Thursday 11 September 2014

Ginger Nuts!

6th-10th September
There are certain things that you can predict when birding on Fair Isle, but part of the fun is definitely the unexpected things that happen with surprising regularity.
So far this autumn, we’ve had some really good birding when the easterly winds have occurred, bringing some good numbers of scarcities and common migrants, although not actually that many rarities. However, westerly or northerly winds have brought us Paddyfield, Arctic and 2 Blyth’s Reed Warblers, showing that you should never be downhearted when birding Fair Isle even in the ‘wrong’ winds. The fact that the Wardening team go out on census whatever the weather (well, more or less –constant rain and gales sometimes limit us a bit) certainly helps as well of course (and does make me wonder what I’ve missed on previous local patches when I’ve maybe neglected the not so good weather, although I suppose there aren’t really any other local patches like Fair Isle).
The last few days have seen something similar, with light easterlies on 6th not bringing in that much of note, then a day of horrible north-westerlies and rain on 7th followed by another breezy north-westerly on 8th that saw a rather fantastic Pallid Harrier discovered mid-morning, which went on to show well until mid-afternoon on 10th at least.
The 4th Pallid Harrier for Fair Isle, with previous records in May 1931, 12th-15th August 2011 and 11th-14th September 2011. A bird seen in June 2014 and initially believed to be this species was later reidentified as a Montagu's Harrier (which would only be the third Fair Isle record of that species if it is accepted as such). Photo: Ciaran Hatsell
After having first flown over Richard’s head at Da Water, it was found independently by Craig Round of Speyside Wildlife and Deryk Shaw (who was working in his garden and had it hover over his polytunnel!) before eventually proving twitchable near Midway as it was watched devouring a Meadow Pipit (with over 500 present, there was plenty to spare!).
At times, the views were absolutely stunning. It may not be the Mega it was 20 or so years ago in terms of records, but as gorgeous rarities go, it still rates up there as one of the best. Photo: Ciaran Hatsell
An absolutely belting bird, it was surely appropriate that it was found just one day after 'Redhead Day' (held in the Netherlands), celebrating all things ginger.
Having a shake after eating a Meadow Pipit in full view of all the Obs staff and guests. Photo: Ciaran Hatsell
It was the fourth species to be added to the year list in September and, curiously enough, they all began with ‘P’ (following Paddyfield Warbler, Pectoral Sandpiper and Pintail).
The 9th saw light west winds again and a few new birds including a Red-backed Shrike at Wirvie (which was still present on 10th), then a switch in the winds on the afternoon of the 10th to light SE, saw us wondering what the next new bird would be, and if the ‘P’ theme continued, then surely Pechora Pipit or Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler could be on the cards. But no, in this ever unpredictable autumn, the easterly winds actually dropped in an American bird, with a Buff-breasted Sandpiper picked up as it flew over a visitor who’d just got out the car to try to see some Risso’s Dolphins that Ciaran had found off Da Burrian as we were driving past!
A smart find by Alex Ash, who commented that the wader that had just zipped over our heads looked 'a bit Buff-breasty'.
It went on to associate with a Golden Plover flock, although would drift off on its own on occasion. It's the 15th Buff-breasted Sandpiper for Fair Isle, although there have been records in 7 of the previous 9 years. All except one of the previous birds were found in September (the exception being in October 2013). 
The Risso's Dolphins that started it all. A group of at least four were off North Light the previous day.
So another slightly crazy rarity given the conditions, but surely with the forecast for south-easterlies, we’ll see some more conventional species heading our way soon. It looks like we’re potentially getting some rather promising winds stretching right across the North Sea and beyond, with Sunday onward looking best and a lot of next week hopefully enjoying similar conditions. As we approach mid-September, the possibilities start to seem endless…
A reminder of what could be coming up, with the BOURC today officially announcing that the Eastern Grasshopper Warbler found on 20th September 2011 has been accepted onto Category A of the British List. Although it is currently classified as 'just' a subspecies, it could prove a useful one to have seen, as a future split is certainly a possiblity. Maybe the next new Locustella for Britiain will be something more unequivocal, with the oft-predicted Gray's Grasshopper Warbler surely overdue in the UK.  Photo: Will Miles

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