Sunday, 30 October 2011

It's the final countdown...

There are only two days left to go of the season - where have the last six months gone?! We've already said goodbye to a couple of staff as Marilyn and Carrie have left, good luck, safe journies and many, many thanks for your work this year. I'll try to find time for a full update of recent sightings later (although there are no 'major' rares to report) but in the meantime, a couple of quick bits of news:

For anyone wanting the chance to own a genuine hand-knitted Fair Isle Kep, make sure you visit Tommy's blog: where you'll find details of six that are being auctioned to raise funds for the Fair Isle museum (bidding for the first one ends this afternoon).

The weather has finally seen some improvements in terms of the transport to the island, with planes making it in on Thursday for the first time since the previous Friday morning. Not only did that mean a lot of post finally making it to us, but it also saw the return of what seemed like half the islanders who had got stuck on the mainland. As our weekly paper, the Fair Isle Times, is normally produced by the school we thought we would have to do without one (the teaching staff were amongst those unable to make it back on time), that is until an 'unofficial' version appeared:

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Fair Isle: Southeasterly severe gale force 9 continuing.

Breaking waves around the island have covered everything in salt: tough on binoculars, plant life and fancy hair styles.
Well, so far it hasn't really happened for us. The SE winds are here but have been blowing gale force for the day. Unfortunately it has made birding very difficult - when you're lying on your stomach trying to look over Guidicum and it still feels like the wind is about to roll you over, it’s probably time to accept defeat and leave the geos unbirded. What was even more frustrating was that the few areas that could be seen into seemed to hold good numbers of thrushes, with a few Blackcaps, Chaffinches etc also flitting around.
The view from Dutfield, notice the waves breaking over the tip of Buness in the background, it really is a big sea.
The weather seems set to continue in a similar fashion tomorrow, so even if the birds are coming in, we might struggle to find them.
A Greylag Goose became the 88th species to be ringed at the Obs this year.
Lets focus on the positives though: tomorrow’s charts look even better for birds arriving; there are almost certainly things on the island waiting to be found; the winds have got to ease sometime! Signs of arrivals today included four Greenfinches (at Haa and Burkle), a Short-eared Owl on Buness that was presumably a new bird and a brief sighting of a probable ringtail Harrier sp. at the back of Ward Hill whilst two Common Scoter off South Light were new for the month.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Here we go...

The wind has been strong from the south and the highlights have sometimes been hard to come by, although it’s still been an enjoyable few days. A wintery feel has been provided by the 1st-winter Iceland Gull (20th – 21st) and three Glaucous Gulls (two first-winters and an adult), with several small groups of Snow Buntings totalling over 80 birds (other lingering buntings included up to 3 Lapland Buntings and the Yellowhammer at the Obs). Some summer visitors seem to have finally left, with Bonxies having now departed the island (although one was seen over Buness yesterday). Not many other seabirds were reported, although two Little Auks were off South Light yesterday.
Having eluded me in the nets a few days ago, then taking the micky out of me in the Vaadal trap and escaping just over my shoulder, I finally caught the Sparrowhawk in the Gully trap yesterday morning! Another couple of interesting birds to grace the ringing chits have been a Scaup (caught on a garden pond at the Haa) and a Jack Snipe caught on a dazzling trip last night.
Jack Snipe, so named because of the old English word 'Jack' meaning 'really, really cute'.
Some birds arrived despite the less than ideal conditions, with an impressive thrush fall including 985 Fieldfares and over 160 Redwing and a late Garden Warbler was seen at Easter Lother (on 21st). With the forecast still looking good for this week, the 23rd started to show some hints of an arrival, with a Yellow-browed Warbler, Black Redstart (at the wonderfully named Busta Skank), an increase of Blackcaps (from 2 to 34), 4 Chiffchaff, a Long-eared Owl (from 22nd), 98 Blackbirds and a few more Woodcock, Mealy Redpoll and Brambling. A Common Rosefinch lingered until the 22nd, but we’re all waiting to see what the strong south-easterly winds will bring (apart from a coating of salt spray on the Obs windows!).

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

It's an ill wind...

