Friday 30 September 2016

A September Summary. Fifteen Year Ticks. Fair Isle Splendour.

September on Fair Isle summary

Green Year list now on 293 having had 15 new birds whilst being on the Fair Isle, 14 of them during September. I had a booted warbler on arrival at the end of August, so let's start with that wonderful bird.

BOOTED WARBLER Iduna caligata 30th August 2016

Seen in the small reedbed that makes up Meadow Burn, a small, very pale warbler that showed well on the wires that surround the area. Booted warbler comes from Central Russia and Asia.

There were a lot of migrants around on my arrival day; 63 willow warblers, 176 wheatear, 106 white wagtails as well as a couple of barred warblers,and singles of marsh warbler and common rosefinch. Welcome to Fair Isle. A.D.I.P. ….. a day in Paradise.

My second Rose-coloured starling, Pastor roseus was found by Cath Mendez at the Bird Observatory, coming down to feed on apples put out by Lee Gregory for just that possibility. A juvenile bird, pale and obvious, rosy is a vagrant from Central Europe.

Into September. The target was for 15 year ticks and a spreadsheet was prepared months ago detailing the year tick bird species seen on Fair Isle during this month for the last 11 years. A percentage probability is mentioned after each of the following year ticks seen in brackets.

WOOD WARBLER Phylloscopus sibilatrix 4th September 2016

One would have expected me to have added this bird to the year list whilst on the UK mainland but no, I wasn't near any of the declining breeding birds' areas during those crucial times before mid-June when they go quiet. One turning up on Fair Isle was a bonus not too unexpected. Sitting on a barbed wire fence with the occasional jump down onto the grass to catch an insect, a beautiful, bright warbler with white underparts, yellow throat and green back. (45.5% chance of occurrence in September)

ICTERINE WARBLER Hippolais icterina

David Parnaby, the Fair Isle Bird Observatory warden, had found a greenish warbler, Phylloscopus trochiloides, in Tyneside Geo. I saw him walking on the other side of the long, tall dry stone wall called Hill Dyke and thanked him for the text message telling me of that bird. As I turned away a large Hippo' warbler landed on the barbed wire fence about thirty yards away. I emmediately shouted to David, “Icky.”
Another hoped to see warbler went onto the list; an obvious Hippolais, large and stronger than similar Phyloscs. After walking to the greenish warbler, I carried on exploring the geos, high cliffed areas of coast that provide shelter and food for many fresh in migrant birds. At Grey Geo, one of my favourites with a fast eroding cliff line and colourful rock and mud sections, another icterine warbler was foraging in short grass. Classed as a rare vagrant to the UK from the continent. (45.5% chance of occurrence in September)

Good numbers of migrants today, I found not only the couple of icterines but also a sunbathing barred warbler on the cliff at Copper Geo. 4 swifts were swirling just west of Ward Hill and the greenish warbler was my second of the year.

ORTOLAN BUNTING Emberiza hortulana 8th September 2016

Not an easy one to find, the bird hid in thick grass in the marshy area just above the Gully trap area. Eye ring and moustachial easy to see once it allowed good views. Another vagrant from Europe. (45.5% chance of occurrence in September)
LANCEOLATED WARBLER Locustella lanceolata 13th September 2016

Great to see one in the field, the bird was at first seen sitting in the open on short grass where it stayed for a few minutes before diving into some longer grass in a nearby ditch. Even in there it could be seen occasionally crawling between the grass blades. The very rare warbler eventually flew to an area of thicker grass but just sat in between grass tussocks in full view! A small, streaky warbler; they always look to me as though they have been squeezed from behind to give a front heavy appearance. A true Sibe goes onto the year list, another I saw in the marshy area of Kirki Mire later in the month. That bird was found when everyone was searching for a great snipe! (54.5% chance of occurrence in September)

CITRINE WAGTAIL Motacilla citreola

A citrine wagtail had everyone searching around the island but couldn't be pinned down to one area. In the evening though a different bird was found by Cairan Hatsall, one of the two assistant wardens at Da Water. A good day for Cairan, this bird was added to the lanceolated Cairan had found earlier. The lancy was the first one that Cairan had found.
The citrine, not a showy bird, kept amongst the tall grass tussocks of Da Water, only showing itself briefly on the mud. Vagrant from Asia, obvious wing bars with pale around the cheek. (72.7% chance of occurrence in September)

