Monday, 29 August 2011

Goodness Greatcious Me!

North-westerly gales continued to batter the island, making census difficult at times, although the day was largely dry after some torrential rain last night. Also last night was a mighty crash at about 1am that woke up most of the Obs, but the source of which has not yet been traced!

The route through Gully trap took on an exciting element today, with white water rapids to cross.
A small number of migrants linger, with Barred Warbler at the Obs and Common Rosefinch at Schoolton the pick of the bunch but waders stole the show today. Common species generally increased in numbers and three Bar-tailed Godwits flew north. The highlight though was a rather unexpected Great Snipe flushed from a crop strip at Kennaby. I managed to see it just twice in flight (although the second time was a rather nice fly past as it circled back past me) and sadly it couldn’t be relocated later by the massed ranks of Obs staff, researchers and guests.
Sadly I didn't have my camera with me for the Great Snipe, so a picture of the unsuccesful twitch is the best I can manage.
Presumably this bird arrived during the fall a few days ago and has been lurking undetected (both times it was flushed from about 3 metres ahead of me, so it would have been easy to walk past it without realising). Our second Great Snipe of the year following one in the spring, hopefully it will be relocated tomorrow and allow a few more people the chance to see it.
One of two Fulmars I helped out today. This one had got stuck behind the fence in the Gully plantation, the other was sat on the road outside Lower Stonybreck. Both of them were sick on me.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Summer Storms.

After the excitement of Friday's birds, the weekend has been rather quiet, with gale force winds from the North-west and some very heavy rain. A Sooty Shearwater was seen from South Light today and Barred Warbler, Red-backed Shrike and Wryneck all put in an appearance, whilst the Short-toed Lark was on the airstrip again yesterday, but generally things were keeping their heads down. The Little Stint and Curlew Sandpiper were both still around yesterday and there seem to be reasonable numbers of waders present, with little groups of Ringed Plover, Knot, Sanderling and Ruff scattered across the island.
With Gannet chicks just starting to fledge, the storm has hit at a bad time. Most of the colonies are on the NW of the island, right in the teeth of the gale.
With the weather hampering attempts at getting much done, it was the perfect time for the 'Games Night' on Saturday that saw a good turn out from the islanders. A keen competition ensued between the two teams (the 'Fairies' and 'Dinosaurs', nothing personal in the names, they were just the only sticker books we had), with the activities continuing well into the night and everyone enjoying themselves. We had a few islanders visit for tea and cakes on the terrace today, although given the weather, we had to make do with ‘tea and cakes with a view of the terrace’ from the lounge.
So, after the rush of birds last week, a quiet weekend has helped recharge the batteries ready for whatever next week will bring. The forecast doesn’t look that promising for bringing in many birds, but this is Fair Isle, where I’m quickly learning that anything is possible.

Whatever the weather, Fair Isle is a beautiful place. This is the view from Malcolm's Head, which is best appreciated when the wind is not blowing you off your feet and the island isn't shrouded in low cloud.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

A tale of two Hippos.

A lovely day, with the wind mostly still in the east, saw a slight decrease in numbers of some of the common migrants, a few species (including Spotted Flycatcher) increased in numbers and the first Goldcrest of the autumn was seen. Scarcities were still well represented, with two Wrynecks, seven Barred Warblers, a Red-backed Shrike, Dotterel and nine Common Rosefinches. The latter may well be an underestimate as sightings from elsewhere on the island are taken as being birds dispersing from the flock of nine at Schoolton, but more individuals may be involved.
Migrants are scattered across the whole island, with birds like this Pied Flycatcher as likely to be on a beach or cliff as in a garden.
Today saw the current fall topped with a classic rarity, with Will turning up a great Booted Warbler near Burkle.
Will admiring his find (notice that it is 'birding in a t-shirt' weather).
The Booted Warbler was flighty at first and I only got distant views, although it posed down to five metres later on for folk.
Having seen the Booted Warbler fly off towards Haa we headed down there to try to refind it and found a Melodious Warbler instead! The magic of Fair Isle encapsulated in a couple of hundred yards.

