Friday, 8 December 2017

Fair Isle: Oh how its good to be back 19th-24th Oct 2017

Its been a year a full year since I've been into Fair Isle, and it was a long overdue trip this autumn to head to the magical island.

Thursday 19th October

After a check with Stewart & Triona a few days before I headed into the island on Thursday the 19th to begin a 5 day adventure (hopefully filled with a few good birds).
The day looked promising on the isle as the day before there had been both RF Bluetail and a long staying Black-headed Bunting (the latter being a potential lifer) so I had a lot of hope, after some food at Quoy I headed down to their crop strip and began my day hunting for the Bunting, I spent hours staring at the crop strip but no Black-headed Buntings were seen, the bird was last sighted about an hour before I arrived, you win some you lose some, though on the other hand I managed to get two Yellowhammer, which are always nice to see in Shetland.
Of course you can't have a day on Fair Isle without good birds, my phone pinged at one stage with news of a Dusky Warbler at the 'Reed Box' at the western edge of the Meadow Burn so I gave that a twitch, it gave a few good views albeit flighty, it was also joined by a good looking (though slightly sodden) Blue Tit and someone else found a Great Grey Shrike near the cliffs so it was a good day!

Whinchat at Quoy

Slightly sodden Restart at Quoy

Little Grebe!

I was thinking things were getting quiet when I decided to give the Bunting another go but a flyover Hawfinch and news of a Little Grebe at South Harbour got me running (I'm probably the only birder in the UK who would run for a Little Grebe), arriving on site at South Harbour a good number of birders had gathered (many familiar faces from past years as well), it was difficult to spot anything in the swell yet many got their eyes on a grebe a good piece away though I never managed, unhappy with my views I decided to head up onto Meoness to try and get better ones, safe to say I wasn't disappointed! I managed to get my eyes on the bird fairly close in and from this range I could at least agree we had been seeing the Little Grebe, island tick! Clive, Peter, Phil Harris and Mark joined me up on Meoness and by this point the grebe had moved eastwards towards Mid Geo.

With those views I decided to head back up the isle and give it another shot for the Black-headed Bunting but after 30 minutes I called it a day and later headed up to the nightly log.

Friday 20th October

Next morning was up early for the always enjoyable trap rounds, with a good sized group of people we managed to catch a few birds and I rung some as well.
The wind had fairly gone up by the time I cycled down the isle and after a quick shower and some breakfast I was off again, I gave the Quoy crop strip another go and decided to keep with my route of doing some of the south before going up the west cliffs.
With this I managed to see the Dusky Warbler again which was always good though it wasn't any less flighty before I went up the west cliffs, though they didn't produce much either bar a few common migrants and a few Woodcock.

Blue Tit

Just after denner, the phone rang and it was the text message system about a Firecrest up at the Obs, after hearing of a few on Shetland I wasn't surprised that one had made it here, Stewart and I decided to head up to see this beauty at the Obs to brighten the day up a bit.
Arriving at the Obs we met a good few birders hunting for the Firecrest, within a few minutes it popped out and showed down to a few feet! it was some crazy views and you didn't even need bins to watch it. 
Happy with our views, we popped back down the isle to go look at a mystery warbler that had been found at Haa. arriving down the road we found the other half of the islands birders looking into a drain where the mystery warbler resided, after a bit of talk we found out it was an Locustella Warbler (Lanceolated/Grasshopper family) and people were thinking it to be Lancy but time would tell.
After 10 minutes several more people arrived and the Obs team arrived with a net, where it was duly set up and we tried to get the bird into the net, a carefully exercised flush later and the bird was soon caught and ID'd.

Sadly it was not the Lanceolated we were expecting but instead a very yellow Grasshopper Warbler, and for me was a very nice ringing tick as the Obs boys let me ring it (much thanks to them!).

Certainly worth the trip down, and a great ringing tick - Grasshopper Warb at Auld Haa

21st Saturday

The day started windy and ended windy but that didn't stop be from doing traps as usual, the highlight of the morning was an awesome Woodcock that was trapped.
After having breakfast at Quoy I went out again, doing the south of the island before shooting up the west cliffs, with this technique I managed to get a few birds, Whinchat & Stonechat at Quoy, the Dusky Warbler was still at the Reed Box with 2 Chiffy. The cliffs were more quiet with a few Robin and a Woodcock the main birds of note before I ended up heading back to Quoy.

In the afternoon I did try find the Richard's Pipit that was knocking about Quoy but no luck so I called it a day to finish off some work before heading up to the Obs at night.

22nd Sunday

Still a bit of wind throughout the day and overall not what we expected for the wind directions but still good. Traps again in the morning before I picked up a Blue Tit below the school and then another two at Burkle which happened to bring the residents of the house come rushing out as Deryk needed it for his garden list.
I decided to mix things up a bit and do Springfield to the Walli Burn, the lighthouse and then up the west cliffs to see if I could pick up anything different.
A nice Ring Ouzel at Springfield was a nice splash of white in among all the Blackbirds and 4 Woodpigeon at Meoness were good, next bit of excitement came when John Best at Utra waved me over to come help him get a Robin out of his shed which had somehow got in, ten minutes later and after a run about we finally managed to release the bird.
male Brambling

male Ring Ouzel

Going up the West Cliffs I met David Parnaby who informed me of a Shorelark he'd found up at Gunnawark, being a bird I've only seen once before (or once found myself) I decided to go give it a try as they were great things.
Arriving up at Gunnawark I searched for the Shorelark but the wind didn't help and there appeared to be no sign of it so I decided to strike farther north and try some of my favourite places on the Isle.
First of two stops on my journey was Troila Geo, Troila most recognised for the large amount of cliff face pilled at the bottom of the geo which blocks it off from the sea.
I sat at the top of the Geo for a while and had two Goldcrest feeding on the cliffs next to me and a few Robin down below were the only other birds of note.

