Thursday, 13 March 2014

Fair Isle in February: birds galore?

So as most people know Fair Isle in the "winter months" is not the best time for birding but my recent trip there was full of birds and a few unexpected ones.

Friday the 21st of February 2014

So this morning I got ready to head into Fair Isle.

I was going for the nine flight from Tingwall so Dad and I set out at 8.20 so we could fit in a bit of birding before the flight.
We headed to the Tingwall and Asta Lochs, there we couldn't find anything exciting but there was good numbers of Shalders.
So we got to the Tingwall Airport and we sat down with a few other islanders who were waiting to go in.
The plane was ready for us just before nine so we got on board and soon set off! the views was amazing and it was a great flight.
When we arrived on Fair Isle I got off the plane and Stewart was waiting to pick me up so I got in his car and just as we were about to leave I saw David (FIBO Warden) running to the plane, so we then left for Quoy.
So at Quoy I said hello to Triona and stayed in for a while, I had a look at their "Fair Isle Bird Observatory 2012 Bird Report" because a) I hadn't seen it yet and b) I had heard that there might be a mention of me somewhere.
I checked quickly through the report and I didn't see anything, on the second time I had a check and I found the piece! it was written by Roger Riddington and here is what it said-

"This theme extended to my autumn visit, when we managed to get Stewart and Triona's grandson Logan, already an enthusiastic birder at the age of 13, ringing his first birds- Blackbirds, Bramblings and Robins. Youngsters like this will be the mainstay of places like Fair Isle Bird Observatory in the future, and we must do everything we can to encourage and inspire them" 

This was about last October when I was in Fair Isle, it was a really good time as I got to add a few more birds to my list- Wood Lark, Tree Pipit, Lanceolated Warbler and Water Rail (which I kicked from a bush! not actually kicked though).

 Woodlark at Quoy by Roger Riddington

Lanceolated Warbler with bling at the Field Ditch by Roger Riddington

After I had read this I was really happy, I'm glad Roger put this about me in his write up in the bird report and I'll have to thank him when I see him.

I ended up staying in Quoy a bit longer before Triona and I headed over to Shirva to see Nanny and Dadad (Annie and Stewart, Stewart's mam and dad).
It was great to see them since I hadn't seen them since October, so we spoke for a while and had some tea and by the time I left it was one o'clock!
So I headed down the isle and I first had a look at the parks below Shirva, there was quite a few geese on them so I counted them up, the Greylags totalled with ten Mallards hiding in between them.

Most of the Greylag flock

My camera has a pretty good zoom and these Greylags are pretty clear seeing I was over 200 Metres away

I continued walking down the isle and before going to Haa I checked the beaches round the "Puffinn",
I managed to find the wings of an auk on one of the beaches and it was probably a Common Guillemot. 

The cliff is this greyish colour because the sea foam has come up and stuck to the grass

I headed to Haa and Henry was there, so of course I said hello and we spoke/waited a while until Tommy came back from the shop, so after a while we all headed out birding.
Our first stop was the area around Puffinn but on the way we saw two 1st winter Glaucous Gulls in South Harbour.
We got to Puffinn and I got some pictures of the white and raging (ish) sea.

The view of South Harbour and Meoness 

Tommy and Henry posed for a photo but bits of sea spray got in their eyes!

We walked along a nearby beach and I found a dead Maalie (Fulmar), I had walked on this very beach about an hour ago and I saw no dead Maalie so I was thinking that the poor bird had died within the hour, sad to know that it was still flying about just a few hours ago.

The poor bird (Size Nine walking boot for comparison)

We had another check of the Skaadan and we found around sixteen Shalders in total before we headed north.

Now this is only the second time I've ever seen a sheep on a wall, who knows how this one got up there but I watched one run and jump onto one in Mid Yell

On the way north I pointed out that the Ringing Hut was gone, I'd first noticed it on my way down from the plane

It's gone!

We continued north to the North Lighthouse and when we got there we had a pop inside, Tommy took me to the top.

The light, gannet colony (between me and the light) and myself

I had this idea to stick my camera on the ledge of the light and let it run while taking a video, the outcome is below and I have to say I don't usually think of ideas like this!


We then spoke to two of Tommys' guests who were working on the North Light and then we headed south to Haa.

