Thursday 28 November 2013

Remember, remember, the blog in November.

Bonfire night was put back due to poor weather, as November has seen a succession of windy and wet days, interspersed with some pleasanter weather, although the island is still pretty soggy.
Ok, sorry it's been a while. Despite what you may think, we've not been hibernating. Far from it in fact; Susannah and I have had to learn to look after ourselves now that the Domestic Team have all left! In between remembering how to cook, clean and look after the children, I kind of forgot to update the blog. It wasn't helped by Susannah popping off the island for a night and eventually making it back about a week later, but, as we're heading off for a couple of weeks, I thought it was time to finally catch up. So make yourself a brew, settle down and catch up on the goings on of the Parnabys and life on Fair Isle during the last month.

We don't get to go out much as a family during the Obs season, so whatever the weather, we try to make the most of the winter.
 So what’s been going on…

Let’s start with the birds. There was a general theme of a few lingering highlights at the start of the month, then things quietened down before an unexpected late fall on 12th then a gradual decline in numbers and variety again as another fabulous autumn finally drifted away to be replaced by the typical winter fodder of wind, few birds and a ridiculous amount of paperwork (over 70 descriptions amassed this year – sorry if I’ve mentioned that before, but between that and Annual Reports, it’s fair to say that I’m not exactly sitting back with a cigar on at this time of year!).
Sparklers - better than cigars!
We couldn’t manage a last hurrah, despite there being Short-billed Dowitcher to the south, Dusky Warbler to the North and, perhaps most gallingly of all, Little Egret to the west (Foula leaving us as one of the few main Shetland islands not to have recorded a Little Egret, surely one of the commonest vagrants to Shetland not to have turned up here yet. In fact, with 4 Purple Heron, 2 Night Heron and a Little Bittern on the Fair Isle list, it’s bizarre that there hasn’t been a single Egret or a Bittern yet). In fact, the only new addition to the year list since the Siberian Rubythroat was a Shorelark at North Light, a lovely highlight in the fall of 12th (although it disappeared shortly after discovery as a truly evil hailstorm swept the island. It’s not often I attribute emotions to the weather, but these hail stones really did want to hurt people, they were nasty – I was left whimpering on the ground trying to hide behind a rock on the exposed clifftops of Easter Lother).
The 12th also produced counts of 37 Woodcock, 646 Blackbird, 164 Fieldfare, 93 Redwing and 11 Robin (including the Dutch-ringed bird that seems to be attempting to overwinter at the Obs), although with only two people covering the island, these are likely to be underestimates, particularly of Woodcock which were probably spread thinly across the whole island.
Thrush numbers have dropped right off since the fall a couple of weeks ago. Fieldfares and Song Thrushes are now pretty hard to come by, whilst just a couple of dozen or so Redwing and Blackbirds are hanging on.
There were few other signs of new arrivals, although there were 3 Goldfinch on 2nd and 2 from 20th-25th (rather late records for this species). There was also Kestrel (4th-15th), Short-eared Owl (6th and 12th), Jackdaw (7th-10th), Moorhen (19th-20th), Knot (3rd), Linnet (14th and 17th) and Black Redstart (2 on 2nd with one to 4th), whilst a Wren trapped on 5th appeared not to be one of the local birds.
Lingerers included the Olive-backed Pipit (to 2nd), Richard’s Pipit (to 12th), Bullfinch (to 2nd), Grey Wagtail (to 16th), Hen Harrier (to 9th), Chaffinch (with 2 still present), Brambling and Mealy Redpolls (up to 10) to mid-month, Chiffchaff and Blackcap (both to 19th), Goldcrest (1st), Woodpigeon (to 2nd), whilst the last Bonxie was seen on 8th and the Tree Sparrow that turned up in mid-June finally departed (it was last seen on 6th).
At least one (probably two) Hen Harrier remained into November, with one spending most of its time on Gilsetter, so it could be seen most days from the road on the School run.
Typical winter fare included up to 2 Glaucous Gulls on 5 dates, Iceland Gull (sightings of juveniles on 1st, 14th, 20th and 23rd), Water Rail (at Lower Stoneybrek on 7th, in what appears to be a quiet autumn and winter for this species), a maximum of 98 Snow Buntings, 3 Little Auk on 5th (with another on 10th) and up to 3 Jack Snipe amongst good numbers of Snipe (which peaked at 142 on 7th). 
In the absence of any of its friends, this Whooper Swan did the best it could and started hanging out with the sheep on Suka Mire.
Wildfowl are also usually prominent at this time of year, with highlights including 3 Goosander (21st-22nd), a few south-bound Whooper Swans (13 in total, including one lingering from 19th), Greylag passage peaking at 365 on 4th, with 303 on 19th, up to 8 Barnacle Geese (until 17th) and up to 17 Pink-footed Geese, mostly early in the month. At sea there were up to 10 blue Fulmar and a Sooty Shearwater from the Good Shepherd (5th) and a Great Northern Diver off South Light (12th).
Not quite an annual species on Fair Isle, these Goosanders were the first since the wintering bird of 2012/13 was last seen on 1st January.
Aside from the birds, we’ve also been keeping an eye on the Grey Seal population, which seems to have done a tiny bit better this year, although pupping was rather late.

