Thursday, 29 May 2014

Fair Isle and its Amazing Multi-Collared Dream Birding

28th May
Thick fog overnight and a foggy start to the day seemed set to slow things down a wee bit from our recent good run (let’s be honest, it’s been an excellent run), although a Lesser Whitethroat on morning traps followed shortly by a Tree Sparrow in the Obs mistnets showed that some things had made it in.
The fog lingered so thickly in the North that censusing that section had to be put off to the afternoon (in North in particular, it helps to be able to see where you’re going as well as being able to see the birds), but the morning produced a few nice birds down south, with Red-backed Shrikes having obviously made a small arrival and a Gadwall over South Harbour a notable occurrence (they’re less than annual on Fair Isle, although this was our second of the spring, both found by fly-over duck-magnet Richard!).
Long-stayers were represented by the Caspian Stonechat and Kumlien’s Gull (which is now visiting the Haa garden for scraps!), whilst singles of Yellow, Blue-headed and unidentified flava Wagtails added splashes of colour, Siskins increased to 5, Lesser Whitethroats to 4, a Common Rosefinch was confirmed as not being the ringed bird from earlier in the week and a breeding plumaged Great Northern Diver was on the sea off South Light.
After getting snarled up in the office on various emails relating to distinctly non-bird issues, it was a relief to get out into North after lunch once the fog had lifted, although with a talk to give in the evening, I did send a text saying ‘I could do with an uneventful census, but I’ve brought my camera, so that should mean I see nothing’. As I got up to my sixth Spotted Flycatcher by the time I reached South Naaversgill, I was beginning to think it might actually be quite interesting, when an unmistakably dazzling  sight (it is possible to dazzle, even with just the two most basic of colours) of a bird jumped up onto the ledge in front of me – male Collared Flycatcher!
My first view of this stunning bird. It posed on the clifftop long enough for me to regain my composure, get my camera out and summon the team. Closer views showed the flight feathers to be rather brown-tinged, indicating a first-summer bird.
It continued to parade around the cliff top whilst various staff and visitors came up to enjoy it and what a little stunner it was. It may not be the most Mega of the Birdguides’ Megas, but none the less, they’ve used up quite a lot of red ink on us this year (it’s our 5th !!! this year – has anywhere else had that many on one spring?). It’s also an absolutely fabulous little bird, with Richard’s description of it being ‘more black and white than a Pied Flycatcher’ being absolutely spot on.
Fair Isle's 6th Collared Flycatcher, following an autumn bird in 1986, spring males in 1998 (on exactly the same date as this one), 2004 and 2011 and last year's spring female. They always look exceptionally good on the dramatic west cliffs and, as we sat watching it flitting around the cliff face, with a flat calm Atlantic behind us, we thought there was surely no place better to be.
The rest of North census was largely quiet, although another little flurry of sightings in the far North corner saw female Red-backed Shrikes on Dronger and Ward Hill (the latter of which shared the same rock with a male Snow Bunting briefly, although the Snow Bunt was seen with a female of his own species as well later) and Black Redstart on Dronger.
Whoever is on North census always likes to see something on the very top of Ward Hill, so you can call it out at Log and prove that you did make it to Fair Isle's highest point (217m). This Red-backed Shrike is perched on the remains of the old WWII radar station.
The final Red-backed Shrike tally for the day was six (2 males, 4 females) and with more easterlies due, there may be more to come. For anyone out there who is beginning to go off us because of the birds we’re getting this spring (and I get the feeling there may be one or two of you, judging by the texts we’ve received from a few people!), I can only say that my team do work very hard for all these birds (one of these days we’ll fit data loggers to ourselves to see how many miles we cover) and we really do appreciate the birds we're seeing! This is surely, even by Fair Isle’s incredibly high standards, one of the best springs the island has had and we're loving every day of it.
'Come here often?', a Spotted Flycatcher meets its rarer relative.
There’s still a few weeks to go yet and, whilst Thrush Nightingale and Greenish Warbler are maybe reasonable bets for the next few days, how about a wild card – Black-browed Albatross sometime in the next month. A bird has been seen at Skagen (Denmark) and Helgoland (Germany) and, given the links between the latter site and Fair Isle (G├Ątke’s book about migration on the island was one of the main inspirations for Eagle Clark visiting Fair Isle hoping to discover a British equivalent), it would seem appropriate if it was found nestling amongst one of our Gannet colonies this summer…

