Tuesday, 4 October 2016

October Targets . . .

Tuesday 4th October October Target Birds

Once again I have a spreadsheet made up of the possible Year tick birds that have occurred on Fair Isle in the last eleven years as detailed in their wonderful annual reports.
Each bird has a percentage probability and the average number of year tick birds for October is 8.9. Let's make my target 9 then, optimistic but I have already had 5!

radde's warbler

blyth's reed warbler

red-flanked bluetail

pechora pipit and

barnacle goose.

So what's left? Let's start with the birds I saw last October here on Fair Isle plus there percentage chance:-

Olive-backed pipit (72.7% up to 100% in the last five years)
Well one was seen on the island today so hopefully that will be re-found tomorrow.

Siberian Rubythroat (36.4% but up to 60% in the last five years)
A high chance then of seeing one and I may be greedy but I wish for a male, unlike last year's hard to see female.

OK, now for the other birds that I didn't see on Fair Isle last year but they have been here as follows:-

(81.8% chance)
Little auk

(54.4% chance)
waxwing
Iceland gull (increases to 100% chance for the last five years)

(45.5% chance)
Arctic redpoll [Snowball please, hornemanni.]

(36.4%)
Pallas' grasshopper warbler
White's thrush
[What a pair these two would make!]

(27.3%)
Buff-breasted sandpiper [it would be nice to have a Yank]
Black-throated thrush [aah, memories of one nearly in my garden in Redditch in the '90s]

(18.2%)
Blyth's pipit
White-rumped sandpiper
Bean goose
Siberian stonechat
Grey-cheeked thrush
Rustic bunting
Sabine's gull

and finally . . .

(9.1%) - fantasy time.....
River warbler
Red-eyed vireo
Blackpoll warbler
Honey buzzard
King eider
Thrush nightingale
Pallas' warbler
Siberian thrush
Pine bunting
Subalpine warbler (since split but no details of which in report)
Hume's yellow-browed warbler

Right, there you have it. My Green Year list at the moment stands at 298 and I am hoping for 4 more birds over the next few weeks here on fair Isle. The winds are south-easterly for the next ten days at least and the wind is set to calm down. Sunshine also for the next ten days, what a time to be on Fair Isle with the weather set fair. Those winds by the way originate from beyond Finland. What will they bring?

The Cliffs and Geos of The West Coast of Fair Isle

Tuesday 4th October strong ESE Sunny, cool.

Barnacle geese are coming over the island, flocks of them. I miss them whilst having breakfast!
A text, olive-backed pipit, Field Ditch.
I am there quick enough but it is clear the bird is nowhere on view. Birders are standing around or searching the fields. It has flown and in the strong wind the rare Sibe pipit could be anywhere. I search the fields, starting in those west of Chalet.
Nothing found by the time I get to Hjukni Geo via Gilly Burn, just a few redwings and a whinchat.

Chaffinch in the geo and a chiff chaff that trembles it's tail every time it stays put on the cliff. A redshank stays by a pool long enough for me to photograph it before it does what redshank normally do, noisy buzz off.

Lee Gregory comes past on his census walk and points out three barnacle geese coming our way. “Year tick!” I say. “You must have had them before these,” he laughs. No matter, bird number 298 onto the year list.

I decide that today I will explore the cliffs and geos from Hjukni Geo north. Each geo has migrants sheltering from the wind; thrushes which most are redwings but also fieldfare, blackbirds and song thrushes. A single male ring ouzel is at Guidicum.
A flock of barnacles, 25 of them, fly over with 3 wigeon on their way seemingly to North Ronaldsay.
Goldcrests number around twenty and there are a couple of yellow-browed warblers and chiff chaffs. A male blackcap is amazing in it's tenacity of clinging to the rock near the base of an immense cliff of Gunnawark. Here I have gone down the cliff to perch on a ledge far below the cliff tops. From here I can see the beach and watch the seals in the surf. The first of the new born seal cubs is on the beach asleep.
Two butterflies are flying, both red admirals and the water cannon is banging away in North Naaversgill.
The magnificence of the cliffs is wonderful and with the sunshine making a deep contrast of the depths of each geo to the sunlit cliffs, the views are stupendous.

