Tuesday 13th September Fresh SE-E Thick fog - AM
Whinchat and willow warbler at Chalet first thing with fog so thick one can't see more than fifty yards. The walk to North Haven has the quiet blanket with occasional bird calls. On arrival there is a young cormorant in the bay and a single each of goldcrest and willow warbler in the harbour area shows migrants are arriving. Confirming that the Bird Observatory garden has a pied flycatcher and a redstart.
Breakfast ends and Cath Mendez rushes into the lounge. “Lee has found a little bunting!” “Where?” No reply, Cath runs out through the lobby and into the courtyard. Lee is there. The rare bunting is just around the back of the nearby garage. Lee and I creep forward and the bird suddenly flies past us calling. It unfortunately lands behind some pallets near to the garden but out of sight.
Then it flies behind the garden itself still giving no grounded views. I am in my socks and I remove them to follow the bird bare feet. The bird flies again, all the way down to the Haven where it disappears never to be seen again. Untickable views, I am not going to count that on the strength of flight views and a couple of 'tsit' calls.
A walk down the island sticking to the cliffs and geos, occasional willow warbler on rocky beaches, occasional over-flying lapland buntings.
Nick Riddiford has a few moths in his fridge from last night's moth trap, a very large and spectacular convolvulous moth and a micro species that I can't spell properly, Acteris effractcena; well that's what it sounded like!
Outside and away once more a dozen lapland buntings fly over Da Water, as does a very high grey heron and a curlew.
Thick fog has descended once more and Lee and Cairan have had a very mobile citrine wagtail. I here that it is at Da Water. Then it is at Kennaby. I search both areas but cannot find it.
I decide to sit and wait at Da Water and meet Sue, wife of Kenny and we chat for a while. Sue tells me that she found a bird new for Britain in their garden, a brown-headed cowbird. I later found out that she phoned the Bird Observatory to say that she had a bird in the garden that looked like a brown headed starling with a hawfinch-like bill. That's Fair Isle.
Down to the south once more I search the crofts and field, ditches and beaches.
possible Lanceolated warbler – Field Ditch.
Ten minutes later the bird is seen sitting out in the open with tail cocked. It stays there for a few minutes before diving into a shallow ditch. From here Cairan, the finder, Lee, Cath Mendez and I watch as it crawls amongst the grass not too far in front of us. A real MEGA and it's on the list. Brilliant.
A group of people we are told are about to arrive on the Good Shepherd, an RSPB group from Aberdeen. What a baptism to arrive on the vomit bucket, be taken by minibus to see as their first bird on Fair Isle a lanceolated warbler. The bird must realise how special it is as it stays in one spot in the grass for fifteen minutes or so so that even telescopes can be used to see all details. What an absolute cracker.
Happy with the lancy, well over the Moon with the lancy, I bird Pund and Setter.
No red flag Land Rover to tell of another rare bird, another text . .
possible citrine wagtail Da Water.
Cairan has found another rare bird. He is on a roll and for the extraordinary effort he puts in every day he deserves it.
With Deryk Shaw, the ex-warden who still crofts on Fair Ilse, Lee and Cairan we all venture out over the marshy Da Water bog. The citrine is seen briefly amongst tall grassy tussocks but is it a citrine. Maybe it is an Eastern yellow wagtail. No, citrine it is and so bird numbers 283 and 284 are secured; a double Year tick day. Things are going to get better!
Wednesday 14th September light N High cloud at 6:00AM but turns foggy later.
The morning Heligoland Trap run catches a couple of blackcaps and a whitethroat.
I head off for the north, once more following the cliff edges and geos. Past the incredible structure of the guillemot monitoring hide, it looks a Health & Safety disaster but it has been in position on it's precarious ledge for longer than some crofts.
Bracken in Wirvie Burn is thicker than I have seen elsewhere on the island and single willow warbler is here following the stream.
Fog descends and visibility goes down to a hundred yards or so. Some duck are on Golden Water, three wigeon and a female gadwall. The latter is a rare bird on Fair Isle.
The North Lighthouse is hazily seen but only just as I approach in the thick fog. Staying there for an hour or so though and going to the large foghorn area, the fog rolls away to the west leaving blue, cloudless skies to the east and a bank of rolling fog to the west. Beautiful light changes with gannets, fulmars and bonxies gliding past close enough to almost touch. With the clearing away of the fog Sumburgh Head can be seenon the horizon twenty five miles or so to the north.
