Saturday 30 June 2012

Paddyfield of Dreams

We’ve had everything except snow in the last few days, with a beautiful calm evening on Wednesday followed by a strengthening easterly wind that picked up to gale force before delivering a deluge of rain on Thursday night. Yesterday saw a morning of fog before the sun came out and today the visibility is again poor as the fog has descended, although it's expected to burn off later.
In amongst all that, the news came down from Shetland of Arctic and Great Reed Warbler being found, so surely we would have something here as well… Yesterday saw a check of the island produce a small selection of migrants, presumably all lingering ones (Spotted Flycatcher, Woodpigeon, Whitethroat, a few Chiffchaff etc), but today proved that it’s never wise to write off the spring on Fair Isle. Jason's early morning trap round produced three birds: a Starling, a Marsh Warbler (in the Gully) then, saving the best to last, a Paddyfield Warbler in the Plantation.
The 19th Paddyfield Warbler for Fair Isle (where Britain's first was found in 1925) but only the 5th in spring. As with many rare birds, Fair Isle enjoys a superb reputation for this species, having recorded more than any other county in the UK.
A distinctive bird in the hand and in the field and a lifer for many who saw it this morning. This bird will probably have spent the winter in India and has overshot its breeding grounds (it should have only gone as far as the Black Sea at the most) before finding the shelter of Britain's remotest island.

This morning's Marsh Warbler, a typical late spring migrant on Fair Isle, was the third to be ringed here this year.
After being ringed and processed in front of an appreciative small crowd, it was released and went on to show well in the Obs garden (where it and the Marsh Warbler joined the other lingering Marsh Warbler and Reed Warbler, providing a rather nice acrofest). No sign yet today of the River Warbler that was present until yesterday at least, but there’s got to be a chance that it’s still lurking out there, but what else might be as well…

Tuesday 26 June 2012

June bugs

The River Warbler is still in the Obs garden (where it pops out for short spells feeding in the open) where there is also a Marsh Warbler. A couple of Crossbills were a sign that birds are still moving, but generally there was not much to report today.
Other wildlife is starting to feature more heavily in the Log, with two Painted Ladies and a few Red Admirals appearing in the last couple of days, along with a handful of Silver-Y moths, although the moth trap is generally still quite quiet. Two Minke Whales were seen just off Sumburgh Head (outside of Fair Isle waters) by the crew of the Good Shepherd today, but cetaceans are still lacking off the island.

Silver-Y. This day-flying migrant moth can appear in large numbers across the island, but only a few have turned up so far this year. This one was caught in the moth trap last night.
True Lovers' Knot. A heather loving species that can appear by the dozen in the trap, but has only just started emerging - this one trapped last night was the first of the year.
A river runs through it. Well, actually, the River Warbler is round the corner in the Obs plantation, but this view from the Warden's office window is quite pleasing and the wildflowers hold a good variety of insects, which do attract various warblers.

Today is Hattie's last night on Fair Isle after being Bar Volunteer for the last two months at the Obs, many thanks for your time and effort Hatts - cheers!

