Saturday, 28 July 2012

Late July update

Seabirds dominate the workload of the Wardening team in July and Bonxies in particular make a big impression.
Puffins seem to be having a reasonably good year, this colour-ringed bird is part of a study into adult survival rates at Roskillie, the colony just behind the Obs. 
Late-July is not usually associated with much in the way of migration, so a Coue’s Arctic Redpoll on 14th was a pleasant surprise. After being glimpsed briefly in the Obs garden, it flew south leaving us with a frustrating ‘pale redpoll sp’ sighting for the Log. Thankfully, Jason took a punt on it having headed to the Plantation, so drove down there and caught it! The combination of measurements, plumage (including virtually unmarked undertail coverts, white rump, white wing bars and build (including the ‘loose’ plumage and small eyes) all clinched the identification as Coue’s Arctic Redpoll. As would be expected for a worn summer bird, the plumage was quite dark and it certainly didn’t look like a ‘classic’ autumn bird, making it a particularly interesting individual. Although a July Arctic Redpoll may seem unusual, one was also caught here in 2007. In recent years at least, the occurrence of a few ‘northern’ finches has become a regular feature of the summer and this year there were two Mealy Redpoll (23rd), a flyover unidentified Redpoll  (21st) and two Siskin (21st) to accompany the Arctic Redpoll’s arrival. 
Coue's Arctic Redpoll, an interesting identification challenge (photo by Will Miles).

In the field it looked an even paler bird (photo by Will Miles).
The River Warbler lingered to 15th but the Paddyfield Warbler wasn’t seen after 11th. Other lingering birds included the Whinchat (to 14th), a Dunnock (to 15th), three Chiffchaffs, a Blackbird and at least two Robins (including one in Hesswalls on 16th and a bird trapped in the Gully on 18th, which may have been new arrivals). Other migrants included a Willow Warbler (16th – 20th), Sand Martin (26th), two Swifts (to 17th) and Collared Dove (21st).
Waders and wildfowl tend to move early and the latter were represented by lingering Common Scoter and Red-breasted Merganser and highlights of the former included a Wood Sandpiper (on Da Water on 27th), three Black-tailed Godwits on Meoness (26th) that increased to five the following day and a Common Sandpiper (24th) amongst small numbers of commoner species. There were also two Grey Herons in the south and two Red-throated Divers over the island (21st).
Good news on the breeding bird front included the single remaining Arctic Skua chick fledging (28th), a record year for Bonxie chicks, with over 300 ringed (and the first fledged one seen on 24th) and fledged Arctic Tern chicks (from 23rd), although only a few of the latter survived.
The first fledged Bonxie of the year takes to the wing over Suka Mire.
The only Arctic Skua chick to survive to fledging on Fair Isle since 2010, this bird relied on blending into the background on Buness to avoid detection by Bonxies.
Away from the seabirds, four Swallow chicks were ringed at the airstrip, although a fifth was found dead under the nest, apparently having choked on a Map-winged Swift.
Storm Petrel ringing has resulted in over 300 being caught so far this year, with Leach’s trapped on 17th and 25th (and another seen around the nets on 22nd) and hopefully there’ll be more to come if we get a few more calm nights.
The Leach's Petrel on 25th, this one was heard singing as it approached the nets and continued to do so in the hand.
Eiders with ducklings can be seen in several places around the island, the youngsters are not quite as adept as their parents at dealing with the surf.
The scarce Bog Pimpernel is currently in flower, one of several bonny plants that repays a bit of time spent on your hands and knees in the boggy areas of the island!

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

July birds update.

The River Warbler continues to scuttle around mouse-like through the garden, although occasionally it comes out into the open where it sometimes feeds alongside the Paddyfield Warbler.
We've had a bit of fog and quite a lot of northerly wind so far this month, but in the better spells we've been able to carry on with our monitoring work. Seabirds are still doing OK by and large with the positives including: Gannets doing well, Bonxies up in number and (so far) having plenty of youngsters, Guillemots and Razorbills doing OK (although not great), Puffins bringing in more food than last year (we're waiting on the sea state to improve to get to Greenholm where we'll be able to check productivity) and Arctic Terns with chicks (although the Shalstane colony has totally failed). Common Gulls surprised us, when we found 8 chicks had survived so far in the small colony (which was predated in its entirety last year) and for the first time since 2005 Common Terns are breeding on the island. Some Shag chicks have fledged, but not in great numbers. A fledged Black-headed Gull chick on Meoness (9th) was not from Fair Isle though and showed just how far newly fledged (and apparently weak-flying) birds can travel - this one must have come at least 25 miles. Sadly Arctic Skuas have now almost totally failed, with numbers down this year and, although some pairs hatched young, only one chick is currently still alive. Storm Petrels are virtually impossible to monitor, but away from the breeding colonies we have started getting some good numbers in late night ringing sessions in the Havens, with over 50 caught last night (or early this morning, the ringing team finally making it back at 3am!).
Plenty of the landbirds have youngsters on the wing now, with Meadow Pipits, Wheatears, Twite and Rock Pipits all around in good numbers. At least two broods of Curlew are doing well and there are several young Oystercatchers and Ringed Plovers wandering the island now. Three fledged Hooded Crows were also seen near the Obs this week.
The Paddyfield Warbler in the fog...
Not much new going on migration wise, although a Whitethroat appeared (6th) and is one of four warblers in the garden today, alongside Paddyfield Warbler, River Warbler and a Chiffchaff (with at least one other Chiffchaff lingering in the south of the island). Two Marsh Warblers and a Reed Warbler stayed at the Obs until 2nd but have not been seen since, whilst a Dunnock skulked at Schoolton until 4th. A Whinchat also looks comfortable hanging around in the south, whilst a Goldfinch (1st) was another unseasonal occurrence, being only the second July record for Fair Isle. We also have two lingering (and presumably summering) Robins and a Blackbird present, all in the Obs garden. Elsewhere around the island there have been  a couple of Swifts (10th), House Martin (2nd), wandering wildfowl have been represented by up to four Red-breasted Mergansers, three Common Scoter, Teal (1st - 2nd) and a Red-throated Diver (2nd). A few passage waders are yet to include anything unusual, but have included our first 'autumn' Purple Sandpiper (10th), up to 3 Whimbrel and Redshanks increasing to ten.

..and in the sunshine, posing almost perfectly (except for hiding its bill!).

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