Past the gannet colony on the Stacks of Scroo, I descend towards Dronger. A text.....
Rosefinch in the enclosure at Muckle Uri.
It couldn't be any further away from where I am and still be on Fair Isle but I need it for the Ye list so I jog/walk back to the Bird Observatory and get my bike. Down the island with the now fresh north wind behind me, I reach the South Lighthouse and just put my bike against the wall when another text comes in, this one in Capital letters.....
SHORT-TOED LARK Water Towers.
Back on the bike I cycle now into the wind and arrive at the water Towers half way back up the island where Lee Gregory has found the bird. It, together with a skylark flies off as soon as I arrive. Just like the little bunting of yesterday it calls as it passes but flies off into the distance. Lee and I search the heather along Hill Dyke. W search the fields to the south and beside Setter but no good. Maybe it has gone back to the water tower. It hasn't and Lee leaves for his belated lunch.
I cycle around to setter and search the Parks area first. No good. At Setter the sheep must think that Ian, Setter's owner, has come out as all of the sheep for some distance come running up to me. Surrounded by them, some even allow patting and head stroking. They disturb a skylark. With it another bird, smaller, takes off and both head back to the water tower.
I head back and after photographing a very tame yet shy Lapland bunting, the short-toed lark is indeed back at the shed-like water tower. UTB . . Under The Belt and a very good bird to get on the Year list, bird number 285. The list is growing rapidly towards the magic 300.
An attempt is scheduled for 4:30pm to try and see whether a large snipe seen at Da Water is actually a great snipe. A line of birders go through the area but only two common snipe come out.
I head for Lower Stoneybreak, Neil Thompson's garden, as the common rosefinch was seen in the garden there. I think I see a locustella but it turns out to be a complete mess up as two garden warblers come out of the rose bushes where I thought the possibly rare bird had gone. Then the rosefinch suddenly dives into some red current bushes in the corner of Neil's garden. I can't see it, well actually I did see it fly in. I see it fly out again and it heads off down the hill to the nearby shop.
I can't find it at the shop and return to have a chat with Neil. We talk about the black-browed albatross seen from the Good Shepherd boat that Neil is the Captain of back in the Summer. Neil's face, when describing the moment and his actions to get views of the bird as it circle the boat, is delightful, full of impish fun. Cairan is standing by us and he says simply, “Gary, rosefinch.”
Rosefinch onto the year list, bird number 286; the bird is sitting on a rose stem low to the ground about ten yards away. Not the most inspiring of birds it is though another expected Year tick and so greatly appreciated.
Thursday 15th September Fresh E Very thick fog all morning to hill fog and mist with drizzle in the afternoon with some the sun breaking through the haze on occasions.
Birds are difficult to see, visibility is down to fifty yards at best and the best place to see newly in migrant birds is in the Bird Observatory garden.
Walking off southwards I reach Setter. Text comes in . . .
YB Warbler Gully
Thanks Lee. I get there as Lee and Chris Dodds try to persuade the bird to come out of the small area of bushes at the bottom of the gully and enter the nearby Gully Heligoland trap. It doesn't. They leave and I stay, sit down and watch. A garden warbler is in some bracken beneath me down the slope and then out comes the spritely little bird, eye stripes, wing bars, white underparts and green uppers; all in all a superbly lovely little bird and a miraculous one too having come from Siberia. Not that much bigger than a goldcrest it is incredible that such a tiny bird can get here having travelled so far. Last year was a record year for them on Fair Isle with 78 having been seen in one fantastic day. Indeed I saw 111 (Nelson!) whilst I was on Fair Isle.
So yellow-browed warbler UTB; five new birds for the Green Year list in three magnificent days. Now at 287 I am only three away from beating my own UK Green Year list record, 13 away from reaching my first major target of the magic 300 and 18 away from beating Ponc Feliu for the European Green record.
I need to increase my Karma with nature as it has been so good to me over the last few days. With two large bin liners the beach at the end of the gully takes two hours to be cleared of the plastic rubbish that has arrived there from the sea. Polystyrene, one-use plastic bottles and fishing equipment, ropes and pieces of an old tyre; one bottle has a label saying that it originated from Singapore, Malaysia. It hasn't floated here, one may imagine a cargo ship from there passing and a bottle being thrown into the sea from it.
The bin liners are pulled up the steep cliff where a starling leg is found with a Fair Isle ring on it. The ring is given to David Parnaby, the Observatory warden and the bin liners I carry to the Harbour and put in the skip.