Wednesday 26 September 2012

25th September

We have been enjoying a fantastic run of birding (with the last four days producing eight BBRC rarities) and today saw a reasonable arrival of common migrants. The rarity quotient was provided by the lingering Paddyfield Warbler and Olive-backed Pipit and scarcities included a Richard’s Pipit at Utra, three Little Buntings (the lingering bird at the Havens, with new individuals at Lower Leogh and Kenaby), Red-backed Shrike, Bluethroat, Hawfinch and ten Yellow-browed Warblers.

A small fall of thrushes included 173 Song Thrush, 40 Redwing, 5 Ring Ouzel, 2 Mistle Thrush, 2 Blackbird and a Fieldfare. The main support was provided by 80 Brambling, 56 Snow Bunting, 54 Goldcrest, 20 Tree Pipit, 65 Snipe and 14 Jack Snipe. Species arriving in smaller numbers included 9 Redstart, 8 Dunnock, 6 Chaffinch, 3 Wood Warbler and a Common Sandpiper, whilst there were two Sooty Shearwaters seen from South Light.
The conditions are set to become less favourable for new arrivals in the forthcoming days, but I suspect that there may be one or two more surprises lurking out there waiting to be found.

Tuesday 25 September 2012

The Rarities Keep Coming.

24th September
Despite Wardens being at Copper Geo from before first light, there was no sign of the Magnolia Warbler on Monday, it had left its roost during the night and was not relocated, disappointing several potential twitchers around the country.

There was still excellent birding to be had, beginning with a mobile Paddyfield Warbler found at Setter before breakfast that was eventually pinned down in Boini Mire. Another BB rarity was added to the growing list of recent arrivals when an Olive-backed Pipit was found later in the morning at the Walli Burn. The Blyth’s Reed Warbler was also still present, lurking in the Schoolton garden.
The Paddyfield Warbler showed down to a few metres later in the day as it fed in the long grass of the Boini Mire.
A number of scarcities were also around the island, with the 28 Yellow-browed Warblers (up from 21 on Sunday) leading the way.
Yellow-browed Warbler was the commonest warbler on the island, with the cliffs in the North of the island being particularly productive for them.
A confiding Little Bunting discovered in the Havens late in the afternoon was the first of the year and other scarcities included two Corncrakes (although sadly one was found dead in Guidicum), Hawfinch (at Copper Geo), Barred Warbler, Common Rosefinch, Bluethroat and Red-backed Shrike.
The Little Bunting at the Havens. 
The day was also noticeable for the arrival of common migrants that largely took place later in the afternoon. Chief amongst these were Song Thrush (61) and Goldcrest (39), whilst other signs of new arrivals included 13 Tree Pipit, 19 Redwing, Blackbird, Mistle Thrush, 9 Willow Warbler, 7 Lesser Whitethroat, 6 Blackcap, 3 Chiffchaff, Garden Warbler, 4 Redstart, 5 Pied Flycatcher, 3 Dunnock, 4 Chaffinch, 7 Brambling, 2 Kestrel, 8 Jack Snipe, Ruff, 2 Woodpigeon and a Short-eared Owl. Scattered bunting flocks around the island totalled 25 Snow and 36 Lapland Buntings.
With the wind still in the east, Tuesday has dawned full of promise. There is nowhere else I’d rather be at the moment!

Sunday 23 September 2012

23rd September

No time for any ‘east meets west’ headlines, or ‘Magn(olia)ificent’ puns, this is an update about the absolutely stunning MAGNOLIA WARBLER found this evening by Jason on Lerness. I had a call from Jason at just after half five saying ‘get everyone now, there’s an American warbler on Lerness – it’s yellow with a grey head, green mantle and white panels in the tail. Come quickly, bring the books!’. The diesel I was meant to be filling the people carrier with was forgotten and we quickly set about rounding up Obs guests from across the island and letting folk know about the bird.

