Saturday 13 July 2013

Spring Summary

Well, it looks like we’re going to merge straight from spring to autumn, so if I’m going to give you a summary of the spring so far, I may as well do it now.

So where to start in what has been a busy spring once it got going? The rarest bird of the spring (in Fair Isle terms at least) was the Roller on 11th June, although it was only seen briefly by Nick Riddford at North Light and avoided the twitching ‘masses’ (and hopefully the Bonxie that was seen chasing it over the cliffs!). That was a second for the island, with the next rarest bird, the Roseate Tern on 6th July, a third for the island. Both birds were unexpected, with neither featuring in the Prediction Competition!
The next rarest was a real mega until recent years, although a run of recent sightings (including the second and third for the island in 2011) has made it less the stuff of dreams than it was. Still, the brief evening visit of a Pallid Harrier (3rd June) was a real highlight of the spring. A reasonable spring for raptors also saw singles of Honey Buzzard (28th May), Hobby (29th May) and Marsh Harrier (26th March), and very high totals of Hen Harriers (probably seven individuals) and Osprey (with sightings on 9 dates involving at least 7 birds). The Pallid Harrier was the pinnacle of a good day’s birding which also saw Rustic Bunting, Subalpine Warbler and Quail found.
From top left clockwise: Pallid Harrier, Osprey, Marsh Harrier and Hen Harrier. Fair Isle may not be renowned for its raptor passage, but we pick up our fair share of them.
The Rustic Bunting was the second of the spring (following another one day male on 19th May). Subalpine Warblers also had a very good spring with five sightings; male ‘westerns’ on 3rd-14th June, 17th - 27th June and a very late bird on 5th – 10th July (at least), a probable female ‘eastern’ on 25th May and an unraced female on 26th June.
Subalpine Warblers (clockwise from top left): the second male, 'eastern' female, western male and unraced female. With five birds, its been an excellent spring for this species.
A good array of rare warblers included River Warbler (5th-6th June), Paddyfield Warbler (16th June), Blyth’s Reed Warbler (27th May – 2nd June) and Melodious Warbler (15th-16th May). Amongst the scarcities, there were five Icterine Warblers in May (including the earliest ever on 5th May) and another two during 13th-16th June, whilst Marsh Warbler also saw its earliest ever Fair Isle record (18th May), with regular sightings from 26th May throughout June totalling at least 14 birds (a typical late migrant, there were five, including three new arrivals, present on 26th June, with at least three lingering into July). In contrast there were only five Reed Warblers seen all spring. The general trend for the commoner migrants was of low numbers until mid-May, after which things improved, with a few days producing arrivals of reasonable numbers.
Top row: Melodious Warbler, Marsh Warbler and Icterine Warbler. Middle row: Paddyfield Warbler, River Warbler and Blyth's Reed Warbler. Bottom row: Ortolan and Rustic Buntings.
The bird of the spring for many was a female Collared Flycatcher at the Mast (9th June – another excellent early June rarity in this rather late spring), whilst the set of BB rares for the spring was completed by no less than three Thrush Nightingales (8th-10th May and two found within a few hundred metres of each other on 29th May).
Collared Flycatcher and Thrush Nightingale, both BB rarities that have an affinity with Fair Isle, the latter has now occured 60 times here.
Amongst the scarce migrants, Red-backed Shrike stood out has having had an especially good year. Apart from one blank day, there were daily sightings from 9th May-3rd June, peaking at seven on 25th May and involving at least 14 birds. There were then scattered records until 18th June, then singles on 24th-25th June and 2nd July took the spring total to around 20 birds. Bluethroats also fared well, with sightings of up to three virtually daily from 16th-29th May, with a total of around 11 individuals involved. There were single Red-breasted Flycatchers on 12th-18th May and 2nd June and Ortolans on 12th-19th May, 10th & 14th June (the latter two sightings probably referring to the same bird), both species are less than annual in the spring. It was also a good spring for Grey-headed Wagtails; regular sightings from 16th May peaked at five birds.
Spring birding is even more enjoyable thanks to the colourful plumage of many of the migrants like (clockwise from top left): Red-backed Shrike, Bluethroat and Grey-headed Wagtail, although the Red-breasted Flycatchers were both female types.
By contrast, it was relatively quiet for Common Rosefinch, with a red male on 29th May, an immature male on 19th-21st June and another ‘brown’ bird on 6th-12th July (another very late migrant in which several species saw unusually late records). It was also a below par spring for Wryneck (sightings from 11th-19th May possibly involving just a couple of birds) and Hawfinch (singles on 10th and 15th-16th May), whilst the only Corncrake was singing on 24th-25th May.
Amongst some of the other migrants a couple of Fair Isle scarcities put in appearances, with Great Spotted Woodpecker (25th-29th April), Great Tit (the wintering bird remaining until 1st April then at least two during 14th-26th April) and Stock Dove (16th-20th April and two on 26th May).
Wryneck, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Great Tit - only the first of these three is annual on Fair Isle.
Other species worthy of note included Swift, with the earliest ever Fair Isle record on 16th April (in an otherwise very quiet spring for them), at least three Cuckoos (following just a single in 2012), perhaps seven different Long-eared Owls (including one on 29th June) and a reasonable spring presence of Waxwings (at least eight individuals, with the last lingering until 23rd May). The latter species was one of several that remained later than normal, with an unusual late passage of Snow Buntings (up to 47 in late May and the last on 9th June), Redwing (with one singing until 10th June), whilst a Ring Ouzel, two Tree Sparrow, three House Martin, Marsh Warbler and Reed Warbler all seem set to summer on the island.
Waxwing, Cuckoo and Snow Bunting all had good springs.
Wader highlights were the first Temminck’s Stint since 1987, Pectoral Sandpiper (6th May), a Red-necked Phalarope (23rd May), Dotterel (12th May) and our earliest ever Whimbrel (9th April)
Top: Temminck's Stint. Bottom: Pectoral Sandpiper, Dotterel and Whimbrel. Although waders don't occur in large numbers, we tend to get a good selection during the year.
Ring-billed Gull (9th-21st January) led the highlights amongst the seabirds, as well as being the best bird of the winter. There were also at least eight Iceland Gulls during the first half of the year (with the latest on 2nd-4th June), five Glaucous Gulls and two Pomarine Skuas (15th May and 4th July, both from the Good Shepherd), two Little Auks 9th January and 26th April) and a Sandwich Tern (13th June).
Ring-billed Gull (left), Glaucous and Iceland Gulls were all highlights during the winter, although birding then is generally quiet with usually only around 50 species seen a month.
So, not a bad spring all in all! If I’d put in all the common migrant numbers etc as well I’d have been half way to writing an annual report (although it’s probably worth mentioning the three Killer Whale sightings and pod of 100+ White-sided Dolphins), but it’s been nice to reflect on some of the highlights. Here's hoping the rapidly approaching autumn also delivers the goods...


  1. you forgot the great spotted woodpecker! it's okay now, you can find the two barred crossbill any time now....

  2. There was a report of a Grey Phalarope on Birdguides a few days ago, was this correct?


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