Sunday, 28 October 2012

28th October

Ta-da! The Rubythroat remains and showed a bit better today. It's tendency to land briefly before darting off into cover meant that it was generally on the move before the camera had focussed - resulting in the occasional odd pose!
The calm, mild weather and the palpable sense of relief and happiness that results from people having seen the Rubythroat, gave the day an ‘end of season’ feel. The few new birds that were around were generally from that typical late autumn fare that also added to that atmosphere.

The Rubythroat was following a regular circuit around the Walli Burn and walls near the Haa. 
A rather dingy individual, it is still an absolute belter of a bird. Without doubt one of the highlights of a very impressive year.
Aside from Siberian Rubythroat, other lingering highlights included the Blue Tit (which reappeared after a two day absence), 2 Great Tit, Woodlark (which put in a lovely fluty flyover for some of the congregation heading to the Chapel this morning) and Little Bunting (at the School again).
Little Bunting, presumably the same bird that was seen at School a couple of days ago.
Other lingering birds included this Great Northern Diver in South Harbour, where the Goosander was also still present. New wildfowl were restricted to two Whooper Swans that flew south.
The main arrivals were Waxwings, with at least 21 recorded (although the total was probably higher, as several small groups were noted through the morning before 14 were trapped at the Obs).
Obviously hungry after their journey, any food that is provided for Waxwings on Fair Isle is gratefully received, where natural food is in relatively short supply.
Standing room only at the apples in the Obs garden.
 Accompanying these fantastic northern visitors were a few more thrushes, single Chiffchaff and Blackcap and a dozen or so Robins. Two Woodcock were trapped this morning (and another couple were seen today), following the dozen noted yesterday (a total no doubt helped by the entire island population tramping across the North of the island as we rounded up sheep). A Crossbill was one of the few signs of any finch passage, although a Common Redpoll was trapped at the Obs and another Redpoll sp. flew over the island (the two Lesser Redpoll at the School were probably lingering birds).
It's possible to see all the variations of Redpoll available to British birders on Fair Isle during some years. The two small, warmish brown birds at School today appeared to be Lessers.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Got It!

27th October
A morning spent helping to round up the hill sheep made me wonder if doing our good deed for the day would be rewarded...
When we finished promptly and had an hour before lunch, it was inevitable that we'd head to the Haa. Very soon Jason picked up a 'suspicious' bird that dropped into the Walli Burn - and when it didn't come up from where it had landed we were hopeful that we were onto our prize. Eventually it gave us a good fly past view, then over the next wee while spent its time doing a circuit of ditches, burns and dykes around the Haa area.
Naturally, I was never really going to tick it off the views I had on that first day at Schoolton (!), but it's firmly inked onto my list now.
Siberian Rubythroat, what a way to round off an excellent season.
There she goes!

Taking cover.
Distant views - but at least they were views! The local Starling has obviously seen all this sort of stuff before and isn't really bothered!

Friday, 26 October 2012

Ruby Blues

26th October
The Rubythroat would still be here today, we knew it and all we had to do was find it. After breakfast, we headed out into the snow showers and North-westerly gale, not ideal conditions, but surely a Rubythroat would be easier to pick out against a white background!

In the wild conditions, many birds were keeping sheltered, but Starlings seemed quite happy carrying on with life as normal.
Tommy had seen a bird just before one o’clock which could well have been it, but by half past three, with the snow starting to settle on me, I thought it wasn’t going to happen. I decided to head back to the Obs for lunch and to warm up (I was struggling to hold my binoculars steady as the cold penetrated my layers).
This Olive-backed Pipit near South Harbour looked like it was starting to regret its decision to explore, rather than just go to India with its mates.
While I was restoring feeling to my extremities, Susannah thought she’d try to get a bit of birding done. Less than an hour later, I was heading down to the island having just taken the call ‘David, I’ve just seen the Rubythroat really well at Haa’. Sadly, my views were no better than my previous attempts, with a fly-by as it went back into the Haa garden before disappearing off towards South Harbour, never to be seen again.
The shelter of the beach held Fair Isle Wrens and Rock Pipits, but no sign of the Rubythroat. Where it spends most of its time is anyone's guess.
Tommy had managed to add it to his impressive garden list before it vanished, but the closest I have got to achieving anything similar is that the Rubythroat that turned up in Sunderland a few years ago was found in the street I used to live in (albeit about 30 years before the bird was there).
Between Susannah seeing the Rubythroat and Jason having returned with tales of the Chestnut-eared Bunting (and curries and pubs), I couldn’t wait to get Log over and done with and hope for better luck tomorrow!
With the weather too bad to conduct a full census, and most of our efforts centred around Haa, there were not too many birds of note for Log, although the 2 Great Tits and the Woodlark both also remained.
As is becoming traditional, there was at least a consolation bird, in the form of a Goosander in South Harbour, a Fair Isle tick for me and the first to be seen here this year.
Less than annual on Fair Isle. Nice enough I suppose, but still…
Tomorrow will hopefully see calmer weather, there's even the prospect of a bit of south-easterly wind later in the day, but even if there are no new birds in, I'll be happy just to see the ones that were here today - and one of them in particular...