Melodious Warbler at the Haa, the first on Fair Isle since 2006 and the 16th for Fair Isle.
The forecast is now for some days of strong NW winds, which may put an end to migration for a while, although perhaps Lapland Buntings may put in an appearance.
That’s all for today, just a brief summary as we’ve just come back from an aborted Storm Petrel ringing session. The wind picked up just too much to make catching any Stormies a possibility, but a Sanderling caught on the beach was a great bonus!
Fulmars are fledging, although this one only made it as far as the beach at Hjukni just below its nest before it needed a rest!

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Epic birding!

Ok, time for a blog post, apologies for not keeping you up to date but it’s been busy!
Yesterday saw a day of easterly wind and lashing rain, perfect conditions to bring migrants in – and boy did it! We held off census until the rain stopped in the afternoon, so the first real indication of what had happened was Jason running the traps on his way back from ‘town’ and producing a Corncrake, Wryneck and Pied Flycatcher and a couple of common migrants. After processing them (and the Barred Warbler that was caught as the Corncrake was being released) we headed out. Lunch was abandoned (sorry Roy and the kitchen team!) as the lure of birds proved too strong for the wardening team and the excitement overtook us.
The Corncrake on its release. It flew a short way then ran off into the heather.
The bare statistics won’t do justice to just what an amazing day’s birding it was, but the haul included: Arctic Warbler (the bird from the previous day still present), Corncrake, 19 Wryneck, 8 Barred Warbler, 7 Common Rosefinch, 71 Tree Pipit, 60 Willow Warbler, 14 Garden Warbler, 3 Wood Warbler, 8 Pied Flycatcher, 4 Redstart, 3 Grasshopper Warbler, 9 Whinchat, 2 Spotted Flycatcher, 2 Flava Wagtails, 3 Blackcap, 5 Chiffchaff, Reed Warbler, Robin and 25 Ruff. The feeling that having birds fly up from just about every patch of cover gives is what makes most of us enjoy birding so much, and this is a day that will stick in the memory of everyone lucky enough to be here for it.
Wrynecks seemed to be everywhere yesterday, with at least 19 found, which is probably the second highest autumn count for Fair Isle. This one was caught in the Gully this morning.
Today dawned with easterly winds and sunshine and the promise of more birds. After a slightly stalled start to census (due to a minor hiccup with our power supply), it became clear that there were still plenty of birds around and indeed counts for many species had increased. Although Wrynecks had decreased from their peak yesterday to five today (including two that were caught and ringed), many other species had increased, with totals of (and I apologise for the list again): a juvenile Red-backed Shrike, 7 Common Rosefinch, 6 Barred Warbler, 104 Tree Pipit, 93 Willow Warbler, 20 Whinchat, 15 Redstart, 10 Pied Flycatcher, 15 Garden Warbler, 4 Spotted Flycatcher, 7 Blackcap, 3 Whitethroat and 3 Flava Wagtails. On top of that, some wader movement saw three new species appear for the year in the form of Dotterel (a juvenile on Ward Hill), Curlew Sandpiper and Little Stint.
Tree Pipits increased to an very impressive 104, a good count even by Fair Isle's high standards.
Never mind that there were no BB rares, this is birding at its best. Some fantastic species, good numbers of common migrants and the real feeling that you never know what the next bird could be. Bring on tomorrow!

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

It's grim up North.

North census is a great route, it’s got fantastic scenery, Gannet colonies, a nice mix of habitats and a good track record of birds. That said, it doesn’t have the crofts and gardens that the southern routes have and so it can be a bit quiet at times for migrants. Today was one of those days: I got back from a more-or-less migrant-less census to find that there were six Barred Warblers, four Common Rosefinch, the first Grasshopper Warbler of the autumn and a fly-over calling wagtail at South Light that will hopefully be tracked down tomorrow as it sounded like a pretty good bet for Citrine, all in the south of the island.

