Thursday, 27 October 2016

Leaving Fair Isle.

Monday 24th October     Fresh E     cloudy with showers

The weather forecast for the next ten days tells me that tomorrow is the only day that I can be assured the Good Shepherd will sail. Wind tomorrow will be south-west compared to a strong north easterly next Tuesday; the boat is now on its once weekly Winter timetable.
Also the wind for the next few days will also be south westerly so that will be from almost behind me as I cycle towards Lerwick, the capital of Shetland.
It would be reckless to risk staying until next week. The thing that would keep me on Fair Isle is the friendship of Lee Gregory and Cath Mendez.
I need to pack. I need to say goodbye to some wonderful people who it is a real privilege to know.
I head for Florrie and Jim's croft in the south of the island and chat with them whilst enjoying my first coffee for days. The view from their kitchen is amazing; a vista of sea and land with green and blue, white spray and mist. Paintings on the wall would be superfluous, their's changes all the time. Both Jim and Florrie have friendly, full smiled personalities and they tell me tales of birdwatchers from decades ago who weren't as well behaved or as conversant as today's birders. There is also a fear that some aspects of what makes Fair Isle so very special; the openness, the lack of any sort of crime and the wonderful sense of community in, may be lost in the future. All must work together, crofters, Bird Observatory staff and visiting guests to the island, to ensure that that never happens. Communities like Fair Isles, are extremely rare and therefore so very precious. A jade jewel of such splendour, a place to visit and marvel at.

Birding on the way back north, I watch the geese flock again. Goodbye and thanks to Fiona and Robert at the shop and a donation given to the November the Fifth firework fund.
Up from there to Lower Stoneybrek, Neil is back and I am so glad to see him! Neil is now retired as Captain of The Good Shepherd so I won't be able to say goodbye from the quay at Grutness, Shetland tomorrow.

As Neil closes his door after saying we'll see each other again next year, a northern bullfinch flies along the roadside and lands in the field nearby. This magnificent, large mass of pink topped by a black cap bird hops around in the grass, behaviour very unlike any I have seen display by British bullfinches.
The afternoon is spent with a broom kindly lent to me by yet another crofter, Rachel. I sweep out my abode and brush the wooden walls. My aim is to make it shine before I finish.

Three hours later, having packed and cleaned, I go down to Lower Stoneybrek and leave a donation to the Island Development fund. It is a duty to do so. The island has been so good to me during my extended stay.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Let's Get The European Record for Real. Carbon Free Days.

Friday 21st October very light SE sunny and warm

I have been to Fair Isle on three occasions including this visit. My first time was back in 2010 whilst on my first cycling-birding adventure. That was for a week when I stayed at the South Lighthouse.
Last year I came for almost five weeks with a gap of a couple of weeks when I returned to Shetland in order to see friends from The Midlands, The Birding Clams (Clear Lunacy & Madness Society), visit the RSPB nature reserves on the islands, that is Fetlar, Yell, Spiggie and Sumburgh Head, Mousa. Ramna Stacks I had to view over the sea from the Mainland and Yell. I also saw some excellent birds. The birds included Eastern subalpine warbler, olive-backed pipit and American golden plover.
This year's visit is coming to its conclusion. The weather forecast for the next ten days tells me that there is an 'escape window' on Tuesday next when the wind is a light south-easterly. This compares to the following Tuesday when a strong north-westerly will make my suffering horrible sea sickness more likely. The Good Shepherd is my only option yet how I would love to fly away!
I have been here since the penultimate day of August with a break of a week when I dipped on the First for Britain, Siberian accentor; a bird that Fair Isle gave to me yesterday. Thanks Lee Gregory!
In all that time I didn't realise that there was a Village Hall! Sure I had seen the biggest building on the Island apart from the World famous Fair Isle Bird Observatory but I just thought it was a gymnasium for the Primary school children. It is attached to that and part of the school complex.
This morning I need the loo. Desperately.
I know that there is a toilet next to the 'gym.' On going to it I don't see the toilet to the right, one that I have seen every time I have used the left hand toilets. There is a door. It is open. With a curious streak I peak in through it after going through two glass doors between the entrance and the open door. There are two people in there setting up a cinema and an animation is showing as they check sound levels and connections. The presumed gymnasium has been transformed into a Villa Hall and cinema for an event, I am told, for the next evening.
What I had always thought of as another toilet is just the reflection of the one toilet in the glass doors!
Yet wait, there's more.
There are more toilets; one set for Ladies and another for men. Using the latter I find hot water! Luxury.
By the Mens there is another open door leading to another room. It is open and inside I can see a Pool table!
There is not just a Village Hall but also a Social room with a pool table and two dart boards. I'm flabbergasted.
How fantastic it would be to see the room used as a meeting place for birders and islanders. Maybe a dart's night with teams of each; a pool tournament. Who knows? Next year.

