Sunday 29 May 2011

Nightingale followed by night in ale.

Yesterday saw a lot of action centred around the Auld Haa, where Will found a Thrush Nightingale whilst on census and then in the evening a couple of us popped down to watch the Champions League final over a couple of beers. Thanks to Tommy, Liz and Henry for putting up with us, although as Barcelona fans (from New York!) they had a good night regardless of the company! The Thrush Nightingale was a lot less showy than the Catalan maestros, with many people going away without seeing it and the majority who did only getting flight views and the briefest of glimpses in a bush.

Four Common Rosefinches have been around the island including two in the Obs garden. Views are pretty good as they are ofen only a couple of feet from the window and two were spiral trapped this evening (the trap is still doing very well in the garden thanks Jack!).
A selection of scarce migrants are still around, although most seem to be lingering birds rather than new arrivals. It looks like quite a bit of westerly wind forecast for the next week, although hopefully with a few calmer days to let us get on with some of the jobs that we've had to put off in the recent blustery conditions.
The view from the kitchen window in the recent showery conditions.
For what it's worth, my prediction for tomorrow is a large raptor of some description...

Friday 27 May 2011

A Common Rosefinch (which turned out to be a young male as, despite the brown plumage, it was heard singing) in the garden first thing in the morning was a promising sign, although it was perhaps a bit of a false dawn as there seemed to be not many new birds about. Not that we're complaining as there were still a couple of Red-backed Shrikes, three Icterine Warblers, a Marsh Warbler, another Rosefinch at Chalet and a variety of common migrants. It all makes Log quite entertaining, although hopefully I'll have an easier time than last night when Grace was allowed to stay up late for the Fair Isle Thursday and spent the whole time at Log heckling me. It's quite hard to concentrate with a two year old shouting 'I love Common Whitethroat' or whichever species I had just called out!

There's always something special about migrants on fences, cliffs etc. A few Spotted Flycatchers have been dotted around the island today making the most of any perches they can find.

A week of westerlies and rain are forecast, not great by any means for migration (or trying to get our seabird work done), but as ever, this is Fair Isle and anything is possible. Any predictions for what will turn up in the next few days? Leave them as comments if you do.

After three years at Loch of Strathbeg where up to 60,000 Pink-footed Geese appear, it seems a bit strange to get excited by just one of them! Nevertheless, this was a nice bird to see on Meoness today.


The east wind had indeed brought more birds; it was by no means a massive fall, but a scattering of migrants included three Icterine Warblers, two Bluethroats (both females), two Red-backed Shrikes (both males), Marsh Warbler, Quail, Crossbill and a stonking male Snow Bunting. Sadly, as I was censusing the more exposed North of the island, I managed to miss all of these birds! Hopefully being in SE tomorrow will help me to catch up with a few goodies. The winds are set to go to the SW, which isn’t so good but I suspect that one or two late arrivals from today will emerge at some stage tomorrow.

As I didn't see any of the scarce migrants, here's a picture of two of our resident birds (Peregrine and Arctic Skua) getting to know each other.
Speaking of new arrivals, Charlotte our new domestic volunteer arrived on the Good Shepherd today, which is always a lively introduction to Fair Isle! Charlotte will replace Gillian who we will all be sad to see go as she has been a welcome addition to the team during the last few weeks. As well as doing a grand job of the cleaning and domestic jobs around the Obs, Gillian has managed to knit a Fair Isle hat during her time here – no mean achievement and well worth the round of applause she received from the islanders at tonight’s social event.
Rock and roll: the Good Shepherd arriving at Fair Isle today. Two Stormies and a couple of Blue Fulmars were seen from the crossing, possibly attracted by the 'chum' provided by a couple of the passengers!
Well, I'd best get some sleep and, as ever, we head to bed wondering what tomorrow will bring...

Thursday 26 May 2011

The Storm Before the...

Stormy seas from South Light, but sadly no passage of Pom or Long-tailed Skuas.