Although I was on bar duty, things were very quiet in the Obs this evening, so I asked Liz if she’d mind keeping an eye on things while I went down to check Da Water and a couple of other sites for the wagtail. With so many migrants in, I thought it would be rude to go past the Plantation and Vaadal traps without checking them. The Plantation looked like it was going to be empty, until a Rosefinch jumped out at the last minute. As I was dealing with trapping that, I became aware of a sharp ‘tzit’ call repeated three or four times coming from just beyond the trap. Eventually my hearing and brain connected and I was very much hoping that I would find a Phyllosc when I approached the Vaadal. Thankfully I did, it went straight in the box and I was able to phone the Obs and tell them I was coming back with an Arctic Warbler! There was also a Barred Warbler caught in the Vaadal - if you're only going to trap three birds, it might as well be those three!
Sweet. Fair Isle is the place in the UK to see this vagrant, with over 70 records! 
The winds are still in the east this evening, so I know it is greedy to ask for anything else, but I can’t help but feel there might be one or two more birds to come…

Mainly east or southeast 5 or 6, occasionally 7, decreasing 4 at times.

The Rosefinch count was up to six on Sunday evening as they came into roost and we managed to catch three of them yesterday, all juveniles, whilst the red male was seen again but avoided the traps. Two Barred Warblers and two Black Redstarts were the other highlights from yesterday's census.
A 'new' Barred Warbler appeared in the Obs garden (the previous two here were both ringed)
One of the Barred Warblers was trapped this morning in the Obs mistnets, the third to be caught this autumn. It was also a good night for Storm Petrels, with 114 trapped.

Barred Warbler in the hand.
Today has started as another beautiful sunny day, but the wind is freshening from the east and the forecast looks promising for more birds. All the scarcities so far this week have arrived on predominantly westerly winds, so with the shipping forecast promising great things, the excitement amongst the wardening team is palpable and you can expect more updates here fairly soon...
'Dennis' our semi-resident Whooper Swan seems to be thinking about migrating. He's spent the last couple of weeks on the same small headland on one of the most southerly points of Meoness staring out to sea.

Although the breeding season has come to an end for many species, we did ring two young Snipe chicks yesterday, whilst this Blackbird at Houll is a reminder of their first breeding on the island since 1973!

Monday, 22 August 2011

Rosefinches are Red.

Despite the unpromising looking conditions for migrants today, there was a multiple arrival of Common Rosefinches, with four seen. One at Barkland was a smart red male, while three 'brown' ones were at Schoolton (where the male also appeared later). Fair Isle has to be the premier place in the UK for this remarkable migrant (which should be heading to India) and it is interesting that, having already ringed an adult female, an adult male has also now appeared. This would suggest that they are not lost young birds on their first migration but are perhaps using Fair Isle as a regular stop-over site.
Despite all four Rosefinches being on my census route today, I managed not to see any of them. This male appeared briefly at Barkland inbetween my two visits there, whilst the three at Schoolton dropped in after I'd left and had departed before I returned. I'm hoping for better luck tomorrow, but in the meantime thanks to Steve Minton for the shot of the male Rosefinch above.
One arrival we're expecting tomorrow is the return of Will Miles from holiday and we're hoping for a few more birds shortly after that as the winds return to the east on Tuesday. Will generally has a happy knack of returning to the island just in time for the birds, so hopefully that's an omen that we're due something pretty good this week...

Friday, 19 August 2011

Making a Splash.

