Sunday, 19 June 2011

Burrowing Puffins, Territorial Arctic Terns and a moulting Rabbit!

After a hard days work and you just want to go for a small easy walk then Buness is the place to go. Its just a short walk from the observatory which in the summer you have most of the breeding seabirds nesting amongst the colourful flowers which supports the amazing scenery.
Buness in early spring
On my last walk up there, it was such a pleasant afternoon but quite chilly with a fresh north easterly wind. I came across the very small Tern colony but I did not stay for long as I did not want to disturb them. Arctic Terns has declined each year after a big crash in 2002. Back then we had around 2700 pairs nesting on the island but at chick stage, Their main food source (sand eels) disappeared letting thousands of chicks starve to death. Only 6 chicks survived which was quite devestating at the time. Since then, they have been struggling and it looks like 2011 is going to be another bad year for this long distance migrant.
Arctic Tern

known as The Sea Swallow.
Moving on to the incredible Puffin colony at the south of Buness, The cliff tops were carpeted with Sea pinks known as Thrift which provides interesting colours when its set around yellow lichen rocks and the black soil. As I tried to sit on the colourful cliff top, I heard a noise as if someone was behind me but there was nobody there but when I looked down there was burrow.
An Occupied Puffin Burrow
On closer inspection, this is what I came across
The Resident
We watched each other for several minutes before I could hear its feet and watched it disappear deeper in to the burrow. This is just one of those encounters which I will not forget in a long while.

Shortly after, sat amongst the puffins, I found this individual
getting rid of his winter coat
Its very common across the island to find Puffins making homes amongst Rabbit colonies. Puffins are known to use old rabbit burrows and can take over occupied ones.

A nice selection of Warblers and a visiting Bat

Its been quite an enjoyable couple of weeks where the wildlife encounters have been amazing. The heligoland traps has been pulling out some pretty neat birds including a bright Wood Warbler, Marsh Warbler, Bluethroat and a male Crossbill.
Wood Warbler

Marsh Warbler
Birding wise has been good too with a few scarce birds here and there with the highlight being  a few of us going on a small twitch to the Haa to see the islands 42nd ever Greenish Warbler and a nice looking Icterine Warbler both in the same bush together. A female Woodchat Shrike turned up at field giving quality views to the small group of staff and guests. Up to four Crossbills with two Siskins spent one evening flying around the gully trying to find a place to roost.

One day after tea, Jason came back with a Oystercatcher with its legs very tangled up with sheeps wool. The wader could not fly and was very underweight. With a lot of patience, Both Rob (RSPB seabird reseacher) and Jason managed to take all of the wool where we then took it back down to Lower Stoneybreck where it was rescued. I then released it of which the Oystercatcher did a little call then ran all the way to the other end of the field to be with its mate. We have given it a better chance of survival so hopefully it can go about its daily ritual without getting tangled up again.

One the way back, we just stopped by the plantation to find four Collared Doves roosting in the trees but the most unexpected find was to see a small Bat flying around the traps before heading up the vadaal stream hunting for insects. Bats are very rare for Fair Isle and out of the 12 years I have been coming here, This was the first time I have ever encountered one on the isle. After all, 2011 is the year of the bat. 'YoB' is a global campaign to promote conservation, research and education about the world's only flying mammals. For More information, please click on the link:

Trying out the new lens

Over the last few weeks, I have been trying out my new 500mm lens. Its going to take some getting use to as its all manual focus and you have to get it just perfect. Im so glad we are in the digital age so the hundreds of out of focus photo's can just be deleted without costing a fortune. For the in focus shots, they can be rewarding. Below is a selection of pictures I have taken recently.

Black Guillimot AKA Tystie


Ringed Plover

Arctic Tern AKA Tirrick

A pair of Artcic Terns

Common Tern

All of the above are just practise shots and there is still room for improvement. If I keep trying it out then I reckon it could be a good investment.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Not the Blyth's Reed Warbler but the Cuckoo was defintley the Highlight!

After 14 years of waiting, I finally ringed a Cuckoo which was one of my ultimate birds to handle. I had only seen two Cuckoo's in the hand before, all being on Fair Isle with the first being trapped in 2001.
Male Cuckoo Trapped in Spring 2001
The second was caught the following year on 1st July in the heligoland trap outside the observatory which proved to be quite an interesting record. The bird was an extremly young bird showing bits of down feathers around its head which must of fledged from a nearby nest. After its release, it was seen being fed by a pair of Meadow Pipits which turned out to be proof and the 1st confirmed breeding record for Fair Isle.