I'm not sure that it could be called calm now, but after some very windy days the weather is improving (it’s not gale force at least) and, perhaps more importantly, the wind is very easterly and we’ve got the rain to drop birds in. So far this morning a Red-backed Shrike has been found, hopefully a sign that when the rain stops there will be more out there?
Since my last post it’s been the usual busy time here, with a slight break in the weather yesterday letting us fit in a morning of BTO Atlas work and a Fair Isle Wren survey to add to our daily census and ringing activities. A few scarce birds have been around with the Rustic Bunting now living around the Obs where it has been sharing the garden with the Subalpine Warbler, an Icterine Warbler (first seen on the cliffs then trapped in the Gully), Reed Warbler and a few other migrants. A Bluethroat put in a fly-by appearance at Easter Lother and there has been a reasonable movement of hirundines and a few other common migrants trickling through.
A cruise ship arrived yesterday, so over 100 Americans were able to enjoy Fair Isle and they all seemed to have a great time, we have a few more ships due in during the summer and they are always a pleasant break from the usual routine (if there is such a thing on Fair Isle!).
The wind has had an effect on the boats and planes and we had the added excitement of volcanic ash on Tuesday, with the whole island shrouded in a strange smoggy haze in the morning that left the windows and vehicles coated in dust (someone more dedicated than I at establishing its origins confirmed it tasted gritty not salty!).
So much has been going on, but as usual, there is so little time to write about it – especially as I spent about an hour last night arguing with the computer because it wouldn’t let me post anything on the blog, lets hope it is in a better mood this morning…

Rustic Bunting, not a typical garden bird, but then the FIBO garden isn't a typical garden.

Saturday 21 May 2011

Exciting times!

Waking up to a strong east wind on Fair Isle can mean only one thing - the wardens are going to be excited! Whether the birds live up to the excitement is another thing altogether, but despite only a very few migrants apparently arriving on the island today, things turned out nice again with a Rustic Bunting found in the Quoy vegetable plot. This dapper little bird showed quite well to anyone wanting a look (including three lucky Obs visitors who managed to be whizzed down to see it just before they departed the island!) as it looked for seeds amongst the newly sprouting salad and veg.

Despite the strong winds, the planes have made it on and off the island today, bringing several guests including Susannah’s parents. Grace is currently running up and down the living room in a state of massive excitement, just like the wardens will be if the easterly winds continue.

Friday 20 May 2011

Having a quail of a time.

Yesterday saw very strong westerly winds and not many new birds about, although a cracking male Grey-headed Wagtail that had turned up on Wednesday at Da Water was still present. A half hour attempt from the top of Malcolm's Head to cash in on the spring skua migration that the Western Isles and western Shetland enjoys was entirely fruitless, although I'm sure there's potential for it to be more successful in the future.

Today began wet (very wet) and with the winds set to be strong westerly again. Despite this unpromising forecast, you soon come to expect the unusual on Fair Isle and this morning's surprise was the best views I've ever had of Quail, with one parading around just outside the lounge. The Subalpine Warbler is still here as well (he's been around long enough to get a name and he's now referred to as 'Alby’); not a bad couple of birds without having to leave the Obs!

Although the views were fantastic, the fact he was feeding between two strips of fence does make the pictures look a bit like he's in a cage, which he isn't!

Wednesday 18 May 2011

It's still much of a muchness where the migrants are concerned, with a few Lesser Whitethroats, Blackcaps, a Reed Warbler and a few other bits and bobs hanging around, along with the Subalpine Warbler which seems to have become a permanent resident at the Obs. The last few days have given us more of a chance to concentrate on the breeding birds, with waders nests and chicks being located and various seabird studies starting to take up more time. It looks like a day or two strong westerlies (so maybe something from Amercia on the way?), then calmer and more settled by the weekend, which could be a lot more interesting for migrants.
Several areas of the island are now carpeted with flowers, including Oysterplants flowering near the South Lighthouse.
Yesterday did see a Marsh Harrier head south, Quail at Springfield (both seen by a visiting tour group) and a Wood Sandpiper at Golden Water despite mostly unpromising conditions, so it's worth remembering that whatever the weather, birds are on the move and there can't be many better places to look for them than Fair Isle.

Monday 16 May 2011

Rain stops plane.

A frustrating morning so far, with rain stopping census and the low cloud that has come with it stopping planes. A calm evening last night saw a few moths appear in the trap but a speculative drive around the island at midnight drew a blank when it came to listening for Quail and Corncrake (both of which have been seen recently). A few drumming Snipe were heard but the biggest surprise was bumping into one of the island residents as she wandered around in her dressing gown with a torch looking for her dog that had gone wandering off!

It doesn’t look the most promising of days for good birds coming in, but this is Fair Isle, so let’s go and see.

Lesser Whitethroats waiting for the rain to clear. The Obs gardens currently host three of these, Subalpine Warbler, Reed Warbler, Reed Bunting and a few other bits and bobs.

