Wednesday, 21 September 2016

September Targets and Possible Birds

Targets and Birds

My target for September was for 15 new Year ticks. So far I have managed 13 and with 9 days to go that target could be reached. The following lists birds that could possibly occur over the next 9 days in descending probability order. That is I have made a spreadsheet of birds that would be year ticks seen on Fair Isle during September in the last eleven years.

56% chance -
  • Barnacle goose
  • pectoral sandpiper
  • olive-backed pipit

45% chance
  • Blyth's reed warbler
last year's Blyth's reed warbler
  • buff-breasted sandpiper

36% chance
  • Pallas' grasshopper warbler

27% chance
  • buff-bellied pipit
  • paddyfield warbler
  • pallid harrier
  • honey buzzard (missed the one seen a few days ago!)

18% chance
  • pomarine skua
  • melodious warbler
  • western subalpine warbler
  • American golden plover
  • Arctic redpoll
  • western bonelli's warbler
  • pechora pipit
  • red-flanked bluetail
  • thrush nightingale

OK let's get to a fantasy level of chance. The following have occurred once in eleven years :-

  • magnolia warbler
  • river warbler
  • eastern olivaceous warbler
  • Sabine's gull
  • Baird's sandpiper
  • White's thrush
  • Syke's warbler
  • spotted crake (there is one on the island at the moment)
  • Swainson's thrush
  • Two bar crossbill
  • brown flycatcher
  • Siberian thrush
  • Grey-cheeked thrush
  • Woodchat shrike
  • Iceland gull (!)
  • yellow-breasted bunting and . .
  • aquatic warbler

Please note that there are more species that have occurred in October here on Fair Isle.

Also there are a few birds that I should get back on the Mainland; bean goose for instance.


300 is on the way. 305 for a European record? I won't count my chickens just yet but . . . . 

A Red-Breasted Flycatcher Takes Me To 292 .... and more yellow-broweds

Wednesday 21st September strong S/SE Sunny intervals, some hill fog at times, short light shower.

A red-breasted flycatcher has been trapped at Gully. Brought back to the Bird Observatory it goes onto the Green Year list once it has been processed, rung and released. Bird number 292.

I know I must be on Fair Isle as a Lapland bunting lands on the road in front of me as I cycle.

Lee Gregory has seen a spotted crake at Da Water first thing and I decide to head south and bird the geos of the south west and the crofts and ditches.
Yellow-browed warbler and female blackcap on the cliff at Steeness as I hold onto a fence and the strong wind is at my back.
Five yellow-browed warblers are in the reeds of Meadow Burn with a willow warbler, a couple of the former are very vocal, calling repeatedly.

Single yellow-broweds are at both Upper and Lower Lough crofts and another is beside the road just north of here. The next one I see is at Burkle where two male blackcaps accompany it.
Otherwise the birding is of the expected birds and despite a text arriving stating a very tame lanceolated warbler is near to the Bird Observatory, my aim is to try for the spotted crake.
Cleaning a window in the Kirk, positioning a chair to lean on I watch Da water for three hours until the light is too poor to see anything as night falls. No spotted crake, the highlight is a moorhen!

After the evening log I pay my Lifer dues to the Bird Observatory for the Great Snipe. The idea is that one gives a donation to the obs for a lifer on a scale that increases the amount of cash the higher your life list is. Money into the pot. Money well spent.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Another Day, Another Year Tick..... and plenty of a small Siberian Warbler Species.

Tuesday 20th September light to fresh S/SE sunny intervals, warm when sun out. Great visibility.

Last night's pleasures didn't finish with the views of the Risso's dolphins. There was a superb gibbous Moon to light my way home.



Morning starts with a little bunting found at The Parks. I rush there as fast as possible but only see a shape disappear into the oat crop. With other birders I wait. A yellow-browed warbler is more obliging.
Two birders decide to walk the side of the crop and a small bird comes out and disappears to the north. I feel sure this is the little bunting and pursue the bird.
Down at the plantation I meet five lovely ladies from New Mexico, USA. Thanks Ann for the note and good wishes from the New Mexico Audubon Society. Thanks to the rest of you too but I'm sorry I forgot to record your names. Senior moment!
One of the birders at the Obs comes up to me and says that the bunting never left the oats and so I return and find it without too much trouble.