It wasn’t long before 30 or so people were gathered on the clifftop at Copper Geo watching the most amazing bird I’ve seen in a long time. With the sun setting over the Atlantic behind us, the bird was virtually glowing as it fed on the cliffs. Views were not very close, but Copper Geo is a fairly narrow geo, so through a scope it was pretty stunning!
The Magnolia Warbler. Stunning, just totally stunning.
Showing the distinctive tail pattern.
As the moon rose and the sun started setting, the Magnolia Warbler found itself a little nook near the clifftop where it fluffed up into a bright lemon ball and went to roost, where we left it at 7.25pm with the calls of a Yellow-browed Warbler ringing around the geo.
If anyone is planning on visiting Fair Isle, visit for travel details, although there are likely to be limited places on the scheduled planes and ferry services. Charter planes must seek permission from the airstrip manager, which is usually Dave Wheeler (01595 760224) but will be Fiona Mitchell (01595 760314) on Monday morning until 11.15am whilst Dave is away. The forecast for tomorrow is for increasing easterly winds, which may cause some problems for the planes. I’m afraid the Obs accommodation is virtually fully booked (we might be able to squeeze one more person in).
The Magnolia Warbler is in Copper Geo (marked with the red 'M' on the map), which is on Lerness. If anyone is visiting Fair Isle, the quickest way to get to it is to walk straight up from the airstrip staying left of the mast and buildings. We'll either have somebody at the geo or will mark where it was visible from if it is still present tomorrow. It's a 15-25 minute walk from the airstrip, with a couple of uphill sections and some boggy ground.
An impressive supporting cast today consisted of Lanceolated Warbler (trapped at Da Water), Blyth’s Reed Warbler (still at Schoolton), Arctic Warbler (the lingering bird), probably 20+ Yellow-browed Warblers (we’ve not done Log yet, so I haven’t got all the totals) and various other lingering scarcities including Bluethroat, 2 Common Rosefinch and a few Barred Warblers.
I can't believe this impressive bird is in the 'other news' today, but what a great find this Lanceolated Warbler was in Da Water.
Well, best go and do Log. We’ll be up early (first light, which is about half six) to look for the Magnolia Warbler in the morning and will get news out as soon as possible either way.

22nd September

What a day! The weather continued to be very light NW winds and sunshine, but the birds kept coming. Highlights included a trio of BBRC warblers with a Booted discovered late in the day at Haa, Blyth’s Reed at Schoolton and the Arctic still present (although mobile).
The Blyth's Reed Warbler did show well at times in the Schoolton garden, but generally not when I had my camera!
A good arrival of scarcities saw Yellow-browed Warbler make its entrance onto the year list with a conservative count of 14 around the island, 5 Barred Warblers, 2 Bluethroats, 2 Common Rosefinches, a Red-breasted Flycatcher in Troila Geo and a Red-backed Shrike at Setter. Amongst the counts of commoner migrants were 18 Willow Warblers (so just pipping Yellow-browed as the commonest warbler of the day!), 8 Lesser Whitethroat, 4 Chiffchaff, 3 Blackcap, 2 Garden Warbler, 2 Whitethroat, 3 Whinchat, 41 Lapland Buntings,14 Snow Buntings, 5 NW (and 2 Mealy) Redpolls, 2 Jack Snipe and 7 Grey Heron. A Redwing at Springfield was the first of the autumn and 3 Spotted Flycatchers and 6 Pied Flycatchers were the first of the month (which, along with the lack of September Redstarts so far this year, shows the effects of the consistent westerly winds of the last 3 weeks).

As if the birds weren’t enough, the calm conditions enabled 13 Risso’s Dolphins, 3 White-sided Dolphins and 23 Porpoise to be seen from the north of the island, whilst 10 White-beaked Dolphins and a Minke Whale were seen from the Good Shepherd.
The day was rounded off nicely with several of the islanders coming up to the bar to help celebrate Will’s birthday (I’m hoping my birthday next week has a similar set of birds!). Spirits amongst a full Obs were understandably high as the days birds were reflected upon and the prospect of more easterly winds was discussed. Will it bring more birds, we’ll find out soon…

Friday 21 September 2012

The autumn starts here?

21st September
A beautiful day on Fair Isle saw blue skies (with just a couple of showers!) and virtually no wind. The day started well, with 5 Lapland Buntings trapped in the Sheep Cru, one of which had been ringed on Fair Isle in late September 2010, a remarkable retrap record. Census revealed a total of 39 Lapland Buntings, along with the Pectoral Sandpiper still present on the South Harbour beach, whilst 3 Barred Warblers (2 at the Obs) and a Common Rosefinch (also at the Obs) were also new in, giving the day even more promise.
This promise was realised when Will found an Arctic Warbler at the Plantation in the early afternoon. Amazingly, whilst watching the Arctic Warbler, a Citrine Wagtail flew overhead and landed in Gilsetter before heading south down the island where it was seen at Barkland then South Harbour.
The 4th Arctic Warbler of the year for Fair Isle - just before it was flown over by the 4th Citrine Wagtail of the year for Fair Isle!