The day goes quickly but by the time I reach ward Hill I am beat and grateful that the way is downhill to the Bird Observatory.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Red-Flanked Browntail Closely followed by a trapped Black-spotted Browntail

Monday 3rd October Fresh to strong ESE Sunny, cool.

Sunshine but much cooler due to the fresh wind. It is in the right direction though so who knows, there may be birds. Like yesterday? One can only hope but a day like that is really a once in a lifetime event.
A slavonian grebe is close in at North Haven again. The blyth's reed warbler is showing from the Bird Observatory garden before breakfast and a common rosefinch has been caught in a mist net. Measured and ringed, it is soon released.


Yesterday's list of rares is still on the Bird Observatory noticeboard testing everyone to find better today.
Down the island it is immediately clear that there has been a huge clear out of migrant birds. I don't see my first phyllosc' for a couple of hours.
Jack snipe, curlews, pipits, fulmars, gannets, pink-footed geese, wigeon; the day goes by and although I see a group of birders gather to look at the lanceolated warbler, now to be found in the garden at Midway, I don't join them. I continue to search.
To the shop in the afternoon for food I go to the Kirk to read and have lunch.
After lunch I am walking the bike up the hill by the school when a bird comes out of the long grass. I think it looks good. I watch where it doves down into the grass and head that way. It doesn't flush until I almost tread on it and it flies like a bullet and into a ditch. What is it? A thrush? That size but behaving like this. Must check. I carefully walk the ditch and up it flies again heading away from me at seed to dive into a ditch once again.
I phone Lee Gregory who I can see a few hundred yards away near North Shirva. Lee is a great friend and he with Cath Mendez come over. Meanwhile I have been praying to my guardian angels that it is a good bird.
The three of us move over to the last place I saw the bird and out comes a . . .
red-flanked browntail! (work it out....)

Oh well, always call out a bird you're not sure of. I have never seen a redwing, for that's what it was, behave in such a way. Wierd.

The three comrades walk back towards the Bird Obs and laugh. Lee walks the Plantation Heligoland trap and the Gully one also. From the latter he comes out with a bird in the bag, a black-spotted browntail. OK, a song thrush to you and me. One day it will be a mega but not today.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Days Don't Get Any Better Than This!

Sunday 2nd October very light E Sunny and amazingly clear with views of all surrounding islands.

