Saturday, 25 August 2012

A Suprise Wake-Up Call!

With things still fairly quiet on the island and the weather not looking like it was going to help change that, a few lie-ins were in order after a stint of Storm Petrel ringing. However, yesterday it was rudely interrupted by a knock at the door.... Will, one of the AWs said that he had a new ringing tick for me, so half asleep I made my way to the ringing room. As I walked through the door I passed an Icterine Warbler going the other way, and my though was "that's the prize bird, I'm guessing I'll have a nice scarcity!
However, I was handed a large warbleresk bird and happened to glance down to where the bible (collins bird guide) lay open on a page that contained Nightingale. What I didn't register is the bird underneath it.... a Thrush Nightingale. I glanced at the bird in my hand and my exact words were.. "bloody hell!" This is a rare bird in Britain, and I was being given the chance to ring it! The Sprosser, in German, is the Northern and Eastern European equivalent of our own Nightingale. Needless to say I was rather chuffed.
Thrush Nightingale, Luscinia luscinia

Thrush Nightingale, Luscinia luscinia
After that wonderful start to the day, another two Icterine Warblers were found. At one point in the afternoon, the obs garden (no bigger than 30 square metres) contained Thrush Nightingale, Icterine Warbler, Barred Warbler, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Reed Warbler, Willow Warbler and Siskin, not to mention the resident Twite on the feeders next to it!

Today has also been fairly quiet, with a strong northerly wind blowing up making it a little chilly outside. However, a single Citrine Wagtail has been reported, and this simply stunning juvenile male Crossbill was trapped at lunchtime.

Common Crossbill, Loxia curvirostra

Thursday, 23 August 2012

A Break From Birds?

Well not exactly. There is never a break from birds here. However, things have quietened down over the last few days, with excitement being provided by a Shoveler on the wader pools outside the obs and the largest flock of Shelduck seen on Fair Isle for 40 years...... 6! There have been lots of cetacean sightings over the last few days, and I was lucky enough to catch sight of 5 White-Sided Dolphins yesterday and a pod of at least 10 White-Beaked Dolphins this morning, on what I can safely say is one of the flattest seas I have ever seen, simply stunning! A trek over the heath on the north of the island to survey Bonxie chicks gave me an opportunity to get some pictures of the island itself! This first picture is of the obs looking across the Havens (where we ring the Storm Petrels) from North Buness, where the Puffins and Arctic Terns normally nest in the summer.

Fair Isle Bird Observatory

This next photo is taken from Swey, in the heart of the North and looking over Homisdale! This is a Bonxie stronghold and it can get interesting if you venture too near them. Although they do come at you at some pace, they very rarely make contact!

Looking East

Fair Isle Air Strip

This final photo is me getting a bit arty with some heather! Not bad for a photo taken on a phone!

Arty heather

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

An Arctic Rarity!

So this is a rather special post, but before we get to the real excitement, I took this nice photo of a Raven making a racket on top of North Light yesterday, just after I found my first BBRC rarity!!

Common Raven, Corvus corax

An Arctic Warbler! Keep an out next October, I'll be getting my name published in the annual report (hopefully!). This stunning little bird was flitting around Kirn O'skroo on the north of the island! I knew it was either an Arctic or Greenish Warbler, but on return a few hours later with a small army of experienced birders it was confirmed as the Arctic Warbler, Fair Isles' 80th record and only the second bird in the UK this year! This bird breeds right up in the northernmost forests of Scandanavia (Fennoscandia) and Russia and winters in SE Asia; meaning it has one of the longest migration routes of any Old World insectivorous birds.

Arctic Warbler, Phylloscopus borealis

Some of the assembled birders. Joe, Me, Jason and Becky.

I also got another treat yesterday morning when Jason caught a Common Rosefinch in one of the heligoland traps. This was the first time I'd seen one of these nice little birds anywhere near close and was a nice start to the morning, on a day which also produced a Little Gull at South Light and a nice flock of 20 Whimbrel that flew past us while we were on the cliffs.

