Thursday, 24 April 2014

Building up...

24th April
We went for a good mix of weathers today, with fog and a strong south-easterly, then clearing visibility as the wind eased slightly before fog returned, then brought rain with it, then cleared a bit before the rain became heavier as night fell. Although early indications were that there was perhaps not that much new, things started picking up later on and the prospects are looking very promising for tomorrow.
Not quite a migrant at every turn today, but by the evening, there were certainly birds starting to pop up across the island.
A Hawfinch over Schoolton was the best of the new migrants and a Great Grey Shrike at Hesti Geo was presumably yesterday’s bird relocating down the island (although given its location and the conditions, a new arrival wouldn’t be out of the question). Also new were the first Grasshopper Warbler and House Martin of the year (both in the famous ‘Wirvie triangle’), whilst an Arctic Tern fishing in North Haven late on was also the first of 2014. Migrants increasing in numbers included 6 Redstart, 10 Willow Warbler, 19 Ring Ouzel, 28 Fieldfare, 16 Brambling, 5 Mealy Redpoll, 10 Reed Bunting, 9 Swallow, 2 Siskin and Grey Wagtail. Surely with that cast, there’s something even better waiting to be found in the morning…
Other birds adding to the interest today including the Kumlien’s and Iceland Gulls, 4 Whimbrel, 2 Jack Snipe, 5 Dunlin, 2 Tufted Duck, Whinchat and 21 Snow Bunting.
Unbelievably, there are still easterlies forecast for a few days yet and, with lighter winds and hopefully improved visibility tomorrow, there’s a growing feeling of ‘anything could happen’.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Wry, Wry, Wry, Delightful

21st-23rd April
Oysterplant in Muckle Uri Geo.
Although the wind remained from an easterly direction, the rest of the weather proved a bit of a mixed bag and hampered the birding at times. Fog on Monday cleared in the evening, then a clear day on Tuesday also saw a rather harsh NE wind before a very promising start on Wednesday was quickly overshadowed by thick fog coming in from the start of census.
The poor visibility on 21st felt as if it was stopping us unleashing the potential of the easterly winds, with new migrants including the first Tree Pipit of the year, a Stonechat, Grey Wagtail and Black Redstart presumably the tip of the iceberg of what was out there. A few wildfowl and waders were also located, including 2 Tufted Duck, 3 Goldeneye, 4 Whimbrel and an impressive peak of 106 Golden Plover, whilst lingering birds included a Stock Dove and Redstart.
Migrants had clearly increased on 22nd, but were not easy to find in the strong blustery wind, with the first Wryneck of the year in South Raeva the highlight. There was also a Short-eared Owl, the first Common Sandpiper of the spring, 2 Goldcrest, Tree Pipit, 2 Kestrel and peaks of 8 Willow Warbler and 12 Brambling, whilst other sightings included a badly oiled male Peregrine (possibly the remnant of the breeding pair suffering from skirmishing with Fulmars) and the lingering Kumlien’s and Iceland Gull (with the latter also present on 23rd). Not a bad day, but it improved further with a timely call from Deryk (about 30 seconds before the start of Log!) to say he’d just had a Crane head north over Quoy. The Wardening team dashed out the Obs and scanned from various high points, whilst Susannah took the more measured and sensible approach of driving down the island with the guests and actually seeing the bird, which headed off towards Hoini into the gathering darkness and out of sight by the time the Wardens made it down the island. Ah well, hopefully there’ll be others this year!
A slightly calmer wind and clear skies saw no sign of the Crane on the early morning of 23rd, but it was clear there were more birds in, with the morning traps and nets producing a lively selection including a Wryneck, 2 Ring Ouzels and a Redstart.
The Wryneck caught in the Plantation this morning was an early sign that it was going to be a good day.
However, with the wind swinging slightly towards the SE, a real pea-souper came in and birding became quite difficult for most of the day (and pretty much impossible in the North). Still, with birds having arrived early on and a few things probably still dropping in during the day, a healthy total was logged, with the highlights comprising 4 Wryneck, a Great Grey Shrike (the second of the spring) and the first Whinchat of the year.
Further Wrynecks were seen at South Harbour (the bird pictured), Field Ditch and Haa/Nether Taft. After a poor year in 2013 when only 3 were seen, it's good to have got the year off to such a positive start.
Other notable migrants included Redstart, Tree Pipit and Black Redstart, whilst several species increased in numbers and produced counts of 22 Chiffchaff, 16 Blackcap, 30 Robin, 14 Ring Ouzel, 26 Song Thrush, 9 Fieldfare, 5 Common Redpoll and 7 Reed Bunting, with two Kestrels (trying to hunt Twite from the Obs roof) and the lingering Black-tailed Godwit completing the roll call. So, a pretty impressive set of birds (especially considering it’s still only the third week of April) and the wind is set to stay in the east for a few days yet…

