Friday, 6 January 2012

White-arse here and a Wheatear there

Not only does Fair isle welcome seabirds to breed but we also wait for a Sub-Saharan migrant ' The Wheatear' to return every spring. They arrive about March time after wintering in central Africa and leave again in September/October.

Male Wheatear
The name 'White-arse' comes from the fact it has a white rump and usually that is all we see when its flying away. Also when this species was first descibed in 1758,  The term refered to the birds returning to Greece just when the first grape vines blossomed. They eat mostly insects and larva with the occasional berries and nest mostly on moorland in stone walls, rocky crevices and burrows which means Fair isle has ideal breeding habitat.

Female Wheatear
Digi-scoped Image
We get two races of Wheatear which visit the island. We have the Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) which is  a summer migrant to the Britian and we have the larger Greenland Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe leucorhoa)  which is only a passage migrant to the UK  where they head up to there Breeding grounds in Greenland.

Birds will use anything for a perch
During end of June and July, I noticed no matter which way you looked, there was several Wheatears on every fence line. I could guarentee when I opened my bed room curtains, the Wheatear would of been one of the 1st birds I see. There was family parties scattered around the island and is always a joy to watch.

The adult is warning its fledglings
that there was potential danger nearby
Just fledged the nest that afternoon being looked after by its parents
This fledgling would of left the nest a week before I took the photo
and was already feeding independently
As part of a univeristy study, Adam Seward had been researching Wheatears that pass through Fair Isle.  He has been studying the impact of climate change of migratory birds where he chose this species as it has one of the most challenging migrations of any passerine. As part of the project, he has been colour ringing them, and when he is not on the island, The observatory  continues the colour ring and sends any data back to Adam.

If any body has seen any colour ringed Wheatears, we would love to know the date, the time and where you have seen them. You can send your sighting(s) to British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), Fair isle Bird Observatory and Adam Seward.

For more Information about Adam whether its about it Wheatear study or his spectacular Earth in Focus photography then please click on the links below:



BTO (Report a Ringed Bird):

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Last Puffin Evening of 2011

Around 54,000 of this comical bird call Fair isle there home every summer. They arrive in March and begin egg laying a month later. They Lay a single white egg deep inside their burrow where they hatch in May/June. Then around the end of July and beginning of August, the Chicks leave under the cover of Darkness evading any predators which fancy an easy snack. By the end of the month, Most of the Puffins would of disappeared  far out to sea where they will form huge flocks waiting until the next spring so they can breed all over again.

Below is just some last Photographs of the Puffins just as their breeding season was ending for another year.

They are very socialable birds


Who are you?

Beak full of fish

Are you looking at me?

Puffins are very approachable and if you just sit quietly they will come and say hello

Just need some chips & peas!

A Puffin Meeting 

Heres a Puffin at Sunset to end the post

Monday, 2 January 2012

Guillimot Feeding Watch

Common Guillimot

Fair isle is internationally known for its diversity of seabirds from Auks to Skuas, from Terns and Gulls to Shags, Petrels and Gannets. Every Year, during in the summer, the island comes alive with 250,000 breeding birds of 19 species which can get very noisy. As part as the Observatorys work, it is their duty to monitor them to keep an eye on population changes, productivity rates, etc. One of their annual activities is to do a 24 hour feeding watch at Peitron Guillimot colony where we take it turns and do a couple of two hour shifts each sat on top of a cliff watching the auks..

Peitron Hide
During our shifts, every 20 minutes we do a chick count. When I first took part 10 years ago, we was counting 80 chicks but as the years went on, the numbers dwindled down to an all time low where in 2011 during the watch, we started off with 20 chicks but went down to less then 10 when we fiinished.


This  watch was producing around 40 chicks


The ledges used to be packed with Guillimots
but in these hard time they are struggling to breed.
  Our main aims for the watch is to find out:
  • What type of fish they are bringing in
  • What size of fish they are bringing in
  • How often they are bringing in the fish.
The Guillimots main food source as with all Auks are Sand Eels but over the last several years, the Sand Eels had started to disappear making the auks go further out to sea for there food. Because of this they take longer searching  for the fish leaving the chicks to starve. Rob Hughs (RSPB) and Beckie Langton (PHD Aberdeen Univerisity) were putting small transmiters on sea birds to find out where they are going. From there data, they were going as far as Norway, Orkney and Aberdeen taking several days per a single trip. But we also found they are bringing different types of fish back such a Pipefish, Gagoids, etc. Sometimes the birds were not bringing food back at all.

Guillimot with a unidentified fish
This bird eventually came back with some food but the chick had disappeared.
(Digi-scoped image)
As well as dwindling food supplies, The Auks has to defend there colony from predators. During my watch in 2011, Gulls, Skuas and Covids were patrolling the cliffs waiting fot an oppotunity to snatch a chick.

A Patrolling Herring Gull
Recently, The chicks have become very easy takings as both adults are often out searching for food. The Predators dont have to put up with  whole colony of dagger like beaks pointing up at them no more so if I was a avian predator, I will defintly take my chances.

Luckily the chick manange to hide

I have seen gulls take chicks before but I have also seen them fledge. When they are about half the size of an adult and cant fly, they take an extraodinary leap of faith of the cliff ledge to crash in to the water below, This is when the father of the chick will then take it out to sea and look after it. The Chick will not see land again until its an breeding adult. It does bring a tear to you eye when you watch them but I fear there is only a matter of time until this will becomes a rare sight on Fair Isle.  This is why the observatorys work is of upmost importance in trying to work with different organisations to safe guard the marine life around shetland.

What Stunning Birds!

For more infomation on the seabird sof Fair Isle, Please click on the following links:

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Happy New Year!

Tall Ships - Day 2

Im so use to seeing small yachts and boats in the Haven
but I have never seen Tall Ships docked at the pier before.
Today was the day everybody had been waiting and preparing for, Today was the day when our barter ship the 'Sorlandet' came to our shores letting a piece of history come to life. For months leading up to this, islanders and obs staff were making Traditional Fair Isle Keps to be bartered off to the crew in exchange for goods which would come to use. Back in the early days when being remote was true to its word, with no computers, radios, TV's, etc....when islanders had to live on what they produced from there crofts.......passing ships were there only chance to trade for vauable goods. Both parties had it good, The Sea farers loved the keps which kept them very warm when out on there voyages at sea while the islanders loved the Whiskey which helped kept them warm on cold winter nights.

You can just see the Sorlandet out at sea.
The ship its self was to big to enter the haven so it sailed
down to the South Habour

An onlooker watches on as the ship drops its anchor

As the ship is too big to Dock!
 The only way the crew can come onto land is on small yoals

A crowd gathers to admire the Ship

They finally made it to land after a couple of hours waiting for the tides to be right.

BBC's Coast team followed the story

Lise Sinclair with a basket full of Keps

Mr Crane looking at the hats.......I wonder if he bartered for one?

BBC's Coast Team interviewing Henry and lisa the Fair isle Teacher

 Ann, Lise and Lowri proudly showing there keps

Nicholas Crane
BBC Coast presenter
The afternoon finnished of with a football match at south light........FAIR ISLE verses THE REST OF THE WORLD.......Im not to sure who won....followed by  more musical enterntainment up back at the havens, Im pretty sure, everybody really enjoyed them selfs. I would like to thank everybody for a fantastic two days.

The end the post I would like to say that one of the crew members of a ship pulled me to one side and said "This is by far the best port we have been to on this journey and the Hospitallity has been incrediable"

Congratulations on such a epic two days of celebrations.