Monday 25 June 2012

Tales of the River Warbler

The River Warbler showing its distinctive mottled breast.
A big surprise on Sunday evening was the discovery of a River Warbler in the Obs garden, which Jason discovered as it ran underneath a Reed Warbler he was watching. The nets were quickly opened and it was soon caught where, even more surprisingly, it was found to be the bird seen at Steensi Geo on 11th – 13th June. The damage to the tail (in particular the missing feathers and lack of most of the tail coverts), wings, head and back all matched the earlier sighting, so the presumed cat attack it suffered has obviously not proved fatal. Sadly the lingering Hawfinch was not so lucky as it was found predated on Saturday.
The bird is replacing its lost tail feathers, so it may linger at the Obs for a while yet. Without such distinctive features, it's tempting to speculate whether this would have been treated as a new bird from the previous sighting, which had not been seen for ten days and was at the opposite end of the island.
A few migrants have still been coming through, with a Dotterel on Hoini (21st), Turtle Dove on Meoness (23rd), Grey-headed Wagtail on Buness and then at the Obs (21st – 22nd) and three Marsh Warblers (at Schoolton until 22nd, on which date another was at Haa, with a third trapped on 24th) the highlights.
An unseasonal Pink-footed Goose (that arrived on 16th) lingered on Meoness, 3 Common Scoter appeared offshore and migrants that were either lingering or newly arrived included Kestrel, 3 Collared Dove, 4 Chiffhcaff, Willow Warbler, 2 Blackcap, 3 Garden Warbler, 2 Whitethroat, 2 Sedge Warbler, 2 Reed Warbler, 2 Spotted Flycatcher and Whinchat. A Robin and Blackbird were also still In the Obs garden.
Possibly south-bound waders included a couple each of Golden Plover, Common Sandpipers and Dunlin whilst Turnstone increased to a dozen.
Most of our recent work has been centred around the seabirds, with things still looking ok for some species. A full island count revealed 216 Arctic Tern nests with eggs, a huge improvement on last year, so we’re really hoping they can fledge young.
'Team Tern' on Buness
The variety of nest styles used by Arctic Terns was interesting, with flowers, lichen and sheep droppings amongst the 'themes' chosen by some of the birds.
The auk colonies are also doing better than last year with the first Razorbill chicks now fledging and several birds still bringing in food for their youngsters. A visit into the colonies early in the week didn’t produce any of the scenes of starving witnessed last year. Amongst the ringing in the colonies, a Razorbill was retrapped with a ring from 1979 (when it was ringed as an adult), whilst another ringed bird was possibly even older but we’re still digging out the details. It's always sobering for staff to find a bird older than them (although for me we'd probably have to catch an albatross for that to work!) and it would be great to think that in over 30 years time, FIBO wardens will still be catching some of the seabirds we ring this year.
Common Gull chicks on Buness, a sight not witnessed last year. We also have Arctic Tern chicks this year whilst the first couple of Arctic Tern chicks were also noted. Many of the small birds have fledged young now including Fair Isle Wrens, Rock and Meadow Pipit, Skylark, Pied Wagtail and Twite.

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Raining birds?

After a weekend of meetings (the Director’s were making their annual visit to Fair Isle) and pleasant weather, a fine drizzle this morning has turned into a bout of heavy rain this afternoon, but it could be worth the soaking… Already this morning, there has been a Hawfinch (briefly in the Obs garden) and newly arrived Black Redstart, Crossbill (6), Spotted Flycatcher, Whinchat, Blackcap, Chiffchaff (2) and Blackbird.
Not usually an indicator species, but on Fair Isle Collared Dove is just a visitor, so three in the garden this morning were a sign that there were new birds in.
Following on from a very impressive Crane (our third of the year) and a Short-eared Owl yesterday, it suggests that there is still a reasonable amount on the move, so maybe we’ll have more to report later.
Yesterday's Crane flew north across the length of the island, circled the Obs (where it is photographed here being added to the kitchen window list) then headed south again, when it may have left the island as it hasn't been seen since.
Apart from the migrants, there are various things to report from the weekend. Seabird work continues and, although things are looking better than this time last year, it is still probably not going to be a great season. The seabird spectacle is still impressive with Guillemots bringing back food, Razorbills still in the colonies (some with some quite large chicks), over 100 pairs of Arctic Terns nesting and Arctic Skuas still incubating, all of which are improvements on this time last year. There are also Gannets doing well whilst Puffins are feeding chicks now.
A very interesting record from the last few days concerns a pair of Linnets, which were seen nest building at Schoolton, although they seem to have abandoned any attempt at colonisation for now (but were still around yesterday as they roosted in the Gully). The Schoolton garden also hosted a Marsh Warbler, Reed Warbler, Whitethroat and Chiffchaff over the weekend, although none of them were easy to see in the dense Rosa.
The 2009/10 Annual Reports have arrived at the Obs, once the stamps have arrived we'll be sending them out to Friends of Fair Isle and we'll be annoucing the price soon for everyone else. We'll also shortly have a new website available, which is rather exciting. There are just a few fine tweaks to carry out then it'll be ready to go live - so you've still got time to make any suggestions for things that you would like to see on there (email with your thoughts).
Visitors enjoying a guided walk to the Puffin colony on Buness last night. Despite the flat calm seas, there were no cetaceans seen, but it's surely only a matter of time (there were two Killer Whales off Sumburgh Head yesterday). July is usually good for whales and dolphins, whilst the Puffins are at their showiest and Storm Petrel ringing starts in earnest, so there's plenty of good stuff to come.