LITTLE BUNTING – Green Bird number 291, the Green Year list record keeps on growing. 9 to go for the magic 300, surely this year.
Back to the Observatory, there is a yellow-browed warbler in the garden. Down to the three closest beaches to here, plastic is collected, about half a bin liner full and skipped. There is a dead gannet and razorbill on South Haven beach, both in good condition sadly.
With no news of ny birds that would be new to the Yea list I head off for the geos of the west coast, my favourite area. Over the moorland heading west bonxies mob and snipe zig zag; around a hundred of the former and a dozen latter.
Starting at Tyneside there are two yellow-browed warblers here and a goldcrest. A song thrush is at South Naaversgill and the sun is shining. I decide to photograph each geo in such wonderful light.
North Naaversgill is noisy; big bangs coming from deep down this large geo. Moving around it's cliff top rim, the famous bolthole is filling and ejecting a large jet of seawater. 


There's a yellow-browed here too. There is a fall of these wonderful Siberian warblers going on.
Next to Copper Geo and Grey the views are stupendous. Up to Guidicam and gannets mass on ledges and outcrops; three yellow-broweds here and one each of goldcrest and willow warbler. On the way up a house martin was circling around and a single carrion crow went south.
The views from here over towards Orkney was extremely clear. I could easily make out the lighthouse on North Ronaldsay with my naked eye. Through binoculars the Laird's house, Holland could be seen and further round even Westray and Hoy.

Up to Skinner's geo. No less than five yellow-browed warblers in a small area with a pied flycatcher for company. Amazing.

Final section before heading back to the Observatory is around the mast with it's W2 buildings. Another pied flycatcher here.
Over 100 bonxies are in the air as I make my way downhill.
The evening has a superb talk by the Fair Isle Ranger, Chris Dodds detailing his time at Chatham Islands off New Zealand. The quality of the talks at the Fair Isle Bird Observatory is superb and Chris' tlk is just that. Fascinating, it includes how the black robin was saved from extinction when there were only 5 left in the World to it's present population of around 200. Still in danger due to being precariously positioned on only two islands.

Log at 9PM; 54 yellow-browed warblers on the island, the third highest day total ever. Last year's record total of 76 still leads the way.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Even More rarities and a New British Green Year List Record

Thursday 15th September continued . . .

The people one meets makes travel endlessly fascinating. Melia and Rick are from Alaska originally though now they work from Aberdeen University. Rick is an archaeologist working on recently uncovered Eskimo site in the Arctic, uncovered due to the excessive ice melt. Global warming in action.
Melia works in the Aberdeen university museum and she tells me that they have just uncovered a box covered in thick dust from under a stairway. Upon opening it she found bird skins with labels on each detailing where they were shot and by whom, John James Audubon!

Micel and Sue from Coventry have arrived on Fair Isle in a small airplane piloted by Micel. It soon becomes apparent sitting them that Mike has a very similar sense of humour to me. We love the same films; Blazing Saddles and the like. Gary Larson soon has us all laughing as we share which of the World's best ever environmental minded cartoonist cartoons we love, like and remember. How do snakes say goodbye? Smoking cows and dingo farms. (Look up Gary Larson on google images and you'll find which cartoons we referenced here.)
They also point out a spoof TV series produced in Australia for the Sydney Olympics. The 'Prime Minister's' apology to the indigenous aboriginal tribes is wonderful.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dh0MNIFezME

Mike and Sue also talk about flying and how they have flown around Europe and Australia. What a life! They show a video to capture the feeling.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7mxmFCw-Dig

People. Xx

Friday 16th September Light SE Thick fog and heavy rain AM, clearing to sunny intervals with mist over hills PM.

A relaxing morning watching the rain, wander to the airport to watch Mike and Sue leave but they don't. The front wheel on the small plane has a puncture and they aren't going anywhere until that is repaired.
The short-toed lark is still by the water tanks. Otherwise there are common migrants around in small numbers; whinchat, garden and willow warblers as well as a yellow-browed, blackcap, reed warbler, lesser whitethroat and a couple of spotted flycatchers, 35 Lapland bunting and the ortolan. Still a highlight are four brent geese, a very rare bird on Fair Isle.

Saturday 17th September Fresh S Cloudy cool

Nick Riddiford thinks he has seen a bluethroat at Shirva but isn't sure. He phones the Observatory and Susannah, the warden, David's wife sees me near to the Gully and tells me the news. Shirva soon after, wait and search. No bluethroat. A couple from Wakefield arrive to search with me, Maureen and Keith are fresh in, keen birders and eager to see a good bird. Suddenly it pops up from an area I had searched. It must have been behind a pallet leaning against a dry stone wall. Anyway it hops up onto a five-bar gate and then onto the wall. Stunning bird and in no way diminished by having no blue and red breast.

