Friday 27 April 2012

Goings and Comings

A quick update from Fair Isle, where there’s been some pleasant birding (and some unpleasant birding in some of the heavy showers of the last couple of days), but a general decrease in numbers of migrants. With the traps and nets calmer and not so many birds on census it feels like it's been a chance for staff to catch their breath a little before our first visitors arrive tomorrow.
Most species were still present in good but dwindling numbers after 21st. Highlights amongst the many Robins, Dunnocks, Bramblings and thrushes included the Corn Bunting (until 25th at least), Great Grey Shrike (found by Becki at North Light then seen by several islanders as it wandered the south until 26th at least), Hawfinch (at Haa on 25th) and Wryneck (daily from 21st – 25th, with two on the latter date). The Hoopoe was reported again on 22nd by two islanders, but sadly evaded the FIBO staff and remains a glaring gap on my British list (there, now that I've confessed, surely I will see one!). Long-eared Owl were present on most days and Short-eared Owls peaked at two (24th), two Moorhens at Hjukni included a bird that was later trapped and is still lurking in Gilsetter and three Woodcock were around on 25th. Amongst the many common birds trapped during the period was a French ringed Robin, it's always an exciting moment to discover a 'PARIS' ring and we look forward to finding out the details of the bird's history.
Long-eared owls included a bird trapped in the Obs mistnets; this bird was in flight near Stackhoull.
Ring Ouzel counts remained in double figures, several came down off the cliffs during today's strong northerlies, so perhaps might make their way into the traps in the next day or two.
A few other migrants that are of interest locally at least included Jackdaw (from 22nd), a peak of nine Carrion Crows (22nd), three Grey Heron, Greenfinch (24th), Kestrel (26th), up to six Sparrowhawks and Woodpigeons rising to 18 on 26th. New birds for the year included Grey Wagtail (22nd), Lesser Redpoll (22nd), Whimbrel (from 22nd), Bar-tailed Godwit (23rd – 26th) and Black-tailed Godwit over Burkle (24th). The Green-winged Teal was last seen on 22nd then seemed to move off with its small cohort of Teal and an Iceland Gull lingered until 24th.
Flocks of Woodpigeons look somewhat out of place amongst the rocks, but you come to expect such things on Fair Isle.
Signs of long-distant migrants arriving are still pretty slim on the ground, with Wheatear counts yet to hit 100, a peak of just nine Swallows and a Yellow Wagtail (25th). The first Redstart and Grasshopper Warbler (both 24th) bucked the trend, but we still await the arrival of several species of warblers etc. Today’s gale-force northerly winds will have held things up, hopefully the calmer conditions forecast at the weekend will see the floodgates open.
A splash of added colour amongst the Robins, this Redstart is hopefully a sign of things to come.

Saturday 21 April 2012

Birds, birds, birds.

Light easterlies, drizzle, spring migration - a good combination. Excuse the brevity of this post, it's late, there's been a lot of ground covered today and a lot of birds tallied and hopefully we'll have to do exactly the same tomorrow.
It was clear from the outset that there were more birds in and not long after the start of census, Jason (him again, he really is on form!) found a Crane that showed well behind the airstrip and was popuar with several of the islanders (as well as all the Obs staff obviously). Right at the end of the day Quoy Stewart had a Hoopoe fly across the road at Setter, a mad dash and frantic search by the Obs team failed to produce any further sighting, but they are notoriously elusive when they visit Fair Isle and hopefully it will still be lurking somewhere... A Wryneck was also added to Susannah's 'found from the van' list as it emerged briefly from a ditch in Gilsetter.

It was perhaps the common birds that stole the show today though with some great numbers around, the cliffs were covered in flitting migrants, making the kind of day that every birder wishes for. Counts included 407 Robins, 76 Dunnock, 23 Ring Ouzel (making them commoner on the island today than Blackbird!), 112 Song Thrush, 2 Mistle Thrush, 72 Fieldfare, 43 Chiffchaff, 13 Blackcap, 3 Tree Pipit, 44 Brambling, 12 Chaffinch and 4 Mealy Redpoll.
Other highlights included: long-staying Green-winged Teal, Corn Bunting putting in another appearance at Taft, the Blue-headed (type) Wagtail and male Hen Harrier both still present, Lapland Bunting, Moorhen (a year tick!), Jack Snipe, Black Redstart and one each of Long-eared and Short-eared Owls.
The garden is full of birds, with several Bramblings adding a splash of colour.
Who knows what tomorrow will bring...

