Tuesday, 24 May 2011

A year ago today........

A year ago today when I was heading home back to the Puffinn, I found a Stunning male RED THROATED PIPIT at Lower Loegh which was the only spring record for Scotland in 2010!!

Below is my account of my Brilliant find:

Red Throated Pipit
24th May' 2010
Fair Isle
After finishing a hard day’s work at Fair isle bird observatory trying to get the new lodge ready for guests, I decided to walk back down to the puffinn at the very south end of the island. I heard there has been a leucistic Meadow pipit hanging around Shirva so I decided to have a look at every pipit on the way down. As I carried along the west road, I came across a ditch at the lower loegh, About 30ft away just on the edge of the ditch, there was a small pipit crouching quite low with its back to me. I knew this looked quite different with it being quite heavily streaked on its back with whitish mantle lines. At this stage, I could not be 100% sure (but R T Pipit  did pop up my mind) as the sun was very low and bright directly behind the bird so I decided just to climb over the fence to get around the bird with the light behind me. As I did that, I accidently flushed the pipit further down the ditch where it was no longer visible but I did managed to get a glimpse of its pinkish throat as it took off. At this point, I gave Jack Ashton-booth (FIBO assistant warden) a call to see if he was nearby to check out this pipit.  As I waited for the cavalry to arrive, I decided to try and relocate the bird by approaching the ditch from the opposite side, as I did, it got flushed again but I got nothing on it, the bird was very flighty indicating it has just arrived.  It was flushed for a 3rd time which made me confirm its identification as it called in flight. The call was a loud ‘psii’ of which I instantly recognized it as a R T Pipit (I have heard them in Israel and on Fair isle before). It flew back towards the road behind a stone wall just as I could see Jack running down the road. I did not want to flush the pipit again so I headed over to meet Jack to tell him the good news. I explained where it flew to so we headed towards the wall. By then it had disappeared but a few minutes later, Jack had just refound it on the other side of the road where it popped up on the fence facing towards me and Jack with sun behind us. It was a stunning male Red Throated Pipit with a pinkish head and a very pink under parts with a few dark streaks on its flanks. The bird flew back to ditch just when Deryk shaw / Rebecca Nason arrived and other birders shortly followed. We all watched the pipit as it fed in the ditch and stayed around the location I found it allowing Birders to get very good quality photos of the bird. We stayed there for about an hour then left the bird to let it settle. It was not relocated the next day.

Thankyou to REBECCA NASON and to DERYK SHAW for taking some fantastic photos of the bird! and also Thankyou to Jack for doing this incredible drawing for me!!

It will be fantastic if you could check out there websites, they have some amazing blogs on the go, with Rebecca Nason reporting on her recent trip to Lesvos, Make sure you check out her Photography website aswell. Deryk Shaw has started the burkle birder blog which makes an interesting read.

Monday, 23 May 2011

A quick update!!

Hey, Sorry this blog has not been updated in a while. We have been quite busy here at the obs, The weather has an autumn feel to it again of which at the moment we are in stormy conditions with winds reaching up to 60 mile per hour. Has our summer been and gone already?

Birding has been good with a Icterine warbler caught in the traps this morning along with a Spotted Flycatcher. Other birds of note included fantastic views of a Short Toed Lark at the Air Strip. Quail, Crossbill and the resident male Subalpine warbler have been showing nicely in the obs plantation, An Iceland Gull in pristine condition was found amongst the herring gulls at the south of the island where a Canada Goose has took up residence.
Canada Goose
(A Fair isle rarity with no more then 25 records seen on the island)
Both Arctic and Great Skua's have started to lay claim to there territories so when venturing out on to the moorland, it can be quite entertaining even if you do come back with a skua imprint on the side of your face.
Arctic Skua
This individual has taken over the territory by Double Dyke and the Gully

Great Skua
The majority of them are in the process if egg laying at the moment

Other  News.

I fancied a challenge so I have started making a genuine Fair isle hat on four needles to be Bartered (sold) for when the Tall ships come in July. Hopefully, it will be ready in time. Gillian (our domestic volunteer) has been mine and Carrie's saviour with any mistakes been made, she has always come to the rescue, Unfortunatly, Gillian leaves on Friday so we trying to get as much done before she heads south.
Skaddan Lambs
(looking forward to using there wool)
My new lens has arrived for my camera  after visiting Poland (two cities), Germany (two cities) and several places in the UK. No wonder why it took 3 weeks to get here! It looks like it going to get some getting use to has its a 500mm lens and its all manual focus. Hopefully, it will be worth it has I will be taking some excellent photo's with it.