A few updates from wildlife sightings from the last few weeks, starting with those immense Killer Whales that appeared at the start of the month. Andy Foote from NAKID has identified the individuals as a group that are regularly seen in North Scotland and the Northern Isles (and as far as the Faroes) in the winter and spring, with the male being about 19 years old and the youngest a calf from the winter of 2009/10.
The animal on the right is older than a few of our volunteers this year. The slight haziness of the photo is due to the animals swimming through a rainbow!
Other updates from previous sightings involve DNA analysis of Chiffchaffs; the count of 41 on 15th October that seemed to involve mostly tristis-type birds has been backed up by the lab work, that showed that the two trapped birds were indeed both of this subspecies. The Arctic Warbler on 14th October (one of the latest Fair Isle records) was also shown to be an Arctic Warbler on DNA (rather than either of the recently split, but possibly not identifiable in the field, far-Eastern warblers: Japanese Leaf or Kamchatka). Thanks as ever to Professor Martin Collinson for providing this information. 
One of the Siberian Chiffchaffs trapped on 15th October.
The Arctic Warbler on 15th October feeding at Shirva having being ringed the previous evening at the Obs. Although a Japanese Leaf Warbler would have been nice, the fact that it looked like an Arctic Warbler (albeit a strong-billed one) made it quite pleasing that the DNA backed this up. Surely that would have been a tremendously underwhelming way to add a species to the British list!
So, I still await the ultimate prize of a first for Britain during my time as Warden, but on the subject of winning prizes (see what I did there?), there are a couple of awards to mention. FIBO itself has won a Shetland Environmental Award in recognition of our work and the green credentials of the building, whilst Nick Riddiford’s efforts in campaigning for a Marine Protected Area were rewarded with a Nature of Scotland Award.
Former FIBO Warden and current Fair Isle resident Nick receiving his award. (c) RSPB
Congratulations Nick, a well deserved award and everyone at FIBO hopes you are rewarded with the prize you really want and thoroughly deserve – suitable protection for the waters around Fair Isle.
It's been generally too cloudy for much Aurora action so far this winter, but there was a good show on 31st October, a great way to end the season!
So, that's all for now folks. As I mentioned, we're away until 17th December (all being well with the weather...), so if the year is going to be crowned by one last outrageous rarity, I hope it waits until then to turn up!
Bonfire night and a great array of hats (note: not all of these are authentic Fair Isle knitwear!).

Friday 1 November 2013

Seal meat again.

