Tuesday 25 December 2012

We're back!

The Parnaby family travelled round the UK catching up with relatives and taking in a few things that we don’t have on Fair Isle (cinema, restaurants, that roundabout in Hemel Hempstead made up of all the mini-roundabouts) before returning last week. The journey home was neatly sandwiched in between two massive SE gales (although slightly delayed by a ferry strike), but did result in Grace coming home with norovirus, which manifested itself spectacularly after we’d got the Christmas tree up. It wasn’t long before I was also enjoying this all-action virus, which thankfully eventually departed without infecting Susannah or Freyja. We’re now all recovered, out of quarantine and ready to enjoy Christmas.
The SE winds reached 77mph yesterday and the seas were wild. With non-stop rain thrown into the mix, the only weather pictures were those taken out the window!
As we approach the end of the year (and what a year!), it seems like a good time to say thank you to a few folk for their help this year. First of all, a huge thank you to all the FIBO staff. Lots of the visitors this year have commented on the friendly atmosphere of the Observatory and the willingness of the staff to provide every possible help, whether it’s catching mystery locustellas, pointing out the Puffins, chatting in the bar or whatever. The Wardening team had another great year, so thank you Will, Jason and Sammy for everything (maybe I’ll share some of my favourite stories and pictures over the winter if there are no birds to talk about!). The food was highly commended again (despite unfortunate circumstances resulting in a high turnover of staff) and the hard work of keeping the Obs clean and tidy was carried out again with minimum fuss and maximum effort, so thank you to Ann, Mandy, Sue, Ed, Kat, Becki and Tracey. Finally, Claire will be a huge miss after her time looking after the girls (and, let’s be honest, Susannah and I as well on occasion).
We’ve had another great run of volunteers as well. The huge amount of work carried out by the long-term volunteers David, Gillian and Elisa enabled us to get far more done, whilst we were also supported by Alex and Ed on the Wardening side, Maggie on the domestic front and Hattie and Frances behind the bar (and various other places as needed!); we’ll hopefully see some of you again soon. My parents also managed to make it to the vols list, after their fortnight’s stay in the spring extended to about six weeks! The visiting long-term researchers Jess, Rob and Jenny all provided help, support and a great deal of fun (again, there might be a few photos and stories published later!) as well as their own work.
We also benefited from some fantastic support from the island, with a variety of people stepping in to help with all aspects of the work (especially when we were temporarily short-staffed in the kitchen). Especial thanks to Hollie and Deryk for their happiness to be called upon at all times for all sorts of questions, they still remain very much part of the Obs. Raluca, Angela, Maree, Josie, Liz, Darren, Kenny, Brian, John, Bill and Iain have all helped out at the Obs at some stage this year - thank you all. The help from Robert, Fiona, Jimmy, Neil and the Good Shepherd and Directflight crews in getting supplies to the Obs must be mentioned as well. Thanks are due too to Dave (and latterly Lucy) for their ongoing help with the website. Dave’s weather and transport updates (the latter also provided by Pat) have also been invaluable. Nick’s ongoing support with all non-avian biology (not to mention finding Siberian Rubythroat!) is very useful, and the bird records provided by Tommy, Stewart and many others are much appreciated. The popularity of Fair Isle Thursdays is all down to Lise, Neil, Stewart, Stewart and Anne (and the various ‘guest singers/musicians’) and I’m looking forward to the first one of 2013 already.
I would especially like to say thank you to the islanders for their continued support of the Bird Obs and of Susannah and I. It isn’t always easy (in the autumn, the number of visitors to Fair Isle can increase the island population by over 50%) and it isn’t totally without incident (although thankfully these are very few), but the whole visitor experience of Fair Isle wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as it is without the friendliness and understanding of the community here. The support and friendship that was provided when Freyja was born (and subsequently went off to Aberdeen Infirmary for a short stay) from the staff, volunteers, islanders and visitors helped us through a very busy (and at times rather difficult) spring. Thank you.
And now, I'll end the day the same way I do so many times during the season: Log.
Merry Christmas to everyone who reads the blog, we hope you all have a great day.

Wednesday 21 November 2012

And we're off...

