Friday 21 October 2016

Post Record Days Leads to ........... UNBELIEVABLE!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday 19th October very light NE Very sunny

My morning starts with joining Lee Gregory on the early morning trap run; a walk around all of the active Heligoland traps with the intention of catching and ringing migrants. Early! It is practically still dark and yet Lee soon catches a superb hawfinch in the Gully trap. What a bill!
I need to improve my accommodation and spend the rest of the morning doing just that.
After lunch the intention is to ensure that each of yesterday's year tick birds, the bean goose, Stejneger's stonechat and pine bunting, are seen well and on a day where I haven't used carbon transport. I am very well aware that I have used ferries this year. Britain has a number of incredible islands and many are extremely good for vagrant birds, the absolute best of which is undoubtedly Fair Isle. Other than by pedalo my only way of accessing the riches to be had is by ferry and I have never pretended that this is anything other than the use of carbon whilst on a so-called Green Big Year. On Jim Royer's Green Birding website there is a large 'F' in brackets after my name denoting this.
So down to South Haven I go and spend a couple of hours first watching Deryk Shaw and his son, Ythan trying to mist net the bird so that a small DNA sample can be obtained for analysis. Then after they give up, the bird being very adept at avoiding the nest, I have the bird all to myself and sit on the rocks to enjoy such a fabulous bird, a bird with such a perky personality.
It repeatedly hops up about a foot or so (thirty CMS) to catch flies and perches on rocks close by. Occasionally it is chased by a rock pipit and disappears over a rocky promontory over to the next beach. It always returns though to the beach where I am sitting after just a couple of minutes.
One fascinating aspect of it's plumage is how the colour of the rump changes according to the light. Sometimes appearing rather dull when the sun is hidden by a small cloud; the weather by the way is warm and very sunny and I sit with the worry of getting sunburnt on the side of my face, and then the rump is a rich orange when the sun is out. A delightful, fascinating bird, which Lee Gregory tells me is exactly the same as the 'Portland bird.'

There are other birds amongst the rocks and stranded seaweed and some come very close to me indeed as I lie prone on the lowest rocks leaning against a grassy bank. Turnstones turn the seaweed, rock pipits and starlings catch flies and the rarest bird on Fair Isle is doing the same, 

a blue tit.

Meeting a few birders along the road by Quoy, I find out that there has been a waxwing at the Bird Observatory. I neeeeeeed it! I phone Lee Gregory and he tells me that he has just caught a first year male waxwing in the Plantation Heligoland trap and is on his way to the Observatory to process the magnificent bird.
Cycling hard up the island, I catch up with lee by the Double Dyke trap and together we walk and chat. He is as close to me as a friend as my brother and talking with him is always a real pleasure. I am desperate to see what is in his bag; the waxwing inside is still and relaxed and probably wondering how on earth it got in this pickle.
At the Observatory I wait outside the back door by the ringing room and await the arrival of the bird.
Lee and Cairan come out and there it is being gently held in Lee's hands. Photographs, admiring smiles and comments, the bird is passed to Cairan to release. Yet the bird doesn't want to go. It just sits on his hand. Minutes go by then eventually with a short squeak he flies, the waxing that is, into the nearby garden bushes. WOW! Or maybe . . WAB! What a bird!

Oh yeah, almost forgot.....

Waxwing, bird number 308.

Thursday 20th October very light E Very sunny

Orion, the Hunter is below a large Gibbous Moon as I stroll around the island. I have had a very poor night trying to sleep and having only snatches of dream-filled nightmares. It is only 5:00AM and it is still, cool and awe-inspiring. South Lighthouse has it's beam rotating and spreading the intermittent beam across the dark landscape. I walk around for over an hour as dawn starts to spread some pale orange light through thin clouds along the horizon to the east.
I return to my bike and with the light growing as the sunrise approaches, I start to search for my binoculars and camera. I left them somewhere last night and am not sure where! I put my earphones in to listen to Juzzie Smith, Good Vibrations and search in my usual places.
On reaching the Bird Observatory and finding my stuff in the boot room, there is panic all around. David Parnaby shouts, “possible Eastern Olivaceous warbler at Chalet!”
David gets the minibus and goes around the island picking up birders to see the rare bird. In the past a Land Rover did the same job with a red flag flying from it.

