Sunday, October 18, 2015

Fair Isle September 2015

It's taken me a few weeks to process all of the photographs I took during the last week or so in September whilst birding Fair Isle and mainland Shetland. I journeyed up to Aberdeen on Thursday 17th September along with four guys from the BTO. We were planning to meet another BTO employee and a couple more friends to make up a team of nine birders who would spend the next ten days grubbing about in the hope of finding that really rare bird!
We caught the overnight ferry from Aberdeen to Lerwick and after a 14 hour crossing we disembarked at 0700 on Friday. Lack of a good night's sleep was having an effect but a few northern specialities: Hooded Crow, Black Guillemot and Eider as well as Raven and Great Northen Diver added to the Arctic and Great Skuas seen off the boat livened me up a bit. After loading our gear into the hire car we set off for Sumburgh to look for a Western Bonelli's Warbler which had been knocking about in a dog rose hedge for a few days. We found it sure enough but it was being a devil to see clearly: flitting about in deep cover and giving nanosecond views. I saw the bird five or six times and I bet that if all of the time I saw it was totalled it would come to about a second and a half!
No chance of photographs but there was an obliging Kestrel and an equally obliging Spotted Flycatcher.

Kestrel waiting to catch a Western Bonelli's Warbler

Spotted Flycatcher - Sumburgh
We saw a very late Common Swift near to the lighthouse as well as brief views of a couple of Minke Whales. Other species of note here were Common Redstart and Little Stint as well as a Yellow-browed Warbler. The first of what proved to be a bumper count over the next week.
Our flight from Tingwall was due out around 1500 so after a fruitless visit to Quendale we clambered into the plane to cross to Fair Isle. Well, at least, some of us did!
Arriving on Fair Isle and walking down towards Pund we had great views of a juvenile Pallid Harrier. This was virtually the first bird we saw...and it was a life tick for me. Although it flew quite close I did not have my camera at the ready (let that be a lesson) so no photographs. Its gingery underparts and neck markings: the black boa, in particular, seperating it from juvenile Hen Harrier (which we also saw). The Pallid Harrier was to prove quite reliable for the next few days although I only managed a few distant record shots which are pretty rubbish as this one testifies:
Juvenile Pallid Harrier - Record shot of a distant bird.
The island seemed to be covered with Great Skuas, presumably they had been feeding out at sea and along the cliffs during the day and they were coming back in for the late afternoon, early evening and laying claim to a patch of moorland in the north of the island. We noticed that during the following days numbers would fall during the day and increase again during the evenings. There were so many of these that they were recorded as presnt during the daily log rather than being counted. The same applied to the island's Gannet and Northen Fulmar populations. As well as the Pallid Harrier we also managed to see the island's only Red-breasted Flycatcher which was loitering around the north haven where the Good Shepherd docks.
Red-breasted Flycatcher on the north haven cliff retaining wire.

The following morning this bird had departed and there were to be no more RBFs during the week.
On the Saturday we thought we had had a good day with 3 Yellow-browed Warblers! Twite, a couple of Common Rosefinch and flocks of Snow Buntings kept us entertained as we tried hard but failed to locate a Lanceolated Warbler in any of the ditches that criss-cross the island. A few common migrants such as Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Whinchat, Spotted Flycatcher, Blackcap and Wheatear kept us on our toes.


Our first Barred Warbler cropped up the next day along with a Blyth's Reed Warbler which was duly netted and ringed by the observatory's assistant wardens. Here are a couple of in-hand photographs of this bird but for a more thorough identification discussion see an earlier posting on this blog titled: (unsurprisingly) Identification of Blyth's Reed Warbler.

Blyth's Reed Warbler - Fair Isle Sept 20th 2015

Blyth's Reed Warbler - Fair Isle Sept 2015

On the Monday we split into three teams and spent the day enjoying a 'bird race' designed to see if we could clean-up on the islands birds on one specific day, We saw 61 species, the other teams saw 60 and 61 respectively but we had a flyover Redpoll discounted because we had not nailed it down to a spcies. Between us I think we managed around 68 species and the wardens claimed around 72 species recorded during the day so we did OK. Pallid Harrier, Common Rosefinch, Yellow-browed Warbler and Blyth's Reed Warbler all figured on the day's lists.

Monster Fair Isle Wren!

Common Rosefinch



Juvenile Gannet

Great Skua...and dead rabbit

Jack Snipe...pretending to be invisible.

Lesser Whitethraot and Fair Isle ring

Merlin. Regular on the island.

Proper...real Rock Dove

Skylark...good numbers all week.

Twite...flocks reached three figures.

Northern Wheatear

Yellow-browed Warbler.Over 50 individuals recorded in one day!
Yellow-browed Warbler numbers went through the roof on 21st as over fifty individuals were counted on the island. A couple of weeks later this record was broken as in excess of seventy birds were recorded in a single day. Again there is a seperate posting on this phenomena for those interested.
Cetaceans were regular during the week and we logged more Minke Whales, Orcas, Risso's Dolphins, Bottle-nosed Dolphins and Harbour Porpoise.
Back on mainland Shetland we preferred to have a feast of fish and chips rather than go see a Thick-billed Warbler but more about that anon.

1 comment: