Friday 21 February 2014

Gulls, Geese and an Owl.

20th February
The Kumlien's Gull in fading light (hence it looking somewhat darker than it actually is in this image).
A generally quiet period, with some beautiful days but also some more SE gales and heavy rain. After the ‘transport chaos’ of January, things returned to more or less normal, with the Good Shepherd managing its scheduled sailings before heading off for its annual maintenance and flights making it in on most days. A lot of the island is still rather sodden, so we’ll hopefully get a dry period before the spring starts, but the rather mild winter continues – no snowmen this year by the look of it.
Wet and windy weather is thought to be more damaging to the Fair Isle Wren population than cold snaps (their preferred seaweedy habitat rarely freezing anyway), so it will be interesting to see what the result of this year’s breeding survey will be. The first Wren was heard singing in the Havens on 17th, although it’ll be another month or so before territories are properly established and the survey starts.
Also on the breeding bird front, Guillemots have been around in numbers (but have not yet been returning to the cliffs), although small numbers are still being washed up dead. We also got news from the BTO that one of our breeding Puffins (ringed as an adult in 2012) was amongst the casualties of a wreck affecting birds in the Bay of Biscay; more pressure on our already beleaguered seabird populations.
Migration was as slow as would be expected in mid-February, with some passage of Greylags noted (peaking at 142 on 19th), which also saw the 5 Tundra Bean Geese depart from Utra (they were last seen on 16th). Other wildfowl records included a Long-tailed Duck and 3 Red-breasted Mergansers sheltering amongst 75 Eider during stormy conditions on 15th.
Greylags on the move. The sheep is probably thankful for some peace and quiet.
The most unexpected migrant was a Long-eared Owl (18th), whilst there was also the first Rook of the year (13th-17th) and 2 Cormorant (18th). There were still just single figures of Skylark and Meadow Pipit, whilst small numbers of thrushes saw Fieldfares peak at 52 (19th) and there were up to 19 Twite, 12 Snow Bunting and the occasional Woodcock.
Long-eared Owl. Always a beautiful bird and an especially nice surprise at this time of year.
Lingering birds included the juvenile Kumlien’s Gull throughout (with occasional sightings of other white-wingers peaking on 15th when there were also two juvenile Iceland Gulls and an adult and juvenile Glaucous Gull), Coot (until 13th), Woodpigeon, Water Rails (at Lower Stoneybrek, Setter and Da Water), Merlin and Peregrine (a hefty female that was seen taking a male Teal off Da Water).
So it’s steady away as we prepare for the start of the new season; as ever there is plenty to do but things are progressing nicely. We’ll hopefully have news on the 2014 team by early next week, and maybe news on a few migrants soon as well.
With a lack of many new birds to report, here's another picture of the Coot (picture by Deryk Shaw).

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