I cycle to Chalet. Steve Arlow has found yet another great rare bird but states that it is an icterine warbler. It comes out onto the fence and everyone agrees with him. Nice one Steve.
After ten minute or so everyone has gone and I have the bird to myself. Deryk Shaw and Micky arrive from Burkle to have a look. Micky is on the way to the airport for the first plane back to Shetland. His next port of call is Unst, the wonderful isle is the northern most island of The Shetlands. Another birder strolls past, Angus and another, Shaun. I tell Shaun of the long-eared owl that I have been told about at the ringing hut by the Plantation and he walkie talkie's the message to others.
I cycle there and there can't be many birds as easy to see; it sitting at base of a post beside the dry stone wall. It stares at me with large orange eyes as I sit down to watch and enjoy.
Shaun is coming from the Setter direction after I have waved to him that the bird is by me. He can't see it from where he is due to a bank obscuring his view.

Just as he gets to me and just as I am about to point out the bird, I get two strange text messages:

First text . . . Howard Vaughan

go go go go >>>> What??????

Second text Steve Nuttall

Hope you enjoy your Sibe accentor as much as me. The pain of missing the Shetland bird will make you appreciate it that much more

Me to Shaun “ I think there's a Siberian accentor on the island!”

third text . . . . Trevor Girling

Sibe acc troila geo fair isle. Go get it.

Fourth text . . . Gareth Hughes

I hope you are still on Fair Isle Mr!

Fifth text . . . . . Penny Clarke

Get that Siberian accentor!!!! Just come on RBA for fair Isle at Troila Geo!!! Best wishes Penny

Sixth text . . . . Phil 'The Oracle' Andrews

Sib acc????

After almost seven weeks on the island I know the names of the geos and soon Shaun and I have trudged, climbed and reached Troila, .disturbing woodcocks on the way. Cairan is there. “It was here but went over the ridge. Lee is over there looking for it.”
Troila is a huge slope of scree and grass with a large rocky ridge half way down which prevents a view down to the beach. If it is down there this is not going to be easy. We all search frantically. Robins, wrens . . . .
Cairan thinks he has the bird.
See the slab half way down, behind there!”
I can see a shuffling shape and, forgetting to change the ISO setting for the darkness of the geo, take a photograph of it. I show it to Cairan. 

“That's it!”
I phone Lee. “It's over here back in Troila.”
Over the next two hours the bird climbs ever closer and twenty or so birders get eye-popping views of a stunning, ever moving accentor; a shuffling, feeding dunnock with a badger's head. All the Bird Observatory staff are here sitting together on precarious ledges and the huge smiles denotes the wonder and excitement of Lee's find. Yes, Lee Gregory found it! The cherry on the icing on the rich fruit cake, Lee found it.

Deryk Shaw and Nick Riddiford are here. Tommy Hyndeman with his son, Henry and birders staying at the obs.
Some birders from the Aberdeen RSPB group have just got off the plane. Not a bad first bird to see on Fair Isle.
Even Micky is here. He was just about to get on the same plane when the news broke!
There is not only an intense pleasure in seeing a mega rarity, especially after dipping on the first for Britain one on Shetland last week, but add to that the delight in seeing everyone enjoying the occasion and the fact that my best friend on the island found it.

It dow ger any berra than this our kid!!!!!

No bird is officially on my Green Year list, or even my British life list come to that, until I phone and tell Mum and Dad. They may never understand the thrill, the desire and the commitment but they can enjoy hearing their oldest ecstatic.

I go down and photograph and watch the long-eared owl.

