Wednesday 27 March 2013

BoP around the clock!

27th March
Although the weather has been grand of late, there are still a few patches of snow lingering from the weekend.
Another beautiful day of weather that looked good for raptors turned out to be just that. A ringtail Hen Harrier was hunting over Gilsetter in the early morning, but was not seen again. Later in the day, Susannah found a magnificent adult male Hen Harrier over Kirki Mire. It was seen again briefly at Da Water then, whilst Susannah and I were chatting at the Plantation trap, the Hen Harrier appeared a few metres away, grabbed a Blackbird, perched for a short while then headed north with its prey. Although unfortunate for the Blackbird, it was a superb sight to witness.
Sadly I just had my 'snappy' camera with me when the Hen Harrier put on its show, although you can still make out the Blackbird clutched in its talons as it ghosts up the road.
There was no sign of the Marsh Harrier today (sadly for those who predicted it for the prediction competition, which doesn’t start until 1st April!), but the raptor theme continued with the first Sparrowhawk of the year. Another addition to the year list came in the form of two Grey Wagtails over Mavers Geo early this morning, whilst the first Golden Plover and Snow Bunting for a while also appeared amongst the scattering of lingering birds.

With Assistant Warden Will Miles arriving back for the start of the season today, and the weather set to remain good for a while (with the possibility of a slightly stronger easterly wind), I suspect there’ll be a few more birds to report in the next few days.
As the BBRC is now assessing records of 'Black-bellied' Dipper, we are trying to find details of our old records to submit. We've got photos or descriptions of the birds in 1984, 1985, 1986, 2000, November 2002, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2011 but that still leaves 24 records unaccounted for. If you have any information on them (sketches, notes or photographs), I'd be grateful if you could send copies to the Obs please.

Tuesday 26 March 2013

Late March early Marsh as sightings March on.

26th March
This Black-headed Gull was added to the kitchen window year list by Grace, who identified it whilst having breakfast.
Some bad weather swept through the island at the weekend, but the start of the week has seen much more pleasant conditions. Generally there has been little change in the birds present, but today saw the first real avian highlight of the month when Fair Isle’s 45th Marsh Harrier spent less than half an hour around the south of the island. A fantastic male, it was the earliest island record since one on 24th-25th March 1995 (the earliest ever for Fair Isle) and may have been the bird seen a few days ago on mainland Shetland.
The fourth Marsh Harrier to be seen on Fair Isle since my arrival, but the first I've seen! Dotterel is my main Fair Isle bogey bird, having missed five whilst I've been on the island.
Other birds included good numbers of Lapwings and Blackbirds still around, whilst the two Chaffinch and Robin and single Dunnock and Reed Bunting may all have been lingering birds.
The Dunnock at Stackhoull may have been the Schoolton bird of last week.
The calm seas enabled the crew of the Good Shepherd to spot a Minke Whale two miles north of the island this morning, whilst a Porpoise off Buness this evening was the first record of the year. A settled week seems to be on the cards, which will surely encourage a few more birds to move.
A Water Rail at Chalet in one of the several remaining snowy patches. This was one of two today (the other was trapped in the Vaadal), both may be wintering birds, although passage migrants are likely at this time of year as well.

Friday 22 March 2013

Snow, sun and some migrants.

22nd March

Looking south down the magnificent west cliffs.
As the easterlies continue there are still birds coming in, although looking for them in the occasional blizzards and biting cold isn't always easy.
The stacks in the background are teeming with Gannets, whilst the calm, blue sea also looks quite summery - the ice on the clifftops show it's not quite spring-like just yet though.
Still, it's great to be out and about with new birds virtually every day and the building feeling of anticipation for the forthcoming season. One of the advantages of having a comparatively restricted number of species over the winter is that migrants are much easier to detect as they come through, so the additions of Dunnock (19th) and Reed Bunting (21st) to the year list obviously involved new migrants.
One bird that overwinters in good numbers is the Turnstone. This was one of three caught in the spiral trap in the Obs garden on Thursday and had been ringed here in the autumn.
Skylarks on the other hand largely abandon the island in the winter. They are back in good numbers now, although most are still in large flocks in the south of the island. A couple (including this one) have been regularly feeding in the Obs garden.
Razorbills also returned in numbers for the first time on 20th, with at least 50 around some of the North Cliff's colonies. Other migrants increasing in numbers included two Grey Heron (19th with one still on 20th), two Chaffinch (19th, with one at the Obs from 20th), 12 Woodpigeon (19th), three Robin (21st), 60 Fieldfare (21st), 19 Redwing and six Dunlin (21st).
This male Chaffinch in the Obs garden was a real sign of spring.
Birds still present in similar numbers included around 100 Blackbird, 95 Lapwings, two Water Rail, three Mistle Thrush, four Woodcock, Rook, Merlin and the ever faithful Great Tit.
A few Blackbirds have been trapped in the recent arrival, mostly adult males (including this bird with a very deep-orange bill).