21st November
Just a quick one today as we’re off on holiday to visit the family and, due to tomorrow’s poor forecast, we’re trying to get out a day early - so lots of last minute panicking to get everything ready before we go. One thing that I can’t get working is the email ‘Out of Office’, so please note that we’ll be away until 17th December at least – and please pass the message on to anyone who’s trying to get in touch with us. We’ll reply to your messages as soon as possible when we return (which will be weather dependant of course…).

Being never more than a few hundred yards from the sea, all of Fair Isle is pretty much coastal habitat, so Turnstones in gardens, Fulmars in fields, Gannets over the island etc are all fairly normal. It still seemed odd seeing a Purple Sandpiper feeding on the waterfall in the Gully though!
Bird wise it’s been pretty much much of a muchness this week, with several days of strong southerly winds and a fair bit rain - Monday didn’t seem to get light at all as we stayed under thick cloud all day! With the wind getting a bit of SE in it yesterday there were a handful more thrushes, a couple extra Robins and a few Woodock (one of which ended its days in spectacular fashion over Glisetter this morning when it became a Peregrine’s breakfast). A Moorhen in the Gully today was definitely a migrant (and perhaps a sign that it isn’t a good day to be leaving the island…!), but otherwise there have been very few new birds in, with the only sign of movement in the traps being a Blackcap on 16th.
Greylags have been arriving in the last couple of days, with around 270 yesterday including several skeins that headed straight through the island and a Pink-footed Goose has joined the flock at Shirva. Half a dozen Wigeon were the only other sign of new wildfowl though.
The Great Tit has found the bird feeders on the island, so is presumably set to attempt to overwinter (for the sake of the 2013 year list, let’s hope it makes it until January 1st at least!), whilst more typical winter treats included at least 23 Snow Buntings, a juvenile Glaucous Gull (20th) and a couple of ‘blue’ Fulmars.
Right, best go do the packing: binoculars, wallet, two kids, that should do…
Bye for now.

Friday 16 November 2012


15th November
OK, so I’d said it would be a while until the next update, but when I got a text from Assistant Warden Will yesterday saying he’d just caught Waxwing NW62620 in Aberdeen, I thought it was worth posting an update here. Our very own Waxwing Queen Becki Rosser caught him (he’s a young male) in the Obs mistnets on 4th November and eleven days later he’d made it to my recent home town. With a fat score of zero (and weight of 52.7g) when he was trapped on Fair Isle, it’s good to know that he was able to feed up and make the long sea crossing to the Granite City. He’s now colour-ringed as well, so there’s every chance of getting more sightings of him across the country. The Grampian Ringing Group are probably the UK’s top Waxwing catchers, so hopefully we’ll find out that a few more of our birds have been relocated.
On the day we got news of a travelling Waxwing, it seems fitting that we got the first Waxwing at the Obs for several days when this adult called into the garden briefly.
Back on the island, it’s mostly a mix of lingering birds (Hen Harrier, Great Tit, Rook, Water Rail), typical winter visitors (Iceland Gull on 13th, Goldeneye, a couple of Blue Fulmar) and a last little trickle of migrants with the 13th/14th seeing a bit of south-easterly wind that produced an increase in Blackbirds, Woodcock (a max count of 8), Long-eared Owl (Schoolton on 14th), Crossbill (a male on 14th) and Goldfinch 13th, with a Sparrowhawk following them on 15th.
The Rook was actually an addition to Susannah's kitchen window year list!
Aside from the birds, we're more or less sorted now for our holiday and we should last the week until we go off, as the Good Shepherd made it home on Wednesday and now the island is awash (not literally) with milk, diesel and bread. What looks like a few more days of strong SW winds and rain coming up should help us get all the office jobs done before we leave, but hopefully there'll still be one or two more birds to see before then.