West is best (for a rest)

Sunday afternoon is traditionally a quiet time at the Obs: no transport arrivals, everyone is well fed after Sunday lunch (and it was another superb one today, thanks Ann and Chris) and it's the time for wardens to have a bit of a recharge (especially after Lachlan Shaw celebrated his 18th birthday at the Obs last night!). This is much easier to do when things are quiet for birds and, even though there were people out all day, census and trap rounds were quiet as the westerly winds continued and seemed to put a bit of a halt to migration. A few common migrants were still around, the Canada Goose remains and the flock of Carrion Crows (which peaked last week at over 60 birds, apparently Fair Isle record) is slowly dwindling. The lack of migrants has enabled us to spend more time checking breeding birds and a few broods of Lapwing and clutches of Ringed Plover have been found this week.

So all in all, a pleasant enough day and we’re all ready for a few more migrants next week…

The sky looking rather bonny from the beach this evening (although Grace was far more interested in throwing stones).

Saturday 14 May 2011

How time flies.

Almost a week since my last update and there has been so much to report it's hard to know where to start, there certainly doesn't seem to have been time to get the blog updated! A brief summary: migrants have been coming in daily, although generally in small numbers. A few scarcities have included a Corncrake (today at Lower Leogh, which is where I'll be heading after getting through the office work), Short-toed Lark (yesterday at the airstrip), Hawfinch, Bullfinch, Quail, Wood Warbler and Canada Goose (quite rare here). The male 'Eastern' Subalpine Warbler remains in the garden, where it is often feeding on the ground and showing well, after over a fortnight here we're beginning to wonder whether it will ever leave. Although a few showers have passed through today, the weather has been quite good with a few birds tempted into song earlier in the week including a Cuckoo and several Chiffchaffs.
A few bird bits:

Tree Sparrow - up to five were seen in the garden, but they seem to have headed off now.

This male Bullfinch did a tour of the crofts (Burkle, Schoolton and Stackhoull) as it headed north through the island.

Daily census has revealed counts of 40-50 Twite every day around the island.

Honk! Fair Isle rarity (ish).

The third Wood Warbler of the spring appeared at Haa.

A few raptors passing through included this tired looking female.

Not the best ever view of a Hawfinch, but a great bird none the less. The third of the spring, it was at Utra then Schoolton, Houll and Quoy. 
My parents have headed south after a week on the island, I think they enjoyed themselves, although I didn't get many chances to speak to them as it's been a typically busy time. Dad contributed a few birds at Log, so I think he got quite into the Observatory life and they both had fun playing with Grace. Guests have been coming and going and we've had several compliments about the new building and how much people have enjoyed themselves, which is always good to hear.

Will had a few days off the island to take his powerboat training course and was quite relieved to not have missed any majorly rare birds, he passed his course as well, so I think we have to call him Captain Miles now. In his abscence David Steel, head warden of the Farne Islands, deputised on census - and he thought he was coming up for a holiday! Typically, Will returned and found Corncrake on his first census back, which reminds me, I'm off to have a look for that now...

Sunday 8 May 2011


A howling south-easterly (gusting to the top end of gale force 8 according to Dave Wheeler's stats) saw difficult birding conditions, but new birds coming in. The sheltered cliffs and geos of the North End were where many of the migrants chose to rest and they provided some classic Fair Isle birding as flocks of warblers roamed the rock faces. Highlights on my section of census included three new birds for the Fair Isle year list: Whinchat, Spotted Flycatcher and Cuckoo. There is a wonderful sense of anticipation that when the conditions improve slightly, there will be plenty more to be found...

In 'other news', my parents made it in on Saturday and Grace has just had a party (it was her second birthday yesterday) with some of the other island kids. There was lots of dancing, games, fruit and chocolate and there is a generally happy family all round.

Saturday 7 May 2011

Exciting arrivals

It's been a flurry of activity at the Obs recently, although the birding has been ever so slightly quieter in recent days. There has been a male Eastern Subalpine Warbler feeding on the lawn for most of Friday afternoon, so we can't complain and other highlights have included a Quail flushed from the unlikely setting of the rocks of Buness. There has also been plenty of other things to keep us busy.

The Eastern Subalp abandoned the Obs plantation for the day to spend most of its time feeding on the lawn, not a bad view from the office window!
The water tank was replaced earlier in the week, with the whole operation going relatively smoothly - many thanks to Deryk for helping out. Deryk is possibly the only person in the world who fully understands how the heating/hot water/electric in the Obs works and, although he is very busy running the croft at Burkle, his (and Hollie's) continued help is proving invaluable. Hollie also had a couple of shifts in the kitchen this week as our search for a cook continues, although we were very pleased with a visitor comment this week that the food was 'the best they'd had in Scotland', a worthy compliment for Chris and the rest of the team's hard work.