Rockin' with Robins

With so many birds around, there’s not much time for being at the computer, so excuse the brief summary of the last two day’s sightings:

Thursday saw an obvious arrival of birds during the day, with Robin numbers in particular increasing. The arrival brought the highlight of a Corn Bunting (there are less than ten records in the last 30 years) at Taft, with an early Wryneck at Lower Stoney Brek. Notable counts included 229 Fieldfare, 4 Swallow, 4 Reed Bunting and 91 Wheatear. A Long-eared Owl was seen again and a Whooper Swan flew north.

By the time I caught up with it properly, the flighty Corn Bunting was made even harder to see by the driving rain and strong winds. A great bird though - and Jason's good run of finds continues!
The first trap round of the day on Friday set the tone, with 19 Robins caught - census revealed an impressive total of 204 of them across the island. Other good counts included 13 Ring Ouzel, 98 Song Thrush, 23 Chiffchaff, 40 Brambling, 14 Dunnock, 9 Blackcap, 4 Willow Warbler, 7 Woodpigeon, 9 Goldcrest, 7 Chaffinch, 5 Linnet and 2 Mealy Redpoll.
Although we have Twite breedig on Fair Isle, Linnets (like this male) just pass through the island.
Scarcer species included a superb male Hen Harrier, our first ‘Yellow’ Wagtail of the year, Long-eared Owl, Lapland Bunting, Black Redstart, Iceland Gull, 2 Green Sandpiper and 6 Barnacle Geese
This interesting flava wagtail looks at the darker end of the range for Blue-headed, although it doesn't appear to match any of the other races (and its call sounded typical for Yellow Wgagtail). Although it has a hint of one of the southern races about it, my first thoughts were that I wondered what a Grey-headed x Blue-headed would look like?
A great day's birding was rounded off with Tim Dalling and Malcolm Green performing their 'Shearwater' show - absolutely superb. Their tour has come to an end now, but don't miss it if you get the chance to see them performing in the future.

Wednesday 18 April 2012

Wednesday's birds.

Despite the forecast, we woke up to a calm, bright day with just a light NE wind. The seemingly perfect conditions did indeed bring birds in, with several additions to the year list. A Great Grey Shrike headed the cast, with the other birds new to 2012 being Hen Harrier (a ringtail that flew north just before lunch), Swallow, Tree Pipit, Arctic Skua and Barnacle Goose (five of the latter went south).

Having been seen by Susannah from the minibus this morning, the Great Grey Shrike was able to be enjoyed be the whole team later when it was trapped in the Plantation. It was also found to have killed a Robin and hung its body in the Plantation.
A general increase in migrants saw counts of: 1 Grey Heron , 2 Woodcock, 7 Woodpigeon, Long-eared Owl, 2 Short-eared Owl, Goldcrest, 4 Chiffchaff, 2 Willow Warbler, 5 Blackcap, 27 Blackbird, 20 Fieldfare, 34 Song Thrush, 37 Redwing, 24 Robin, 2 Black Redstart, 65 Wheatear , 4 Dunnock, 3 White Wagtail, 270 Meadow Pipit, 18 Brambling (14 of which were caught by Becki in an impressive session in the Obs mistnets),1 Siskin, a flyover Redpoll sp. and 2 Lapland Bunting. A movement of gulls also saw an Iceland Gull and five Lesser-black-backed Gulls along with good numbers of Common Gulls. Finally, despite all the comings and goings, the Green-winged Teal remained on Da Water.
We also saw the arrival of Sammy, our new Ranger, on the morning flight (having been spared a crossing on the Good Shepherd by the high seas yesterday cancelling the sailing) as the team nears completion and the start of the visitor season gets ever closer. Speaking of which, several weeks are now fully booked for this year, although there are still gaps in most months. A few cancellations have also resulted in some rooms becoming available in the 'peak' period, including a couple for five nights from 19th September (and one room from 18th for six nights), one room from 26th-28th (3 nights) September and one room from 1st-4th October (5 nights), whilst there are now two spaces in the dormitory room from 28th September throughout October.