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Slinky Temmincky

26th May
There can’t be many days when the two best birds on Fair Isle both share their monikers with a Tragopan, but Temminck’s and Blyth’s both managed one of their namesakes (admittedly their slightly less colourful ones) on the island today.
The 26 year wait for a Temminck’s Stint was broken in 2013 when Richard found one on Da Water in spring last year, so you’d presumably have got quite good odds on Richard repeating the trick this year by finding the island’s 19th Temminck’s Stint on Da Water; but that’s exactly what happened. Unfortunately it didn't hang around to be admired by many people and had vanished by the afternoon (living up to the old 'Ten-minute Stint' nickname).
It was already proving to be quite a good day, with a light to fresh SE wind bringing in a few common migrants and the Stint was a real bonus, but things got better (in a national sense at least – the Stint was by far the rarest Fair Isle bird to be found today) with a Blyth’s Reed Warbler on the Hill Dyke, found just after lunch.
The lack of warm or yellow tones, with the white throat offset against greyish underparts is always a good clue you could have found a Blyth's Reed Warbler. The 36th Blyth's Reed for Fair Isle (if accepted), we've averaged over three a year since 2010. This is the fourth spring record in that time.
Species showing increases included 10 Spotted Flycatcher, 3 Garden Warbler, 12 Whitethroat (all highest counts of the year so far), 10 Chiffchaff, 7 Willow Warbler, 2 Lesser Whitethroat, 2 Blackbird, 2 Pied Flycatcher, 4 Tree Pipit, 4 Siskin and 4 flava Wagtails.
The flava Wagtails today consisted of two smart male 'Yellow', a female 'Blue-headed' and one unidentified to race as it flew over. Yellow Wagtail is often the scarcer of the three races encounted regularly on Fair Isle (Grey-headed can often be the commonest).
An interesting array of scarcities may have included more new birds arriving with an Icterine Warbler and Bluethroat (both at Quoy), Common Rosefinch (at Hesti Geo) and Short-toed Lark (Malcolm’s Head) all potentially lingering birds on the move, but all perhaps as likely to be new migrants. Less equivocal were the long-staying Caspian Stonechat, Kumlien’s Gull and female Western Subalpine Warbler and a new Red-backed Shrike at Burkle.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Gloss Over a Good Night

26th May
Birding in late May starts to take on a new dimension to the fall-filled days of early spring, as the chance of large arrivals of birds decreases, but the hope that the few migrants that make it through will be something special starts to rise.
So it was today, where another day of promising easterly winds started quietly, with the only new migrants noted being 2 Garden Warblers, a Great Northern Diver and 2 Greenshank. The usual suspects were still present with Caspian Stonechat racking up another day (just one day short of a month on the island now), female Western Subalpine Warbler at the Obs for an 11th day and the Kumlien’s Gull still present in the South Harbour area. As the morning progressed, things started improving, with the first Icterine Warbler of the year in the Plantation (although it had moved on before the first ringer got there) and a smart male Blue-headed Wagtail in the Wirvie.
Another year tick followed soon after, with a Quail singing at Kenaby for a short while during the late morning, then followed a reappearance of the Glossy Ibis; presumably the same bird as was seen earlier in the month and was predicted for a rapid return. The Ibis was first seen heading up the east coast, but then appeared over the airstrip, which was a bonus for those birders waiting to leave the island (and especially for Deryk who, having missed the previous sighting whilst he was crewing on the Good Shepherd, thought he was going to miss this one as well as he was on fire duty for an incoming plane!). In fact, with five flights today to make up for the island being fog bound on Frioday and Saturday, the Glossy Ibis did well to find enough air space to apparently continue its flight north to Shetland!
The day’s excitement was far from over though, with a trap round after lunch producing the first bird to be caught in the Helis all day – a Nightjar! Only the 29th Fair Isle record (and just the 8th to be ringed), it was a wonderful opportunity to experience this normally nocturnal goatsucker (it won’t find any goats on Fair Isle and might even be struggling for moths; the trap last night produced just singles of Shears and Marbled Coronet) up close.
Nightjar by Ciaran Hatsell.
A Sparrowhawk in the nets ended the day nicely and, as darkness finally fell and the wind dropped away, we wondered what tomorrow would bring…