The Good Shepherd's run into Lerwick provided a wealth of interesting deliveries, with bird rings, mealworms, a toilet training seat and a laptop meaning that there was something for everyone (although I'll leave it to your imagintion to work out who got what). The other arrival was the cruise ship Quest which dropped off around 30 people on the island on Thursday who were all happy with seeing Puffins, Fair Isle Wrens and the Subalpine Warbler, along with a display of Shetland crafts and local interest.

The big question (for us at least, although I appreciate it may not be of interest to you all!), is whether my parents will make it in for Grace's birthday (they're due on the Saturday afternoon flight)... Hopefully the current SE winds and rain will do just enough to bring some birds in but not enough to stop the planes!

Tuesday 3 May 2011

Another day, another good bird.

I remember reading a Bill Oddie book years ago in which he described some situations just looking 'right' for certain birds, I think it might even have been on Shetland when he described telling a friend 'there should be a bluethroat there' and one popped up. We had a similar situation today when Jason and I were in the minibus trying to see the four Tree Sparrows in the south (a Fair Isle tick for both of us!). Having been unsuccessful at Haa and Burkle, we tried Utra to no avail and, whilst turning the minibus, a Sand Martin flew past with a couple of Swallows. A brief conversation ensued about how a few Swallows had moved through today and it really did look good for a Red-rumped Swallow today. We were still talking about it when a pale-rumped hirundine skimmed past the minibus, brakes were applied, binoculars were grabbed and:

Red-rumped Swallow at Utra, it stayed around long enough to be seen by most folk at the Obs and a few interested islanders.

Other birds today included the Collared Flycatcher, both Subalpine Warblers and a Wryneck; not a bad day all in all! And yes, the forecast is for more easterly winds, so hopefully a few more birds tomorrow...
The Great Snipe is the obvious highlight from today, but three Wrynecks were also pretty good. A Quail was flushed on the way to the Snipe and proceeded to give some good views in nearby fields and a Tree Sparrow around the crofts was also new for the year. The early Swift (first seen yesterday) was also still present and some common migrants seen in good numbers included Ring Ouzel and Tree Pipit.

Great Snipe: the black panel bordered with white in the wings and the extent of white in the outer tail are important ID features.

The bulky size and wing and tail pattern were all pretty distinctive in the field. Full credit to Will for finding and calling this unexpected spring vagrant.

This Quail was an added bonus at the Great Snipe twitch.

Seabirds are starting to look a bit more settled, with the first Razorbill eggs discovered and several pairs of Arctic Skuas on the island, it'll not be too long until the seabirds dominate our working days, we just hope we're kept busy by them having a good breeding season.

In the meantime, there is no end in sight to the forecasted easterly wind, so perhaps there will be a few more birds to report tomorrow...

Monday 2 May 2011

Great Stuff!

The birds keep coming in: Will has found a GREAT SNIPE today near Utra scrape (a lifer for  lots of people at the Obs, so he won't need to buy a beer tonight) and the Wryneck (which was trapped this morning in Gully) has been joined by a second at Chalet. Ring Ouzels have reached double figures, there seems to be plenty Tree Pipits and the likes, so Log this evening should be entertaining.

We can see you! Great Snipe lurking in a ditch, hiding all the relevant ID features.
I'll try to find time this evening to post some flight shots.

Also, we have our first guests here now, the time has gone so quickly since we arrrived (and there are still a few boxes to unpack in the spare room, I best get that done before my parents arrive next week!).

Sunday 1 May 2011

Wry not?

What a great start to the day; a glorious, sunny day with Wryneck by (but sadly not in) the traps, and is that bacon I can smell cooking in the kitchen?

Hopefully there'll be plenty more to report later today...

Bird News!

It's been a long day, with lots of miles covered, plenty of birds counted and some corking highlights. Amongst the best bits were: Collared Flycatcher, 2 Subalpine Warblers (the female still at Lower Stonybrek and the male Eastern bird at the Obs this evening where it was trapped), 2 Wood Warblers, 4 Black Redstarts, 9 Redstarts (all males), 17 Tree Pipits,15 Blackcaps and a Pied Flycatcher (a male and our first of the year, found about 15 minutes before and 300m north of the Collared Fly!)

A few Lapland Buntings are scattered around the island, none as fine as this male near the Ringing Hut.

This Wood Warbler was on the same cliff as the Collared Fly.

Male Collared Flycatcher found by Jason and Sarah in South Krojeals (at the south of Hoini Geo) this morning - fantastic! Surely one of the birds of the year already.

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