Del gets the Ruby Prize!

25th October
A day with cold NW winds seemed set to produce rather little, especially with both of the Assistant Wardens stuck on Mainland, when a successful twitch (Chestnut-eared Bunting and Pied Wheatear, nice) was only marginally undone by the weather taking a bad turn sooner than expected, causing the cancellation of today’s flights. The Blue Tit was seen again at Schoolton, where there was also a Great Tit, but the only new birds seen this morning were 38 Jackdaws circling the south of the island.
The afternoon produced a few more birds, although probably not many of them were new in: one Olive-backed Pipit remained and the Woodlark was too-leeing over Taft, a Little Bunting showed very well at the School (and was unringed, so wasn’t the same bird as yesterday, but could have been the one that was at Gilsetter a couple of days ago), a Lesser and Mealy Redpoll were nearby and two Linnets toured the south of the island.
Having passed Burkle and seen Deryk birding near the Haa, I thought I’d try the Leogh and Utra area rather than cover the same ground. No sooner did I get there then I get a call from Del, ‘I’ve probably got the Rubythroat at the Haa’! I went dashing over, a brown bird flicked off a fence into the allotment behind Haa, and that was that. Deryk’s views were of a plain, brown chat and his side on view of the head confirmed that it was the Rubythroat, although it never showed more than fleetingly and was clearly being elusive.
As other Obs staff arrived at the south of the island, Becki picked out a Hornemann’s Arctic Redpoll as it flew up in front of the people carrier. It was later found in the Burkle garden, another consolation for would-be Rubythroat watchers (following yesterday’s Blue Tit); but all it would be was a consolation, as there was no sign again of the big prize. Despite walking the dykes and ditches of the Haa area and trying the Schoolton garden again in the hope it may go to roost there, the closest I got was a Siberian Chiffchaff calling noisily as dusk approached (to paraphrase Obi-wan ‘this is not the Sibe you are looking for’).
With a few snow flurries this evening suggesting that tomorrow could be even worse than the minus seven degrees ‘wind chill factor’ experienced today, it won’t be easy to refind the Rubythroat, but I’ve cancelled cooking, cleaning and everything else for tomorrow to get all our staff searching the island (well, not really, but we’ll be getting Kat and Becki out the kitchen wherever possible to help), so wish us luck!

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Can I Tick It?