I managed to get a photo of this female Teal on "Da Water" but for some reason, to me she seems a bit "funny"

We then headed back into Haa and Tommy had to stay to cook the tea so Henry and I went out to find some more birds, we headed to Boini Mire to try and find some Snipe and we flushed sixteen! 
After that I headed back into Quoy and that ended off my day.

Saturday the 22nd of February 2014

This morning I got up and guess what! it was raining! well of course I knew it would but I hoped it wouldn't.
I ended staying in until ten and then I left for the Skaadan.
I got down to the Puffinn and I saw a few Purple Sandpipers, I got my camera out and on the screen it said "going to built in memory" I'd left my SD card at Quoy! I started heading up and Tommy gave me a lift, I got it ran back to the car and we headed back to the Puffinn.
This time I was able to get a few shots of the Purple Sandpipers and then Henry and I went round the Skaadan.

One of the three Purple Sandpipers

In one of the geos we watched a flock of eighty plus Turnstones land and then take off again, it wasn't a half-bad igth
Henry and I continued round the Skaadan and we came to a geo that was full of sea foam, so Henry ended up playing in all of it, while he was in it I took a few photos and a bit of video.

Look at it all!

Incoming! foam!

South Light

You can see the extent of it with Henry as a comparison

We left the "Sma Geo" and started walking towards the lighthouse but Henry spotted lots of sea foam in "peerie Uri Geo so it had a quick jump in it.

At the moment he's at waist height but he could of gone deeper!

A very happy guy indeed

So Henry and I continued round the Skaadan, we managed to find eight Purple Sandpipers and two Ringed Plovers.
We found a few more birds before I headed to Quoy at one for denner and then I headed out again, I headed north to see if I could find anything round the Havens.
I checked Da Water first and I wandered up to the Kirk so I could hide against the wall, I had a look at the "puddle" and I saw this big white thing which I thought was a gull until it swam into the water.
I got my "bins" up and I had a look at the thing, a Shelduck! an actual Shelduck! I couldn't believe that I'd found one at this time of year, I knew straight away that it was a first on Fair Isle this year and that's what made me even more excited!
I called Tommy to tell him, the Shelduck then took off and circled Da Water while I was speaking to him, it flew south towards Haa, I told Tommy and then I started going again.

Here is my find! quite distant because I didn't take a photo straight away but still a picture

This helicopter also went overhead

Tommy and Henry then showed up a few minutes later and I got in to try and relocate the bird, we headed north and along the way I spotted about ninety-two Great Black-backed Gulls at Finniquoy!
The Havens were a bit busy with people so we left them and headed farther north, we didn't see much but at the top of Wirvie there was thirty-seven Great Black-backed Gulls.
There's been alot of "Black-backs" in sheltered areas round the isle while I've been here so they're easy to count.
So we headed back south, checked Da Water and then to Haa, on the way down we were half-way between Haa and Burkle when Henry looked out the right hand window and saw a Water Rail! I instantly looked to my right and what a beauty! blue front, brown with white spotted back, white undertail, stunning!
It seemed to look at us and then it ran off with me after it, I don't know why I was chasing it but I wanted to catch it, I paused for a second to look back to see if Henry was coming and then I set off again.
I can't believe that I'd lost the thing! but man it can run, we scanned the ditches and no sign! so we wandered towards Haa.
We spotted Tommy coming round the corner of the house shouting something, I couldn't make it out but then Henry looked towards Meoness and pointed, I looked and the Shelduck was right there! I got my camera ready this time and I took some shots this time!

My find! a male Shelduck relocated at Haa by Tommy

After I'd got my pictures I headed back north to continue my counts, I didn't really see anything along the way but I did have a check at the Ringing Hut.

The ringing hut or what is left of it, I can remember standing in there a few months ago

So I wandered north along the road and I saw Susannah in the "Obs Van", so she stopped and I told her about the Shelduck, we spoke for a while and then they headed south while I had a wander about.

In the Gully I found this strange thing, I believe that it is a pellet but I'm not sure 

 There was an Long-eared Owl in the Gully a few days ago so I was thing that it made it.