Today brought blasting NW winds, frequent hail showers and a little bit of snow - not ideal conditions for birding. Two Glaucous Gulls (adult and first winter) and a movement of almost 600 Greylags were perhaps not surprising given the wind direction, although the white 'farmyard goose' that turned up with them was a bit more unexpected - has anyone in Iceland lost one?
Seawatching in the last couple of days has provided a few 'Blue' Fulmars, Great Northern Divers and a couple of Little Auks today, whilst on the island top the Fair Isle Mice and Meadow Pipits will have been somewhat concerned by the presence of  at least 7 Short-eared Owls and 4 Hen Harriers. Passerines have been in pretty short supply, with two Common Rosefinches, one Yellow-browed Warbler yesterday and a Black Redstart today the pick of the migrants.
A brave effort by the BTO staff who are on holiday here at the moment saw them take part in a mini Bird-race. It was won by the only team that came back to the Obs for all their meals, although whether it was the gen from other guests or something in Roy's enchiladas that saw them triumph we don't know (or maybe it wasn't coincidence that the boss's team won!).
The Havens have provided shelter for several species in the current stormy conditions including Great Northern Divers, Little Auks, Guillemot, Long-tailed Ducks, Grey Phalaropes, Red-breasted Mergansers and Tysties, like this one. The Havens are visible from the lounge with binoculars for those that didn't fancy braving the weather today!
News this afternoon of a male Siberian Rubythroat on Shetland has come as a bit of a blow, although the AW who is due to fly off tomorrow might have timed his trip quite nicely... we wish him luck (through only slightly gritted teeth). However, this is Fair Isle. We've not had a bad year so far and surely something else will turn up here before the month is out. There is a lot of excitement at the forecasts for next week, with some big easterlies possibly on the way. The Obs closes for the winter at the end of October, but we have a few spaces from this weekend if anyone feels like taking a punt on jamming in on 'the big one'. And if it turns up and you're not here, don't say we didn't warn you!

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Ahoy me Hearties!

So we finally got some easterlies after my last blog post, just the one day but that was enough! A large thrush fall occurred on the 13th, which was immediately obvious from the morning trap round, and suddenly the mood of the Obs lifted. In fairness, the mood had not been that bad before, but the long discussion at Log the previous evening about whether the three Blackbirds included the one found dead later on did kind of sum things up for what was a quiet day! Paul (our Assistant Cook) made the most of his day off by heading straight out into the field after trap rounds and finding a LANCEOLATED WARBLER in the Field ditch! Although a bit flighty it did occasionally give good (albeit brief) views.
Lanceolated Warbler at Field, so hard to pick out that my camera focussed on the grass instead of the bird.
A sadder find was a dead Lancey the next day, not far away at Pund. Most observers consider the dead bird to be less streaked than the bird at Field, suggesting a remarkable (but not unprecedented on Fair Isle) simultaneous arrival of this streaky skulker.
The 14th also saw a great call from Jason who identified a Blyth’s Reed Warbler on the beach at Easter Lother, which was later confirmed when the bird was trapped.
Will showing off the Blyth's Reed to an appreciative audience. Whilst watching it, an Olive-backed Pipit flew over calling, although sadly it couldn't be relocated on the ground so it had to be 'one that got away' (although possibly only for a couple of days...).
Other scarcities in this spell included a Little Bunting on Dronger (14th), Bluethroat (14th-16th), Barred Warbler (16th), a couple of Common Rosefinch (including an adult female trapped) and up to 5 Yellow-browed Warblers. Although there were not huge numbers of migrants, some high counts included 50 Blackcaps (15th), 51 Brambling (16th), 36 Goldcrest (14th), whilst a few other notable records included up to 11 Crossbill, Black Redstart, up to 7 Woodcock (including 3 trapped), the first Yellowhammer of the year (on 15th and trapped the following day) and a scattering of Lesser and Mealy Redpolls.
This Yellow Wagtail is lingering around South Harbour.
With so many migrants around, predators followed, including at least 3 ringtail Hen Harriers, 4 Short-eared Owls and a Long-eared Owl at North Light (16th). A Sparrowhawk that spent the day around the feeders and perching on the furled nets then rubbed things in by bouncing out the mistnet when we opened them later on. Maybe we’ll get it tomorrow!
Hen Harriers have been putting on good performances across the island.
With plenty of visitors around, a few people turned to seawatching (always a good way to guarantee a few chances to shout out at Log!) and sightings included a Sooty Shearwater (16th), a few Little Auks, 3 Grey Phalaropes, Iceland Gull (16th) and two Velvet Scoters (17th) which passed behind me as I searched a crop strip at Skadan and completed my day of duck-doom as I had also missed Gadwall and Pintail, all three would have been Fair Isle ticks! I did see the male Shoveler in South Harbour (looking a bit odd bobbing around in a rough sea) and a young Scaup nearby.
This Little Auk was twitchable in North Haven on 16th.

