Sunday, 5 October 2014

All White on the night

27th September - 4th October
Well, it’s been an interesting few days since the last update, with some strong westerly winds and the odd bout of easterlies that hadn’t really delivered on their promise (to Fair Isle at least). There’s no denying that it’s been tough going at times, with White’s Thrush, Siberian Rubythroat and Yellow-rumped Warbler not far north of us and Eye-browed Thrush and Pechora Pipit gracing our neighboursto the south, whilst top-quality rarities seemed largely to pass us by. Various theories were put forward (including: ‘the wrong kind of weather’, ‘a curse’ or having had ‘too much good fortune in the spring’), but we were all hopeful it was just one of those things and everything would come good. There’s certainly been no flagging from the Wardening team, with double-census on most days, whilst some really keen visitors have also covered many miles of ditches, fields and cliffs, but sometimes things just don’t go your way.
There have been arrivals of common migrants including good numbers of Brambling.
There have still been some decent birds about, with old favourites including the Rose-coloured Starling lingering to 3rd (when it was seen looking rather bedraggled after some heavy rain and poor weather), the Bluethroat at Pund throughout, daily records of up to 5 Yellow-browed Warblers and up to 2 Common Rosefinch (to 30th September). New scarcities included Wryneck and Barred Warbler on 29th, a Little Bunting on 30th, the first Grey Phalarope of the year on 2nd (a bird on the sea off Da Burrian) and 2 Richard’s Pipits on 3rd (one to 4th) with other migrants of note including a Hen Harrier from 1st, a peak of 122 Redwing on 30th Sep and the first North-western Common Redpoll of the autumn on 3rd.
Richard's Pipit in the Parks, the first sign of new passerine arrivals for a while.
The lack of rostrata/islandica-type Redpolls had been a bit of a surprise given the westerly winds, with other birds from that direction clearly arriving, including a surge in Wheatear numbers that peaked at 182 on 28th (most of which were leucorhoa ‘Greenland’ birds), the first Whooper Swans of the autumn (from 27th Sep and peaking at 30 on 29th) and daily Pink-footed Goose records. The latter benefitted from a relatively calm day on 4th, with several skeins on the move (a large number of which spent at least part of the day resting on Mire of Vatnagaard) and a final total of 1105 logged (along with 72 Barnacle Geese, 22 Greylag, 68 Wigeon and 10 Red-breasted Merganser).
Whooper Swan passage over Fair Isle is quite variable, but these were part of an impressive group on 29th which toured the island, providing a wonderful spectacle as they trumpetted there way around.
The 4th also brought a large amount of rain, which made census impractical for the morning (we did try, but with rain-soaked bins and birds clearly keeping to cover, it proved a thankless task), but by about 3pm, the downpour had finally stopped and census was on, surely this was the day that Fair Isle would wake from its temporary slumbers…
Early signs were slow (although singles of Pomarine Skua, Sooty Shearwater, Storm Petrel and blue Fulmar were seen from the Good Shepherd) with a Little Bunting at Chalet then Pund the pick of the crop, but it was good to be birding in calm, dry conditions and it really felt promising. That’s not to say that there wasn’t a certain element of surprise when Richard phoned to say ‘WHITE'S THRUSH near Wester Lother’! The Obs machine was put into full effect rounding up people from across the island and this notorious skulker, which often leads potential observers on a merry dance went on to not only show well to everyone, but also to treat us to a merry dance!
The White's Thrush was found by Richard as it fed on the slope behind Wester Lother. It spent most of the time out in the open, often just under this ridge, where good scope views were obtained. Photo: Ciaran Hatsell.
The 13th record for Fair Isle, they are always an absolutely fantastic bird to see, with Ciaran’s video below (taken not long before dusk), showing the species curious ‘bobbing’ motion when feeding. So, despite a few quiet days, things are definitely looking up, with a lot of happy staff (none more so than Ciaran who was marooned on the ‘wrong’ Farne Island when one turned up there in 2012; although spare a thought for poor David Steel, his colleague on Brownsman at the time, who had just been visiting Fair Isle, but left the day before the White’s Thrush was found) and guests last night. It could be an interesting spell coming up as well, with some fresher southerly winds giving way to a few days of SE winds (gale force at times), bringing a lot of rain, but maybe more birds…  

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