Fair Isle's biggest waterfall (I think), the Gully waterfall in black and white

I also managed to find about seven of these peerie Pond Skaters, I'm not sure what specie they are though

I left the Gully and I walked along the Double Dyke, I then got a text saying that my younger brother had broken his wrist! I called my stepdad and I spoke to him, luckily he was ok and was happily watching TV so I left him at that.
While I was on the phone I noticed a dead Shag but I had a better look and it was Comorant! actually my first one on Fair Isle along with the Shelduck but I can't really count it if it's dead can I.
So I phoned Tommy and I told him about it before I headed to the Havens.
I saw two Shalders on the slip there and a Tystie (Black Guillemot) in the North Haven, except this Tystie was in summer plumage (are they usually in summer plumage this early in the year?).

My summer plumage Tystie

I walked along the South Haven beach to see if there was any dead auks, I got round half way when I saw one, it was a Common Guillimot by the looks of it and it was fresh.

The poor guy, one of many washed up in past weeks

I couldn't help but put this picture on because it was so different.

I left the South Haven after seeing the poor Guillemot and then I headed south, it was about 4:45 when I reached the top of the Double Dyke, I met Susannah coming back from the south and I told her about the Comorant which she could see from the Van, she said that the "Kumliens Gull" was at Shriva and she asked if I'd like a run down, so I said yes and we went off to look for it.
So we reached Shirva and Susannah and I started scanning the several gulls that were hanging about there and in no time we spotted the "Kumlien's", I got a terrible photo though and then it flew off.
Susannah headed back to the Obs and I wandered back to Quoy via the Meadow Burn.

My "record shot" of the Kumlien's Gull

When I got back I had tea and then I had a check online, David had sent me a message asking if I'd do the Beached Bird Survey so I said yes and checked a few other things before my day was over.

Sunday the 23rd of February 2014

When I got up this morning the weather was rubbish so I stayed in the house for a while before heading out at 10:20, I counted 18 Common Gulls, 44 Greylags and 14 Shalders before I got to South Harbour.
I started doing the Beached Survey on the beach at Sample and I found a few things.

This tree was one of those things and Tommy has put his name on the end of it!

My first "Beached Bird" was the wings of something but I had no idea what because there wasn't much left so I took a few photos and continued along the beach.

I managed to find my second "Beached Bird" five minutes later but it was just the wing.

My second bird which I thought was a Common Gull but (with help) it turned out to be the wing of a Kittiwake!

Also on the beach was this Lumpsucker

So I checked the beach a second time and then I left with a note of my finds and a mermaid's purse plus a tennis ball!
I wandered up to Haa and I spoke with them before, Henry, Tommy and I went up to the Havens to do the Beached Bird Survey.
When we got to the Havens, we spotted twenty Turnstones and then we took the job of searching the Haven's beaches for birds, I took the South while Tommy took the North.
I got halfway along the beach when I noticed a dead auk, I walked up to it and it was a Common Guillemot and a very very fresh one so I picked it up and set it on the wall.
I continued along the beach but I found nothing more so I told Tommy and we stuck it in the back of the car, Tommy didn't find anything besides the young dead Herring Gull,
We headed up to the Obs and we put the Common Guillemot in an obvious place so it could be found, I had a quick look at the wing and I saw a feather with an obvious while outline.
Later on I was told that this was a first winter bird as it's white feather tips were still intact.
So I hopped in the car and we headed south, on the way we met Susannah and we told her about the Guillemot.
I then went back to Quoy for denner and afterwards I headed north towards Barkland and when I was scanning the surrounding parks I noticed a Greylag but something next to it caught my eye, a duck with a dark head, orangey breast and a large white patch on the wing, it took me a second before I figured out it was a Wigeon!
I climbed over a nearby fence and slowly started getting closer to it but trying not to scare it, luckily it stayed where it was and I got my camera out and I balanced my camera on a strainer post.
I got a few pictures of the Wigeon and I decided that it was a female, I called Tommy to ask him about female American Wigeons (I know it's so unlikely that I would find one at this time of year but it's always worth a try), so Tommy picked up and I asked him to have a look in the Collin's Guide, sadly my Wigeon didn't turn out to be the American counterpart but it wasn't a half bad find.