Monday 12 November 2012

12th November

All pretty quiet out here at the moment, with today's strengthening SE wind not producing much in the way of new birds, although there was an increase in Greylags (to 120) and 2 Red-breasted Mergansers appeared in the North Haven. A few lingerers included 3 Waxwing, Great Tit, Lesser and Mealy Redpoll, Rook, Chiffchaff, 3 Chaffinch and the Hen Harrier was seen again yesterday. Also yesterday, we did get a large, confiding green and yellow finch from the northern forests, but it was not the wished for Grosbeak but a female Crossbill instead. If you want to be extraordinarily optimistic, you could argue that it's probably come from the same place as Pine Grosbeak, so there's still the chance that one of their larger cousins makes it across the North Sea.
The traps are pretty quiet now, with not much more than a scattering of Blackbirds, Redwing and the occasional Woodcock caught recently. Most of the Redwings have been the larger, darker coburni race. Although the bird in this image was in the overlap zone for measurements, it was with other coburni and had the dark plumage that suggested it too had come from Iceland.
With few birds to talk about, there's more time to ponder other things; like how we'll keep Grace entertained on our forthcoming travels around the country as we catch up with the family (and possibly a few Sunderland matches, maybe the odd good bird as well...) and why gluten-free bread really doesn't work for dipping in gravy. We've not had a boat for around three weeks now so supplies of some foods are running low (hence raiding the freezer for the last remaining bread stocks), fuel is getting a bit scarce on the island and we could really do with the bins being emptied soon as well!
Grace and Freyja say 'hello' to everyone who visited this year and who reads the blog! I've discovered that no matter how tightly I crop pictures of my family, there always seems to be a rogue sock or some such in the background.
We'll be heading off the island for our holidays at the back end of next week, so don't worry if you can't get hold of us for a while after that. In the meantime if you're wanting to book for 2013, it's probably worth getting in touch sooner rather than later (the peak late September/eaerly October period is already fully booked, but we've still got availability in our late October discounted period if you fancy being here for the magical 23rd!).
This might be my last update for a wee while, as the dwindling number of new birds doesn't look like being reversed by the strong SW winds forecast, although you just never know...

Saturday 10 November 2012

Unlucky Duck.

A rather quiet spell saw one inauspicious addition to the year list, with a Velvet Scoter found freshly dead on the North Haven beach (10th), a bird that is still missing from my Fair Isle list (although I swear this one was still warm when I found it!).
Otherwise things had a distinctly wintry theme, although a few lingering highlights included two Great Tits, 25 Waxwing, Hen Harrier (9th), Blue Fulmar (still on the cliffs at Ditfield) and Lesser Redpoll (8th).
Although Great Tit counts have never exceded two this autumn, at least three birds have been involved. This male at the School having apparently replaced one of the original two females at some stage.
Other birds that remain from the autumn include a Chiffchaff at the Obs, where there were also 3 Blackcap until 8th (with one found predated by a raptor on 10th), 2 Rook, Common Redpoll and at least four Water Rail (with the latter at least possibly contemplating overwintering).
A rather pale redpoll at the School looked rather interesting when I first saw it briefly whilst dropping Grace at nursery. When it was eventually tracked down it turned out to be Common Redpoll, probably a pale 'Mealy'.
There were few new birds, although 5 Linnet at the School (8th) was the highest count for some time and a Sparrowhawk (9th) was the first this month. The latter bird was trapped and found to have a very full crop, with a suspicious pile of Waxwing feathers nearby perhaps indicating it has a taste for apple-flavoured birds. Also new was a first-winter Glaucous Gull (7th), with the following day seeing 3(two juvs and an adult) in Finnequoy.
Perhaps the north-westerlies tomorrow might bring us one last surprise from over the Atlantic, or maybe one of those Pine Grosbeaks will eventually cross the North Sea, but it is starting to feel like that’s just about it for the year.
Water Rail is often a garden bird on Fair Isle in the winter, although the minimum of four currently present is a good count. This one has taken up reisdence at the Obs, where it occasionally shows very well from the office window (and provides a welcome distraction from the paperwork!).

Wednesday 7 November 2012

On the Waxwings of Love.