24th October
As October progresses, the amount of migrants can start to dwindle, but there’s always the chance of some big rarities arriving. In fact, late October has regularly turned up some very good birds on Fair Isle…but 2012 was maybe starting to feel like we’d missed our chance a bit. By the 23rd, the last of the falls seemed to have come to an end and a light SW breeze had seen an apparent decrease in migrants, with few new birds in. Right at the end of census, a Little Bunting landed on the fence right next to me at the ringing hut – very nice, but probably the only new migrant I’d seen all day apart from a few more Blackbirds (what was presumably the same Little Bunt was trapped at the Obs coming into roost on 24th). The afternoon seemed a good time to catch up with some of the office stuff that needed doing – right up until the point that Jason nearly kicked the Visitor Centre door down to interrupt a meeting between the FIBOT Chairman, Susannah and myself with the news ‘SIBERIAN RUBYTHROAT SCHOOLTON!’
We dashed out (I assumed the other two were following me as I hurdled chairs and pegged down the corridor), jumped in vehicles and headed south racing against the failing light. Sadly, as we got to Schoolton, Nick and Elizabeth gave us the news on their sighting: the bird had showed very well, but had dived into the thick rosa rugosa that has hidden many a good migrant on Fair Isle a few minutes before we got there, presumably to roost. Stood outside the house, I got a brief view of a largish brown chat, with its tail slightly cocked, a pale supercilium and plain breast (so it was a female; interestingly, the four Fair Isle Rubythroats have all been female, whereas the three records from Shetland have been males). It was buried deep in the vegetation and quickly flicked out of view and was never seen again - clearly the bird, but not enough to have written a description myself – can I tick it, hmmm, answers in ‘comments’ below please.*
The bit of rosa where I saw the Rubythroat (picture taken this morning when the bird wasn't there!).
Sadly, the Rubythroat (which turned up 7 years to the day since the last one here, a date which has also yielded Rufous-tailed Robin and yet the Obs is virtually empty - but bookings are now open for late October 2013!) became the shortest staying of the four Fair Isle records and was not present the next morning despite a crowd (of ten) being present from first light. Perhaps it is lurking somewhere on the island and might be rediscovered, but I suspect it took advantage of the fine night and departed.
Just after the majority of people had drifted off, the lingering wardening team were invited into Schoolton for very welcome tea and biscuits (the cool NW breeze and frequent showers feeling decidedly wintry) and whilst looking out the windows, a Blue Tit dropped into the garden! Not a huge consolation when you're not seeing a Rubythroat perhaps, but with the last Fair Isle record back on 1st January 1989, there have actually been 3 Rubythroats (including this year’s) on the island since the last of this commonplace UK garden resident. In fact, one islander who hadn’t attended the Rubythroat twitch was one of the first to arrive for the Blue Tit! The two Great Tits were still present as well, sometimes in the Schoolton garden, where two Waxwings also touched down briefly before touring the island.
Winner of the Carl Zeiss Award 2012. In fairness, it was fairly dark and the picture was taken through a window.
The other new bird of interest today was a Lesser Whitethroat trapped at Barkland. With distinct sandy tones to the mantle and nape, a smallish bill and some interesting measurements, it appears to be from an eastern population, but it is probably a long shot that we will ever know which one.
With the battery on my little camera being flat, in hand shots had to be taken by Susannah from several metres away using my 400mm lens - not ideal on a dingy afternoon.
Views in the field were brief, but reinforced the sandy appearance.
Amongst the still impressive supporting cast during all this excitement, the Lanceolated Warbler was again seen on 22nd (and has even attracted a charter plane to the island), 2 Olive-backed Pipits were still present from 19th (with 3 on 22nd), the Woodlark remained until 23rd at least, a Yellow-browed Warbler from 21st – 24th was joined by others on 21st and 23rd and a late Common Rosefinch on 21st at the Obs was the first of the month.
The OBPs generally lurk in the Meadow Burn, but do show well at times.
Incoming. The Woodlark arrives at Quoy.
 Amongst the commoner migrants, there were new waves of arrivals of Redwings (with around 1700 on 20th), Blackbird (174 on 23rd), Fieldfare (291 on 20th) and Robin (with 34 on 20th). Other new arrivals included a variety of Chiffchaffs (with at least a couple of tristis), up to 9 Blackcap, a Garden Warbler (22nd), 2 Black Redstart (20th), Whinchat (20th), Yellowhammer (22nd), up to 4 Goldfinch, various Redpolls (with North-westerns, Mealies and Lesser all noted), up to six Crossbills, and over 100 Snow and 6 Lapland Buntings.
A few other common migrants have lingered until late in the month, such as this Redstart.
A Moorhen was an unusual catch in the Vaadal on 21st, with Water Rails on 20th and 22nd. Light Greylag passage also brought with it the first European White-fronted Goose of the autumn, whilst the ‘blue’ Fulmar was still on the cliffs at Dutfield.
With the weather set to bring us strong, northerly winds, things seem to set to get colder and perhaps we might even be entering a quiet spell for birds, but let’s see…

*note: this is my blog, not a democracy, so I don’t have to stick to the majority opinion.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

You Only Olive Twice (and then twice more...)