Fair Isle Again

Tuesday 18th October very light SW Very sunny

I am up very early, too early for daylight and I spend the dawn going outside to marvel at the speed in which weather can change on Shetland. Yesterday's gale has gone and the Moon is shining in a clear sky. Has the Moon taken away the birds I need? That won't matter if the Good Shepherd doesn't come.
I wash the windows and mop the floor of the place where I have slept for the last three nights. Breakfast is simple and light; just enough to settle my stomach for the gut churning boat ride and not too much.
9:30AM, the Good Shepherd comes into view around the headland. I will get to Fair isle today.
Noon, we set off. My plan for avoiding the usual sea sickness is to stay on deck, hold on to the rails for dear life and sing/whistle Rock music the whole way.
Joe Jackson, Juzzie Smith, Pink Floyd; it seems to be working and I even record my dreadful tones in order to concentrate on that instead of the deeply rocking boat. Rock on Prezza!
At times it amazes me that the boat doesn't capsize as the large swell barrels us one way and another.
Deryk comes out and asks me whether I am suspicious. The boat's Captain is, whistling is not allowed. Whistle in a storm.
It is so hard not to whistle to the guitar parts but tapping the rail as a form of air guitar keeps my mouth shut.
Emerson, Lake and Palmer's Pirates song with full orchestra seems appropriate somehow. “Who'll drink a toast with me, to the Devil and the deep blue sea?”
Three hours. Never has a harbour looked so wonderful. No sickness and I am off the boat fast.
Rachel, Florrie, Joe and Mati greet me with smiles and comments. Another lady on the quay I have never met before, Margo. We talk about singing as I tell her my new successful strategy. On hearing that I saw a TV programme about Ella Fitzgerald the previous evening, this wonderful Young at Hear lady starts to sing an Ella classic and what fabulous voice! I tell her and her husband Bill tat she must be recorded.
Right, mid-afternoon, three bird species to find but where are they?
I push the heavily laden bike up the hill past the Bird Observatory. A shout from the balcony of the same and there is Lee Gregory with his usual massive smile and next to him . . . Jumbo! Two fantastic friends to give me instructions quickly. Jumbo, who's real name is Clive, together with his birding bud, Gary are from Essex and we have met up on Fair Isle a couple of times before. Two brilliant blokes and birders, it is really fabulous to see them here again.
Bean goose, field by Upper Stoneybrek. Getting there to find no geese, I carry on along the road down to Lower Stoneybrek. A small flock of geese are here. Two white-fronted geese, a Gair Isle tick for me, a single barnacle goose, some greylags and a few pink-foots and …...
Bean Geese! Bird number 305, two to go.
Photographs quickly taken, I am off for South harbour where a very rare form of the Siberian stonechat is on the beach, Stejneger's, or so it is thought to be. “Piece of cake,” texts Lee. I'll meet you at Quoy for the pine bunting in about 30 minutes.
I get down to South Harbour and find a large log seat next to a beach as per the instructions given. No stonechat. I search the low cliffs and rocks around there and the graveyard. No stonechat. Piece of cake? It must be me.
Another birder comes part the Puffin National Trust for Scotland hostel, David, a birder I had met and got on with before leaving the island for the Siberian accentor dip. He is looking for purple sandpipers but he quickly tells me I have the wrong beach. There is another smaller log bench on the one over there. Looking in the direction he is pointing I can see the superb bird photographer, Steve Arlow, sitting near to that bench aiming his large camera at a bird on the beach in front of him. As I cycle off I hear David shout for joy; purple sandpiper onto his Fair Isle year list.
Bike left by the style, I run over to where Steve is photographing a mega rare bird for Fair Isle, a blue tit!
A little further away along the beach is . . . . .
Stejneger's stonechat, bird number 306, level with Ponc Feliu Latorre. One to beat the magnificent Spanish Green Birder. Thanks Steve!
Quoy. Another birder is there, Shaun from Poole in Dorset. No sign of any buntings, the first year pine bunting has been seen with yellowhammers. Lee arrives and a bird flies in to land on a bit of vegetation next to the netted enclosure in Stuart Thompson's vegetable garden.
I look at he bird. I photograph the bird. I know what it is but I quietly say to Lee, “is that it?”
Pine bunting, bird number 307.

Ladies and gentlemen, behold the NEW EUROPEAN GREEN BIRDING CHAMPION!

Gary Prescott aka The Biking Birder has done it.

Chris Mills
Simon Woolley,
Nick Moran,
Chris Packham

Ponc has been beaten. Spain has been beaten.

The British flag can be raised. “Bring the urn home.”

The bird flies away. I turn once more to Lee and say, “ Can I?” A simple nod.

I've done it! I've done it! I've gone and done it!

Tears and dancing, screams and dervish runs, hugs and high fives, handshakes and huge smiles.

OK. Let's Catch Up with the Days . . . and the Tension Builds.

Internet has been difficult to access so photographs will be added later

Sunday 16th October strong to gale force SE heavy rain AM

It is very early morning and a gale is blowing outside. Heavy rain is forecast so, feeling a little stir crazy, I text The Oracle with birding lyrics inspired by some of my favourite comedy music from the distant past.......

Hello Mudder
Hello Fadder
Here I am at Grutness Harbour
Here on Shetland
A gale is blowing
And the rain falls hard so nowhere I'll be going.

It seems ages
I've been stuck here
Bike is broken
Weather I fear
No boat coming
From the Fair Isle
I'll just wait and sing my songs which are so puerile.

Take me home
Oh Mudder, Fadder
I'll not roam.
Won't go no farther
Can't one see that cycling's hurting me
Only sardines for my tea.


Then there's the old folk music classic . . .

Oh I'm going to the Fairest isle
I go there every Autumn
I search for birds
From dawn to dusk
And cry when I don't find them

And then a silly song with a wink to Charlie Drake.....