Common Rosefinch, Carpodacus erythrinus

Common Rosefinch, Carpodacus erythrinus

Friday, 17 August 2012

A dark and stormy night.....

Well it was dark, but not stormy in the conventional sense! Last night, at around 11:30pm, in pitch black, we headed down to the coast for a night of Storm Petrel ringing.... I can't tell you how excited I was! The nets were set up before it was dark and our makeshift ringing station (generator room) organised. So the nets were unfurled and the tape turned on to attract any passing birds. Within seconds we had four birds in the net. And this was a sign of things to come. In just under four hours we rang 120 Storm Petrels! It was quite incredible.
What is more incredible is the life of these little birds. Not much bigger than a sparrow, these birds are pelagic, spending over half their lives at sea of the coast of South Africa, a life by the way which can be 40-50 years long! They only come onto land to breed and this is a precarious business for a Storm Petrel as they are less than useless on hard ground, hence why they only leave their nest sights at night; burrows or deep crevices in rocks out of the reach of predators such as skuas. As can be seen in particular in the bottom photo, Storm Petrels have beaks very similar to those of the Fulmar, allowing them to be able to extract the salt from sea water.

European Storm Petrel, Hydrobates pelagicus

European Storm Petrel, Hydrobates pelagicus

Fair Isle 2! The migrants just keep coming....

So here is my second update from Fair Isle, and what a few days it has been. My species list continues to grow, with the arrival of Common and Lesser Whitethroat, Garden Warbler, Reed Warbler, Redstart, Winchat, Spotted Flycatcher, Little Stint and Common Sandpiper. There have also been some rather special arrivals as well. The first were in the form of two Citrine Wagtails, which we were able to locate fairly easily in murky conditions after they were spotted on the morning census! The next special arrival came in the form of a Wryneck, with at least two present yesterday, one being in the observatory garden! Unfortunately, I could only get fairly poor record shots through the glass so as not to scare it away from the small crowd that had gathered (and its sideways)!!

Wryneck Jynx torquilla  
Another bird that has arrived and been seen in small numbers in the last few days is the Barred Warbler. This larger warbler breeds in eastern Europe and central Asia, and migrates to Arabia and east Africa, so the individuals that end up on Fair Isle are somewhat lost! There are only about 150 of these birds that pass through the UK each year, so to see one is rare, but to catch and ring two is quite remarkable!

Barred Warbler, Sylvia nisoria

Barred Warbler, Sylvia nisoria

Other birds of note that were trapped and rung in the last few days include a smart (for autumn) male Redstart and juvenile Ringed Plover!

Common Redstart, Phoenicurus phoenicurus

Ringed Plover, Charadrius hiaticula

Monday, 13 August 2012

And now for the migrants

The migrants have been trickling slowly through over the last few days, with Crossbill, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Ruff, Dunlin (which we were trapping today), Green Sandpiper and Golden Plover all logged on the daily census! There have also been a few stand out birds so far, and two lifers for me! A Sooty Sheerwater on the ferry over was a first for me, and a Wood Warbler provided an excellent start to my stay here yesterday. Today's two birds have to be my favourite so far, one in the form of a Pied Flycatcher, and the other in the form of an Icterine Warbler, my other life tick so far! Rain is forecast for tomorrow, which bodes well for a potential fall of migrants on Wednesday!

Dunlin, Calidris alpina

Wood Warbler, Phylloscopus sibilatrix
Pied Flycatcher, Ficedula hypoleuca

Icterine Warbler, Hippolais icterina

First update from Fair Isle

So I've been on Fair Isle for two days, and I'm already in love with the place! The wild and rugged landscapes are simply stunning, and the birds have been equally as wonderful. The island is populated with Skuas, both Arctic and Great, as well as Wheatear, Meadow and Rock Pipit, Fulmar, Snipe, Twite and many others at this time of year!

Great Skua, Stercorarius skua

Great Skua, Stercorarius skua

Arctic Skua, Stercorarius parasiticus,
 pale and intermediate morph displaying

Arctic Skua, Stercorarius parasiticus

From this......

To This..... Fulmar, Fulmarus glacialis

Twite, Carduelis flavirostris