This 1st-winter Arctic Warbler shows off all its main identification features in the hand.
The numbers of other migrants were generally low, but the 5 Willow Warbler, 5 Lesser Whitethroat, 3 Garden Warblers, Chiffchaff, Reed Warbler and Mealy Redpoll were all new in. So a good day all in all, but with the forecast looking promising for the next few days, perhaps this is just the start…

Thursday 20 September 2012

20th September. Eastern Promise?

The westerly winds brought another American wader to Meoness, when a Pectoral Sandpiper arrived on 19th. Although initially flighty, it went on to show well today. There was also a steady increase in Lapland Buntings to 24 by 18th, at least six ‘North-western’ Redpolls lingering (with trapped birds all indicating they are rostrata) and 14 Snow Buntings.

Lapland Buntings have included at least five feeding in the Sheep Cru.
The large size, dark plumage and heavy flank streaking point towards the identification of these Redpolls as 'Greenland' birds, further backed up by measurements taken when they were trapped.
The westerly winds have not been great for movements of birds at sea, with two Sooty Shearwaters seen from the Good Shepherd on 17th and two Red-throated Divers off South Light (18th) the highlights, whilst there were also 7 Porpoise off Buness on 20th.
The conditions have also mitigated against many arrivals from the east, with the few lingering migrants joined on 17th by Sedge Warbler and three Siskin, with the following day bringing four Willow Warbler, Blackcap, Garden Warbler and Woodpigeon and 5 Linnets on 20th. Skylark numbers have been building up, with a peak of 269 noted on 18th. Given the lack of migrants, it was surprising to get a locustella in the Obs mistnets today with a wing length of just 58mm. Despite the very short wing, other biometrics and plumage features showed that the bird was a Grasshopper Warbler, although an eastern origin would seem a good possibility.
Perhaps this could be the start of a few new arrivals as a couple of calmer days are hopefully due to be followed by some easterly winds, which on Fair Isle at this time of year, could prove to be rather exciting.

Sunday 16 September 2012

Cry me a River.

The westerly winds have continued, although today was at least largely dry and sunny. As the winds started to ease a bit, there were a few hints that birds were on the move. A Barred Warbler (at Skerryholm) and 3 Common Rosefinch were all possibly lingering birds, but a Willow Warbler and Blackcap trapped in the afternoon were probably new-in and added to the small numbers of lingering common migrants. One of these, a Whinchat, was trapped yesterday and found to have been ringed here in the spring. This confirmed that the various summer sightings of Whinchat were of this one lingering bird, an unusually lengthy stay on the island for this species.
One bird which didn't manage to linger for long was the River Warbler that had been trapped here on 11th September. Sadly it was found dead today by the Obs plantation, the arduous crossing of the North Sea against the westerly winds evidently proving too much for it to recover from (it was in an emaciated condition when found).
Census counts of commoner migrants today showed reasonable increases in Wheatears (to 67) and Skylarks (113), whilst there were also 14 Snow Buntings and 13 Lapland Buntings. A few Pink-feet are still on the move, with 18 today, but a far more unseasonable sighting yesterday was the Puffin circling over the Roskillie colony with a mouthful of fish!
The River Warbler in happier times (photo by Sammy Fraser).

Saturday 15 September 2012

9th - 14th September Update - westerly winds with a few surprises.

First the good news - the emails are up and running again. If you've sent anything in recent days to and haven't had a reply, please resend it as it might not have made it through.

The bad news is that the hoped for easterlies haven't materialised, nor is there any sign that they are coming anytime soon. That said, previous years when the earlier parts of September have been dominated by westerly winds, the birds just seem to stack up and come in en-masse later on.
Wheatears increased again from the 8th, with over 80 seen. Many of the trapped birds had measurements fitting leucorhoa, showing they have arrived here from Greenland.
This is Fair Isle though so, whatever the weather, good birds can turn up. It was still a surprise to find a River Warbler in the nets at the Obs on 11th though. The second this year for Fair Isle and the 16th record for the island (of a British total of around 41 records). Thanks to the visiting ringers who had the nets open, without whom this bird probably wouldn’t have been found.
River Warbler (photo Jason Moss), a surprise pre-breakfast find on a day dominated by westerly winds.
A Marsh Warbler (12th) and Corncrake (10th) must also have battled against the wind to get here as well. Amongst the more regular scarcities, there were up to four Common Rosefinches (9th) and at least two Barred Warblers (although there unbroken record of daily appearances from 14th August was ended with two blank days on 12th – 13th).

