Fair Isle Bird Observatory Rebuild Appeal

Wild Edges by Inge Thomson

Singer and multi-instrumentalist Inge Thomson comes from Fair Isle and now makes powerful and evocative music, much of it inspired by the environment and her place within it. Following this theme, Inge has composed and co-performs Wild Edges, proceeds from the sale of which will go entirely towards the FIBO rebuild appeal.

In addition to Inge’s musical input, the track Wild Edges features Phil Cunningham, Chris Stout and Jenny Sturgeon and a cameo sound bite from ex-Good Shepherd skipper Jimmy Stout plus a variety of birds!

We thank Inge enormously for her generosity and her support of our rebuild appeal. Please support Inge, and the appeal, by donating as you download the track from the FIBO Bandcamp webpage.

FIBO 2021

The work of Fair Isle Bird Observatory continues in 2021 with Alex Penn and Dan Gornall as Assistant Wardens and Georgia Platt as Ranger based at South Light. News from their migration and seabird work will appear in the Latest Sightings blog (below). The Directors continue in their commitment to build a new Obs, working towards a rebuild in 2022 and re-opening in 2023 (subject to ongoing constraints). Until then, limited accommodation is available on the Isle (subject to COVID travel and accommodation restrictions).

Latest sightings

20th-24th July 2021
overcast and chilly, with a slight NE breeze at times
The team have had a long week of Puffin monitoring, starting with the annual food sampling on Tor O' Da Ward Hill. This is where we catch birds in a mist net as they swirl around, and collect any fish that they drop as they hit the net - we collected 34 samples and caught 61 Puffins, including 2 retraps. Well worth the 4:15am start!

Adult Puffin in the hand at Tor O' Da Ward Hill (photo by AW Alex Penn)

After food sampling, I did a long guided walk around the SW coast and up to the Haven, and saw a Rosy Starling at Finniquoy on the way! A nice treat for the visitors and the first sighting of this species in 19 days, so it was assumed to be a different bird to the one hanging around Vaasetter previously. We weren't finished with Puffin monitoring for the day just yet, as we took advantage of the lack of swell and paddled over to Greenholm in our inflatable dinghy in the afternoon! All marked burrows were checked and chicks had their biometrics taken - it seems like the chicks are growing pretty slowly this year, but a few were at fledging size, so that's encouraging at least. Whilst on Greenholm, Dan also ringed a few Fulmar chicks and myself and Alex ringed 8 Kittiwakes.

Adult Kittiwake in the hand at Greenholm - it always feels like a huge privilege to handle this red-listed species (photo by Ranger Georgia Platt)

The following day (the 22nd), we spent much of the day sorting through the food samples that we collected - this involves identifying, measuring and weighing each individual fish, even down to the tiniest sandeel! A good job to get done, and some valuable data collected. On the 23rd we rounded off the Puffin monitoring with the annual all-day feedwatch, where we note whenever a Puffin carrying fish enters a marked burrow from dawn til dusk. It really feels like we're getting through the seabird work now, as the monitoring is nearing an end for a lot of species - just have to digitise all the data collected now!

A typical Puffin food sample, consisting of small sandeels and larger young gadoids (photo by Ranger Georgia Platt)

Honey Buzzard: one still present throughout, touring the Isle - it has been present for 15 days, making it the longest staying Honey Buzzard in Fair Isle history. It still looks very healthy, with some speculation that it is feeding on frogs rather than insects. On the 23rd it was sighted at Guidicum, where it gained height and went out to sea, but was harassed by Bonxies and came inland again.
Rose-coloured Starling: adult at Finniquoy

Other sightings of note: 1 Shelduck (present throughout at South Harbour), 1 Shoveler (female on 21st and 22nd), 5 Teal, 3 Red-breasted Merganser (male on 21st, two red-heads on 22nd and 23rd), 2 Swift, 1 Woodpigeon, 76 Oystercatcher (large flock on 21st), 1 Golden Plover, 1 Whimbrel, 39 Turnstone (on 22nd), 1 Knot, 4 Sanderling, 5 Dunlin, 1 Purple Sandpiper, 21 Redshank (on 22nd), 5 Black-headed Gull, 6 Lesser Black-backed Gull, 1 Red-throated Diver (23rd), 2 Grey Heron, 3 Peregrine (3 chicks fledged on 23rd), 4 Carrion Crow, 3 Swallow, 1 Chiffchaff, 1 Lesser Whitethroat, 1 Blackbird, 1 Robin, 1 Chaffinch, 1 Siskin

