Saturday, 25 October 2008

I hate Carmarthenshire!

Not for the first time in my life (Glaucous-winged Gull) I found myself spending all day staring across that blessed Gwendraeth Estuary in Carmarthenshire , seeing absolutely bott-all, this time for Britain's first Little Blue Heron. Loads of mega distant Little Egrets didn't make the job any easier and we left the site at dusk thoroughly pissed-off. It's a pity really, as through the day I saw Hen Harrier, 3 Pergrines, 2 Little Stints, Green Sands and 50+ Little Egrets, but they stood for nowt after not seeing the LBH. I wonder if I'll end up there next weekend?

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

Friday, 17 October 2008

Fair Isle post-script

All ended well with the flights. Mark managed to get off Fair Isle on the Saturday flight and we had a good 24 hours birding round Shetland. Saw Ring-necked Duck, Little Bunting, Yellow-browed Warbler, a few summer plumaged Great-Northern Divers and Long-tailed Ducks and caught our flight back to Heathrow on the Sunday afternoon.
All in all, it was a great trip, despite the lack of easterly winds and I'd definitely head back for another visit. It's been 24 years since I last visited Fair Isle and not that much has changed to be honest. The crops around the crofts are much smaller nowadays and more people have cars on the island, but I'm struggling to note many other changes over the last quarter of a century. Hopefully though, I won't leave it that long until I pay my next visit.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Fair Isle - Eviction day in The Puffinn Household

It all happened rather quick really. I was just about to head out into the field when I thought I should check on the status of tomorrow's flights. "Not looking too promising" was Sandra's reply (the lady from Direct-Flights), "are you interested in a seat on today's?" Mark and I both agreed that this was a good idea. We had on confirmed seat and on "90% certain" standby seat. Unfortunately, when the plane arrived, the 90% certain seat became a "no chance" seat, so Mark was left on the side of the runway, bag in hand. I really felt bad taking off from Fair Isle. Not because I was sad to leave such a lovely island that I'd spent 12 great days on, but because I'd had to leave my best mate stranded, helplessly not knowing if he was going to get off the island either today OR tomorrow! Hopefully the wind won't pick up too much tomorrow and Mark will be on the 11am flight.

The Whitburn side of the Puffinn Crew managed to get a flight off too. Their scheduled Sumburgh flight was bought forward to this afternoon, but was also full, so Mark couldn't even get on to that flight either.

We didn't have much time for birding today. The only bird of note was the Common Rosefinch (above) which we had managed to entice down to the front of the house with some bird seed. It certainly seemed to have a penchant for black sunflower seed. Interestingly enough, Mark and I found a Common Rosefinch on The Scillies a few years ago, and it too was feeding in a sunflower seed crop.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Mark will get off on tomorrows flight - here's hoping.

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Fair Isle - Day 11 in The Puffinn Household

6.55pm and Brian is in the kitchen. Mark, Cooky, Fos and Graham are in the living-room.
What a contrast from yesterday! After the good birds, light winds and bright sunshine that day 10 brought us, out penultimate full-day on the island proved to be the total opposite. The first hour of day light was lovely, with clear skies and only a light breeze, but that didn't last very long. It was immediately obvious this morning that there had been a big clearout of birds. Hardly any of yesterday's thrushes and warblers could be found and there was a definite feeling of birdlessness. The sunshine didn't last long and by 9am there was 100% cloud cover and a strong wind. The only decent bird of the day for us was a Common Rosefinch feeding next to The Puffin and a Lapwing (island tick) over the south end today.
Tomorrow will be out last full day, but I don't hold out too much hope for anything rare as it's forecast for 25mph southwesterlies. Ah well, you never know….
Mark and I paid an extortionate amount for a Fair Isle hat today (£25 each), but we were not tempted by the £135 jumpers! Terry F-W and Marmaduke were around the Puffin this afternoon, looking to flush more birds. A spokesman for The Puffin is quoted as saying "We think they flushed the Common Rosefinch, a couple of Chiffys and a Woodcock - it's quite a concern, although we obviously can't confirm at the moment whether the Rosefinch was flushed straight into the path of an oncoming Eider".
I'm giving a talk at the obs tonight on 'Birds of Eastern Australia'. At least I'll be able to reminisce over what nice weather feels like.
Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Another White’s Thrush Wednesday!

