Monday, 5 November 2018

Booted Warbler around your Boots

Following the quiet autumn on Fair Isle I was keen to see something decent when I came off the island and my primary targets were to be the River Warbler at Wester Quarff, the Palla's Warbler at Grutness, the White-rumped Sandpiper at Pool of Virkie and the Booted Warbler at Sumburgh.

Well typically it appears that there had been a clear out over night as there was no sign of the River Warbler, though I did find a Common Rosefinch, there was no sign of the Palla's Warbler, the one I wasnted to see the most, and the White-rumped Sand seemed to missing also, probably due to each of the beaches having dog walkers on them.

So this left me with the Booted Warbler and this one was at least still present. An not only was it still present it showed the best I have ever sene a Booted Warbler previously. At one point I was the only birder present with the bird nearly at my feet and to close to focus the camera on. 

Paradoxically being so close meant that many of the photos were not as good as they could have been, a lot of the bird would be out of focus due to the lack of depth of field. 

Still those here, taken in both out in the sun open and in the shade and show how it could turn from a tea coloured to frosty appearance.




Sunday, 4 November 2018

White-billed Diver at a seaside resort

Yesterday a White-billed Diver was found of North Kent at Margate and I paid little attention to the news, that is until I learnt it was a summer plumaged adult and by which time it was a little to late to go down and see it. 

If there bird was there today I would go and see it. 

It was indeed there and I set off with Sheryl to hopefully see my first Banana Billed Diver in 11 years. 

Traffic was reasonable on the way down and the bird was eventually seen off of the esplanade at Margate. 

For the most part it was way to far off for the camera as the tide was out but the views through the scope were excellent. We spent at least an hour and half watching the bird but once it started to drift out away from the shore we went off to look for the nearby Pallid Swift, which we did not see. 

The images here of the diver are about as good as I could get and are very heavy crops, thus the poorer end result than I would like, and I suspect the very good photos taken yesterday here by others was when the tide was more favourable and the bird was closer in to the beach. 

Still its a White-Billed, or Yellow-billed, depending on your preferences, Diver and it was a stunner.




Thursday, 1 November 2018

Of Buntings and Finches

Numbers of Snow and Lapland Buntings were relatively low this year with only a scattering of Laplands and smaller flocks of Snow's. Of the Lapland Buntings only the bird at the Setter muck heap put on any sort of prolonged show whilst of the Snow Buntings seen the small flock at North Light and the individual on the cliffs at Furse were the only non flyby's.







Finches were represented in the main by Brambling, especially as we progressed into October and singles became cliff favouring flocks. The West Cliffs during the howling easterlies mid month were favoured and often flocks of 30-40 could be found in some of the sheltered Geo's. 







At the end of September the isle hosted at lest three lingering Common Rosefinch's and whilst I saw at least one of these birds at several different island crofts it was extremely flighty and never lingered to long where people were present. I managed only a couple of quickly took shots when it landed on the fence at Quoy before it again flew off south.



Twite numbers seemed lower than usual this year, presumably again the winds in wrong direction playing their part, though several 20+ flocks were noted in favoured areas with this bird being at the Bulls Park crop strip.



Siskins and Redpolls also put in appearances but in low numbers and rarely lingered long but those that did and were photographed will feature in a latter post.








Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Southbound Geese

Early October on Fair Isle saw a lot of Geese move through and was one of the features of the autumn with flocks of Pink-footed, Greylag and Barnacle Geese all be seen in varying numbers with perhaps the most abundant species being Greylag Goose. 

Several flocks were seen on the deck, the Barnacle Goose flocks held multiple colour ringed birds, whilst individuals of Barnacle and Pink-footed Geese were rather approachable. 


Barnacle Geese, real wild Barnacle Geese and not the plastic feral population back home, are something special when they roam the island. 







Like Barnacle Geese the larger Greylag Geese have that little 'extra' when they involve wild birds on migration and not the tame bird that wander the local parks and marshes. 






And finally are the Pink-footed Geese. By the time we started to get flocks on the island many thousands had already arrived back in their various wintering areas so perhaps these were later leavers to the rest. There wasn't the large numbers this year on the island as with the other two species but a decent sized flock set down at various points on the island every now and then.



Autumn geese are the harbingers of winter further south but are no less exciting to see on migration.



Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Icelandic Redwings on Fair Isle

After a long period of no new birds arriving on the island Fair Isle saw an arrival of icelandic Redwings towards the beginning of October. The first that I saw was along the road just before the Obs and it was clearly fresh in as it was knackered and really not wanting to move away from the road. It was only managing short flights along the road in front of me until it eventually flew down onto the grass above Ditfield. 


As can be seen clearly in this fine bird it has a rather large and long winged appearance with bold buffy supercilium. However the most striking aspect is how dark it is with heavy breast streaking extending in bold black streaks along the flanks and with darker mottled breast side patches. The red flanks are extensive. 

When on the roadside 'fence' above Ditfield it was particularly obliging as it began it's recovery after it's long flight.



Over the next few days more and more icelandica Redwings arrived until they were pretty much everywhere in small numbers with the area around the Obs being particularly favoured of some flocks. 




