Fair Isle blog

It’s deathly here yet again today – a good trawl around the island this morning looking for waders (anything American would have done nicely, and specifically the pale snipe from a while ago, or yesterday’s Buff-breasted Sandpiper) produced absolutely sod all. The golf course particularly disappointing – the same 3 Ringed Plovers and 2 Dunlin as yesterday mooching around, and not a lot else. Found myself driving the heligoland and telling myself it should be good for an American warbler! Yes, it’s getting desperate up here.

Have spent the early afternoon doing some final getting-ready-for-winter type things – some exterior painting, putting pots away inside one of the byres, tidying up the mobile chicken breeding pens etc etc. Dull but inevitable stuff. Have come inside for a break and some tea, but I suppose another walk around is in order shortly. I may go and lift some tatties first. Happy happy, joy joy.

Stumbled across a new blog from Fair Isle this afternoon (told you I was skiving from my chores…) – the Bird Observatory warden, Deryk, is now blogging about island life in general and birds in particular (well, if there were any birds to blog about – Fair Isle also seems to be suffering the same general malaise as the rest of Shetland. Did I mention the wind was now northerly? Oh yes). It’s a good read, and will be essential reading once we start to go easterly. Which must happen eventually this autumn, surely.

Later. Final scores today – a single Willow Warbler still hanging on in there in the plantation, and a White Wagtail up in the field behind my house. Wind definitely north-easterly this evening.


Buff-breasted Sandpiper in the rough

An excellent start to the day – awoke at first light, felt the wrath of snorty north-westerlies battering the house, turned over and went back to sleep. Made another, more spirited attempt at getting up at 9.30am, and was mid-coffee when JLI called to let me know some visiting birders had found a Buff-breasted Sandpiper on the golfcourse. Perfect timing, as I could slurp the rest of my coffee, feed the hens, and then be collected by JLI to go and relocate said sandpiper, which had seemingly flown off shortly after being found. And which was, when we called as we walked onto the golfcourse, relocated by the finders, and still showing. Splendid.

And then not so splendid. It flew off with some Dunlin just before we reached the 2 birders who’d found it. And thus began my day on the golfcourse. I must have covered some 10+ miles trekking back and forth on the fairways. And the rough, of course. Much of this accompanied by JLI, and initially BM too. And you know what? Not a sniff of the bird did we get. A maximum count of 3 Ringed Plovers, and 2 Dunlin, and sod all else.

Still, having seen Buff-breasted Sandpiper before here (and from the bedroom window) I’m not over-bothered. It’d have been nice, but at least the visiting birders have something to show for their time on the island. One of them told me they’d come here as it was underwatched! It’s maybe not overwatched, but underwatched it certainly ain’t. (Apart from when I wake up, hear the sound of north-westerlies, and decide to have a lie-in).

Booted Warbler

Just going to prove that no matter how dire the weather appears to be for birding here in Shetland, you should never, ever give up. Whether new in, or lurking undiscovered for a while, it mattered not a jot when news broke this afternoon of a Booted Warbler in the South Mainland at Channerwick. With perfect timing, as I could leave work and head straight down there.

Only to find the bird was being a bit of a bugger to see. It was extremely unapproachable, and flew at the merest hint of a person within a 50 foot radius of it. A handful of us watched it spanging around the place, and I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time to fire off a series of photos, one of which proved to be reasonably in focus. Joy.

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It’s been years since I last saw a Booted Warbler (North Ronaldsay, I think) so this was a nice bird to see, albeit the views were hardly anything to write home about, and it’s easier to enjoy it after the event on the computer monitor. (Now there’s a sign of the times…) Spare a thought for JA who flew south today – while I doubt very much he needs Booted, it’s a bit of a kick in the bags to be away for the first decent eastern rarity of the autumn.

Red-necked Stint string

It’s still quiet as the crypt here, and Shetland’s birders are all reduced to trying to find American waders. Without, it has to be said, conspicuous success. Some sort of rare peep would certainly kickstart the so far moribund autumn. So with rare peeps in mind, and reading Gavin Haig’s most recent post regarding birding japes on the always splendid Not Quite Scilly blog, I have a tale of Red-necked Stint stringing to share with you. 

Once upon a time (I forget precisely when, but it’d have probably been the late 90’s) my good friend Jeff had been to the Birdfair at Rutland Water, and had availed himself of Rare Bird Alert’s free one week trial of their fledgling text message system, in which all the news they usually broadcast to their pagers was piped directly to your mobile phone. Despite it being late August, this nevertheless meant that Jeff’s phone was rather busy – so busy in fact that I rather doubted he would be looking too closely at precisely who had sent him any given message.