18th October
Although the day saw few new arrivals, there were an impressive 6 BB rarities present, along with decent numbers of thrushes and finches still lingering. The Hume’s Warbler showed again on Lerness, although it could still frustratingly go missing for long periods.
Although it showed well, the Hume's remained too distant for decent photographs, especially in the gloom of 'Moss' Geo.
A new arrival was a Hornemann’s Arctic Redpoll seen briefly at the Obs (or rather on the Obs) in the afternoon. As ways to find a good bird go, it was a rather odd one – I’d just sat at my desk with a cup of tea when the phone rang to remind me I was on fire duty at the airstrip and the plane had just left Tingwall, the winter timetable having confused me into thinking I had an hour longer than I did. As I ran around the Obs trying to find my fire kit, Susannah pointed out I’d left it in the people carrier. I dashed out and started putting my trousers on in the car park when I became aware of a redpoll call, although the only bird I could see looked like a Snow Bunting on the roof… A quick scan with my bins revealed not a Snow Bunting, but a stunning Hornemann’s Arctic Redpoll – I ran in, yelled ‘Arctic Redpoll on the roof’ and grabbed my camera in time to get a couple of snaps before it headed off south. It’s not been relocated yet, but hopefully one of the finch flocks down the island might draw it in.

Possibly the first rarity I've found whilst pulling up my trousers.
Surprisingly, all the other rarities were of the same species: Olive-backed Pipit. Jason found one, then two, then three in the Meadow Burn. When Will joined him, they went through the burn, saw two together, then another two. A total of four Olive-backed Pipits together is amazing stuff, even if it has been an excellent year for them. Even assuming the two sightings from recent days are part of the current flock, they are still the 5th – 8th OBP’s for Fair Isle this year; the descriptions keep coming, but we’re not complaining!
Amongst the passerines, the only other seemingly new birds were two Redstart and a Black Redstart. A passage of Greylag Geese saw at least 115 pass through, including an apparent white domestic goose – there has to be a chance that this was last year’s bird returning. A half hour seawatch from South Light produced 12 ‘blue’ Fulmars, with another one on the cliffs again at Dutfield, whilst a juvenile Glaucous Gull flew past Lerness.
The Great Grey Shrike, Woodlark and Great Tit (or Great Tits, as it seems there were two at Barkland today) all remain, adding to another more than decent day list.
Snow Bunting on the top of Ward Hill.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

17th October

A day of more easterly winds, with most migrants appearing in similar numbers and several decent birds remaining; with the Lanceolated Warbler, Great Grey Shrike, Great Tit and Woodlark all seen again. An Olive-backed Pipit in Field Ditch was assumed to be yesterday’s bird from Schoolton relocating, but photos seem to show a rather different head pattern, suggesting it could be the sixth of the autumn for us.

Great Tit sightings from several gardens around the island were assumed to be of one roaming individual, but there is the possibilty of two birds being present. Great Tit is a relatively regular visitor to Fair Isle, although not annual, but a Blue Tit would cause a lot more interest on the island!
Star billing went to the Hume’s Warbler found by Jason in the same geo that he found Magnolia Warbler in last month! After a brief view during census the bird disappeared, despite much searching. Jason eventually got good views later in the day, but by the time the rest of the wardening team arrived, it had gone to ground again. It did call once just before dusk but didn’t reappear – I’m hoping that it lingers until tomorrow and decides to be more cooperative.
One warbler that was more cooperative was this Chiffchaff at Chalet that showed a lot of positive features for tristis.
Tomorrow’s moderate northerly winds may not be too productive (although I’d not bet against it), but the various changes of wind direction over the weekend, with calmer weather, a day of westerlies then back to the SE could well be very interesting.
Even without stacks of new migrants, the birding is very pleasant, with plenty of birds about, such as these Bramblings and Snow Bunting at the Obs cover crop at the Skadan.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Five Olive!

15th - 16th October
With a continuation of winds from the east, it was no surprise that some new birds came in. Although the highlights amongst the arrivals on the 15th were limited to 6 Whooper Swans, a Common Sandpiper and a Rook, the 16th saw an increase in several species and a couple of notable highlights. A flighty Olive-backed Pipit at Schoolton was the rarest bird in national terms and continues an excellent run for this species on Fair Isle, with this being the fifth in 2012, matching the five seen in 2011.
Although perhaps one of the more expected rarities to occur on Fair Isle, it's still always good to find one of these beauties. After a tremendous autumn, this is the 36th BBRC bird to be racked up for Fair Isle in 2012. With another 16 or so local descriptions to be written as well it looks like we'll have plenty of work to do over the winter!
Rarer in a local context was the Woodlark first seen near Burkle, which then moved to Shalstane before relocating to the small roadside quarry at Dutfield. Other lingering highlights included the Lanceolated Warbler that was relocated in the Field Ditch, with the Great Grey Shrike and Great Tit both still present.