Hot on the heals of last Wednesdays White's Thrushes, today bought another one which showed really well to the amassed birders and dudes (although Sphyrapicus Steve did an excellent impression of Mr. Magoo, looking up in the air as the White's Thrush flew about 5 metres past his knees and then landed under a van behind him and yet he still didn't see it!).
But, I'm jumping the gun. The interesting birds started on Tuesday night. Fos was having his last fag of the night at the doorway of The Puffinn, when a Brambling flew in to in the reception (above). It obviously wasn't too happy as it flew around in circles and when it did alight it was obviously panting. We switched off the lights and it landed on the ground and after a couple of attempts I managed to dazzle it with a head torch and grab it, releasing it outside so it could make alternate accommodation arrangements.
This morning when I rose, the first thing I did was to check on the Guillemot - it was still alive. I decided that there wasn't much else I could do. It had a good rest overnight and it was time to release it and let it do-or-die in the sea. I let it go in South Harbour (above) and it splashed around fairly happily.
So, now on today's birds….
Well, obviously the White's Thrush was great. It was found by Rebecca Nesquick who was happy-snapping one of the two new Bluethroats at the time when the boy jumped out in front of her. I'm sure her photos are much better than mine! There were a bunch of new arrivals on the island today, and thankfully they were birds and not more clueless birders. There were at least 2 new Common Rosefinches and 3 Yellow-broweds on the island today, plus lots of Blackcaps, Redwings, a few other Pylloscopus and Silvia warblers, lots of Brambling and a Short-eared Owl. A 'strange' bunting at the obs started off as a Rustic, then Pine, and finished as a Yellowhammer.
I really thought there would be something really big today (OK, White's Thrush is pretty 'big' but I was hoping for something even bigger than that). Hopefully there'll be some stuff left on the island tomorrow, or there'll be new stuff in overnight for us to find tomorrow.

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Fair Isle - Day 9 in The Puffinn Household

Another day of south-easterly winds and very heavy rain. It was pretty obvious from early on that there were new birds in. Lots of Redwings and some Bramblings were immediately evident as well as some Phyloscopus warblers. Unfortunately, the wind, rain and bad light made birding very difficult, with most of the Puffinn crew having to return to base at least once during the day to dry off. Many of the birds around today looked pretty knackered due to their waterlogged plumage. The best find of the day was by Dave who found two Richard's Pipits just inland from The Reevas, whilst Paul and Mark were watching yesterdays bird at Bull Park. Mark also found a probably Siberian (tristris) Chiffchaff at Schoolton. The Reevas and the Western Geos were the busiest places, birdwise, with lots of thrushes (mainly Redwing and Song Thrushes) and a few Wheatears, Goldcrests and Brambling being among the haul. A Pied Fly was seen by most of us in the Bulls Park area, ending up at Setter.

No sightings of 'Sphyrapicus' Steve in the field today - most likely telling the new arrivals about the flocks of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckerss he had in his garden. Apparently, he took some lovely photos of the Bluethroat today. Upon inspection, the photos showed the characteristic dull streaked underparts, dark olive streaked back and black legs. Shame he didn't get it on video - he may have captured the characteristic sharp, high-pitched "tseeeep" call, which separates it from the similar Meadow Pipit.

After the successful rehabilitation of the Meadow Pipit the other day, we have a new guest in the cardboard box. I watched a Common Guillemot very close inshore this afternoon, which was having a hard time of it, being swamped by the surf. It disappeared out of view towards the shore and as predicted was lying on the beach exhausted 10 minutes later. I popped down and pounced on it and it's now snoozing away in my room. I'll check on it in the morning and let it go in a sheltered area somewhere (if it makes it through the night).

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

Monday, 6 October 2008

Fair Isle - Day 8 in The Puffinn Household

A day of south-easterly winds and south-eastern fuckwits.
The winds were from the south-east today, but unfortunately so were the birders. Mark and Paul found a Citrine Wagtail which gave everyone the run around. Mark and I also relocated the Richard's Pipit, but just as we were about to get great scope views of it on the deck, some clueless fuckwits with posh London accents just bowled straight up to it and booted it - thanks boys, it only took us 2 hours to find it!
Other than that, not much on the rarity front to report. There was a nice Short-eared Owl flying around near the Store, plus a few common migrants, but not as many as we hoped on the south-easterlies.
I also found an exhausted Meadow Pipit near The Puffinn, so I took it back and stuck it in a cardboard box in a warm room for a few hours until it had time to recover, then let it go in the gardens of one of the crofts where it started to feed actively. Good luck fella!
Oh, well, let's hope tomorrow will bring some birds. It's still forecast for south-easterlies over the next 24 hours, but the wind speed it still quite high, so rare-finding might prove a challenge. Let's hope the newbies on the island will learn some fieldcraft overnight, but I won't hold my breath.

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Fair Isle - Day 7 in The Puffinn Household

7.05pm - Brian is in the kitchen (as ever).
It was a very quiet day today, with hardly any passerines to speak of. Cooky had a Richard's Pipit at Field croft, plus a mystery pipit in the Heligoland trapping area. A few Wheatears were along the western slopes and that was about it.
More geese over the island today, including more Barneys and some Pink-feet, plus lots of Greylags. Mark had a summer plumage Great Northern Diver past south light this morning, and that is about it.
Tomorrow is forecast as south-easterlies, so there'll be no lie-in tomorrow. The next couple of days might be our last chance for something big.