Monday, 26 May 2014

25th May

25th May
The wind was in the north-east, the day started coolish and grey, but with the sun breaking out later it was all rather pleasant really, not least with lingering Caspian Stonechat, Western Subalpine Warbler (the female at the Obs), Common Rosefinch, Bluethroat and Kumlien’s Gull all present.
The female Bluethroat at Shirva (photo: David Steel)
It felt promising and there were a few new birds, with a male Red-backed Shrike at Shirva the best of the bunch, with other new species including Cuckoo, Water Rail, Grey Wagtail, Greenshank, Knot and Collared Dove. A few species showed increased counts on the previous days, including 11 Chiffchaff, 4 Lesser Whitethroat, 2 Pied Flycatcher and 5 Swift, whilst the 8 Spotted Flycatcher, 3 Snow Bunting, at least 9 Mealy Redpoll and a single Lesser Redpoll probably all included a turnover of birds from previous days.
Male Snow Bunting on Ward Hill. Last year we had a reasonable sized influx in late May, although there are just smaller numbers passing through at the moment.
Lingering wildfowl included Shoveler, Long-tailed Duck and Pink-footed Goose, whilst 11 Common Scoter was a sign of passage.
This male Long-tailed Duck has been present around the Havens on 24th-25th May, closely mirroring the record of a  drake in Furse and the Havens on 17th-26th May 2013. Presumably there's a good chance that this is the same bird. (Photo: David Steel).
The breeding season continues to advance with the first Arctic Tern eggs noted and Ravens fledged from Gunnawark, although it is still too early to say how most of our seabirds are likely to fare this year.
So, not a bad day, although there was a slight feeling of 'could do better' (although we're really not complaining with all those birds that we have, it's just that a lot of the excitement of birding Fair Isle is in the migration: the signs of movement and the new birds coming in). It looks like the weather is set to continue with light easterlies for a while yet, which can only be a good thing, although perhaps we'll keep just getting the odd one or two new birds unless something else happens in the weather to stir things up a bit.

Calandra Lark Rises

20th-24th May
Honk. The first Canada Goose on Fair Isle since 2011 was presumably an overshoot from the UK rather than North America.
No doubting the star bird of the period, with the Canada Goose (21st) just pipped by the Calandra Lark discovered on the lower slopes of Ward Hill on 22nd. A rather blowy day in North (with the wind from the north making things somewhat cooler and leaving the Wardening team perhaps not too optimistic) was brought to life in spectacular style when one of these large larks flew past myself and David Steel (from the Farne Islands and off the telly). Scarcely able to believe what we’d seen, we were left with no choice when it walked out from behind a tuft of heather and paraded its excessive bill and black breast patches. BirdGuides had to break out the red exclamation marks for the fourth time for Fair Isle this spring and all the birders on the island were able to enjoy the island's fifth Calandra Lark (although spare a thought for the poor Shetland birder who made at least his third trip to Fair Isle for the species and managed to see the people watching the bird, but not the bird itself, which sloped away as he made his way up Ward Hill and was last seen five minutes before he arrived as he wasn't quite quick enough with his Lark ascending).
The only photos taken of the Calandra were when the bird was sat hunched up and hiding the distinctive black breast patches, although the large size and chunky bill are still obvious. Photo: Ciaran Hatsell.
The Caspian Stonechat remained throughout (having made its way back to Upper Leogh), the male Western Subalpine Warbler remained at Burkle to 21st at least, the female Western Subalpine Warbler was still present at the Obs, there were Bluethroats at the Mast (22nd-23rd, found by Lark twitchers from down the island!) and at Shirva (21st-24th), a Common Rosefinch appeared at the Obs on 21st then roamed the island for a couple of days before returning to the Obs until the 24th at least (it was a singing first-summer male, missing its tertials on the left wing) and the Kumlien’s Gull was still in the South Harbour area until 24thm although it was looking increasingly unhappy with the world.
The Common Rosefinch's most regular song is what appears to be a good copy of a Willow Warbler!
In Fair Isle terms though, none of the species above were as rare as the Cormorant at Easter Lother on 24th, which photographs proved was a sinensis ‘Continental’ Cormorant, the first record of this subspecies for Fair Isle.
Most Cormorants on Fair Isle are only seen in flight, making the subspecific identification virtually impossible. So far, all the birds I've been able to check have been nominate carbo, but Ciaran got lucky with this immature on Easter Lother Water (perhaps the freshwater location was a pointer towards the identification as well?). Sinensis Cormorants are a scarce spring migrant in Shetland, but increasing numbers are being observered as a few birders take the time to check Cormorants more diligently (which is presumably also the best bet for Double-crested Cormorant to be detected making its long awaited reappearance in the UK). Photo: Ciaran Hatsell.
The same day saw another potential first for the island, when a bumblebee photographed in the Obs garden appeared to be a White-tailed Bumblebee, perhaps solving the recent bee mystery…