A couple, Trudi and Len are walking down the road towards the Kirk and they stop me to show a photograph of a redpoll species. On the photograph the rump looks very white but that could be ue to the image quality from using a bridge camera. I remember how it was difficult to ascertain the flycatcher in Grey Geo species a couple of weeks ago because of flare.
I find the redpolls where they say and settle down to try to get good views of one that is obviously paler than the other mealies and l;esser redpolls.

There seems to be a conspiracy against me today for every time I try to get a look at the pale bird a vehicle goes past disturbing them all and sending them away to Da Water.
They always soon return, bless them but the final straw is when Florrie, a lady who has been on Fair Isle with her husband Jimmie for all of her life, drives past. Jokingly I throw my arms up in desperation and we both laugh as she passes.
Jimmie and Florrie are two of my favourite people on the island. Always happy, it is a privilege to think of them as friends.
Eventually I get the view I want and with bill too large, streaking on a pale rump and overall shape I put the bird down as a pale mealy. Interesting bird though.
The weather is unbelievable for October, very warm and very sunny.
Another couple are looking at some nearby Lapand buntings. Bernard and Carole from Cambridge have a now famous tripod. The Siberian accentor, still the talk of the island amongst the birders, actually sat on one of the legs. I joke that they should sell the tripod immediately. It would raise enough funds to come back to Fair Isle next year!

Saturday 22nd October Very light SE-E Sunny, warm

Down to Fair Isle's wonderful shop for a few provisions and a chat with Fiona, a Director of The Fair Isle Bird Observatory. As a focal place for islanders to meet it has no equal and a few of them are inside the shop when I enter. Their friendliness towards strangers such as I and each other is inspiring.
Sheep that like standing on a dry stone wall in front of Sheep Rock. Cool!

The great grey shrike is down by the Kirk but I don't get a good view of it as it is directly in line with the bright sun sitting on a fence.
In the field immediately west of Lower Stoneybrek there feed my favourite group of birds on Fair Isle at the moment. There may be a pine bunting, a new one from the other day, at Parks. There is still the possible Stejneger's stonechat on South Harbour beach yet the small flock of grey geese that have been here for a few days holds my attention the most. Where else but Fair Isle would one have five species of geese together and less than fifty yards away. Yes the watch you as you watch them, the sentinels aware of you and of their role as protectors of the flock. Yet I can sit and watch, photograph and video each species; bean geese, Greenland whitefronts, greylags and pink-footed geese and a lone barnacle goose.