1st November
It's the end of the season, the final guest has left (a day late after the planes were cancelled yesterday) and most of the staff have gone after a very busy season. Many thanks are due to all of them for their efforts this year - it's been another good one, so thank you Will, Richard, Teresa, Ann, Graham, Becki, Tracey, Steffan, Billy, Noa, Kieran, Daniel, Jake, Alex, Livvy, Chris, Rachel, Tim, Maggie, Liz, Jenny, Janet, Sally, Julia, Rob and Tegan and of course, Susannah. The Directors of FIBOT have also provided their usual mix of enthusiasm and expertise, which is so important to the Obs. There are many more people who help the Obs in a crucial way during the year and so thanks are also due to the many islanders who have helped out during the year including Angela, Hollie, Deryk, Raluca, Alice, Iain and Kenny who have all done various jobs at the Obs and for the many others who have helped out in other ways including Robert & Fiona, Jimmy & Florrie, Nick & Elizabeth, Elena, Tommy & Liz, Neil & Pat and Dave. Massive apologies to anyone I may have missed and thanks to all the islanders for their friendship and support. Susannah, the kids and I are very lucky to live on Fair Isle, not just for the birds and the beauty of the island, but especially the people.
Thanks also, of course, to all of you who have helped FIBO to continue its work, by visiting, volunteering or joining the Friends of Fair Isle.
I'll try to complete a more thorough summary of the year later, but as a brief look back, 2013 will be remembered from an ornithological point of view as another poor year for most seabirds but an excellent one for rare migrants. A regular dose of rarities (although a lack of many large falls) has brought us over 70 descriptions (around  half of them for BBRC), a current year list of around 212, with over 3500 birds (of over 110 species) ringed and two additions to the Fair Isle list (Swinhoe's Petrel and Red-eyed Vireo taking the island list to 381: with a few potential splits maybe on the cards [my money is on the Subalpine Warblers, Eastern Yellow Wagtail, and hopefully Eastern Grasshopper Warbler, with a few geese maybe to come as well] I wonder how long it will take to get to 400?).
Today's plans for a quiet day were somewhat scuppered by the appearance of Killer Whales actually in North Haven. The five animals then spent a few hours hunting seals from Buness to North Light, although they often went missing for spells. What a way to end the season! 
Dum, dum. Dum dum. Du du duu du, du du duu du...

When Killer Whales are too close to fit in frame, you know it's been a good day.

The North Haven regularly holds small numbers of Grey Seals and, once they are trapped in there by a pack of hunting Killer Whales, their only escape is to stay in very shallow water or haul out onto land. A surge in Killer Whale sightings late in the autumn seems unusual, but perhaps there is a group in the area that knows the seals are vulnerable as they pup and mate on beaches around the island.

Not all the seals were quick enough to get out of the way; the Whales' first foray into North Haven was soon accompanied by a cloud of gulls and a few chunks of floating flesh, evidence of a succesful kill.
Hopefully the photographs may enable us to learn more about the history of these individuals. Five animals were involved in today's sightings, including one adult male and at least one probable immature male.

Don't look behind you! The group then moved into Furse where they spent around half an hour circling this seal trying to dislodge it from its tiny haven.
The scale of these enormous beasts was readily apparent as they repeatedly circled just below the cliffs.
Tail-slapping by one individual in particular may have been a signal to other members of the group, or perhaps it was an attempt to startle the seal and get it to make a break from its precarious position.
Close runs by the rock may have been intended to try to wash the seal into the water. At times, all the whales would head off slightly and seemingly regroup, before charging back in. It was as if they were having a little meeting away from the seal's earshot to discuss their next move!
The tense stand off amazingly saw the seal hold its nerve and remain on the rock until after the Killer Whales were well clear (by the time they returned 15 minutes or so later it had gone - and presumably had quite a story to tell all its seal friends). They came back into the Havens at least half a dozen times during the afternoon, presumably hoping to surprise another seal, although they weren't seen to kill anything else.
The bull would occasionally hold back and seemingly watch the rest of the group as they hunted.
After a last, brief pass through the North Haven, the group were last seen heading out past North Light. It's been a tremendous year for Killer Whale sightings, with each one proving an exhilarating experience (not least for Becki, who first spotted them in the North Haven from the Obs lounge window). At one stage, we left Grace at the window to watch out for their return - her prompt shouts enabled us all to get more good views as they made their final return into the North Haven! Whale-spotter is not a bad addition to the CV for a four year old!
A quick update on birds as well from the last few days, which has felt very much like the end of the autumn. A few arrivals still occurred, with Red-breasted Flycatcher and 2 Linnet (27th), and a day of finch movement on 28th brought a new Bullfinch (which remained to 31st), 5 Greenfinch and 3 Crossbill. On 31st there was a Long-eared Owl (in another quiet autumn for the species) and 31 Woodcock. Lingering birds included the Olive-backed Pipit (to 31st), Richard’s Pipit (to 29th). Other lingering species included up to 209 Snow Buntings, 2 Lapland Buntings, small numbers of Common Redpolls, up to 2 Grey Wagtail, a Tree Sparrow (still present from the late spring), up to 2 Black Redstart and small numbers of Blackcap (although the last Chiffchaff so far was seen on 29th). There was a noticeable clearout of thrushes on 31st as the birding started to settle into the winter routine.