The Bumblebee in the Obs garden. Its tail certainly looks white, but bees aren't necessarily that simple. Any thoughts gratefully received. Photo: Ciaran Hatsell.
Northerly spells gave way to easterly winds and fog during the period, eventually clearing slightly on the afternoon of 24th and there were still a reasonable number of interesting bits and bobs coming through, although being lost in the fog prevented more from finding us.
Other new species for the year included Swift (four on the 21st with smaller numbers after), Shoveler (a male from 23rd) and Storm Petrel (two seen from the Good Shepherd on 24th), with other scarcer migrants including Wood Sandpiper (20th), Lesser Redpoll (23rd and 24th, amongst a small turnover of Mealy Redpolls, which saw a peak of 11) and Cuckoo (20th). Numbers of commoner species were generally unremarkable, with a few hirundines including peaks of 4 Sand Martin, 27 Swallows and 11 House Martins, a slight increase in warblers on 24th brought 9 Willow Warbler, Garden Warbler and 2 Lesser Whitethroat along with Pied Flycatcher (one was also seen on 22nd), Brambling, and peaks of 2 Black Redstart, 8 Spotted Flycatcher and 3 Snow Bunting.

Siskins have been on the move in small numbers amongst a trickle of northern finches.
A late Pink-footed Goose was present from 22nd, whilst a slight rise in waders included peaks of 56 Dunlin, 5 Sanderling, 24 Purple Sandpiper, 11 Whimbrel  and a Common Sandpiper, although these were put into the shade by a remarkable passage of Ringed Plovers which saw numbers peak at 103 on 24th.
A whole week of easterly wind is forecast again, but surely we must be running out of good birds soon…

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Fog It.

20th May
Fair Isle in easterly winds in the third week of May sounds like an ideal combination, but sadly the weather conspired to leave us in thick fog for most of the day, therefore rendering the island virtually invisible to migrants (and leaving any that had come in somewhat tricky to see). Sure enough, new birds were very limited, with a Wood Sandpiper on Da Water the highlight. A Common Scoter in South Harbour, 2 Red-breasted Mergansers, a few signs of common waders on the move and 3 Siskin were about the only other incontrovertibly new birds, although a Brambling on the West cliffs could well have been different to the single that has been lingering alone around the traps for the last ten days or so.
Inevitably, the day list still had a healthy ring to it, with Caspian Stonechat and Western Subalpine Warbler (the male at Burkle) still present, and Cuckoo and Black Redstart were also lingering, but it was very much a feeling of what could have been. That feeling was further enhanced when those lucky enough to make it in on the Good Shepherd were treated to views of three Killer Whales on the way. The whales were seen fairly close to Sumburgh, so they occurred outside of Fair Isle waters and don’t make it into our ‘official records’, although I’m sure that nobody who saw them will care about that!
The morning of the 21st saw our just-turned-two year old waking us up at 4.30am (the dawn chorus of the Warden’s flat) and the fog still present. It was calm and dry enough to open the nets though and, whist doing so, I was met with a loud, whistled, but very brief phrase of song from the garden. Whatever it was never really got going and, unless the Blackcap that has been in there for the last couple of days is trying out some atypical singing, there seems to be something else lurking in there (although it’s gone quiet and avoided the nets in the subsequent two hours). On a date that has seen the arrival of no less than six Thrush Nightingales in the past, there’s certainly grounds for optimism that there could be something good today…
Blast from the past: this Thrush Nightingale was caught on a foggy 25th May in 2012 and was the second of the spring.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Eastern Promise

19th May
The easterlies returned and, whilst it didn’t bring a big fall, it brought a promising enough selection of birds to make for a good day’s birding in the sunshine. A Red-backed Shrike on Dronger was the first of the year, a Grey-headed Wagtail at Utra was also new in (and there was also a Yellow Wagtail and two unidentified flava wagtails), whilst increases in several common migrants were headlined by 6 Spotted Flycatchers, singles of Black Redstart, Redstart, Whinchat and Blackbird, 5 Woodpigeon and small increases in most warblers, with totals of 8 Sedge Warbler, 8 Whitethroat, 2 Garden Warbler, 4 Lesser Whitethroat, 7 Blackcap, 8 Chiffchaff and 4 Willow Warblers. There were also decent numbers of hirundines around, with 101 Swallow, 14 House Martin and a Sand Martin.
The first Red-backed Shrike of the year was found on the sheltered west coast of Dronger.
Raptors were well represented, with an Osprey seen coming in over Malcolm’s Head (our bird from yesterday, or the one seen leaving North Ronaldsay about an hour and a half previously? Or perhaps all the sightings are of the same individual anyway), along with Merlin, Sparrowhawk and 2 Kestrel.
On top of all these birds, lingering regulars were represented by Caspian Stonechat, 2 Western Subalpine Warblers (the male reappearing at Burkle and the female still at the Obs), Kumlien’s Gull and a reappearance of the Short-toed Lark on Malcolm’s Head, which had gone missing for a week. The breeding season continues to advance, with Fair Isle Wrens and Pied Wagtails seen carrying food, whilst Ravens have almost fledged and most seabirds are now on eggs.
Sadly, we’ve been hit by fog on 20th, which is likely to limit the new birds that are found (trap round produced a Garden Warbler and a Whitethroat was caught in the nets, but otherwise there were few migrants around). The 20th marks the second anniversary of Hoopoe on Dronger, with Thrush Nightingale caught the same day (and it’s also Freyja’s second birthday!), I think we’d be lucky to get anything like that today, but you never know…