A very tired female hunted around the observatory one evening

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Red Rumped Swallow, Defintley worth a run down Ward Hill for!!

Its the 3rd of May and I managed to get a well deserved sleep in. It all kicked of after lunch as the male Subalpine warbler was giving fantastic views as it fed in the Obs Plantation. The Commom Scoter and a Common Tern were in the Havens while I got lift to up Golden Water where 4 Tufted ducks decided to take a rest during there migration.
I wandered over to the Fog Horn at North light to photograph the small  part of the cliff that gave way underneith the path last year.
I then ventured along the cliff tops to East lother water and came cross the lonely Whooper
Swan which looks like it has taken up permanent residence.
Continuing my way, I looked back towards bergeroo where I was impressed by the big rock fall that happened at the start of the year. I have been told it has blocked up a cave at the bottom where around 20 pairs of Shags usually nest.
I carried on to Wester Lother to watch hundreds of Gannets getting ready for their breeding season while Grey Seals were resting on the rocks at bottom. A pair of Great Skuas caught my attention when they seemed to be tracking something under the waves. I thought it was a fish a first until there was alot of splashing and one of them went in for the kill. The unfortunate victim turned out to be a Puffin, It took the Bonxie several minutes to drown the Auk before a Fulmar came and stole it of them. The Skua did all of the hard work and yet the Fulmar took the prize!! I have only ever seen this behaviour (fulmar) once before which also happened on Fair isle last year. It would be interesting to find out if it is localised or wide spread.
Da Kirk Stack - 800 pairs of Gannets nest on the rock each year
I went over to Dronger (north west tip of FI) where I had just missed a shetland ewe giving birth twins (a black & a white lamb) but was in time to photograph there 1st steps.
I sat on Dronger for over an hour watching Fulmars and Gannets Glide pass. It was Tranquil, hot and Sunny with no wind, It was just perfect until I looked back to see the big steep hike back up. After getting back up, I walked around the back Ward hill taking in the breath taking scenery as I headed back around to the mast.  By this time, I was wondering how was I going to get back to the observatory as my feet were hurting and I was struggling to walk then I got several texts and a phone call saying RED RUMPED SWALLOW at Utra.....The very southern part of the island!! One of my all time favourite species and a bird that I would not miss for the world. I had too block out the pain and find the will to run from the highest point of Fair isle all the way to the Air strip so I could get picked up. I had a matter of minutes to get down there, I made an valiant effort and met the Parnaby family where we headed down south. Swallows, Sand Martins and single Swift could only be seen when we arrived, After 5 mins, it had started to sink in that the bird must of disappeared until I got a shout that its here! WOW, It flew pass with a Barn Swallow giving incredible close views. We watch it for several minutes drinking from a small pool until it landed on a fence watching us. What a superb sighting, This was a Fair isle and Britsh tick where before I have only ever seen them in Israel back in March 2007. I was absolutey Knacked but it was well worth it and I would defintly do it all again tomorrow if I had to!!
(Picture taken in Israel)

Red Flag.....Their is only one word for it....'GREAT!'

Its the day when our 1st visitors of the season arrive and also the morning when Will phoned the Obs to say he has found a Great Snipe at Utra. Awesome, We gathered up the troups and raced down south displaying the Red Flag!!. For people who do not know, The red flag system is famous throughout the bird observatories and birding community. If a rare bird turns up, a staff member will drive around holding a red flag from their vehicle alerting any visitors to the news that a good rare bird is in the area. A Great Snipe certainly fits the bill of the red flag. Good Views were had by all has it sat in the ditch but it was not enough to clinch the ID features of the bird, The only way to get the best views was to let it fly, As the wader took off, The adrenalin kicked in as it was confirmed as a Great Snipe. This species belongs to the 'Fair Isle Five' and is usally found in the autumn (more on the FI Five later in the blog). A spring bird is a very rare find as this individual was the 4th spring record for Fair isle but only the 3rd record during the FIBO era (since 1948). The last spring bird was found at Pund by Hywel Maggs at the end of May 2002. Thanks to the boys, I have now seen two of this species where they normally breed in north eastern Europe and north western Russia.

Coming back from the successful twitch, another hard to see species popped its head up as it fed in the ditch along the road, A Quail decided to put on a good show to all of us excited birders....Brilliant.

