Citril Finch

Phew. When I said that it felt so good and promising, I had no idea it would be quite this good or promising. Got home last night to check the internet and see to my horror that Fair Isle had done it again – the first latterday British record of Citril Finch. Ouch.

Then of course the usual panic. How the hell am I going to get on there? Even JLI was giving serious consideration to abandoning our home turf and heading south to Fair Isle. Fortunately for me, PE did me a serious favour, and found me a place on the first boat heading into the island this morning. So after a fairly sleepless night, I was up at 5.30 to feed the animals before heading to catch the first ferry off the isle.

The story of the bird’s finding will go into legend, and doubtless will be repeated ad infinitum in coming weeks and bird journals, but by way of a preview… Tommy, an American hat-maker and artist, moved to Fair Isle with his wife Liz a couple of years ago. He’s an observant guy, and when he found a strange bird in his garden, he knew he’d got something out of the ordinary. Rather than just call the Observatory and tell them he’d got an odd bird, Tommy went for his field guides… and then called the Obs to let them know he thought he had a Citril Finch in his garden! I can imagine the tolerant disbelief and low expectations of the Obs staff who went to check it out… and their horror, amazement, delight and joy to find Tommy had nailed the bird in one. What a star!

Our crossing was fast on a mercifully calm sea, and we arrived on Fair Isle to the news the bird was currently showing. All piled into the back of a transit van, and driven at breakneck speed down the isle. To the news the bird had flown a couple of minutes before our van rolled up. Woe.

It seemed the Citril Finch was favouring dandelion seeds rather than any seed scattered by humans, and associating with a trio of Twite. We settled down to wait for them to return. And waited. And waited…

Two hours later, PE spluttered through a sandwich that he’d got the bird. And sure enough, it had come out of nowhere back to it’s dandelions. A mad scramble to see it as it remained largely hidden behind vegetation. Crap views, and then… it flew.

Buggering off

Not far though, and so began 15 minutes of brilliant views as it perched out in the open on fences around the immediate area. I took a few photos, but frustrated by the shit lense, gave up and contented myself to study the bird through bins and drink in a fabulous lifer.


The bird was luminous – far different from how I remember them in Europe. Maybe something to do with the surroundings and island light? The rump in particular was glowing, and even the powder blue/grey nape seemed almost metallic – this was a bird in fabulous condition.

Nice rump

It was waryish with it’s Twite mates, and they soon took off, heading over the school hill and out of sight in the dirction of Tommy and Liz’s house. We left to get back on our charter, a happy band of birders. JLI and BM followed us in on a later charter – and coincided with the bird being trapped. The Whalsay team all skor! 

Beauty and the beast

3 Responses

  1. Amazing stuff.
    I have just returned from searching for Citril Finch in the Atlas Mountains of all places! Very camera shy, but I have seen them again after first stumbling upon one in 2007, and your photograph of the Fair Isle bird in flight is exactly what I saw on the 19th of June when tracking three birds through low pine trees and scrub. If you have any other pictures of the bird in flight I would be very grateful if you could forward them to my email address:
    ###email deleted for privacy’s sake###

    Robert Moss

  2. Hi Robert,

    I hope your views were better than my photograph! Am frankly rather embarrassed of all of my photos, and these were the best of a bad lot. A stunning bird my lens could not do justice to. Afraid that was the only flight shot I got.

    You might want to contact Rebecca Nason (she has a photography site online that I’m sure Google will find for you) – she took some excellent shots of it, and may have some flight photos amongst them.

    All the best,


  3. I was looking for good photos? for a story? I guess the D7 wasn’t even thought of in those days, cheers

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