I had been looking forward to getting back to Fair Isle since my trip last October. The island, like the Isles of Scilly, holds a special affection for me, I think it may be related to having grown up on an island but also just the rarity attraction that many islands hold. I have only visited Fair Isle on two previous occasions the first in May 1987 when the highlights were two Thrush Nightingale, Black-headed Bunting, Snowy Owl, Long-tailed Skua and multiple Bluethroat, Red-backed Shrike, Icterine Warbler. The second time was just last October when the highlights were Grey-cheeked Thrush, Arctic Warbler and Dusky Warbler, as well as an Eastern Olivaceous Warbler at Hoswick on mainland. So, it was with great excitement that I set off at 05:30 from a wet Romsey and headed for Southampton Airport. My flight left more or less on time at 06:50 and before I knew it I was in Edinburgh, flight to Sumburgh then left on time and I was on Shetland by 11:00. I picked up a car from Bolts Car Hire and then, okay, difficult choice here..... Mega Siberian Rubythroat or Mega and World tick Lanceolated Warbler. Well, the Rubythroat is hallowed ground, especially a male so it was a bit of a no-brainer, Netherton to the east of Levenwick it was. I parked up, walked to the drive of the house opposite Heimli and there it was a stunning, mind blowing male Siberian Rubythroat. Over the nest 2.5 hours I watched it as it fed up and down the driveway and in and out of the gardens luxuriant shrubberies. During the time I was there there were no more than 10 birders at any one time and so there was no hustle and bustle that would be expected on the mainland, imagine the chaos if this bird was in Norfolk, for example. This bird has been present since 3rd October and today was its last day, it had gone by the morning of the 9th.
Siberian Rubythroat - Levenwick
Siberian Rubythroat - Levenwick
While there an Olive-backed Pipit flew over calling but didn't land and a Tree Pipit flew over and did land and gave views on a fence, otherwise a Blackcap and Goldcrest plus a hungry looking cat on the driveway! I then headed for Quendale where a Lanceolated Warbler had been present since 1st October, it wasn't until I drove the road to Quendale that I realised how many birds there were with Redwings,Song Thrushes and Wheatear lining the roads and every stop producing many Meadow Pipit, Skylark, Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Goldcrest, I have never seen so many Robins, literally waves of them. I got to Quendale and got some directions and headed up the track to the quarry where the Lancy was. In the distance I could see a few birders spread out over the Iris beds and things didn't look hopeful, as I approached and asked a birder, Mark Ponsford, what the score was the news was a little negative so I wandered off keeping close by Mark who suggested we walk in aline and then, bang, there it was we both got on the bird but Mark called it. Over the next 45 minutes we pushed the bird a little through the iris beds getting glimpses and eventually it appeared and showed fairly well given the dense undergrowth.
Lanceolated Warbler - Quendale
After satisfying myself with the Lanceolated Warbler I wandered back with Mark and his mates seeing a couple of Reed Warbler, Yellow-browed Warbler, 15 Siskin, two Whinchat, 20+ Robin, five Blackcap, 15 Wheatear etc. Back to the car and I decided to head towards Lerwick where my hotel was booked, I stopped along the road from Quendale back to the main road on a number of occasions, the number of birds was a bit bewildering and it was difficult to work through everything that was seen, I added Brambling, Pink-footed Goose (30), Wigeon and Teal to the day list but there were many Skylark, Song Thrush, Meadow Pipit, Redwing and Robin in particular. I then spent the rest of the afternoon birding at Flabberbista where the highlights were four Chiffchaff and two Yellow-browed Warbler. Headed to Lerwick quite knackered arriving at the Lerwick Hotel in the dark.
Up at 06:30 to a grey drizzly day with a north-east wind although it was to brighten a little later. I started the day back at Netherton with a quick look for the Siberian Rubythroat and then I birded the gardens and fields at Netherton and on Levenwick Ness before heading a short way north along the road to the Beadies and then south a little way to Gord and Upperton. There were good numbers of birds around with probably hundreds of Song Thrush and Redwing plus many Blackbird and Robin and a flock of 15 Brambling. In the gardens I recorded approximately 10 Chiffchaff, 10 Goldcrest and 3 Blackcap. A single Redstart was at Gord in the fantastic gardens behind the stores which look great for a mega. While in the fields were also small numbers of Barnacle, Greylag and Pink-footed Geese including one bird with all white primaries. I also spent a little bit of time on Levenwick Beach where there was a single Wheatear and some a obliging Ringed Plover.
