Friday 26 April 2013

Northern Block

26th April

A calm start to the day brought some promise (and even a brief spell of 't-shirt weather'), but a freshening northerly wind and brisk showers (some of which feel like they're trying to snow) has meant it's pretty much 'business as usual' today on the bird front. The start of my census brought Chiffchaff and Robin on Hill Dyke then a fine male Ring Ouzel in Gunnawark, which was a good start, but that was about it. A Snow Bunting on Ward Hill was about the only other bird I saw in the North that may have been new and word from the rest of the team wasn’t much better, with just a thin scattering of migrants (including another Ring Ouzel at the Obs), although Will did have an immature Iceland Gull in Hjukni geo. Henry and Raven saw an owl on their way to school, but that wasn’t relocated, whilst an intriguing skulking bird in Schoolton evaded Nick’s best attempts at pinning down its identification, although the whistling ‘rosefinch-like’ song certainly sounds promising. Hopefully whatever it was will reappear somewhere on the island tomorrow.
The Great Spotted Woodpecker, Waxwing and Great Tit all remained and given the forecast for strong westerly and north-westerly winds for the next few days, we may not have many new things to report. This is Fair Isle though, so you never know!
Even when migration is slow, there is plenty to see, like the Fair Isle Wrens, which  are starting to slowly get into singing mood. Plenty of auks returned to the cliffs today, with Puffins starting to look more at home after their winter at sea. We've also had a couple of sightings of colour-ringed Rock Pipits recently - more on those later.

Thursday 25 April 2013

It's grrreat!

25th April
A pre-breakfast call from a very excited Henry at the Haa alerted us to the first Great Spotted Woodpecker on the island since 2009.
This spring, it is fair to say, is proving to be a slow-burner, with the strong SW winds that have dominated recent days (gale force at some stages and rather wet with it at times) keeping movement somewhat limited. A slightly calmer and more southerly wind today did see some new birds in though including a rather stunning Great Spotted Woodpecker at the Haa.
Gone are the days of photos of woodpeckers on Fair Isle forlornly hanging onto fence posts or creeping grimly along stone walls, they now have a plethora of feeders around the island to choose from! This one stayed most of the day at Haa, where it emptied the seed feeders in the search for its preferred sunflower seeds.
A couple of Chiffchaffs included a bright individual that showed some plumage characteristics of Iberian Chiffchaff, although further observations suggested that ‘common’ Chiffchaff was perhaps more likely. There’s a Chiffy dropping in the post that should provide the answer!
I don't think the photos do justice to the yellow tones of this bird, which was certainly an interesting individual in the hand.
There was also a Willow Warbler (with another on 22nd), whilst other warblers recently included the first Grasshopper Warbler of the year on 23rd and Blackcaps on 23rd and 24th. A further long-distant migrant arrived on 22nd, when a smart male Redstart was trapped, with possibly the same one seen again on 24th. The best of the rest on 25th included a Waxwing (which moved from the Haa to the Obs), three Lapland Buntings (following one on 23rd and two new birds on 24th), 11 Swallows (the highest count so far this year) and a distinct rise in Bonxie numbers.
This Waxwing posed obligingly outside the kitchen window after a quick northward migration up the island.
An increase in Twite today was accompanied by an increase in Linnets to 10, including this bird singing at the Obs. After a probable breeding attempt last year, are we about to see the colonisation of Fair Isle?
Perhaps not the most exciting of migrants, but six Collared Dove and 15 Woodpigeon today represented a distinct increase (although this tail-less bird is presumably the one that has been lingering around Haa recently, occasionally trying to do impressions of Quail in flight.
A Great Tit at Utra may have been a new bird, although the absence of the lingering birds at Barkland and the Obs could suggest it is one of those having a wander.

Was this one of the recent birds searching round the island for the shortest sea crossing to get home, or could it have been a new arrival from the south?
Other sightings in the last few days included up the 3 Cormorant, Water Rails (23rd and 25th), Black Redstart (23rd-24th), Stonechat (remaining until 24th), an increase in alba wags (including two White Wagtails), 3 Goldfinch, 7 Siskin, 2 Common Redpoll (24th) and 2 Reed Bunting (24th).
A welcome splash of colour on the Obs feeders, this Goldfinch and Siskin were clinging onto the feeder as it swung wildly in a gale!
A few waders heading north included Whimbrel (increasing to 8 on 25th), Green Sandpiper and Knot (22nd and 25th), whilst wildfowl included the first Pink-footed Geese of the year (6 on 24th and one still today), a Wigeon (23rd-25th) and 2 Red-breasted Merganser (24th).
One last woodpecker photo as it was a Fair Isle tick for me (which means I owe Henry a pint, best make that a coke!). It was also the first predictable species of the year in our Prediction competition, with only two people getting three points for a spring prediction and five getting a single point for predicting it out of season.
With a strengthening NW wind from tomorrow, I guess things may stay slow for a while, although there'll probably continue to be one or two surprises. A lot of people had thought that the large scale invasion of Northern woodland species into the UK last autumn may have resulted in a few spring records for Fair Isle this year, and with at least two Great Tits and a Great Spotted Woodpecker so far, that seems to be holding true. Maybe that will be the source of the next good bird (Pine Grosbeak anyone?) or perhaps one of the southern goodies hitting the south of England recently will make it up - I'd certainly settle for a Rock Thrush!