Sunshine, calm conditions and a flat sea, I was here yesterday yet today feels different. Maybe the blackcap, willow warbler and lesser whitethroat in the nettles at Pund show birds have arrived.
A bluethroat at Chalet, good bird, and two redstarts on the fence by the fire station as I cycle down the island. There are birds!
I walk down to the Raevas and bird the geos. The view between the rocky headlands over to Foula, forty miles or so to the north, is as clear as I have ever seen it.
Text from Susannah Parnaby at the Observatory:
Raddes warbler between Burkly and Meadow Burn
Pedalling downhill a group of birders are standing around the cabbage patch at Quoy. They are looking for the raddes. It hasn't been seen for half an hour or so. Very mobile is the news; that means the bird is flying around the island and could by now be anywhere.
Going over into the field at Meadow Burn, a redwing is behind Nick Riddiford's garden at Schoolton. On his back fence is a blackcap and alesser whitethroat. I am about to search the reedy dtch that runs through the field when I spot two small warblers coming down the fence towards me. One is a yellow-browed; the other isn't.
Arctic warbler,” I shout. A brief view of a chiff-shaped warbler with a good supercilium and just the hint of a wingbar. It and the yellow-browed almost immediately fly off over towards Burkle to the south.
Birders search but to no avail. The arctic warbler is behaving just like the radde's, flighty and mobile.
People are running and beckoning, the radde's has been found again at Lower Stoneybrek. Once there I see it in flight disappearing towards Upper Stoneybrek. More views of it there but it moves on towards the school. I finally get really good views when it lands on a wooden playground bridge and then on the surrounding fence. Not there for long though, it flies off towards the shop.
Bird number 294 and a good one to get, Radde's is another Siberian bird added to the list.
Another text from Susannah:
Chris has had a Blyth's reed warbler at the Obs.
I cycle there as fast as possible to find that the bird is down by the sheds at North Haven. The bird is following a short dry stone wall and it jumps on top of this giving a good view. It plays a game with myself and another birder as it keeps on disappearing behind the sheds only to come out the other side. Then it decides that it has had enough peekaboo and goes up the hill.
Half an hour later it is back around the sheds and more birders have gathered. The acro' goes onto the beach and hides amongst the large stones. Then it comes back around the sheds and off up the hill again.
Bird number 295, things are getting better. How much better!
Text from Lee Gregory in capital letters:
BLUETAIL, Dog Geo.
Once having found that dog Geo is on the southside of Malcolm's Head, I cycle to Lower Leogh and walk across. Only Steve Arlow is there with his large camera and the very rare Siberian bird, a red-flanked bluetail is seen well fly catching in the shadows of the deep geo. The setting couldn't be better as both Steve and I lay down on the cliff edge and watch as it flits from rock to rock, fly to fly.

Bird number 296. Phew.
Walking back to Lower Leogh there are yellow-browed warblers everywhere; on the fences in the fields and in the roses at the croft. More are by the roadside at Meadow Burn.
Just before Shirva I think that Cairan has just waved to me. He has found something . . and how. Pechora!
Soon a long line of hopeful birders are assembled along a dry stone wall looking over an area of long grass at Shirva. Cairan walks through it but no pechora comes out. People disperse to search and the bird is soon found, on the short grass of the lawn at Shirva. I get it as it walks beneath some gas cyclinders. It flies and lands to walk along the bottom of a dry stone wall. It flies again but only into a courtyard at North Shirva. It flies but into a window and goes off calling sharply around the building.
Bird number 297. Incredible.
Cath Mendez wants to see the red-flanked bluetail and knowing that the geo is a hard one to locate, I walk with her back to the bird. It is still flying around and after watching it some more I leave Cath to the bird in order to search the geos to the north. Steensi Geo has two yellow-broweds and a lesser whitethroat. Linni geo has another yellow-browed and a blackcap. South Raeva has another two yellow-broweds!

Back to the bike, left at Shirva, I head back for the observatory, wanting to get better views of the blyth's reed. I get to Lower Soneybrek and see a very pale, silver whitethroat, another yellow-browed, a lesser whitethroat and a red-breasted flycatcher.

Someone is running down the road. “Lanceolated at Shirva.”
Once there, Steve Arlow who is obviously having an incredible day bird-finding wise, has found the lancy and has it staked out in a tall grass clump. He, I and a few other birders who have got there quickly wait for Susannah to bring two minibus fulls of birders. The crowd assembled, Steve gently and slowly walks towards the bird. Out it comes and circles in front of everyone before disappearing into the long grass again. The bird comes out again on the next walk towards it by Steve and I decide to wait just up the road from the crowd.
How jammy can I be today? The lancy comes out and lands almost at my feet, the other side of a small gate.

Happy with my third lanceolated warbler of the year I head back to the Bird Observatory and carry on down to South Haven beahc to sit with Steve Arlow and reflect on the day. There are three yellow-broweds fly catching on the washed up seaweed. Another one is even on the exposed laminaria bed. That makes 26 for me today.
Just to finish the day the blyth's reed warbler lands nearby giving great views. 

The slavonian grebe is still in North Haven.
Finally a 5 gram miracle, is in North Haven on the wire-netting around the harbour. Exhausted.