Friday 15 June 2012

Summer Birding.

It’s no surprise that things are slowing right down here now as spring finally fades away into summer (only a week until the nights start drawing in!). Gannet and Kittiwake full island counts have now been completed and monitoring of many other species is going well. There are still a few signs that things may be better than last year, but it feels like a long way to go yet. The first Eider ducklings appeared in South Harbour on 14th, so that’s a start, whilst Storm Petrels are at their colonies at night (and some have been ringed) and Puffins are now carrying fish in good numbers into Buness.
In terms of the migrants, the River Warbler lingered until 13th (as did the Red-backed Shrike) and a few bits continued to trickle in, with a Marsh Warbler trapped today.
Today's Marsh Warbler nicely showing off its wing formula, with the placing of the emargination on the 3rd primary particularly useful in the identification, see the excellent comparison of Marsh and Reed Warbler on for more on these species.
Yesterday saw an interesting little selection of new arrivals, with an Osprey coming in off the sea at South Harbour and continuing north over the island the best of them. A Sparrowhawk was also new, whilst a small arrival of finches included Brambling, Mealy Redpoll and six Siskin. A small movement of Greylags included 13 heading north on 11th with 8 seen on 13th. The other new species for the year was a Red Admiral on 13th.
On the Guest House front, a couple of cancellations mean that we now have a little bit of space in the late-September/early October period. There's also still the chance to come and enjoy some potentially quality birding in late August/early September and late October (from 12th) as well. Check out the previous sightings on to get an idea of what you could find in late October, or have a read of the 2004 FIBO Annual Report!

Monday 11 June 2012

Steensi Surprise!

Seabird work took priority today and so there was no census carried out as the spring migration starts to slow up. However, migration never actually stops and so it was probably no surprise that arguably the biggest bird of the spring would turn up during a lunch break on the beach at Steensi Geo for the wardening team counting Kittiwakes. A shout from Jason revealed a River Warbler scuttling around the seaweed. Staff, researchers, islanders and visitors were swiftly rounded up and enjoyed views from the top of the cliff, where the bird eventually made its way towards the cliff top and showed well for a while.
A great bird and confiding at times, perhaps a local cat took advantage of this as the bird was lacking several tail feathers and coverts.
There are 13 previously accepted records of River Warbler from Fair Isle (and another in circulation with the BBRC), so this is definitely the place to be if you want to find one of these creeping locos.
A male Red-backed Shrike was at the Chapel and at least two Icterine Warblers were seen (although these may have been lingering birds), so there are still a pleasant selection of birds around.
There's more seabird work to come this week, although the constant northerly winds are not helping with this, but there'll hopefully also be a few new birds to report as well.

Slightly 'off-topic', but several people have been in touch with us about the quiz at the Scottish Bird Fair. The answers were: Guillemot, Yellow-breasted Bunting, Redwing, Black Guillemot, Bluethroat, Wheatear, Fulmar, Lanceolated Warbler, Bonxie and Red-backed Shrike. Thanks for everyone who took part.

Saturday 9 June 2012

All that glistens.

Star bird today was the Golden Oriole, which was tracked down to Kirn O’Skroo where it went against the grain of this species on Fair Isle and proved to be twitchable.
Somewhat out of context, seeing birds like this in these situations is one of the special things about Fair Isle.
It then decided it may as well go the whole hog and made the relatively short hop to the Obs where it landed straight in the mist net (and was the only new bird caught in there today!).

