Monday, 5 September 2016

Fair Isle 1st to 4th of September

Thursday 1st September fresh to strong SW cloudy and cool

Early morning trap run with Lee, the trap run is when the warden or one of his assistants walks each of the Heligoland traps trying to catch birders to be rung with a small metal numbered ring and processed. Details measured and taken include primary feather length, weight and age.
Today just a re-trapped robin is caught.
A walk down to North Haven. Three arctic terns are noisy and the long-tailed duck is busy diving. Interesting to watch how a black guillemot deals with a small flatfish that it has caught.
I spend a short time collecting the plastic bottles and such that I missed the day before on the beach at South Haven. One bottle has a language on it I don't recognise. I photograph it and put it into a rubbish skip in the harbour.

Back at the observatory yesterday's rose-coloured starling, found by Cath Mendez, puts in an appearance. The only other bird I see is a greenshank accompanied by a dunlin over Pund later in the day. Now that could be because I have a wonderful time with Neil Thompson, the Captain of the ferry, The Good Shepherd IV. He has a new guitar to show off and plays U2, Floyd, Deep Purple, Steely Dan, Queen and Bad Company songs for a long while.
The evening's bird log details that the booted warbler is still present; as are 65 wheatear, 17 willow warblers, singles each of barred and garden warblers, 2 lesser whitethroat and a goldcrest. The latter is the five gram miracle, a bird weighing half a teaspoon of sugar that can fly over the North Sea and beyond. Meadow pipit numbers are at 752.
The plastic bottle from the morning beach clean? Well the language turned out to be Haitian creole, the bottle a chlorine-based water purification product. Haiti to Fair Isle is 7,000 kilometres in a direct line; the bottle is here due to the hopefully here forever Gulf Stream.

Friday 2nd September light to fresh SW Rain – AM, sunny PM.

A barred warbler is in the Observatory's garden and a kestrel flies over nearby. The goldcrest from yesterday is still down in the harbour area, as is the long-tailed duck. From the state of her wings, she isn't going anywhere fast.
A day spent walking the south of the island, particularly around the crofts and South Lighthouse.
I have a task to perform that may save the ocean. Louise Forsyth of Orkney, who I visited last week, has given me a large, heart-shaped whitish crystal. This she believes has powers that will help the ocean. From an elevated position on a cliff at the southernmost tip of the island it is thrown into the surging waters.
Louise's website detailing her work in this is:-

Actually this is the third crystal that I have placed around Fair Isle. The first was back in 2010, thrown from the Good Shepherd IV into the waves north of Fair Isle. Last year the crystal flew from atop the high cliff at Sumburgh Head, South Shetland.
The evening log has the wheatear count up at 227, a large increase on yesterday. Also up, yet less markedly are willow warbler at 23 whilst the number of barred and garden warblers has doubled with two of each. Meadow pipit numbers are rising fast, now at 822. How David, Lee and Ciaron count them is beyond me. Clouds of them in any field are extremely difficult to assess.
Maybe Louise's crystals do have magical powers for tonight there is the best Auroroa borealis I have ever seen. It is so good that a decesion to walk all the way to the North Lighthouse in the dark seems the correct one. It is such a shame that my camera won't take a photograph that shows the curtain and flare against a green misty background.

Saturday 3rd September light to fresh S Sunny start, sunny intervals later.

I love fulmars. They are curious of anyone walking the cliffs and come close to watch you pass. They cuddle up in pairs or small groups on the cliffs and swirl en masse against a coastal aspect of such magnificence that it takes one's breath away.
Today my walk takes me south once more, this time staying close to the cliffs and geos. Geos are rocky inlets in the high mound-like hills that have very steep inaccessible cliffs and some grassy slopes. Migrant birds have a habit of congregating near the top of such. Sometimes though it is worth sitting down and watching the cliffs themselves.
Starting at the top of Hill Dyke, a long high dry stone wall that bisects the western half of the island between the heather moorland of the north and the fertile fields of the crofting land to the south, a large female peregrine causes some alarm to the other birds.
Down by the Raevas three swifts are zooming about and in a field here are seven ruff and ten black-tailed godwits.
Down at the South Lighthouse more waders are on the shore; sanderling and knot, turnstone and dunlin.
Two lapland buntings are by the school.
Most of the day is spent photographing the beautiful island in all its different aspects; crofts, landscapes, sheep!