Monday, 21 April 2014

Never Mind the Buzzard

20th April
Easter Sunday certainly proved to be another day that looked good for raptors, except this time it actually was, with Quoy Stuart picking out a Buzzard heading north over Shirva in the morning. Unfortunately, with conditions pretty much perfect for rapid progress north, it wasn’t seen by any of the FIBO team as it seemingly passed straight through. At about the same time, Richard found the year’s first Redstart (a cracking male in the Kirn o’Skroo) and it seemed like things were about to kick off, but that turned out to be the peak, with the pleasant conditions enabling a small arrival of warblers (15 Chiffchaff, 5 Willow Warbler and a Blackcap) and 8 Swallows but not a huge amount else.
A selection of corvids present include up to 8 Carrion Crow and 5 Rook, most of which are probably lingering birds.
Other migrants included two each of Lesser and Mealy Redpoll, 3 Reed Bunting, Fieldfare, an increase in Collared Dove (to two) and 30 Snow Bunting. Golden Plovers increased to an impressive 65, there were also singles of Jack Snipe, Black-tailed Godwit and Whimbrel and two Red-breasted Mergansers passed Buness.
Monday has started with thick fog, delaying the start of census and early indications are that it has prevented much new from finding us, with few migrants around the traps or nets. Hopefully things will clear later and birds will start to drop in…

Sunday, 20 April 2014


17th-19th April
Is that the sound of spring springing (the weather has certainly felt pleasantly warm, with a southerly wind for the last couple of days), the gambolling of lambs, the upwards trajectory of Sunderland’s season following the ‘mini-revival’ of the last couple of games (although admittedly still being bottom of the league suggests ‘upwards trajectory’ might be a bit strong), or perhaps most likely, it's the sound of Wardens excitedly bouncing up and down as the forecast looks rather promising for next week, with potentially 7 days of easterlies to come. I’m confident enough of something good that I’m going to extend my Lenten alcohol abstinence to the next Fair Isle tick or BB rare we get!
Fulmars on the cliffs at Easter Lother (there are also a few Puffins tucked away in there). Seabirds are starting to get serious now - not long until the breeding season is upon us.
There’s been nothing extraordinarily unusual during the last three days, but the birding has been quite enjoyable none the less. Wader passage provided a couple of year ticks with Black-tailed Godwit (18th-19th) and Greenshank (19th), along with Whimbrel (singles on 18th and 19th) and an increase in Golden Plover to 36 on 19th.
The other new species for the year were Sparrowhawk (18th, with the only other raptor a male Merlin on 17th) and Stock Dove on 17th-19th (it took me three years to get Stock Dove on my Fair Isle list, so it’s always a good bird to see here). Other columbidae included a peak of 13 Woodpigeon and a new Collared Dove (19th).
A few more warblers included Blackcap (17th), 2 Willow Warbler (19th) and an increase in Chiffchaffs to 9 on 18th and 13 on 19th (with two of these singing); the lack of other warblers will presumably soon be rectified given the forecast. Other signs of spring included an increase in Sand Martins to 7 on 19th, when there were also 5 Swallows and 129 Wheatear (the largest count of the year so far). Thrush numbers also showed small signs of arriving in the increasingly promising conditions, with 3 each of Ring Ouzel and Blackbird, a Song Thrush and 19 Redwing on 19th. Finches were also on the move in small numbers, with the second Goldfinch of the year (18th-19th), the first Common Redpoll for a while (19th), Crossbill (17th-18th), and up to five Chaffinch, 3 Brambling, 3 Siskin, and 2 Linnet.
Male Linnet at the Obs (19th). Will the reasonable spring showing of this species result in the first confirmed breeding on Fair Isle this year?
Other migrants included 2 Black Redstart and Grey Wagtail (18th), Goldcrest (18th-19th), 3 White Wagtails (on both 18th and 19th), single Water Rails on 18th and 19th, up to 20 Snow Bunting, 2 Reed Bunting (17th and 19th) and a small passage of corvids, including a peak of 13 Carrion Crow and 4 Rook (18th) and 2 Jackdaw.
More wintry were 2 Pink-footed Geese (17th-19th) brought in by strong westerlies on the first date and the lingering juvenile Kumlien’s and Iceland Gulls (both to 18th), with other hangers-on including the Tree Sparrow at Haa (to 19th) and Lapland Bunting (a bird at several locations in the North on 19th was probably the bird seen earlier in the month at Suka Mire).
We have a sunny day with southerlies forecast on Sunday (no doubt another ‘it feels good for a raptor’ day, which so far haven’t proved too successful) then the easterlies start to kick in. Will it live up to the hype? Well we’ve certainly got hope, which is half the fun (kind of like being a Sunderland fan).

