Wednesday 29 January 2014

Wind woes

Just a quick note to say that we're back from holidays, but with the gale force south-easterly gales causing transport problems for the island (the Northlink ferries to and from Lerwick were cancelled last night and the Good Shepherd hasn't managed any sailings whilst we've been away) we've not made it back to Fair Isle yet. We're going to try for the start of next week, but until then we'll not be able to pick up messages, emails etc, so thanks for your patience if you're waiting for us to get back to you.
It sounds like most of the island has stood up to the worst of the weather fairly well, the Obs is still there although the Ringing Hut (which in fairness, had seen better days) has been blown away! There have been several additions to the year list (thanks to updates from Deryk and Tommy), with more regular stock inlcuding Bar-tailed Godwit, Ringed Plover and Oystercatcher and winter highlights of Waxwing (briefly at the Haa), an adult Little Gull and at least 13 Tundra Bean Geese. These latter two species join Velvet Scoter as species that failed to appear on the island in 2013 but have already made it in 2014 - could the year list record be on?!
Hopefully we'll be back soon (I might bore you with a few of my holiday photos when we make it) and hopefully I'll not miss anything big before then (Lesser White-fronted Goose, Ross's or Ivory Gull or Bittern could all be possible given the forecast...).

EDIT:  I was close - Bittern turned up in Shetland later in the day I wrote this (a species still missing from the Fair Isle list). Fair Isle weighed in with some good birds as well with Coot (virtually annual in recent years, but always a good one to get) found by Deryk on Da Water and, Pochard on Tommy's garden pond. The Pochard is a rare bird on Fair Isle, with the one last year (which I thankfully jammed in on, seeing it on its last day on the day I got back from holiday - although I almost wasn't told, as nobody realised how scarce they are on Fair Isle!) being the first for about five years. There are also a few more Bean Geese, one or two Iceland Gulls and plenty more Kittiwakes. I seem to recall in the olden days, a winter influx of Kittiwakes was always thought the best chance of finding a Ross's Gull, so I'm hoping that, if it happens, it waits until Monday when I (hopefully) get back.

Wednesday 8 January 2014

New Year, New Birds, New Jobs...

Susannah and I would like to wish Friends of Fair Isle, visitors to the Obs and readers of the blog a very Happy New Year, all the best for 2014 and we hope to see you up here at some point!

The birding has got off to a good start, with a very respectable 45 species recorded on New Year’s Day, despite a feeling that there wasn’t that much about. It was helped by the sunny and quite pleasant conditions, as the mild, but at times very windy, weather has continued.

The undoubted highlight was the Velvet Scoter, which flew out of Furse and past Buness, not only a Fair Isle tick for me, but the first live one to be seen from the island since 2011 (a freshly dead bird was found in 2012). It’s remarkable that after one of the best ever years for number of species seen in 2013 (the current total is 214 if everything is accepted by the relevant committees), we should record a species that didn’t make it onto the year list just a day later. Does it bode well for the year ahead? Maybe…

Other birds of interest as the New Year broke included a first-winter Glaucous Gull, 3 Little Auk off South Light, a Chaffinch (a male that arrived at the Obs on the 1st and is still present), a scattering of thrushes including around 20 Fieldfare, a few wildfowl including a couple of Long-tailed Ducks, a Whooper Swan and a Common Scoter, 2 Jack Snipe (flushed from Boini Mire with around 40 Snipe) and unseasonal Woodpigeon, Meadow Pipit and Dunlin. Since the 1st there has been little of note, although Merlin, Water Rail and Guillemot have made it onto the year list, whilst Tysties were just offshore and whistling in good numbers on an almost balmy 5th. It’s interesting that Guillemots have not made it onto the cliffs yet – this time last year they were regularly present in early January.