A lingering Grey Phalarope in South Haven was joined by a second bird on 17th. Despite sheltering in the Havens, they picked the rougher South Haven to keep up their reputation as hardy pelagic species!
Just as things seemed to be quietening down again as the winds returned to the west on the morning of 17th, Mark Breaks (visiting ex-Assistant Warden) found a confiding Olive-backed Pipit at Setter. This could be a sign that, despite the unpromising forecast, there could be a few more good birds this week.
Although it did give good views, they were mostly brief as the OBP found plenty of things to hide under.
Aside from the birds, we had a rather fun pirate party on Saturday (the occasional ‘Arrr’ can still be heard around the corridors!) as a way of saying goodbye to Rob (he left on Monday). Best of luck over the winter Rob and thanks again for all your work this year.
'Randy Morgan' (aka Marilyn) proves to be a convincing bucaneer.

Carrie and Jason (and Archie) also get into the spirit of things.
Most of the pictures of Rob I have are at the bar, which isn't a fair reflection of his time here. So here's one of him taking part in the Sheep Hill. Bye for now Rob, see you next year!

Friday, 14 October 2011

October rolls on, but when will we get some easterlies?

A few days since a roundup, so I’ll just give you some of the facts in what has been a few days dominated by continued westerly winds:
The female Lesser Scaup remained on Buness until 9th, it was trapped and ringed on 7th allowing the special experience of seeing this species in the hand (note that the reports that the bird was reidentified as a Scaup have nothing to do with FIBO and have come as a bit of a puzzle to us). A Citrine Wagtail was at the Walli Burn on 10th, a quite late record after a good year for this species.
Note to British Birds: Knot playing Twister.
A large arrival of thrushes on 9th saw counts of 2892 Redwing, 156 Fieldfare, 78 Song Thrush, 59 Blackbird and a Ring Ouzel, although few other species were involved in the fall. Other passerine migrants were generally quite thin on the ground, with two Yellow-browed Warblers and a Barred Warbler (8th), Hawfinch (trapped at the Obs on 9th), a Spotted Flycatcher until10th, the first autumn Reed Bunting (from 9th), Crossbill (11th), a lingering Flava wagtail, a couple of Greenfinch and a smattering of Lesser and Common Redpolls. Small flocks of Snow Bunting and Lapland Bunting remained scattered across the island, a Short-eared Owl was seen (10th - 11th), there were ringtail Hen Harriers on 6th – 9th and 12th and a Water Rail in the Gully that continued to evade capture.
Wildfowl passage included over 80 Barnacle Geese (10th), Pintail (9th), 3 Velvet Scoter (11th), a few Long-tailed Ducks and a Goldeneye.
This Whooper Swan (Yellow E6F) was ringed at Martin Mere WWT in February 2010 and seen at Welney WWT in winter 2010/2011 before stopping at Setter yesterday. Thanks to the WWT for the very fast feedback on this bird.
Other sightings offshore included Grey Phalarope (11th), Great Northern Diver (12th), Slavonian Grebe, a couple of Arctic Skua, three Arctic Terns (10th), Little Auks (one on 9th and 6 on 10th), Glaucous Gull (8th) and 12 ‘Blue’ Fulmars.
Lots of Fulmars were passing Buness today including birds in various shades of 'grey' and 'blue'.
Birds, or trying to find them, has taken up a lot of our time, but the end of the season is rapidly approaching so a few other jobs are needing to be done. Rob, currently Domestic Volunteer at FIBO (but also seabird researcher and stand in warden this year and holder of various other posts at the Obs in recent years) is heading off for the winter soon, so this Saturday will see his leaving do, although I'm not sure I'll post any of the pictures (it depends on whether I'm the only one who turns up in fancy dress!). We've also taken part in the last Sheep Hill of the season, which was good fun as ever and a bit of an eye-opener for some of our visitors (I'll not say where they are wardens of, but maybe they've been working with seals for too long) who hadn't realised sheep could move so fast!
Will poised and ready for some sheep action.

All going to plan so far, but the sheep seemed to suss out the first timers and made a break for it inbetween them!

Unsurprisingly, the Short-toed Lark disappeared from the Sheep Cru, but the Lapland Bunting remained for the day - it's even in this picture if you look closely.

Friday, 7 October 2011


OK, so it maybe isn't in quite in the same league as the Blackburnian Warbler on this day in 1988, but a LESSER SCAUP found by Obs guests on a tiny rock pool on Buness is, none the less, a first for Fair Isle, and that isn't an easy accolade to achieve with an island list of over 375 species! Any American visitor is always a bit special and this one has given particularly good views allowing us to take in the fine details of the identification of this lovely little duck.

Elsewhere, things seem pretty quiet, although the Short-toed Lark is still here (now at Pund), but there is still plenty of the day left. I'll update later with a few more details, but for now there are birds waiting to be found!

'Mixed' weather has at least seen several lovely rainbows!
The weather has been dominated by westerly winds of varying strengths, resulting in birding becoming a bit challenging at times and transport to the island becoming disrupted.

With the Good Shepherd unable to sail, a freight plane had to bring in vegetables, milk etc.
Bird-wise, the highlight was a Short-toed Lark in the Vaasetter and Sheep Cru area, the last two sightings (dating back to mid-September) have also come from the same area, so it’s not entirely clear how many individuals have been involved, but this seems likely to be the 4th or 5th of the year.
The Short-toed Lark gave great views, although full credit to the visiting birder who had never seen one before but was so worried about missing his plane (and therefore his girlfriend's birthday) that he didn't even ask to stop the minibus as it drove past the crowd of birders watching the bird!

For much of the time, the Short-toed Lark was associating with a Lapland Bunting, a nice double act!
Wednesday saw a movement of wildfowl, with 99 Whooper Swans, 363 Pink-feet and 406 Greylags passing over and two Grey Phalaropes were seen off South Light, the first record of the year of this scarce species. New birds on the island were harder to come by, although a ringtail Hen Harrier was seen on Thursday, a Yellow Wagtail lingered down south, and Grey Wagtail and Spotted Flycatcher were both seen on 6th. Two Yellow-browed Warblers on 5th has decreased to one the following day and a selection of finches and buntings seemed to be on the move (although so far at least three Little Buntings have been seen this autumn, but no Reed Buntings or Yellowhammers!).
Common Redpoll outside the Obs, more redpolls can perhaps be expected in the NW winds - but of what (sub)species...
With gale force NW winds over night, we could expect a quiet day today, but today is the 23rd anniversary of a group of birders heading to the north of the island in ‘wet and unpromising conditions’ and finding a Blackburnian Warbler near Furse. What better motivation could we need?
The weather has certainly been variable, with hailstones lying like snow for a while yesterday morning!
First of all though, it’s a roundup of the hill sheep, so it’s all hands on deck to help with that.
And plenty of squally storms have blown through - you can see them coming, but you can't get away from them when you're on census (unless you dodge into a croft for tea and cake like some of the wardening team!).

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Gale warnings.

A very windy couple of days has seen disruption to the transport on and off the island and not much happening in the way of new birds. Although we’ve not done Log yet today (so there may yet be a few surprises!), it seems that arrivals have been pretty limited, or the birds are keeping their heads down in the gale force westerlies. There’s a suggestion that the winds may ease for a while in the morning, so hopefully any hidden goodies may be discovered tomorrow!

The highlight from SE census was a Hawfinch under the feeders at Haa, with a juvenile Yellow Wagtail nearby on the beach. The Hawfinch was ringed, so is presumably the bird caught at the Obs a couple of days ago. Interestingly, there were Hawfinch sightings yesterday at the Obs, Haa and Springfield, which probably would have gone in the Log as at least two different birds except for the fact they were all ringed, so were presumably all the same bird wandering around.
On the subject of ringing, I never did get round to mentioning the results of the colour-ringed Rosefinch (see blog post on 21st Sep). It turned out to have been ringed as a youngster at Ringenäs, outside the town of Halmstad, on the west-coast of Sweden on the 25th August. Although there is a breeding population of Rosefinches here, this could have been a juvenile heading west through the area from further afield. It is certainly a classic example of a bird heading in totally the opposite direction to where it should have been going at this time of year. Thanks to Kåre Ström for the information.
Well, time to do Log, so more updates tomorrow if there’s anything to report.

A few wildfowl are on the move, including small numbers of Barnacle Geese with larger skeins of Greylags and Pink-feet seen on and over the island. One of the Greylags seen today was neck-collared, so we're waiting to here details of that bird.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Autumn Excitement.

It's not just birds, this Angle Shades is one of several interesting moths trapped recently.
It's pretty hectic here at the moment with some good birding, lots of ringing and a very busy Obs, so sorry for the lack of updates in the last couple of days. I'll keep this post brief as I need to get to bed soon - I'm back on census, bar duties and trap round rotas from tomorrow. I’m feeling well rested and recovered and want to say thanks to everyone who has asked how I am getting on and sent their best wishes (and that's the last time I mention my appendix on the blog!).
Bags of fun: Saturday saw many birds ringed, with Redwings and Blackcaps being caught in numbers both in the Heligolands and the Obs garden.
Some calm weather has brought some good movements of birds, especially on Saturday (with a bit of a clear out on Sunday) and a few more exciting species have turned up.
Over 1000 Redwings were counted on Saturday, an impressive movement.
Saturday sightings: Olive-backed Pipit (found by Will at North Light then relocated to North Restengeo), Blyth’s Reed Warbler (trapped in the evening on the South Haven beach), Citrine Wagtail (the lingering bird, although another circling over Gilsetter may have been a new one), Rose-coloured Starling (the juv at North Light), Melodious Warbler (still at Shirva), Little Bunting, 15 Yellow-browed Warblers, Bluethroat, 2 Barred Warbler, Red-breasted Flycatcher, 62 Blackcap, 5 Mealy Redpoll, 2 Crossbill, 3 Hawfinch and 10 Lapland Buntings.
Yellow-browed Warblers are the commonest Phyllosc on the island at the moment, with another three trapped over the weekend.
Sunday sightings: Citrine Wagtail, Rose-coloured Starling, Melodious Warbler, 2 Little Bunting, Barred Warbler, 10 Yellow-browed Warbler, 3 Mealy Redpoll, 2 Hawfinch and 8 Lapland Buntings.
A Hawfinch was a lucky catch in the Obs garden this morning, dropping into trees next to me when I was on a net round, it was quickly persuaded into the mistnet - what a beast!
Although most folk were excited at seeing Hawfinch in the hand, Grace was a bit worried after I warned her to keep clear of the birds beak in case it bit her (she was possibly also a bit peeved by having her breakfast interrupted!). Maybe I should have warned Becki as well as it gave her a nasty nip! That beak can crush cherry stones, so it hurts when it gets your finger!
October on Fair Isle always brings some Locustella excitement, this one at Da Water turned out to be a Grasshopper Warbler.


Saturday, 1 October 2011

The good times continue.

There was no Birthday bird yesterday, but none of us minded waiting a day for a present – PALLAS’S GRASSHOPPER WARBLER found by Will in Gilsetter. What a find, what a bird and what a way to end the month, now what will October bring…
I didn't manage a picture of the bird, but here's the crowd waiting to get views. It showed very well for what can be a horribly skulking species, with everyone getting a good look. The amazing mouse-like scampering was seen on several occasions - they really can run!
It wasn’t just the big rare that made the day, an arrival of migrants saw Redwings scattered across the island and a nice little selection of lingering rarities and a few new scarcities were seen. I’m now getting back up to full ‘match fitness’ and had a wander out to Dronger, where I was pleased to turn up two Yellow-browed Warblers sharing a small geo with Spotted Flycatcher, two Dunnocks, Goldcrest and a handful of Redwings and Song Thrush. It was a great day to be out, with that real buzz of excitement that new birds coming in brings (especially when the weather is pleasant and sunny, so you get a chance to really appreciate the birds).
Redwings arrived in good numbers, always a good sign when searching for rarities.
The highlights from the Log show what a good day it has been with: Citrine Wagtail (the lingering bird at Barkland), Richard’s Pipit (found in the afternoon at Field), 3 Little Buntings (one at Skadan still with new birds at Hjukni and the Obs), 10 Yellow-browed Warblers, Hawfinch (briefly at Chalet), the lingering Melodious Warbler and Rose-coloured Starling, 496 Redwing, Fieldfare, 39 Song Thrush, 3 Ring Ouzel, 2 Redstart, 10 Whinchat, 22 Blackcap, 2 Spotted Flycatcher, Yellow Wagtail, Short-eared Owl, 2 Jack Snipe, 16 Chaffinch, 28 Brambling, 12 Mealy Redpoll, 4 Crossbill and 31 Lapland Bunting. ‘Most underappreciated bird of the day’ had to be the Little Bunting found by Marilyn at the Obs and then trapped by Jason. Normally this would have resulted in a full ringing room, but the call from Will announcing his find saw everyone dashing straight out instead!

Earlier, Carrie and myself had taken the children of Fair Isle Primary and the visiting pupils from the Skerries on a trap round and showed them some of the work of the Obs. They’re such an enthusiastic and well behaved bunch of kids that it’s always a pleasure to work with them and today was no exception – they all seemed to enjoy it too!

All of the fun of today followed on from a fantastic ‘Fair Isle Thursday’ in the Obs last night, with a good atmosphere as staff, islanders and visitors enjoyed live music by island musicians and a superb show of short videos by Liz from Haa. I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again, Fair Isle really is a great place to live (and not just because of the wonderful cake and rendition of 'happy birthday' I got)!
A good night - live music and a pint (in my birthday present pint glass that survived being posted to Fair Isle!).
Grace enjoys birthdays whether they're hers or not. She helped me to open my cards and presents (and tried on my new t-shirt!), quickly got stuck into the cake and had a dance to the music of Fridarey.

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