Ringed Plover - Levenwick
I then headed back north and headed to Wester Quarff where a Little Bunting had been present for a few days. As I drove through Easter Quarff a warbler flew in front of me that I could have sworn had a yellow rump, I drove on but there was just this niggling doubt so I turned back and spent some time looking in the gardens to the east of the school but nothing but for two Chiffchaff and a Blackcap. I heard on to Wester Quarff and parked up by Nethaburn House on the southern road at Wester Quarff. I birded the gardens and fields back up to the junction seeing a Yellow-browed Warbler, Redstart, 5 Chiffchaff, three Blackcap, two Brambling and, perhaps most surprising, two Yellowhammer. While a large flock of Hooded Crow and Rook raided a cereal field with a flock of around 200 Rock Dove.
It was 13:00 and time to head for my 14:45 flight to Fair Isle, after some faffing in Lerwick to get some supplies I headed for the airport, with 15 minutes to spare I stopped in the willows by the pumping station just to the west of Veensgarth, a pish produced a very obliging Yellow-browed Warbler that approached to within two metres in fantastic light, bugger, the camera was in the car! I headed for the airport to find that, in typical Tingwall Airport fashion, the flight had been delayed for 45 minutes so I went back to the pumping station to see if I could tempt the Yellow-browed in close again, as I approached I saw a large grey warbler flop into some briars ahead of me, I put my bins up and could see through the foliage some wing bars, the briars moved a little as the bird flopped around and then it flew, I watched as the first Barred Warbler I had ever found disappeared into the gardens of Veensgarth and I had no time to chase after it. After a quick pish back at the Yellow-browed spot a female Brambling popped out but the Yellow-browed remained distant in the willow thicket.
Female Brambling - Veensgarth
I arrived on Fair Isle at 16:00 to the news of a Treecreeper at South Light, the 9th Fair Isle record so the van drove down to the end of the island but I had no luck as the bird had moved along the cliff face to the west. However, a stunning Long-eared Owl showed well on the cliff face. I slowly wandered back north up the island in the last couple of hours of daylight seeing around 300 Pink-footed Geese, 30 Barnacle Geese, many Song Thrush and Redwing, a Siskin down to two metres, six Goldcrest, a very vocal but mobile Little Bunting at Chalet and an obliging Olive-backed Pipit just along from the observatory but unfortunately it was too dark to photograph.
Long-eared Owl - South Light
Up at 06:30 and wandered down to the Havens and onto Buness and then along the road from the observatory before breakfast. Seeing a Ring ouzel on the hill to the north of the obs Reed Bunting, Chiffchaff and Goldcrest on Buness and Olive-backed Pipit on the road just past the obs again.
After breakfast I headed south via Da Water, Rippack, along the Walli Burn to South Harbour, did a short seawatch at the South Light and then back towards the obs along the road. Things seemed a little quieter than yesterday with a decline in Song Thrushes, Robins and Wheatears. Highlights included the Olive-backed Pipit again, three Redpoll at Chalet, a fly over Dotteral at Setter, four Tundra Bean Geese at Setter, Little Bunting at Chalet, Whooper Swan and Pochard on Da Water, 175 Golden Plover Rippack, Jack Snipe on Walli Burn, Slavonian Grebe, two Knot and a Sanderling at South Harbour and Yellow-browed Warbler Meadow Burn. After lunch I headed back down south and basically walked a loop of the roads cutting from east to west along the Meadow Burn. Birding was much as this morning with the only major addition being two Hen Harrier. Other birds seen today included five Brambling, c350 Pink-footed Geese, 40 Barnacle Geese, many Twite, Rock Dove and Black Guillemot, three Swallow, eight Blackcap, 10 Chiffchaff and three Wheatear. There certainly seemed to have been a clear out of birds over night. A selection of pictures from today:
Olive-backed Pipit - Ditfield
Olive-backed Pipit - Ditfield
Fair Isle Wren - Ditfield
Robin of the larger and greyer nominate race from continental Europe which was present in abundance on Fair Isle - Gilsetter
Little Bunting - Chalet
Mealy Redpoll - Chalet
Pink-footed Geese - Over Vaasetter
Whooper Swan and Greylag Geese - Da Water
Golden Plover - Rippack
Dunlin of a longer billed race than I am accustomed to seeing in Hampshire - South light
Eider - South Harbour
Knot - South Harbour
Slavonian Grebe - South Harbour
Sanderling - South Harbour
Starling - South Harbour
Starling - Quoy
Yellow-browed Warbler - Meadow Burn
Blackcap - Post Office
Today was a relatively still day with largely sunny and mild conditions but for a squally shower in the evening, the calm preceding night had led to a significant clear out of birds particularly of Song Thrush and Redwing which were approximately half in number of what they were yesterday. Accordingly the birding seemed pretty slow going. Prebreakfast I wandered out onto Buness but saw relatively little, a Reed Bunting in the Havens was the highlight.
