Friday, 9 September 2016

More Days on The Fair Isle

Monday 5th September                              fresh to strong SW       
                          cloudy start then sunshine day!

The day after the banquet and everything is quiet. I walk around the south of the fair Fair Isle. The red-throated diver is asleep as usual in South Harbour and Tommy's Guest House, Da Haa has a greenish warbler in the garden. 
Into the graveyard I look at each headstone. The ages of the people interred here are mostly in the 80 years bracket and there is even one gentleman who lived to be 101.
The War memorial details the names of eight men who died in WW1 and one in WW2. Such a high figure for such a small island.

Utra has a single dunlin probing its mud. Will an American wader drop in on the island soon? There are reports of buff-breasted sandpipers on North Ronaldsay. Send one here please.

A quiet day for me with some time spent pensively atop clifftops. I do though venture down a very steep incline to access a beach. The surge of the sea here is thunderous and the cliffs to my left of Malcolm's Head are huge. Plastic on the beach, long lengths of rope and a lesser black-backed gull, a juvenile, that doesn't look as though it will sadly last much longer. It is being battered by the waves and every time it gets purchase on a rock it immediately gets washed off again.

The evening log at the Bird Observatory details ten species of warbler; 35 willow, 4 garden, 3 lesser whitethroat, 2 chiff chaffs and singles each of icterine, greenish, booted, blackcap and whitethroat. 135 wheatears, a couple of redstarts, 9 lapland buntings and 11 pied flycatchers.

Tuesday 6th September Fresh SW High cloud and sunny later.

A spotted flycatcher around Pund first thing; Pund is my favourite starting point for a day's migrant search.

On the trap rung with David Parnaby a new robin is caught, as is a meadow pipit, three rock pipits and a willow warbler. Of great interest though is a pied flycatcher with a Norwegian ring on it's leg. This is the first ever occurrence on Fair Isle.
I set off down to North and South Haven, ostensibly to clear these two beaches of plastic rubbish washed in on the tide. A bin liner full latter, I find a set of wings and the gruesomely bloody head of a sanderling. There's a bird of prey around somewhere.
Beaches cleared I head for the south of the island again. Now by the Kirk a lapwing has been seen by everyone else but me for the last week. Come log time, Lapwing? One.
Today I have it walking amongst grassy tussocks that have been hiding it.

Down to Meadow Burn and the booted warbler is still there. The Raeva geos have a single redstart and Lower Stackhoul has a lesser whitethroat. 
My daughter's birthday yet I have to be happy enough that I can message her on facebook. My mobile phone is dead and I have no other way to say . . . HAPPY BIRTHDAY. Looking at the feral nature of the so-called rock doves here I may be able to send a message by carrier pigeon. Pure rock doves they are not

Wednesday 7th September calm with light SW High full cloud cover

A male Greenland wheatear is caught on the trap run this morning. Great to see one in the hand, a favourite bird.
Lee Gregory shows me some of the detail to be seen on the dead sanderling I found yesterday including the lack of a hind toe, a diagnostic feature of the bird.
I walk the cliffs away from the Observatory and via the Gully, where a dunnock is hiding in the small patch of bushes, I head for east of the island and views over to Sheep Rock. The weather is benign and mild, a little soporific and I spend a long time sitting on cliff edges watching the activity of rock pipits and fulmars on and around the steep cliffs and beaches.

Thursday 8th September Fresh to very strong E cool, thick fog mid-morning, heavy rain all afternoon. Clear skies and Milky Way to lead me 'home' around 10:30PM.

Up early, I set off before sunrise towards the south west of the island. There aren't many migrants but there are the usual good numbers of bonxies. Maybe you know them better as great skuas but they are one of my favourite birds. Big, bulky and occasionally quite aggressive, they come to investigate as I walk near to them. By North Raeva a flava wagtail keeps going just over the next rise as I try and get good views of it.
I decide to seawatch at South Lighthouse but can't for when I arrive there fog descends and I can't even see the sea!
Walking back along the road towards the Observatory I take the small track to Setter, my friends Gordon and Perry Barnes' croft back in the sixties and through to Hill Dyke. With the wind freshening I stay sheltered by the long tall wall but sensibly think that searching the geos won't be a safe activity.
Instead I make my way down Sukki Mire, adjacent to the apirstrip, and watch as a greenshank gets chased by a bonxie.
On reaching the Observatory boot room I am feeling that the morning has been OK; not one where rarities were everywhere but a nice solid morning's birding. Tony Vials soon changes my mood. Ortolan bunting!
I had just divested my thick waterproofs and jumper. I put my coat back on a trudge to search the area where the scarce bunting was last seen. After two hours of squelching through wet grass and along broken stone dykes still no ortolan. I need this bird!
Tony and Cath Mendez join in the search. Tony hears it and points to some grass where he thinks it has dropped in. We circle it and tighten the circle. No bunting. I head off towards the Gully trap. Three birds land on some rocks nearby. The first two are meadow pipts. The third has a large moustachial, a very distinct eye ring and a pink bill . . . ORTOLAN!!!
photograph by Lee Gregory
It pops behind the stones. The three of us go nearer and it flies over our heads calling, plopping down into the long grass some distance away.
Rain starts to pour and Lee Gregory arrives. We both want to find the bird for Cath Mendez to see. We go in search of it and find it. Turning to call Cath over we can only see her departing along the stone wall back to the dry warmth of the Bird Observatory. Fair weather birder!
Lee and I laugh and enjoy reasonable views of this skulking flighty bunting.


Green Year list – 282. This is twenty five ahead of this time last year. This day last year was my first birding day on Fair Isle, a day in which I saw a citrine wagtail and an arctic warbler. The latter was just before a group of orcas went past North Lighthouse. What a welcome! 

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