Tuesday 17 April 2012

There's birds in them thar winds.

After a month so far of mostly strong Northerly winds, today saw gale force easterlies instead. Conditions were hard enough for birding to start with and when the rain came in heavily, it became virtually impossible. Dave Wheeler, Fair Isle’s resident weather man, reported that the windchill was making the four degree temperature feel like minus eight, and we believed him.
We weren’t birdless though: despite the conditions Jason turned up a Firecrest at the Lower Station (the abandoned buildings by the mast). This gem of a bird was only the 6th record for Fair Isle, although this is the third in the last six years. It seemed to be really struggling with the appalling weather and was only seen briefly before finding shelter (or blowing away). Hopefully it may wander down to the traps or the Obs garden in the next few days so the rest of us get a chance to enjoy it.
The traps had a quiet, but still impressive morning, the only birds caught were a Long-eared Owl and a smart adult male Black Redstart. A few other migrants that were found (or identified before being carried away by the wind) included Brambling, 2 Woodcock, a Scandinavian Rock Pipit, Linnet, 12 Song Thrush (the only thrush species to show an increase today) and 3 Sparrowhawks. The Green-winged Teal was also still in residence on Da Water.
I didn’t take my camera with me today, so here’s a picture of yesterday’s Hawfinch (which didn’t show up on census today).
The Obs is starting to fill up, although it’s still a couple of weeks until we welcome our first guests. Tracey has arrived for another year as Domestic Assistant and Jess and Jane made it in during yesterday’s weather window to carry on with the ongoing Starling research work. Until we’re at full strength though we take all the help we can get, so Grace has been put to work with the hoover!

Monday 16 April 2012

Early birds.

An dawn start today for a Tystie and Fair Isle Wren survey, but things didn’t go entirely to plan. The day began well when a female Sparrowhawk was ringed in the Plantation, but shortly afterwards a combination of falling in the Field ditch and a snow shower made me regret the decision to leave my jacket in the ringing hut. Still, despite the cool weather, the wind had eased for the first time in days, a few birds were around and in the end an enjoyable time was had by all!
Tysties really are great little birds, displaying groups were putting on good performances today, although the total was down on the previous count (probably due to the less than perfect survey conditions).
Numbers of migrants around the island were still fairly low, but at least there were some, a definite improvement following days of strong northerlies. Finch passage was led by an impressive Hawfinch that arrived yesterday and continued to show well today, with 18 Siskin, 2 Chaffinch, a Linnet (trapped at the Obs), and an increase in Twite (to 58) also noted.
Given the lack of tall trees to hide in the tops of, Hawfinches on Fair Isle tend to be easier to see than elsewhere.
The selection of other migrants today included 5 Lapland and a Snow Bunting, 3 Willow Warblers, 12 Chiffchaff, 13 Wheatear, two Dunnock, five Woodpigeon and 223 Meadow Pipits, with two White Wagtails yesterday.
Most Lapland Bunting sightings are birds in flight, but this smart male was quite cooperative at Da Water.
Visible migration included several groups of Curlew (with a total of 70 recorded) and corvids: with 16 Hooded Crows and six Ravens thought likely to be migrant birds, whilst the three Rooks and six Carrion Crows definitely were as they don’t breed on Fair Isle.
All of the regular seabirds are now around the colonies, with Puffins ashore in numbers this morning. These Shags are part of a sadly dwindling population of this species on Fair Isle.
Bonxie numbers reached 60 last week and birds are settling back into territories, so the next counts will be the breeding surveys that start next month.
Lingering birds included the Green-winged Teal, the White-fronted Goose and four Pink-feet (up from two last week), a Green Sandpiper (since 11th), a juvenile Cormorant in South Harbour and a Kestrel (from 14th).
The Green-winged Teal is usually loosely in the company of Teal, although with todays count of eight being the highest Teal count of the year so far, it's not always easy to form a flock.

Cormorant is a scarce, but regular, visitor to Fair Isle. The pattern of the bare facial skin on this bird seems to safely identify it as the commonest British subspecies 'carbo'.
Finally, some more Tysties to make up for the fact I didn't manage to photograph a single Fair Isle Wren today despite surveying them. With only 28 singing males counted it seems that some of them are keeping quiet until it warms up a bit (although the total number of pairs is usually only 30-40).

