Tuesday 15 November 2011

They go up, tiddly, up, up (tomorrow hopefully).

Another day with lots of geese (59 Bean, 63 Whitefronts and 21 Pink-feet), although I didn't have much time for birding as we were waiting to hear whether the plane would go or not.
The geese included three Beans and a White-front seen coming in off the sea at South Light, so they seem to be still arriving, although getting an exact count from the various scattered flocks around the island isn't easy. A great sight though!
In the end, the low cloud started lifting just as the light went, so no plane (still almost two weeks to my sister's wedding though, so still plenty of time for us to get off the island...). A bit of a blow, but having just taken the call to say the flight was off (and we'd be trying again at 8am tomorrow), I found two Long-eared Owls in the Vaadal, not a bad consolation! Following that, one of the Sparrowhawks that keeps just evading the traps (even Grace told me the other day that 'you keep missing the Sparrowhawk don't you Daddy') finally made it into the Gully. A few talons to avoid in that lot!
Thanks to Tommy for this pic, more of Tommy's images of this evening's birds at http://fair-isle.blogspot.com/2011/11/sparrow-hawk-long-eared-owls-in-ringing.html
Other than that, I didn't manage to see too much with Chiffchaff and Blackcap still around, Hen Harrier near Setter, Scaup, 4 Woodpigeon and 30 Lapwing, whilst Tommy saw a few bits and pieces down south, including Mealy Redpoll.
The Hen Harrier touched down briefly after performing a brief fly past as we came back from the shop (thanks to Fiona for opening in her lunch break so we could get some food having found out we weren't going to be flying out this morning!).
After the FIBOT Chairman found Hume's Warbler at Kergord and the Vice-Chairman got one in his garden at Trondra, we probably should have managed one on Fair Isle in this spell of south-easterlies, but it isn't going to be me who finds it (unless the plane doesn't go tomorrow...).

Monday 14 November 2011

Sunday Sightings.

I'll try again with a brief summary of sightings after the website crashed trying to load my last attempt. Bah. Really I should be packing as we're due to fly off in the morning after the weather improved enough for the van to leave the island today, so we'll hopefully be on our way  round the country visiting our families soon (and possibly taking in the odd good bird, football match and Indian takeaway on the way!).
The Bean Geese were mostly concentrated around wet area near the Houll crop strip today, although a few smaller groups were scattered elsewhere on the island. Today's count of 46 Beans was slightly down on yesterday's record, but still impressive. The other highlights of today included the Rough-legged Buzzard still present in the North where there was also a Common Buzzard, continuing a quite good year for raptors (especially with Merlin, Peregrine and at least three Sparrowhawks on the island today as well - not quite Falsterbo admittedly, but a nice selection).

There seemed to be more movement amongst the goose flocks today, so the day totals were perhaps slight underestimates as we tended to err on the side of caution. There was still a  slight increase in White-fronts though, with 74 logged, whilst Greylag and Pink-feet numbers remained similar to yesterday.

Several small groups of Lapwings have arrived in recent days, whilst other new birds today included adult Little Gull in South Harbour, Mistle Thrush at Quoy and Black Redstart and Chiffchaff (only seen briefly, but a pale looking bird) at the Obs.

If I see anything really good in the UK I'll maybe let you know, but otherwise this will probably be my last blog post for a little while. We'll be returning to the Obs on 7th December (weather permitting as always!), so in the meantime please don't think we're ignoring any messages, we'll get back to you as soon as possible when we return!

Sunday 13 November 2011

Beans Means Geese.