Species showing an increase in numbers today included: 9 Chiffchaff, 14 Blackcap, Garden Warbler, 24 Robin, 3 Grey Wagtail, 314 Brambling, 19 Chaffinch, 10 Greenfinch, 2 Goldfinch, Linnet, 117 Snow Bunting, 5 Jackdaws and 2 House Martins, whilst the first Little Auk of the autumn was seen by South Harbour.
So what next? With the easterly winds continuing I’m sure there’ll be more, but will it be something along the lines of Blue Tit, Treecreeper or Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (all recorded in Shetland in the last week) or something more like Eastern Crowned Warbler or Rufous-tailed Robin (both recorded in western Europe in the last couple of days)? If part of the fun of birding is never knowing what will be happen next, then there can't be many more fun places than Fair Isle in late October in easterly winds...

Monday, 15 October 2012

Birds build up, no more rarities yet though...

13th - 14th October
As expected, strong winds on 13th made birding difficult at times, although the 14th was a much calmer day. There were clearly new birds in (or there were more birds visible at least, with some of them having perhaps just having come up off the cliffs), but a perhaps surprising lack of ‘headline’ species. The Great Grey Shrike remained (and was ringed on 13th) but the rarest bird from a Fair Isle point of view was a Great Tit, found on 13th in Hjukni Geo before it relocated to Chalet on 14th.
Less than 50 Great Tits have made it to Fair Isle, this was the first since 2008 and the first autumn record since 2002.
Other scarcer visitors included Black Redstart (13th – 14th), Yellowhammer (13th – 14th), Goldfinch (13th), whilst a late Garden Warbler was at the Obs on 13th.

The Yellowhammer frequented the Taft oat stubble. Photo David Steel
Good numbers of thrushes remained, with Redwings decreasing to 1955 on 13th (and 1017 by 14th), but other species increasing to: 292 Blackbird (14th), 171 Song Thrush (13th), 37 Fieldfare (13th), 18 Ring Ouzel (14th) and 2 Mistle Thrush (14th).
Other high counts of species included on the 13th: 255 Brambling, 10 Jack Snipe, 10 Woodpigeon, 10 Reed Bunting, 5 Sparrowhawk and on 14th: 113 Goldcrest, 17 Siskin, 16 Blackcap, 16 Woodcock, 15 Chaffinch, 8 Greenfinch, 7 Crossbill, 6 Dunnock, 6 Lapland Bunting, 3 Linnet and 2 Grey Wagtail (with one on 13th).
Flocks of Brambling are widespread across the island, many using the Observatory planted crop strips.
The 13th also saw some movement of wildfowl with 8 Barnacle Geese, 3 Shoveler and 6 Common Scoter, whilst there were also 6 Grey Herons on Da Water.
Up to 3 Long-tailed Ducks have been frequenting the South Harbour area for a few days now.
An arrival of common species of gulls also brought a first-winter Little Gull and a Glaucous Gull.
Little Gull has appeared in three consecutive years on Fair Isle, although it is still a rare visitor, with just over 30 individuals seen.
It looks like there will be easterly winds on and off for another week at least, so I'd be surprised if there wasn't another rarity or two to cap off an excellent autumn.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

12th October. It aint over yet.

After the Black-throated Thrush on 6th (which arrived with just 61 Redwing and cleared out along with most of its host flock overnight), things quietened down for a few days as the westerly winds finally brought the expected lack of birds – not that we were complaining after the run that we had enjoyed (and the Lanceolated Warbler that lingered in the Field Ditch until 10th also provide popular with visitors).

