Tuesday 27 March 2012

Seven Up.

What a great day: sunshine, calm weather and full census (and Tystie survey this morning) with a few birds to boot. Fair Isle is always a pleasure, but days like this are especially wonderful. This is just a quick round up as it’s been a long day, starting with 182 Black Guillemots counted on the survey plot (everything between North Light and South Light down the east coast), a higher total than last year.
The light SW winds encouraged some movement and no fewer than seven species were added to the year list (the biggest leap for the year list since January 1st!). These included: arriving summer migrants (Bonxie, Wheatear and a female Blackcap that beats the previous earliest Fair Isle record by a day); far-northern species heading back to their breeding grounds (two Mealy Redpolls and a Lapland Bunting) and a couple of species that have probably been added to just about every other year-list in the country some time ago (Collared Dove and Tufted Duck). Yesterday saw our first Lesser Black-backed Gull of the year and four Black Redstarts (not a year tick, but nice birds none the less)
Other migrants today included a male White Wagtail at Golden Water, nine Chiffchaffs, 55 Redwing and 13 Goldcrest, quite a nice little haul for this time of the year. Other birds to enjoy included the two Tundra Bean Geese, a first-winter Glaucous Gull, four Common Scoter and lots of Puffins (the first large numbers of this popular seabird this year).
The Good Shepherd crew saw a Minke Whale just off North Light on a good day for watching for cetaceans. This wasn’t as impressive as the three large rorquals seen on 21st February from the Good Shepherd, thought by the crew to be most likely Sei Whales. Rather gallingly, these were seen on the return crossing after I’d taken the GS off Fair Isle that morning!

Friday 23 March 2012


A couple of days of rather spring like weather have been matched by a few birds on the move. Yesterday saw the first Chiffchaff (trapped in the Obs garden) and the mistnets at the Obs turned up the second today. There was also a Black Redstart at the Obs today and two Snow Buntings at Stackhoull, with a small number of Goldcrests, Blackbirds and Redwings also around. A few Pied Wagtails were moving north overhead this evening and Meadow Pipits are now widely scattered across the island as spring continues its unstoppable march (there could be a pun in there somewhere).
A conundrum as to whether to count Long-eared Owl on the year list based on fresh looking pellets in the Obs garden yesterday was rendered redundant when, as I was planting a few cuttings at dusk, a Redwing shot out of the roses alarming like crazy. Sure enough, it had been spooked by the LEO, which cruised just past me. My attempts to catch it by opening the net and hiding underneath it making squeaking noises didn't work, although the Owl did circle low over the top of me before giving me a look that somehow managed to combine scorn and pity (not bad for a bird!) and heading off into the night.
A general build up of waders has been matched by a decline in many of the wintering birds, although the goose flock is still worth a look as birds start to head back to breeding grounds, with three Beans present earlier in the week (there has to be a salad based joke in there somewhere, a FIBO car sticker to the first person to come up with something suitable as I have to go and have dinner now).
First seen on Wednesday, this Taiga Bean Goose has been hanging around with Greylags during the week.

Whilst the two Tundras preferred life on their own and were showing very well in the paddock below School yesterday. Note the much neater look of the adult at the rear compared to the more diffusely patterned and scalloped youngster.

Tuesday 20 March 2012

Spring comes early, ruffly speaking.

The strong SW winds seem to have moved things about a bit, with an interesting selection of birds about the island. Pick of the bunch was a Ruff at Barkland, only the second spring record in the last 12 years and the earliest Fair Isle record by nine days. Amongst the other common waders a Jack Snipe at Da Water was also notable.
The Ruff (despite being seen with Starlings here) was generally with waders (Lapwing, Redshank and Ringed Plovers) in the fields at Barkland.
As well as the Ruff, the year list got a boost from two Bean Geese opposite Stackhoull, the first here since 14th December and the first description species of the year!
One with a long-looking dark bill and one with a very orange bill, but overall size and structure (particularly the dumpy necks and head shapes) seems to identify these as Tundra Beans. The poor picture quality here obvioulsy doesn't help.
There were very few passage migrants, although the stiff wind may have been keeping some stuff hidden, and it appears that a lot of the wintering thrushes have cleared out (although a small group of Fieldfares were at Barkland). Three Siskins were still at their usual feeders (two at the Obs, one at Haa), a Woodpigeon roamed the south of the island and Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits are lightly scattered around, although Skylarks are on the move in reasonable numbers, with over 120 noted today (which is likely to be only a proportion of the total present). Small numbers of Common and Black-headed Gulls were around and an adult (or near adult) Glaucous Gull was off Finnequoy, the first white-winger to be seen for a while.

With Assistant Wardens returning soon and some south-easterlies forecast, I'm hoping there'll be a few more birds to report soon.

Monday 19 March 2012

All quiet on Fair Isle...

...so some gratuitous birdy pics from my Israel trip instead...