Typically, a few white-wingers started to appear with up to 2 Glaucous Gulls (an adult and juv) and a first-winter Iceland Gull (1st), whilst Little Auks on 28th and 31st were also typical for the time of year (although the latter heading over the Kirk was less typical). A Great Northern Diver, up to 23 Long-tailed Ducks and a Sooty Shearwater (from the Good Shepherd on 29th) were the highlights from the sea, whilst the marshy areas yielded an impressive 132 Snipe (28th) with up to 5 Jack Snipe amongst them. A few Whooper Swans and small groups of Pink-footed Geese passed through, whilst a Hen Harrier lingered to 1st at least.
Early November can turn up some cracking rarities, but if the strong SW winds and rain that have set in today continue tomorrow I may well take advantage of the end of the season and have a lie-in and an afternoon listening to the football (which is suddenly looking a bit better as a Sunderland fan, although I'll not upset our many visiting Geordies by saying why)!

Saturday 26 October 2013

Crossing the Ruby-gone

23rd-26th October
The Siberian Rubythroat was seen again on the morning of the 23rd, but with conditions deteriorating there was no sign later on so, sadly, it proved untwitchable for anyone not lucky enough to be on Fair Isle at the time. A brave effort was made by a charter plane that had got close to Fair Isle on the basis of the positive news from the morning, before low cloud over the airstrip caused their diversion to Sumburgh (where they learnt of the Cape May Warbler on Unst that was also out of bounds due to poor visibility). Although the cloud lifted for a short while in the late afternoon allowing their plane to get in, the 45 minutes or so available on Fair Isle weren't enough to turn up the Rubythroat and so they had to return home empty handed. I suppose twitching wouldn't be fun if you got the bird everytime, but it doesn't feel that way at the time (I've quit twitching several times after long-distance dips!).
The weather has also meant that we went without any transport to or from the island from last Friday until Thursday evening, although planes have now finally reached us and there is hope that the Good Shepherd will sail on Saturday. Everyone has coped remarkably well with the issues surrounding being stranded; missed international flights, missing family, delayed trips to Unst (although several people have now made it from Fair Isle to see the Cape May Warbler) or the threat of continental breakfast on Saturday instead of the usual full Scottish. No doubt being present for the stonking male Rubythroat helped matters.
Some heavy spells of rain have left the island soggy in places, whilst the Gully stream was looking impressive.
Although the last few days of October have turned up some cracking rarities in their time, there is now a distinctly ‘end of season’ feel to the island, with only a few new migrants noted in the last couple of days as the weather has started to feel more wintry and less autumnal.
A Barred Warbler was new (and rather late) on 23rd, when there were also 2 new Little Buntings (one of which lingered to 24th) and a Ruff, whilst 2 Black Redstarts appeared on 24th (in what has been a quiet autumn for them so far).
Although a bit skittish, the Little Bunting at North Shirva remained for 2 days in the same area.
Lingering birds of interest included the Olive-backed Pipit (now ensconced at Stackhoull), Red-throated Pipit (to 24th), Richard’s Pipit (to 23rd at least, although a large pipit seen briefly near Taft on 25th was presumably the same bird), 2 Bullfinch (to 23rd), Great Spotted Woodpecker (to 24th) and a Goldfinch.
The Olive-backed Pipit shows well at times.
There were also still up to 4 Crossbill, 3 Yellowhammer and a selection of Redpolls that included a good candidate for a Coue’s Arctic on 22nd-24th, although generally there were fewer migrants with a notable decrease in thrushes and warblers.
Some of the Crossbills have shown exceptionally well, allowing the details of bill structure to be studied - and all have been Common. Hopefully there could be a chance of a Parrot Crossbill yet (whilst there are also a lot of Waxwing on the move in Norway, so perhaps we could be going to get another good autumn for them).
Some typical late-autumn visitors included a few Whooper Swans, more Greylag Geese on the move and a slight increase in ducks, with up to 15 Long-tailed Ducks noted. At sea there were Little Auk (25th, with a dead bird found on 23rd), Iceland Gulls (an immature on 23rd-24th, with an adult also on 24th), Great Northern Diver (a breeding plumaged bird on 23rd-24th), blue Fulmar and Sooty Shearwater (both 24th) but a noticeable decrease in Bonxies. Probably the highlight of the seawatching though was an immature bull Killer Whale passing Buness on 24th, whilst a group of Killer Whales were seen off North Light on 25th (from the plane as it departed Fair Isle!).
The impressive seaward side of Troila Geo...