30th October - 6th November
And so, the end of the season has come upon us. The last of the Obs guests departed on 31st October, the majority of the staff have headed off for their winter retreats and there’s time to reflect upon the season. That said, reflecting on the season has had to wait whilst we carry on birding – the season may be over for guests, but for migrants there’s a week or two of potential excitement left yet (early November last year brought Blyth’s Reed Warbler, 3 Olive-backed Pipits, Rough-legged Buzzard and a Bean Goose influx).
The autumn is starting to feel a bit quieter now, but against a decline in the number and variety of migrants there has been an impressive arrival of Waxwings. Over 30 were seen in late October, with the first week in November seeing more arriving. The dynamics of these birds around the island has been interesting – a flock of around 35 at the Obs for example regularly dropped into the mistnets in the garden and by the end of the day, around 50 birds had been caught! Eight trapped later that day at Shirva included 2 unringed birds, one ringed the previous day and 5 that had been ringed that day at the Obs. Making an accurate count of birds as they move around and flocks disperse and reform is obviously tricky, but at least 100 were on the island on Sunday. Numbers seem to be declining now, but with over 100 ringed during the last week here, we hopefully haven’t heard the end of them.
It's nice to see Waxwings looking a bit more 'natural' than most of my previous encounters with the species. Although they do look a bit lost sat around in the heather.

Several of the gardens on Fair Isle have been putting out fruit for them - and some trapped birds have put on weight whilst they've been here, so it seems to be working.

Most of the trapped birds have been immatures. This adult male can be aged by the yellow on the primaries curving right round the feather tips (compare it with the first-winter bird above).

Beautiful birds, they really are close to being perfect.
The tips to the secondaries that gives the Waxwing its name.
Amongst our old friends, the Siberian Rubythroat lingered until 3rd (it was last seen heading further off its usual circuit to Utra, so there’s still a slim chance it could be hiding somewhere), the Woodlark was still around on 4th at least and the two Great Tits look like they might be set to try wintering on the island.
New visitors included a Coue’s Arctic Redpoll briefly at Stackhoull (2nd), a Yellow-browed Warbler (3rd) and a Bluethroat (30th – 31st). At least 2 tristis Chiffchaff have been seen during the week, a Lesser Whitethroat (30th) was of one of the eastern races and a Tree Sparrow at the Obs (4th), 7 Crossbill (31st) and a Goldfinch at Utra (5th) were new. Both Long-eared and Short-eared Owls put in appearances in what has been a poor autumn for both species and Merlin and Peregrine were joined by a Hen Harrier from 30th (with a second on 3rd).
This young male Bluethroat was a surprise catch on 30th October. Trapped at the same time (although in a different part of the island) to a Siberian Chiffchaff and a Lesser Whitethroat apparently of one of the 'eastern' races, it perhaps begs the question as to where this one has come from and what race it may be... . (photo by Kat Snell)
In a good year for tristis Chiffchaffs, this one was caught at the Chalet. As well as appearing a classic individual on plumage, it gave the diagnostic call whilst in the hand. (photo by Will Miles)

This Hen Harrier was one of two that made a low pass over the Obs together on Saturday. It's ringed on the left leg (as was a bird at North Ron the day before, which turned out to be wearing a BTO ring), which may suggest it is an Orkney bird.
Wintry birds included an adult Iceland Gull (31st) with a first-winter from 1st, up to 9 Long-tailed Ducks, at least two Water Rails in gardens in the south that may well attempt to winter again and Little Auks were seen on 30th and 3rd, with a dead bird found in a field at Taft (5th).
A juvenile Iceland Gull (joined here by a Kittiwake) in South Haven, as viewed from the Obs.
A 'blue' Fulmar has been in residence on the cliffs at Dutfield since October, whilst up to four have been seen in the bay when concentations of Fulmars gather there.
What next? Well paperwork and bits of work round the Obs need to be done at some point, Susannah and I are having to learn to cook for ourselves and there's a bit more time for socialising around the island (we had an excellent night on Tuesday at the Hall being entertained by the Danish band Himmerland after a fireworks party at South Light on Monday) but with the Pine Grosbeak invasion into Scandinavia now appearing to be the largest in recent times who knows if there could be a last twist in this fantastic year's tale...