On the distant isle of Shetland
just a few days ago.
A first for Britain bird had left the hill
To where we do not know

I've got a lot of trouble Hugh
On account of a birding lack
Now tell me what's your trouble Gaz

The accentor won't come back

The accentor won't come back?

The accentor won't come back
The accentor won't come back
I've walked the hill all over that place
searched in stingers right into my face.
But of the sibe there's just no trace
The accentor won't come back

The pied wheatear was good
Yeah The bunting was too
Yeah, yeah
but the accentor is better than both of those two
The accentor won't come back

They banished him off to Fair Isle
Great birds for him to see
He had to list some new birds soon
The champion then he'd be

This is nice innit?
Getting banished at my time of life.
What a way to spend an evening.
Sitting by a geo on the edge of a cliff with some bins in my hand.
I shall very likely get pushed off!



Nasty woolly animal

Think I'll make a nice cup of tea,

bonk, bonk, bonk, bonk.

Good gracious. There's goes a nice great skua.
Must have a practice with my binoculars.
Look at him as he flies past,
Now slowly to my eyes and . . .

If you look at me I'll bonk you right on your head.
Ak ak ak ak

Aint it marvellous?
An isle covered in bonxies and I have to choose that one.

For three long hours he sat there
or slept 'til it was four
Then an old, old man in a Sunderland shirt
Told him not to snore

Now I'm the Fair Isle warden boy
They call me Sunderland Jack
Now tell me what's your trouble boy

The accentor won't come back!

The accentor won't come back?

The accentor won't come back
The accentor won't come back
I've walked the hill all over that place
searched in stingers right into my face.
But of the sibe there's just no trace
The accentor won't come back

Don't worry Prez
I know the bird
It's here
To you I'll show it.
If you want to see the accentor lift your bins
It's there
you know it?

Oh yeah.
Never thought of that
Daddy will be pleased.
Must have a go.
Excuse me.
Now slowly up and . . look.

Oh my Gawd
It's just a dunnock

Can you find a Sibe accentor

Don't talk to me about a Sibe accentor Gaz
You owe me for showing you the dunnock
I learnt you for using your binoculars.
First thing first.

Yeah I know that
but I think that on this occasion … . . .

(fade and end)

The rain still pours outside, the gale still blows and sea froth is flying past la fenetre. One last song........

Oh, Any new birds?
Any new birds?
Any new birds on Fair Isle?
It looks neat
a new bird is a treat
It would be special and would get me off my seat
I'm dressed in style
Haven't washed for a while
With my father's old green shirt on.
No I wouldn't give you tuppence for an old moorhen
Let's find birds
Some new birds

Just a week or two ago
Whilst on 2 and 99
Dave found an olive pip
I thought that would be find
So next day I popped along
to see the Sibe I hoped
Saw Lee Gregory
Using his 'scope.
I rushed along
Pushed him out the way
Thought I saw the pipit
and I began to pray
I rushed around and saw the bird
300 on the list
A lot of birders followed me
They thought that I was ****ed.

Oh, any new birds?
Any new birds?
Any new birds on Fair Isle?
It looks neat
this new bird is a treat
It's really special and has got me off my seat.
dressed in style
Haven't washed for a while
With my father's old green shirt on.
No I wouldn't give you tuppence for an old moorhen
Let's find birds
Some new birds

And now The Oracle would like to give you a hoopoe call
Go on Phil

I would like to continue this birding list that you've just heard with my hoopoe. Thank you.

Hoo hoo poo

hoo hoo poo


Oh temperamental ain't he!

WAIT A MINUTE......... a phone call from, coincidentally, The Oracle......note a phone call . . . not a text. This means a good bird.

Isabelline wheatear, Near the Loch of Spiggie.

Forget the fact that a gale is blowing and it is raining hard, it is another very rare wheatear. I need it.