Year List: 183

Other wildlife: 1 Painted Lady (on 23rd)

16th-19th July 2021
a mixed bag of weather, with force 6-7 SW winds at the weekend. Otherwise overcast and chilly with some patchy fog, but fairly calm.
A fairly quiet few days, with bits and pieces of seabird work and sheep hill on the 19th. On the 16th we headed down to the Razorbill productivity monitoring plot at Easter Lother, to find that many of the chicks had fledged - a few were still left, so by the next time we visit they should be gone (or nearly gone) as well. Weather at the weekend was fairly poor with high winds and rain, so Saturday was a rare day-off for us, and indoor jobs were all caught up with. Sheep hill on Monday was a long but fun day, as we started at 9am and didn't finish until 6pm! The weather turned dreich in the afternoon, so we were all shearing sheep in the constant drizzle - hot showers afterwards were much needed!

All the hill sheep being released into the mist from the cru at the end of the day (photo by AW Alex Penn)

Obs staff can turn their hands to anything! Photo shows Georgia in the foreground and Max behind, shearing Schoolton croft's sheep (photo by AW Alex Penn)

Not much around in the way of birds at the moment, other than the long-staying Honey Buzzard which was present throughout - it's been here for 11 days now! A few more waders passing through, and a few Manx Shearwaters (rarer than Sooty Shearwater here) at the weekend when there were strong south-westerlies blowing.

Honey Buzzard: one still present throughout, still favouring the Leogh/Skerryholm area

Other sightings of note: 1 Teal, 1 Tufted Duck, 1 Cuckoo (female), 2 Collared Dove, 1 Moorhen (same bird on Da Water), 1 Golden Plover, 6 Black-tailed Godwit, 42 Turnstone, 1 Knot, 2 Sanderling, 3 Dunlin, 18 Purple Sandpiper, 33 Redshank, 36 Black-headed Gull, 97 Common Gull, 15 Lesser Black-backed Gull, 5 Manx Shearwater (on 17th off South Light), 3 Grey Heron, 1 Merlin, 2 Peregrine (plus 3 chicks again), 5 Carrion Crow, 3 Swallow, 2 Chiffchaff, 1 Garden Warbler, 1 Lesser Whitethroat, 2 Blackbird, 1 Robin, 60 Meadow Pipit (flock on Ward Hill on 19th), 1 Chaffinch, 1 Linnet

Year List: 183

Other wildlife: 1 Minke Whale (from Good Shepherd, 2 miles north of Isle), 2 Magpie Moth, Shetland Bee (present throughout)

12th-15th July 2021
mostly clear, with some mist and a slight breeze
The last few days have been very productive, with lots of various species of seabird and gull chicks ringed, plus a decent Stormie ringing session. On the 12th we visited the mixed Gull colony at Goorn, where we ringed a good number of Herring Gull chicks, one Lesser Black-backed Gull chick and a healthy brood of three Great Black-backed Gulls. A brood of Swallows and a few Arctic Skua chicks were then ringed at the Mast, and on the night of 12th/13th we headed to South Haven for a Storm Petrel ringing session, with 151 birds caught plus 2 Leach's Petrels. It's always exciting to catch a Leach's - such beasts compared to European Stormies!

Leach's Petrel in the hand - double the size of a European Stormie! (photo by AW Alex Penn)

On the 14th we visited the Puffin productivity plot at Greenholm again - all chicks still present, albeit growing quite slowly, so hopefully they'll make it to fledging size. In terms of other birds, the Honey Buzzard is still sticking around and currently enjoying the cut silage fields, and two gorgeous summer plumage Great Northern Divers were showing well and calling in South Haven yesterday evening (14th). Today (15th), Alex discovered three large and healthy looking Peregrine chicks, nearly ready to fledge at Guidicum. We have long suspected that a pair are breeding in the north-west, so it's brilliant to confirm this! Some strong south-westerlies coming up, so who knows what could turn up now.