Sunday 28 October 2012

28th October

Ta-da! The Rubythroat remains and showed a bit better today. It's tendency to land briefly before darting off into cover meant that it was generally on the move before the camera had focussed - resulting in the occasional odd pose!
The calm, mild weather and the palpable sense of relief and happiness that results from people having seen the Rubythroat, gave the day an ‘end of season’ feel. The few new birds that were around were generally from that typical late autumn fare that also added to that atmosphere.

The Rubythroat was following a regular circuit around the Walli Burn and walls near the Haa. 
A rather dingy individual, it is still an absolute belter of a bird. Without doubt one of the highlights of a very impressive year.
Aside from Siberian Rubythroat, other lingering highlights included the Blue Tit (which reappeared after a two day absence), 2 Great Tit, Woodlark (which put in a lovely fluty flyover for some of the congregation heading to the Chapel this morning) and Little Bunting (at the School again).
Little Bunting, presumably the same bird that was seen at School a couple of days ago.
Other lingering birds included this Great Northern Diver in South Harbour, where the Goosander was also still present. New wildfowl were restricted to two Whooper Swans that flew south.
The main arrivals were Waxwings, with at least 21 recorded (although the total was probably higher, as several small groups were noted through the morning before 14 were trapped at the Obs).
Obviously hungry after their journey, any food that is provided for Waxwings on Fair Isle is gratefully received, where natural food is in relatively short supply.
Standing room only at the apples in the Obs garden.
 Accompanying these fantastic northern visitors were a few more thrushes, single Chiffchaff and Blackcap and a dozen or so Robins. Two Woodcock were trapped this morning (and another couple were seen today), following the dozen noted yesterday (a total no doubt helped by the entire island population tramping across the North of the island as we rounded up sheep). A Crossbill was one of the few signs of any finch passage, although a Common Redpoll was trapped at the Obs and another Redpoll sp. flew over the island (the two Lesser Redpoll at the School were probably lingering birds).
It's possible to see all the variations of Redpoll available to British birders on Fair Isle during some years. The two small, warmish brown birds at School today appeared to be Lessers.

Saturday 27 October 2012

Got It!

27th October
A morning spent helping to round up the hill sheep made me wonder if doing our good deed for the day would be rewarded...
When we finished promptly and had an hour before lunch, it was inevitable that we'd head to the Haa. Very soon Jason picked up a 'suspicious' bird that dropped into the Walli Burn - and when it didn't come up from where it had landed we were hopeful that we were onto our prize. Eventually it gave us a good fly past view, then over the next wee while spent its time doing a circuit of ditches, burns and dykes around the Haa area.
Naturally, I was never really going to tick it off the views I had on that first day at Schoolton (!), but it's firmly inked onto my list now.
Siberian Rubythroat, what a way to round off an excellent season.
There she goes!

Taking cover.
Distant views - but at least they were views! The local Starling has obviously seen all this sort of stuff before and isn't really bothered!

Friday 26 October 2012

Ruby Blues

26th October
The Rubythroat would still be here today, we knew it and all we had to do was find it. After breakfast, we headed out into the snow showers and North-westerly gale, not ideal conditions, but surely a Rubythroat would be easier to pick out against a white background!

In the wild conditions, many birds were keeping sheltered, but Starlings seemed quite happy carrying on with life as normal.
Tommy had seen a bird just before one o’clock which could well have been it, but by half past three, with the snow starting to settle on me, I thought it wasn’t going to happen. I decided to head back to the Obs for lunch and to warm up (I was struggling to hold my binoculars steady as the cold penetrated my layers).
This Olive-backed Pipit near South Harbour looked like it was starting to regret its decision to explore, rather than just go to India with its mates.
While I was restoring feeling to my extremities, Susannah thought she’d try to get a bit of birding done. Less than an hour later, I was heading down to the island having just taken the call ‘David, I’ve just seen the Rubythroat really well at Haa’. Sadly, my views were no better than my previous attempts, with a fly-by as it went back into the Haa garden before disappearing off towards South Harbour, never to be seen again.
The shelter of the beach held Fair Isle Wrens and Rock Pipits, but no sign of the Rubythroat. Where it spends most of its time is anyone's guess.
Tommy had managed to add it to his impressive garden list before it vanished, but the closest I have got to achieving anything similar is that the Rubythroat that turned up in Sunderland a few years ago was found in the street I used to live in (albeit about 30 years before the bird was there).
Between Susannah seeing the Rubythroat and Jason having returned with tales of the Chestnut-eared Bunting (and curries and pubs), I couldn’t wait to get Log over and done with and hope for better luck tomorrow!
With the weather too bad to conduct a full census, and most of our efforts centred around Haa, there were not too many birds of note for Log, although the 2 Great Tits and the Woodlark both also remained.
As is becoming traditional, there was at least a consolation bird, in the form of a Goosander in South Harbour, a Fair Isle tick for me and the first to be seen here this year.
Less than annual on Fair Isle. Nice enough I suppose, but still…
Tomorrow will hopefully see calmer weather, there's even the prospect of a bit of south-easterly wind later in the day, but even if there are no new birds in, I'll be happy just to see the ones that were here today - and one of them in particular...