...which now contains several seal pups. After a seemingly late start, seal pups are starting to appear in slightly larger numbers in various places (perhaps the appearance of Killer Whales this week is not just a coincidence?), many of which (like Troila) are fairly precarious, with high seas likely to cause the youngsters problems.

So, one last push to try to end the season on a real high. Saturday's conditions seem to be the best bet for finding something good, with fresher westerlies taking hold after that and, with several species putting in late appearances (Paddyfield, Lanceolated and Arctic Warblers have all recorded some of their latest Fair Isle records this month), there's still the chance of one last Mega I reckon...

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Ooby Dooby Ruby

22nd October
So far, all of Fair Isle's Rubythroats have lingered for at least three days. A few folk are hoping to come over tomorrow, so will be hoping this one does the same...
Another good day, with a lot of migrants around (especially thrushes, with counts of 1494 Fieldfare, 1144 Redwing and 598 Blackbird) and increases in Chiffchaff (11), Goldcrest (11) and Robin (27).
No doubting the star bird though: the SIBERIAN RUBYTHROAT which was still present and showed rather well at Upper Stoneybrek before moving to Chalet. About half way between its two favoured haunts a Paddyfield Warbler was found (at the Barkland tattie rig). It's the latest Paddyfield Warbler to be recorded on Fair Isle by 6 days (and that bird in 2003 was 10 days later than the second latest) and becomes Fair Isle's 22nd record of this species following the bird in the spring. It also makes it the third BB rarity to be found in the last 3 days, and with a reasonable forecast for tomorrow, maybe there's a chance we can go for four in a row... (of course the 23rd October has seen the arrival of Rufous-tailed Robin and 2 previous Rubythroats, so it's got form!).
Other highlights were mostly lingering birds, with Red-throated Pipit, Olive-backed Pipit, Richard's Pipit, 2 Bullfinch, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Waxwing amongst the pick of the bunch.

Good Sibrations.

