Monday, 12 September 2016

Waiting for the Scarce Ones . . Fair Isle

Friday 9th September Fresh SE-S cool, high cloud, Ward Hill has low cloud over it. AM. Fog rolls in and leaves by Noon.

A bonxie is watching me carefully as I approach the Gully. Maybe they aren't as aggressive at this time of year yet I still duck as it decides to torpedo me. There has been heavy rain overnight and the Gully's waterfalls are somewhat larger than usual.
I walk the Parks area and explore each croft's gardens as I head south. Wheatear on posts and a whinchat in Burkle are the most prominent birds.

Ward Hill has been covered with hill fog and this descends and covers the island with a thick blanket for a couple of hours.
In the afternoon I go into the island's museum and spend an hour or so going through photograph albums finding photographs of my late friend Gordon Barnes and his wife Perry. I also read up on all of the Fair Isle men who died in the World Wars.
On leaving the museum I bump into Lee Gregory, one of the assistant wardens and together we bird the south.
Sitting together on the bench at Schoolton a whinchat perches atop some twigs. It looks rather cold and pale and I call it a Siberian whinchat, a sort of joke if one thinks of the plumage on a Siberian stonechat.

(Later today Lee sends me a photograph of this bird on fcebook calling it such and giving it a Latin name of Saxicola prescottius.
Lee is a brilliant birder and he soon spots an interesting lesser black-backed gull, an intermedius sub-species. It's mantle is as black as the nearby Greater Black backed gulls yet it is smaller and has yellow legs. My excuse at not having spotted it is that to me it is hidden behind a sheep. Pretty lame excuse.

A tree pipit is on Tommy's garden wall at Da Haa.
The red-throated diver is in its usual position near to the beach.
Moving back up the island Lee goes off to the east as I go back to the Kirk to collect my bike.
Earlier on I had met Nick Riddiford near there at Da Water. He told me that he had seen a moorhen there with the young tufted duck. Returning now there is a moorhen tucked into the grass adjacent to the open water. I can't make out much of it but from the black blob I can see I presume it to be an adult.
On the way back to the Fair Isle Bird Observatory Lee and I meet up again but only until Lee sees a fulmar that has lost it's way. A fulmar shouldn't be walking down the middle of a Fair Isle road. Lee takes it back to the sea.

Saturday 10th September Strong SW No cloud AM, sunny intervals PM

On this date last year Fair Isle had yellow-browed warblers and other such birding goodies. Today the island seems relatively bare of such. The early morning trap run catches five birds; three rock pipits, a meadow pipit and a willow warbler. What migrants await?
By end of day I have seen a reasonable number of Lapland buntings, around fourteen, a couple of swallows, three golden plover and not a lot else. The island has looked beautiful though and it has been a plasure to photograph crofts and landscapes.
Birds are going to come soon but we need the wind to change.

Sunday 11th September light to fresh S very sunny AM, deteriorating through the day to rain by early evening.

Still no new birds around my patch, Pund to start the day. There are four Lapland buntings though by the road near Setter as I walk to the Observatory for breakfast. Three more Laplands are by the Plantation.
The Observatory garden has a willow warbler and twice it's size, an icterine warbler.
The weather is fine and I decide to bird the bracken patches on the moorland north of the island's airstrip and head towards the geos from there.
Snipe come out of each bracken patch, four and three and bonxies 'ork' and come close, sometimes too close. Duck time again!
The geos look splendid in the sunshine, cuts onto the cliff with steep inclines and rocky ledges of various heights, depths and appearances. The trick I have been told and indeed read about with Bill Oddie's advise in one of his books, is to sit and wait. I do so at each geo in turn. An hour or so later I have seen just a single goldcrest. That was in Tyneside, a favourite geo. Today I don't recognise it and am a little distracted. In fact I feel rather lost and it's only with the help of Lee Gregory who is doing the North census route that I reorientate myself.
Lee leaves for lunch and I head down a geo following a sheep track deep down into the geo, South Gunnerwark. There is a metal rope attached to rocks to provide some security that leads the way down to a ledge where I stop and watch beaches to left and right with dreams of an American warbler.
Returning to the grasslands near to Pund I receive a text from The Oracle. Rosefinch on Fair Isle? I haven't been told of one so I phone Lee Gregory. He hasn't heard of one either yet apparently it is out there on Rare Bird Alert.
A few minutes later Lee phones me back. Cairan has seen a common rosefinch by the South Lighthouse. I head that way.
I search the crop at Skaden. I search the fenced off area at Muckle Uri geo but I can't find a rosefinch. There are twite and meadow pipits but that's all.
I head off to search all of the nearby croft gardens.
Later in the afternoon as rain starts to fall I walk to the Observatory and on reaching it meet Suzanne Parnaby who tells me that Ciaran has had the rosefinch again. Only one thing for it, I get on my bike and cycle south in the rain and the wind.
I meet Ciaron just south of Shirva and he tells me that he only saw it fly over. I decide that my chances of finding it in the murk and rain are slim at most. I head off for my bed.

Monday 12th September Very strong SE gale very sunny

It has rained heavily overnight. Albert, the albatross on the front of my bike is sodden yet Oscar the Otter looks chipper. To the Obs for breakfast the gale propels me there at speed, scary speed as I go downhill from Setter.
A willow warbler is on the grass near to the lounge window and yesterday's icterine warbler seems to have decided to stay another day.
I walk down to the harbour and clear the plastic bottles and long piece of rope from the gale-battered beach. Five arctic terns are in the shelter of North Haven and it is delightful when I come around a large container by the wall of th harbour and come acropss two goldcrests at my feet. Here come the migrants, these are the harbingers of things to come, lost waifs weighing less than an ice cream wafer each.

With spray coming over the cliffs of Buness I make my way to the Obs for a day of music and emails.