Monday 22 April 2013

21st April
A period of generally windy weather has seen migration continue at a rather slow pace, although a more southerly element to proceedings has seen a few more birds arriving recently. The highlight of the last few days has probably been the male Hawfinch that arrived at the Obs garden on 21st, with other additions to the year list including Tree Pipit, Black-tailed Godwit and Arctic Skua the same day, a male Shoveler at Da Water (20th-21st) and Jackdaw, Willow Warbler and Blackcap on 18th (with two of the latter on 21st). Other summer migrants included two Chiffchaff (20th), Black Redstart (19th with two on 21st, one of which was found by Henry at the Chapel), White Wagtail (20th), three Sand Martin (20th-21st) and up to 10 Swallow (21st).
This Blackcap was on the feeders at the Obs on 21st.
The Great Tit remains at the Obs and a second individual (and third of the year for the island) was found at the Plantation on 18th before moving down the island to Barkland (with both still present on 21st). Another species enjoying a good spring for Fair Isle is Hen Harrier and another ringtail was seen on 19th-20th, whilst a Kestrel was present on 20th-21st.
Shetland's earliest ever Swift remained until 19th. Also lingering was the Stonechat near the Chapel until 21st at least, the Stock Dove (seen again on 20th) and the Lapland Bunting until 20th (with a second on the latter date).
Whilst thrush numbers are dwindling there has been an increase in our breeding species, with peaks of 302 Meadow Pipit (19th), 230 Skylark (19th) and 95 Wheatear (21st), which will all have also involved birds whose destinations lie even further north than 59 degrees.
Light corvid passage has included up to five Rook (21st) and three Carrion Crow whilst a few more waders included Green Sandpiper (19th-21st), Greenshank (19th), Whimbrel (18th-21st, with 2 on 20th) and increases of Curlew (26 on 21st) and Golden Plover (23 on 21st). A Water Rail (18th) and Moorhens (18th and 21st) were skulking in the ditches, whilst at sea there were Red-throated Diver (17th), Long-tailed Duck (19th) and a ‘blue’ Fulmar at Ditfield on 20th (perhaps the bird that lingered there for several weeks last autumn?).
We’ve also seen the first guests arriving at the Obs and had an opening night get together in the bar with the staff and islanders (and cocktails!). It’s all go and the next few weeks will see the Obs going at full pelt as more guests arrive, migrants pour in (hopefully) and the seabird work gets fully going.

Twite will be around the feeders for next six months at least, but Goldfinches are always scarce visitors, with up to three on the island in the last week.

Wednesday 17 April 2013

Back in the Birds

17th April
Hello again! Sorry for the lack of updates, I’ve been away on a couple of training courses. It’s always a risk leaving Fair Isle in a migration period, but thankfully I didn’t miss anything major and the best bird of the last couple of weeks even waited until I was back before it arrived! I’ll not give you a full rundown of what I’ve been up to (although it was a good to revisit some of my old haunts including Loch of Strathbeg, Loch Garten and the Farne Islands) as there have been far too many things happening here that I need to update you on as the slow start to the spring suddenly gave way to a deluge of arrivals. We’ve also had the arrival of most of the rest of the team for the year, so it’s all go.

Thanks to a few extra shifts from Richard and Will and help from Deryk, the full census was completed daily whilst I was away and there were some good birds found. Three species that went missing from the island last year put in an appearance: Slavonian Grebe (a breeding-plumaged bird on 8th), Stonechat at Burkle on 15th-16th (earning Teresa the infamous Mars Bar that visitors from last autumn may remember) and Stock Dove (on Meoness from 16th and without doubt the highlight of the last couple of weeks as it was a Fair Isle tick for me!). In order of appearance, the year list was also boosted by:

4th April: Common Redpoll
8th April: Red-throated Diver
9th April: Whimbrel (Fair Isle’s earliest ever by three days), Brambling (increasing to 11 on 13th), Siskin, Yellowhammer
10th April: Green Sandpiper, Wheatear (with numbers increasing to 17 by 16th)
11th April: Chiffchaff, Ring Ouzel, Black Redstart, Lapland Bunting (with another on 15th-16th)
12th April: Whooper Swan, Long-eared Owl (trapped in the Gully), Greenfinch (two)
13th April: Carrion Crow
14th April: Sand Martin (two), White Wagtail, Goldfinch (two)
15th April: Greenshank (two), Swallow
16th April: Swift (the earliest on Fair Isle by almost two weeks and a week earlier than any other Shetland record), Short-eared Owl
The Obs garden has been full of birds, including a couple of Goldfinches.
Other notable records included: a lingering ringtail Hen Harrier until 3rd, with another on 9th-11th in a very good spring for this species; Waxwing (with four on 12th then singles on 13th-14th); Coot (7th-8th in Hesti Geo); a new female Great Tit (13th-16th); two Water Rail (14th); 120 Purple Sandpiper (11th); Jack Snipe (5th and 14th-15th); littoralis Rock Pipits (3rd and 10th) and regular sightings of Sparrowhawks and Kestrel.
Look no ring! The new female Great Tit arrived less than a fortnight after the wintering bird departed.
Migrant numbers built up during the period, with several species peaking on 12th when there were 112 Blackbird, 93 Robin, 36 Dunnock, 30 Song Thrush and 7 Woodcock. Other highest counts included 5 Grey Wagtail (4th), 20 Mistle Thrush (11th), 29 Chaffinch (13th), 84 Redwing (14th), and 18 Woodpigeon, 5 Goldcrest and 230 Meadow Pipit (all 16th).
Breeding birds are starting to build up, with Puffins around in larger numbers (although still not settled on land), at least 40 Bonxies now present and up to 11 Lesser Black-backed Gulls (16th).
So, that’s you up to date on Fair Isle, we’ll get more detailed information up on the Latest Sightings page of the website soon. In the meantime, there’ll be more regular updates on here, hopefully with more birds (it’s already been pointed out by a few people that the bad weather has arrived on the island at the same time as me, so hopefully the birds won’t stop arriving as well!).

PS - I hope all of the Newcastle United supporting readers of the blog are happy that I didn't even mention the score from Sunday.

A bit of breaking news from the Good Shepherd: a large bull Killer Whale was seen about eight miles north of Fair Isle this morning (17th), the third sighting of Orca from the Good Shepherd this year; hopefully we’ll get some from the island soon.

Wednesday 3 April 2013

Feel the Sun.

2nd April

Always one of the first jobs of the season - trap repairs! Thankfully they have stood up pretty well to the winter weather, so we're getting the chance to get a few 'pre-emptive' repairs in. Notice the new box, one of a set kindly supplied by Larry Dalziel - very many thanks Larry.
The glorious sunny weather continues, the temperature is hotting up (well, warming a bit – there are still a few large patches of snow on the hills) and there are new birds coming through as the start of the season continues to gather pace; it surely won’t be long until the first ‘predictable’ bird is found!

Fair Isle Wrens are singing at several places on the island now. This bird in the South Haven will probably be the most appreciated this year as various visitors add this rare endemic to their lists!
Additions to the year list have taken the form of Pied Wagtail (first seen on 27th, with only a couple since then), Sanderling (30th), Collared Dove (31st), Bonxie (a sure sign of spring on Fair Isle, with the first seen on 31st), Cormorant (four on 1st April), Linnet (1st April), Shelduck (2nd) and a northward bound Kestrel (2nd). The latter fits in with a good run of raptors, with a lingering pair of Peregrines (seen today pursuing the last remaining Woodpigeon from the mid-March arrival!), Merlin, Sparrowhawk (1st-2nd) and Hen Harriers (presumably the same male on 29th and a new ringtail from 31st March to 2nd April) all gracing the island.
The male Hen Harrier flew past the kitchen window, but was only marginally more photographable than during its previous appearance!
Other signs of migration included: a small build up of commoner waders; an increase in Skylarks and Meadow Pipits (the latter peaking at 13 on 1st); up to two Rooks at the end of March; Iceland Gull (28th); small numbers of Robins (a maximum of three, although there was some turnover of birds); a couple of Chaffinch and Snow Bunting; and single Reed Bunting and Water Rail (one near Stackhoull on 1st possibly being a migrant).
It's not always easy to detect migrant Rock Pipits, but this colour-ringed bird has definitely travelled some distance to be here, having wintered at Rosehearty again (where it also spent the 2011/12 winter before returning north to breed on Fair Isle in 2012).
After one in February, the first Puffins of the spring were seen, with a single on 31st followed by 28 the next day; a slow start to the season but they’ll hopefully come piling back soon. Unlike their colourful cousins, Tysties stick with us all year and the first count of the year of the monitoring plot (the east coast between the lighthouses) produced 174 breeding-plumaged adults, fairly similar to the last few years. Another hardy ‘resident’ is the Great Tit, which has entered its seventh month on the island, although presumably it will move on soon as any hopes it has of breeding will be somewhat limited by the lack of trees and other Great Tits.
Bom, bom, bom, ayee-ah. The chorus of frogs singing from the Obs wader scrape has been quite impressive in recent days.

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