After my plane off Fair Isle was cancelled, I had a hastily rearranged schedule, which went something along the lines of: ferry, flight, flight, drive (700 miles), drive, train, flight - and that was just to get to Heathrow. On the plus side, it turned out that the route 'accidentally' ended up going via a Common Yellowthroat and Dark-eyed Junco, both new birds for me.

After being put on the spot, I decided that Temminck's Lark was my bird of the trip - well worth the 3am start on our first morning in Israel (after an overnight flight with very little sleep!).

But being a big fan of Wheatears, they were the bird family that impressed me most on this trip, with eight species seen. This White-crowned Black appeared in the mist nets on our first morning as a nice bonus whilst we were aiming for larks.
The variety of birds in Israel is astounding and the number of subspecies is at times bewildering (Lesser Whitethroats being a classic example). It was good to get experience of birds like this 'Caspian' Stonechat, an extremely rare bird in Britain, but one that's on the radar for Fair Isle.
Steppe Buzzards were only moving in small numbers, but one would occasionally interrupt the ringing as it drifted low overhead.
A fantastic bit of guiding from Itai saw him find us an Asian Desert Warbler at KM33, the bird we wanted to see and  literally the only bird we did see in this piece of desert, although had it been a couple of hundred metres further away it would have snuck over the border fence into Jordan.
Cretzschmar's Bunting in a park in central Eilat...

...where there was also this Cinereous Bunting, an unexpected bonus (especially as I missed one the last time I was in Israel) and another new species for me.
In fairness to Fair Isle, a few migrants can be seen at the moment, but a combination of a foul day of weather today (which turned so bad, we’ve ended up with our first guest of the season as an electrician doing some work at the Obs has been stranded overnight) and a dose of lurgy that has taken its toll on the Parnaby family one by one, has limited the amount of birding that has been done. A walk on Saturday saw me sat in the bottom of a five-foot deep ditch at 6.45am when the bit I was jumping gave way (a sure sign that you should give up on the day and go back to bed!) and also turned up three Goldcrests and a Woodpigeon. Three Siskins were at the Haa, with two of them then moving up to the Obs and a scattering of Lapwings, Ringed Plovers, Skylarks and Meadow Pipits were also on the move. Saturday morning also saw a selection of singing and displaying birds, with a particularly good show of Fair Isle Wrens and a couple of pairs of Lapwing and Curlew on territory, a reminder that survey work is just around the corner.

Wednesday 14 March 2012

Back Home

The FIBO team have just returned from a ringing trip to Israel, based at the International Birding and Research Centre Eilat, so apologies for the lack of updates from the island recently. We had a fantastic time: lots of birds ringed, over 160 species seen, plenty of new birds for everyone and a very enjoyable time at a location that probably couldn’t be more different from Fair Isle! Huge thanks to Itai, Yotam, Tsadok and the rest of the team at the IBRCE for their hospitality, help, expertise and tips on where to see new species. It would be nice to see some of the IBRCE team on Fair Isle at some point, I don’t think the Shetland weather was a major draw but the thought of ringing Storm Petrels, Skuas, Puffins etc might have persuaded them (and of course anyone else reading this who would like to get their hands on some seabirds should consider a holiday here in the summer).
I’ll be writing up our trip report at some stage, so I’ll post an update on that later, but in the meantime, here are a couple of pictures to keep you going.

Difficult to choose a star bird for the trip, but this Little Green Bee-eater in the hand was a contender.

A trip into the desert for ringing on our first morning produced some stunning species including Temminck's and Desert Larks, White-crowned and Isabelline Wheatears and these Trumpeter Finches.

A tiny park in the centre of Eilat produced Cinereous Bunting, Masked Shrike and over 20 Cretzschmar's Buntings - it was very odd to see the latter shuffling around in flocks like sparrows.
It's a rubbish photo - but it's a Macqueen's Bustard, so I don't care! One of about six seen on a morning trip to the Negev.

Opening the nets at 5.45am every morning was never a chore given the birds we were catching. Some days saw up to 200 birds trapped, with Chiffchaffs and Lesser Whitethroats predominating but a wide range or birds including this Eastern Orphean Warbler - what odds one of those on Fair Isle in 2012?
Visible migration included several species of raptors, gulls, wildfowl, waders and passerines, with one day producing several hundred Cranes overhead.
It wasn't just about the birds (although most of it was in fairness!), the mammal list was pretty impressive and included Nubian Ibex.
But what of Fair Isle? While I was away, I have missed the start of spring, with several species making their annual debuts incuding Black Redstart, Pied Wagtail, Reed Bunting and Woodpigeon, although thankfully there was no 'biggy' during my abscence. Skylarks and Oystercatchers are everywhere (a flock of 70+ Skylarks flew over the Vaadal whilst I was repairing it yesterday) and there have obvioulsy been a few thrushes on the move. I also missed a visit by the RSNO, some good displays of Northern Lights and an earthquake! Hopefully the exciting start to the year will continue and there'll be more news to give you soon.

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