However, the quiet spell didn’t last long, as the beginning of a forecasted run of easterlies has already started bringing in birds. A Yellow-browed Warbler in calm conditions on 9th was the start, although the best new birds of the 10th were two Greenfinch. As the easterlies finally picked up on 11th, the floodgates started creaking open, with morning census producing an arrival of Redwings but not much else. The afternoon saw a slight drop in the winds and also more birds in. Although the island wasn’t hooching with stuff, the highlights were impressive: Blyth’s Reed Warbler (Walli Burn), two Olive Backed Pipits (Vaila’s Trees and Leogh), Corncrake (Quoy), Great Grey Shrike (Pund), Red-breasted Flycatcher (Obs) and Yellow-browed Warblers (Skinners Glig). The back-up was provided by 925 Redwing, 38 Brambling, 5 Siskin, 3 Chiffchaff and 2 Short-eared Owls.
As the winds picked up on 12th birding became trickier, with gusts of 50mph recorded. Although an Olive-backed Pipit and the Great Grey Shrike were both still present, other highlights were provided by the spectacle of the large number of some common migrants that had arrived. The influx was largely of thrushes with 2744 Redwing, 124 Blackbird, 86 Song Thrush, 18 Fieldfare, 6 Ring Ouzel and a Mistle Thrush recorded on census. There were also 3 Yellow-browed Warblers, 53 Goldcrest, 10 Blackcap, 2 Chiffchaff, 3 Redstart, Black Redstart, Whinchat, 4 Robin, 2 Dunnock, 3 Tree Pipit, 90 Skylark, Swallow, 2 Woodpigeon, 14 Brambling, 2 Chaffinch, 2 Siskin, 2 Reed Bunting, 5 Woodcock (the first of the month), 8 Jack Snipe, 35 Snipe and 4 Sparrowhawk.
So, a good couple of days birding and surely with the forecast the way it is, there’ll be more to come. There’s no transport over the weekend, so whatever turns up will only be enjoyed by those who are already on the island, but we do have room from Monday (at £45 per night, full board) if anyone out there wants to see if Fair Isle manages a last hurrah in what has already been a fairly epic autumn.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

No let up.

6th October
The 4th October finally saw a break in the arrival of BB rarities, although there was still the lingering Lanceolated Warbler in the Field Ditch, whilst elsewhere on the island there were still two Richard’s Pipits, a Great Northern Diver offshore and four Goldfinch.
A calm, sunny day on 5th was pleasant enough to set out on census in a t-shirt (albeit a long-sleeved one). The Lancie and a Richard’s Pipit were both still present, although it was clear that new migrants were limited. That didn’t stop a return to the run of BBs though, as a Citrine Wagtail flew south over the assembled masses at the Sheep Cru (where the hill sheep had just been gathered) before being relocated at the mouth of the Walli Burn where it showed very well at times. A new Barred Warbler at Setter and a Garden Warbler on Buness were about the only other new arrivals.
Our 5th Citrine Wagtail of the autumn in another outstanding year for this species on Fair Isle.
Today has started with a cold, NW wind, but there are birds in. A noticeable, although modest, arrival of Redwings, a passage of Greylag Geese and a Chiffchaff at the Plantation that was certainly of eastern origin were the early signs of promise, and expectations were met with a fine Black-throated Thrush found near the Hill Dyke before settling in fields between Chalet and Upper Stoneybrek with Redwings. 
A smart bird, although views were mostly distant. It had the decency to turn up just before the morning plane, allowing departing guests to be ferried up to see it before catching their flight.
The 13th Black-throated Thrush for Fair Isle, the first was found in December, there have been two April records and the remaining ten have been October discoveries.

Nobody’s complaining with that for a start to the weekend, but there’s also a feeling that there could be another bird or two out there today...

Thursday, 4 October 2012


3rd October
Despite the calm morning and promising feel to the day, census started off fairly quietly and it was obvious that there hadn't been a large arrival of birds. However, that was all forgotten fairly quickly when a Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler was trapped near South Harbour in the late morning (in exactly the same ditch where a skulking Grasshopper Warbler had briefly raised our hopes last week). With 23 records, Fair Isle accounts for almost half of all the British occurences of this supreme locustella, and there have now been six in the last six years. Most of the recent sightings have been in late September and they are usually only seen on the day of their discovery, making them a hard bird to twitch. Indeed, one visitor who had narrowly missed them on several previous Fair Isle visits declared last night he would buy everyone at the Obs a drink if one was found today - and he was good to his word when he finally connected with this major bogey bird!
The Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler was one of two locustellas seen today, the other was a Lanceolated Warbler that was discovered very late in the day in Field ditch. The fact that this bird was missing its tail would suggest it was probably the one from Da Water seen on 26th September.
There were very few other signs of new arrivals, although a Corncrake at Pund was a good find. There were still two Richard's Pipits (seen together at Leogh) and 2 Little Buntings (both at the School, where there were also two Goldfinches).
With the wind set firmly in the west for a few days to come, surely that is it for our run of good birds, although there are easterlies forecast for the start of next week...