Del gets the Ruby Prize!

25th October
A day with cold NW winds seemed set to produce rather little, especially with both of the Assistant Wardens stuck on Mainland, when a successful twitch (Chestnut-eared Bunting and Pied Wheatear, nice) was only marginally undone by the weather taking a bad turn sooner than expected, causing the cancellation of today’s flights. The Blue Tit was seen again at Schoolton, where there was also a Great Tit, but the only new birds seen this morning were 38 Jackdaws circling the south of the island.
The afternoon produced a few more birds, although probably not many of them were new in: one Olive-backed Pipit remained and the Woodlark was too-leeing over Taft, a Little Bunting showed very well at the School (and was unringed, so wasn’t the same bird as yesterday, but could have been the one that was at Gilsetter a couple of days ago), a Lesser and Mealy Redpoll were nearby and two Linnets toured the south of the island.
Having passed Burkle and seen Deryk birding near the Haa, I thought I’d try the Leogh and Utra area rather than cover the same ground. No sooner did I get there then I get a call from Del, ‘I’ve probably got the Rubythroat at the Haa’! I went dashing over, a brown bird flicked off a fence into the allotment behind Haa, and that was that. Deryk’s views were of a plain, brown chat and his side on view of the head confirmed that it was the Rubythroat, although it never showed more than fleetingly and was clearly being elusive.
As other Obs staff arrived at the south of the island, Becki picked out a Hornemann’s Arctic Redpoll as it flew up in front of the people carrier. It was later found in the Burkle garden, another consolation for would-be Rubythroat watchers (following yesterday’s Blue Tit); but all it would be was a consolation, as there was no sign again of the big prize. Despite walking the dykes and ditches of the Haa area and trying the Schoolton garden again in the hope it may go to roost there, the closest I got was a Siberian Chiffchaff calling noisily as dusk approached (to paraphrase Obi-wan ‘this is not the Sibe you are looking for’).
With a few snow flurries this evening suggesting that tomorrow could be even worse than the minus seven degrees ‘wind chill factor’ experienced today, it won’t be easy to refind the Rubythroat, but I’ve cancelled cooking, cleaning and everything else for tomorrow to get all our staff searching the island (well, not really, but we’ll be getting Kat and Becki out the kitchen wherever possible to help), so wish us luck!

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Can I Tick It?