A beautiful bird, but difficult to age and sex; this one may have been an adult female but it wasn't possible to say for sure.
There were some new birds in, with a Marsh Warbler at Steensi Geo (the Marsh Warbler at Lower Stoneybrek also reappeared), Long-eared Owl, 2 Short-eared Owls, our first Cuckoo of the year, Mealy Redpoll and an increase in some warblers with counts of 10 Willow Warbler, 8 Garden Warbler, 8 Whitethroat and 3 Sedge Warbler, whilst 34 Swallows was also an more than recent days.
Lingering treats included the Crane, an Icterine Warbler at Schoolton and Midway and the Grey-headed Wagtail on Meoness.
After ten years of volunteering and working on Fair Isle, Becki will finally have to start believing in Golden Orioles and stop saying 'no such thing' whenever it is called at Log! Having ringed only the 9th Golden Oriole to be caught on Fair Isle, it is likely that she'll be smiling for the rest of the season at least!
So, another good day and the winds remain in the North-east, so anything is still possible...

Friday 8 June 2012

More Migrants.

Still lingering on the island, despite never being settled, most people have managed decent views of the Crane.
The winds stayed largely in the North-east and a few birds trickled in, although it was clear that conditions later on during Friday had become more favourable for migrants arriving. A small fall was liberally scattered with scarcities with the best being a female-type Golden Oriole in Troila Geo although, unfortunately, it lingered for only a couple of minutes before heading out the geo never to be seen again. Other picks from the bunch of migrants today included two Icterine Warblers, a female Red-backed Shrike, a female Grey-headed Wagtail (with another flyover flava wag) and Black Redstart. Other signs of the arrival included a Reed Warbler (trapped in the Gully), 6 Spotted Flycatcher, Pied Flycatcher, 6 Garden Warbler (the highest count of the spring!), 5 Whitethroat, 7 Willow Warbler, 2 Redstart, Whinchat, Tree Pipit, 2 Kestrel, Swift and 17 House Martin.
You aint seen me, right?
Yesterday a Marsh Warbler was at Lower Stoneybrek and there was a Woodcock, 3 Woodpigeon and a Merlin. Lingering birds included the Crane (7th - 8th), Lapland Bunting (to 7th) and up to four Ring Ouzel in Kirn of Scroo, which arrived on 5th.
The regular Fair Isle Thursday was a full house and we were treated to French tunes by some musicians who were visiting Fair Isle by yacht from Brittany, some excellent singing from an RSPB researcher and some Appalacian dancing by Hatty, as well as the usual excellent performance from various Fair Isle musicians.

Wednesday 6 June 2012

Come Crane or Shine.

A day of moderate easterly winds, showers and promising (if somewhat autumnal) conditions brought an interesting selection of birds. It was clear that the weather was making a lot of birds keep their heads down, so it was tough going at times and there were not a lot of migrants about, but we did manage to turn up three Icterine Warblers (one singing at Chalet and others at Schoolton and Stackhoull), a cracking male Lapland Bunting at the Airstrip, Short-eared Owl and there was a Common Rosefinch at Haa. Best of the day though was in the evening, when a Crane was picked up flying north over the island. Thanks to quick calls from a few folk down the island, most people at FIBO managed to get out and see it as it went north over the Obs, before deciding not to risk the journey to Sumburgh and heading south again. It was seen again a few times drifting around and may well still be on the island tomorrow. Hopefully there’ll be a few other birds as well as the easterly wind continues.
One of the few times the Crane managed to free itself of an angry entourage of Bonxies, Gulls and even Oystercatchers.
Sammy the Ranger's talk last night was on the Great Crane Project, so we're hoping that Hatty's talk tomorrow night on Siberia has a similar prophetic effect. Siberian Accentor on Friday anyone?

West delivers, now is it the turn of the East?

