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.


  1. tick it! no such thing as utv's (untickable views)

  2. Cheers Seppy - that's a good start for public opinion salving my conscience!

  3. I was standing next to you and I can't tick it... Let's hope it stops skulking around and we can see all of it tomorrow.


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