I sit and remember the flocks of hundreds of Eureopean white-fronted geese that used to frequent the WWT (Wildfowl & Wetland Trust) reserve and headquarters at Slimbridge, Gloucestershire. From the high vantage point afforded over the Dumbles from Holden Tower, one would, back in the 1970s and 80s, looking for maybe a stray pink-footed goose, bean or with real luck a lesser white-fronted goose, usually a 1st year bird. Nowadays at Slimbridge there is a feral flock of barnacle geese and greylags, canadas and the occasional stray but there isn't the wintering European white-fronted goose flock. They have decided to stay over in The Netherlands.
At this range each feature that denotes each species is easy to view. The bean geese are having a small band of orange on their bills that have just a slight bulge along the baseline. Pink-feets have shorter necks; obvious when they stand next to a bean.
I want to look at the redpolls again and head in that direction puching my bike along the marshy path beside Buini Mere.
I walk up the hill along the road by the school when a small bunting starts to fly towards me. It is small too for as it lands just the other side of the barbed wire fence in the grass just a few feet away I see that it is a spanking little bunting. That's Fair Isle, they come to you.

The evening is spent in the company of many islanders and Bird Observatory staff at the newly found by me Village hall. A couple from Shetland Mainland have brought over a selection of superb films. For two hours all present are treated to locally made films showing a wide variety of aspects of life on Shetland. The mini fim festival starts with a well constructed and powerful film about the problem of depression amongst men. With humour and a huge nod to the islands' Viking heritage, Ragnar, shows the relationship between father and son, friends and landscape. It hits home without being maudling and the end shows a possible light at the end of the tunnel.
There followed eight short films with a wide variety of styles. Sometimes I couldn't understand the strong Gaelic brogue but then again if I 'spake wid me owen axunt' would they understand me? No matter, the detail and content was plain to see despite language differences.
From a mackerel fisherman of old to the avant-garde of a man who couldn't put his jacket on, comic Dance, Dance heroes to The Curse of the Wereduck cartoon, all were excellent in their own way and thoroughly enjoyable.
One memorable scene was when a toddler is tied to a rope just like a sheep would be, to allow tha 'wee laddie' to wonder safely in the fields. No cruelty here just fun and love and a child enjoying the intensity of his parents' affection.
No intermission meant cramp in the backside but one couldn't look away from the last film; a forty-five minute feature about the history of the island of Havera until the departure of its last inhabitants in the early 1920s.
Coffee and biscuit at the end, I had been sitting with the most sunshine personality on the island Dave of South Lighthouse. Dave's whole manner is one of excited geniality and to spend time with him is a pleasure that lifts spirits. His sunbeams are infectious.
How wonderful to sit with Britain's most remote community and know the names of each person present. The wonder of Fair Isle is its people.

Sunday 23rd October very light NE-E bit more cloud, still mainly sunny though, cooler

I feel like being a bit of a lister today and make myself a target of 50 bird species. Pink-footed goose and hooded crow are on the list whilst I lie in my sleeping bag at 5:00AM; they call and caw.
It is still dark at that time yet I decide to get up and have a walk, sleep being very hard to come by at the moment and my asthma is playing up a bit. Fresh, cool air will do it good and I walk down the island with Orion ahead of me again.
Silhouetted on Da Water's pool are a number of duck and by the light of the Moon I can see lapwings, five of them.
Sunrise around 7:30AM and Lapland buntings are in the field by the Kirk. Two grey heron cronk their way south flying high and a black-headed gull that sadly doesn't look too well is sitting in a marshy area.
The day list is on twenty five by the time I reach Springfield. Here, after seeing chaffinch and brambling together, I change my mind. I was going to take the short route along the iris bed stream to the Haa but I think I will go around the Moeness cliffs instead.
Finding a sheep dug seat on a finger of rock jutting out into a geo, I sit and watch. A seal is fast asleep, kettling in the calm sea at the base of the cliff where I am sitting. He is 'solid gone man!' I film him and photograph him, watching him for around twenty minutes with all thought of the day list dispelled. How often can one's sleeping companion be a sleeping seal? I feel like a speed nap myself.

He, I think of the seal as a he but it might be a she, wakes up and sees me watching from above. Unperturbed and probably with a it's Sunday, I'll have a lie in attitude, the seal carries on sleeping.
Leaving him to his dreams of fish and kelp, I walk around the cliffs and marvel at what I can see. The early morning sun makes for superb, magnificent even scenery. 