The wind blows me there, well almost. It blows me along until I reach the northern shore of the large loch. Then it is a case of head into the wind and push until I get to the road junction where the rare bird has been seen.
I arrive. Six other birders are there. “It is in my 'scope,” says one.
Isabelline wheatear, bird number 304. A small looking wheatear, rather a dull overall appearance with a rusty peach colour on the breast except for feathers that are displaced by the water from the rain and terrain. Long black legs, creamy throat with a black bill and eyes, pale underparts. I need to see the tail pattern.
The bird keeps walking around the edge of this manured field. Photographers go closer. The bird flies briefly.
Job done, I can relax and two of the birders, Marco from London and Peter from the Cairngorms; the latter I met on last year's trip as I searched his area for ptarmigan successfully, chat and take a few photographs of a bedraggled but very happy me. Great pair.
Roger Riddington, the British Birds magazine editor arrives and congratulates me on reaching 300. He even pats me on my back!
Time to search elsewhere, I head off into the wind finding a flock of around fifty barnacle geese down by the polluted loch. No fishing or bathing (!) here, too polluted. How sad. No actually, how appalling!
Back onto the main road towards Sumburgh I have to push up hills to make any headway into the wind. Near to the top of one a bus driver, Dougie, stops to ask if I would like a lift. I thank him for his kindness and tell him that I cannot accept the offer. Just before that another Dougie had stopped his car to tell me that he was following my progress and was a Facebook friend, Dougie Preston. Brief encounters such as these really keep me going. Wonderful people.
Waders on the beach at Virkie are the usual candidates; redshank, sanderling, dunlin and turnstone.
Down and around Scatness, thrushes, mostly redwings. Also blackcaps, blackbirds and chiff chaffs.
Into the Sumburgh Hotel and a cup of coffee given free. I must be looking bad. A tad tired I am grateful for it. That will be a donation and I note that down in my notebook. In fact I need to collate the donations from the last couple of days. There's money for the chocolate bar found on the bike, money for this coffee, a donation from a couple, who say they saw me on BBC Springwatch last year, named Margaret and Martin from Cambridge, Paul Sclater and Michael.
An evening in the bar of the hotel before retiring to my 'abode' was great with bloke-ish company of locals and workers from Glasgow mixed together sharing banter. One of them, Neil, offers a drink but as I have only £2.09 I can't accept the offer as I wouldn't be able to reciprocate. The problem is with my bank. They are unable to transfer money from my savings to my current over the phone. Apologies are given by the customer service staff and even advice sought from advisers but to no avail.
Tea later was sandwich spread and Marmite on bread.... yummy!

Monday 17th October strong to gale force SE dry and cloudy

Up Sumburgh Head after searching the Grutness garden and quarries along the road to the former first. In the first quarry I find a barred warbler and text Phil, The Oracle to place news of the bird on RBA (Rare Bird Alert)
Dan Poignton turns up and the warbler flies out between us. “Oh, you've found the barred then.” He had found sometime before me.
Robins and thrushes are on the dry stone walls and in the fields; birds are moving.
Getting up to the RSPB Lighthouse, after stopping to photograph Darth Vader of course, is extremely difficult due to the gale. Snow flake sea suds are flying in a tempest past me as I struggle to get up the steep climb. Past the fibre glass orca, I eventually get to the to top and view down the right hand geo. Three bramblings are feeding down there and a few goldcrests and blackcaps. More of the same, with robins, thrushes and blackbirds are in the revamped Lighthouse garden. A lot of money has been spent on the area and lighthouse buildings and despite everything being closed due to the lateness of the season, it is amazing to stand on platforms looking over to Scatness Bay and beyond.
Nowadays there are even self-catering apartments and in one of them are three very attractive young ladies, Jill, Andrea and Catherine. There first time here and with no car, they ask about what is local and of interest and I tell them of Shetland's best Viking spot, Harlshof and a couple more archaeological sires including Old Scatness. Selfies are taken.
I knock on the window of the RSPB office and meet Helen again, a superb RSPB staff member. Great to be re-acquainted.
Outside again, I meet Martin who works at monitoring seabirds and the effects of the local oil industry. Martin gives a donation and tells me about how any oil found on bird carcases can be identified to the country and even the field of origin.
A text from The Oracle,
White's thrush at Spiggie Hotel.
An hour or so later I am there to find that the inimitable Dan Poignton has found the bird, that it has flown off and everyone is searching for it.
Dan heads off across the valley to Scousborouh and I go the garden where it was originally seen. I knock on the door of the house belonging to the garden's owner and give the owner, a lovely lady called Jemyna, a chocolate bar and say thank you for letting birders search around. Jemyna chats, OK and so do I, about birds, the history of the area, especially the history of the hotel and her own family history. She tells me that her interest is in finding out about this and that she has managed to go back to the 1850s. Jemyna remembers meeting my late best friend, Gordon Barnes when he used to stay there in the 1960s and I tell her that when I return to Fair Isle I will buy Gordon's book and post it to her.
Off in search of the White's again, I find yellow-browed warblers and other common migrants. A moorhen is my most unusual find as it scampers into a tunnel beneath a huge pile of manure when it spots me.
Meeting up with Dan again, with the White's no where to be found, I complain.
You find a White's thrush, I find a moorhen!”
I may have said it before but Dan Poignton is a phenomenal young birder, one of the best bird finders in Britain. Tireless and immense,I can only stand and admire his strength and skills, knowledge and drive.
Cycling/pushing towards the main road a large car stops and out pops Logan, the young birder I had met a couple of times on Fair Isle. He was hoping to see the White's thrush. He is with an ex-South African, Paula. Paula empties her purse of coins into my collection boxes (hint!) and gives me a small cuddly owl to join in the company of heroes on the bike. “Call him Spiggie,” I am instructed.
Logan has something to show me, a sadly dead Northern form of the long-tailed tit. With it's pure white head it is wonderful to hold one but oh, for a live one; a real ambition bird. Logan will become a superb birder one day. With Paul Harvey's old binoculars around his neck, a South Shetland megastar birder, he can't go wrong. To be in the presence of extremely talented and famous birders such as Paul Harvey, Roger Riddington, Steve Minton, Nick Diamond etc. on South Shetland as well as the superb Fair Isle Bird Observatory team of David Parnaby, Cairan, Chris and Lee, and the ex-wardens who still live on the island, Nick and Deryk, how can he go wrong? Reach for the stars Logan.
In the Sumburgh Hotel again for the evening, my teaching pension has been paid into my current account and for the first time for over a week I can have a meal; haddock and chips followed by a magnificent hunk of cheesecake.
Late in the evening as I go to leave, the lads ask why am I doing all of this and on hearing “for charity” they insist I come back whence I return from Fair Isle.
Fair Isle. I return tomorrow, if the gale abates, the seas calm down and the Good Shepherd sails. There are three new birds for my year list on Fair Isle. Coincidentally I need three new birds for the European record, 307, Bean goose, Siberian stonechat and pine bunting.
Will I get there and will I get the birds? 

