Sunday 16 October 2016

OK a Lot to Catch Up on . . . So let's gets going

Massive apologies for the lack of updates. No internet access for almost two weeks. Important target reached so here's the details.

Wednesday 5th October strong SE sunny, cool

Gentle wandering around the island, feeling tired after yesterday's exploration of the cliffs and geos. Barnacle geese are gathering at the most southern tip of the island, Skadan. Around 300 of them are there awaiting a signal for them all to lift into the air and head south.

A large grey US Air Force plane circles the island and heads south itself. Unusual to see here.
A little bunting is at the base of a dry stone wall near to the thistle patch by North Shirva. A male blackcap is sheltering from the cool breeze in amongst the stones.
The pechora pipit has been found again and so the late afternoon is spent at Hjunki Geo watching this rare bird. I video it as it finds a worm. 

Unfortunately for the pechora, a meadow pipit comes in and steals it.

Thursday 6th October Fresh SE-E easing Very sunny day

Sheep Day. A day when all the sheep north of Hill Dyke are gathered together and the lambs sorted out for the crofters. A time when all the islanders and most Bird Observatory staff and a few birders, such as myself, Andrew and John, join forces to corral the sheep into a pen down the hill from Setter.

How naïve are Andrew and I when, once the sheep are collected from Buness and The Parks area opposite Sheep Rock, we think that the work is done. Not so, there is Ward Hill and the geos to be searched, the sheep found and brought down to the pens. I walk, run, jump and chase with Jimmy by my side. Jimmy, who is married to Florrie, is an original crofter whose father, Jimmy was a crofter before him. It is a privilege to be able to call Jimmy and Florrie friends and a privilege to gather the sheep with him. His sheep dog is superb and his obedience is perfect. Still a few sheep escape from the main group and Jimmy goes off around Tynesdie to collect them.

It is hard work and the sweat of Cairan's face as the sheep eventually are penned, says it all.. By now the fresh cooling breeze of early morning has eased to light and with strong sunshine coats can be dispensed with.
Woodcock were disturbed from the heather moorland by all of this activity. I see two myself, large, chunky low-flying birds. Also 9 grey herons are flying over Buness, occasionally cronking as they fly south.
Work done, time to go birding. An olive-backed pipit is rumoured so I head off south hoping to find one of the two I need to reach 300. After three hours of searching I haven't seen the rare pipit, and actually miss both a pechora and a red-throated. 

I do find two little buntings though and it always nice to see lapland buntings and bramblings close to.
Walking back towards the Bird Observatory with the sun almost set, Susannah Parnaby stops in the van to tell me that a red-flanked bluetail has been seen at the far end of Hill Dyke in Gannawark Geo. It is a long walk but I make it up there. More amazingly though is the fact that a birder in a wheelchair is up there thanks to his friends. The strength of such friendship is the best thing of the evening and the fact that the bluetail is missed by all is neither here nor there. Friends.
The walk to the Observatory is in the dark with a crescent Moon setting in the south. There isn't a cloud in the sky. The walk back 'home' later is going to be spectacular with the Milky way leading the way.

Friday 7th October Fresh SE very sunny and warm.

A morning I spend searching around the crofts, fields and dykes watching small. Common migrant. bramblings and lapland buntings are in the thistles at North Shirva.
An olive-backed pipit is found at Dronger, about as far up the north west as you can get. I get up there yet I am not too disappointed when I don't find the rare Siberian bird. 

The view is magnificent with the epic coastline of geos and cliffs stretching to the south. Gannets are still in pairs on the cliffs and there are migrant birds up there; goldcrests, wheatear, meadow pipits and jack and common snipe. A merlin chases a pipit along the cliff edge nearby.
At the observatory in the evening I find out that the pipit has moved to Leerness making that area tomorrow's destination.

Saturday 8th October light to fresh SE Very sunny all day

Sunrise is glorious as I walk along Hill Dyke, t-shirt weather with the need of sun tan lotion. Migrants are in every geo, Siberian chiff chaffs, goldcrests, redwings, song thrushes, blackbirds and robins.
There are butterflies too, couple of red admirals and a painted lady. A silver y moth continues the lepidoptera list.

Reaching North Naaversgill I spot Lee Gregory coming towards me near to Grey Geo. He turns around the other way,not to avoid me, he has seen a bird of interest. I make my way over to where he is. He lifts his camera. He starts to send a text.

Olive-backed pipit, bird number 300.

300. The dream is accomplished. 300 birds in a calendar year, 2016. The Big Green Big Year is now into extreme uncharted territory and the 300 is mine to keep forever. The first British cyclist to reach 300 in the UK.
It's too much and I well up with a few tears. Handshakes and a hug from Lee; I am over the Moon with the fact that the most special birding friend on Fair Isle is here at this moment. 300. I have done it.

Lee is doing North as his day's census route and heads off south to continue his work. I stay wanting to have more views of the pipit that is my 300th bird species for 2016. The fact that the bird is an olive-backed pipit is not lost on me. It has a historic connection being the bird that started my life of twitching with a fantastic group of teenage lads from Wolverhampton. Back in 1984 I was a Secondary school teacher, Coppice High School, Ashmore Park, Wednesfield. There I started a YOC (Young Ornithologist's Club) and three members of the club came with me one weekend day to see an olive-backed pipit in Bracknell, Berkshire. We saw that bird and it is forever a source of delight that one of those boys, Jason Oliver, is now an extremely brilliant birder and very close friend; a leader of The Birding Clams. The Clams contain other great birders from those long off YOC days; Steve Allcott, Tony Barter and Ian Crutchley amongst others. T circle is complete, fate has made the first bird from then my 300th of 2016.
I can't find the pipit and as it is lunch time I sit on top of a high cliff to eat some fruit and watch whatever birds pass.
There is a bird far below on the beach at the base of Leerness Geo, at the end of Grey Geo. It is a flycatcher. I look through my binoculars and my heart starts to race. It has a long white patch on the primary patch! Could it really be a collared. I try to photograph the bird but it is constantly flitting around and staying in the shadows. 

Photographs once achieved with my Canon SX50 are inconclusive but I feel someone should come and have a look. I am just not sure. A collared flycatcher would be a mega,a pied would be just another bird. I phone Lee hoping that he is close but he is at Hjunki, a long way south. I walk back up and over the hills and see Will, a superb birder from Aberdeen. He is walking the stream and once I catch up with him I show him photographs. Pied is his verdict.
Nick Riddiford is the next birder I meet, Collared he says!
I go down to Lower Stonebrek. Two of the three birders there are unsure, the other says pied.
Half an hour or so later David Parnaby is passing and he stops. Non-committal over species, fair enough, he asks where I saw it and that Chris Dodds is up there.
Back at the Observatory I show the photograph to Cairan. "Collared," he says.
Have a look yourself. It is a poor photograph taken in an extreme situation. There was no way I could get any closer. 

A bluethroat at Setter gives better views.

Party time, Elena has brought in a bottle of champagne to help celebrate the 300 with friends. Wonderful friends to share a very special and emotional moment.


Done it!


  1. Kristoffer Lager16 October 2016 at 18:50

    I think it looks good for collared. Testning the picture on some swedes used to see these species. Big congrat to the 300

  2. Lovely. So glad you got your target.


BB 2010 Oops, crash and a motorway Abominable Snowman in Hemel Hempstead January 5th

5 th January                                                            Tragedy                                              The Bee Gees   ...