After hefty SE winds overnight, the morning gradually became calmer, the sun shone and there were still clearly loads of birds about, with Blackbirds the most numerous. What a great day to be on Fair Isle! Early signs were that one or two common migrants (Chiffchaff, Reed Bunting etc) were new in but there wasn’t anything to worry the Birdline hotline with.
It's been a good autumn for Short-eared Owls, with several birds still lingering on the island (although some of today's birds may well have been new arrivals).
Things started picking up when four Short-eared Owls showed well at Pund, what I assumed to be yesterday’s Bean Goose flew over and one of the Olive-backed Pipits reappeared in the Gillie Burn.
The OBP coming rather close shortly before my camera battery went flat. Sadly, I was carrying the wrong spare (as it was also flat). Still, what a bird to be enjoying in the sunshine in mid-November!
As my camera battery had run out, I decided to jump in the Obs people carrier (which was dropping Grace off at North Shirva where she had a great time baking cakes, playing the piano and watching Lion King!) to get my spare and set off to check North. We decided to take the long way round the loop back to the Obs to check out some Scaup Tommy had found in South Harbour (in the end, eight were seen around the south of the island) but were halted in our tracks by the goose flock at Houll. Although we’d been told there were two Tundra Bean Geese heading towards us from Sumburgh, we weren’t expected at least a dozen to be hiding amongst the long grass and pools, especially when the supporting cast appeared to be mostly White-fronts.
Bean Geese and lots of 'em! Sorry about the colours on these pictures, I'd managed to get my camera on the wrong setting and I'm very much a photoshop novice.
Lots of White-fronts as well, beautiful birds.
A quick change of plans then saw me spend the afternoon literally on a wild goose chase checking all the likely spots around the island that could hold flocks. In the end, flocks at Lower Stonybrek, Houll and Kennaby saw an unbelievable total of 59 Bean Geese and 63 White-fronts (along with 20 Pinks and 64 Greylags)! Not only are both of these record counts for Fair Isle, but they may well both be records for Shetland. In the case of Bean Goose the previous Fair Isle record count is 16, so that’s been well and truly smashed. I’m hoping that the Shetland Records Committee will be a bit lenient and I’ll not have to write 59 individual descriptions!
Part of the goose flock at Kennaby.
As if that wasn’t enough, whilst checking the North of the island for any more lurking geese a Rough-legged Buzzard appeared near the mast and gave great views! It’s not a common bird on Fair Isle, so this was a great way to round off the day (although the Great Grey Shrike going into roost in the plantation turned out to be a nice extra bonus!).
What a fantastic bird! Having missed the Rough-leg in Mainland Shetland when bringing our furniture up to Fair Isle in February, this was an even more welcome sight!
More reasonable weather forecast for tomorrow, maybe more birds?

Saturday 12 November 2011

Bean there...

The winds continued to blow from the south-east and the birds are still here, with new ones still coming in. Tommy called this afternoon to say a Great Grey Shrike had just left his garden at Haa carrying a freshly-caught bird (Chaffinch or Brambling he thought), on my way down to look for it I found it had come up the island and was perched on the Plantation trap briefly, before it pelted off down the island again. It’s been a good year for this dramatic butcher bird on Fair Isle with one in the spring and at least four in the autumn.
Sadly the shrike remained on the wrong side of the wire for trapping and photography!
The other highlight was an addition to the year list, with a Bean Goose amongst the Greylags at Lower Stoneybrek (which very shortly after being found left the flock and headed off across the island).
Smaller than accompanying Greylags, with a rounded head and slightly bulging lower mandible, field views suggested 'Tundra' Bean Goose, although the photos give the impression of a long-billed bird.

 No sign of the OBPs today and not many other headline species to report, although the birding remains good, albeit slightly more challenging today in a stronger, more blustery (and colder) wind.

Only single figures of Jackdaws remain after last months large influx.
The weather has also affected our travel plans as Susannah, Grace and I were meant to be leaving the island today to get to my sister’s wedding in Sunderland, but it will now be Monday at the earliest before we can get off. Thankfully, we’ve given ourselves plenty of slack in the itinerary so we should still get there without any bother. In the meantime, there are worse places to be stuck in SE winds with a continued arrival of birds than Fair Isle and anything I see over the weekend can be considered a bonus!

Friday 11 November 2011

The Never-ending Autumn!

Normally by 10th November it would be last chance saloon for migration, but the continued south-easterly winds are still bringing in more birds. The island suddenly seems rather large with just me left in the Obs (well, Susannah and Grace are here as well obviously but Susannah is busy with the somewhat less glamorous aspects of running the Obs, namely accounts, advertising etc and Grace is busy with watching Peppa Pig so neither of them get to do much birding) and there aren’t enough hours in the day to cover the whole island. Picking and choosing which bits to get to inevitably causes anxiety about what might be getting missed, summed up today by my decision to abandon the west cliffs, which seemed rather quiet, and head inland. Shortly before I did, an Olive-backed Pipit flew up from the cliff top at Hjukni and landed in the grass not far ahead of me (if I’d turned inland ten yards sooner I’d have missed it, so much for the cliffs being quiet!). After getting some lovely views I decided to follow the Gillie Burn back towards the crofts when, about 200 yards later, I flushed an OBP from the grass ahead of me. Sure enough, after getting some great views of this one as well (it was so distracting in fact that I was almost eaten by a pony) I headed back to where I’d left the first bird and it was still there – two OBPs! Multiple records of this smart pipit are not unprecedented on Fair Isle, but it was still a pretty special experience.
The first bird, feeding along the burn near the waterfall into Hjukni Geo.

