Sunday 31 August 2014

Sunday Funday?

30th August
Willow Warblers have been around in decent numbers in recent days, with most crofts and geos holding the odd one or two.
Arrivals continued in the pleasant birding conditions on Saturday and, with the team out in the field all day, there was a pleasantly full feeling to Log. The highlight was our first Short-toed Lark of the autumn, found by Richard on Meoness, with other scarcities represented by 3 each of Wryneck and Common Rosefinch and 2 Barred Warblers.
Recent Rosefinch sightings have mostly been from the few small patches of oats around the crofts, or the dense rose bushes in various gardens. These two were found on the slightly atypical habitat of the cliffs of Copper Geo before moving to Moss Geo.
Grasshopper Warbler, Redstart and Blackcap (3) also made their seasonal debuts, whilst notable counts of other species included 5 Little Stints (the highest count for 6 years), 13 Pied Flycatcher, 44 Willow Warbler, 4 Garden Warbler, 3 Whinchat, 3 Fieldfare, 2 Swift and a Reed Warbler (which was trapped in the Gully, bringing the number of Reed Warblers ringed this year level with that of Blyth’s Reed).
Little Stints are annual on Fair Isle (just about), but often only one or two are seen a year, so today's count was notable. This one was on the wet flush behind North Naaversgill.
Most of the Pied Flycatchers were on the sheltered west cliffs, this bird was at Dronger.
It’s been a good year for easterly winds, but that seems set to come to a (hopefully temporary) end from tomorrow, with westerlies forecast for the next week and beyond (not that they are always without birds of course). However, the forecast for today does look rather promising indeed, with easterlies stretching all the way from the far end of Scandinavia.
Taken from the brilliant, this shows where our winds are coming from this morning.
For a few days now we’ve been predicting a classic ‘Sunday lunchtime rare’, I certainly think we’ll have more birds today, but is this very pleasant birding spell about to be topped by something even better? We’ll find out soon…

Saturday 30 August 2014

Getting better...

28th-29th August
The wind has stayed in the east for the last couple of days, with heavy rain overnight on 28th/29th and again from late afternoon on 29th. With the strong, gusty conditions on 28th, birding was a bit trickier as a lot of the birds present were staying sheltered in dense rose bushes, but there were a few new bits and pieces in, although the highlights of 2 Barred Warblers, 3 Common Rosefinch and a Wood Warbler were all probably lingerers. Kestrels had increased to 4, Pied Flycatchers to 11 and the first Whinchat of the autumn was seen, whilst the consolation for those on a choppy Good Shepherd crossing (it is smooth and pleasant sometimes, honest!), was around 20 White-beaked Dolphins about 6 miles north of Fair Isle.
A couple of Barred Warblers have been lingering around the crofts, often showing well at times. (photo: Alex Penn)
A sunny start to 29th saw a totally blank 7am trap round, with that score equalled two hours later, however it soon became apparent that there were actually new birds in, with the walk to Chalet producing 10 Willow Warblers and then 2 Wrynecks following each other around the Chalet garden, whilst the Common Rosefinch and Wood Warbler were both still present at the same site. By the end of census, 5 Wrynecks had been found, with a new Barred Warbler joining two lingering birds. There were also the first two Sparrowhawk of the autumn and the first Common Tern and Carrion Crow of the month, with increases noted for Willow Warbler (47), Garden Warbler (7), Whinchat (2) and Rock Pipit (293) amongst others. There was also a Reed Warbler, Swift  and 2 Fieldfare to add to the haul.
It was a quiet autumn for Wrynecks in 2013 (with just one recorded), but 2014 has already seen 8 in this season.
An obvious increase in waders was particularly notable around the Skadan and it produced the first Little Stint of the year late in the day, with a Whimbrel also amongst the larger numbers of commoner species.
A little hint for how the 30th will go, with the rain easing off just before 7am and the wind also dropping, so it looks like really promising conditions. There are at least a couple of Willow Warblers around the Obs and morning traps produced Reed, Garden and 2 Willow Warblers (as well as Rock Pipit and 3 Fulmars!), so it suggests we could be in for a good day…

Thursday 28 August 2014

Autumn Arrivals.