Birds and Bees

17th-18th May
Still present and showing well at Midway.
Despite the weather not being particularly favourable for migration there were still new arrivals (as is generally the case at this time of year). The 17th saw a light spread of new birds including two each of Cuckoo and Yellow Wagtail, a Garden Warbler and a second-winter Iceland Gull, which joined the virtually resident Kumlien’s Gull.
One of the two Cuckoos was caught in the Gully, providing a first sighting for several of our guests.
The wind was more or less southerly on 18th, with just a hint of SE starting to appear, which was enough to bring a large arrival of Wheatear (310 were counted, almost double the recent daily counts) along with 2 Dotterel on top of Ward Hill, Spotted Flycatcher, Yellowhammer (just the second of the year), and a small arrival of warblers that included a Grasshopper Warbler and six Whitethroat (the highest count of the year so far).
The only Wheatear trapped during the current arrival was this female with a wing length of 104mm, so it could be confidently identified as a 'Greenland' bird of the subspecies leucorhoa.
There was also a Sparrowhawk, Tufted Duck, Knot (amongst a small increase in the commoner waders), 4 each of Woodpigeon and Collared Dove and then a fantastic low-flying Osprey, which passed south over the Obs in the evening, then did the same again about half an hour later. The two Cuckoos were still present, and the female Western Subalpine Warbler and a Redwing were seen on both days, whilst the Caspian Stonechat remained faithful to its favoured patch at Midway.

The female Subalp in the Obs garden has been showing very well.
Also of interest has been the presence of ‘stripy’ bees in recent days. Usually the only Bumblebee found on Fair Isle is the ‘Shetland BeeBombus muscorum agricolae, although in 2012 the Buff-tailed Bumblebee Bombus terrestris appeared in reasonable numbers as part of an apparent invasion into Shetland. With no Buff-tails reported in 2013, it appeared that the invasion had petered out, but this year there have been several bee sightings which are either this species or Northern White-tailed Bumblebee Bombus magnus, a species whose presence on Fair Isle has never been confirmed. Although the light easterly winds forecast for the week are hopefully going to see the focus on migrant birds, we’ll be trying to solve this little mystery as well.
The best I could manage as a record shot of one of the bees - not enough to clinch the ID!
 

Saturday, 17 May 2014

From the Subalp to the Ridicul-ibis

14th-16th May
The Hermit Thrush this morning in Furse.
All the excitement on 14th was centred round the lingering Hermit Thrush which was glimpsed at Aesterhoull early in the morning but then led the Shetland birders who’d come in to look for it a merry dance until it was relocated at Vaila’s Trees at one o’clock. Despite showing quite well, it then disappeared for a further three hours before reappearing in the same place and finally leaving everyone happy with their lot – the bar was a happy place that evening!
A Fair Isle tick for me was this parachute on 14th. Rumours that it was a Shetland birder who had been desperate to see the Hermit Thrush but was unable to get a seat on the plane proved not to be the case.
The only other new birds of any note on the same date were Goldfinch (with presumably the same bird on 16th), Greenshank, Jackdaw and singles of Fieldfare, Song Thrush and Redwing. Lingering highlights included the Caspian Stonechat (still just as beautiful a creature, even though it has been reduced to an ‘also present’ thanks to its long stay), the male Western Subalpine Warbler at Burkle, an odd assortment of 10 Greylag, 2 Pink-feet and a Barnacle Goose, a male Goosander, Snow Bunting (to 15th at least), up to 10 Mealy Redpoll and the Kumlien’s Gull (which is more erratic in its appearances now, being seen only on 16th).
The Caspian Stonechat - still showing well. He's become one of the family and will hopefully become a lifer for several people in the future if it is split from Siberian Stonechat (surely it's only a matter of time - there's a pint behind the bar for any of the BOU who happen to be visiting Fair Isle if that helps!).
With strong SW winds and fog in Shetland, there was no transport to or from Fair Isle on 15th and bird highlights were also limited, with a Glaucous Gull probably the pick of the new bunch.
The first Glaucous Gull of the month was at Nether Taft before roaming the island.
With the winds still quite strong and from the SW, it seemed like the sunshine might be the highlight of the 16th, but no, there was more to come from this already fantastic season. First up there was the reappearance of the Hermit Thrush on the beach at Furse, a real bonus for the birders who had just stepped off the plane for the start of their holiday and were whisked straight to their first mega of the day.
The Hermit Thrush showed well at times but was also capable of disappearing for long periods.
 
