Monday 24 May 2010

(Where's your) Spirit of Adventure?

Just one bird worth mentioning today - a stunning male Red-throated Pipit at Lower Leogh, found by volunteer Becki Rosser as she was making her way home to the Puffinn late this afternoon. Nice! It certainly lifted spirits on a day of cold NW'ly winds!
Speaking of spirits, the NTS Cruiseship The Spirit of Adventure arrived today with 280 passengers onboard. We were all up and ready to meet them at 0830 with Welcome Packs, to give them Guided Walks and with a wonderful dispaly of crafts and tasty treats at the Hall. However, as in every year they never managed to get ashore (due to a slight swell) and eventually gave up and sailed away. What a waste of a morning for all concerned!!

Sunday 23 May 2010

For Spinners & Historians

With just over a week left in the auction for the historic spinning wheel made by local master craftsman Stewart Thomson, the current highest bid (in aid of FIBOT funds) now stands at £800. Anybody who knows Stewart's work will know that it is a beautiful, fully-functioning piece of art made from wood from the old & new Observatories and will be a much sought after piece of history, whilst also producing perfect yarn. Get your bids in by 31st May by e-mailing or phoning 01595 760258

Posh 'n' Bex!

The weather, as is often the case, has turned from warm bright sunshine, to mist and drizzle! Although this has hampered visibility, the feeling is that there has not been much in the way of new arrivals - apart from that is of waders and Dunlin in particular. A very good count of 39 yesterday became a record island count of 172 today, scattered around the Skadan! A total of 39 Ringed Plover were in with them, but unfortunately nothing else. A couple of Wood Sandpipers and a Green Sandpiper were on the scrape and a Greenshank flew over.

Highlights of the past few days have been thin on the ground but the first Swift floated around in the mist on 21st and a Rosefinch graced Vaila's Trees the following day - a touching tribute!

A reeling Grasshopper Warbler at Schoolton was nice and a handful of other common warblers were dotted about but it was Hirundines, totalling over 100 (mainly Swallows) that dominated migrant passerine counts.

Our friends Phil (Harris) and Becca (Nason) have arrived for a week with us at Burkle - as the Obs is NOT READY! Its really nice to see them, but its a shame for them that the birding has quietened down again. They are on a mission to (try and) relieve us of the stress over the Obs building work. Much needed after this latest setback......

Earlier this week, the builders informed us that the Obs is not going to be ready for the (next) target date of 26th May. I had already had to postpone opening on 1st May and cancelled a whole load of bookings and was told that 26th May would be "No problem!" Apparently, building control have some issues with some of the door frames and they must be replaced. I have thus had the unenviable task yet again of having to contact a second suite of bookings and give them the bad news. Most people have been very understanding of our plight but I am fretting because there are three people on my list that I have not managed to contact! I have cancelled all bookings up to 12th June so far and will have to wait and see how long this work will take to complete to see if they can make this next deadline. I'll keep you posted....

Thursday 20 May 2010

Things are Hotting Up!

I can't believe its been a week since my last posting!! There has been alot happening in that week as not only has the temperature improved markedly (reaching a scorching 15 C today), so has the birding with a flurry of arrivals.

The last two days alone have seen the likes of Golden Oriole, Bluethroats, Red-backed Shrike and Rustic Bunting plus 'lesser' year ticks such as Cuckoo, Yellow Wagtail, Garden Warbler and Spotted Flycatcher. Pride of place however must go to the (ship-assisted or not) White-throated Sparrow which Simon discovered on 19th outside the new Obs, where it was still present today. It was an extremely obliging bird, coming to within a few feet of the admiring crowd of Obs staff, Researchers and the Shetland Wildlife Tours group. Although not of the striking black & white striped variant, it being the duller 'tan-striped' morph, it was very much appreciated by all.

The past week has also seen a Short-toed Lark, a scattering of common warblers, including Reed Warbler (15th), a Jackdaw (18th), a few Tree Pipits, hirundines and finches, including up to five Goldfinch.
There has been a flurry of activity amongst the seabirds too with much nest-building and egg laying in evidence, although perhaps not as much as we would perhaps have hoped for!
Aside from birds......Lachlan turned 17!!! and he is in the midst of his Higher exams. The weather has been fantastic for several days - light, warm, dry winds with lots of sunshine meaning Hollie and the kids and the ponies have been able to progress with handling and riding skills. Lubo however is finding it all a bit warm and returns from census each day absolutely exhausted. If only he'd walk some of the way instead of running everywhere he'd cope much, much better! Our 'new' car developed an oil leak and a brake cable leak within days of arrival!!! With help from our friendly Obs workmen, both are (fingers crossed) now sorted.

We have been busy getting the Obs ready, the boys bringing stuff out of storage and the girls cleaning and putting away and its looking great, but...........

Thursday 13 May 2010

Car Trouble!

At last! S'ly winds, well SW'ly actually but good enough! A text from Jack first thing informed me there was a Wood Sandpiper at the Chalet pond. I learnt later that it somehow escaped from a trip-wire wader trap!!! The Heligoland traps did catch a Sedge Warbler, a Chiffchaff, two Dunnocks, a Robin, a male Crossbill and a female Goldfinch. The two Dotterel linger on Busta Brecks and there was a Common Sandpiper in South Haven. Bird of the day however was the male Bluethroat at the Obs!

On Wednesday, Ann Cleeves returned with a couple of German journalists. I showed them around the new obs then took them to see some seabirds and to talk about our work, the island, birders.....and Blue Lightning. This morning I repeated it all again (except for the Blue Lightning bit) with Mark Steven from Radio Scotland's 'Out of Doors' show. If you happen to be up early on Saturday (6.30 am) you can take a listen! If not, its repeated at 11.00am on Sunday!