Monday 17 October 2016

OK Now For Some Progress Towards The European Record

Sunday 9th October light E very sunny, warm

A peregrine is flying along the Hill Dyke stone wall as I climb towards the geos to search for yesterday's flycatcher. There's hardly a cloud and hardly a breath of wind. The sun is rising and the shadows are leaving the geos and cliffs.
A couple of hours I spend looking down at the Grey Geo but no flycatcher is there. A chance for a good bird dissipates.
I walk up Guidicom and around to Skinner's Geo. There are migrants, goldcrests of course and a couple of yellow-browed warblers. Chiff chaffs all seem to be of the nominate race.

The sea is amazingly flat, not a ripple and so blue! This is October and I need sun tan lotion.
I walk past the radio mast and around to view the sound between Shetland and Fair Isle; my hope is that cetacean or two will show themselves. They don't but this doesn't detract from the stunningly magnificent scenery and views. 

Houses can clearly seen on Shetland around Toab and Quendale; the lighthouse stands proudly atop Sumburgh Head, an RSPB reserve.
I explore the island after breakfast at the Bird Observatory. Birds become secondary to the main motivation of enjoying a warm Autumn day.
Silver y moths are in the shop garden and migrant birds are still chasing flies. A perfect day.
Birds are obviously though still a focus. Little buntings in the thistles at North Shirva with reed buntings, twite and bramblings. All look fabulous in the perfect light. 

Even the pechora pipit gives views at Lower Stoneybrek.
In the late evening I head up Buness to watch the darkness fall and the Moon rise. Such clarity and beauty. Unmatched.

Monday 10th October

Sunrise is incredible.

I am on the trap round with lee and Nina. The sun breaches the horizon as a distant nuclear explosion.
On the way back with a few bird bags full I spot a large splash half way out over the sea to the horizon. It has got to be a whale.
It breaches, once, twice then blows water six feet high as it breaths, a minke or a humpback I am not sure. Lee says minke. It tail flukes and is gone.
After breakfast there is only one topic of conversation. How can we get to the Shetland mainland fast? A first for Britain bird, a Siberian accentor has been found and all birders on the isle want to get there to see it.
The Birding Clams had it last night and whilst I was on Buness I had talked to them as they watched the bird on the phone. The fact that I could see the hill on which the mega rare bird was residing as I talked to the lads only added to the tension.
Hard moments of decision making, I determined that I needed to see it Green, that is use the Good Shepherd boat and not fly to it. The Good Shepherd would be leaving tomorrow, the plane today. Tough decision but necessary.
I watched the minibus leave with birders leave for the airport. I saw them all return half an hour later. The plane had broken down!
Lots of justifiable anger in the lounge, how can such a vital service for Fair Isle be with a plane that breaks down?
I am desperate for Lee Gregory to see it. He deserves to see it and I say that if the only way for lee to see the bird then I would pay my bit for the charter to help make up the numbers. Cath Mendez phones a company but no plane is available. The frustrated anger rises.
At this time the news is that the plane might be fixed for two days time. Birders are booked onto the Good Shepherd including myself (thanks Susannah).
I have appointments to visit Jim and Florrie, two original crofters in the south of the island and with Mati over a purchase.
The former aren't in and I spend a few hours chatting with Mati about love and hearing Mati's young daughter playing the keyboard. She will be a superstar at this rate as she composes her own pieces. Not bad for an eight year old.
I get back to the bird obs to find the plane has gone after all. The time it left, 5:15pm will mean that the birders who left will get ten minutes or so of decent light once they reach the bird they will have ten minutes of decent life. That is enough and I am chuffed to see that Lee has gone. Will that the bird stays for me tomorrow. A clear star-filled sky with a large Gibbous Moon doesn't bode well. The International Space Station flying over this is spectacular as are a number of shooting stars.