26th - 27th August
Many of the seabirds have drifted away from the island now, although there are still decent numbers of Bonxies around, as well as a few Arctic Skuas, including these two juveniles at the Mast (incidentally, this 'flock' of juvenile Skooties contains double the number of youngsters of this species to have fledged from 2011-2013).
Another very calm and sunny day on 26th brought our first Icterine Warbler of the autumn (trapped at the Plantation) and an increase in Common Rosefinch to 3, with Barred Warbler and Wood Warbler remaining and a few increases in common migrants to suggest we were maybe at the start of something even better. The 27th opened calm and bright again after another busy night Storm Petrel ringing (the morning mist-netters passed the Storm Petrel team in the lounge at about 5.30am!). A Leach’s Petrel was also heard overnight, with the final total of birds caught being 227 (including 197 ‘new’ birds).
After a poor autumn for Wood Warbler in 2013 (with just one record), this year is already much better, with probably 5 individuals recorded so far.
Although things started relatively slowly, the wind started to pick up from the east through the day to a fairly fresh breeze by the evening and it brought more birds with it. Willow Warblers were the most obvious species present, with 60 logged around the island and there were also increases in Pied Flycatcher (6), alba wagtails (99 – mostly White), Tree Pipit (2) and Garden Warbler (5), whilst counts of 341 Meadow Pipit, 290 Rock Pipit, 280 Twite and 107 Wheatear all added to a satisfyingly busy census. The Common Rosefinch flock had increased to at least 4 (that was the most seen together, there could easily have been double that number on the island with various ones and twos seen in widely scattered locations), there were still 2 Barred Warblers around the Stackhoull area, a Wryneck dropped into the Obs briefly, the autumn’s first Red-backed Shrike was mobile on the west coast around Grey Geo and Wood Warblers had increased to 3 (the lingering bird was still at Chalet, whilst new individuals were at Furse and South Naaversgill). So, a very satisfying days birding and it felt like the forerunner to the chance of more birds. We’re due some stronger SE winds, which will make the birding more difficult, but could bring a selection of new species before the winds drop towards the weekend before switching to the west by the start of September.
Daily census, increasing migrants, several scarcities, a good forecast – the autumn is all coming together nicely now and hopefully we’ll eke out a few more decent birds in this promising spell of weather.

Tuesday 26 August 2014


21st-25th August
It's that time of year when the Storm Petrel ringing season coincides with autumn migration and sleep is at a premium. We know it would make sense to finish the petrelling sessions early, but it's been such a good season it's hard to drag yourself away from the nets! Catches in three figures seem to have become the norm now, and we're onto over 2000 birds ringed so far this season, whilst the last three sessions have also seen us ring a Leach's Petrel and catch Storm Petrels with Norwegian (2), Portuguese (2) and Danish rings. With the calm weather proceeding oncoming easterlies, there are also migrants on the move, so census, nets and trap rounds are in full flow as well, in fact by my reckoning, the 46 hour period between 7am Sunday and 5am this morning will have seen about 90 minutes without the Wardening team either catching or counting birds ('FIBO never sleeps' seems to have become our motto, although I dare say the next day of rainy westerlies might test that!).
Interestingly, there has been no sight nor sound of the Swinhoe's Petrel for the last four ringing sessions.
Elsewhere, wader migration has slowed down a bit, but the passerine migration is picking up. After a new Wryneck and lingering Barred Warbler and Common Rosefinch on 21st, hopes weren't that high for the 22nd when a freshening northerly breeze with a hint of west in it seemed set to curtail arrivals for a while. However, it quickly became apparent from the number of Willow Warblers around (45 were logged by the end of the day) that a reaonable fall had unexpectedly taken place and 5 Barred Warblers, Common Rosefinch, 4 Pied Flycatchers and 5 Garden Warblers were amongst the species noted before the day's highlight was located at Chalet, with a smart Arctic Warbler showing well in the garden for the afternoon. 
Arctic Warbler at Chalet, the 7th consecutive year of occurence on Fair Isle for the species (photo: Alex Penn).
A few lingering birds over the next few days were joined by the first Kestrel and Tree Pipit of the autumn (24th), whilst a Wood Warbler, a new Barred Warbler (to join 2 lingering birds) and a new Common Rosefinch on 25th had taken advantage of the rather lovely conditions to arrive.
Barred Warbler at Barkland  (photo by Ciaran Hatsell).
The same weather (sunshine and no wind) also provided perfect conditions for cetacean watching on 25th, with the first dolphins of the year noted off North Light in some style: 5 White-beaked, 4 White-beaked and a Risso's were all noted, along with 18 Porpoise around the island.
Dolphin watching off North Light this evening (photo by Ciaran Hatsell).
It looks like Tuesday is set to be another calm and pleasant day, but will it be migrants, cetaceans or more petrels that are the highlight? Or maybe all three...
The time really flies by in the autumn, with September nearly upon us already. Nothing emphasises the passage of time like your child's first day at school though - Grace is enjoying being one of the 5 pupils at Fair Isle Primary, after starting last week.