A comparison of a more typically coloured bill (although admittedly my poor photography skills don't help the comparison between the two birds).
Another sign that the new season is rapidly approaching was the arrival of the first food and drink order (two pallets of booze, so there's no worries about the Obs bar running dry!), whilst Susannah and I have spent a good part of today getting the new beds for the seasonal staff (who start returning from next week) into the Obs. There's still plenty to be done (there always is!), but we're looking forward to meeting our first guests in a few weeks. In the meantime, it should be an enjoyable weekend as the wind is set to start easing and there'll hopefully be a few more birds to be found (can we break last year's inexplicable Stonechat duck*? I think there's still a Mars Bar behind the bar from last autumn for the first person to add it to the year list!). Also, there's no league football, so no chance of Sunderland getting beaten this week.
A few Twite spend the winter on the island, but more are now present and one has been regularly singing in the Obs garden in recent days (although not in today's biting cold wind).
Moonscape. The back of Ward Hill.
* 'Stonechat duck' refers to the fact we didn't see any on the island last year, not some bizarre hybrid

Monday 18 March 2013

More new birds.

18th March

White water in Finnequoy as high seas pound the east coast.
A wild and windy day seemed to result in a lot of the birds keeping their heads down a bit, with fewer Blackbirds and Lapwings noted this morning. There were things in though and, as the wind started to ease, a Chaffinch was found at the Haa and a Rook flew over Vaasetter - the firsts of their kind to make it to the island this year. An immature Iceland Gull was on Meoness this morning (presumably a north-bound migrant in what has been a quiet year for this species) and a juvenile Glaucous Gull over Finnequoy may well have been one of the birds seen on and off throughout the winter.
Even the notoriously tough Eiders decided to seek shelter in North Haven today, bringing with them two of the wintering Common Scoter (which were added to the kitchen window list after some precarious balancing on the work surface!).
The wind has continued to drop through the evening and tomorrow will hopefully be a calmer day, with the chance of a few more birds to be found. We'll not know whether the swell has died down enough for the Good Shepherd to sail until the morning, but the last two trips have both resulted in sightings of Killer Whale (two that were probably young bulls a fortnight ago, and what may have been one of the same last week), so it'll be interesting to see whether there is a repeat performance when it does go (although I suspect even the chance of Killer Whale wouldn't be enough to tempt my Mum to take to the seas when my parents visit next week!).
Pretty rough down south as well, although seas like this are not unusual at this time of year (and don't come close to comparing to the big storms we've had this winter that doused the pier and flattened the South Light wall).

Things are falling into place.

Last week’s easterlies largely originated from the Arctic, so didn’t bring very much at all with them except cold temperatures and wintry showers. However, another batch of easterlies at the weekend were more productive and brought the first small fall of the season.
The count of Lapwings on 17th was the largest on the island since 2007!
The most obvious feature of the fall were Lapwings, with 61 on 16th increasing to 112 the next day and there was also a noticeable arrival of thrushes, with counts (largely reached by combining a southern census on 16th and northern one on 17th) of around 100 Blackbirds, 25 Fieldfare, 20 Redwing, 10 Song Thrush and five Mistle Thrush (the first of the year arrived on 9th). Other additions to the year list were a north bound Grey Heron high overhead on 15th, Goldcrest in North Raeva on 16th, Meadow Pipit on Dronger (17th) and at least 6 Black-headed Gulls scattered around the island (17th). Other species arriving included Woodcock (with at least 5 on 17th), Woodpigeon (ten on 16th), Dunlin (16th), up to three Snow Buntings and an increase in Skylarks and Rock Pipits, whilst up to nine Ravens on Malcolm’s Head may well also have been migrants. ‘Old favourites’ that must be thinking of leaving soon included Great Tit, Moorhen and Water Rail, whilst Merlin, Peregrine and Robin also lingered.
A few windy nights have been good for catching waders, with this Oystercatcher one of the birds caught.
This Snipe turned up in the Vaadal after a cold snap, although whether it was a cold weather immigrant or had just moved from elsewhere to the island was unknown.
Preparations for the imminent return of the rest of the staff and opening of the Obs to guests (19th April is rapidly approaching!) are taking up a lot of time at the moment. A nice distraction from the office work was a Bistro night at the Obs on Saturday. Organised by Angela from Barkland, with help from lots of other folk, most of the island turned up to enjoy a night of superb food and wonderful entertainment from the Fair Isle Choir.
Also this week, the new Fair Isle Fire Station was officially opened (next to the School for those of you who know the island), whilst work on the new nurse's surgery at the Chalet is progressing well (a few of the roses had to be dug up but have found a new home at the Obs).
 It looks like we could be due another week of easterly winds, which may well bring more common migrants and perhaps the first scarcity, although I hope we're not using up all of our easterlies before we reach the main migration season!