As October progressed into the second week the Redwings dynamic changed with the arrival of continental birds following a very brief spell of easterlies and the west cliffs held many hundreds all sheltering from the gales. These birds were smaller and whiter below due to the finer and less condensed streaking. 

These Redwing arrivals were one of the highlights of a quiet autumn on the island; these birds appearing typify migration and one of the reasons I keep visiting this rock in sea.




Monday, 29 October 2018

White's Thrush - The highlight of a poor autumn

I'm now back from 3 weeks very tough birding weeks on Fair Isle, it should have been 4 but I left early in the hope of using that week for another extended visit next year in hopefully better birding conditions.

This autumn has been dominated by westerly airflow which for most part has done very little for the UK and resulted in by far and away the worst autumn I've yet had on Fair Isle, both birding wise and weather wise.

The highlights for 3 weeks had been a very elusive Ortolan Bunting around the dykes and Ringing Hut Marsh area and a Corncrake that was added to my Fair Isle list at the Quoy Croft.

there was a short glimmer of hope as the wind finally moved to the east mid October but it was to be short lived before more prolonged westerlies would return. This two days of easterlies was what all my hopes were being pinned.

Lots migrants did arrived but they were predominantly Redwing and Brambling and the strong winds made birding hard at times.

However the day was saved when David Roche found a White's Thrush at Wester Lother, in fact in the very same gully that I had visited the day before.


As birders gathered we initially saw it just okayish at the top of the gully before a short while later it disappeared. Once it disappeared most birders gave up looking leaving just four of us searching.

After giving the immediate area another sweep I decided to head up to the Peat Cuttings and then along the track to the Mast via the eroded area just down the hill.

It was probably about an hour and half to two hours after the bird went missing that I relocated it not far from the Mast and got the news out.


I followed the bird as it moved towards Lower Station and saw it fly towards the Mast but we soon relocated by the disused buildings. This time the bird went on to perform extremely well being watched at length performing its bobbing feeding action, alabeit in rapidly deteriorating weather conditions.



I was able to creep a little closer when it was in a tiny 'quarry', not much more than a shallow cut into the hill, where I obtained these the best images images though due to the rain and the low light I had to up the ISO to 1600, far higher than I would usually go to, and then still struggle with low shutter speeds. As a result the images I got were not pin sharp cropped right in but look the business set at a wider angle, which I think look better anyway.






All in all this was the best individual bird I've seen the whole year, by far and now represents the fourth White's Thrush I've seen in the UK and the third now on Fair Isle with this the second in as many years.

If there's another one on here next year will I run like a headless chicken for it, damn straight I will.



Wednesday, 3 October 2018

I arrived on Fair Isle on Monday 24th September instead of the planned Saturday 22nd September due to adverse weather conditions. This adverse weather was to become a theme of the trip with this update being on Wednesday 3rd October.

Basically there was a constant and persistent westerly wing which varied from very strong to bonkers. This constant west gale force wind was not coming from anywhere near the North American landmass so American landbirds were generally going to be out of the question; though Foula yet again got a White-crowned Sparrow and a Buff-bellied Pipit.

Birding on Fair Isle was tough as there were hardly any migrants present but I still managed a Fair Isle tick in the form of a Corncrake at Quoy, god knows how that managed to get here in these conditions.

This lack of birds was a theme for the rest of Shetland and Orkney with this being one of the worst, or perhaps even 'the' worst, autumn ever. A few things obviously crept through to Shetland by Fair Isle just seemed to be devoid of birds when Shetland, Orkney and Foula all started to turn up birds.

An Ortolan Bunting, a Lapland Bunting, a few Snow Buntings, Whooper Swans and a few geese were other wise the highlights of the past 10 days, along with the previously mentioned Corncrake.

Today, 3rd October, saw light winds and slightly drifty conditions and it was a pleasant respite from the buffeting winds but despite a hell of search around the island there was no rarity found again with the best bird of the day being a long overdue Yellow-browed Warbler at Field. I was getting worried I wasn't actually going to see one this autumn, I still haven't seen a Jack Snipe yet so that ones looking dodgy for getting onto the year list this year as well.

By late afternoon there was a clear arrival of Redwings but with the now persistent rain and failing light it seemed the now late promise of good birding was brought to an end. Tomorrow we are expecting more rain and an increase in wind again from the west with Friday looking like another howler coming in across the isle.

I'll keep plugging away when the weather conditions allow but this year we are seeing the complete opposite to 2016 when we had constant flow of easterlies that brought so many great birds to the isle; to reminisce on the autumn we had: 2 Siberian Accentors, 4 Pine Buntings, 4 Red-flanked Bluetails, a 2 Lanceolated Warblers, Raddes Warbler, Dusky Warbler, Arctic Warbler, Blyths Reed Warbler, Pechora Pipit, 74+ Yellow-browed Warblers on super Sunday, 2 Siberian Stonechats, Short-toed Lark, 4 Great Grey Shrikes, Red-throated Pipit, Richards Pipit, 3 Shorelarks, 3 Olive-backed Pipits, Glaucous Gull, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Tundra Bean Geese, Paddyfield Warbler, 9+ Little Buntings, 3 Common Rosefinch and 2 Bluethroat.

Ah they were the days........