An amazing day for cetaceans, with it seeming impossible at times not to see a Porpoise. OK, maybe they weren't quite that common, but the incredibly calm seas saw minimum counts today of 17 Harbour Porpoise, 30 White-sided Dolphins, 6 Risso's Dolphins and two unidentified dolphins, not bad at all!
Things were quieter on land, although a Common Rosefinch briefly at the Obs was a promising sign. Barred Warblers had built up to three on Wednesday, with just one yesterday and none seen today. A few signs of migration have been noted as the autumn creeps steadily along, with Meadow Pipits, Common Gulls and Swifts all seen heading south.
Wildfowl and wader numbers are rarely particularly large on Fair Isle, but a steady trickle have been noted this week, including up to 12 Teal on Da Water.
The rain and strong south-easterly wind outside as I write this are perhaps good signs for tomorrow, but I'll admit to being a little bit distracted by tomorrow's football fixtures. I'll not tell you which game in particular it is that is causing me great anxiety, but don't expect me to answer my phone from midday tomorrow for a couple of hours and don't expect any updates here for a few days if the result goes the wrong way!

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Return of the Wag

Another lovely sunny day with the added bonus of the Citrine Wagtail reappearing at Da Water and showing fairly well, albeit a bit jumpily as it commuted between here and Kirk Myre. It also called a lot, as this species is wont to do, aiding its location.
Although generally easily spooked by people, when a Merlin passed over the Citrine Wagtail crouched on the ground for about five minutes. Here it is in a more relaxed pose.
The Barred Warbler remained in the Obs garden (along with Reed, Garden and Willow Warblers and Chiffchaff) with another found in the south of the island (at Haa, then seen later at Leogh). A few other birds were new in, with two Pied Flycatcher, three Ruff, over 20 Swift, a Merlin and a Sparrowhawk all showing that there were new arrivals. With the wind now back in the east and forecast to stay there until tomorrow we'll be looking forward to more new arrivals soon hopefully.
This Sand Martin was with the growing Swift flock at North Light.
The day ended with some more excitement when a group of around five Risso's Dolphins passed the Havens, allowing a dozen or so people to dash up to North Light and get brief views of these spectacular animals. A probable White-beaked Dolphin was also seen from the Good Shepherd, although views were brief (and many of the passengers were concentrating on other things, as is sometimes the way on the crossing!) so its identity couldn't be confirmed.
Only one of the Risso's passed close to the Lighthouse, note the scars and scratches that are typical of this species.
A BB rarity, a couple of scarce birds, new migrants and dolphins and all in beautiful weather. Does it get better than this?

Monday, 15 August 2011

Barry in the Bag!

Many years ago, when I worked on the rather splendid Farne Islands, a long-staying Barred Warbler that lived outside the cottage on Brownsman became known as Barry (he was often the only migrant on the islands, so we all became quite attached to him). Ever since then, the Class of Brownsman '03 have referred to these magnificent warblers as 'Barrys', you have to admit, it does fit them quite nicely! I thought I should explain this now as no doubt at some point in the future I'll refer to a 'Barry' in the blog out of force of habit, so now you'll know what I'm talking about. They are a regular autumn migrant to Fair Isle, so perhaps one could have been predicted this week, but it was still good going for Becki to pull one out of the mist net about five minutes after catching a Garden Warbler and saying 'there could still be time for a Barred this evening'!
Although there was no sign of any of the rarities today, a Common Rosefinch was also ringed. Interestingly, both of these birds were carrying quite a bit of fat (the Rosefinch especially so), suggesting that they had perhaps only come a short way on the latest leg of their migration. Perhaps the Rosefinch even knew what it was doing as it was an adult and therefore may have made this journey before. All interesting stuff, it woudl be fantastic if we were lucky enough to get a recovery from that one which would help to prove (or otherwise) our theories. Fingers crossed that she ends up in a mist net near you sometime soon.

Happy Days!

