Friday, 29 July 2011

It's a bird eat bird world out there.

More work in the Bonxie colonies today where analysing the pellets is throwing up some interesting findings. Although there are many fish and seabirds in the remains, rabbits also feature heavily and a variety of other birds including Starling and Wheatear have turned up. A ring found in a pellet today was from a Kittiwake ringed as a chick on Fair Isle on 7th July 2000, a fascinating, if slightly gruesome, discovery. It will be interesting to find out what differences we may see in the diet of these ultimate pirates if we get a better year for breeding seabirds in 2012.

Although many of the remaining Bonxie chicks are either fledged or very close, there are still a few much younger birds like this little fella.
A few more Storm Petrels were ringed last night, although the night was cut short by the wind that was blowing much stronger in the Havens (where we have our nets) than anywhere else on the island! One of the birds from tonight was already ringed though, and it wasn't one of ours, so it will be interesting to see where that has come from.

Away from birds (sort of), I was pleased to see Fair Isle getting a mention in Birdwatch magazine. Coming hot on the heels of my mention in the blog that there are still spaces at the Obs in August, there was a snippet mentioning the plethora of scarcities that usually turn up at that time of year, not to mention the chance of rarities including Greenish, Melodious and Arctic Warblers, Woodchat Shrike, Thrush Nightingale, Citrine Wagtail, Two-barred Crossbill (all of which have been seen in the last five years, with several records of many of these choice birds) and maybe even something 'bigger' (Hudsonian Whimbrel, Semipalmated Sandpiper and  Red-necked Stint are all August finds). With some lingering seabirds, including Gannets and Fulmars still with young, Storm (and hopefully Leach's) Petrel ringing continuing and a chance of cetaceans, August is getting me excited, so I hope to see a few of you here!

Thursday, 28 July 2011

In the bag!

There's still a seabird theme to the week: today was looking at Bonxies (who are maybe not doing quite as badly as I first feared, although it certainly doesn’t look like being a great year) and tonight was ringing Storm Petrels.
Bonxie chick looking pensive.
A reasonable haul of 32 Stormies made for an enjoyable few hours but the highlight was the appearance of a thumping great Leach’s Petrel in the nets. The third of these monster petrels to be ringed here this year landed in the net not far from my head – even in the dark its hefty size was apparent. What a great bird! 
Leach's Petrel, superb! 
Storm Petrel, not as spectacular but cuter than Leach's. Ringing them is a great way to spend a night.
Not too many other sightings to report today, although a Painted Lady hinted at some migration - but will it be enough to bring a Two-barred Crossbill over tomorrow ...

Wednesday, 27 July 2011


Another week, another load of things to report. It’s perhaps best if I break it up into snippets:

The last week has seen us continue the Puffin work, with just a hint that maybe things aren’t quite so bad for them as some of the other species, as there are still quite a few chicks surviving in the burrows. It’ll be tough for them though as the food that the adults are bringing in is mostly very small stuff, but with any luck will get some fledging success.

Some of the typical food being brought in at the moment by Puffins, this one was on Buness (photo by Lars Persen)
We have Bonxie chicks on the wing now, although there are lots of signs of cannibalism in the colonies, so obviously things aren’t going so well for them either. Looking at the prey remains in pellets has been fascinating, especially discovering that garfish have bright blue/green bones!
Storm Petrels are being caught in reasonable numbers (last night saw 60+) and another Leach’s found itself in the nets this week.

Other birds:
As you would expect, generally quiet, although a few little highlights including a couple of Sooty Shearwaters and a Fieldfare (on Thursday), so autumn must be here. There are a few commoner waders appearing, an occasional Swift and we have had a few Cuckoo records probably relating to at least two juveniles, one of which sadly was found dead having apparently starved.

This young Cuckoo was in the Obs garden and may have been the bird picked up exhausted at Quoy.
Most of the bird-related conversation is centred around what could turn up in the next few weeks though, looking back at old Annual Reports etc certainly whets the appetite. I’ll post some more details soon, but we do still have a few spaces for guests in the autumn. Although the ‘classic’ Fair Isle late September/early October period is looking pretty much fully booked, you could still visit in Syke’s Warbler season (late August) or from about the 18th October (I might put a list up this week of the birds that have been found on Fair Isle in the last couple of weeks of that rather special month…).

What else?:
Well, in all honesty, it’s been so busy that there is too much to write about. A few highlights:
Susannah and Grace! They made it back on Monday and I’m sure they won’t mind me saying that all my hard work tidying the house while they were gone was undone in about ten minutes!
Tall Ships!
Finding an alarm clock in the loft whilst looking for my old phone to use as an alarm (see last blog entry).
Dolphins! (Risso’s and White-sided seen by the Good Shepherd crew, three White-beaked from South Light for me yesterday).
Hello and Goodbye. We are currently being helped by volunteers Teresa, Virginia and Lena but have said goodbye to two of our domestic staff, Chris and Lindsey. Both have been an extremely valuable part of our team as Susannah and I have learnt the ropes at the Obs and Chris’s cooking has received loads of compliments. We wish them both well in their new adventures and hope to see them back as visitors at some time in the future.
I’ll introduce their replacements in the future, but for now, I’ll make that do.