Now for the bird log!
Bird log highlights : -
slavonian grebe 5
merlin 1
peregrine 1
water rail 1
jack snipe 22
goldcrest 29
short-toed lark 1
swallow 19
arctic warbler 1
yellow-browed warbler 72 (five away from a new Fair Isle record)
[16 yellow-broweds were rung]
chiff chaff 19 (of which 7 were 'tristis'.)
willow warbler 9
blackcap 20
garden warbler 5
barred warbler 3
lesser whitethroat 13
whitethroat 1
lanceolated warbler 1
blyth's reed warbler 1
radde's warbler (Fair Isle's 8th)
redwing 133
bluethroat 2
redstart 1
whinchat 6
wheatear 39
red-breasted flycatcher 4
pied flycatcher 3
stonechat 1
red-throated pipit 1
pechora pipit 1
goldfinch 16
twite 213
linnet 2
lesser redpoll 2
little bunting 1
red-flanked bluetail 1 (Fair Isle's 13th)

Bird log is a run through of all birds seen during the day. It is called at 9:00PM every night, announced with the tolling of a ship's bell. Tonight was a particularly happy log with loud applause at the end. A very special day.

At Last, A Day With No Wind, Well Almost No Wind.

Saturday 1st October very light N-NE Sunny for the most part with one shower around 1:30PM

Sunshine, calm conditions and a flat sea, I decide to seawatch off Buness.
A slavonian grebe is close in at North haven and a single knot is together with sanderling and turnstone on the disused jetty there. On the furthest piece of Buness, on a seat-shaped rock, I watch the sea and all is well. The gentle swell gives a soundscape of serenity as waves gently cover rocky outcrops and fall away leaving cascades of white water.
Fulmars are passing as always in good numbers and gannets too. This makes it easy to spot any bird with different flight; a different jizz as birders would say.
A guillemot tazzes past, straight, direct and fast. A grey plover calls as it flies past in the opposite direction. A first year kittiwake is going the same way and I naughtily think that my photograph of it could be photoshopped into a sabine's gull. How long before the first birding cheat tries to do such a thing? Has it happened already? Memories of the Caspian gadwall.....

(To see what that was all about click on the following link.
You won't regret it. Flying penguins, breeding great auks etc. Oh dear .. the video is blocked for copyright reasons. Try this link for the flying penguins . .

Two hours of soporific enjoyment, hoping for orcas but reflecting on nature, goes by andit starts to drizzle. No problem, adds to the atmosphere. Drizzle turns to not forecasted rain. I head for the Bird Observatory for a coffee.
Plastic trawler net is on the beach. A large yellow fertilizer bag is on the beach. A large plastic bottle is on the beach. In the rain I collect them. At the skip I am told that I can't put them in there any more. There is no room after the bin liners from the crofts and the Bird Obs' have filled it. “Get a box of matches and burn it.”
It is not fault of the crofter who tells me this. Cut backs means that there are now fewer waste skips brought to the island. I need to email some people. I won't stop collecting the obscene waste that is found on every beach here and arrives on every tide. The seal with a plastic neck-cutting necklace of fishing net deserves better.
A yellow-browed is in the garden and two redpolls. They look lesser to me but I don't get good views in the pouring rain.
After a light lunch, an apple, I walk up to the radio mast and on to the geos of the west coast. From Skinner's to Tyneside, my favourite part of Fair Isle, I walk, sit for prolonged periods and enjoy the stunning scenery. There are almost no migrant birds; plenty of fulmars and gannets as expected. The only unusual bird is a snow bunting at Guidicam.
A text tells of a humpback whale moving not too far away over in Orkney. The whale first seen off Sanday has been seen off North Ronaldsay and I am hoping that it turns east. The conditions are perfect for whale watching. The horizon is crisp and clear and the sea flat calm.
The sun starts to go down and so I head back for the observatory. Maybe tomorrow for the humpback. Maybe tomorrow for some new migrant birds. Well the wind is north east, could be good.