After breakfast I headed south and saw much as yesterday in terms of the commoner species although there were some absences with the Little Bunting, Knot and Slavonian Grebe now departed and others such as the Golden Plover flock much diminished. I spent much time digi-scoping, particularly the spectacular Pink-footed Goose flock. The only new bird was a Snow Bunting that flew high to the north over Auld Haa and a Merlin seen from the shop.
Pink-footed Geese - Chalet Area
After lunch I headed to the North Light and then back down the Wirvie Burn before a final short seawatch from Buness in the evening. Highlights included three Snow Bunting at the lighthouse, a mixed flock of two Tufted Duck, a Pochard and a female Scaup on Easter Lother Water and a Yellow-browed Warbler at Easter Lother. A short seawatch produced a Sooty Shearwater and two groups of eight (six male and two female) and seven (six female and one male) Long-tailed Duck all flying south. In addition there were three Risso's Dolphin, although I missed a close school of six feeding off Buness during the afternoon which had departed by the time I got there at 17:30. Did a short seawatch off Buness until the heavens opened and I made a dash for the obs.
North Cliffs viewed from Noirth Light looking towards Dronger and Ward Hill. Ward Hill is the highest point on the island at 217m
Pochard, Tufted Duck (two) and Scaup - Easter Lother Water
Black Guillemot - Off Buness
Before breakfast walked to Buness for a short seawatch which produced a couple of Puffin and a single intermediate phase Fulmar but little else besides the throng of Gannet and Fulmar. There were evidently geese arriving in the north-west winds with 23 Barnacle Goose and several skeins of Greylag amounting to around 35 birds.
After breakfast a Mealy Redpoll was caught in the obs garden so I wandered along to the rationing room to take a look. I then headed south, the Olive-backed Pipit was again at Ditfield and a single female Long-tailed Duck was offshore. I wandered up the Hill Dyke seeing a fine male Wheatear and a Lapland Bunting which showed well at the south-east end of the Dyke while a Carrion Crow was new for the trip at the north-west end of the Dyke. A ring-tailed Hen Harrier hunted the hillsides of Hoini and Burrasheild. I then climbed up over Hoini and walked south along the cliffs seeing relatively little but for 20 Redwing, 30 Song Thrush and 14 Snow Bunting including great views of two birds. I spent some time sitting on the cliffs scanning the slopes for birds and admiring the skills of the Fulmar playing in the updrafts. I then dropped down through the Gilly Burn and back up the road towards the obs spending some time in the vegetation around the post office. A Yellow-browed Warbler was still at Chalet. All in all, by Fair Isle standards, it was very slow going.
Mealy Redpoll - Observatory
Lapland Bunting - Hill Dyke
Hen Harrier - Burrashield
Fulmar - Hoini
Grey Seal - Hoini
Snow Bunting - Hoini
Siskin - Post Office
After a big Sunday lunch I headed back south and birded the roads passing via Da Water on the way south and cutting across at Meadow Burn before heading back north. Again it was pretty slow going with the Olive-backed Pipit once again at Ditfield, now seven Long-tailed Duck offshore here (including two adult winter male,and one adult summer male) a Buzzard which flew south over Chalet, a Whinchat at Boini Mire, the Blue Tit at Quoy (a Fair Isle mega), the Hen Harrier at Barkland and the Yellow-browed Warbler at Chalet. It was so quiet, that I spent much of my afternoon trying to get reasonable shots of the everyday birds.
Long-tailed Duck - Ditfield
Southern part of Fair Isle
Whinchat - Boini Mire
Observatory with Buness to the right
Started the day by birding the Havens and Buness seeing pretty much the usual stuff of previous days with a Wheatear, Reed Bunting in the Havens and a Yellow-browed Warbler in the obs garden. A short seawatch on Buness produced a blue Fulmar and a Minke Whale.
After breakfast I was just putting on my boots in the stifling hot boot room and out went the shout 'Bluetail in the ringing room' after a hurried tying of laces headed to the outside of the ringing room to get in hand views of a first winter male Red-flanked Bluetail. After photos the bird was released and promptly flew around the west side of the obs. Although the bird then showed on and off until lunchtime I had made a bee-line down the island on the theory that there could be something else out there, I didn't see the Bluetail again and ended up with just in hand shots, not the most satisfactory.
I birded Pund, Hjukni Geo, the Raeva's and then cut back towards Lower Leogh and back up the roads. Despite the expectation following the mornings Bluetail there was little new to be seen and once again there appeared to have been a bit of a clear out overnight. however, I found a Little Bunting which may possibly be a new bird or the Chalet bird relocated, and possibly a new Yellow-browed Warbler was at Hjukni Geo otherwise a scatter of Goldcrest, Blackcap plus the usual Yellow-browed at Chalet was all that the morning produced.
