Monday 21 January 2013

Latest Obs news

Details on our special offers, room rates and how to book accommodation in 2013 can now be found here

The latest FIBO job vacancies are now displayed here

Anyone who has not yet received a copy of the bumper Annual Report for 2009 and 2010 can purchase one for £12 (inc p&p) by sending a cheque, along with  your address, to the Obs. Friends of Fair Isle should have received their copy last autumn, please let us know if you did not get yours.

Front cover image: Fair Isle Wren by Rebecca Nason

20th January

The Obs from South Haven, where a quick beach comb produced a cuttlefish bone but nothing else of note.
The strong east and south east winds of the last few days abated and this morning was calm, cold and rather pleasant, with just a light dusting of snow on the hills and a few frozen puddles. It appears that a lot of the Fieldfares have cleared out, but there were still plenty of Blackbirds and a slight increase in Redwing. Three each of Lapwing and Golden Plover, a Woodcock, an increase in Curlew (around 30 were noted) and an Oystercatcher (the first of the year) were possibly signs of birds fleeing harsher conditions further south. There hasn’t been a big increase in wildfowl, although during the last few days there have been a couple each of Wigeon and Teal, along with single Long-tailed Duck, Goldeneye, Common Scoter and Red-breasted Merganser, so at least there’s been some variety and the Greenland White-fronted Goose also remains, although the Greylag flock has yet to pull in anything else.
A Ring-billed Gull that turned up on Shetland at Scalloway recently was shown from photographs to be a different bird to ours and that was confirmed without doubt this morning when I watched our Ring-billed Gull floating around the fields at Setter whilst the Scalloway bird was seen at the same time in its usual place.
The wintering female Great Tit (which is currently spending much of its time at Burkle) now sports a shiny new FIBO ring as Del took advantage of the calm conditions to get a bit of mist-netting done, but the Heligoland traps have been very quiet as is usual for this time of year. Sadly, the wintering Robin at the Obs seems to have disappeared, so our Big Garden Birdwatch list is likely to be down to four species, unless this next batch of SE gales bring in any surprises.
The sun setting behind one of the island wind turbines. I'll try to get some pictures of birds for the next blog update!

Tuesday 15 January 2013

Bring me sunshine.

15th January 2013

The Obs from North Haven - a good place to look for sheltering seabirds.
A quiet day bird-wise, but an absolutely stunning one, with Fair Isle enjoying calm weather, with blue skies and sunshine and just a light (but chilly) easterly breeze. The Greenland White-fronted Goose remained as did the Red-breasted Merganser in North Haven but there was no sign of the Ring-billed Gull today (although it has been coming and going since its arrival). The main sighting of interest was provided by  thrushes, with minimum counts (I didn't get round the whole island) of 55 Fieldfare, 43 Blackbird, 36 Redwing and 3 Song Thrush suggesting a small arrival (the precursor of more cold-weather related arrivals?). Two Lapwing and a Woodcock could also have been new, but the Water Rails at Gilsetter and Meadow Burn were probably both wintering birds.
Not a cloud in sight. The view from Pund towards Hill Dyke (beyond which lies 'the North', the wild uplands of Fair Isle!)
The view east from Malcolm's Head. A Mars Bar to anyone who can name all the crofts pictured (in order from left to right).* I'd never really noticed the large cross made by the ditches. 'X' marks the spot?
The sun going down behind the Holms, on which there were  lots of Fulmars and plenty of Guillemots.

South Light, I think that's Tommy and Henry getting views of the sunset. Anyone who didn't see Winterwatch  on BBC should check it out on the i-player, Henry (and a lot of Waxwings) starred in an excellent piece about Fair Isle.
Fair Isle - beautiful all year round.

*terms and conditions apply. If the big SE winds kick off and we get no food for two weeks the Warden reserves the right to eat the prize.

Monday 14 January 2013

14th January
Ring-billed Gull (Deryk Shaw). The first of Fair Isle's four RBGs to be seen from Burkle!
A pleasant selection of winter birds can be found around the island at the moment, with the strong SE wind certainly taking the edge off the temperature and reminding us that it’s a while yet before we see any signs of spring.
The Ring-billed Gull remains on the island, generally floating around the fields in the south of the island (where it was added to the Burkle house list today!). A 1st-winter Glaucous Gull yesterday was joined by a second today and at least one Long-tailed Duck is still about. Given the wind direction and reports of cold weather on the continent we were hoping for some hard weather movement of wildfowl, but the juvenile Greenland White-fronted Goose at Utra rather flew in the face of that prediction.
A couple of calmer days seem set to precede some more strong SE winds, so perhaps we could yet get something on the run from colder conditions in mainland Europe. How about Fair Isle’s first Bittern or maybe the first Smew since 1985 and let’s not forget that the Great Bustard on Fair Isle in 1970 turned up in mid-January. So who knows what else we could add to the year–list in the next few days…