Wednesday 20 August 2014

First Autumn Update.

Right then, where to start?! Sorry it’s been a while since the last update, it’s been a particularly busy summer and the time has flown by since I last did anything to the blog. First of all, all is well in the Parnaby family; Grace starts ‘big school’ today (and is very excited about it), Freyja is growing up fast as well (she’s chatting away and generally enjoying life) and we’ve had visits from both sets of parents this month (and many, many thanks to them all for their help during their ‘holidays’).
The children have enjoyed the summer and have made regular visits to the hills to help me locate skua nests (you can use the stoops of Arctic Skuas on the kids to triangulate the location of a chick quite successfully!), although here they are enjoying the more relaxed atmosphere of the Puffin colony on Roskillie.
We’ve had a turnover of staff at the Obs as well, with Angela ending her stint as Cook (all at FIBO wish her and her family well now they’ve moved on from Fair Isle), Kharis coming to the end of her contract as Domestic Assistant (and hopefully coming back to visit so she can finish my knitting lessons) and Alice finishing her spell as Childminder (and we send her good luck with her studies and thanks for being a good friend to the kids). They’ve been replaced by the familiar faces of Ann (returning as Cook) and Marilyn (our Childminder in 2011), whilst Terri has arrived for her first season as Domestic Assistant. We’ve also had Langdon come and go as a JHMF volunteer and currently have Alex and Raeannon filling similar roles.

Bird wise, it’s continued to be a really good season for many seabirds, I’ll do another update on them at some stage (hopefully!), but whatever else this season brings, one of the standout memories will be the enjoyment of seeing, hearing and smelling a healthy seabird colony in full swing.  
At least a dozen Arctic Skua chicks have fledged, with most of them going on to survive the attentions of Bonxies. This fledged chick on Gilsetter is about to be fed by a parent. After just one chick fledged in the previous three years I've been here, this has been a fantastic season (although breeding numbers are still low).

Guillemots (like this one with its fledged chick) and Razorbills have both had their most succesful seasons for some time, the sound of Guillemot chicks calling could be heard drifting in through the lounge windows on still evenings in late July for the first time since I've been on Fair Isle.

Kittiwakes are another species to have done well, with youngsters fledging from several nests - the first ones for four years. A small increase in the population was noted as well, although we're still over 18,000 pairs down on the counts of 20 years ago. Shags have also had a much more productive season than recent years, although they are also much reduced in numbers