Red-flanked Bluetail - First winter male Observatory
Little Bunting - Vaadal
Twite - Vaadal
Meadow Pipit - Observatory
Meadow Pipit- Meadow Burn
Goldcrest - North Shirva
Sky Lark - Observatory
Sky Lark - North Shirva
After lunch headed out with Andy Close and headed along the west coast, at Field Ditch Andy yelled 'Locustella', could this be it, the mega! Nope, up it popped and there sat a rather splendid Grasshopper Warbler, great, it gave fantastic views but not quite what we had hopped for. Still, it's always great to have views of Grasshopper Warbler, it even flicked into the adjacent field and walked on the short sheep grazed grass and looked a little pipit like.
I then headed down along the east side of Barkland and out to Rippack, a fly over Lapland Bunting was nice, and tthen close to Kennaby a slightly odd call 'sip sip' and I glanced around to see a pipit alongside the track, bins up, OBP and a fantastic bird at that, it wandered onto the track, flicked onto a post and then back to the track and gave the classic OBP call and showed well. It was then flushed by a dog and it flitted to Kirki Mire. I wandered on covering Walli Burn, South Harbour, Hegri Burn, Lower Leogh and the road back north. Nothing new was seen, just revelling in the beauty of Fair Isle.
Olive-backed Pipit - Kennaby
My final day on Fair Isle and I wandered out onto Buness before breakfast seeing the usual range of birds, a fine blue Fulmar flew south at close range and a Yellow-browed warbler showed well in the obs garden.
After breakfast I head south and did a circuit of the roads, highlights were an Eastern Lesser Whitethroat at Upper Leogh, a Dotteral that flew south over Upper Leogh and appeared to disappear out to see over the South Light and a summer plumaged Great-northern Diver in the South Harbour. A Siberian Chiffchaff was at Burkle and was probably a new bird. The eastern influence of the Lesser Whitethroat and the Siberian Chiffchaff made me nervous as 11:15 approached and I needed to make my way to the airport. I had a nasty feeling that a mega was about to break on the Isle.
Siberian Chiffchaff - Quoy
The flight from Fair Isle to Tingwall was amazingly calm and clear and Foula could be seen clearly in the distance to the west while two Risso's Dolphin surfaced below the aeroplane. After landing in Tingwall I taxied to Lerwick to collect a car from Bolts Car Hire and headed to Scalloway for an Eastern Bonelli's Warbler that had been present since 10th October but had no luck, I arrived on the day of its departure. The only birds seen were five Chiffchaff, one Goldcrest, one Blackcap and a fly through Merlin. I then headed to Quendale where there were three Siberian Chiffchaff, two Blackcap and a Blue Tit (a Shetland rarity). I bumped into an old friend Dan Houghton and spent some time chatting while grilling the Siberian Chiffchaff. I then headed south to the Willows at the Pool of Virkie where a Long-eared Owl showed very well and 10 Bar-tailed Godwit, one Knot, 30 Dunlin and 45 Curlew were present. I headed back to my hotel in Lerwick and had a chilled out evening.
Siberian Chiffchaff - Quendale
Blue Tit - Quendale
Long-eared Owl - Poole of Virkie
Long-eared Owl - Pool of Virkie
My final day on Shetland and I began birding the Sycamore's at Seafield in Lerwick but saw nothing but for a single Blackcap. I then headed for the Loch of Clickimin in Lerwick and birded the Loch, the paths to the north and the old campground and the Helendale area to the west of the Loch. On the Loch were around 20 Whooper Swan, 15 Goldeneye as well as small numbers of Teal, Wigeon and Snipe. The Helendale area produced a small number of redwing, a single Fieldfare, four Chiffchaff, a calling Siberian Chiffchaff, a Yellow-browed Warbler, a Pied Flycatcher and three Blue Tit.
Whooper Swan - Loch of Clickimin
I headed north to collect Andy Close from the airport and birded the vegetation to the west of Veensgarth seeing another Siberian Chiffchaff and little else. Things seemed decidedly quiet. Andy and I then birded Levenwick seeing a Chiffchaff and a Blackcap, had a quick stop at Pool of Virkie for the Long-eared Owl and then I dropped Andy at Sumburgh Airport. I spent the rest of the day birding Quendale and drove around the Pool of Virkie, through Scousburgh to Geosetter seeing relatively little. I headed for the airport for my 16:05 flight from Sumburgh to Edinburgh and then onto Southampton. When in Edinburgh I switched on my phone just as news broke of a Siberian Thrush trapped at Scousburgh in the evening, bugger!! Double bugger, I had driven past the very garden where the Siberian Thrush was trapped earlier in the day!! Thats Shetland for you, never a good time to leave.