The South Lighthouse stands out in its whiteness against the greens, greys and blues. The Skerries are being washed over by a gentle swell. There are large and deep caves to be seen that I would love to explore but have no way of reaching.
A chiif chaff is on a cliff top making ready for the immense fly south, the thrill of witnessing migration. Eider drakes are head tossing and Frankie Howard “Oww” calling in display to the attendent female eider. A stunningly white full adult male long-tailed drake flies past. Two purple sandpipers are feeding in their usual habitat and I start daydreaming again as I approach South Harbour.
News of yet another Siberian accentor for Britain and Fair Isle comesin. This one has been found by David Parnaby, Fair Isle Bird Observatory warden, up near the North Lighthouse. Only five miles away yet I choose to carry one exploring the south. I am thrilled for David. He deserves to find this mega and hot on the heels of Lee Gregory's different Siberian accentor too; a sixth and a seventh for Britain in this incredible, totally unprecedented Autumn for the species.
Siberian accentor, never before seen in Britain. Now there have been seven, no eight. One has just been found on Unst. And as for Europe, the last time I heard there had been over 120!
I walk along above South harbour beach but to be honest I don't give it the once over grilling I should and don't see the special stonechat. Instead I sit and marvel at the chiff chaffs on the seaweed.
More chaffinch and brambling at Utra, nine wood pigeons are in the field there. The geese here include eight white-fronts, six greylags and two bean geese.

Just below Shirva I meet the teenage ram pair who are engaged in a bout of head banging. A short charge then head down . . . bonk. They are bonkers too but come to my call for a scratch of their oily fleeces.
Around fifteen bramblings, surely one of many people's favourite finches, are in amongst the thistles at North Shirva. A male stands out amongst the first year and female birds. Not as gaudy as a male bullfinch maybe, bramblings to me have a charm all of their own and the variety of orange tones is a delight to see.
I take another good look at the mixed geese flock and head for the Parks oat field to look at the new pine bunting.
Now here I must say how I feel about getting the new european Green Year list record back on the 18th.
Yes, as you may have seen from the photograph, I was more than thrilled to bits to see the three birds I needed for the record on that day. Yet I was unhappy over seeing them on a day when I had used carbon transport, namely the boat, The Good Shepherd.
I feel that a purer 'Green' record is when the birds are seen when no carbon transport is used. With that in mind since that wonderful day I had endeavoured to see each of the species involved on carbon-free days. Bean geese were easy and what a thrill to think I wouldn't have to search around the west of Falkirk area in November for beanies. Last year it took all of a snoy day to find them. Of course, as usual, I enjoy the search and adventure, the challenge and the elation of finding them but having some fifty yards away,.... I'll go for that in my dotage of being a sixty year old.
The possible Stejneger's Siberian stonechat I watched for a couple of hours absorbing it's jizz (behaviour) and plumage. A subtle bird, I hear both poo and a feather have been sent off for DNA analysis to ascertain the race.
So with two of the three covered I make my way to the third, the pine bunting.

I search each croft garden on the way there, say hello to the 'lads', rams in pairs in fields on the way and walk the edge of the oat field. Two birds come out. The first of the two is bright yellow. Yellowhammer onto the day list. The other is a paler bird with quite well head markings; pine bunting goes officially onto the Green year list and Ponc can now be informed of a new record.
Great views of this pine bunting, a more interestingly marked bird than the Quoy bird.
There's a waxwing been seen at the Bird Observatory. On the way there I stop for a chat with a birder, Andrew. His eyes suddenly expand. He has seen a cracking male black redstart on the wall behind him. Gorgeous bird. Thanks Andrew.
Waxwing onto the day list.
Down to The Havens, goldcrest and wheatear put down in the notebook.
Heading back to my little abode a flock of golden plover fly around Setter, bird number 53 for the day.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Post Record Days Leads to ........... UNBELIEVABLE!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday 19th October very light NE Very sunny