We're having a bit of a vehicle disaster this month! The people carrier stopped working for no apparent reason yet again, just a couple of weeks after coming back from a three month stint at the garage in Lerwick, wher they could find no fault. It is now back out there but as soon as it arrived, it started first time!! They have agreed to run some tests. Next, the van ran out of diesel ( I shan't embarrass the poor AW who did it by naming him, but its the one with the driving licence!) and as a consequence the fuel filter has now become blocked and it won't start. I've ordered another but it'll take a week or so to get here! Then today, our trusty Mondeo has all but given up the ghost. The clutch has been on its way out for a few weeks now and it has now got so bad that it can't make it up the hills without a huge run-up. Luckily, we have found a temporary replacement - an old Escort that will hopefully keep us going for a few months. Thankyou Rob Fray!!!

Monday 10 May 2010

Raven is Nine!

Light SE'ly then NE'ly winds brought in a few common migrants on 7th, including a couple of Pied Flycatcher and at least three Sedge Warblers which were both new for the year. A scattering of hirundines, Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps plus the odd Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Grasshopper Warbler and a few finches made it feel like something really was happening! A Common Crossbill flew over on 8th and the following day, Adam had a most unexpected visitor to one of his Wheatear feeding stations on the west cliffs - a Little Bunting!!!

The two Dotterel remained throughout, commuting between Busta Brecks and Meoness.

The Ann Cleeves weekend went really very well. Copious amounts of food was prepared and cooked by our Puffinn Ladies and Hollie plus Ingrid Eunson and a few islanders. Shetland Smoked Salmon & Mussels plus wine and Shetland Beer had been provided by our guests. Around 100 people gathered at the Hall on Sunday evening to participate. Everyone ate heartily and there was still loads of food left! We then listened to Ann talking about and reading from her Shetland Quartet of crime novels, interspersed with music from Fair Isle's worldfamous fiddle player, Chris Stout. This was followed with more music from Chris and he even played 'Happy Birthday' to Robyn Wiseman (who turned seven that day) and to our Raven (who was to be nine today). Several islanders then got their instruments out and tunes played on until the power went off at 11.30pm. Some people continued to party after that!!!!!

This morning arrived with a cold cold northerly wind, with brief bright periods between the hail showers and snow showers! It has to be the coldest day in May I have ever known. The first Cruiseship of the season arrived at 08.30 and must have wondered how far north they had actually arrived!!! Nevertheless, all 150 passengers that disembarked seemed satisfied with their views of seabirds, the museum, stained glass windows and the island crafts and enjoyed their chats with FIBO experts and 'the natives'.

Its hard to believe that my little girl is NINE but we barely had time, once the kids were all ready for school, to let Raven open a few presents before I had to go to meet the ship. She opened the rest after school (luckily the postman arrived with some during the day!!). It was a modest pile, I think the toy Lubo (Collie dog) and the Harry Potter DVD set were the favourites but she seemed pleased with them all.

Meanwhile, the ponies must have thought it was their Birthday too as we moved them to a new pasture today, bursting with new fresh grass. We'll have to ration their access to it for the first week or so, or else they will balloon!!!

Thursday 6 May 2010

Blue Lightning!

Barely a bird to mention today - apart that is from the Great Grey Shrike I had for a few moments at Field Ditch this morning. Whilst texting the news out, it disappeared and was not seen again!!!
A number of trace nests are now on the Kittiwake plots and Guillemot attendance is very high so the first eggs must be imminent.
The Good Shepherd did her first Lerwick run of the year and returned with the first visitors for Ann Cleeves' book celebration this weekend - including the author herself. All six passengers survived the trip well -despite an increasing cool NE'ly wind. Ann Cleeves has written a quartet of crime novels set in Shetland and the last of these 'Blue Lightning' is based on Fair Isle - with a murder in the 'fictional' Bird Observatory!!!! Visit her website for more information.
The New Obs is coming on, slowly - but that is hardly surpising as there only five men there at present! Two more are due tomorrow! The Obs team are however making the most of it in the Puffinn and have spent the day cooking for the meal at the Hall on Sunday, whilst Carrie has been acquainting herself with our brand new printer/photocopier and preparing Welcome Packs for the B&B guests and the first Cruiseships, due in next week.

Tuesday 4 May 2010

More Colour!

A fine summer-plumaged Black-tailed Godwit arrived on 2nd, adding a further splash of colour to that provided by the Hoopoe. It was still present the following day, however the Hoopoe had departed. An early start on 3rd to count Tysties provided the first Arctic Terns of the year and also a nice drake Shoveler on Da Water. Around 160 Golden Plover (nearly all sporting their black summer breast and belly) is an excellent count. A Sparrowhawk and Kestrel both arrived, whilst the local female Peregrine seems to have had an encounter with a Fulmar and (sadly) appears to be oiled. There has been little to report on the passerine front, though the first Common Whitethroat was seen and 50+ Redwing is a good May count, a handful of Swallows and 3-4 Sand Martins, a couple of Blackcaps, a few Willow Warblers, Siskins, Bramblings and Chaffinches and a single Common Redpoll.

The two Dotterel re-appeared today, on Meoness whilst Kittiwakes were observed collecting nesting material and a Raven was seen carrying a Razorbill egg.

Monday 3 May 2010

Upupa epops

A Hoopoe, spotted by Simon near the Plantation on the evening of 1st, it was typically wary of observers allowing only distant views, but was still a wonderful sight nevertheless! It was still present but just as elusive the following day!

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