Thursday 12 April 2012

The North Wind Doth Blow.

Peregrines last nested successfully on Fair Isle in 2009, a pair this year have been seen mating, so hopefully 2012 will see some positive news for this magnificent raptor.
Stiff northerly winds slowed things down again, with the only new bird for the year being a Green Sandpiper for the last two days in Gilsetter. A (very) few migrants snuck in today, with three male Lapland Buntings at Skadan the pick of the bunch. Two Snow Buntings were also seen and a female Brambling was new, as the birds continued in a decidedly wintery manner. Thrush numbers declined, Robins briefly peaked at 20 yesterday, a Merlin and Carrion crow arrived but Wheatear counts were in single figures and, other than a new Chiffchaff, no real summer migrants arrived.
The male Green-winged Teal remained on Da Water, providing a lifer for Becki (returning for her 10th season of work at FIBO - welcome back!) and Gill and David (who were so taken with their visit to Fair Isle last spring that they are back as volunteers this year!).
Twelve Lesser Black-backed Gulls were counted, which is the highest count of the year so far, but a lingering 1st-winter Glaucous Gull brought things back to the wintery theme. The Bonxie counts showed a rapid rise to over 60 yesterday, reminding us that the summer really is coming, but with a couple more days of northerly winds forecast, it might take a while to get here.

Wednesday 11 April 2012

Birds at last!

Well, it’s been quiet. Thankfully today (Tuesday 10th) saw the wind in the east and some rather pleasant conditions that brought in a few migrants at last. Pick of the bunch were our first Willow Warbler of the year (on the same date as 2011) and a superb Long-eared Owl on a fencepost at Springfield. The first small thrush fall of the spring saw counts rise to 39 Song Thrush, 37 Redwing, 25 Blackbird, 14 Fieldfare and singles of Mistle Thrush and Ring Ouzel (with Will scoring a full house of thrushes on North census!) and associated with this were 13 Robin, 10 Wheatears, four Woodpigeon and single Brambling and Woodcock.

Bramblings are always nice birds, especially in the spring
Lingering birds included the Green-winged Teal (back on Da Water after an absence of two days, will it hang on for Becki’s arrival tomorrow?!), three Common Scoter, two Pink-footed Geese and a White-front (amongst the flock of Greylag which is remaining unseasonably high at around 160 birds).
Other sightings today saw Bonxie arrive in numbers for the first time (with 44 counted), 66 Common Gulls moving north and one each of Glaucous and Iceland Gull.
A Reed Bunting has been wandering around the island for at least a week, showing a particular fondness for the Obs garden.
Pick of a quiet week prior to today included our first Greenfinch (9th, with the same day also producing Shelduck, Merlin, Sanderling, Woodock, Collared Dove, Dunnock and two Linnet). There were also a Mealy Redpoll (5th – 7th), a smart male Black Redstart (until 7th), Short-eared Owl (6th), Sparrowhawk (8th) and the 7th produced a few birds with four Goldcrest, five Chiffchaff and six Snow Buntings. The 7th was also the first Fair Isle Wren survey of the year, although the dawn start had to be delayed a short while as we waited for the snow to stop! A total of 31 singing Fair Isle Wrens were counted, about the same as last year’s early surveys. The survey also produced 100 Eiders offshore, the first Puffins on land, two Iceland Gulls and the pair of Peregrines that have been lingering on the west cliffs were seen copulating!
With snow forecast for the end of the week, it might be a little while before there’s much else to report, but who knows – it’s spring and this is Fair Isle after all.

Wednesday 4 April 2012

Today brought some heavy snow, with quite a lot lying this morning, although it had mostly melted by this afternoon as the sun came out. Census was tricky at times and generally involved enjoying the views rather than seeing any birds.
With the temperature dropping, the Obs garden has been busy. This Twite has been around since early March (when it was caught in the spiral trap): it was first ringed in Orkney in December 2009 and was also seen on Fair Isle in April 2011.
This Pied Wagtail has evaded the traps, but a series of photos of it running around in the garden revealed the ring number and showed it to have been ringed at the Obs in June 2010 (when it was aged as having hatched in 2009) alongside two juveniles, so it may well have been a breeding bird from the island. Pied Wagtails leave Fair Isle in the winter, so this bird has put in a few miles over the last few years.
Ravens weren't bothered by the conditions and seemed to actually be enjoying the weather!
Unusually for Fair Isle, the Ravens were in a flock, with up to 16 being rather sociable together.