The last couple of days have seen a proper mixed bag of weather, with gale force wind, fog, gale force fog (a Fair Isle speciality I’m told) and monsoon style rain giving way to sunny spells, then two gorgeous days of sunshine. The Pallid Harrier remained until yesterday (as did the Arctic Warbler and Red-backed Shrike but none of them have been seen today), with the best of the new birds being an elusive Citrine Wagtail on Saturday. Initially I thought I heard one over Haa as it flew past in the fog and thankfully Jason and Benji (our new volunteer) confirmed it when it was seen briefly near Utra, then again near the Kirk where better views were obtained. The Obs garden mistnets have caught a few Pied Wagtails and a couple of Whites coming in to roost in recent days, so if the Citrine is to turn up again, that would be a nice place for it to do so… A few common migrants have been seen as well with Spotted Flycatcher and Redstart making their autumn debuts, along with a Pied Flycatcher, a few Garden Warblers, Reed Warblers, plenty of Willow Warblers and a few common passage waders. The wind has now gone to the SW so things may get a bit quieter for a while, but with Two-barred Crossbills appearing in two places in Shetland yesterday (including one that flew south from Sumburgh Head and could be lurking somewhere around the island by now!), perhaps we could get one or two more good birds soon.

The Red-backed Shrike was the only good bird not to get a photo in the last post, so here's one to make up for it.
Saturday also saw an even happier event than the arrival of a Citrine Wagtail, with the Wedding of Naomi Riddford to Niko Casagrande. Naomi is a ‘Child of the Obs’ having been born whilst her parents Nick and Elizabeth were running FIBO, so we were delighted to be part of the happy occasion and help in any small way we could (the Obs people carrier got dressed up in blue ribbon to become the wedding car for the groom!). The wedding at the Chapel saw a good turn out from islanders, family and guests (several of whom had travelled from the USA), with the service presided over by John Best, who was keen to point out that he had also been the Minister for Naomi’s baptism. Despite the strong Obs connection, everyone was very well behaved: I didn’t divert the groom to look for the acro that flew across the road on our way to the Chapel, Nick didn’t once use his binoculars during the service and the rings weren’t put on with ringing pliers! Everyone at FIBO wishes the happy couple (and they both did look really very happy, it’s always nice to see someone hardly able to get their words out properly because they’re smiling so much!) all the best for their future life together.
Just out of interest, has anyone had a better moment than the one Nick had that consisted of: preparing to take you daughter to the Chapel for her wedding: watching an Arctic Warbler in your garden; a Pallid Harrier flies past; the sun comes out from the fog for the first time that day; and England take a catch to win the Test?
As it seems to have left us now, here's a picture of the Pallid Harrier in the evening light yesterday as it gave a series of stunning fly pasts at close range.

Saturday, 13 August 2011


So in answer to yesterday’s blog title, now we know what was next: PALLID HARRIER! The day had started well, with sunshine and an easterly breeze and, despite there being no birds at all caught on the morning trap round, we were fairly confident that something would turn up. My census revealed an increase in Willow Warblers in the North (it’s great seeing them in the geos and on cliff tops, real ‘migration in action’ stuff) and the whoosh of wings as three Ruff and a Black-tailed Godwit came in from the sea over my head to land on Easter Lother.
Incoming! Black-tailed Godwit and Ruff arriving from the North.
A nice surprise was to follow with the relocation of the Short-toed Lark at the airstrip and news filtered in from the south that the Red-backed Shrike was still present, a Redstart and Reed Warbler were new in and Willow Warblers were up to 21. A good morning.
Another brief appearance from the elusive Short-toed Lark.
Nick Riddiford was the man to follow in the afternoon when he first saw a ringtail harrier near Malcolm’s Head that disappeared before he could get to his binoculars then found an Arctic Warbler in his garden.
The Arctic Warbler in Schoolton.
Whilst twitching the warbler, Jason spotted the harrier in flight near the School. Being not far behind, Carrie, Liz and I were keeping an eye open for it when it flew in front of us! Although only a brief fly past, the intense orange of the underparts immediately set alarm bells ringing and it wasn’t long before the crucial features were noted to clinch the identification as a juvenile Pallid Harrier. This amazing bird then spent the rest of the afternoon roaming the island apparently looking for food and showing well to everyone who was interested.
Can you tell what it is yet? The first fly past that showed the key features.