There was clearly hirundine passage going on, with the totals for the day of 122 Swallow, 16 House Martin and 2 Sand Martin (although no Red-rumped Swallow, despite it really feeling like there should be – if birds could be brought into existence purely by the power of positive thought, we’d have got one today) and corvids were also on the move with 30 Carrion and 3 Hooded Crows joining the resident Hoodies and Ravens.
With the ringing totals for the day standing at ‘1 Chiffchaff’, it was perhaps a surprise when Richard trapped a female Western Subalpine Warbler in the Vaadal just before lunch and the consensus from the ever positive Assistant Wardens was that there was more to come from the day, although other new migrants were limited to our first Yellow Wagtail of the year (all the previous flavas having been Grey or Blue-headed birds) and 3 Ring Ouzels.
The fourth Subalpine Warbler of the year (with two each of Western and Eastern now recorded) was also the fourth to be trapped. It's the 41st to be ringed on Fair Isle (10 of which have been since 2011) and has made for a best ever ringing year for this species. With a male and femlae Western now both present on the island it could be interesting if they meet up!
That ‘more’ came in the form of a first for Fair Isle, which was picked up circling the Houll just after lunch by a visiting group (the same group who found the Hermit Thrush earlier in the week) – a Glossy Ibis! Perhaps the most predictable ‘first’ for Fair Isle, but none the less, a great bird to see.
Thankfully there are no plumage features needed for this one, otherwise the silhouette-only views may not have been enough - but this is a fairly distinctive beast!
A stressful wait  followed for everyone at the Obs as, despite being on the scene in rapid time, the bird had been put off landing at Da Water by an entourage of mobbing breeding species (skuas, gulls, Lapwings and Oystercatchers being amongst the most vociferous) and had disappeared. Having checked many of the suitable damp patches, we were heading for the waters of the north when Richard picked up the distinctive, slightly bizarre, shape of the Ibis heading south over Roskillie. It passed over the Obs and again tried Da Water, but was eventually seen apparently heading south, perhaps back to North Ronaldsay?
Having had records from either side of us on and off for the last few months, this one almost felt overdue. North Ron confirmed they hadn't seen 'their' Glossy Ibis today, so there seems every chance that the strong SW wind had encouraged it to try a wander.
So, this spring that keeps on giving is due for a couple of days of southerly winds followed by a potential week of easterlies. Surely there isn't more to come?...
 

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Hermit Fab!

11th-13th May
Today's star. Hermit Thrush in Hesti Geo.
We weren’t complaining after the spring we had enjoyed so far and good birds were still arriving, but it had to be said that the birding had slowed down a little compared to the frenetic spell at the end of April. Amongst the lingerers there was the seemingly ever present Caspian Stonechat (is it going to attempt to summer on the island?), Subalpine Warbler at Burkle, Grey-headed and up to 2 Blue-headed Wagtails and Goosander, whilst the Short-toed Lark and Kumlien’s Gull were both seen on 11th. The NNE winds on the 11th also delivered a Dotterel to the top of Ward Hill and a Hawfinch to Quoy and then Haa, although there was a general pattern of declining migrant numbers.
After being found in the south of the island, this female Hawfinch moved to the Obs where it was caught and ringed on 12th (it was also seen in the Gully on 13th). Photo: Ciaran Hatsell.
The most notable arrivals of the 12th were Susannah, Grace and Freyja returning from Lerwick (along with so much shopping that most of it is having to come back on the ferry on Thursday), although the first Common Tern of the year accompanied a small influx of Arctics and a Wryneck at Field was probably a new bird. The 13th was following in a similar vein, with a breezy NW wind, but pleasant sunshine, making for a nice enough day to do census but not much in the way of new arrivals. Ciaran discovered a Bluethroat in the Walli Burn (it first drew attention to itself by having a fight with a Sedge Warbler!), which gave a little bit of hope and a Grey Wagtail in the Vaadal was the first to be ringed this year, but the afternoon seemed like a good time to catch up on some other jobs.
The Hermit Thrush appeared to have a damaged left eye. Curiously, a spring record of Yellow-headed Blackbird on  Fair Isle (26th April 1990) was thought probably to have been an escape - with a damaged eye one of the main reasons for its failure to make the British list.
That was until Judd Hunt (a visiting tour group leader) found a HERMIT THRUSH at the base of Malcolm’s Head. The usual ‘controlled panic’ ensued and all guests and staff were soon on the scene and enjoying this amazing American vagrant. It was hardly the sort of bird that was on anyone’s mind as a potential find for the day (although we had been talking about the possibility of an American sparrow later in the week given the forecast), but that’s the beauty of birding I suppose and especially birding on Fair Isle.
The pale thorns on at least some of the Greater Coverts seem to indicate that this is a first-summer bird. Whether it was an autumn vagrant to Europe in 2013 that is heading North (slight evidence in favour of that suggestion was the presence of 2 Song Thrush on the island today, both newly arrived migrants, with one of them even feeding alongside the Hermit for a while), or an overshooting bird that missed the east coast of America and just kept going, isn't clear.
The distinctive underwing pattern was difficult to see in the field, although it is captured in this photograph by Deryk Shaw. This was the 10th Hermit Thrush for the UK and the third for Fair Isle. It's the second spring record for the island (the only other spring UK record is from Fetlar on 30th April 1998) and, following birds on Fair Isle in June 1975 and October 1995, it has appeared slightly ahead of the pattern of one every 20 years! The marginally commoner (in the UK) Veery has yet to make it to Fair Isle, despite several other records from the Northern Isles.
 