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Autumn Excitement Continues.

26th September – 2nd October

Ok, apologies for no update for a week, but there’s not been much to report. Nah, not really, it’s been an absolute belter of a run of rarities that has kept everyone happy. I signed off my last blog by saying that conditions may not be suitable for new arrivals, which was not exactly the case, although there were no large falls. The only species to arrive in anything approaching numbers were Song Thrush (a peak of 234 on 27th), Brambling (90 on 26th), Dunnock (18 on 26th), Blackcap (14 on 27th) and Redstart (13 on 27th).
The rarities though are what really stick in the mind from the last week. Competition for ‘pick of the bunch’ was pretty intense but was probably won by Buff-bellied Pipit, found in Furse on 29th, not least of which because it provided me with a birthday lifer!
After flying off from Furse, the Buff-bellied Pipit appeared briefly on the Obs wader scrape later in the afternoon. Although too distant for a decent photograph, views were still good from the lounge.
Another major highlight from the same family was the Pechora Pipit found late on the evening of 1st October (and causing a delay in dinner as the Obs was hastily evacuated) that was still present today.
The often very confiding Pechora Pipit arrived in strong SW winds and sunshine.
Sticking with pipits, the Olive-backed remained at Haa until 29th, with a second bird present at Setter on 27th – 28th, and Richard’s Pipit put in a good showing after a couple of poor years, with sightings from 26th – 2nd involving at least three birds.
One Richard's Pipit was caught on Meoness, this was a second bird present that day (at Lower Leogh) whilst sightings from Wester Lother, Troila and Vaasetter involved at least one more.
That quintessential Fair Isle bird, the Lanceolated Warbler, put in its second and third appearances of the autumn, with one trapped in Da Water on 26th and another showing ridiculously well near the Double Dyke trap on 2nd.
After two elusive Lancies, the 3rd of the autumn lived up to the their usual stereotype by feeding in ditches less than two feet from several extremely happy observers. The fact that it was sunny and fairly calm added to the 'only on Fair Isle' element of the experience.
The Blyth’s Reed Warbler at Schoolton remained until 1st, whilst one at the Observatory on 29th somewhat belied the species often skulking nature when it flew in through the patio door and was trapped in the library! The Paddyfield Warbler remained until 1st at least, often showing well but also going missing for long periods. The fifth Arctic Warbler of the season showed very well around Shirva on 27th – 30th whilst the sixth appeared in Wester Lother on 2nd, an outstanding showing.
Scarcities were represented by Little Buntings (which increased to 4 on 26th – 27th and one remaining until 1st), Yellow-browed Warblers (daily sightings during the period of up to 7), Barred Warblers (26th – 30th, involving at least two birds), Red-breasted Flycatcher (in Hesswalls on 30th), Bluethroats (a lingering bird at Shirva until 1st, with one in Furse in 26th) and a Red-backed Shrike that remained at the Obs until 30th.
Many of the Yellow-browed Warblers have been feeding on the grass in the geos, like this bird in South Feltsigeo.
Other sightings of note included up to 100 Snow Buntings, up to 23 Lapland Buntings, Short-eared Owl (until 29th), up to 6 Ring Ouzel, Goldfinch (2nd), Collared Dove (30th), at least two Water Rails, the first Woodcock of the autumn (27th), Sparrowhawk (2nd) and up to 5 Kestrel and 3 Merlin. Wildfowl passage included a peak of 311 Barnacle Geese (26th), 4 Tufted Ducks (1st – 2nd) and a Scaup (1st – 2nd), whilst sightings at sea included a Great Northern Diver (30th) and a few Sooty Shearwaters.
Snow Bunting flocks have been showing well on Buness, at North Light and near South Light.
All of this amazing run of birds has been on winds without a hint of east in them (it's been predominantly SW), so even if the weather doesn’t look great for the next week or so, I’d not bank against a few more birds. Tomorrow looks set to be wet, which won’t help, although a brief spell of SE wind forecast for tonight and calm conditions in the morning could be interesting…

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