SHORT-TOED LARK Calendrella brachydactyla 14th September 2016

Lee Gregory found this bird and despite it flying some way off when I arrived, I found it an hour or so later by Setter, the croft of my late, dear friend, Gordon Barnes. It flew with a skylark back to the original place where Lee had found it and is still there today; 16 days, a long-staying and welcome scarce migrant. Smaller, greyer and paler than skylarks, an obvious bird with white underparts and streaky uppers. A vagrant from Southern Europe. (36.4% chance of occurrence in September)

COMMON ROSEFINCH Erythrina erythrina

Seen at last in Neil Thompson's garden, Lower Stoneybrek, a finch with pale wingbars noted deep down amongst some roses. I have since seen two more rosefinches; one at the Bird Observatory perched high in the garden and another one I found perched on some wooden pallets near to the Fair Isle School. A scarce but regular vagrant from NE Europe. (100% chance of occurrence in September)

As well as the above, a lot of Lapland buntings were on the island today with 74 recorded.

YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER Phylloscopus inornatus 15th September 2016

It would be a very strange year if one wasn't to see a yellow-browed warbler on Fair Isle in September. Gone are those days of the 1980s when one scratched around St Mary's on The Isles of Scilly looking for one or two. Here one has dozens and the first one for the year list was found by Lee Gregory in the Gully. A smashing tiny warbler with wingbars and eyestripes. More of them seem to be coming to Britain from their Siberian breeding area and one can only hope that they are finding a way to their wintering grounds. (100% chance of occurrence in September)

Since that vanguard bird I have seen 48 more!

BLUETHROAT Luscinia svecica 17th September 2016

Nick Riddiford, an ex- warden of Fair Isle Bird Observatory, thought that he had seen one at Shirva. Indeed he had for I found it there a short while later. A rare migrant from Europe I have since seen another that was at first running down the road in front of me as I cycled along. (90.9% chance of occurrence in September)

GREAT SNIPE Gallinago media 18th September 2016

Now was this one a hard one to find!? Lee Gregory, who else? Found this in Da Water and after seeing it fly three times eventually thought he had it at a spot where everyone could get onto it. Birders assembled, a walk towards the bird's location gave no views and a continued search of the area did likewise. All went to lunch leaving me to search the marshes for over two hours, in two metre lines from one end of each marsh to the other. Only when I reached the end of a tatty (potato) crop did the great snipe suddenly emerge and how. Calling roughly it flew off over towards Kennaby where I subtly called to two birders. Did I heck! I screamed “THE snipe!” With larger size and darker belly noted as well as the call, great snipe not only goes onto the Year list but also my life list.
This bird has given everyone trouble since it's original finding. The whole process of found by one, searched for by many but not seen was repeated over a week later when Deryk Shaw, another ex-warden of the Observatory found it in the field south of where I had found it previously. It may still be out there. (9.1% chance of occurrence in September)

RED-THROATED PIPIT Anthus cervinus

Lee Gregory looked a bit vacant as we talked about the great snipe and where it might have disappeared to. He was thinking about a strange pipit he had just seen by the American Tommy Hyndeman's Guest house, Da Haa. Luckily Lee realised that it was a red-throated pipit and so another great year tick went down onto paper.
A grey looking pipit with obvious braces, the first time I have seen one whilst Biking Birding. Rare vagrant from Scandinavia. (27.3% chance of occurrence in September)

LITTLE BUNTING Emberiza pusilla 20th September 2016

In an oat crop this smashing little bird came out to sit as many birds do on a wire fence. This bird had a louse by it's right eye and so could be told from the next one seen at nearby Field a few days later. (81.8% chance of occurrence in September)

I have now seen three little buntings; the last one a very t bird near to the Bird Observatory.

RED-BREASTED FLYCATCHER Ficedula parva 21st September 2016

It never seems right to tick a bird in the hand, the first red-breasted flycatcher for the year was caught in the Heligoland trap at the Gully.
Much better was watching one fly catching on the rocks far below on the beach at Hjukni Geo. This bird's white sides to it's tail made it easy to see as it flew from rock to rock in search of flies. An Eastern European vagrant. (63.6% chance of occurrence in September)

A week goes by then . . .

PADDYFIELD WARBLER Acrocephalus agricola 28th September 2016

Over breakfast a birder, Andrew sitting opposite asked for a prediction for the day.”Paddyfield would be nice,” I said.
Paddyfield warbler in Walli Burn, another LIFER for me. A cracking small and very pale acro', it flew around birders like a small moth, fluttering between iris beds.

So a month on Fair Isle, maybe another month to enjoy as well. What will October bring? Barnacle geese and olive-backed pipits are 100% birds but then again, with an average of 9 year ticks over the last ten years there will be some surprises. Male Siberian rubythroat?

All photographs by Lee Gregory.

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