Wednesday, 7 November 2012

On the Waxwings of Love.

30th October - 6th November
And so, the end of the season has come upon us. The last of the Obs guests departed on 31st October, the majority of the staff have headed off for their winter retreats and there’s time to reflect upon the season. That said, reflecting on the season has had to wait whilst we carry on birding – the season may be over for guests, but for migrants there’s a week or two of potential excitement left yet (early November last year brought Blyth’s Reed Warbler, 3 Olive-backed Pipits, Rough-legged Buzzard and a Bean Goose influx).
The autumn is starting to feel a bit quieter now, but against a decline in the number and variety of migrants there has been an impressive arrival of Waxwings. Over 30 were seen in late October, with the first week in November seeing more arriving. The dynamics of these birds around the island has been interesting – a flock of around 35 at the Obs for example regularly dropped into the mistnets in the garden and by the end of the day, around 50 birds had been caught! Eight trapped later that day at Shirva included 2 unringed birds, one ringed the previous day and 5 that had been ringed that day at the Obs. Making an accurate count of birds as they move around and flocks disperse and reform is obviously tricky, but at least 100 were on the island on Sunday. Numbers seem to be declining now, but with over 100 ringed during the last week here, we hopefully haven’t heard the end of them.
It's nice to see Waxwings looking a bit more 'natural' than most of my previous encounters with the species. Although they do look a bit lost sat around in the heather.

Several of the gardens on Fair Isle have been putting out fruit for them - and some trapped birds have put on weight whilst they've been here, so it seems to be working.

Most of the trapped birds have been immatures. This adult male can be aged by the yellow on the primaries curving right round the feather tips (compare it with the first-winter bird above).

Beautiful birds, they really are close to being perfect.
The tips to the secondaries that gives the Waxwing its name.
Amongst our old friends, the Siberian Rubythroat lingered until 3rd (it was last seen heading further off its usual circuit to Utra, so there’s still a slim chance it could be hiding somewhere), the Woodlark was still around on 4th at least and the two Great Tits look like they might be set to try wintering on the island.
New visitors included a Coue’s Arctic Redpoll briefly at Stackhoull (2nd), a Yellow-browed Warbler (3rd) and a Bluethroat (30th – 31st). At least 2 tristis Chiffchaff have been seen during the week, a Lesser Whitethroat (30th) was of one of the eastern races and a Tree Sparrow at the Obs (4th), 7 Crossbill (31st) and a Goldfinch at Utra (5th) were new. Both Long-eared and Short-eared Owls put in appearances in what has been a poor autumn for both species and Merlin and Peregrine were joined by a Hen Harrier from 30th (with a second on 3rd).
This young male Bluethroat was a surprise catch on 30th October. Trapped at the same time (although in a different part of the island) to a Siberian Chiffchaff and a Lesser Whitethroat apparently of one of the 'eastern' races, it perhaps begs the question as to where this one has come from and what race it may be... . (photo by Kat Snell)
In a good year for tristis Chiffchaffs, this one was caught at the Chalet. As well as appearing a classic individual on plumage, it gave the diagnostic call whilst in the hand. (photo by Will Miles)

This Hen Harrier was one of two that made a low pass over the Obs together on Saturday. It's ringed on the left leg (as was a bird at North Ron the day before, which turned out to be wearing a BTO ring), which may suggest it is an Orkney bird.
Wintry birds included an adult Iceland Gull (31st) with a first-winter from 1st, up to 9 Long-tailed Ducks, at least two Water Rails in gardens in the south that may well attempt to winter again and Little Auks were seen on 30th and 3rd, with a dead bird found in a field at Taft (5th).
A juvenile Iceland Gull (joined here by a Kittiwake) in South Haven, as viewed from the Obs.
A 'blue' Fulmar has been in residence on the cliffs at Dutfield since October, whilst up to four have been seen in the bay when concentations of Fulmars gather there.
What next? Well paperwork and bits of work round the Obs need to be done at some point, Susannah and I are having to learn to cook for ourselves and there's a bit more time for socialising around the island (we had an excellent night on Tuesday at the Hall being entertained by the Danish band Himmerland after a fireworks party at South Light on Monday) but with the Pine Grosbeak invasion into Scandinavia now appearing to be the largest in recent times who knows if there could be a last twist in this fantastic year's tale...

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