My morning starts with joining Lee Gregory on the early morning trap run; a walk around all of the active Heligoland traps with the intention of catching and ringing migrants. Early! It is practically still dark and yet Lee soon catches a superb hawfinch in the Gully trap. What a bill!
I need to improve my accommodation and spend the rest of the morning doing just that.
After lunch the intention is to ensure that each of yesterday's year tick birds, the bean goose, Stejneger's stonechat and pine bunting, are seen well and on a day where I haven't used carbon transport. I am very well aware that I have used ferries this year. Britain has a number of incredible islands and many are extremely good for vagrant birds, the absolute best of which is undoubtedly Fair Isle. Other than by pedalo my only way of accessing the riches to be had is by ferry and I have never pretended that this is anything other than the use of carbon whilst on a so-called Green Big Year. On Jim Royer's Green Birding website there is a large 'F' in brackets after my name denoting this.
So down to South Haven I go and spend a couple of hours first watching Deryk Shaw and his son, Ythan trying to mist net the bird so that a small DNA sample can be obtained for analysis. Then after they give up, the bird being very adept at avoiding the nest, I have the bird all to myself and sit on the rocks to enjoy such a fabulous bird, a bird with such a perky personality.
It repeatedly hops up about a foot or so (thirty CMS) to catch flies and perches on rocks close by. Occasionally it is chased by a rock pipit and disappears over a rocky promontory over to the next beach. It always returns though to the beach where I am sitting after just a couple of minutes.
One fascinating aspect of it's plumage is how the colour of the rump changes according to the light. Sometimes appearing rather dull when the sun is hidden by a small cloud; the weather by the way is warm and very sunny and I sit with the worry of getting sunburnt on the side of my face, and then the rump is a rich orange when the sun is out. A delightful, fascinating bird, which Lee Gregory tells me is exactly the same as the 'Portland bird.'

There are other birds amongst the rocks and stranded seaweed and some come very close to me indeed as I lie prone on the lowest rocks leaning against a grassy bank. Turnstones turn the seaweed, rock pipits and starlings catch flies and the rarest bird on Fair Isle is doing the same, 

a blue tit.

Meeting a few birders along the road by Quoy, I find out that there has been a waxwing at the Bird Observatory. I neeeeeeed it! I phone Lee Gregory and he tells me that he has just caught a first year male waxwing in the Plantation Heligoland trap and is on his way to the Observatory to process the magnificent bird.
Cycling hard up the island, I catch up with lee by the Double Dyke trap and together we walk and chat. He is as close to me as a friend as my brother and talking with him is always a real pleasure. I am desperate to see what is in his bag; the waxwing inside is still and relaxed and probably wondering how on earth it got in this pickle.
At the Observatory I wait outside the back door by the ringing room and await the arrival of the bird.
Lee and Cairan come out and there it is being gently held in Lee's hands. Photographs, admiring smiles and comments, the bird is passed to Cairan to release. Yet the bird doesn't want to go. It just sits on his hand. Minutes go by then eventually with a short squeak he flies, the waxing that is, into the nearby garden bushes. WOW! Or maybe . . WAB! What a bird!

Oh yeah, almost forgot.....

Waxwing, bird number 308.

Thursday 20th October very light E Very sunny

Orion, the Hunter is below a large Gibbous Moon as I stroll around the island. I have had a very poor night trying to sleep and having only snatches of dream-filled nightmares. It is only 5:00AM and it is still, cool and awe-inspiring. South Lighthouse has it's beam rotating and spreading the intermittent beam across the dark landscape. I walk around for over an hour as dawn starts to spread some pale orange light through thin clouds along the horizon to the east.
I return to my bike and with the light growing as the sunrise approaches, I start to search for my binoculars and camera. I left them somewhere last night and am not sure where! I put my earphones in to listen to Juzzie Smith, Good Vibrations and search in my usual places.
On reaching the Bird Observatory and finding my stuff in the boot room, there is panic all around. David Parnaby shouts, “possible Eastern Olivaceous warbler at Chalet!”
David gets the minibus and goes around the island picking up birders to see the rare bird. In the past a Land Rover did the same job with a red flag flying from it.