Wednesday 6 March 2013

Marching on.

This Rock Dove looks less than impressed at being caught in the Spiral trap at the Obs. With two of the FIBO team currently ringing in Eilat, I'm not sure that this will make them too jealous!
Early March has seen a few signs of spring peeking through the gloom of winter, with frogspawn seen on 4th, a day that also produced singing Fair Isle Wren, nest-building Shags and displaying Tysties and a general feeling that we might be through the worst of the winter...
Numbers of Twite are still low (only a few spend the winter here), but there seems to be a bit of turnover, suggesting our breeding birds are starting to return from Orkney.
There haven't been too many new birds; a Snow Bunting went over Vaasetter (5th), there was a Robin at the Obs (4th, with two the following day), a juvenile Peregrine was over Meoness (4th) and amongst the 'regulars', a Glaucous Gull was seen on 2nd-3rd and the Great Tit, Moorhen and Greenland White-front all remained. It still feels like we're a long way off the first Wheatears!
The Robin at the Obs was the first one here for about six weeks, although one or two have been seen down the island since then.
With not much bird news to talk about, I'll mention a few other points:

  • If anyone has good quality photographs that they would be happy to donate for use in the 2012 Annual Report, please get in touch. The report will hopefully be finalised by the end of this month, so drop me an email if you have anything (birds, other wildlife or interseting island views) that might be of use. My email really struggles with any attachments over about 6MB, so probably best to arrange to use Dropbox or post a disc if you have any. Contributors will be acknowledged and get a free copy of the report (and a pint from the Obs bar next time you visit!).
  • Don't forget you only have until the end of the month to enter the Prediction Competition, there's been a really interesting selection of species predicted so far - why not have a go at it yourself?
  • Bookings are filling up for 2013, please get in touch soon if you are hoping to pay a visit during the main migration seasons.
  • Bookings are open for 2014 for Friends of Fair Isle and the peak autumn season is already starting to look fairly full, so drop us a line if you're planning ahead. Bookings are open to everyone else from 1st April.
That's all for now, I'll maybe have some more bird news after the strong easterlies that we seem set to get for the rest of the week, but I think they'll probably have come just a bit too early in the month to really bring anything exciting in. We'll soon find out...

Saturday 2 March 2013

Late February update.

1st March
Mystery beast. In the absence of many birds, have a mystery pic to identify - answer at the bottom of this blog post.
Well, it has to be said that the extra pair of eyes scouring the island didn’t make that much difference! No offence to my visiting friend (and let’s face it, you know someone’s a real friend when they visit you on Fair Isle in February – it’s not like they’ve come for the birding at this time of year!), it’s just there really hasn’t been much to see. The only addition to the year list has been a Woodpigeon, as we wait for the traditional slow Shetland spring to pick up pace – although that could still be a few weeks off yet despite the rather pleasant weather conditions recently.
Woodpigeon at Haa.
Skylarks have been increasing in numbers, with up to 35 by the end of the month, Lapwings rose to 22 and a few small waves of thrushes have been noticed amongst the wintering birds (eg 60 Fieldfare on 25th February) but it’s generally been familiar faces on the bird front. Lingerers include Great Tit, Greenland White-fronted Goose, up to two Glaucous Gulls (19th-20th), at least two Water Rail and Moorhen, whilst a scattering of wildfowl included up to 58 Greylag Geese, seven Teal, Long-tailed Duck, three Common Scoter, two Goldeneye and a Red-breasted Merganser. The Beached Bird Survey last Sunday saw a couple of dead Guillemots (one of which was oiled; the second this week) and a dead Shag (the first to be found this winter, as we seem to have largely missed out on the wrecks that have occurred further south), although I did also find my glove that I’d lost a couple of weeks before, which was handy. Better news regarding Shags concerns a youngster fitted with a darvic ring (red ‘HRF’) here in July last year, which was spotted on Thursday in Yell, the first of the 17 or so that were given these rings last year to have been relocated so far.
Answer: Cuckoo Ray, found on the North Haven beach by Henry from Haa.

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