A big crowd, with FIBO staff, researchers, guests and islanders all enjoying a major Fair Isle rarity.
After a feeling that the spring was up and that the westerly wind that was coming all the way from Greenland might not do us much good, we were somewhat surprised by a couple of rather good birds this week. First up was a 1st-summer Ring-billed Gull found on Monday in South Harbour, only the third for the island. It remained until Tuesday at least and seems fairly settled, so perhaps it will hang around for a while.
A nice comparison between the 1st-summer Ring-billed Gull (left) and a Common Gull of the same age. Note the longer, deeper, more brightly coloured bill (with thick black band and small pale tip), larger size and build, paler mantle and worn coverts of the Ring-billed Gull.
The bird is favouring the South Harbour area and also feeds in Kirki and Mid Geos.
Note the distinctive tail pattern just about visible in this shot.
Not the most beautiful of birds perhaps, but a very good record.
Next up was a Redpoll trapped in the Plantation a few hours after the Ring-billed Gull was found. As it went into the trap it looked large and white, in the hand it was a bit more puzzling. A pale islandica Common Redpoll was considered a possibility, but the measurements seemed to rule this out. It seemed too pale for rostrata Common Redpoll and the measurements were perhaps too large for this subspecies, but is this within the range of a what a young hornemanni Arctic Redpoll would look like in the spring?
A big brute, with a wing of 85mm. The eyes looked tiny, the bill was fairly small looking and the plumage was constantly held in a loose and fluffed-up manner.
The rump was fairly well marked, although looked large and white in the field.
The undertail coverts.
In such a complicated group of birds as the Redpolls it may be risky to put a definitive name to this bird, but it is a safe bet that it is from the North-west. How far from and what the birds parents looked like would be another matter. If anyone has experience of the North-western Redpolls in early summer, or has an opinion on this intriguing bird, I'd love to hear from you.

After the excitement of birds from the North-west, the winds have now switched to the east. Straight away a Marsh Warbler has turned up (singing in the Springfield garden) and a few common migrants appeared this evening. The forecast is for the wind to stay in the east for a few days at least, perhaps time for one last hurrah in what has already been an enjoyable spring...

Friday 1 June 2012

The end of spring?

The last couple of days have seen a definite change in the daily routine, with the focus switching increasingly from migrants to the breeding birds. The wind has also switched to a less than helpful light northerly, which seems to have temporarily at least scuppered our chance for a good spring to be capped with an outrageous rare. With Hartlepool scooping the headline bird again and frequent messages from my erstwhile colleagues on the Farne Islands as they enjoy an excellent run of migrants (see for pics of a cracking male Rustic Bunting today), along with a few decent birds turning up on Shetland, there's certainly been the incentive for keeping going, but the migrants have been a bit thin on the ground here.

The Wood Sandpiper at Da Water has showed well at times.
A couple of big (in the literal sense) birds that have passed through were a low flying Osprey on 30th and a female Marsh Harrier at Wester Lother on 31st. New migrants included a Wood Sandpiper on Da Water (29th-31st), the first Reed Warbler at the year (at Schoolton) from 28th-31st, Grey Wagtail (28th-29th), Ring Ouzel (29th and 31st), a lovely pair of Snow Buntings (29th) and a Redwing (30th). Lingering birds included a selection of common warblers, 3 Icterine Warblers to 30th (with none on 31st bringing an end to 11 consecutive days of sightings), a corking red male Common Rosefinch (which was trapped at the Obs on 31st), Turtle Dove (to 30th), a couple of Mealy Redpoll and Siskin, a Whinchat and up to a dozen Spotted Flycatchers. A Painted Lady was the first butterfly of the year on 28th and the moth trap has started catching a few common species.
The breeding season is slower up here than in a lot of the UK, but several species now have chicks, including Mallards with this brood seen on Da Water on Thursday.
So, not a bad selection, but lets not forget the highlights of early Junes past: Bimaculated Lark, Cretzschmar's Bunting, Citril Finch, Hermit Thrush, Yellow-rumped Warbler and Collared Pratincole are just some of the birds to have graced Fair Isle at this time of year, so let's see what happens in the next week...

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