Monday, 23 September 2013

Opportunity Equinox

21st-22nd September
As we reach the fever pitch of late September on Fair Isle, the westerly winds continue to dominate and birding has yet to really pick up, although the continued arrival of a few new scarcities has kept things going. We’ve now moved dinner back an hour to make the most of the declining daylight hours (we do everything possible to increase the chance of finding good birds at this time of year!) and it looks like the weather may possibly be going to break in our favour after Monday, which has added a real air of anticipation to the Obs.

Will it still be saying that come Tuesday morning...
The 21st saw most of the decent birds in the North, with Red-breasted Flycatchers at the Obs and Easter Lother, Yellow-browed Warblers at Easter Lother and Lerness (a bird on one of the most westerly cliffs of Fair Isle, presumably about to continue its westward push into almost certain doom, or Foula), Barred Warbler on Buness (with another in the south), the lingering Red-backed Shrike at the Obs, 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers (with at least one more down south, bringing the total number of individuals seen so far in this arrival to an impressive 7), along with the majority of the 153 Snow Buntings, 6 Lapland Buntings, the first House Martin of the month and the only Goldcrest of the day.
The Easter Lother Red-breasted Flycatcher riding the surf.
The Yellow-browed Warbler preferred the drier clifftop at Easter Lother.
Elsewhere on the island there were still 2 Common Rosefinch, a Green Sandpiper (the first of the month), the autumn’s first 2 Dunnocks, a Siskin, a blue Fulmar, 2 Long-tailed Duck and 141 Pink-footed Geese. The good recent run of cetaceans continued with another 5 Risso’s Dolphin.
The calmer conditions of the 22nd caught out a few folk who had expected heavy rain and strong westerlies, so had perhaps overindulged a bit at the previous night’s Pirate Party, although even those who weren’t feeling a touch groggy failed to find much in the way of new birds. Presumed lingering scarcities included 2 Yellow-browed Warbler, 2 Barred Warbler, 3 Common Rosefinch, Red-backed Shrike and Great Spotted Woodpecker whilst there were still 156 Snow and 8 Lapland Bunting around the island.
The largest flocks of Snow Bunting have tended to be around North Light, where over 200 were counted earlier in the week.
A distinct arrival of Pink-footed Geese saw several skeins meandering around the island, with a final total of at least 471 present. At sea there was our first Slavonian Grebe of the autumn at Wirvie, with Sooty Shearwater, 2 Red-throated Diver and blue Fulmar also seen.
One of the skeins of Pink-feet today, this one arrived from out at sea from the the southwest (having posibily already left from the south of the island earlier) and departed north along the east coast before what were probably the same birds were seen heading south down the east later. It always makes a good start for Log, trying to figure the numbers involved in the day's sightings!
Cap'ns Log at the Pirate Party (thanks to Mati Ventrillon for the photo). 'Any Greylaaaaag?'
So what of that forecast? Well, Monday seems set to be wet, cloudy and with the possibility of mist and fog effecting transport (bad news for my Mum and Dad who are due to arrive in the morning), but by midnight we could see the wind coming from the North-east. With record counts of Yellow-browed Warblers being recorded from several Norwegian islands (160 today on an island just over 7 square miles in size according to Birdguides), that wind could well be bringing us some good birds very soon. It feels like this could be the week when our autumn (which has already been pretty good) really bursts into life.
Of course it's not just about the rare birds. This colour-ringed Rock Pipit at South Harbour was making its first appearance anywhere since it was ringed at Rosehearty in Aberdeenshire on 27th February 2013. At least three birds colour-ringed in the winter in Aberdeenshire have bred on Fair Isle this year, whilst this one has presumably summered further North and is now heading back to Grampian.

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