fight with the hen mites. Despite part dismantling, scrubbing, spraying, fumigating and powdering the hen house some of the little blighters remain alive. I have started to make a new, larger one and will have to burn the infested building. The ponies have been getting a fair amount of exercise lately with Hollie and the kids as well as the Kenaby crowd taking them out almost daily. They certainly need it as Bijoux has taken to ducking under the electric fence when the power is off at night and stuffing her face on a field of fresh grass!! We have been involved with alot of baling recently. Lifting the sileage bales becomes back-breaking after a while but the hay bales are just a joy to work with. We now have a nice stack of wrapped sileage bales on our croft, ready for the sheep in the winter, although Triona's cow has already leant over the fence and made a start on a few!!

Monday 9 August 2010


Its still pretty quiet on the birding front with just occasional Willow Warbler, a couple of Garden Warblers but lots of Wheatears on the passerine front. A trickle of Waders have provided variety with Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Knot, Sanderling, Dunlin and Black-tailed Godwit all been noted in very small numbers (1-5) along with the higher numbers of Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover and Curlew. A Short-eared Owl is the only other thing of note. Swallows have now fledged from the airstrip shed and the new Obs garage. The nights are really drawing in fast and it was very dark and still last night - the boys thus trapped 55 European Storm Petrels in just an hour and a half but there was not even a sniff of a Leach's.
The new Obs building workforce have been taking advantage of the nice spell of weather to crack on with the garage and, although still monstrously huge, it looks much nicer now. Stairs are beginning to appear in the Warden's house! Meanwhile, Puffinn workcampers (supervised by Simon) have been completing the stone path around the outside of the building which was started by Sue (Simon's mum) and they have also commenced with rabbit-proofing the garden and bushes.
We shut the Obs last week, so that all staff could get their holidays in, which gave myself and Hollie time to go out to Shetland for a few days hard labour! We took Lachlan with us to help and spent some time with his girlfriend, Mhairi, and her parents. We all went out to lunch at the Hay's Dock Restaurant to celebrate the two teenagers exceptional Higher Exam results:-)
Myself and Hollie also celebrated TEN years of marriage that day........with a vegeburger supper in the B&B that evening!! Who said romance is dead!?
Whilst out, Hollie took the opportunity to go for a riding lesson and the instructor was extremely complimentary about her riding abilities which has given her the necessary confidence boost to continue with teaching Storm and the children and once back she even (successfully) took Storm for a ride completely on her own!!
(Hol's) Mum has continued to hold the Burkle fort and kept the three younger kids (and dog) safe, fed, entertained and busy for which myself and Hollie are extremely grateful. With the accommodation up here not available for them, it would be impossible to do our jobs effectively without her.
The Burkle chicken mites have succeeded in keeping the poor hens out of their hut for weeks now, except when they need to lay an egg. Thus, we stripped the said hut back to its bare boards and nuked it with a sulphur candle and then sprayed the crevices with insect spray. Tomorrow we will reassemble it, dust the chickens with mite powder and let them back in. Hopefully that will be enough!?
The Big Event on the isle this summer has been the multi-Birthday Bash at Setter Barn with several people celebrating (?) significant landmark birthdays. A cracking night involving lots of live music, lots of dancing, lots of banging tunes and even a bit of impromptu (but totally appropriate!?) karaoke!!! The wee sma' hours came round far too fast that night! There were lots of aching heads, arms and legs the following day......but (unfortunately) that didn't stop the obligatory Sunday footie match!!!

Wednesday 28 July 2010

Just another day, another year older!

The first Willow Warbler of the autumn - a yellow juvenile - was in the Plantation on 26th, with further singles on subsequent days at Burkle and Chalet. Also on 26th, the first juvenile Dunlin were at Easter Lother and a Sanderling on North Haven beach plus a Great Northern Diver in Finniequoy. A couple of Siskin have been knocking about whilst the singing male Sedge Warbler at Schoolton Ditch has found a mate! He has been observed chasing and feeding her and one observer thought she was carrying nesting material!!
At the Obs, things are happening on the building front once again. A team of five men arrived yesterday (27th) to begin making sense of what is still to be done, what materials are here and what still needs to be purchased.
The Good Shepherd also ran yesterday and returned laden with 8 huge pallets of stuff tightly wrapped in black plastic, all addressed to me! Wow! Lots of presents for my birthday!!? Well, not quite, it was furniture from Hollie's parents for Burkle and the Warden's house at the Obs. It is now all stacked up in the workshop at Burkle, all that is except for my & Hollie's new bed, which I put together immediately as we had removed our futon base earlier in the day in preparation. After 11 years of sleeping virtually on the floor we now have a proper bed!!! Thanks Mum!
The kids (well 75% of them) made me some delightful Birthday cards and I even got a beautifully drawn effort from Callum. In the evening, following the obligatory rendition of 'Happy Birthday' at the Obs dinner table I received more cards, a toolbox, cordless drill and a chainsaw.........and some glowing balls!!?!

