A Fair Isle weekend

Back today from a weekend on Fair Isle – primarily there for work purposes, but Saturday (and what little I saw of Sunday after a great night out at a party at Setter on Saturday – a party that saw me get back to the Haa at 5am!) was reasonable for birding – an Arctic Warbler played hard to get, but was often visible if only distantly. Also my first Yellow-browed Warbler of the autumn put in a brief appearance.

Arctic doing not-a-Greenish

There was a definite bunting theme, as apart from a nice smart Little Bunting in the hand, there seemed to be quite a number of Lapland Buntings around – they were often calling overhead, and showed well on occasion. I was briefly stumped when I heard a familiar song – one I last heard in Western Iceland a couple of months ago – then the penny dropped – the AW’s were tape-luring in their garden, and that familiar song was of course Lapland Bunting.

Lapland doing seed

Other highlights a Common Rosefinch sharing the same garden as the Arctic Warbler, and a typically flighty Richard’s Pipit. A great weekend, and fine to see old friends and make a couple of new ones too. Left late this afternoon on the same plane that had just brought the crack team of PS and AS – if there’s a mega to be found on the isle this week, they’re the ones to find it! Back home to a couple of intriguing bird-related emails (watch this space) and confirmation that last week’s dragonfly is indeed a Common Hawker, and not the very similar Bog Hawker it was hoped it might be. Still, it seems as if it’s only the second record for Shetland, and a first for mainland Shetland (the other record being from, appropriately enough, Fair Isle).

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.

Brown-headed Cowbird gallery

None of these are showstoppers, but given the range they were taken at, are better than nothing.




Cowbird2 flight



Brown-headed Cowbird

Just landed back on Shetland mainland after a successful early morning charter in to Fair Isle for the Brown-headed Cowbird. And what a bird! Obvious rarity aside, I was nervous it might be a little underwhelming in the flesh, but in the sunshine it was positively irridescent.

More photos later, but this will do for now. I’m heading out to try and find me a Yank wader of some sort…

cowbird 002

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