Tuesday 17 February 2015

Quack Quack Tick

4th-17th February
A trip off the island for the BOC AGM saw me making the long haul down the country to Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory, so it would have been rude not to have made the most of it with some birding as I went. Although it was nice to catch up on a few species that are unlikely to make it to Fair Isle (Tawny Owl, Pheasant, Green Woodpecker etc) it was also a good chance to call in on a couple of lingering rare ducks (and catch up with family and friends of course!). Sadly, I also made it to the Stadium of Light, but we'll skip over that one for now.
The BOC meeting was interesting, it was a good chance to catch up with representatives of other Observatories and the BTO and share experiences of our work and thanks to SBBO for being excellent hosts.
Not much was happening bird-wise as I left Fair Isle (the snow gradually melted over three days or so), so I was fairly relaxed about being off the island and was even more pleased when I met up with David Steel (heading up to his new role on the Isle of May) and we picked up the Black Scoter off Cheswick in Northumberland (and fish and chips in Seahouses).
Rather fortunately, the sea was fairly flat calm and, although the bulk of the Common Scoter flock soon drifted out to quite a distance, a small group remained closer in. This group contained the Black Scoter, as well as Red-breasted Mergansers, Red-throated Diver and a couple of Slavonian Grebes (all of which are technically visible in this photo).
Although it was a very distinctive bird when viewed through the scope (butterbill being a great name for the male of the species), the distant meant that views through the camera were not as convincing. I think this is it!
The journey back saw me in Aberdeen on a glorious sunny day, with around six hours to spare, so a walk up to Donmouth to finally get a crack at the Harlequin seemed the obvious choice. After a brief period where it was hiding from view (although Dipper, Kingfisher, Goosander and other species were good to see), I met the finder of the bird, who told me where to stand to expect a view.
A distant Kingfisher through a fence - a rarer bird on Fair Isle than Harlequin!
Within a minute, a dumpy duck [it's more Micky than Niall (harle)Quinn] had flown up the river and landed alongside us!
Harlequin in the company of a Goldeneye.
It eventually swam to the riverbank then came back towards us, where it sat on a barrel in the river about four metres away!
With a 400mm lens, it was pretty difficult to get the whole bird in view as this uncropped image shows! What a great bird! 
Anyway, after a day where we almost flew back to Fair Isle, but then didn't, I eventually arrived home in time for a little flurry of new arrivals for the year as SSE winds encouraged birds to get on the move.
Oystercatcher numbers have built up to at least 36.
A Ringed Plover on 13th was followed by a Hen Harrier the following day (the first winter record since 1997) then Woodpigeon and Red-breasted Merganser on 16th, whilst this morning has seen a flock of four Chaffinch in the Obs garden.
There's nothing like getting excited over a Woodpigeon to remind you of what it's like birding in the Northern Isles in winter!
Chaffinches are often one of the earliest migrants, but this is an early date for birds to be moving through (although small numbers are not unusual as overwintering birds).
There are a few daffodils in the garden, new birds coming through and the deadline for staff applications coming up at the end of the week, it's starting to feel distinctly sort of spring-like.
A wonderful aurora last night wasn't matched by the quality of my photos, but it was nice to get back to the family and have the bonus of Northern Lights and birds coming through.

Wednesday 4 February 2015

Do you want to build a snowman?

26th January - 3rd February
If you've got small children, you've probably seen Frozen at least once and are likely to have some of the songs stuck in your head. We certainly have today, after a rare day of lying snow on Fair Isle, a 'snow day' for the kids and some sledging out the back of the Obs. Having brought one sledge to Fair Isle (which has been, if anything, too many sledges since we arrived), we've since had another child -  so we were very thankful to friends who had previously found a sledge washed up in Busta Geo, scrubbed off all the algae, seaweed etc and delivered it to the Obs this morning so we could have a sledge each for the girls!

The first snowman we've built in the Obs garden I think (the last one we made was two years ago and was up at the airstrip).
Of course, it's not all sledging and snowmen (although a day of that never does anyone any harm) and the office work continues to take up a fair bit of time as we get ready for the ever approaching 2015 season (and with bookings opening for 2016 on 1st March, that as well!). A couple of things to be aware of, are:

  •  The 2015 Prediction Competition  - have a go, you could win a couple nights at the Obs 
  •  There are just over two weeks to apply for Job and Volunteer vacancies for the 2015 season, please help spread the word amongst your friends if you think they could be a part of the FIBO team this year.

I also managed to briefly get my email inbox empty (for the first time in my history I believe) and work on the 2014 Annual Report is coming along nicely. If anyone has photographs that they think could be suitable for the report and would be happy for us to use them, then please get in touch.
Juvenile Glaucous Gull (centre), on a snow-dusted rock in Mavers Geo on 1st February . Do you have better photos than this?!
Bird sightings have been largely unremarkable since the last update: 4 Pink-footed Geese on 1st were the first of the year and seemingly arrived with a few more Greylags (152 were counted on 2nd), a couple of Iceland Gulls and a Glaucous Gull were seen and the Buzzard and Sparrowhawk reappeared, whilst a small arrival of thrushes at the end of January saw Fieldfare numbers rise to at least 57. Full details of recent sightings are updated regularly on the FIBO website .
At least two Water Rails remain, although mostly elusively like this bird on Barkland on 30th January. 
A few Twite have returned to the garden in the last couple of days. Another poor photo, but can anyone else produce a picture of Twite on a nyjer seed feeder in the snow?!

It looks like the snow may hang on just long enough to scupper flights for the next day or two, but if there is any transport, I'll be away for the next week or so. Hopefully that won't be when the snow melts to reveal a Gyr Falcon or something similar lurking on the island!

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