Monday, 5 January 2015

Happy New Birds (and some old friends from 2014)

Happy New Year to you all. It’s been a rather blustery start to the year, with some strong winds, heavy rain showers, a bit of hail and a rather nice display of Northern Lights.
A visit to North Light on the night of 4th January failed to produce any of the hoped for Northern Lights, but despite it being too cloudy for any aurora, my Dad still managed to get arty with his camera (photo: D.Parnaby Snr).

The Christmas festivities have seen a Panto, Carol Service, Guising, New Year Party, 'Christmas Tree' party, another New Year Party and a good deal of socialising besides. We're back to work now though, with Directflight taking bookings for 2015, so plenty of calls and emails to get through about people staying at the Obs this year as well as report writing etc as we look forward to what is bound to be another exciting year on Fair Isle.
Birding has produced some decent bits and bobs, but actually very little that hasn’t been lingering since the back end of 2014. The Buzzard is the pick of the bunch amongst those, in fact it’s such a scarce bird in Shetland that it has been added to the local description list at the start of 2015 – so it becomes our first description of the year, despite having been present since October! Three Tundra Bean Geese (re?)appeared on 28th December and also made it to the New Year (although they have been dropped as a local description species after several influxes in recent years), whilst other highlights include Glaucous Gull, Iceland Gull, Mealy Redpoll, Water Rail, Merlin and, more unusually, two Sparrowhawk, amongst the 48 species now recorded in 2015 (thanks to Logan for the regular text updates during the last few days letting me know how he was getting on with building the year list up).
A wintering male Sparrowhawk was joined by this immature female from early January, which became the first bird to be ringed on the isle in 2015 when it was caught in the Plantation today (photo: Dave Parnaby Snr).
So, whilst things are relatively quiet, I’ll have a quick review of a few things from 2014, starting with some darvic-ringed wildfowl that were seen by quite a few of our visitors. It was a good year for sightings of these individually marked birds, with the first two being Whooper Swans ‘Yellow BTB’ and ‘Yellow BTD’ that were both ringed in Iceland on 5th August 2013 (and seen again in Iceland on 20th April 2014) before being seen on Fair Isle on 29th September 2014. The next Whooper to be individually identified in a strong autumn passage of the species was ‘Red BLL’, ringed in February 2012 at Martin Mere WWT (in Lancs), next seen in December 2013 at Welney (Norfolk) before turning up on Fair Isle on 7th October.  Long-staying Whooper Swans on Fair Isle rarely do well (there are only about seven years where birds have successfully overwintered and two of those years were a bird that hung around with domestic geese!), so when BLL was still present with a couple other Whoopers at the start of November and ignored the chance to head south with a few small groups of her species that moved through the island, it didn’t look good. Indeed, with the death of her occasional companion on 24th November it seemed only a matter of time before BLL also succumbed. However, one islander took pity on BLL and went out every day with food (to the extent that we had our own mini-version of the WWT ‘swan lake’ events, with BLL flying in every day at the same time to the field where she was being fed) and this did the job as she was last seen on 1st December, having apparently continued her migration.

BLL pictured in late October by Ciaran Hatsell. Keep your eyes open for her in Norfolk (and elsewhere) as we'd love to know where she's gone.

Also of interest was the flock of 130+ Barnacle Geese grounded on Fair Isle by poor weather from 6th October for a few days. Amongst these, we were able to pick out four darvic rings: NAP, SAZ, SID and PVI. NAP was ringed as a female gosling at Aalesund (Norway) on 2nd August 1996 (making her older than some of our staff!), SAZ (the partner of NAP) was ringed as an adult male at the same site in July 2000, with both birds having not been seen since spring migration through Norway in 2013. PVI was ringed as an adult female in July 1999 and was last seen in March 2014 at RSPB Mersehead. Despite the name, SID was actually a female, ringed as a yearling in July 2000 and last seen on spring migration in Norway in 2014. Interestingly, the last sighting of SID in winter was at WWT Caerlaverock in November 2011, whilst SAZ last winter record was from the same site in December 2009 – so I wonder where they now spend the winter? Many thanks to the WWT for getting back to us so quickly with the details of these records.
Part of the Barnacle Goose flock that contained the darvic-ringed birds.
FIBO 2013 Annual Report - out now. The front cover features a Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll photographed by Steve Arlow.
On another subject entirely, the 2013 Annual Report is now available, with copies having been sent out to FOFI members in the autumn. If you’d like a copy, please send a cheque for £12 (which includes p&p to UK addresses) or phone with your card details.  As well as the systematic list, ringing report, seabird report and monthly summary there are write-ups on the remarkable Swinhoe’s Petrel records (including a paper on biometric, sound and DNA analysis), Red-eyed Vireo, Sykes’s Warbler and Collared Flycatcher, a short paper on DNA in modern birding by Professor Martin Collinson and plenty more besides.
Some of the displays of Aurora have been pretty impressive (more so than my camera allows me to show here), always one of the highlights of a winter on Fair Isle.

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