A Puffling, one of several that were reared this year.
And a comparison of typical beak-fulls in 2014 (left, by Richard Cope) and 2013 (right) being brought in to the young Puffins.
Although the abundance of small fish in Fair Isle waters has been the reason for the much better year for seabirds, it's not clear why sandeels and other species have reappeared in such numbers. It may just be a one-off, or it may be the start of a better run of years, but either way, we've enjoyed it.
As July came to an end, migration was predictably slow, although a good series of Manx Shearwater records included 15 on 30th, the second highest Fair Isle count. Storm Petrel ringing showed that there were really impressive numbers present, with three-figure catches the norm. Leach’s Petrels were heard during most sessions and the Swinhoe’s Petrel was also present on several nights (it was last recorded on 1st August, with a busy session on 5th/6th producing no record of it and 75 minutes on 15th/16th August also drawing a blank). The weather in August hasn’t allowed for many sessions, although we may enjoy a slightly calmer spell later this week, which could allow us to try again.
Storm Petrel ringing has again proved very popular with lots of our guests (photo by Glen Tyler).
Although August opened with south-easterly winds, things were generally quiet until 5th, when new migrants were headlined by a Barred Warbler (with 3 more arriving on 15th). The 6th produced the best bird of the autumn so far in Fair Isle terms, with a Red-necked Phalarope at Utra, whilst there was also a Greenish Warbler trapped in the Gully and the next day saw a Wryneck appear in the Plantation. 
Logan Johnson found this juvenile Red-necked Phalarope, the 25th for Fair Isle and the first since 2005.
This Greenish Warbler was the second of the year, but the first in the UK this autumn. What was presumably the same bird (a similarly bright individual with a ring on the right leg) was in the south of Shetland the next day. Fair Isle also recorded the first Barred Warbler and Wryneck of the autumn for the country.
Further scarcities amongst the small numbers of common warblers and other migrants included Common Rosefinch and Marsh Warbler on 15th and a couple of Wood Warblers, whilst the biggest surprise has been the occurrence of Blyth’s Reed Warblers on 14th and 16th, the first August records for Fair Isle. Also unexpected was the return of the Kumlien’s Gull, which has lingered on the island from January to June (and was probably the Iceland Gull present on a couple of dates in July).
The second Blyth's Reed Warbler of the month (and 5th of the year!). The first involved four of the Wardening team spending about three and a half hours in the Gully (and at least two people ending up knee-deep in the stream), whilst the second was slightly more cooperative, appearing on the fence outside the AW office window. The bird on the 14th was the joint-earliest ever autumn record in the UK, although it's high fat score (6, with a weight of over 15g), suggested it had probably been present nearby for a day or two at least. Both were first-winter birds.
The somewhat extreme weather from 9th (more on that later) produced some good numbers of waders, with highlights including a Fair Isle record 4 Wood Sandpipers and up to 19 Ruff, 22 Common Sandpipers (the second highest autumn count), 10 Green Sandpipers and 9 Greenshank. All the sightings are listed in full at:
The wader scrape has been looking rather impressive after some good repair work by the team on the sluices earlier in the year.
Other wildlife has included a twitchable Basking Shark off Skadan.
This Sitochroa palealis (also known as Sulphur Pearl) was found by Susannah in the Obs garden and was a first for Scotland, having never been recorded further north in the UK than East Yorkshire.
A good spell of butterfly records included a few Small Tortoiseshell (like this one at the Obs) and Peacock, with reasonable
numbers of Red Admiral and Painted Lady.
Congratulations to Mr and Mrs Veitch-Thomson after a wonderful wedding, during which the whole island was filled with their friends and relatives. The day started with a wonderful sunrise, although the weather did deteriorate somewhat...
The biggest island news has been the wedding of Inness Thomson (eldest son of Pat and Neil Thomson of Lower Stoneybrek) and Karen Veitch on 9th August, which coincided with a record-breaking rainfall for Fair Isle, when a week of sunshine was brought to an abrupt end by 5.5inches of rain! The rain really was a rather dramatic event, with roads (and the Obs car park and garage) flooded and a bit of movement around the island as a huge amount of water rushed to the sea, taking large chunks of the island with it.
Gilsetter became a lake for a while.
The Vaadal stream  became the Vaadal river (as did the road north).
If it's going to rain on your wedding day, you're better off having a record-breaking day rather than just some drizzle! It was certainly a memorable day for everyone, with the shuttling of guests up and down from the Obs rather interesting as the water levels rose and the roads became decent wader habitat (I had to stop for a Green Sandpiper on the road at Field at one point). The Fire Service came to check out the Obs to see if we would need water pumping out of the car park, but thankfully some frantic late-night ditch digging by the team was enough to prevent the building flooding.
Water rushing down the Gully provided some dramatic rapids.
A lot of changes were visible after the flood water had receded, with the Gully having been somewhat hammered. Notice the amount of rocks that have been thrown through the fence surrounding the Gully plantation. The Mills have survived, but have been severely undercut and the first hefty winter storm is likley to see some more movement.
A large land-slip at Wester Lother will have destroyed a few late Shag nests and also seems to have done for our anchor points used for accessing the colony here.
Smaller land slips have occurred in several areas of the island, this one is at Wirvie. Fair Isle is not a big island, and I do worry that if bits keep falling off, there'll be none left eventually!
So that’s an update on life on Fair Isle in the last month, but what will the next month bring? The AW’s are back from their holidays refreshed and ready for the autumn, the forecast suggests we may get easterly winds from the end of the weekend (still time to book a late room at our special August rate, if you fancy taking a chance…) and I’ll try to keep the blog more up to date from now on!
There are several areas of cliff-top that look likely to see more movement during the rest of the year, so please be careful if you're visiting us this autumn. I'm a bit worried that this one looks rather like the crack in the skin of the Universe that caused Dr Who a few problems.

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