On 10th June 2011, Johan Nilson (our Starling researcher) spent the day trying to catch Starlings but to no avail (apart from two). He did manage to catch a good array of species including Redwing, Mealy Redpoll, Collared Dove, Lesser Whitethroat and  couple of Spotted Flycatchers.
Spotted Flycatcher
COPYRIGHT - Carrie Marrel Gunn
But the star bird (for me) has to be the Cuckoo, A very welcome suprise and dream come true. A big thankyou to Johan to giving it me to ring, I defintley owe him a few pints.
COPYRIGHT - Carrie Marell Gunn
Copyright - Carrie Marrell Gunn
Other contenders for the star bird of the day had to be a Blyth's Reed Warbler, A rare bird for the uk which requires a description for it to be accepted. As Jason checked the traps on the way back to the obs, he caught a short winged and billed unstreaked acro. Several Biometrics were taken of the bird which all fell in to the range of it being a Blyth's Reed Warbler.  The 1st ever record for Britian of this species was found 29th September 1910 on Fair isle but was shot the following day which was the only way to identify birds that they have never seen before.
  I did not have my camera for this bird but above is a picture of a bird which I had seen back in 2006.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

A little bit lost - The Pigeon Discussion

After a long day working, I decided to chill out in my room sorting out hundreds of photographs that I have took so far this season. With it being a pleasent day, I opened my window quite wide just to get some fresh air and to admire the stunning scenery. After a while I heard something that sounded like a creature walking on glass, I looked up only to see a lonely racing pigeon sat on the window frame.
looking for directions
The lost bird stayed for just under 2 hours trying its best to find a place to stay inside but to no avail. I did try to move it on by playing the call of a Sparrowhawk 'The Pigeon Predator' but it took no notice so I tried the mewing of a Common Buzzard, and all that did was get it quite excited which was encouraging the pigeon to come inside.

This was  quite an eye opener as it proves that domesticated birds (and most animals) don't understand the dangers it awaits in the wild. Racing Pigeons ancestry chain started with  the Rock Dove (a species which breeds on the island) so to see both birds behaviour together is quite educating.  The Rock Dove is often alert watching out for predators even if its just a Gull flying over and are often flighty. The Domestciated Pigeon does not have that type of alertness and would let danger close to it. I felt sorry for the poor bird because in the end, over the centuries, humans has took one of birds senses away which is quite often a key to its survival.

If the bird was in its own flock of pigeons, then of course it has a greater chance of survival. If the flock encounters a Sparrowhawk visually, they do have a strategy to foil the predator. The flock will tighen up then lead the hawk quite high and as far away from the loft until they loose it before returning back home.

No one keeps racing  pigeons on the island so how far and where do they come from?
Shetland and Orkney are 25 miles away across the sea which will be a easy flight here for these strong flyers. No doubt they were come as far from Norway, Scotland and mayby even England. On one occasion, when I was coming across on the Good Shepherd, about 10 miles out at sea, the crew released a crate full of pigeons of which they all went racing back to mainland Shetland, something I have never witnessed before.
Mainland Shetland viewed from Fair Isle
In previous years, When I have tracked down the owner of lost birds, quite often they dont want nothing to do with it as its no good as a racing pigeon if it gets lost. In there eyes ' A lost bird is a useless bird'. I can see there point but you will find that if a lost racing pigeon survives, it will end up in town and city centres feeding of our scraps which we drop on the streets.  In our towns they are known as 'Flying Rats' and now breed across our urban landscapes. A far cry from there ancestors breeding habitat, Coastal area's across scotland and off shore islands.
I wonder if he survived the Skuas, Hawks and Cats!
I have nothing against Pigeon racing or there owners, They take great pride in their pigeons and they look after their birds very well. The majority of them live happy and healthy lives and can be worth thousands of pounds. The odd one from a flock will get lost but that is just nature and its not the owners fault. People have been using pigeons for centuries carrying messages during wars, etc. To alot of people, Pigeon racing is just a hobby but the way I see it, its a tiny bit of history being kept alive.

If any one has any questions or points to add, please feel free to reply to the post.

Has summer finally arrived?

The start of the last fortnight felt like it had an Autumn feel to it with gale force winds and horizontal rain to the vegetation beginning to go black from the salt spray. But in the last couple of days, we have had flat calm seas, very little wind and at 18c 'the hottest day' recorded since 2009. I just wonder, will it stay like this or will it be another 'British Summer'?
Is the hot weather here to stay?
As we wave farewell to spring and head in to summer, the last few scarce migrants has been passing through the island to get to there breeding grounds. The highlights being our resident Eastern Subalpine Warbler was joined by another of the western form where they could be seen chasing each other around the Obs plantation. Two Rosefinches were trapped one evening which delighted many guests and a juvenile Crossbill provided much interest. The first young Starlings of the year has decided to use the oppotunity of the warm weather to leave the stone walls leading our researchers in to their busy period.
Common Rosefinch

Crossbill - Juvenile
The seabird breeding season is well underway with the 1st Shag and Razorbill chicks being reported. It wont be long now until I will be able to hear Guillimot chicks whistling away on the cliff ledges and and cute fluffy Skua chicks walking around the heather up on the hill.
Common Guillimot
One late evening, a few of us headed to the Kirn 'O' Scroo in the north east of the island. The magnificent blowhole is an ideal place to hear the eerie calls of the Storm petrel under the cover of darkness. Sadly it was abit to gusty to hear them but there were several of them flying around which gave the false belief that they were bats. We did eventually catch two but we had to call it a night and as we started the short climb back up, A loud haunted howl of a Grey Seal began echoeing throughout the Kirn bouncing of the cliffs and blouders. That defintly makes your hairs stand up!
European Storm Petrel aka 'Stormie'


29th May '2010

The Spotty Hound celebrates his 3rd birthday today!