You beauty! What more needs to be said?
Although not the ‘mega’ that it was just a few years ago, this is still a pretty special species and only the second record for Fair Isle, following the first for Britain found on the island in 1931. That bird was found by Myers Jimmy, who you can read more about at:, hopefully the acceptance of this bird will be a more straightforward process!
Whilst watching the Arctic in the Schoolton garden, the harrier flew along the Meadow Burn directly behind it. Brilliant!
I’m now listening to the wind howling from the south-east outside and heavy rain is forecast for the night. It scarcely seems reasonable to expect more birds tomorrow, but let’s wait and see what happens…

Watching a Willow Warbler on Dronger, I realised I was being watched by this fluffy young Fulmar.

One of the nice things about August is that as well as the good migrants, several seabirds are still present. Here a young Bonxie practices chasing an Arctic Skua.

Friday, 12 August 2011

What next?

The wind is in the east, the birds are coming and we’re all rather excited about census over the next few days as conditions look to be rather promising (and a Grey-necked Bunting in Norway yesterday certainly sets the bar high for what could turn up). Yesterday saw a juvy Red-backed Shrike near Chalet, a promising start, although the blustery conditions left us with the lingering impression that there was probably more hiding in the bottom of the various rosa around the island. Willow Warblers have made it up to double figures, there’s been a couple of Garden Warblers and Swifts and waders continue to trickle through.
Willow Warbler on a rock. In the background a Rock Pipit is on the grass. The only birds in the Obs willows were House Sparrows. Migration means birds have to find food and shelter wherever they can, even if it isn't their prefered habitat!
Yesterday saw a Green Sandpiper trapped, but ‘bird of the week’ (as far as far as trapping goes) must be the juvenile Kestrel caught on Tuesday that was sporting a Swedish ring. It’s obvious that any bird that makes it to Fair Isle has had a reasonable adventure to get here (even if it just comes from Shetland that’s still a crossing over 20 miles or, to put it another way, slightly more than crossing from Dover to Calais), but there’s something about catching a bird ringed in Scandinavia that really makes you think about the journeys they undertake - amazing!
A few Painted Ladies are still arriving, this one looks like it has been about a bit and survived a few Rock Pipit attacks.
PS - a couple of things I forgot to mention in this update. A juvenile Moorhen was a surprise at the Chalet on Wednesday and is probably one of the earliest autumn records of this species on Fair Isle (we're checking the records even as we speak!). Also on Wednesday, the sea was relatively calm resulting in a sighting of three Porpoise close in by Burrian and a magnificent group of four Risso's Dolphins porpoising north past Sheep Rock.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Short-toed Surprise

The day started nicely enough, but the weather gradually deteriorated until a rather unpleasant evening ensued. It’s just kept getting worse and we now have heavy rain and a driving northerly wind, although it does seem to be brightening up as I look out the window, so we may have something to report later.

Sunrise over Buness yesterday morning, a pretty spectacular way to end a Storm Petrel ringing session!
Yesterday’s birds included a Wood Warbler and Whinchat and a variety of waders, but the slightly unexpected star of the show was a Short-toed Lark on the airstrip found by Jason as he completed census. Sadly it didn’t hang around and, by the time I got there, the rain had come in and the lark had rather sensibly done a runner to try to find somewhere with a bit more shelter. Our second Short-toed Lark of the year, this species is more usually associated with May and September/October, so this is an early autumn record (I’d need to check the files properly, but it could be the earliest August on Fair Isle, although two have appeared in July).

It just goes to show that anything is possible on Fair Isle, as we will no doubt find out in the coming weeks…

The only bird of note on the airstrip was this Ruff that flew in whilst we weren't watching the Short-toed Lark.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

A Good Night Out!