24th October
As October progresses, the amount of migrants can start to dwindle, but there’s always the chance of some big rarities arriving. In fact, late October has regularly turned up some very good birds on Fair Isle…but 2012 was maybe starting to feel like we’d missed our chance a bit. By the 23rd, the last of the falls seemed to have come to an end and a light SW breeze had seen an apparent decrease in migrants, with few new birds in. Right at the end of census, a Little Bunting landed on the fence right next to me at the ringing hut – very nice, but probably the only new migrant I’d seen all day apart from a few more Blackbirds (what was presumably the same Little Bunt was trapped at the Obs coming into roost on 24th). The afternoon seemed a good time to catch up with some of the office stuff that needed doing – right up until the point that Jason nearly kicked the Visitor Centre door down to interrupt a meeting between the FIBOT Chairman, Susannah and myself with the news ‘SIBERIAN RUBYTHROAT SCHOOLTON!’
We dashed out (I assumed the other two were following me as I hurdled chairs and pegged down the corridor), jumped in vehicles and headed south racing against the failing light. Sadly, as we got to Schoolton, Nick and Elizabeth gave us the news on their sighting: the bird had showed very well, but had dived into the thick rosa rugosa that has hidden many a good migrant on Fair Isle a few minutes before we got there, presumably to roost. Stood outside the house, I got a brief view of a largish brown chat, with its tail slightly cocked, a pale supercilium and plain breast (so it was a female; interestingly, the four Fair Isle Rubythroats have all been female, whereas the three records from Shetland have been males). It was buried deep in the vegetation and quickly flicked out of view and was never seen again - clearly the bird, but not enough to have written a description myself – can I tick it, hmmm, answers in ‘comments’ below please.*
The bit of rosa where I saw the Rubythroat (picture taken this morning when the bird wasn't there!).
Sadly, the Rubythroat (which turned up 7 years to the day since the last one here, a date which has also yielded Rufous-tailed Robin and yet the Obs is virtually empty - but bookings are now open for late October 2013!) became the shortest staying of the four Fair Isle records and was not present the next morning despite a crowd (of ten) being present from first light. Perhaps it is lurking somewhere on the island and might be rediscovered, but I suspect it took advantage of the fine night and departed.
Just after the majority of people had drifted off, the lingering wardening team were invited into Schoolton for very welcome tea and biscuits (the cool NW breeze and frequent showers feeling decidedly wintry) and whilst looking out the windows, a Blue Tit dropped into the garden! Not a huge consolation when you're not seeing a Rubythroat perhaps, but with the last Fair Isle record back on 1st January 1989, there have actually been 3 Rubythroats (including this year’s) on the island since the last of this commonplace UK garden resident. In fact, one islander who hadn’t attended the Rubythroat twitch was one of the first to arrive for the Blue Tit! The two Great Tits were still present as well, sometimes in the Schoolton garden, where two Waxwings also touched down briefly before touring the island.
Winner of the Carl Zeiss Award 2012. In fairness, it was fairly dark and the picture was taken through a window.
The other new bird of interest today was a Lesser Whitethroat trapped at Barkland. With distinct sandy tones to the mantle and nape, a smallish bill and some interesting measurements, it appears to be from an eastern population, but it is probably a long shot that we will ever know which one.
With the battery on my little camera being flat, in hand shots had to be taken by Susannah from several metres away using my 400mm lens - not ideal on a dingy afternoon.
Views in the field were brief, but reinforced the sandy appearance.
Amongst the still impressive supporting cast during all this excitement, the Lanceolated Warbler was again seen on 22nd (and has even attracted a charter plane to the island), 2 Olive-backed Pipits were still present from 19th (with 3 on 22nd), the Woodlark remained until 23rd at least, a Yellow-browed Warbler from 21st – 24th was joined by others on 21st and 23rd and a late Common Rosefinch on 21st at the Obs was the first of the month.
The OBPs generally lurk in the Meadow Burn, but do show well at times.
Incoming. The Woodlark arrives at Quoy.
 Amongst the commoner migrants, there were new waves of arrivals of Redwings (with around 1700 on 20th), Blackbird (174 on 23rd), Fieldfare (291 on 20th) and Robin (with 34 on 20th). Other new arrivals included a variety of Chiffchaffs (with at least a couple of tristis), up to 9 Blackcap, a Garden Warbler (22nd), 2 Black Redstart (20th), Whinchat (20th), Yellowhammer (22nd), up to 4 Goldfinch, various Redpolls (with North-westerns, Mealies and Lesser all noted), up to six Crossbills, and over 100 Snow and 6 Lapland Buntings.
A few other common migrants have lingered until late in the month, such as this Redstart.
A Moorhen was an unusual catch in the Vaadal on 21st, with Water Rails on 20th and 22nd. Light Greylag passage also brought with it the first European White-fronted Goose of the autumn, whilst the ‘blue’ Fulmar was still on the cliffs at Dutfield.
With the weather set to bring us strong, northerly winds, things seem to set to get colder and perhaps we might even be entering a quiet spell for birds, but let’s see…

*note: this is my blog, not a democracy, so I don’t have to stick to the majority opinion.