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Fair Isle - Day 6 in the Puffinn Household

Raging winds and heavy rain was the order of the day today. Unfortunately, all the winds are from the west. Monday night is forecast to be South-easterly, so we're all hanging on for that. 3 members of the Puffinn Household headed out to the obs for the weekly pub quiz (swizzle-me-quizzle you mother!). Unfortunately, a good 36/45 wasn't good enough to beat the Essex boys, whose 41/45 was a reflection on the types of questions in the quiz (and the fact that they had about 6 people on their team). It was quite interesting to hear the latest exploits of Steve the garden lister, from Surrey. Steve must have THE most amazing garden, as he's already seen about 5 species of bird which haven't even been recorded in Britain before. The December records of Red-footed Falcon and Bluethroat in his garden are most interesting! Apparently he had an Icterine Warbler the other day. He knew it was an Icky as he knows the calls of Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler, and it wasn't one of those! Apparently, he rings up the Surrey county recorder when he sees something interesting. I bet it's endless fun having him on the phone.

Anyway, another lie-in was in order and then I spent most of the morning seawatching from my bedroom window. Sooty Shearwater was the best seabird I managed to muster and a Puple Sand on the rocks below the house was also the first of the trip. A few blue Fulmars passed by, identifiable by the lack of contrast between the back and the head, were seen in amongst the thousands of pale Fulmars.

Lots of geese arrived on the island today, mainly Greylags, but 10 Barnacle Geese were also a nice sight over The Puffinn, but possibly not as nice as the 120 over the obs.
The rain stopped and the sun came out at about 3pm, but the wind kept up quite a head of steam, but I headed out anyway to see if I could turn anything up. 2 Whooper Swans flew over the island and a couple more Barnacles hung around with some Greylags. The best(?) bird of the day was a Common Rosefinch (above) at Field croft, complete with ring, which has been hanging out at various places on the island for the past week. You take your life in your hands when you visit Field croft though, as the resident snarling-devil-dog will probably chomp on your leg given half a chance - keep away from the backdoor!

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

Friday, 3 October 2008

Fair Isle - Day 5 in the Puffinn Household

The intended lie-in this morning was somewhat curtailed by the 300 Greylag Geese that started to shelter behind the house at 2a.m. this morning. The 35mph NW wind meant that shelter was in short supply today, as were any new birds. Undetered, the Puffinn Household headed out into the blustery wind, some heading to watch the sea, but I decided to check the sheltered coves in the SE corner of the island. My first encounter was with a ringed dead Grey Heron. It had been ringed a few days earlier but had succumbed to the lack of goldfish in croft ponds. A female Scaup, which had obviously been roosting on some rocks by the shore moved quietly away, but spent the rest of the day around the cove. The best bird of the day though, was a Richard's Pipit that flew in off the sea, calling. It flew in over my head and spent a couple of minutes around Haa and then flew off towards Leough.
The rest of the day was spent checking the eastern Geos, which were quite empty, but some seawatching produced a few trip ticks.
The temperature plumeted this evening, so most off us were back at The Puffin well before dark. We've heard that it's quiz night at the obs tonight, so we might try and get ourselves down there.
It's looking like it may be a quiet weekend, with prodominently NW winds, but the forecast says SE winds from Monday. Here's hoping!

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Day 4 in The Puffinn Household

It was a quieter day today, with no new vagrants found. Yesterdays White's Thrush(es?) and P-G Tips have cleared out with only a couple of Barred and Yellow-browed Warblers new in. A Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll, which was first found yesterday, showed well today (above) as well as Bluethroat and the ever dependable Little Bunting. The winds picked up in the afternoon and are forecasted to be 35 mph NW until Saturday, so maybe a well deserved lie-in maybe taken tomorrow morning and then some sea-watching, which produced a couple of Blue Fulmars this evening.
Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Heineken don't do Birders Birthdays....

...but if they did, they'd probably be like today!

Day 3 in the Puffinn household and it's my birthday. The saying for today is "You can stick your Brown Flycatchers up your arse". Today was possibly the best days birding I've ever had. Best bird of the day, and a British tick, was White's Thrush which gave prolonged close flight views. Although it gave us all a run around to start with, it finally gave up and showed well, black and white underwing, scales and all.

Next on the list was a Pallas's Gropper, found by Paul Cook which gave views down to less than an arms length (see photos). Other birds that I found today were 2 Bluethroats and a Common Rosefinch. Little Bunting, 2 Pec Sands, 6 Whooper Swans and 2 Jack Snipe added to the tally.

And so ends a great day. I wonder what tomorrow will bring???

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device