The scene was set, and come the weekend I found myself stuck at work on one of the hottest days of the year. It was blisteringly hot, and needless to say nobody was looking to buy a new car (I was gainfully employed to flog cars back in the day) – preferring instead to sit in the garden and drink beer, take the kids to the beach, or in the case of Jeff, go to Dawlish Warren in south Devon for a spot of light birding. I was bored, and as the showroom got hotter while the day ground on, the devil found work for idle hands. I sent a text message to Jeff, reading thusly:

“***MEGA ALERT*** RED-NECKED STINT Adult showing well at Lodmoor NNR, Dorset 11.50am at least”

Now, I fully intended to follow this up with a phone call to Jeff, pointing out the deficiencies of using a mobile phone to take rare bird messages, pointing out how open it was to hilarious abuse by so-called friends, and pointing out how real birders had a pager. Unfortunately at that very moment the first punter of the day chose to walk into the showroom, causing an unseemly rush as 4 salesmen all on 100% commission-only pay sprinted to intercept her, and salvage something from a day hitherto spent leering at passers by from our un-air-conditioned prison. I was nearest, and some 30 minutes later she left the showroom the proud owner of a new car, leaving me smugly calculating how much I’d made from the deal.

The smug grin faded somewhat when I remembered Jeff. I dialled his number. He took the call, and from his hoarse, shuddering wheezing I gathered he might only recently have been running. For about half an hour. Carrying a heavy telescope and tripod. Over shingle and soft sand. On the hottest day of the year.

gasp-gasp-wheeze have you heard? Red-necked cough-cough-wheeze Stint at Lodmoor gasp-gasp-retch“.

Oops. I broke the bad news. After a stunned silence, he regained the power of speech with a wonderful and colourful eloquency, and sitting at my desk with an dew-spangled can of ice-cold Coke I felt truly sorry for my exhausted, angry and overheated friend standing beside his car in sunny Dawlish. Now, some 10 years on… it seems funnier again, somehow.

Snipe – faroeensis, gallinago or…

With no birds around to report (a single Willow Warbler clinging on for dear life in a storm-thrashed plantation last night), I’m struggling for copy. So, to fill space and provide hours (well, minutes…) of entertainment, here’s another photo of the non-rufous Snipe from a few days ago.

Snipe montage

Top bird is, I think, a typical faroeensis. The bottom bird is the knotty one – is it just a gallinago? Or could it be a delicata? Sad to say, I didn’t get any photos of the underwing or outer tail feather, so this is probably one to consign to the we’ll-never-know bin. But just for giggles, compare it to this bird

Giant Papuan Rat

No bird news to report today, but who am I to ignore the news that a team from the BBC’s natural history unit have discovered the Biggest Rat in the World. Ever! in Papua New Guinea. It’s about 3 foot long. Which is freaky. I bet it hunts cats.

Read all about it on the BBC. Or the ever-entertaining Daily Mash.

not a rat, yesterday

In which I get wood

Met up with TC et al this morning for another assault on the autumn’s scant pickings. Happy to report, with rather more success than yesterday. A definite warbler flavour to the day, with small numbers of several species, including a couple of scarcer ones; and some other odds and sods that are promising.

First sign of life a fine Whinchat, and while we were having a look at that a Tree Pipit flew overhead calling, and then obligingly perched up on an overhead wire to give excellent views. Repeated walks through the iris beds delivered our first three warblers – single Willow, Garden and Reed. A brief interlude with a Redstart I noticed coming off the beach and over the irises, and then another walk through the irises. I picked up a large grey warbler flying away from us – it just had the Barred vibe, and sure enough, that’s what it was.

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A couple more Willow and Garden Warblers doubled our tallies of those species, and then bird of the day popped up in front of me in a small garden – a stunning Wood Warbler. A little bit flighty, it took a few minutes to relocate it for TC to catch up with, but eventually showed well in a small patch of weeds. Am pleased with how the photos of this came out.

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So all in all, a good day for migrants, albeit in modest numbers. A shame then that none of this was on my home turf – we’d decided to go across to the Skerries for the day, so this was all fun birding, but no house yearlist fodder. Not that I care too much about my self-appointed target of 100 species. Not a bit. I can handle it. I could give it up any time I wanted…