Monday, 28 April 2014

Bunting tells me I'm into something good.

27th April

Cretching: the terrible feeling resulting in having missed a major bird, from the ‘churning’ and ‘wretching’ feeling felt in the pit of the stomach

Well, where to start? The day began well, with a calm, sunny day and Ciaran finding a Short-toed Lark in the Havens before breakfast. More migrants were around and the next highlight was found by Richard just before lunch – a Red-breasted Flycatcher at Burkle.
The Red-breasted Flycatcher that started everything off today...
All good so far and, when Sunderland won 4-0 at lunchtime, it seemed like the day was just perfect, what could possibly go wrong...
Then things started to get a bit crazy. Deryk phoned to say he had a Cretzschmar’s Bunting at Burkle! Amazing stuff and the FIBO team were soon on hand, but sadly a few moments too late – the bird had flown. It turned out that Deryk had been photographing the Red-breasted Fly (an addition to his Burkle list no less), when the bunting crawled out the grass in front of him. Lucky? Well yes, but birding generally involves a fair chunk of being in the right place at the right time and if anyone has earned their birding luck on Fair Isle it’s Deryk.

Wow. A nice surprise to find in your garden (well, lambing paddock next to the house). Photo: Deryk Shaw
Although Fair Isle has recorded half of the previous British records of Cretzschmar's Bunting, this is the first since 1979. Photo: Deryk Shaw
We set off scouring the suitable bunting habitat in the area (which is most of the island it turns out), but despite six solid hours of pacing fields, ditches, beaches and anywhere else that looked like it might prove a hidey hole for this outrageous eastern rarity, there was no sign of Fair Isle’s third, and Britain’s fifth, Cretzschmar’s.
However, with all the attention being paid to the south of the island coinciding with more birds clearly arriving, it was no surprise that more was found. There were several sightings of Wrynecks, a Short-toed Lark at Midway was proved to be a second bird when the original was found back on Buness, then a third was discovered on Meoness, and there were generally migrants scattered across the island. With hope (and light) fading, a very pale Stonechat hopped up onto a fence at the Meadow Burn, before turning and showing a pure white rump and, most importantly, a ‘wheatear’ tail pattern. A Caspian Stonechat, the sixth for Britain, and not a bad consolation prize for a whole day in the field.
The intial view showing the distinctive tail pattern.
The huge white collar and white rump were obvious.
A really smart bird and a better way to end the day after the despondancy of missing a huge rare.
The overall pale appearance and orange restricted to the upper chest made for a distinctive bird even before the diagnostic tail pattern was seen.
The left wing appeared not to show any damage, which would  suggest that this was not the bird seen in Sweden and Norway recently, which had a chunk missing from the seventh primary (despite that birds trajectory putting it directly on course for a Fair Isle visit).
The Wardening team had a late dinner (a meze style meal, that seemed have been put on particularly to mock our epic dip of a species from the same part of the world as the food) before an entertaining Log trying to get the correct totals of migrants made more complicated by the criss-crossing of the island by all of the team.
The final totals for the day made for an outstanding read, especially for April, with: CRETZSCHMAR’S BUNTING, CASPIAN STONECHAT, Eastern Subalpine Warbler, 3 Short-toed Lark, Red-breasted Flycatcher, 7 Wryneck, Great Grey Shrike, Blue-headed Wagtail, 33 Willow Warbler, 32 Chiffchaff, 25 Blackcap, 3 Sedge Warbler, 3 Lesser Whitethroat, 2 Whitethroat, 10 Redstart, 3 Black Redstart, Whinchat, 5 Pied Flycatcher, 27 Tree Pipit, 13 Ring Ouzel, 167 Fieldfare, 9 Redwing, 33 Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, 28 Robin, 6 Dunnock, 22 White Wagtail, Tree Sparrow, 51 Brambling, 8 Common Redpoll, Crossbill, Chaffinch, 12 Reed Bunting, 13 Snow Bunting, 41 Swallow, 6 House Martin, 2 Sand Martin, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, 3 Green Sandpiper, 2 Jack Snipe, 7 Whimbrel, Kumlien’s Gull, Iceland Gull, 174 Wheatear, 204 Meadow Pipit, 2 Linnet, 2 Collared Dove, 7 Woodpigeon and 2 Tufted Duck.
The second Short-toed Lark of the day, near Midway. After two years of single records, three in a day is a good haul.
Wrynecks are also enjoying a very good spring, this one at South Harbour was joined by another later in the day.
More easterlies tomorrow could deliver more birds, but I’d settle for the Cretzschmar’s being refound – I’d swap the four Sunderland goals today for another chance at it (well, three of them maybe). Clutching at straws, there’s never been a one-day Cretzschmar’s Bunting on Fair Isle (or elsewhere in Britain) so, if there’s still hope that Sunderland won’t get relegated, there’s still hope for us refinding this outstanding mega.


  1. The season is 27 days old and Fair Isle has had bird of the year already! Seriously, good luck today...

  2. Taiga fly? Bill look all dark bit of a rust cap.

  3. Interesting. Unfortunately can't make out tertial or upper tail coverts. A good article by Yoav Pearlman

  4. I *think* that the uppertail coverts are visible on the flycatcher, and, if so, they seem too pale for a Taiga Flycatcher, being noticably greyish and paler than the dark on the tail. Also, of possible relevance, despite the early date for Red-breasted Flycatcher, a stunning adult male was found at Hook Head, Co. Wexford yesterday.

  5. rather an epic day there, Mr P!!!


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