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........