Getting in at 4am smelling of sick might not be what you expect of respectable wardening types, but that's what the team have just done. Thankfully, it is the distinctive musty smell of Storm Petrel regurgitations that we are bringing back to the Obs with us, as another successful session saw us bag 53 of these amazing little birds. Star of the show was another Leach’s Petrel, the 6th to be ringed this year on Fair Isle (and the 105th ever for the island). The more I see of them, the more I like them, I think I’d go as far as to say that Leach’s is my favourite bird I’ve ringed this year.
Boom, it's a biggy. Leach's Petrel in the hand.
Competing for star billing tonight was the young Puffin found wandering outside the Obs as we headed out. After a quick visit to the ringing room, it was helped with its fledging by being carried down to North Haven and released on the beach. It’s phenomenal that these birds head out to sea by themselves, with no parents to guide them, and spend the winter on the open ocean. 
Good luck little fella.
Another young bird that was seen today was a juvenile Guillemot being accompanied by an adult about five miles north of Fair Isle, the fact that it was the first that the crew of the Good Shepherd have seen this year sums up the sad breeding season that we have had, which is why it is nice that the Puffins are at least fledging a few youngsters now.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Bring on the Autumn!

The fog finally lifted for a whole day (although it lingered longer on Mainland, meaning the flights were delayed this morning), the sun shone, (almost) all the staff are back and we're ready for the autumn. Don't forget that there are still a few spaces available in the Obs if you're wanting to join us.
Peek-a-boo, can you tell what it is yet?

Our first Wood Warbler of the autumn eventually showed well in the Chalet garden.
A scout around the island today produced Wood Warbler, 2 Reed Warbler, Whinchat, 3 Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Sedge Warbler, 2 Ruff, 3 Green Sandpiper and 25 Golden Plover, whilst a Peacock butterfly found by Henry at Auld Haa had no doubt arrived with the recent minor Painted Lady influx.
Two Grey Heron were also seen arriving from the south this evening as we enjoyed a barbeque at the Puffinn. I've seen Grey Herons heading north out to sea from Aberdeenshire at around this time of year on a few previous occasions, so perhaps these birds had come to us from the UK mainland to enjoy Shetland's relatively mild winters (although they could equally have been circling into the island from somewhere further north).
The conditions have been good for displays of the Northern Lights in recent nights (except for the thick cloud and blanket fog!) but it looks like they're set to be quieter tonight now that it is a bit clearer and we have a chance to see them. Nevermind, we'll hopefully be entertained by Storm Petrels tonight.
A couple of bits of family news, Susannah's sister and her family made it off today after a delayed departure thanks to the fog and we wish them well with two small children on the Northlink ferry with no cabin tonight (having already experienced a 'bumpy' crossing on the Good Shepherd)! It's been lovely to see them and Grace has enjoyed having her two cousins to play with. Grace has also taken to answering her toy phone with 'Hello, it's Susannah, this is the Fair Isle Bird Observatory'. If we can just get her to write people's details on the booking sheets (instead of drawing Peppa Pig in orange crayon), we could make use of her in the office!

Friday, 5 August 2011

No planes, but the fog hasn't stopped everything getting here...