Tuesday 11th October light SE sunny intervals.

The Good Shepherd leaves on time and I am on deck with Ellen, the Fair Isle nurse who is on her way to Rumania, and Marc, a Belgian photographer, author and journalist. The sea is relatively calm but still the Good Shepherd rolls from side to side, occasionally throwing me about. I cling on to the rails. Sailing on this boat always seems to double time and the slow crossing takes it's usual age. The views of the distant Shetland islands are clear and Foula can be seen to the NW.

Sunrise, a Japanese flag of sunbeams.
Guillemots pass in groups of three, a single razorbill and a single sooty shearwater.
Past Sumburgh Head and around into Grutness Harbour, I already know the news, the Siberian accentor has gone.
Lee Gregory is at the quayside awaiting his return trip to Fair Isle. He saw the accentor last night and shows me photographs of the First for Britain bird. I am thrilled for him. Lee deserves this bird. It is sure to bring his mojo back!

My mojo is disappearing fast. I find that a gear cable has rusted through leaving me with a single gear. Oh well, my mother, bless her little positive socks, always says that troubles come in threes so I look forward to the third.
Boddam, well just before it has a field to the east with waders and in with a single ruff, a few redshank and curlew and a number of golden plover and lapwing, is an American wader, a buff-breasted sandpiper. Bird number 301 goes down onto the list. At least that went well.

I head off for Quendale to have a walk. I don't feel like a long cycle to Bressay despite the fact there is a mega rare bird there. Frankly I am tired out. I was late getting to bed last night and early getting up this morning to take down the tent, pack and get the boat. I need a rest.

Wednesday 12th October light SE sunny intervals

Down to Quendale again, I meet Julian Allen, a Midland Birder, the one who sneaked onto a recent photograph of The Birding Clams celebrating the Siberian accentor. A natter and good luck wishes both ways, I head off along the valley and search the quarry and iris beds. I don't stop at the head of the valley but continue up the slope over the heather moorland to the top of nearest hill to the radar station. I have the vain hope that the Siberian accentor has relocated to this hill.
It hasn't and a text to say that there is a pallid harrier down the bottom of the hill has me careering down the hillside.
That's gone too.
A little bunting down the alley doesn't tempt me. Fair Isle withdrawal symptoms. I need my mojo back.

Thursday 13th October fresh SE cloudy

I head back towards Quendale. A text from The Oracle.....
black-faced bunting still at Gunnista, Bressay.
I turn around and pack the bike. Let's go for the bunting!
I reach the harbour at one and take the quick ferry across to Bressay. Gunnista doesn't take long to reach and the search begins for the elusive and mobile rare bird. There are derelict croft buildings and barns, each with bits of garden or weeds. graveyard has an interesting ruined church. 

Also piles of manure in a field and a pampas grass garden some way down a grassy slope. All are searched and a male redstart, a robin and couple each of goldcrest and rock pipit reward me for my efforts.
A local farmer comes up to me on a quadbike. “It was in the turnip field this morning,” he tells me.
How many times should one go around a large turnip field before saying enough is enough. I try five times clockwise, then five times anti-clockwise trying to change my luck. There are birds, twite, house sparrows, skylarks and a single brambling. Also there are a couple of rather tame chiff chaffs and a wren. No bunting.
Getting dark and cloudy with the wind strengthening, I put up my tent. I will get it tomorrow.

