Monday, 27 September 2010

Fair Isle - Day 1

We arrived at Tingwall airport at 08:20 in preparation for our morning flight on to Fair Isle. Within 2 hours we were in the air and enjoying spectacular views over the archipelago in glorious weather. Less than half an hour later we were on Fair Isle, a new experience for two of the group members, and our attention quickly turned to the many rare and scarce birds already on the island.
We quickly headed over for a Red-throated Pipit which had been seen earlier in the day on the western side of the island, as this would be a new bird for 3 of the group. Upon arriving it was apparent the bird hadn't been recently seen, but many Meadow Pipits were present, interspersed with Rock Pipits and some other migrants. Whilst walking the cliffs around the area we encountered the follwing species; Pied Flycatcher (3), Chiffchaff (2), Willow Warbler (1), Wheatear (4), many Twite, and perhaps best of all good numbers of Lapland Bunting and smaller numbers of Snow Bunting (picutured below).

Lapland Bunting

Snow Bunting
Garden Warbler (left) and Barred Warbler (right)
After a fruitful 2 hours birding on the west cliffs, we took advantage of a minibus courtesy of the Observatory staff back to the brand new FIBO base to move in to our home for the next 5 days, and restore energy levels with some much needed lunch. Whilst waiting for the stop a quick check of the shop garden produced a juvenille Barred Warbler which was enjoyed by all the group. Upon arrival back at the new observatory we quickly settled in, and briefly checked the garden recording Lesser Whitethroat and Sedge Warbler. Just before lunch, we heard another Barred Warbler had been trapped in a gully near the obs, and was being brought back for ringing. The bird was held on display for all to see, the simultaneous trapping of a Garden Warbler allowing for an excellent opportunity for comparisin of these potential confusion species.

Barred Warbler

After a hearty lunch we wasted no time in getting back out in the field. With the wind strengthening from the east and news of more fresh migrants around the island, there was no time to sit around. No sooner had the group left the obs than the red flag, which is produced when an extreme rarity is found, was being paraded round the island attached to the back of the obseravtory van. Pumped with adrenalin we ran to the reported site, and it was not long until we were watching a stunning 1st-winter male Red-flanked Bluetail as it fed in the neigbouring gully which held Bluethroat and Barred Warbler. The bird was shortly trapped and brought back to the obs, where it was shown to all before being released back into the garden.

Red-flanked Bluetail

With clear evidence of new arrival of migrant birds, the group was quickly out in the field again in the hope of finding such a bird for themselves. The easterly wind had clearly strengthened, and the group split to opposite ends of the island. I headed towards North Light, as this was the site where an American Buff-bellied Pipit was currently frequenting, and this would be a new bird for myself. The bird showed extremely well (see below), but the elation of a new bird was possibly eclipsed by the barrage of migrants seemingly appearing out of nowhere at the higher points of the island.

Buff-bellied Pipit

Whilst sifting through the many birds flitting around any area of potentially suitable habitat, a wide variety of scarce and interesting species were recorded. The group in total saw no less than 10 Yellow-browed Warblers, with views of less than 6 feet easily possible as these tired birds sought much needed rest on their immediate arrival on the cliff top. Other birds seen amongst the commoner pipits and resident birds included many Pied Flycatcher and Garden Warbler, Whinchat (3), Redstart (2), Barred Warbler (1), Common Rosefinch (1), Ring Ouzel (4), and many Brambling. Best of all, was yet another Red-flanked Bluetail, this time a 1st-winter female at the radio mast, which showed extremely well as it fed around the metal compound.

Yellow-browed Warbler

The group returned to the observatory weary but elated after a superb days birding, the sheer sight of migrants 'falling from the sky' being something few of us had experienced before. The forecast continues to promise more birds, and following the fall that occured this afternoon, the group will certainly be out with high ambitions of a special bird tomorrow.

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