 

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Mixed Bag.

6th-10th May
Rubbish weather on 6th saw few highlights, although three Dotterel on Mire of Vatnagaard briefly would have been more appreciated if the visibility hadn't dropped to about five metres by the time we attempted (unsuccessfully) to relocate them. There were also Grey Wagtail and Cormorant new in, an increase in Dunlin to 28 and a Waxwing still present, along with Kumlien's Gull (to 7th) and the Caspian Stonechat (to 10th).
A better day on 7th saw several highlights including a Corncrake trapped in the Gully, the first Wood Sandpiper, Great Northern Diver (both near Ditfield) and Garden Warbler (in Field Ditch) of the year, a Goosander (which lingered off the south coast until 10th) and the Subalpine Warbler at Burkle and Wryneck both re-emerged in the sunshine.
Corncrake (photo: Ciaran Hatsell)
An interesting selection of migrants included five each of Pink-footed and Barnacle Geese, a Bar-tailed Godwit, 30 Woodpigeon, 3 Collared Dove, Short-eared Owl and 63 Swallow, with passerines showing increases including 4 Lesser Whitethroat, 3 Whitethroat, 4 Sedge Warbler, 8 Ring Ouzel, Pied Flycatcher, 5 Tree Sparrow and 3 Linnet.
Subalpine Warbler (photo: Deryk Shaw). The sunshine was to this bird's liking, with it bursting into song on occasion.
A quiet day on 8th saw a nice calm start, which allowed the Breeding Bird Surveys to be done, then a trap round that produced an Eastern Subalpine Warbler in the Gully, although there was very little else new through the day other than a flyover Red-throated Diver and an arrival of Arctic Terns (which peaked at 97 on 10th), whilst the calm sea saw sightings of Porpoise form Meoness and Minke Whale from the Good Shepherd and a Wryneck trapped in the Vaadal later in the day may have been a new bird.

The Eastern Subalpine Warbler showed the classic tail pattern of this (widely expected to soon be) species, but also the thicker 'tache and more restricted pink coloration on the throat and upper breast. The last time Eastern and Western birds were seen together on Fair Isle was 2011, when a long-staying male Eastern was joined for a day by a Western in the Obs garden (with the two being seen to skirmish at times). Both races were also present on the same day in 1994. (photo: Ciaran Hatsell).
The second Wryneck of the year to be trapped in what has been a very good spring for this amazing species (photo: Ciaran Hatsell).
A slightly fresher easterly breeze on 9th saw a good selection of migrants, with the highlights including the second Little Bunting and Bluethroat of the spring, the fourth Short-toed Lark of the year, a Grey-headed Wagtail (a smart male at Da Water), Wryneck (probably a lingering bird at Lower Leogh) and the first Spotted Flycatcher of the year (in Skinner's Glig).
The Little Bunting on the cliffs of Easter Lother. The second of the year makes it the best spring for this species since 2002. (photo Bex Outram).
Male red-spotted Bluethroat on the beach at Furse (photo: Ciaran Hatsell).
There were also plenty of migrants scattered around the cliffs and crofts, with counts including 19 Willow Warbler, 14 Chiffchaff, 20 Blackcap, 11 Lesser Whitethroat, 3 Whitethroat, 6 Blackbird, Fieldfare, Black Redstart, 6 Redstart, 3 Pied Flycatcher and 8 Common Redpoll.
Although the promising feeling conditions continued on 10th, highlights were disappointingly limited, with the first Reed Warbler and Cuckoo of the year, an increase in Pied Flycatchers to 5 and the first Jack Snipe of the month.
Fulmar. Seabirds are starting to settle down a bit now and we wait to see how the season develops. Guillemots, Razorbill, Shags and Gannets are all on eggs (and Snipe, Curlew and Oystercatchers are all now incubating as well).
Susannah and the kids 'popping out to the shops'. With shoes, wellies and a bike to get, it's the bright lights of Lerwick for most of the Parnaby family for the weekend. Within about 12 hours of them leaving I managed to run out of clean clothes and dishes and had got scurvy. No, not really, I'm just about coping!
It looks like we're due some Northerlies for a few days, which is likely to slow migration down (but hopefully allow us to catch up with some other work!), but quite often the first day of unpromising weather brings a last big rarity from a productive spell, so will it be another day of interrupting the Sunday roast? We'll find out soon...

