So this autumn was going to be a different visit to usual due to the devestating fire that destroyed the Observatory building back in March. I would thus be staying in the south of the island this year, split between South Lighthouse and Auld Haa. It certainly was a different feel when walking out each morning and being immediately into the crofts whilst a walk up to the Obs garden and the North Cliffs would be a rather long trek.
I wasn't due to arrive until the 5th October, my latest arrival date to the island so far and I was worried that I would miss something good during the peak period of end of September, when I would normally have been there.As it turned out ittle happened in terms of rarities during that period and it seemed I had timed my visit just right.
During the trip the weather was as usual it's playful self with a mix of rain, wind and calm spells whilst this had the result of producing lots of birds.
As it turned out this was one of the most enjoyable, but as usual tinged with some frustration, trips I have done to the island but the birds seen speak for themselves and again cements it's claim to be the top rarities location in the country. I was lucky in getting an unexepected 5 Fair Isle ticks during my trip. Of the rarities seen there were two firsts for the island, the Black-winged Stilt also being a first for Shetland, and the Stejnegers Stonechat, which at time of writing looks set to be the second for Shetland. The frustration that I mentioned earlier in my post was due to the fact that I put in a lot of miles and maximum effort and still managed to find very little which goes to show that even with depleated numbers of visiting birders it is still extremely hard to find any close to being rare here. My success came with a Firecrest, only the 10th for Fair Isle, a Richards Pipit and an Olive-backed Pipit.
Still my frustration at not finding anything was tempered by the fact that more often than not I would have some of the best rarities all to myself, no crowds, no anyone else. The Gunnawark Bluetail was enjoyed for sevral hours all on my own, The Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll I often had to myself, the Raddes Warbler on the second day I had to myself for an hour and so on. If this was mainland there would be at least 10 others minimum on my shoulder.
Of the rarities I saw four of the five Red-flanked Bluetails that were on the island, I had a fifth bird on Shetland when I left the Isle. The North Gunnawark bird was a stunner and put on the best performance of any bluetail I've seen on the island so far.
There was a Black-winged Stilt, as mentioned, at North Haven Beach in very windy conditions, a Pectoral Sandpiper on South Harbour Beach, a Pallas's Warbler in Dog Geo before it moved to Auld Haa, a Pechora Pipit at Upper Stoneybrek (only the second I've seen in the UK), a Lanceolated Warbler sen in hand at the Ringing Hut after it was caught in Gilsetter, a Stejneger's Stonechat at Schoolton, a mobile Brown Shrike around Midway (ony the second for Fair Isle and only my second in the UK), a Red-throated Pipit that was mobile between Lower Leogh and Meadow Burn, a Radde's Warbler down the cliffs at Klinger's Geo which for a while was mooted as a possible Yellow-streaked Warbler, and the trip ending Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll on School Brae which just pipped the Bluetail as bird of the trip.
In addition to these rarities were a host of scarcities which included two Hawfinch and several Waxwings around Auld Haa, flocks of Snow Buntings, Richards and Olive-backed Pipits, a smattering of Yellow-browed Warblers, the Firecrest, a Common Rosefinch, two Barred Warblers along with a flurry of Short-eared Owls, Bramblings everywhere and a massive thrush arrival that was tens of thousands strong. Amazing stuff.
Just superb birding.
Time and time again it amazes me how accommodating the islanders are and it was also great to catch up stories with Richard in his third, and now last, consecutive year as Assistant Warden and Max who seems to have semi moved to the island this summer.
Always a pleasure to also chat with David and Susannah and great to see them doing well at the School House.
Finally the island; still as magical as always and I enjoyed spending time around the Hoini Cliffs this year, more than I usually do which is probbly in part due to being located in the south of the island this year. It was sad to see where the Obs once stood but I know it will be back and I look for to aquainting myself with it in the future but in the meantime I will be again at South Lighthouse next year.
For more images of the Gunnawark Red-flanked Bluetail, Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll and the Pallas's Warbler visit the repsective dedicated pages in the rarities gallery.
Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll - School Brae
Red-flanked Bluetail - North Gunnawark
Pallas's Warbler - Dog Geo
Black-winged Stilt - North Have Beach
Brown Shrike - Initially midway between Quoy and Kenaby before showing at Midway
Pechora Pipit - Upper Stoneybrek
Common Rosefinch - Quoy
Olive-backed Pipit - Stackhoull
Red-flanked Bluetail - Obs
Stejneger's Stonechat - Schoolton
Hawfinch - Aul Haa
Purple Sandpiper - North Haven Beach
Ring Ouzel - The Havens
Short-eared Owl - Boini Mire
Waxwing - Aul Haa
Waxwing - The Chapel Chimney
Yellow-browed Warbler - Lower Leogh