A good day today (from a birding point of view at least) as the easterly winds of last night switched to strong westerly by this afternoon and the fog finally started to give way to rain. Thanks to the lack of visibility, we've not had planes since Monday, but hopefully transport will be back to normal tomorrow and we'll get the rest of the team back who have been on holiday (even if they do have to come back on the Good Shepherd...).
Wheatears seem to have had a good season, with plenty of juveniles around.
We did manage a brief respite from the fog yesterday afternoon when the sun came out and so the Parnaby family (and visitors) headed off to the beach for a picnic. Considering we are only three minutes walk from the beach, I was still loaded up like a pit pony with coolbox, bags, bucket and spade, travel rug, etc (and binoculars of course). We had a great time though and Grace splashed away like a little selkie and probably would have stayed there all night given the chance.
Anyway, back to the birds. Today saw our first Pied Flycatcher, Reed Warbler and Whinchat of the autumn (the latter of which conveniently found its way into the Hjon Dyke trap) along with a new Black Redstart at the Obs. I must admit I’m not sure if I can contain my excitement for the autumn – it’s only early August and I’m already imagining some of the things that we might see over the coming weeks! There are also reasonable numbers of waders on the go, with Green Sandpipers in several locations, although their flighty nature makes judging numbers difficult, maybe half a dozen birds were involved. Ruff and Greenshank were also in a couple of places and a small group of Teal arrived, whilst Common Gull numbers were probably over 600 (I’ve not added my notebook up yet).

Waders on the move included a group of 12 Whimbrel heading south yesterday over our picnic. Strangely, the formation flock was being led by a Curlew!
Yesterday also saw an arrival of Painted Lady butterflies, always a good sign of migrants on the move. I’d not be surprised if there is something a bit higher up the rarity scale to report soon, stay tuned!

Another bird that seems to have had a good breeding season is Twite, with 60 around the Obs yesterday.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Autumn arrives...

The Obs is closed for the week, not that it means we've got a week off as there is still plenty to catch up on and plenty to prepare for the autumn, but it does feel like a break in the seasons. Seabird monitoring dominated the work last week but when we are up and running again it will be the time of the migrants to come to the fore.
Waders are currently well represented with Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, three Ruff, three Sanderling, 18 Purple Sandpiper and a Golden Plover joining the regular species in the last couple of days.
Perhaps more exciting though is the appearance of a few passerine species, including the first returning warblers: two Sedge Warblers, a Willow Warbler and a Whitethroat arrived today to join the summering Chiffchaff. Other new arrivals included a Black Redstart and three Common Redpolls at the Obs, whilst a few Swift and House Martins have been seen around the island.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Farewell Summer...

The end of July sees any lingering doubts amongst the birding world that summer is gone and autumn is here. Breeding bird work is coming to an end, some of our breeding birds have left us (Arctic Terns and Lapwings for example have just about disappeared, although we will expect others to pass through in the autumn) and people's minds are turning to the rares that may appear. We'll expect the first scarcities in a week or so, although with the wind now in the SE and the weather looking rather autumnal, maybe we won't have to wait that long...
After a shaky start, Puffins seemed to have recovered reasonably well and had a better season than the rest of the auks. This youngster on Greenholm is not far off fledging (provided Carrie doesn't take it home with her!).
A couple of good nights of Stormying have seen us get over 100+ Storm Petrels (I know I should call them European Storm-Petrels, but you know what I mean) and two very impressive Leach's on Saturday night. The first was heard calling from the beach for a while before attempts to locate it saw it fly off, circle the tape and head straight into the net. The second (at 2.45am, they tend to arrive later in the night than Stormies) was also heard calling out at sea before circling around us a few times and plopping itself conveniently into the mist net. They really are fantastic birds and I was also impressed with just how loud they are, the call being easily audible at over 200 metres even when we were stood next to the tape blasting out sounds of petrel colonies.
There haven't been too many other bird sightings, although two Ruff yesterday were new in and a sign of birds on the move.
Some non-bird work saw the Obs staff (and a few visitors) out in force for the Sheep Hill, the round up of the hill sheep from the north of the island. It's always a fun day out, although there were a few sore legs the next day from running after rogue sheep up heathery hills. It's great to take part in something that involves the whole island, although whether the sheep that I sheared will be thankful I was there is maybe another matter.

The sheep being rounded up.

Dave Wheeler nervously checks if his yowe's head is still attached.
The Obs is now closed for a week to allow staff to take a well earned break, although Susannah and I will still be here, so hopefully we'll have a few more birds to report. It also means you can start make bookings for accommodation in 2012, just drop us an email or give us a ring.

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