Some other news:

• Staff and volunteer vacancies are now available for 2014, check the relevant page on the blog.
• The 2012 Annual Report is out (having had a few weeks waiting at Grutness!). It contains the systematic list, ringing report, seabird report , details of other wildlife and write-ups of Eastern Grasshopper Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Siberian Rubythroat, Eastern Subalpine Warbler and much more. Send a cheque (made out to ‘FIBO’) for £11.50 (inc p&p) to the Obs if you’d like your copy, or join FOFI to receive a copy every year.
FIBO's very own version of Santa's elves get to work sending Annual Reports all around the world.
• Get your thinking caps on for the 2014 Prediction Competition, as we'll get that up and running from February. The same rules apply as already posted, with just a few species to change their predictability status (Great Spotted Woodpecker isn't predictable anymore, but Brent Goose is, I'll check if there are any more when I get back).

We’re away now until the end of the month, so we’ll try to answer all our messages as soon as we can in early February.

Right, I best go and pack…

Tuesday 7 January 2014

December Birds

I'm dreaming of a white-horses Christmas. The view from the Obs on Christmas morning - another windy day. The weather has been rather wild over the winter, with the Good Shepherd unable to sail for 19 days at one stage.
Fair Isle managed to avoid the Ivory Gull ‘influx’ during December, although Susannah and I came close; being in Sunderland when news broke of one there. Sadly, despite spending an afternoon checking fish quays, beaches and car parks in a few of my old County Durham haunts, it had moved on. To then get a call a few days later from the Farne Islands wardens to tell me they were watching two Ivory Gulls in Seahouses (by which time I was in the car park of Sainsbury’s* in Bedford [*other supermarkets are available for receiving gutting bird news in]) didn’t help. The Yorkshire bird then turned up a couple of days too late (we’d already driven past it) and there was no chance of getting to Orkney or the Hebs birds (although we possibly sailed past the former on our way home). As the Parnaby family are off on our travels again through January, I’m hoping the Ivory Curse (good movie name there if anyone wants it), doesn’t strike by delivering one to Fair Isle whilst we’re away. I’ve a suspicion that somewhere in Shetland will get one of these Arctic beauties sometime in February/March, so fingers crossed one of the dead seals around Fair Isle will do the job for us then.
Not on Fair Isle. This fine ad Med Gull was at Marsden on the Durham coast and one of four or five we saw during our failed search for something even better (although Med Gull would have been a good enough bird in Durham itself back in my day).
Anyway, amongst the birds that actually turned up in December, there were Iceland Gull sightings on 9th and 17th-19th and Glaucous Gulls on 5th, 18th (3) and 28th, whilst one Black-headed Gull lingered through the month. There was a scattering of wildfowl, although we never get large numbers, with up to 2 Whooper Swans, 3 Pink-feet, a Barnacle Goose (to 3rd), 20 Wigeon, 5 Teal, 2 Long-tailed Duck and singles of Common Scoter, Goldeneye and Red-breasted Merganser. Whilst out at sea there was Great Northern Diver (26th) and a very unseasonal Puffin (29th).
Also unusual for the time of year were Black-tailed Godwits on 5th and 19th (spilling over from the North Ron wintering flock perhaps?) whilst other waders included peaks of 130 Turnstone, 30 Redshank, 13 Curlew, 5 Lapwings, 15 Purple Sandpipers and a Jack Snipe.
Typical wintering fodder were up to 15 Redwing, 10 Blackbird, 2 Fieldfare, a Song Thrush, 5 Robin, 6 Twite and 28 Snow Bunting, although a Meadow Pipit on 29th was less usual, as this species is largely absent from Fair Isle in the winter (only a few of the smaller birds tough it out, with the wintering passerine list above being added to only by Starling, House Sparrow, Rock Pipit and Fair Isle Wren). Birds lingering from earlier in the year included Grey Heron (to 13th), Merlin and two Water Rail (the latter two species seeming set to winter), whilst a Woodpigeon from 22nd was no doubt a bit puzzled as to where it had ended up.
Any other wildlife? New Year guising.
We hope you all had a good Christmas and New Year, we certainly did! Best wishes to you all for 2014 from all the Parnabys and everyone else from FIBO and thanks for your support during the last year.

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