Thursday 18 October 2012

You Only Olive Twice (and then twice more...)

18th October
Although the day saw few new arrivals, there were an impressive 6 BB rarities present, along with decent numbers of thrushes and finches still lingering. The Hume’s Warbler showed again on Lerness, although it could still frustratingly go missing for long periods.
Although it showed well, the Hume's remained too distant for decent photographs, especially in the gloom of 'Moss' Geo.
A new arrival was a Hornemann’s Arctic Redpoll seen briefly at the Obs (or rather on the Obs) in the afternoon. As ways to find a good bird go, it was a rather odd one – I’d just sat at my desk with a cup of tea when the phone rang to remind me I was on fire duty at the airstrip and the plane had just left Tingwall, the winter timetable having confused me into thinking I had an hour longer than I did. As I ran around the Obs trying to find my fire kit, Susannah pointed out I’d left it in the people carrier. I dashed out and started putting my trousers on in the car park when I became aware of a redpoll call, although the only bird I could see looked like a Snow Bunting on the roof… A quick scan with my bins revealed not a Snow Bunting, but a stunning Hornemann’s Arctic Redpoll – I ran in, yelled ‘Arctic Redpoll on the roof’ and grabbed my camera in time to get a couple of snaps before it headed off south. It’s not been relocated yet, but hopefully one of the finch flocks down the island might draw it in.

Possibly the first rarity I've found whilst pulling up my trousers.
Surprisingly, all the other rarities were of the same species: Olive-backed Pipit. Jason found one, then two, then three in the Meadow Burn. When Will joined him, they went through the burn, saw two together, then another two. A total of four Olive-backed Pipits together is amazing stuff, even if it has been an excellent year for them. Even assuming the two sightings from recent days are part of the current flock, they are still the 5th – 8th OBP’s for Fair Isle this year; the descriptions keep coming, but we’re not complaining!
Amongst the passerines, the only other seemingly new birds were two Redstart and a Black Redstart. A passage of Greylag Geese saw at least 115 pass through, including an apparent white domestic goose – there has to be a chance that this was last year’s bird returning. A half hour seawatch from South Light produced 12 ‘blue’ Fulmars, with another one on the cliffs again at Dutfield, whilst a juvenile Glaucous Gull flew past Lerness.
The Great Grey Shrike, Woodlark and Great Tit (or Great Tits, as it seems there were two at Barkland today) all remain, adding to another more than decent day list.
Snow Bunting on the top of Ward Hill.

Wednesday 17 October 2012

17th October

A day of more easterly winds, with most migrants appearing in similar numbers and several decent birds remaining; with the Lanceolated Warbler, Great Grey Shrike, Great Tit and Woodlark all seen again. An Olive-backed Pipit in Field Ditch was assumed to be yesterday’s bird from Schoolton relocating, but photos seem to show a rather different head pattern, suggesting it could be the sixth of the autumn for us.

Great Tit sightings from several gardens around the island were assumed to be of one roaming individual, but there is the possibilty of two birds being present. Great Tit is a relatively regular visitor to Fair Isle, although not annual, but a Blue Tit would cause a lot more interest on the island!
Star billing went to the Hume’s Warbler found by Jason in the same geo that he found Magnolia Warbler in last month! After a brief view during census the bird disappeared, despite much searching. Jason eventually got good views later in the day, but by the time the rest of the wardening team arrived, it had gone to ground again. It did call once just before dusk but didn’t reappear – I’m hoping that it lingers until tomorrow and decides to be more cooperative.
One warbler that was more cooperative was this Chiffchaff at Chalet that showed a lot of positive features for tristis.
Tomorrow’s moderate northerly winds may not be too productive (although I’d not bet against it), but the various changes of wind direction over the weekend, with calmer weather, a day of westerlies then back to the SE could well be very interesting.
Even without stacks of new migrants, the birding is very pleasant, with plenty of birds about, such as these Bramblings and Snow Bunting at the Obs cover crop at the Skadan.

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