Tuesday 24 September 2013

Creaking floodgates?

23rd-24th September
As predicted, Monday was rather grim and foggy; only my Mum got into Fair Isle and, as the planes were cancelled, she had to take the Good Shepherd (there wasn't room for Dad, he had to wait until Tuesday). She’s not the best of sailors, so at least it shows she loves me! The weather cleared on Tuesday, with a brisk north-easterly greeting the day and excitement levels were ratcheted up several notches as the talk of whether I’d be asked for an interview for the Sunderland manager’s job (if Alex McLeish is in the running then surely I’ve got a chance as well?) were replaced by pure bird-chat.

The 23rd wasn’t entirely without birds, although only a few scarcities were lingering (eg just 1 Yellow-browed Warbler) and the first Water Rail of the autumn and blue Fulmar were the highlights of the new birds. With Merlin and 20 Golden Plover amongst the species seen from the Good Shepherd, there were clearly birds on the move, it was just a problem for most of them to find us. I wonder if the Obs should try to get the foghorn working again?
Although we were hoping for great things on 24th, it was clear from the off that it was going to be hard work, with migrants in, but not in large numbers. However, we still finished with a noticeable increase to 7 Yellow-browed Warblers, along with small rise in common warblers. Other migrants of note included a Turtle Dove (our first of the year), at least six Great Spotted Woodpecker (there have only been two autumn records since the last influx in 2001 and this is probably now amongst the top three invasions to Fair Isle since the 1970s), a small arrival of thrushes, with 2 Fieldfare, 13 Song Thrush and 22 Redwing noted, 9 Crossbill, 4 Pied Flycatcher, 2 Chaffinch, Redstart (only the 3rd individual of the month), a large increase in Meadow Pipits (to 620) along with lingering Barred Warbler, Red-backed Shrike and 2 Common Rosefinch, 8 Lapland Buntings and 155 Snow Buntings (although the latter may well be an underestimate as several mobile flocks were seen).
Great Spotted Woodpecker in the wonderfully named Skinner's Glig (a small geo at the back of Ward Hill). With sightings from many parts of the island today, the count of 6 may well have been an underestimate. Biometrics from a trapped bird and the skull of an individual found dead earlier in the week indicate that these birds probably belong to the Scandinavian race Dendrocopos major major, the race thought to account for virtually all records in Shetland.
On the sea there were the autumn’s first 3 Goldeneye, two Long-tailed Ducks and an impressive 7 Slavonian Grebes (5 off South Light, 2 in Furse). The latter is a new Fair Isle record count and coincidentally comes just a day after a group of 5 were seen off North Ron, which was also a record island count.
So, a good day's birding, albeit hard work at times and despite the lack of any major rarities. However, with the forecast looking promising for a while yet at least, I'd expect more birds tomorrow and maybe, just maybe, there'll be a biggy waiting for us somewhere. One thing's for sure, we'll all be out again all day tomorrow and enjoying every minute of it; Fair Isle, late September, easterly winds, birds coming in - what's not to love?!

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