I cycle to Chalet. Steve Arlow has found yet another great rare bird but states that it is an icterine warbler. It comes out onto the fence and everyone agrees with him. Nice one Steve.
After ten minute or so everyone has gone and I have the bird to myself. Deryk Shaw and Micky arrive from Burkle to have a look. Micky is on the way to the airport for the first plane back to Shetland. His next port of call is Unst, the wonderful isle is the northern most island of The Shetlands. Another birder strolls past, Angus and another, Shaun. I tell Shaun of the long-eared owl that I have been told about at the ringing hut by the Plantation and he walkie talkie's the message to others.
I cycle there and there can't be many birds as easy to see; it sitting at base of a post beside the dry stone wall. It stares at me with large orange eyes as I sit down to watch and enjoy.
Shaun is coming from the Setter direction after I have waved to him that the bird is by me. He can't see it from where he is due to a bank obscuring his view.

Just as he gets to me and just as I am about to point out the bird, I get two strange text messages:

First text . . . Howard Vaughan

go go go go >>>> What??????

Second text Steve Nuttall

Hope you enjoy your Sibe accentor as much as me. The pain of missing the Shetland bird will make you appreciate it that much more

Me to Shaun “ I think there's a Siberian accentor on the island!”

third text . . . . Trevor Girling

Sibe acc troila geo fair isle. Go get it.

Fourth text . . . Gareth Hughes

I hope you are still on Fair Isle Mr!

Fifth text . . . . . Penny Clarke

Get that Siberian accentor!!!! Just come on RBA for fair Isle at Troila Geo!!! Best wishes Penny

Sixth text . . . . Phil 'The Oracle' Andrews

Sib acc????

After almost seven weeks on the island I know the names of the geos and soon Shaun and I have trudged, climbed and reached Troila, .disturbing woodcocks on the way. Cairan is there. “It was here but went over the ridge. Lee is over there looking for it.”
Troila is a huge slope of scree and grass with a large rocky ridge half way down which prevents a view down to the beach. If it is down there this is not going to be easy. We all search frantically. Robins, wrens . . . .
Cairan thinks he has the bird.
See the slab half way down, behind there!”
I can see a shuffling shape and, forgetting to change the ISO setting for the darkness of the geo, take a photograph of it. I show it to Cairan. 

“That's it!”
I phone Lee. “It's over here back in Troila.”
Over the next two hours the bird climbs ever closer and twenty or so birders get eye-popping views of a stunning, ever moving accentor; a shuffling, feeding dunnock with a badger's head. All the Bird Observatory staff are here sitting together on precarious ledges and the huge smiles denotes the wonder and excitement of Lee's find. Yes, Lee Gregory found it! The cherry on the icing on the rich fruit cake, Lee found it.

Deryk Shaw and Nick Riddiford are here. Tommy Hyndeman with his son, Henry and birders staying at the obs.
Some birders from the Aberdeen RSPB group have just got off the plane. Not a bad first bird to see on Fair Isle.
Even Micky is here. He was just about to get on the same plane when the news broke!
There is not only an intense pleasure in seeing a mega rarity, especially after dipping on the first for Britain one on Shetland last week, but add to that the delight in seeing everyone enjoying the occasion and the fact that my best friend on the island found it.

It dow ger any berra than this our kid!!!!!

No bird is officially on my Green Year list, or even my British life list come to that, until I phone and tell Mum and Dad. They may never understand the thrill, the desire and the commitment but they can enjoy hearing their oldest ecstatic.

I go down and photograph and watch the long-eared owl.