03 November 2015

Fair Isle September 5th-19th

Kathy and I made the epic trip via smaller and smaller prop planes from Birmingham to Fair Isle, stopping overnight in Lerwick, luckily as it turned out since fog grounded all flights to Fair Isle that day. The next morning we waited with Eric and Ann Millls from Nova Scotia and a couple of locals for the wind to drop sufficiently to allow take-off. It was ok at first but the drop down to the cliff level landing strip on Fair Isle was a nightmare, we were blown all over the place; even the pilot looked a bit shaken.

 The photo of our transport below was taken later in the week in very calm conditions.

The best bird already on the Island was this superb male Hawfinch which was very approachable, quite a show-off in fact at Barkland and Chalet. Though, as it turned out, the Citrine Wagtail which everyone thought had gone, was to turn up again on subsequent days but remained pretty flighty and impossible to photograph.

Bonxies were pretty much everywhere, maybe three hundred still present on the Island,a bit like Sparrows really. Quite threatening Sparrows though.

As high pressure took over the amazing scenery came into its own, lovely views of the huge and impressive cliff landscsapes.

The first real new rarity was an Arctic Warbler found bouncing about in the heather, it had been a long time since I'd seen one - I think the last was on Blakeney Point about 30 years ago. I think this may have been my bird-of-the-trip, just edging the Pallid Harrier.

We went back to get a second look at the Arctic Warbler when a text came through that there was a Corncrake down south at Schoolton. We had gone about 10 metres when a second text pinged to say a pod of Killer Whales was off North Light. We had to make a choice - actually it was no choice at all and we raced north for the Orcas. They'd moved off a bit but they were still close enough for good views - magic! Our second experience was of a smaller group, further out from Buness one morning not such great views but we could see the blows they were making which we didn't expect, another pre-breakfast treat. We saw Risso's well a couple of times too during the trip.

This Pectoral Sandpiper hung around for a couple of days down at the South Light, giving some nice opportunities to get used to the call.

This adult Slavonian Grebe, moulting into winter plumage took up residence in North Haven, for almost the rest of our two week stay. Nice to see every morning before breakfast.

A second Citrine Wagtail turned up in a remote area of the north and the first Jack Snipes started to appear along with the first big arrival (10) of Yellow-browed Warblers. Also the first Barred Warbler of our trip (we saw three eventually) turned up on the wire rock covering behind North Haven and the Good Shepherd Noost. A day or two later the only, rather flighty, Red-brested Flycatcher of the trip also spent the day in this area.

The presence daily of Yellow-browed Warblers, sometimes in good numbers, was one of the highlights of the trip and we just missed a record 53 in-a-day when we left. Brilliant little birds, impossible to get fed up of them. They loved the umbellifers, as did Willow Warblers.

Nice to see what appear to be pure-blood Rock Doves all over the Island.

It's also impossible to get fed up of Whinchats and up to a dozen were present daily through our visit.

Assistant Warden Lee Gregory saw what was probably a Pallid Harrier. Luckily it gave views, at times, through the day (and for another ten days as it happens). Amazingly good fun and excellent to become familiar with a showy juvenile. The underwing pattern can be clearly seen here.

High pressure brought relatively placid weather and a chance to get some views of the Island landscape. The engine below is from a second world war Heinkel which crashed on the Island during the war.

This Red-backed Shrike was the first of two which were seen around the Auld Haa over the time we were there.

Trapping at the Observatory gave a chance to see some birds in the hand, like this Merlin, the Common Rosefinch was at Barkland, the first of two seen during the trip.

Sparrowhawk numbers suddenly increased and there were a record number recorded, an (under?) estimate of 10 birds. We saw a male and female together in-the-hand at one point. The female weighed about 230gms, the male 130gms - what a size difference, quite remarkable to see side-by-side.

 Seals were everywhere at times, curious and really quite tame.

Willow Warblers were present daily, up to a dozen or so, no big numbers - and the same with Blackcaps from the second half, when the first Robins arrived.

This Fair Isle Wren was in the Good Shepherd Noost, a typically dark bird and very different to our 'regular' Wrens.

And then it was time to go, unfortunately. It was an amazing trip which just seems better in memory as the Autumn passes. An amazing place to visit, Kathy's first trip, my second but the first for thirty years. I don't imagine it'll be so long before we go back!

One of the numerous Fish Farms we passed as we arrived back on Shetland mainland before flying to Aberdeen and then Birmingham.

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