Marsh Warbler (photo Ed Tooth).
 Birds that had taken advantage of the westerly winds to make it to Fair Isle included seven large, dark Common Redpolls (three of which when trapped had measurements that suggested rostrata; ‘Greenland’ Redpoll), smaller numbers of Pink-footed Geese and Lapland Buntings (which had risen to 11 by 14th). Snow Buntings also increased, with the first on 11th rising to 15 three days later. The first Jack Snipe of the autumn showed very well on the Obs (12th) and the Buff-breasted Sandpiper was last seen on 10th.
Lapland Bunting on Buness, presumably an arrival from the North-west.
An impressive addition to the year-list was an adult Pomarine Skua seen from the Good Shepherd (10th), a slightly less glamorous addition was the Scaup found dead in Hesti Geo.
It looks like there'll be a few more days of westerlies yet, but another surprise or two like the River Warbler could still be out there somewhere waiting to be found...

Wednesday 12 September 2012

Email problems

Please note that there is currently a problem with the email address, which is not accepting incoming messages.
You can still get in touch with the Obs via or or by calling us on 01595 760258.
We'll update here as soon as the issue is sorted, apologies for any inconvenience in the meantime.

Saturday 8 September 2012

Geese is the Word.

A wet day, starting calm, but with a developing SW wind was not the most promising of conditions for new arrivals, but it turned out to be a great day for Pink-footed Goose migration. Several flocks were seen coming on off the sea and in the deteriorating conditions, many chose to settle at North Light. At least 1,040 were counted during the day, although with many flocks circling the island getting an accurate count is never easy and this is probably a conservative figure.

The Buff-breasted Sandpiper was seen again, after a brief appearance on the ‘golf course’ near Muckle Jorms Geo it was tracked down to the base of Malcolm’s Head with a small group of Turnstone and Ringed Plover before moving to the grassy area round Utra scrape. Also lingering were 2 Common Rosefinch and a Barred Warbler and there were 60 Golden Plover on the Rippack and 4 Storm Petrels seen from the Good Shepherd.

Friday 7 September 2012

Buff Justice

After a few days of westerly winds dominating the weather we were hoping for an American bird, and after the conditions the wardening team went out in yesterday we almost felt we deserved one! Today started with a north-westerly flavour, when the first Pink-footed Geese of the autumn flew over (47 were eventually recorded heading south during the day) and a Lapland Bunting on Vaasetter was the first of half a dozen to be found during the day. The highlight however was the Buff-breasted Sandpiper found on Meoness. Sadly it was a rather flighty individual and disappeared shortly after being found. Hopefully it will turn up somewhere around the island tomorrow.

Fair Isle lies more or less where the North Sea and the Atlantic meet, so migrants from any direction can find their first landfall here. The Buff-breasted Sandpiper was a rather flighty bird and had possibly arrived only just before it was found.
The wind turbine facing the west in September means Meoness is always worth careful attention. This is the 14th Buff-breasted Sandpiper for Fair Isle, all of which have occurred in this month and four of which have been first discovered in this particular part of the island.
The delicate scalloping effect on the mantle shows this to be a young bird.
Two Black-tailed Godwits were also newly arrived and counts of scarce migrants included four Common Rosefinch (three of which have already been ringed here in the last few days) and two Barred Warblers (both at the Obs this afternoon).
Although a few small groups of Golden Plovers are present, they are all 'Eurasian' so far.
Common Rosefinches at Barkland. The two birds that were caught and ringed together have now split up and are both associating with different Rosefinches!
 So another day with a pleasing array of birds and some enjoyable birding as the sun came out. Tomorrow looks set to be wet, but the Shipping Forecast has just thrown us an interesting little twist to what we were expecting: ‘Fair Isle: southwesterly, backing easterly in north, 5-7, decreasing 4 for a time’. Any mention of east at this time of year always raises an eyebrow; whether this will be enough to bring anything in (and whether the conditions will allow for much to be found) will be found out tomorrow…

Thursday 6 September 2012

Storm Force.

A calmer day yesterday, although the wind remained relatively blowy from the west. A few migrants did make it through, with the first two Lapland Buntings of the autumn noted along with two Sedge Warblers and a Blackcap that were also new in. A Redpoll flying over Dutfield was also new, but it didn't land, so couldn't be (sub)specifically identified. The Arctic Warbler was again showing in the Bull's Park crop strip, whilst other lingering birds included 2 Barred Warblers (the showy bird at the Obs and one that roamed from Setter to Chalet), a Common Rosefinch (in the Houll crop strip), Sand Martin, Fieldfare, Sparrowhawk, Siskin, Whinchat and a small number of commoner warblers.
With the wind continuing to fall away through the evening, we put on a Storm Petrel ringing session for an eager Obs-load of guests. A successful night saw 45 birds caught, with many of our guests I suspect now ranking Stormie as one of the birds of the trip. That's probably it for the petrel ringing for the year, as we have very few calm nights forecast in the next week or two, but's it been a good season for this ultimate mini-seabird, with around 870 ringed and a few birds from elsewhere being caught, including two from Norway.
So not a bad haul of birds yesterday, especially considering the recent weather, although today looks like we'll have to cope with another wet and windy westerly gale. This is Fair Isle though, so you never know what could turn up (although the weather might have to improve a bit before we can see it!).