BLUETHROAT . Bird number 288; only one behind the British Green Year list record.
Exploring the south of the island with an interruption at 4PM when everyone staying at the Bird Observatory tries to flush out a very hard to see great snipe, in fact no one sees it, I find a reed warbler on a barbed wire fence. To see an acro' so close and so tame is encredible.
I spend some time sitting on a high cliff at North Raeva watching as Warwickshire Cricket Club (You Bears!) thrash Surrey in the One Day final at Lords. Brilliant.
On the way to the Observatory for the evening, with the light fading, I meet a couple I remember from last year at Chalet. Karen and Ray from Nottingham have returned for another week in Paradise and are staying at the self-catering croft, Springfield. Ray climbs over the stile at the back of the superb Chalet garden and flushes a barred warbler. The bird circles the garden, a large silver warbler, before diving straight into the roses never to be seen again. My seventh barred warbler of the Autumn so far.
Harvest Moon appears over the horizon . . . 


Sunday 18th September Light to Fresh S/SE Sunny intervals with high cloud.

Morning starts with a lesser whitethroat, a willow warbler and a song thrush around my 'patch' Pund.
A barred warbler is at the Observatory in the garden.
Wanting to explore the north of the island upon reaching Wirvie Burn a text from Lee Gregory.

Possible great snipe at Da Water.

Two minutes later. . . . .

GREAT SNIPE. Confirmed with a photo.

I rush down to an area of marsh just south of the Kirk where Lee has seen the bird go down. 
Cath Mendez and Lee Gregory

After waiting for all birders from the Observatory to get there, an organised flush begins and despite extensively searching three fields there is no sign of the rare bird. Once again it has eluded everyone.
Everyone leaves for lunch at the Obs except me. I have few boiled eggs and a banana. What more do I need?
I zig zag the area just searched and have the occasional common snipe and a single jack come zig-zagging out. No great snipe.
After a couple of hours of doing this, and just after a female sparrowhawk has glided past low over the ground, Lee arrives back and tells me that he will help in the search in an hour or so, after he has finished his census.
Another hour of zig-zagging the area I left my coat and sweatshirt at Kennaby as the sun came out.
Along Kennaby's dry stone wall, along the barbed wire fence to the potato crop.
I lifted my binoculars as rock doves came out from amongst the spud.plants. A snipe, a big one, grunts and flies straight and low before turning to go in front of a group of four people on the nearby road. I scream 'The snipe' to them.
The bird disappears over a ridge and is gone.
Great snipe – bird number 289.
I phone Lee. I am practically screaming and laughing down the phone to him, "I've got the snipe!"
An hour or so later, calmer but searching for more views of the bird another text from Lee.

RED-THROATED PIPIT near .Da Haa

I receive a call . . . Phil Andrews, The Oracle....

"There's a red-throated pipit."

"I know! I'm running for it!"

A phone call from Lee . .

"Red-throated pipit."

"I'm just coming past Deryk's"

Five minutes later, standing with a group of birders, Catherine, David and Howard, the rare pipit is on the grass about thirty yards away. RED-THROATED PIPIT Bird number 290 and a new British Green Year List record.

A chat with the famous Tommy Hyndeman of Da Haa Guest House. Tommy is a friendly American and his garden list, 280, is the envy of many a birder. Indeed the dead tree in the corner of the garden has had 80 bird species in it including . .
citril finch
brown-headed cowbird
blackpoll warbler
siberian rubythroat
. . . to name a few.

http://fair-isle.blogspot.co.uk/p/b-b.html

Monday 19th September light SW One rain shower then glorious day, blue skies and warm.

A gibbous Moon is still quite high to the west as I walk towards Da Water and a group of 16 pink-footed geese fly high heading south. The aim is for another organised flush by all at the Bird Observatory in order to try and see the great snipe.
The attempt ends with all fields where the bird has been seen walked through and with rain falling. A rainbow heralded the arrival of the shower.
Clouds depart and leave just blue sky; indeed hardly a cloud is seen for the rest of the day.
Warmed by the sun at my back I explore the geos and burns to the north, rest and have lunch at the fog horn by the North Lighthouse and see a couple of puffins and a razorbill from here with countless gannets and fulmars passing and the occasional bonxie.
A woodcock is in the bracken of Wirvie Burn and my first chaffinch of the Autumn on Fair Isle passes me as I look down a high cliff.

Risso's dolphins complete a beautiful day as a group of them cavort in the tide rip off South Buness. 

So the Green Year list is now 290, a NEW RECORD. 

New Birds for The Green Year list . . and what Birds!

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.
A text......
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.