17th-21st October
It's a boy! After 4 female Rubythroats on Fair Isle (included the first for Britain in 1975), this stunner is the first male for the island. (image by Richard Cope)
The easterlies really did deliver this week, with the birding gradually building up to an amazing finish (although maybe it isn’t all over yet…).
The 17th was relatively quiet, with Red-breasted Flycatcher at the Plantation, Lesser Whitethroat and Crossbill the few new migrants and the Dotterel and Dusky Warbler putting in their final appearances.
Freshening winds on 18th saw a few more birds coming in, with Bluethroat (at Haa then Quoy), Red-breasted Flycatcher (on Dronger), 2 Crossbill (one of which was found as a casualty having flown into a window and was clearly a Common Crossbill, thereby preventing any ‘dead parrot’ jokes) and an increase in Redpolls (with around 60 Mealys and 5 Lessers recorded) and Snow Buntings (a total of 220 were noted). A ‘Lesser’ Golden Plover over Ward Hill was probably an American but carried on North and was never confirmed.
The 19th saw a day of near gale force easterlies and constant heavy rain, with birds clearly arriving but almost impossible to see; a Hawfinch (at the Haa), 4 Bullfinch (the lingering pair added to by two more males at Gunnawark) and the autumn’s first Black Redstart being the only highlights picked out.
The 20th saw a slight improvement, with the rain easing briefly but then being replaced by fog, whilst the winds remained very strong from the east. Star turn was taken by a typical mouse-like Lanceolated Warbler at Shirva, one of the latest Fair Isle records. There were also 2 Waxwings, 2 Yellowhammers and a Goldfinch (all the first records of the autumn), along with Lesser Whitethroat, 4 Mistle Thrush, 4 Crossbill, 9 Jack Snipe and an increase in thrushes and Blackcaps (to 58). The lingering Richard’s and Olive-backed Pipits were both also still present.
Mystery bird! The Lanceolated Warbler at least manages to show the key identification feature of its well-defined, thinly fringed tertials as it proves remarkably elusive for the camera.
The Olive-backed Pipit remains around the Stackhoull area. How many have been involved in the sightings this autumn is a matter of conjecture.
Finally, the 21st saw and end to the rain (just about) and the wind eased to a still fresh, but much more manageable, easterly. There were clearly lots of thrushes in and a good spread of other migrants, but they all had to take a back seat to the stunning male SIBERIAN RUBYTHROAT found shortly after lunch at Upper Stoneybrek.
The initial view of a chat with a cocked tail perched on the fence that was almost enough to make Graham fall off his bike! (image by Richard Cope)
Wow. Just wow. Previous Rubythroats on Fair Isle have been found on 9th Oct 1975, 17th Oct 2003, 23rd Oct 2005 and 23rd Oct (again) 2012, so this record falls well into the recent pattern. Although late September is the classic time to visit Fair Isle, perhaps the best chance of totally stunning megas in recent years has been around the third week of October. (image by Richard Cope).
Other highlights included the reappearance of the Red-throated Pipit, the lingering Olive-backed Pipit, a Red-breasted Flycatcher at Hesswalls, 3 Bullfinch (a male on Dronger adding to the regular pair) and 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers (including a bird on Dronger that was presumably a newly arrived migrant).
The Dronger Bullfinch.
With thrushes everywhere, the final counts were 1393 Fieldfare, 1133 Redwing, 606 Blackbird, 38 Song Thrush, 5 Ring Ouzel and a Mistle Thrush. Other increases in numbers included 68 Blackcap, 125 Brambling, 23 Woodpigeon, 7 Goldcrest, 12 Robin, 3 Water Rail, 3 Crossbill, 85 Barnacle Geese and singles of Long-eared Owl, Black Redstart and Redstart.
Rubythroat twitch. With fog in Tingwall preventing flights today, a few lucky folk managed to get stuck on the island so were still present for the bird. Logan has to be the most thankful for the weather delay - last year he left on the morning of the day the Rubythroat was found and this year was scheduled to do the same thing!

Wednesday 16 October 2013

Purple (in the) Rain.

14th-16th October
With the weather retaining an easterly theme, birds continued to arrive, although there was no deluge of Siberian rarities. The first rain for a few days on the morning of 16th did, however, bring a major local rarity when Richard spotted a juvenile Purple Heron circling near Hjukni geo. It was apparently considering landing, but was being pursued by gulls and, after heading west briefly (but presumably being put off by the very poor visibility, as the driving drizzle made conditions somewhat unpleasant), appeared to head for Steensi geo. Sadly it could not be relocated either in Steensi or elsewhere around the island during the rest of the day. It’s the fourth Fair Isle record (with the first three all occurring between 1965 and 1970), which seems a large number considering their rarity in the rest of Shetland (and indeed Scotland) and the fact that Fair Isle is generally shunned by the other rarer herons, with no egrets recorded at all on the island (there can’t be many sites in the UK yet to record an egret or Spoonbill?). With the previous three birds all lingering for several days (admittedly all were in the spring), there’s still a hope it’s lurking out there somewhere.
Generally there were very few other new migrants on the 16th, with a Pied Flycatcher probably the pick of the new stuff (although there were still plenty of good birds lingering).
The 14th had seen the start of an increase in migrants, with a redpoll arrival bringing a Coue’s Arctic Redpoll that was seen briefly by just a couple of people during the morning whilst Mealys increased to 44 and at least 5 Lessers were also present.
A nice pale Mealy Redpoll - not all birds fall so neatly into species categories though...
Other highlights of the 14th included an Arctic Warbler trapped at the Obs in the evening (which was relocated near Shirva the following day). Interestingly, this is probably only the fourth October record for Fair Isle (and the second latest). A Little Bunting was caught in the same net round, with another still present at Lower Leogh (from 13th-15th), a Red-breasted Flycatcher appeared in the North (with possibly a new bird at Stackhoull the following day), there were two Olive-backed Pipits at Midway (with one at Springfield on 15th) and other migrants included a Turtle Dove (which was well grilled for other rarer possibilities of course), Redstart, Tree Pipit, Crossbill (a flyover bird only, although the call was probably enough to rule out Parrot Crossbill), Grey Wagtail, Sedge Warbler, Swallow, Jackdaw and Glaucous Gull (the latter two both the first records of the autumn) and a peak of 51 Brambling.
Reasonable numbers of wildfowl have remained, including up to 25 Barnacle Geese, along with peaks of 14 Goldeneye, 9 Long-tailed Ducks, 6 Red-breasted Mergansers and a Pintail (on 15th).
The 15th saw a surge in warbler numbers, with good counts of 61 Blackcap and 41 Chiffchaff (almost all distinctly pale eastern-type birds) and two Dusky Warblers. The first was found at Setter and roamed from there to Barkland, whilst the second was seen at the same time at Lower Leogh (and was still in the south of the island on 16th). This is the first multiple arrival of the species on Fair Isle and 2013 is now the best year on record for the species (assuming the bird earlier in the week on the North cliffs is accepted as a third individual). The 15th also saw the arrival of 8 Woodcock, 24 Woodpigeon and a Garden Warbler.
Very few collybita Chiffchaffs were seen amongst the migrants, with most birds resembling this browner abietinus/tristis type.