The birders present, well that is Tony Vials from Northamptonshire, a birder who has been coming to the Fair Isle for many years and has many tales to tell, and I as well as the Observatory quartet, have been waiting for the south west wind to change. During the afternoon it does, the sun comes out to celebrate the famous south east wind. Tomorrow could be good.
Back in the Midlands, the land of my birth, the nature reserves have been having an all-dayer, that is a birdwatching competition where each reserve tries to beat each other over how many species they see in a twenty four hour period.
My all-dayer on Fair Isle gave me 47 birds, a barred warbler late in the day being the last. The Fair Isle birding team; David, Chris, Lee and Ciaron's total is 68.

Sunday 4th September very light E-NE very warm and sunny, almost no cloud all day. Not typical Fair Isle weather!

Trap run with Lee again, and with quite a group of visitors too. The 'Speyside' group have joined the run. There are more birds around today; my cycle run to Observatory before had seen willow warblers and wheatears along the dykes and walls. By the end of the six Helogoland trap run Lee has five birds in five bags; 2 wheatear, 2 meadow pipits and a reed warbler.
The sun is a shining on a beautiful morning. A text, wood warbler at South Raeva. A fast cycle ride down the island, the bike thrown against the shop wall and a dash over a field. Wood warbler on the list, bird number 280. Thanks Lee Gregory.

Walking back to collect the bike another text comes in, this one from the warden David Parnaby. Phyllosc with a wing bar, South Naversgill.
After collecting some nuts and raisins for my breakfast I make my way to Hill Dyke and see David coming down the other side of the high dry stone wall. Thanking him for the text and then walking towards the west end of the wall, a large warbler lands on a nearby barbed wire fence. I shout to David who turns to look at the icterine warbler. Another new bird for the Green Year list and this time found by me. This is going to be a special day!

The rest of the day in glorious weather is spent exploring each and every geo from Gunnawark to Skinners Glig on the west coast of Fair Isle. Each geo has a small group of migrants; mostly willow warblers yet also pied flycatchers and the occasional different bird. Reaching South Naaversgill, or Tyneside just south of it, Isit down and remember the red-flanked bluetail of last year. There are three willow warblers down in the shadows. No there isn't. There are two. The other has a very faint wing bar; a greenish and my third of this fabulous year.

The height of the cliffs is exhilarating and the views of roosting gannets massed on grassy slopes is enthralling. The views down high vertiginous cliffs is captivating and each geo has its own distinguishing features. One may have grassy parapets, another sheer rock face cliffs. Grey Geo has the latter and on the sun-facing cliff a barred warbler is sunbathing. Motionless the large warbler just perches on a small jutting out rock face. 

The next geo has a large bowl-like quality with Alum Bay like colours. It also has yet another icterine warbler hopping around the top. It doesn't allow me to get close,popping over the cliff edge and away.

I pop my head over the cliff edge and find a lesser whitethroat sitting just below me.
To the top of the highest point on the island, Ward Hill, 217 metres high. Searching amongst the ruins of WW2 concrete no birds show themselves.
Down at the large radio mast two noisy arctic skuas are resting and another pied flycatcher flits around.
To the Observatory eventually in the evening, the log details a remarkable day.


Green Year list – 281. This is twenty six ahead of this time last year and I only reached the heights of 281 on 18th of November with a long-billed dowitcher at Newbiggin Pools, Northumberland.

To see more photographs from these days then please take a look at either the Biking Birder 2016 - Quest for 300 Facebook page or my personal Facebook page - Gary Brian Prescott.


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