My Wigeon, it was in the same area as last years Siberian Rubythroat

A very good find to the day

 Three of four Ringed Plovers (Sandiloos)

The Wigeon started to wander off and I left it to go about it's day, so I left north along the road, I got to Setter and I spotted three Skylarks, one of them started to rise higher and higher and it started to sing, music
is one word for it and it was so nice to hear.
A few minutes later, Tommy and Henry rolled up, so I got in and we headed north.
We got up to Wirvie, Tommy and myself got out and we walked up to Easter Lother Water but came up with nothing.
I'd been planning to go up Ward Hill for a look today but hadn't got a chance due to weather (I was hoping to go up to add Woodcock to my year list), so Tommy and I shaked hands and we went our separate ways.
I walked up the Burn of Wirvie, trying to spot anything poking about (Tommy said that at this time of year once, he'd had a Dipper so I was hoping for one of those).
Instead of finding a Dipper, I saw a Lawping and two Snipe.

The Wirvie Valley 

A strip of peerie stones on the lower north face of Ward Hill

I headed up the north face of Ward Hill and towards the peat banks and the end of the old road, I had nearly reached it when I flushed a Woodcock! year tick in the bag!

Wirvie, North Light and Easter Lother Water

The peat banks at the back of Ward Hill

I continued up Ward Hill and I got up to one of the old World War Two buildings, I took a few photos and then I headed to the top.

The Mast

One of the old WW2 buildings

I got to the top of Ward Hill and the wind was strong! I actually struggled to stay in one place, I decided to take a video. (I'm loading it up later due to me not being able to find it)

From left: Upper Stonybrek, Quoy, Burkle and Aesterhoull

Fair Isle in nearly all of it's glory

The Island's houses

So I got my pictures of the extraordinary view and I headed south back to Quoy

The Mast again

On my way, I had turned back to have a look at Ward Hill, the setting sun made it look a orangy-red colour, I didn't want to miss a good photo so the camera came out and I clicked away.

Makes a nice effect doesn't it

A wider shot

I was walking along a burn and this one seems to be kinda deep in places (about six foot in some)

I got back to Quoy (just in time for tea) and later on I headed to Haa, it was dark when I was heading down and shortly after I'd left the house, I turned back to see this green haze in the sky.
I thought I was seeing things because it couldn't possible be the Northern Lights (could it?), finally I went with my suspicions and I phoned Quoy and Haa to tell them about the Aurora.
After that I ran to Haa to meet them, they were just getting ready and before we headed out Elena came in to tell us about the Aurora.
So we headed out and I tried getting a few shots with my camera, I have no idea why they didn't come out that well on my camera but here is my results (I was using a tripod just to say).

Well you can make out a green smudge with part of a constellation above it

One of the guys who was working on the North Light came out to have a look at his first Aurora, this was only my third.
We watched the Aurora for a while and it even spiked once but besides that not much else, I stayed at Haa a while before I headed back to Quoy to pack.

Monday the 24th of February 2014

So this was my last day on the island until May so I was going to make the most of it, I got up just after seven and I headed out at eight.
The first birds of the day were Greylags with one below Quoy and ten over at Schoolton, from here I headed north, checking Da Water and there was five Teal, one Lapwing, one Redshank, one Curlew and three Mallards.
I left Da Water and I followed the road north, I decided to back track along the dirt path to the school and I managed to flush only one Fieldfare (I was quite surprised that there wasn't any more).
I continued to Barkland and I was nearly there when a flock of twelve Skylarks flew up from my right and another flock of ten from the left! my biggest flocks of the year so far! (well I know I'll probably see bigger ones on the Mainland sometime).
I continued walking and on the way to Setter, a small bird flew up from the road and I watched it land behind a dyke before I followed it, it flew up and it was a Skylark another two flew up from the right and one started to sing! It was an amazing musical tune (as most will know).

The singing Lark

Besides the Larks, I spotted a Lapwing flying south past Setter.
I then headed off to the Plantation where I found a Robin that had been hanging around the dykes nearby

A Common Gull at Setter

It would of been a better picture but I didn't have the right equipment to balance my camera.

Instead of heading farther north, I took the path south past the remains of the Ringing Hut and towards the parks and some of the west cliffs.
So I spent twenty odd minutes wandering about and finding very little besides a few geese and gulls, I was reached South Reeva and I spotted a "Fair Isle" Wren.