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

3rd-5th May
The Caspian Stonechat seems very settled, although presumably at some point it will move on. The night of the 2nd/3rd saw some grass frosts, which may have encouraged the bunting to move, but this hardy little critter seemed unphased.
Still much of a muchness in many respects on the bird front, with the important exception of the Cretzschmar’s Bunting, which was last seen on Friday evening and therefore disappointed potential weekend twitchers. The Caspian Stonechat remained faithful to the area around Lower Leogh throughout and other lingerers included the Havens Short-toed Lark, Wryneck (2 on 3rd and a single on 4th-5th), the Waxwing at Stackhoull and the very long-staying Kumlien’s Gull.
The Waxwing at Stackhoull has been getting handouts from the shop, which will hopefully help it to build up its strength for the last leg of its journey. (photo: Deryk Shaw).
The 3rd was a calm and gloriously sunny day that enabled us to get a Tystie and Fair Isle Wren survey done (with good news on both counts) and the pleasant weather encouraged some ‘vis mig’, with counts of birds passing over including singles of Short-eared Owl and Raven, 3 Rook, 2 Jackdaw, 21 Carrion Crow, 2 Hooded Crow (and a hybrid), 32 Black-headed and 36 Common Gulls (although the latter count also included some resident birds) and 45 Swallow 
There were 25 singing Fair Isle Wrens logged on the survey, although the actual number of territories will be somewhat higher when the year's sightings are collated. It appears that they have had a good winter, with the strong winds not having a negative impact on numbers.
The Tystie count of 171 was 25 fewer than the count in April (as is usually the case with counts later in the spring), but still a positive sign that the population is continuing to build after a crash in numbers in 1998.
There were very few new migrants in on 3rd, although the highlights included a Subalpine Warbler (which was still present to 5th at least) trapped and ringed by Deryk (and continuing the good run for the Burkle garden list!), Wood Warbler (the first of the year), Grasshopper Warbler (trapped at the Plantation), 3 Tree Sparrow, Black Redstart and a Goldcrest. The calm weather also saw a Minke Whale sighted from the Good Shepherd; the first sighting this year in Fair Isle waters. 
The Subalpine Warbler at Burkle (picture Deryk Shaw).
The Wood Warbler performing flycatching sorties from Hoini in the sunshine - very pleasant.
 Much poorer weather on 4th saw birding become difficult, although as well as the birds already mentioned there was a (re?)appearance of a Moorhen and the first Sanderling of the year. The following day the Sanderling count had doubled and other waders included increases in Purple Sandpiper (to 17) and Dunlin (to 19, including a singing bird over the Hill Dyke), whilst two Black-tailed Godwits were present throughout. The 5th also saw a Long-tailed Duck (the first for several weeks), an increase in Arctic Skuas to 17, and a slight increase in warblers that brought a Sedge Warbler, as well as a second Goldfinch to join the lingering bird, a Black Redstart and a smart male Snow Bunting to Buness (whilst 15 were still at North Naaversgill). A late spring record of male Snow Bunting on Buness seems to have become a bit of an annual feature; it’s interesting to speculate whether the same bird may have been involved in the last few years. There were small numbers of Mealy Redpolls throughout, along with various other lingering migrants and a few sightings of flava Wagtails that included a bird on 5th (and probably seen on 3rd) which was perhaps best labelled as a ‘possible Grey-headed x Blue-headed hybrid’.
Guillemots are in on the cliffs more regularly now, although the breeding season stil hangs in the balance.
We’re now getting to the time when the spring traditionally starts to pick up pace and some good birds start to appear, especially with the SE winds that are forecast again over the next few days. Surely we’re not in for more good birds...

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