Saturday 24 July 2010

Its a Wrap!

A Common Rosefinch was discovered near the shop yesterday (23rd) evening. It was trapped in the Plantation today and found to be an adult female. A Quail was flushed near Kenaby, four Common Crossbills were at Schoolton and a Green Sandpiper in the Gully.
Mali (Fulmar) season started this week and its been quite amusing introducing our young volunteers to this (smelly) aspect of Observatory work!! Storm Petrel ringing also kicked off but the first night was so bright that only six were trapped - all who attended were delighted though!
Its been a hectic three of days cutting & baling silage around the isle. It is very much a community effort. One person goes round on a tractor cutting a section of ever croft's crop, another wuffles, then the rows are tidied up by hand rake, ready for the baler. The tractor comes round again the following day baling the small round bales, several bodies then load them onto a trailer and deliver to the plastic-wrapping and stacking team. Unfortunately, today with only a couple of crofts left to do a prolonged heavy shower went through, soaking the grass and workers alike. Thankfully, it did stop after 30 minutes or so without harming the product too much and we were able to finish just after 2pm today........until the next dry spell! We also clipped our ten sheep yesterday, with help from Becki, Lachlan, Calum and the 'assistance' of a couple of FIBO guests! Hollie's little muscles are now complaining!!!
Personal highlight of the past few days has been the return home of Fyntan, Raven & Ythan. Its great to see their jovial little faces, all brown from their adventure to the 'tropical south' complete with new haircuts, shoes, clothes etc.

Thursday 22 July 2010

High Hirundines!

Pretty quiet on the birding front lately with Sanderling, Swift, lingering Garden Warbler and Willow Warbler the highlights. Some excitement on this mornings early trapround was provided by a Swallow (a rare capture here) in the Vaadal. Simon sprinted after it, losing a boot in the process, splashed through the stream and expertly guided the bird into the catching box.......only to discover it was one he ringed in the nest at the Mast a fortnight ago!! Speaking of Swallows, the nest in the new Obs garage must be (judging by the noise and pile of poo below) ready to ring now, however (such is the enormity of the said construction) I don't have a long enough ladder to reach them!! I may have to call in the Fire Brigade!
We are getting close to finalising a team to continue with the Obs building work and hope to have half a dozen men, under the authority of the Northmen, here next week to press on with it. Who knows, I may be able to get to live in the new Obs after all - instead of having to commute all the way from Burkle each day!!
At Burkle, Lachlan has some company, other than the dog. His friend Calum Williamson from Lerwick has come over for ten days to get involved. He also has (as does Lachlan) a biology project to devise and carry out, however the one he came up with is not really suitable at this time of year so I am trying to help him come up with another worthwhile project - not that easy to do in such a short space of time. Any suggestions? LC is doing his on Puffins and their breeding success related to diet - a bit of a cheat as that is part of what we at FIBO do but I suppose its more the exercise than the results that matter.
Ok, Robert's just come in........better go and do the Bar order!

Sunday 18 July 2010

Back of the Net!

The first real signs of autumn this weekend with a few waders on show; Little Stint, Green Sandpiper, 2 Bar-tailed Godwit and Sanderling. There were also a few ducks with Pintail, 5 Teal and 2 Wigeon. Two Grey Herons were also new and a Garden Warbler was trapped in Plantation. Pride of place however goes to the first-summer Mute Swan in North Haven - only our ninth record!
Hollie was cook today and with a big Sunday lunch to prepare, I offered to help her this morning, which meant we also got tea prepared for later and were out of the kitchen by 1415hrs.
After lunch, Lachlan cajouled a few of us into a game of football and so after a couple of hours of four-a-side on the South Light 'pitch' there are some weary bodies in the Obs this evening!!

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