The lingering highlights included Red-throated Pipit, Richard’s Pipit, Dotterel, 2 Bullfinch (all 14th-16th), Blyth’s Reed Warbler (to 15th), 4 Yellow-browed Warblers (14th-15th with 1 on 16th), Great Spotted Woodpecker and peaks of 206 Snow Bunting and 8 Lapland Bunting.
The Red-throated Pipit roamed from Haa to Utra but did show well at times.
'Who you looking at pal?'. A beast of a 'Northern' Bullfinch at Houll. All the records during this period were thought to refer to a widely wandering pair, although more could perhaps be expected this week.
It seems like the easterlies may have almost blown themselves out, but with a day of northerlies before the winds end up back in the SE, that might be enough of a shake up to bring us some more goodies. We’ll be out there looking anyway, so let’s see…
This blue Fulmar was off South Light on 15thm when an impressive 20+ were seen from the Good Shepherd. Other seabirds of note included a lingering Red-throated Diver and a Slavonian Grebe (16th).

Sunday 13 October 2013

Time for a cheeky catch up.

10th-13th October
A final day of strong northerlies finally eased to a beautiful calm day on 11th, then increasing NE winds on 12th and 13th – perfect timing and it certainly seems to be delivering.
It has to be said though, that a Grey-cheeked Thrush at the School on 11th was not what we were expecting. The fourth for the island (following the first for Britain in 1953 and further records in 1958 and 2007), it showed well (usually in a field amongst Golden Plover), which was just as well as it chose the slightly inconvenient time of the Sheep Hill (the round up of the sheep from the north of the island) to appear. Thankfully, everyone connected with this diddy thrush, although it had gone by the time the afternoon plane arrived. 
Initially found near the school, the Grey-cheeked Thrush moved further away during break time! It spent most of its time feeding in an open field after that though.
This distant shot at least gives an idea of the size of the bird, which was more reminiscent of Wheatear in its behaviour as it foraged, rather than one of the European thrushes.

