Thursday 1 September 2016

One More Day on Shetland then . . . Fair Isle

Let's get to Fair Isle. Yet first . . . . .

Monday 29th August fresh to strong SW very sunny

Hot on the heels of my Mum, Happy Birthday Dad. 85 years young and going strong.
New shoes! Now to get down to South Shetland where hopefully one or two of yesterday's will still be around, especially the booted and icterine warblers.
I count the roadkill victims along the way and sadly have a white wagtail, the continental form of our pied wagtail, die in my hand as I pick it up having seen it just hit by a van.
By the time I reach Cunningsbrough there have been nine dead hedgehogs, four polecats of various colours from all yellow to all dark, two rabbits, a couple of gulls and the aforementioned wagtail. The hedgehogs and polecats reflect a problem population of these invading predators.
News from The Oracle, Phil Andrews, an arctic warbler is at Geosetter. The wind may be in my face but the tarmac is good and the news puts impetus into my pedalling feet.
There is hardly a cloud and the strong sun is behind me as I search along the willows of the beck on arriving there. A warbler flits over from the adjacent crop field, famous for having a thick-billed warbler three years ago. It is a willow warbler. Further up the hill, as I cross a small bridge I see the arctic warbler and it dives into cover. It continues up the hill and eventually gives views when in a small valley with just a few less dense willows. It then flies uphill into the garden of a nearby house.
Roger Riddington arrives with another birder. Roger is the editor of the superb British Birds magazine and a brilliant birder. Together we circumnavigate the gate but can't find the arctic. Roger goes to the head of the valley and heads downhill. I go downhill and search uphill.
The arctic warbler shows itself in a small willow. Three more birders arrive; Chris Dodds from Fair Isle Bird Observatory, Hugh Harrop, the very well known bird photographer and author and Craig Nisbet from Noss. Soon having seen the bird extremely well most birders leave for pastures new leaving me and Hugh. He talks of the recent publishing of the bird identification book,
He talks honestly about the few errors that are in it and of the ten years it took to collate all of the images. Having seen the book in the bird observatory lounge at North Ronaldsay, it is a magnificent book.

Arctic warbler, bird number 278.
The cycle ride to Quendale in the sunshine gives beautiful views of Spiggie and the coast. Searching the bushes around the watermill doesn't give me yesterday's icky warbler, just three willow warblers.

Tuesday 30th August strong SW cloudy with mizzle

Cycling towards Grutness is only possible when going downhill and only then by leaning into the gale. The occasional larger vehicle, a lorry say or a transit van, has me almost fall off by the suck back from the wind.
Uphill I struggle as I push hard.
The barrier is down at Sumburgh airport and the guard relates the reasons why he is on the island; years in the army this mancunian (from Manchester – red/United by the way) is bitter over the way life has dealt him jobs that apparently have a habit of failing him. Still he is a pleasant chap and a warm handshake sends me on my way over the runway once clearance is given.

A visit of the Iron Age houses of Scatness is interesting; it is just a shame that the visitor's centre doesn't open until 10:15am. It would have been lovely to be re-acquainted with the staff.
To Grutness and into the harbour waiting room with its heater and magazines. These include a couple of British Birds magazines and BBC Wildlife, as well as the RSPB's Nature's Home and various chat ones.
I don't expect the Good Shepherd to arrive for the crossing to Fair Isle, surely the wind is too strong. Yet arrive it does and the less said of the next three hours of my life the better. Hell, sheer hell with vomit and fear, two of us in the hold and both sick; one moment the cry comes from aloft “hold on!” The boat makes a sickening and sudden dive and crash and I am hurled along the back bench. An hour of filling sick bags and listening to music to try to take my mind away from the motion goes by. Maybe I fall asleep. I know I dream.
Calmer waters, purgatory and then redemption and sanctuary, we arrive at North Haven, the harbour of the paradise that is Fair isle. Massive thanks to Neil Thompson, the Captain of the ship, a hug from Elena, a Fair Isle native and friend. A hug from Lee Gregory too. Actually I think he is shocked by the hug. I am just so happy to see him, a brilliant birder and friend. Rachel is there too, the kind young lady who last year allowed me to camp on her croft's lawn for three weeks.
Lee points out a long-tailed duckon the nearby rocks, the first of hopefully many Fair Isle birds. It is an earlier than usual arrival and has a wing depleted of flight feathers for some reason.
There is a booted warbler at Shirva and I cycle there past the magnificent building that is the Fair Isle Bird Observatory.
I search the small garden and on not finding the rarity turn around to find another friend perched on a stone up the grassy hill, Cath Mendez. Together we spot three people converging on the Meadow Burn and head that way ourselves.

Booted warbler, bird number 279, goes onto the list but what a fast moving bird; one minute in front of us, the next half a field way.
Cath needs to get back to the Observatory where she is working as a volunteer and I go in search of birds.
I walk around the east of the island and inquire about the availability of Springfield, a self-catering croft in the south. Fully booked up I head back north via Daa Water and Pund.
I arrive at the bird observatory just in time to see Lee holding a mist netted barred warbler.
The Bird Log at 9-ish, with its usual tolling bell start details amongst others; 176 wheatear, 63 willow warblers, 106 white wagtails, 180 twite, 684 meadow pipits and singles each of barred, marsh and booted warblers and a common rosefinch.
Afterwards the walk back to my abode for the month of September is under a star-filled sky.

Wednesday 31st August light to fresh SW Sunny AM showers PM

It is a glorious, very sunny and calm morning. I walk to watch the trap run but miss it.
So to the North Haven and back along the road and dykes to the crofts Setter, Pund, Chalet and Barkland. Fascinating to see lines of wheatears on the stone walls and willow warblers sometimes in pairs on angelica stems.
At Shirva an acrocephalus warbler sp. eludes me. Twice it flies fast over the thick vegetation and twice it dives straight into the same. I try sitting on a pile of uncomfortable stones on the other side of the garden but it offers no views. It seems to be of a rather too warm brown to be anything other than a reed warbler but I would like views that would confirm that.
To the shop for provisions, I meet Mati, the wonderful Venezualan lady who is one of the crofters who makes original Fair Isle garments. She invites me to look at a book of indigenous tribes in the Amazon and I accept her kind offer of coffee at her croft half an hour later.
Years ago Mati and her partner David cycled from London to Greece with a two year old toddler, Sebastian in a bicycle chair. Incredible.
A friend of Mati's, Kathryn, calls in with her two young children. Kathryn talks about being a library analyst on Anglesey a few years ago and of her love for the bird artist, Charles Tunnicliffe. She relates about how funds were raised to buy the Tunnicliffe artworks that were put on sale at Christie's auction house of London by the Tunnicliffe family upon his death. The successful purchase by the Anglesey Library brought the collection back to the island he loved.
Outside once more, whinchat and wheatear, willow warblers and waders, the way is slowly made towards the Obs for the log call. A juvenile rose-coloured starling has been seen there, found by Cath Mendez.

Log -
wheatear down to 126, twite down to 145.
167 rock pipits. Now why does Fair Isle have 167 whereas North Ronaldsay, just twenty five miles away, have none?

No stars on the way back to my abode and the wind is strong in my face.

The Year List is 279, twenty five more than this time last year. Importantly the list includes twenty five birds I didn;t see last year.

Distance cycled/walked in August – 397.91 miles

Total mileage for 2016 – 5313.74 miles

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