Monday 2 June 2014

Kitt-chat, Chiff-smash and a Monster Honey

29th May – 1st June
The view from the boat on the evening of the 31st. It's not very often the Atlantic is this calm. Photo: Ciaran Hatsell
It’s been an eventful few days and, with the seabird monitoring season really getting going and census still in full swing, it’s been rather busy. A couple of very calm days brought some extensive foggy spells, although these cleared on 31st, whilst the south-easterly has picked up again now (and seems set to stay for another week at least according to the forecasts) and it’s been generally pleasant.
The Good Shepherd heading to Shetland on 31st on one of those wonderful mornings where the sky and sea merge and Fair Isle feels like it's floating separately from the rest of the world.
A fantastic day on 31st saw an early start for a breeding bird survey and census, followed by a visit of the first cruiseship of the year then a long session in the boat, monitoring Puffin nests on Greenholm and counting nesting Kittiwakes on the west coast (along with Shag plots). In the end, we had about 16 hours in the field (and on the sea), then came in to do Log!
Gannets and a Maalie (Fulmar) following the boat off Dronger. Photo: Ciaran Hatsell
We’ve still got the east coast to do, but things don’t look good for Shags or Kittiwakes so far (Puffins seemed to be doing ok at this early stage in the season), with the dramatic decline of Kittiwakes on Fair Isle remaining a shocking, and much talked-about, statistic. For those who aren't aware of the figures, Kittiwakes peaked at over 19,000 pairs on Fair Isle in the late 1980s, but there were less than 800 pairs recorded last year.
The boat work is always one of the highlights of the year, with the chance to see some areas and views of Fair Isle that very few people are privileged to enjoy. Photo: Ciaran Hatsell
Migrants continue to come through, with a scattering of scarcities including up to 5 Red-backed Shrikes (on 29th, with 3 on 30th and 1 on 31st, followed by a new male on 1st), 2 Icterine Warbler (29th), Red-breasted Flycatcher (29th), 4 Quail (31st, with three singing and another found dead) and an absolutely stonking Honey Buzzard on 30th.
The Honey Buzzard emerged a few metres away from Ciaran through the fog and was found sat on the clifftop at Furse shortly afterwards (thankfully avoiding all of our 60,000 Fulmars). Once the fog cleared it was airborne again and flew towards us, before drifting around the island for a couple of ours.
The Honey Buzzard appears to be the same bird that was seen on North Ronaldsay the previous day. Whether it had been lurking unseen on Fair Isle for a day, or had perhaps stopped off at Foula, or maybe even been to Shetland and was returning south is unknown (but it wouldn't be birding it these things weren't speculated upon!). As with many species, the views on Fair Isle are often better than you would get elsewhere in the species' range; whether it's Hawfinches on the garden feeder, flocks of Yellow-browed Warblers on a lawn or Blyth's Reed Warbler on a drystone dyke, the lack of suitable habitat often forces tired migrants into compromising their usual habits.
Other notable migrants included just our second Long-eared Owl of the year (1st), Short-eared Owl (30th-31st), Cuckoo (31st), Blue-headed Wagtail (30th), White Wagtail (4 on 30th) and Tree Sparrow (28th-29th and 1st).
The White Wagtail total included a male which has been holding territory (he's been recorded singing, as he is in this photo) throughout most of May.
Amongst the commoner species there were small numbers of most of the regular warblers, with some turnover indicated by ringing. The ringing included 3 Chiffchaffs, which were trapped on the hectic day of 31st and took the total ringed so far this year to 75 – a new annual record total for Fair Isle (and completed before the end of May no less). Interestingly, eight of the nine previous highest totals have come since 2000, possibly an indication of a change in status (although perhaps the increase in cover in the garden has allowed higher numbers to be mist-netted - we’ve not had time to examine the various hypothesis yet). Spotted Flycatchers were present throughout, peaking with at least 13 on 29th, there were up to 2 Black Redstart, 2 Redstart (29th), Whinchat (29th and 1st), 2 Pied Flycatcher, Brambling (31st-1st), a new Robin (29th – along with the lingering bird still at the Obs), occasional Tree Pipit and flava wagtail, peaks of 15 Woodpigeon and 9 Collared Dove, Snow Bunting (1st June), up to 10 Mealy and 1 Lesser Redpoll and light hirundine passage on 1st that produced 19 Swallow and 7 House Martin.
At sea there were both Red-throated and Great Northern Diver on 31st and a couple of Porpoise sightings, whilst some light wildfowl passage included our second Canada Goose of the year (which was one of the first birds seen by the disembarking cruiseship passengers, who weren’t as impressed as the wardening team!) and 4 Shelduck (29th), with a Pink-footed Goose remaining to 1st amongst the tardy returners north.
Lingering goodies included the Caspian Stonechat (until 31st, although the 1st was the first blank day since its arrival – has it finally gone?...), Collared Flycatcher (which relocated to Guidicum on 29th), Short-toed Lark (30th) and the, now rather faded, Kumlien’s Gull (until 1st).
Finally, some breeding news, where Kittiwakes and Arctic Skuas are the latest species to be confirmed as being on eggs, Great Black-backed Gulls, Hooded Crow, Snipe and Ringed Plover chicks have been seen and Starlings and House Sparrow have fledged, with Lapwings hopefully not far behind.
The Greenholm Great Black-backed Gull chicks usually grow fat on a Puffin-heavy diet.
It’s all go at the moment and, with another cruiseship due in on Monday and the weather feeling pretty rare still, I suspect it’ll be a while yet before we put our feet up!
It's not just birds either, with a small arrival of insects being recorded as well. This Common Green Lacewing (Chrysoperla carnea agg.) is a scarce migrant to Fair Isle, whilst more famililar visitors included Silver-Y and Diamond-back moths and Painted Lady, whilst Nick and Elizabeth trapped Fair Isle's first Pale-shouldered Brocade overnight on 30th/31st.

1 comment:

  1. i really enjoy what you write and soo nice to see the photoes.Yes We should love to visit your place!!Greetings from Norway!


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