Friday 14th October strong SE occasional bits of rain, cold
Somehow the tent managed to collapse on me overnight as a gale blew. Not surprisingly it lead to some interrupted sleep.
Awake early, I go around the turnip field again, same birds, few more pigeons, and around the manure heaps, the graveyard and the farm buildings. Same redstart and robin present.
Two birders arrive, Neil from Holt, Norfolk and John from Holbeach. John sums up the situation succinctly. “What a hell hole!”
Together we search all of the areas already mentioned. No luck.
At 11:00AM they go off to fetch another birder, Dan Poignton. T legendary bird-finder, Dan will find the bird.

John, Neil and I are by the turnip field. A call on John's phone, Dan has found the bunting.
Unknown to we three there is a cabbage patch about 200 yards from the turnip patch. The bunting is in there. It flies out and amazingly lands on a five bar gate and just sits there. Telescope views show a bunting with a black face and
Phew! Hours of hell in wind and rain and the bird is now secured onto the Green Year list, black-faced bunting, bird number 302. This is a very rare British bird, just six seen. I saw the first at Pennington near Wigan, Greater Manchester back in 19 with a few of the Birding Clams. On that occasion I was so excited over seeing the bird that I left an expensive Barbour coat there.
We all want more views of the bird and continue to search for it for the next two hours. At no time though does it settle, it just keeps going on a circular tour of it's favourite places. One distraction on the bunting chase is provided by the most confiding jack snipe that just lays down in a ditch thinking we can't see it as we stand ten feet from it. It's prostrate form with two very clear mantle braces is comical with it stretched out as flat as it can get with beak on the ground in front of it. What a moment to have left my camera in the tent.
Time to go, I pack the tent in the gale and head back to Lerwick. I am just pushing my injured bike up a steep hill out of the town when I receive a text in capitals from The Oracle....
The Oracle, Phil Andrews, even phones me.
Have you got the message?”
Yes, that's why I am pushing the bike up this hill!”
The wind is punishing and I get as far as Cunningsborough where I camp for the night.
At about one in the morning I am disturbed by some lads making a right racket in a car. Their empty Coca Cola bottles and chip papers are there in the morning. They live hard these Shetland teenagers.

Saturday 15th October fresh to very strong SE cloudy to rain

Pied wheatear is still present so I must get to Scatness as soon as possible. First though I need water. With the amount of effort that is needed to cycle a one gear bike twenty five miles, I am using up my water quicker than usual and I didn't have any left before retiring last night. The toilet block at Cunningsborough saves the day.
I reach Boddam to buy some food, having been tooted at by passing birders on my way, then it's down to Scatness and a feeling of confidence that the rare wheatear is going to be still there. A friend, the brilliant birder High Harrop is on the other side of a dry stone wall by the beach.
Come on Gary. It's still here.”

Pied wheatear, bird number 303 and what superb looking bird. I lie down to watch it as it quickly goes from rock to rock chasing sand flies. A common wheatear comes too close and the pied soon sees it off. Wheatears are one of my favourite bird groups and this bird is a definite highlight of the year; the first rare wheatear I have seen whilst Biking Birding.
The bird flies off along the beach and I follow it. Hugh comes and joins me and I congratulate him on he and Judd finding the recent First for Britain, the Siberian accentor. To hear the story of that bird's finding from the man himself is a humbling and humorous privilege. No expletives used, he couldn't have been excited enough.
Hugh tells me that Roger Rddington, the British Birds magazine editor, had a Siberian stonechat briefly this morning and I text him for directions. From Roger's reply I spend the afternoon searching the thistle beds and sand dunes around Toab and Quendale. No sign of the rare stonechat, I am surprised to be almost slapped in the face by a very brave red admiral butterfly. A goldcrest is by my feet quietly feeding as I video it, always a special birding moment to be graced by the presence of a 'five gram miracle.'
On the way down to the sand dunes I meet a mother with son, Anna and Lucian who have just been clearing the beach of some plastic. These wonderful people deserve a badge at the very least but I have left all of mine in my panniers hidden at Scatness. I take one off my coat and say that they have really given me a great boost by their action. They continue towards Toab and I go around the sand dunes.
No sign of the stonechat, I go back to where I have left my bike. Some farm workers are having a laugh taking turns riding a bike with a badly buckled back wheel.
I find my own less damaged vehicle only to find that Anna and Lucian have left an expensive bar of chocolate in the margarine tub I have attached to the front bag. Wonderful kindness, that will be a donation to the charities.

Later in the evening another great birding friend, Trevor Girling of Norfolk, phones to ask how things are going. He has been concerned at my lack of internet presence lately and the long chat is very greatly appreciated. Brilliant to hear from him. The world of birding brings wonderful friendships.

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!

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

5 th January                                                            Tragedy                                              The Bee Gees   ...