Bird Two. Whether either of these birds are the individual seen by Double Dyke three days ago is a matter of speculation, but both could be new, given the number of migrants that have come in during the intervening period.
Other migrants again consisted largely of Blackbirds (with several hundred still around), Fieldfares, and Redwings with smaller numbers of Woodcock. Two Long-eared Owls were in Hesti Geo, a Ring Ouzel was in the Gully, a Stonechat was briefly in the Gillie Burn and a few more Chaffinch seemed to have arrived as well. A few wildfowl included a couple of Goldeneye and 11 Pink-feet whilst the Scaup that spent time on the tiny pond in the Haa has now moved to Utra Scrape.
More birds tomorrow? I wouldn’t bet against it…

A couple of Goldfinch arrived in the North nearly a fortnight ago and may be the birds seen at Leogh today. They are a scarce visitor to Fair Isle, so you really appreciate the splash of colour they bring when they drop in.

Wednesday 9 November 2011

Swift as a shadow, short as any dream.

We’re currently being lashed by SE winds and drizzly conditions that have stopped the Good Shepherd sailing and the planes flying but haven’t stopped a whole variety of birds arriving. The highlight from recent days has been an Olive-backed Pipit on Monday showing nicely near (but sadly not in) the Double Dyke trap before moving to Gilsetter. Another interesting sighting was a Swift at Lericum later that day. Initial views of a relatively slowly flying, pale bird with contrasting wings were certainly enough to get the blood pumping a bit, but looking at the features noted in the field and from photos, it seems that Common Swift is the most likely option. An interesting bird none the less and comfortably the latest record for the island of the species (by about 12 days), I’m happy to receive (either as comments to the blog or as emails to me) any thoughts about it that you may have based on the photos below.

Seen whizzing around the cliffs just west of North Light, the swift eventually headed off west after being chased out to sea by a Merlin. Although never looking very blunt-winged, there were certainly times the wings didn't look very pointed either. Generally the flight wasn't fast (nor was it sluggish) and it seemed 'big-winged' at times. The whole issue of late autumn swift ID is an interesting one, with some identification features of Pallid and Common appearing less reliable than was previoulsy thought.
Although the dark eye stands out from the head, there doesn't appear to be an eye patch. The forehead had only very limited white (very dificult to see in the field), although there seems to be some discussion as to how reliable this is as an identification feature.
In the field the outer primaries were the darkest part of the wing and pale fringing was visible on the upper wing coverts.
The body pluamge was certainly paler than a typical adult Common Swift, but this would be expected in a juvenile (a plumage which is not especially familiar to most British observers). Pale scaling could not be seen on the upperparts (although I woudln't like to say for certain it wasn't there on the views I had) and the underparts were mostly not seen as the bird flew below the cliff top.
In this image the plumage looks darker than in the field and shadowing has created a darker upper-mantle effect than was actually the case. All of the above images have been cropped but otherwise are unaltered.
Today has also been a good day, although there have been no outstanding rarity highlights a good number of commoner birds has made the island an enjoyable place to be. Two Long-eared Owls, 5 Short-eared Owls, Chiffchaff, a few Blackcaps, over 50 Woodcock and 400+ Blackbirds in the North of the island alone show the scale of movement taking place. It’s quite hard to go more than a few yards without a bird taking off from under your feet – real good fun, quality birding.
That's one less Skylark for the Log - a Merlin also enjoys the migrants.
The last of the seasonal staff left on Monday, so once again a big thank you to all of the people who have worked and volunteered for us this year that have helped to make our first season such an enjoyable one. With all the staff now gone, it has left us a bit short of people to actually look for birds, but with Deryk, Tommy and various other folk down the island getting out and about I hope we won’t miss too much. With birds still turning up on the east coast of Britain and the south-easterlies set to continue for a few more days, there’s still a chance of another bird or two as well (and then after that I’ll get down to the office work!).

Saturday 5 November 2011


OK, so the birding maybe wasn’t explosive, but the fireworks weren’t entirely confined to the bonfire at South Light. Unstreaked Acros are maybe not the Roman Candles of the bird world, but one at Dronger eventually showed well enough to identify it as Blyth’s Reed Warbler. That was the main highlight, and some birds appeared to have cleared out, but Robin numbers were up and a small number of Chiffchaffs were scattered around. A Waxwing flew out of the Plantation this morning during the sheep round up (which was also good for getting several sightings of Woodcock and Short-eared Owl!). A Black Redstart at the Obs for its second day was still active several hours after dark, feeding around the external lights!

