Sunday, 13 October 2013

Time for a cheeky catch up.

10th-13th October
A final day of strong northerlies finally eased to a beautiful calm day on 11th, then increasing NE winds on 12th and 13th – perfect timing and it certainly seems to be delivering.
It has to be said though, that a Grey-cheeked Thrush at the School on 11th was not what we were expecting. The fourth for the island (following the first for Britain in 1953 and further records in 1958 and 2007), it showed well (usually in a field amongst Golden Plover), which was just as well as it chose the slightly inconvenient time of the Sheep Hill (the round up of the sheep from the north of the island) to appear. Thankfully, everyone connected with this diddy thrush, although it had gone by the time the afternoon plane arrived. 
Initially found near the school, the Grey-cheeked Thrush moved further away during break time! It spent most of its time feeding in an open field after that though.
This distant shot at least gives an idea of the size of the bird, which was more reminiscent of Wheatear in its behaviour as it foraged, rather than one of the European thrushes.

In order to fulfil the classic ‘Fair Isle East meets West’ obligation, a Blyth’s Reed Warbler was found at Springfield the same day, with what may have been a different bird at Schoolton on 12th-13th (the Springfield bird apparently missing a tertial that was present on the Schoolton individual). 
The Blyth's Reed at Springfield spent its time moving between two small rose bushes, although it could be surprisingly elusive.
Other rarities from the east included the first Fair Isle Red-throated Pipit since 2010, which was initially flushed from near Field Ditch before eventually showing well at Utra (12th-13th). A Dusky Warbler was an even better find on 13th on the precipitous cliffs at North Felsigeo, only the 14th Fair Isle record and the first since 2007.
I eventually caught up with the Red-throated Pipit at Utra scrape just before dusk, where it showed quite well in the fading light, it was located initially by its distinctive call.
Also high up in the good bird stakes were Olive-backed Pipits at Chalet on 12th (probably present since the 11th, when a birder running for the Grey-cheeked Thrush flushed one of either this species or Tree Pipit from the same spot!) and possibly the same bird near Burkle on 13th. It is possible that all these sightings refer to the bird that was seen at Hesswalls on 8th, especially as all the sightings have been of birds seen only briefly. Completing a good run of pipits, a Richard’s Pipit was at Taft again on 12th and 13th (presumably the lingering bird), with a second bird at Guidicum on 13th. 
A Richard's Pipit powers away from Meoness heading back to its regular haunt in the long grass near Taft and the Museum.

A Little Bunting in the Taft area on 11th-13th may have been a new bird, with a second in the Havens on 12th. The Buff-breasted Sandpiper and Short-toed Lark completed the list of ex-BBRC species (well, not including Yellow-browed Warbler, which thankfully hasn’t bothered the rarities committee for a good while now) and both remained until 10th.
Other scarcities included 2 ‘Northern’ Bullfinch (the first Bullfinches on the island since 2011) on 13th, the Great Grey Shrike (which remained to 11th), the lingering Dotterel (to 13th, which has got a while to go before it beats the latest date for this species on the island, 6th November), Great Spotted Woodpeckers (which increased to 6 on 12th) and a small surge in Yellow-browed Warblers with 7 on 11th and 9 on 12th, although just 4 on 13th. The size of the influx of the latter two species is shown by the highest annual ringing totals for them being recorded this year, with 5 and 16 ringed respectively. Also of note from the ringing recently was a Czech-ringed Blackcap trapped on 12th.
A Great Spotted Woodpecker on Tor o da Ward Hill was presumably one of the new wave of arrivals.
The north-easterly winds brought the expected increase in thrush numbers, with peaks of 600 Redwing, 326 Fieldfare and 65 Blackbird (all 13th). Associated with this was an increase in Goldcrest (to 71 on 12th), Chiffchaff (to 27 on 12th, most of which were eastern birds), Brambling (47 on 12th), Woodcock (with 4 flushed on Sheep Hill on 11th), Lesser Redpoll (3 on 12th-13th), ‘Mealy’ Common Redpolls (with 18 on 13th), Siskin (up to 11), Chaffinch (up to 13) and Snow Buntings (134 on 12th).
This ringed Goldcrest was at the back of Dronger, but appears not to be from Fair Isle, sadly not enough detail was discernible to enable us to find out further information.
Birding Fair Isle's west cliffs is a great experience. This is part of a small flock at North Gunnawark that contained 3 Yellow-browed Warblers, 3 Chiffchaffs and a Goldcrest. I remember searching through hundreds of the latter looking for Yellow-broweds over many years birding the Durham coast, how times have changed.
Other migrants of interest included a Reed Warbler (to 13th, just a few hundred yards from the Blyth’s Reed, giving a nice comparison), Lesser Whitethroat 11th-12th, Spotted Flycatcher 11th, Redstart 11th-12th, the first Grey Wagtail of the autumn (12th), a flava Wagtail (12th), 2 Linnets and up to 5 Lapland Buntings.
There have also been smaller numbers of Greylag and Pink-footed Geese, along with a peak of 45 Barnacle Geese (13th), a lingering Whooper Swan and a scattering of ducks including Pintail, Shoveler and a peak of 11 Long-tailed Ducks (11th). 
Barnacle Geese over Meoness.
Pintail and Shoveler are both fairly scarce migrants on Fair Isle, so these two together (ignoring the flock of 60 Wigeon just a hundred yards or so away) were unusual. I'm hoping for a Gadwall next...
Phew, that’s us up to date now – as you can see, it’s been busy! With easterly winds forecast to continue into the start of next week, there could well be more birds on the way. How about a Pallas’s Warbler (after a run of multiple records from 2003-2005 there have been none since), or maybe something even better (to be honest, there’s been talk about a few of the possibilities in the bar in recent nights, but I’m not going to jinx any of the predictions by naming them here!).

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