Thursday, 17 April 2014

West and Recuperation

12th-16th April
After a rather frantic start to the season in terms of birding, things slowed down considerably with the onset of some strong (gale force at times) westerly winds, bringing with them heavy rain at times.  The break in this was the 15th, with a lighter southerly wind bringing a few birds in, but otherwise it was a bit of a slog at times.
The view west from North Light - as seen in the opening credits of 'Shetland'! Windy weather has created some impressive seas, although the gales and rain of recent days may have also been responsible for the apparent failure of the Peregrine nest.
The mini-fall of the 15th brought the first Tree Sparrow of the year (found by Tommy shortly after his arrival back from holiday), along with 12 Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler (to 16th), Blackcap (with another having been seen on 13th), three Swallow, Sand Martin (with another on 16th), 13 Woodpigeon, a flyover Redpoll sp? and light corvid passage that produced 3 Rook and 5 Carrion Crow (with a hybrid Hoody and 2 Jackdaws the following day). There were also increases in other species that had been lingering, which included counts of 9 Robin, 14 Dunnock, 5 Chaffinch, 20 Snow Bunting and 65 Twite, whilst the Lapland Bunting in Suka Mire may have been the bird seen a few days ago there. Wheatears arrived back with a bang (or a ‘chack’ at least) on 15th, with counts not having not exceeded 13 until then, when numbers leapt to 85. Puffins were also back in numbers and have been coming ashore at their regular haunts – it’s good to have them back and Grace and I will no doubt be out one evening soon to chat to them on Roskillie!
Tree Sparrow (left) at the Haa.
The Haa sparrow flock also contains a white-tailed male House Sparrow and this rather odd individual (photo: Deryk Shaw).
Other sightings of note during the last few days included the first two Whimbrel of the year (in Gilsetter on 14th), Jack Snipe (13th), 2 White Wagtail (14th-15th), Linnet (13th-15th), 2 Merlin (16th) and the lingering Kumlien’s Gull (to 16th), with an Iceland Gull as well on 13th and the general increase in the summering residents included a peak of 287 Meadow Pipits on 16th. Interesting wildfowl were represented by Shelduck (12th), Long-tailed Duck and Goldeneye (both 14th), whilst a Cormorant offshore on 16th was the first of the month.
Bonxies are back in good numbers now, with this individual joining the gulls outside the Obs squabbling over kitchen scraps.
Other interest during the period was provided by ‘Shetland’; as justice caught up with the Fair Isle murderer and we can all sleep easily at night again! Those of you have been to the island will have noticed a few incongruities (the shots of the inside of the Chapel were disappointing as we think ours is much prettier than the one they used, and it was odd to see telephone wires on what was meant to be Fair Isle), but it wasn’t meant to be a documentary and we enjoyed watching it. It was good to see a couple of Fair Islanders (including Alice our childcarer) making it in as background extras as well (I have to say, the fame hasn’t gone to her head though). The good news is that they have commissioned another series, so maybe we’ll see Jimmy and his team here again, I’m sure they’ll be welcome (although they might find the DirectFlight staff having words with them after rather unkindly referring to the ‘death plane’!).
Anyway, back to birds; it’s been steady away for the last few days, but with Dave Wheeler’s forecast for the weekend and beyond now reading: 'Rain and cloud at first on Saturday clearing later as fresh SW’ly winds become lighter E’ly. Sunday perhaps drier and brighter with light to moderate E’ly winds. Possibly staying mainly dry and bright through next week with mostly light winds, these mainly E’ly in direction' things may be about to get very interesting again. The second half of April can be pretty good anyway and with a few early migrants having pushed north already, I reckon there's got to be a good chance we'll pick up another description or two by next weekend (I'll take a punt on a rare lark as the highlight). We are of course open to visitors now and with a special rate of £50 (all inclusive) per person per night available until 11th May, it could be worth a gamble...