In order to fulfil the classic ‘Fair Isle East meets West’ obligation, a Blyth’s Reed Warbler was found at Springfield the same day, with what may have been a different bird at Schoolton on 12th-13th (the Springfield bird apparently missing a tertial that was present on the Schoolton individual). 
The Blyth's Reed at Springfield spent its time moving between two small rose bushes, although it could be surprisingly elusive.
Other rarities from the east included the first Fair Isle Red-throated Pipit since 2010, which was initially flushed from near Field Ditch before eventually showing well at Utra (12th-13th). A Dusky Warbler was an even better find on 13th on the precipitous cliffs at North Felsigeo, only the 14th Fair Isle record and the first since 2007.
I eventually caught up with the Red-throated Pipit at Utra scrape just before dusk, where it showed quite well in the fading light, it was located initially by its distinctive call.
Also high up in the good bird stakes were Olive-backed Pipits at Chalet on 12th (probably present since the 11th, when a birder running for the Grey-cheeked Thrush flushed one of either this species or Tree Pipit from the same spot!) and possibly the same bird near Burkle on 13th. It is possible that all these sightings refer to the bird that was seen at Hesswalls on 8th, especially as all the sightings have been of birds seen only briefly. Completing a good run of pipits, a Richard’s Pipit was at Taft again on 12th and 13th (presumably the lingering bird), with a second bird at Guidicum on 13th. 
A Richard's Pipit powers away from Meoness heading back to its regular haunt in the long grass near Taft and the Museum.

A Little Bunting in the Taft area on 11th-13th may have been a new bird, with a second in the Havens on 12th. The Buff-breasted Sandpiper and Short-toed Lark completed the list of ex-BBRC species (well, not including Yellow-browed Warbler, which thankfully hasn’t bothered the rarities committee for a good while now) and both remained until 10th.
Other scarcities included 2 ‘Northern’ Bullfinch (the first Bullfinches on the island since 2011) on 13th, the Great Grey Shrike (which remained to 11th), the lingering Dotterel (to 13th, which has got a while to go before it beats the latest date for this species on the island, 6th November), Great Spotted Woodpeckers (which increased to 6 on 12th) and a small surge in Yellow-browed Warblers with 7 on 11th and 9 on 12th, although just 4 on 13th. The size of the influx of the latter two species is shown by the highest annual ringing totals for them being recorded this year, with 5 and 16 ringed respectively. Also of note from the ringing recently was a Czech-ringed Blackcap trapped on 12th.
A Great Spotted Woodpecker on Tor o da Ward Hill was presumably one of the new wave of arrivals.
The north-easterly winds brought the expected increase in thrush numbers, with peaks of 600 Redwing, 326 Fieldfare and 65 Blackbird (all 13th). Associated with this was an increase in Goldcrest (to 71 on 12th), Chiffchaff (to 27 on 12th, most of which were eastern birds), Brambling (47 on 12th), Woodcock (with 4 flushed on Sheep Hill on 11th), Lesser Redpoll (3 on 12th-13th), ‘Mealy’ Common Redpolls (with 18 on 13th), Siskin (up to 11), Chaffinch (up to 13) and Snow Buntings (134 on 12th).
This ringed Goldcrest was at the back of Dronger, but appears not to be from Fair Isle, sadly not enough detail was discernible to enable us to find out further information.
Birding Fair Isle's west cliffs is a great experience. This is part of a small flock at North Gunnawark that contained 3 Yellow-browed Warblers, 3 Chiffchaffs and a Goldcrest. I remember searching through hundreds of the latter looking for Yellow-broweds over many years birding the Durham coast, how times have changed.
Other migrants of interest included a Reed Warbler (to 13th, just a few hundred yards from the Blyth’s Reed, giving a nice comparison), Lesser Whitethroat 11th-12th, Spotted Flycatcher 11th, Redstart 11th-12th, the first Grey Wagtail of the autumn (12th), a flava Wagtail (12th), 2 Linnets and up to 5 Lapland Buntings.
There have also been smaller numbers of Greylag and Pink-footed Geese, along with a peak of 45 Barnacle Geese (13th), a lingering Whooper Swan and a scattering of ducks including Pintail, Shoveler and a peak of 11 Long-tailed Ducks (11th). 
Barnacle Geese over Meoness.
Pintail and Shoveler are both fairly scarce migrants on Fair Isle, so these two together (ignoring the flock of 60 Wigeon just a hundred yards or so away) were unusual. I'm hoping for a Gadwall next...
Phew, that’s us up to date now – as you can see, it’s been busy! With easterly winds forecast to continue into the start of next week, there could well be more birds on the way. How about a Pallas’s Warbler (after a run of multiple records from 2003-2005 there have been none since), or maybe something even better (to be honest, there’s been talk about a few of the possibilities in the bar in recent nights, but I’m not going to jinx any of the predictions by naming them here!).

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