Friday 11 January 2013

10th January 
Sitting in Mareel in Lerwick, onto my second cup of tea, staring out the window at the lashing rain and howling wind (and the Purple Sandpiper scurrying around on the pavement outside!), I pondered my plan for the day: go shopping? try to see the Smew at Clickimin (without my bins)? Drink tea until I start sloshing? The ‘what shall I do with my extra day in Shetland’ is all part of living on Fair Isle, especially when travelling in the winter months. I realised that things might not go well when I woke up during the small hours of the northward leg of my ferry crossing as things rolled around in my cabin and I nearly slid off my bed. Sure enough, Fair Isle was recording wind speeds of 60mph (only beaten by Cairngorm that day according to Dave Wheeler) by the time I made it to Shetland (such a pity the Northlink can’t do ‘drop-offs’ as it sails past Fair Isle on the way North!) and flights were out the question. What I was definitely not expecting though was a text from Assistant Warden Will Miles to tell me he’d just found a Ring-billed Gull in the Parks – only the 4th for Fair Isle (although thankfully I’d seen the 3rd last year). Full marks to Will for a great find in a wind-chill effect of around minus five (although they weren’t my exact words at the time). Even a rather tasty plate of sardines and a hot chocolate weren’t compensation for missing the first Fair Isle rare of the season as the rain continued to hammer the Mareel windows and I wondered whether the fact that ‘Les Miserables’ was about to start showing on the screen next door was a sign of some sort.
Thankfully I was rescued by one of the FIBO Directors and after a bit of car-based birding (I still missed the Smew despite borrowing a pair of bins), it was back to his for a lovely meal of scouse and a snooze on the sofa whilst watching Africa (sorry Sir David, nothing personal I just hadn’t slept very well on the ferry).
Thursday saw a vast improvement in the weather and a simple enough flight back home. My first job on returning was to pick Grace up from nursery and thankfully the Ring-billed Gull put in a brief appearance near Setter as I made my way down the island, so I didn’t begin my birding year with a dip after all. Water RailMerlin and Common Scoter (the latter a year tick) were the only other species of note on a quick look round the island, although Will had also recorded Little AukGreat Northern Diver and Iceland Gull around the island whilst I was away, bringing the year list up to 50 (which I hope you have all given a polite round of cricket style applause to).
Here's looking at ewe. The Ring-billed Gull at Setter.
The distinctive tail pattern is just about visible in this shot as the bird takes flight.
 Friday will be a sad day for the island as the great gentleman Mires Jimmy is laid to rest having passed away last week in Lerwick aged 101. Sadly, I arrived on Fair Isle too late to meet him, but I have heard many tales about him; many relating to his wonderful ornithological knowledge and all mentioning what a great character and kind soul he was. The thoughts of everyone at FIBO are with Jimmy’s family at this time.

Monday 7 January 2013

The kind of bill I don't mind getting in January.

7th January 2013
It's been a slow start to birding since the epic(ish) New Year's Day birding. I've been busy preparing for a meeting in Aberdeen (wish me luck for two nights in a row on the ferry) and catching up on the paperwork, so I've not been out too much. A walk in the North produced some lovely views, but not many birds (3 Blackbirds were the only non-resident birds seen).
Fair Isle is still just as beautiful in the winter, especially on days like this one. Grace and I took advantage of the weather and made it to the top of Ward Hill, although just as we got there the cloud dropped and we had our picnic is zero visibility!
Easter Lother beach covered in seals, notice the white one highest up the beach; a late pup.
The year list had therefore stayed stuck on 44 until this morning when a rather splendid male Crossbill appeared in the Obs garden, an unusual winter record.
The Christmas wreath bird-feeder (a present from my parents) proved its worth  when it attracted this beauty.
The Nyjer seed feeder was also used as this hungry finch searched for any morsels that will enable it to build up the strength to continue to more suitable habitat for its early breeding season.
What a stunner and a nice splash of colour amongst the more regular  garden birds (currently Starling, Rock Dove, House Sparrow, Blackbird and a Robin).
Who knows what  will be the next new bird to turn up, hopefully it will at least wait until I'm back from the Mainland!

Friday 4 January 2013

Wandering many a weary first foot.

This Short-eared Owl appeared after SE gales in late December.

Happy New Year everyone, we hope you all had a great Christmas and festive period. Things have been busy here as everyone on the island looks back on another busy year and takes the opportunity of having a bit of free time to socialise. The New Year guising was as enjoyable and resourceful as ever, it’s never possible to pick a favourite group but the ‘Sheep Log’ was particularly fun (with the Grace character’s ‘I love Texels’ comments raising a particular chuckle amongst everyone who’s witnessed Grace in action at Log!) and the friendly dog in the ‘animal tax’ skit will linger long in the memory, as will the Fair Isle Olympic team and various impressions from around the island.
Despite the inevitable late night, the next day sees the start of the new Year List, so a few of us headed out (only ever so slightly groggily) to see whether we could top last year’s 38 species for January 1st. A good day saw a total of 44 species recorded (only 54 were recorded in the whole of January last year), a couple were missed (Golden Plover and Snow Bunting were probably around somewhere), but overall, most things put in an appearance. Highlights were all lingering birds, but the Goosander and Great Tit in particular were good records (neither species was recorded in 2011), whilst two Moorhen together on the Meadow Burn were an interesting winter sighting.
There have been regular Moorhen sightings since the bird that was flushed from the Gully just before we went away in late November, with the Schoolton and Haa birds now seemingly having found each other and settling in the Meadow Burn. There were several records of birds overwintering in the last decade, although these are probably the first since 20007/08.
Other good birds included an adult Glaucous Gull, Woodcock, Water Rail, Goldeneye, 2 Long-tailed Duck, Merlin and a fine adult female Peregrine (the 39th species for the day and a good way to beat last year’s total as it cruised over Vaasetter and up Homisdale). 
This adult Glaucous Gull was in the North Haven on New Year's Day looking like it had enjoyed a heavy night.
I’ll update the website shortly with details of sightings from the end of last year, but thankfully I missed very little while I was away!
This Great Northern Diver in the North Haven in late December  showed very well. Winter birding on Fair Isle can be tough going, but is enjoyable and there are usually a few highlights. What will this winter hold?...
It’s the FIBOT Directors’ meeting on Tuesday, so I’ve got a trip to Aberdeen to look forward to (back to back journeys on the Northlink, always fun!) then back home and start all of the preparations for the 2013 season – not long now (speaking of which, many of the peak times are very heavily booked now, so get in touch if you’re planning your holidays and don’t forget to check our special offers ).

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