Tuesday 4 September 2012

Wests for now...

We got blasted by westerly winds today that peaked at 60mph, so, not surprisingly, there weren't a lot of new birds to be found. Winner of the 'how on Earth did it do that?' award was the juvenile Sand Martin that arrived today, well done to that little fella for battling against the elements to make it here (unless it was a 'Bank Swallow' from America of course...!). Seawatching produced just one Sooty Shearwater (off Buness), although a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls were noted heading south and 26 were on Meoness, by far the largest count of recent weeks.
Lingering birds included the Arctic Warbler (on 3rd, with a Phyllosc glimpsed in the Gully on 4th suggesting it was still present), Barred Warbler, Fieldfare and two Common Rosefinch (on 3rd, with one at the Obs on 4th).
Tomorrow looks like it will be a bit calmer, but a few more days of westerlies look to be on the cards after that. However, there is some promise on the horizon... Forecasts seem to suggest that we could be in for a week or so of easterlies from next Wednesday. That's still a way off, so anything could happen, but it's got us excited! We've still got a couple of rooms free at the Obs from 14th, so you could time a visit for some potentially very good birding...

Sunday 2 September 2012

Autumn advances...

Sorry for the lack of updates – the time is flying by and I hadn’t realised I’d gone so long without keeping you up to date. You may have noticed though that sightings are going up again at as part of the revamped FIBO website, there are still a few little bits need sorting out, but I hope you enjoy it and I’d welcome any feedback.

Anyway, back to the birds… the easterlies of the 27th hadn’t really delivered much, with two lingering Barred Warblers and a new Fieldfare the only migrants of note on 28th. The strong south-west winds did deliver some seawatching, with a Sooty Shearwater, 9 Manx Shearwaters, a ‘Grey’ Fulmar and 14 Arctic Skuas seen.
A calm morning on 29th didn’t seem set to bring much either, but this is Fair Isle, and so it perhaps shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise to find the month’s 3rd Arctic Warbler in the Gully trap! The Arctic Warbler went on to linger until at least 1st September (and was probably seen at dusk on 2nd as well). A few other new migrants were noted on 29th as well, with Grasshopper Warbler, 2 Reed Warblers, Black Redstart, 4 Pied Flycatchers, Kestrel and Cormorant amongst the new migrants, Meadow Pipits increased to 335, Alba Wagtails to over 100 and lingering birds included a Common Rosefinch and 2 Barred Warblers.
Arctic Warbler, photo by Will Miles
The end of August saw just a few more birds arrive, with a small number of common wildfowl and waders and a new Fieldfare (joining the lingering bird) on 30th, whilst the 31st saw light south-easterlies that brought Sparrowhawk, Woodpigeon, a Reed Warbler, Siskin and Crossbill along with the two lingering Barred Warblers.
September always brings a feeling of excitement and, although the weather hasn’t been great for migration so far, the 1st saw an arrival of new birds including Common Rosefinch (at North Light), 4 Siskin, Dunnock, Whitethroat, Green Sandpiper and Swift, whilst lingering birds included 2 Barred Warblers, Crossbill, Sparrowhawk and 2 Merlin (and the Arctic Warbler of course). A steady trickle of birds in the traps on 2nd mostly comprised Meadow Pipits, Twite and White Wagtail, but also included the Crossbill and two Common Rosefinch (with that trap round being well appreciated by our guests!), though there were not many other signs of new migrants, with Barred Warbler, Reed Warbler, 2 Linnet, Common Tern, Woodpigeon, Fieldfare and 2 Ruff amongst the day’s other most notable sightings.
So with the wind now set to be in the west for a few days what will turn up? Lapland Buntings usually arrive around now, an American wader might be a possibility, it’s perhaps not too early for a Buff-bellied Pipit or why not something outrageous (Hooded Warbler has turned up in Scotland in early September before…). Of course, on Fair Isle, there’s rarely a year goes by without something special turning up in unexpected conditions, so who knows what we could be reporting in the next few days.

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