In the afternoon, from 14:30 onwards, I wandered around the South west on this lovely cool sunny day. Species of note included Redstarts, Whimbrel, Ring Ouzel, Purple Sandpiper, Black Redstart, Black Tailed Godwit and several Tree pipits but the bird of the afternoon as got to go to the Tree sparrow seen at Burkle - A rare bird for Fair isle!
I called in at the Burkle 'cafe' for a quick cuppa before I had slow walk over to Hoini to watch the sunset.

A quick glimpse east saw the northlink extremley close. It turns out a islanders relatives were on the ship and asked the captain to venture close in to  Fair isle, What stunning views that they would of got of the island with the sun setting behind it. I just hope they had a camera with them!

I eventually got back at 21:30 where Chris saved me a delicous sticky toffee pudding, I Think I deserved it after miles and hours of walking!

Cleaning windows does have its rewards

Today is sunday 1st May and our last day before our first guests arrive. Our first major job was to finnish off getting the Guests area's up to a high standard including cleaning the dreaded windows that was full of salt spray which had collected on there over the winter. Washing windows on Fair isle does have its rewards because where else can you watch a male Eastern Subalpine Warbler, a Stunning male Black Redstart and a Waxwing close by together.
Subalpine Warbler
(picture taken in Israel)
Also in the Obs plantation, I saw My first Lesser Whitethroat of the year but the most unusual activity had to a singing Blackbird. It must of been the nice sunny weather and the essence of spring which got him to burst out in to song has they dont breed but only migrate through the island. 
Thanks to Will, I ringed my second ever Tree Pipit, Another delightful reward while cleaning windows. On the seabird front, I saw my first Arctic Skua's of the year flying north over the observatory. Their calls make your hairs stand up on the back of your neck and defintly makes you smile.
Arctic Skua
(pale phase)
For our last guest free evening, staff and researchers decided to watch Black Sheep on the Big Screen, A new zealand low budget film about zombie sheep. A film I would NOT recomend to watch but it was the ideal film to watch on Fair isle as we share the island with over 1200 of them against 65 people!!

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Collared Flycatcher - Thanks Jason!!

The day started off with fantastic weather with glorious sunshine, It was ideal just to be out and about, But I was in the kitchen making various homebakes which included my first attempt of making peanut butter cookies of the season. As the mixer was on, Susannah came running in to the kitchen to say there is  Collared Flycatcher on the cliffs of Hoini, My heart had stopped as this was a lifer (a species I have never seen before) so I checked with Chris to see if I could go and twitch it and thankyou to his kind nature, he said YES! I swapped the kitchen tools for my binoculars and dived in the minibus while putting on my walking boots in record time. We parked up at the chalet and  hiked over fields and styles to begin the small climb up the hill to the top of the cliff. After several puffs on the inhaler, I made it to the top hoping it was still there. Thankfully, Jason stayed with the bird until everybody got to see it. A STUNNING MALE, Fantastic! We watched it for around 20 mins catching little insects  in its spectacular cliff top setting. We got excellent views so everybody headed back down to the chalet in order to get a lift back to the observatory where I eventually made the biscuits.

In the evening, The Fair Isle Hall was one of the venues of the Shetland Folk Festival, A great time was had by all. Musicans form Shetland, Orkney, Western Isles and Dundee stunned the audience with there talented voices and intrument playing. It was followed by the island tradition of scottish dancing which  got most people up strutting there stuff. There is always a few who try to hide when it comes to dancing, My excuse was I had to help check a ewe waiting to lamb, lock up the pigs and feed some caddy lambs with Hollie. It was a amazing evening and a chance to let our hair down for the staff and and researchers before the observatory's first guess's arrives.
A Burkle Caddy Lamb - named after a Celtic footballer

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

A Close encounter of the Seal kind and singing Willow Warblers

After breakfast, Johan 'Starling researcher' came running up the road to with a big bird bag, Instead of catching Starlings in the crow trap, He came back with a jet black Carrion Crow, A new ringing tick for him and the first time I have seen this species in the hand, This stroppy female stayed around the Obs and Buness for the rest of the day.
From baking all morning making soft Bread, Tea Loafs, Short Bread and  Sticky Ginger Cake, I headed straight out after Lunch to the Havens and Buness just a short walk away from the observatory.  I found the 1st Common Tern of the year as it dived and fed on Lesser Sand Eels.