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Meet the Team

9th-11th April
Fair Isle Wren (by Mark Rayment). This bird, in the North Haven, is probably the most popular Fair Isle Wren in the world with photographers and provides a 'sub-species tick' for many visitors.
A quiet few days as the westerly wind increased and slowed migration right down. And, with today’s Shipping Forecast giving a ‘Storm 10’ warning in Fair Isle, along with squally showers, it’s unlikely there’ll be much found today, but who knows…
Gales and rain aren't ideal weather as the lambing season is picking up pace, although at least the temperature is remaining relatively good for the time of year.
The light wildfowl passage (although Fair Isle is never going to be rivalling Slimbridge for duck numbers in fairness) brought the first Tufted Duck of the year to the island and the Pochard and Goldeneye both lingered to 10th. Almost all common migrant numbers decreased (Fieldfares falling from their peak of over 600 earlier in the week to just 5 on 11th for example), with the only increases being shown by Collared Dove (to 3 on 10th), Jackdaw (3 on 9th-10th) and Siskin (the two increasingly fat males lingering in the Obs garden were added to by another on 11th), whilst a smart male Lapland Bunting was in Suka Mire on 9th. One of the Siskins and a Chaffinch were singing at the Obs on 10th, providing a nice flavour of spring, whilst a Peacock butterfly on 9th was an unusually early sighting of this not quite annual visitor. Guillemots still failed to provide much hope for the breeding season, with very few around and an occasional dead individual still being washed up on the beaches.
Spring Lapland Buntings are always a treat (by Ciaran Hatsell)

Purple Sandpiper (by Mark Rayment). South Harbour is providing great views of this species and Turnstone at the moment.
The regular sightings of Iceland Gull continued, with two on 9th and 11th and the Kumlien’s Gull was still present to 10th at least, with five Snow Buntings on 10th.
With the season now up and running, the new team are complete and settled in and it's all going well. They're a great bunch as some of you will hopefully find out when you visit this year and between them they'll be feeding us, keeping the Obs clean and tidy, looking after the kids (and us sometimes) and hopefully finding that first for Britain that Fair Isle must be due soon...
A 'Glitz and Glamour' themed party last night gave the team a chance to meet the islanders, with everybody seeming to enjoy themselves. Many thanks to everyone who came up from down the island, despite it being a very busy time, with the lambing starting to kick off.
The 2014 team, as they should look...
...and how they looked last night. Note the various interpretations of 'glitz and glamour'!
So, this is the 2014 season now ready to go, we're all looking forward to it and hope you are too.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Nice weather and Ducks.

6th-8th April
Although there were a couple more additions to the year list in the form of Willow Warbler (7th-8th), and Goldfinch (at the Obs on 8th), the best bird in Fair Isle terms was the Pochard on Da Water (8th). With just 56 records (of 70 individuals), it’s not a common bird on Fair Isle and last year’s record was the first for six years, although there was also another male earlier this year at the Haa, so we’re going through a decent spell for them. Other wildfowl on the move included a Pink-footed Goose (6th-8th), Goldeneye (7th-8th) and Red-breasted Merganser (7th).
Almost as widely twitched as the Bluetail(s). Quack.
The most noticeable arrival were the Fieldfares, which after first being noted arriving late on 5th, peaked at 665 on 6th, with numbers then dwindling on later dates. Other migrants also started decreasing in amount, although there were still reasonable numbers of Robins and Dunnocks around. There were also decent counts of Meadow Pipit (195), Skylark (150), Woodpigeon (11 on 8th), Pied Wagtail (18 on 8th) and Wheatears cracked double figures for the first time with ten on 7th. Light corvid passage saw counts of six Carrion and 18 Hooded Crows (7th) and Jackdaw (6th, with 2 on 8th). 
Despite hundreds of Fieldfares being present, I've managed not to get a decent picture of any of them, sorry.
Small numbers of other birds around included up to 7 Goldcrest, counts of 8-14 Chiffchaff, Blackcap on 6th and 8th, Black Redstarts on 7th and 8th, up to 2 Siskin, 2 Linnet on 7th, Common Redpoll on 6th-8th, up to 12 Snow Buntings, Short-eared Owl, two Collared Dove (8th) and a blue Fulmar which passed over Ditfield on 6th.
It’s been a good spring for Jack Snipe, with a peak of four on 7th, there were daily sightings of Woodcock and Golden Plover increased to ten.
Two Iceland and a Kumlien’s Gull were lingering on 6th with one of the former still on 8th.
Breeding bird news included the resident Peregrine pair being joined by a third bird on the island, the first Gannet eggs noted on 7th, daily sightings of Bonxies and an increase in Puffins, with 20+ on 6th and 8th; still a long way to go, but pace should start picking up from now on.
So that’s the bird news up to date. I’ll leave any comment on the Fair Isle based episode of ‘Shetland’ that was on last night until everyone who’s recorded it has had the chance to watch it, but I don’t think I’d be giving away any major plot twists by saying my telescope made its anticipated TV debut!

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