North Reeva (I think)

Hide and seek Wren

I slowly got out my camera and I tried to get a few shots of the peerie guy before it flew off (as they usually do) but it hopped around the corner of a fence for about seven odd minutes, allowing me some good shots.
The Wren then went off on it's business and I carried on with mine, I headed south along the foot of Malcolm's Head until I cut across a fence towards Lower Leogh.
On my way I had a glance over to the "Utra Scrape" and there was gulls! all huddled together, I got my "bins" up in time to get an ID on them, Common Gulls! a flock of twenty-six with twelve Curlews.
I had a look around me and my eyes caught sight of a Gull over at the foot of Malcolm's Head, I got my "bins" on it and it was an Iceland Gull at the least, I spent a few more minutes looking at it before I got out my camera and got a few pics for a better ID.
I had a look at my pictures and it looked exactly like the"Kumlien's" from a few days ago, it had the same features so I put it down as that.

The "Kumlien's" Gull

I headed past Lower Leogh and just as I got to the road, Tommy and Henry pulled up ready for birding so we headed to The Skaadan".
Tommy was a bit busy so he left Henry and I to do our thing, we walked around the Skaadan finding Ringed Plovers (4), Gannets, Shalders (5), Shag (1), Turnstones (45), Great Black-backed Gulls (30+) and Herring Gulls (30+).
We pretty much found everything that was there so we walked to the "Puffinn", we managed to find a Rock Pipit and then Henry spotted a small bird fly under one of the old fishing boats, he went after it and I had my "bins" ready, it flew under another one but I missed it, Henry went after it again and I watched it fly to one of the dykes, I chased after it and I watched it move under an old van this time I got my bins up and it was a Robin! not a half bad find.

An immature Eider in Kirki Geo

We started to hurry to Haa because I was really short of time (my flight was to go in an hours time and I still had to visit a few people!), I quickly had a look at Meoness while Henry ran in and switched on the kettle.
Meoness had Fifty-five Greylags and two Lapwings and with that I ran into Haa.
I was in for a short five minutes but I was able to have my cup of tea and I said goodbye to Tommy before I set off (with Henry) up to Quoy.
So half-way, Henry and I parted ways and I ran up to Shirva to see Nanny and Dadad.
I got in and Nanny was already at the door with a Fair Isle Bird Report (since they had both read it they wanted me to have it), I sat in a minute and I spoke with Nanny and Dadad, I then said goodbye and I ran to Quoy.
All my stuff was ready to go but the plane would be running a bit later! so I sat myself down and watched a bit of TV.
At twenty to twelve, we headed to the plane and my stuff was loaded on, I went on a few minutes later and soon I left the Island heading back to Shetland.

(Soon after I got back to Shetland, I headed into Lerwick for a while and then to Brae, on the way I spotted a Bullfinch right next to the Power Station! year tick!)

I had a great time in the Isle during my stay and I found more then I could of "hoped" for, even with the weather I still tried to head out as much as possible to get Island counts (well most of the Island).
I'll of course have to thank Tommy and Henry for helping me out during my stay along with many other things, and Stewart and Triona for letting me stay.

Now a few blog posts from the Isle

Fair Isle Blog (Tommy Hyndman)

Fair Isle Bird Observatory: Warden's Dairy (David Parnaby)

New bird= Kumliens Gull

Total bird Species= 39

Greylag Goose
Mallard (Stock Deuk)
Redshank (Ebb Cock)
Oystercatcher (Shalder)
Curlew (Whap)
Turnstone (Steynpikker)
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull (Scorie or Swaabie)
Eider (Dunter)
Red-breasted Merganser (Herald Deuk)
Glaucous Gull
Common Gull (Peerie Maa)
Gannet (Solan)
House Sparrow
Hooded Crow (Cra)
"Fair Isle" Wren
Skylark (Leverick)
Snipe (Snippick)
Meadow Pipit (Tietek
Purple Sandpiper (Grolik)
Ringed Plover (Sandiloo)
Shelduck (my 1st on Fair Isle)
Black Guillemot (Tystie)
Water Rail
Comorant (Dead)
Common Guillemot (Dead) (Longvi)
Kumliens Gull
Raven (Corbie)
Shag (Scarf)
Black-headed Gull (Hoodie Maa)


  1. Hi Logan , wow what a great trip report and photos , well done in getting a well deserved mention in the bird report , i like the new blog look , cheers Rob.