Hopefully this main food source will be plentyful this year so the seabirds will have a very good breeding season.

Record shot of Lesser Sand Eels
A male Common Scoter fed in the entrance of the harbour while a female Goldeneye fed close by the white sandy beach. The Ringed Plover was joined by a second as a pair of Oystercatcher's continued to make there presence known though there high pitched calls. I continued up onto Buness taking  notes of any birds just incase David could not make it on there to finnish his census, Just on the other side of Buness, A Common Seal was having a good jolly relax on the Rocks at the bottom, It was a very photogenic Seal as you will be able to see from the picture below.

Headed down from Buness to the Pier as I watched a Willow Warbler feed on the cliffs around the Good Shepherd. In the full sunshine, This lovely warbler bursted in to song, This is one of my favourite songs of alll time and will certainly brighten up anybodies day!

Carrie the 'Birdie' Ranger finally arrives for her second Season.

Once again, I got a knock on the door to say that there is a Common Buzzard soaring over Buness with several gulls. I did not even have to get out of bed for it as I only opened my window and there it was! My second for the island and a good bredroom window tick. As I woke myself up, another knock on the door, and it was lovely Lyndsey with a Bacon/Mushroom Sandwich and a strong coffee.....Brekkie in bed, a very welcome surprise but I did not even have time to finnish it as I got a text to say a White Tailed Sea Eagle had just left North Ronaldsay (Orkney) and its headed towards us. Bins and my camera ready. I was not going to miss this magificent bird for the world as I have dipped on quite a few. I got a lift up to the plantation where I met Will, We marched half way up Hill Dyke to meet Roger (FIBO Chairman) so we could have a clear view of the south of the island. We had a lookout on the high cliffs of Hoini with  several more eyes scattered around the island so when it does turn up it will not evade us. The excitment was high but after 30 minutes, there was no sign of it, A quick phone call to North Ron mentioned that the bird departed very high with Gulls in hot persuit, After a few minutes, the Gulls came back down while the eagle continued to go north going higher and higher to a point you can no longer see it. Once again, this species  has evaded me but I can only hope that one day, an eagle would turn up.

As everybody went back for lunch, I decided to stay out and headed towards Hoini where I had just a single Swallow fly pass and several Northern Wheatears displaying, Apart from the chill in the wind, its feels like Spring is finally here with the glorious sunshine. A look down the dramatic cliffs saw over a hundred Grey Seals sheltering on the beach from the swell which is a lovely sight in its self!
Grey Seals
After a nice walk down to the shop to get myself something to eat, I then headed back up to the Airstip to wave off Roger and his lovely wife Agnes who are always a pleasure to meet.

Our final staff member was also returning on the flight in. Carrrie, after spending the last 6 weeks in the Seychelles makes the staffing almost complete but all we need now is a Cook- please check on the Fair isle bird Observatory website for more details.

Subalpine Warbler - Nice bird to get up for!

Today was the start of the rota where I could offically have my two days off. I knew I had a sleep in on order so that is what I planned to do before I got a knock on the door to say Jason has a Subalpine Warbler down at Lower Stoney Breck. I grabbed my Bins still blurry eyed, we drove down to the croft in the hope of it being a male has I have only ever seen females. As we joined the others the bird had disappeared but was soon relocated in Vaila's Trees by the shop. We watched it for several minutes before it had flew back its original location. With the bird being a female we could not race it, we left it alone as sunday lunch was being saved for us, If we was any later, it would of gone to the Burkle pigs!!
The Subalpine Warbler Twitch
The afternoon saw a very confiding Grasshopper Warbler in the Obs Plantation, We had extremely close views has it just fed just a few feet away. Where else in the UK can you get excellent views from a hard to see species. Most people just hear it reeling from somewhere in a reed bed and may get a brief glimpse as it dives back down amongst the vegetation.
Grasshopper Warbler
To continue on from the Easter Dance, Angela (Barkland) organised  Afternoon Cream Tea's at the hall.Scones with fresh cream was amongst the many delicous homebakes (Angela's creations) that was enjoyed by all. My luck continued as I my won my second ever raffle prize - 3 bars of good quality Fairtrade dark chocolate.....yum!

The wonderful Easter Weekend managed to rasie over £400, this will go towards the Tall Ships event being held here in July...cant wait!!

A BIG THANKYOU to Angela for organising a brilliant weekend.