Troila Geo

Next came South Naversgill which gives you a really good look at the sea below, here I didn't manage much of note but instead two Goldcrest came quite close and fed around me.

South Naversgill

From here I walked back down to Quoy, not picking up much of note before calling it a day.

23rd Monday

This was the biggy day we were hoping for, everyone felt it in the air that today had potential so we were out in force that day. I did my daily routine of doing the trap rounds early on and that got us .........
I decided to wait around at the Obs til after breakfast so I could do after breakfast traps, though me being me I happened to miss them as I was too busy speaking to people in the Obs, though I did find out from Sussannah that I would be in the isle another day as it was extremely unlikely the planes would be flying, so I decided to head back south.
It was around 10 ish by the time I'd got in, I started with my breakfast and I was in the final stages of making a cup of tea when my phone went off "Kevin (Kelly) has Black throated Thrush out the back of Pund now", safe to say I near spilled my cup of tea, I'd seen Black-throated Thrush before many years ago in Lerwick but the light was poor, so me being me I dropped everything, grabbed a bun,  ran out the door and went straight for my bike.

I decided to ditch the bike and leg it over the parks as it seemed like a better option, I could see people coming in from all directions and converging on Pund, getting closer I could see David Parnaby, Kevin Kelly and another birder but things didn't look good, when I arrived I found out the bird had disappeared up onto Hoini.
(By chance that morning I had mentioned to Kevin to go find a rare for everyone to twitch, safe to say he managed that!) 
Within the next 15 minutes everyone arrived and a big search of Hoini begun, conditions weren't ideal, it was very windy and I struggled to keep my eyes on most of the thrushes but it was safe to say that we never found the bird, though me and James Bloor managed to get our eyes on the mobile Hornemann's Arctic that had been around for the last few days, the bird was flighty and the Obs team went to track it down to confirm the ID while I decided to push south and finish off my breakfast, on the way south I saw a Short-eared Owl and I flushed two Blue Tit below the School Brae which was a nice surprise, Rebecca Nason was just down the road looking at Da Water so I went off to tell her about the birds, it was a good idea in the long run as she had just found a very late Greenshank! Speaking with Becca for a bit I decided to head up to the Kirk to get a better look at the bird, I was watching the Greenshank on Da Water when I noticed a very small teal sized bird gracefully swim off the bank next to it.

Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll

The rather late Greenshank

It took me a second to figure out what the bird was due to the winds but it soon became clear it was a Little Grebe! presumably it was the bird from a few days ago but still an exciting find! just at that point, Deryk Shaw, Phil Harris, Rebecca and their daughter Ayda came up the road, waving them over I got them onto it as some of them had missed the bird from a few days ago.
Finishing with that I headed up the road to mention to a few other birders of the grebe and the Greenshank and on the way back Deryk told me he'd just got word of a Brent Goose near Upper Stoneybrek by the cliffs (Brent is an island tick and a bogey bird for the trip), for this I thanked him and I bolted over the parks towards the bird.

It didn't take me long but I eventually found the dark-bellied Brent Goose feeding just above the cliffs, it was quite pleasing to track this bird down and add another addition to my island list which isn't too far off 200. 

Brent Goose!

By this point it was denner time so I headed back to Quoy.
Throughout the day it rained a lot, I got my jacket soaked through twice on two different outings in the afternoon and the only birds to show were 4 Reed Bunting and 4 Woodpigeon but it was a great day and I couldn't ask for anything else, if you don't go out you are never going to see any birds!

24th Tuesday

As it was my last morning I decided to give it one last bash at the traps, in the end it was worth it as we caught one great looking Mistle Thrush and a few other bits and pieces. Usually on my last day I either thrash the island for birds or visit family and friends, so today I decided to take it easy and I visited a couple of members of family before my flight.

When I finally arrived back at Quoy it was good to hear the planes were still flying and that I was getting out, we'd sat down for denner when my phone beeped and I didn't really expect much from it but of course when I looked I was wrong! "Treecreeper in Troila"! I waited to finish denner first and Triona gave me a quick run up to the airstrip so I could get up there before my flight, it only took me around 10 minutes to run from the airstrip though I was pretty knackered when I got to the top, crawling the last 20 metres I joined David Parnaby at the edge of the cliff. I was absolutely knackered but I still attempted to try look for the bird (which had disappeared on my crawl up!), David stayed for a bit to try help me find it and within a few minutes he'd found it again at the bottom of one of the cliff faces!! I quickly tried to get on to the bird before it disappeared again, David got me on to the spot and a peerie brown blob shot up the cliff, the Treecreeper!!
Yes! Treecreeper! Shetland tick no.277

For the next five to ten minutes we watched this wonderful blob climb up the cliff feeding for insects, it was great to finally see one of these in Shetland and in such a weird place as well! it was such a good way to end the trip. Eventually I had to leave to go for my plane which was due to be arriving within the next 15 minutes, I thanked David for finding it and for helping me out (I owe him a pint for this one) before I headed back down to the airstrip.
Luckily for me the plane was delayed so I had another hour to wait before my flight, Stewart came up to join me before I headed off, a while later the Obs guests came up for the flight and we eventually saw the plane come in. It was time to say my goodbyes after an amazing trip in, I thanked Stewart for everything and gave the rest of my goodbyes before we set off, leaving this once magical island once again.

Many thanks to Stewart & Triona for having me and always and to the islanders & Obs for always helping me out.

Hoini and the west cliffs

Gone once again


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