There are much better shots of Tall Ships, but I thought this one added a certain Pirates of the Caribbean element.
Right, did someone say that there are Two-barred Crossbills on the move in Sweden? We'd best get looking...

Sunday, 17 July 2011

A few more pics from recent days.

Puffin feeding watch - identify the fish that the bird is bringing into the marked burrow.
Try to read the colour rings as well if you get the chance.

Ringing Puffins - can you spot the Wardening team?

Our first Leach's Petrel of the year, caught on 10th July at North Haven. Photographed by William Marsh in front of some green curtains. They are spare curtains that are being used to stop light getting out of the ringing shed (generator shed really, but at night it becomes the ringing shed, there's probably a petrel/petrol joke to be made somewhere in there)and making the nets visible.

The presence of Siskins throughout the summer has been noticeable, with late spring migrants overlapping with the first juveniles appearing. Was this adult male heading north or south when it stopped at Fair Isle though?
The view from the Obs is pretty pleasant and everyone gathered outside to watch the sun setting the other day (today we would settle for just seeing the sun).

Hello Again!

Finally, I'm back. Sorry for the lack of updates, it's been a busy week and there's so much to catch up with I'm not sure I'll fit it all in here. There's nothing better to encourage a blog post though than driving back from Stackhoull with the shop order and being confronted with a stonking White-winged Black Tern quartering the fields at Setter.

What a stunner! White-winged Black Tern with the Hill Dyke in the background.
Only the third record for Fair Isle (and the first anywhere in Shetland since 2004 I think) it provided stunning views and was a real surprise. Mid-July is not normally renowned for rarities, but with this and the Black-headed Bunting that is still lingering (although only being seen coming into roost at Schoolton) we can't complain! The tern was assumed to be the bird seen on North Ronaldsay last Saturday and Sunday, although a quick look at the pictures on their blog ( , which is well worth keeping an eye on) seems to show a bird with slightly more advanced moult around the head, so perhaps the two sightings do relate to different individuals. Unfortunately, by the time I got my camera the bird had moved a field further away, although by that point there were already great pictures taken by Jason and Deryk amongst others, so watch out for them on the sightings page.

Hawking over the fields in a stiff northerly must have made finding food difficult, although despite appearances I don't think this bird had actually taken to swooping on sheep.
We'll get the sightings page updated soon, so I'll not list all the birds and cetaceans that have been seen since my last post, although it is worth noting that today also saw the arrival of at least one (and possibly up to three) Cuckoos, a Mealy Redpoll and a Bar-tailed Godwit in strong easterly winds and rain.

Sadly the weather also saw the delay of the return of Susannah and Grace, so I am still without my family. Hopefully the weather will be better on Monday and they'll be able to come home (possibly with tales of traffic lights, trains, chips and other delights of the mainland). With some of the Tall Ships that are heading to Lerwick due to stop in at Fair Isle on their way past on Monday and Tuesday, we also need the weather to improve for them to be able to stop by (otherwise there's a lot of burgers, scones, pancakes need eating by those of us on the island!).

There has been a lot of seabird work going on this week as well, particularly looking at Puffins. It's still a bit early to say how they'll do, so I'll do an update on seabirds soon, although I fear it won't be pretty reading.
Puffin week! Feeding watches, visiting colonies, colour-rings, trapping, food samples; these little chaps have had no privacy this week!

Well, there's so much more I could say, but I need to find my phone now as without its alarm clock (and with Susannah not here to kick me out of bed at the right time), I'm not sure how I'm going to wake up for early morning traps!

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

OK, so it's a few days since an update and there's more to tell you about later, but for now a quick mention of the best birds recently. July opened with a brief Wryneck and a more obliging Rosefinch (which became our fifth to be ringed this year) but the best bird was a male Black-headed Bunting seen by one lucky observer near the plantation on Sunday. Despite running back to the Obs and several people scouring the island for the  next couple of days, there was no further sign - until tonight! I'd just handed over the Log to Jason to call and wandered back through the office when the phone went "Black-headed Bunting at Schoolton now, possibly gone to roost in the roses". It was after half past nine, drizzling and looking a wee bit gloomy, so I must admit my hopes weren't very high as we filled the people carrier and transit with almost everyone from the Obs and headed out. Luckily, the bird decided to put on quite a good show, regularly perching on fences, plants and posts and being a most appreciated new bird for several people.
We've presumed it's the same bird, although the conditions were certainly suitable for new arrivals today and as the autumnal easterly winds and light rain continued we were left wondering if it's just a bit too late for something new to arrive, or could this week see something really surprising...

Stonking bird, lousy picture, but it was nearly ten o'clock and raining!

Tystie in North Haven.
Siskin, at least a dozen are now in the Obs garden, including several juveniles - where have they come from?

Baby Snipe!
Despite the whirlwind events of the Grand Opening, Directors' meeting, AGM, research meeting etc, the lingering memory of the last few days for most will be the Killer Whales in South Harbour on Thursday. Here are a few more pictures and it’s also worth checking out Liz Musser’s fantastic video at As they (almost) neatly coincided with our Grand Opening, they also received a reasonable amount of press coverage (a quick internet search should reveal a few more pictures and I'm sure Becki will have a few on soon as well).

More updates on recent sightings etc to come soon…

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