Various seabirds were still on the cliffs, including these Fulmars which seemed nonplussed with the snow.

A Ringed Plover at North Light, looking as if it is wondering whether it may have been a bit hasty in its northerly migration.
The Green-winged Teal and Ring Ouzel remained today, there were also Jack Snipe, Iceland Gull and Chiffchaff, but otherwise it was quiet. Maybe tomorrow the calmer conditions will bring a few birds, if not there'll be an update in a few days when there's something to report!

Monday 2 April 2012

Owl in a Day's Work

Dave Wheeler promised snow, and we got it today. Some heavy showers created the occasional white-out and there was even a small amount lying at times. More to come tomorrow we're told.
Today's star turn was this Long-eared Owl, trapped in the Plantation this morning. What a stunner!

A happy Jason rings his first Long-eared Owl, it was a very lively bird given to much bill snapping and attempts to claw anyone handling it!
The wintry conditions have obvioulsy held up most migrants (will we get a deluge when the winds change?), but a smart male Ring Ouzel was near the Plantation, a Linnet was new for the year and a couple of Robins and a Reed Bunting also suggested that a very few birds were still sneaking in.
The Green-winged Teal remained on Da Water, both the White-fronts continued to show well and the afternoon saw lots more auks return to the island, a reminder that spring really is on its way!

April Cools

A cold North-westerly wind and some wintry showers made the day not entirely pleasant and the birds were generally similar to recent days. The Green-winged Teal was again on Da Water, but was slightly more settled this time and everyone got better views. The two White-fronted Geese remained and there are still good numbers of Greylags, with 150 counted today.
A star with stripes. The Green-winged Teal (left) posing alongside a Teal and illustrating the main identification features.
A Lapland Bunting was the pick of the small stuff, just one Chiffchaff and very few thrushes remain - at least it will be obvious when we get an arrival of new birds! The wind may have been responsible for the arrival of at least three Iceland Gulls scattered around the island and a Lesser Black-backed Gull was also new in. The Bonxie count crept up to six, although most of these were offshore and with the forecast of Northerly winds and possibly snow in the next couple of days, it looks like spring is on hold for now.

Sunday 1 April 2012

Teal or No Teal

The balmy conditions have long gone as NW winds, low cloud and showers have brought weather more expected for this time of year to Fair Isle. After the previous mini-rush of migrants, things have slowed down a bit, although a smart male Ring Ouzel was at the mast on Friday.
Census was slightly delayed this morning as we waited for the snow to pass (only a flurry of a wintry shower really, but still not very pleasant) and was interrupted after only an hour or so by a call from Jason to say he'd found a drake Green-winged Teal on Da Water. Jason's been on good form so far this season and, impressively, this was the second Green-winged Teal he's found this winter following one on Holy Island before he got back here. This was only the second record of this American duck for Fair Isle following a male at the same place in 2009.
Despite running back from Wirvie to the Obs and jumping straight in the people carrier, the bird had gone when I got to Da Water, so it was back in the vehicle for a check round the other likely sites ...
Teal often head to the rocky shore around South Light, but searching there produced no sign of them, although this blue Fulmar was seen heading east.
Four Common Scoter also passed South Light, although these are probably lingering birds.
Will turned up a couple of White-fronted Geese at Upper Leogh, but there were no Teal here, at Utra or Meadow Burn.
Thankfully after a couple of hours helping weed and tidy up Vaila's Trees in the afternoon, a quick check of Da Water produced the Green-winged Teal with four 'regular' Teal, although it didn't hang around for long. 
Although I had brief views of it on the water, Susannah (who arrived from the Obs with my camera) only managed to see the Green-winged Teal as it flew away. It's one of these (honest) but would you count it on your Fair Isle list on these views?!
Other birds were generally thin on the ground today, with the highlights from the slim pickings being a 2nd-winter Iceland Gull and a Blackcap.

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