The Obs garden held a good scatter of migrants, with 3 Brambling dropping in during the afternoon.
With a lovely sunny day and little wind, conditions were great for birding and hopefully tomorrow will bring more of the same, and perhaps a few more birds.
The bonfire and fireworks at South Light were great (many thanks to those who organised them) although Grace didn't like the 'bangy ones' so spent most of the time hiding,

Thursday 3 November 2011

Sightings update.

As the south-east winds batter the island (the Met Office is forecasting gale force again) and the rain scuppers any chance of birding productively, it seems like a good day to have a bit of an office catch up. I’ll start with an update on bird sightings from the last week or so, where we never managed the final ‘big rare’ of the season, but had some very enjoyable birding.

Red-necked Grebe – one was swimming in the sheltered water of Gunnawark on 26th, a rare visitor to Fair Isle waters, with just over 20 records but only a couple in the last 15 years.
Spotted Crake – one found in Da Water on 29th where it was mostly very elusive but occasionally showed very well.
Red-breasted Flycatcher – one in Easter Lother on 28th, only our second record of the year.
Great Grey Shrike – one in Hjukni on 25th, which was presumably the bird trapped in the plantation the following day that lingered into November. Another was at the Mast on 28th, with possibly the same bird at Utra on 30th.
The 2nd Great Grey Shrike of the year to be ringed at the Obs.
Little Gull – an adult in South Harbour from 25th, with presumably the same bird also wandering to South Haven on occasions. What was possibly the same adult was found exhausted at North Light on 30th when a juvenile was also in South Harbour.
Dancing on the waves in South Harbour, this adult Little Gull seemed unconcerned by the ferocious winds.
Nathusius’ Pipistrelle – One found in a weak state on 26th was taken into care where it quickly recovered and was released later that evening.
Probably not the natural habitat of a Nathusius' Pipistrelle, this bat appeared to be an exhausted migrant. Bats occur rarely on Fair  Isle, with sightings occuring at an average of one every four or five years. Very few are identified to species, although most confirmed sightings on Shetland are of Nathusius' Pipistrelle.
Grey Phalarope – One was seen from South Light on 1st, another record on a good year for this species.

Other migrants:
The weather conditions were perfect for thrush arrivals, with peaks of 1053 Fieldfare (29th), 766 Blackbirds (27th), 623 Redwing (27th) and 87 Song Thrush (26th). A Ring Ouzel (28th) and a couple of Mistle Thrushes were also picked out amongst the swirling masses. Smaller migrants were in shorter supply, with up to 32 Blackcap (26th), an arrival of Robins from 25th that peaked at just 27, 4 Chiffchaff, only small numbers of Goldcrest, a maximum of 3 Black Redstarts, single Stonechats on 25th and from 30th and a couple of Wheatear lingering into November. Finches were poorly represented and included two Goldfinch (from 28th), a couple of Siskins, up to 6 Mealy Redpoll but generally very low numbers of Chaffinch and Brambling. Up to 7 Yellowhammers were around the island along with 8 Reed Buntings, small numbers of Lapland Buntings lingered and Snow Bunting numbers rose to 99.
This young male Yellowhammer lingered at the Obs, others around the island took advantage of the Obs crop strips.
Long-eared Owls were seen daily from 27th, with two birds trapped and ringed, whilst Short-eared Owls were numerous at the end of October with at least 15 seen. The couple of Jackdaws that had been present for at least a week turned out to be the vanguard of an arrival that saw numbers rise to 77 on 30th with a couple or Rooks accompanying them (and 3 moving south on the 1st).
Although variable in appearance, many of the Jackdaws sported the more extensive white collar markings typical of Scandinavian birds.
At least 3 Sparrowhawks were enjoying the thrush passage with other accompanying species including up to 28 Woodcock and 9 Woodpigeon. More unusual was a very late House Martin at Dronger on 2nd.
Spot the Woodcock! Most sightings of this cryptic species are of flushed birds, although nine have also been trapped and occasionally birds are found out in the open like this one at Guidicum.
Wildfowl passage included five Whooper Swan on 1st and 26 Barnacle Geese on 31st and a Grey Plover was circling the island on 26th. At least one first-winter Glaucous Gull lingered in the North of the island. Finally, although seawatching was quiet as would be expected there were a couple of sightings of Little Auks and a Minke Whale was seen just north of the island from the Good Shepherd on 1st.

My Blog List