Summer plumage Great Northern Divers showing some courting behaviour in South Haven (photo by AW Alex Penn)

Peregrine chicks on the cliffs at Guidicum - Alex noticed the pair of adults alarm-calling and managed to spot these! (photo by AW Alex Penn)

Honey Buzzard: one still present throughout, touring the crofts

The Honey Buzzard comes under near-constant harrassment from Arctic Skuas during its lengthy stay on the Isle (photo by AW Alex Penn)

Other sightings of note: 1 Greylag Goose, 1 Wigeon, 1 Teal, 2 Swift, 1 Cuckoo (female), 1 Moorhen (same bird on Da Water), 3 Golden Plover, 3 Whimbrel, 1 Black-tailed Godwit, 15 Turnstone, 1 Knot, 3 Sanderling, 8 Dunlin, 1 Purple Sandpiper, 2 Common Sandpiper, 15 Redshank, 1 Greenshank (first of the year), 12 Black-headed Gull, 58 Common Gull, 3 Lesser Black-backed Gull, 2 Great Northern Diver, 151 Storm Petrel (caught on 12th/13th), 2 Leach's Petrel (caught on 13th - first of the year), 1 Manx Shearwater (off Good Shepherd), 5 Grey Heron, 2 Peregrine (plus 3 chicks), 4 Carrion Crow, 2 Sand Martin, 4 Swallow, 2 Chiffchaff, 1 Garden Warbler, 1 Lesser Whitethroat, 1 Blackbird, 1 Robin, 1 Chaffinch, 1 Linnet

Year List: 183

Other wildlife: 1 Harbour Porpoise (off Sheep Rock on 14th), 1 Red Admiral, 1 Painted Lady, 1 Magpie Moth, Silver Y (present thoughout), Shetland Bee (present throughout)

9th-11th July 2021
a few days of very calm, much clearer weather with occasional fog rolling in
The fog finally lifted for a little while over the last few days, coming in again this afternoon (11th). The 10th was calm and clear with sunny spells, so we used that opportunity to do the annual all-day Guillemot feedwatch at the colony at Pietron, which involves the team taking shifts to watch the colony and record any birds coming in, and if they are carrying fish for their young. On my way to my shift at 2pm I noticed some Starlings and Waders making a fuss over Lower Leogh, stopped the car and saw the cause of the upset - a Honey Buzzard! A fantastic bird to see on Fair Isle, and it gave nice views as it soared low over the road to Skerryholm. It was then seen several times later in the day by the rest of the team and a fair few islanders, and was still present the next day.

In the evening we were treated to this unusual view of the Honey Buzzard, as it sat amongst the wildflowers eating insects in Boini Mire (photo by AW Alex Penn)

The 11th saw more excitement, as Max reported a Stone-curlew flying around Skadan then lost towards Hesti Geo. The bird proved to be very mobile and was refound in South Harbour, where it again flushed to Skadan and around South Light and Shalstane, and back over to Utra. Fortunately the whole team connected as it flew around, but we lost it in the fog as it flew from Utra to the base of Malcolm's Head. The 10th record for Fair Isle, with the last 3 records of this species being in 2020, 2009 and 1995 - a fantastically bizarre bird, and very nice to see!

Stone Curlew giving us fly-pass views as it headed to Utra over Shalstane (photo by AW Dan Gornall)

Stone-curlew: one flying around the south-west of the Isle on the 11th, initally seen on Skadan - the 10th Fair Isle record
Honey Buzzard: one touring the south of the Isle on the 10th and again on the 11th, favouring the Boini Mire area - the 60th Fair Isle record and first since 2018

Other sightings of note: 1 Greylag Goose, 2 Swift, 1 Moorhen (same bird on Da Water), 1 Woodpigeon, 1 Golden Plover, 6 Whimbrel, 5 Turnstone, 4 Dunlin, 2 Purple Sandpiper, 1 Common Sandpiper, 12 Redshank, 3 Black-headed Gull, 2 Lesser Black-backed Gull, 1 Great Northern Diver, 2 Grey Heron, 1 Kestrel, 1 Peregrine, 1 Carrion Crow, 6 Swallow, 1 Chiffchaff, 1 Garden Warbler, 1 Lesser Whitethroat, 1 Chaffinch, 1 Brambling

Year List: 181

Other wildlife: 1 Red Admiral, Silver Y (present thoughout), Shetland Bee (present throughout), 1 Harbour Porpoise (on 10th and 11th)

4th-8th July 2021
consistent low cloud and fog with a few breaks in the weather in the afternoons, and a moderate breeze
The start of July has brought lots of fog with it - there has only been one plane able to come in this month so far! It's fortunate that the Good Shepherd isn't affected by poor visibility. In the afternoons the cloud has been lifting slightly, so that has given an opportnity to get a bit of seabird work done at least. We could do with another few clear days! On the night of the 8th/9th we did our first Storm Petrel ringing session of the year, catching 30 birds (27 new and 3 retraps, including 2 British controls) in just over an hour - a nice and steady introduction back into Stormie ringing for the season!

European Storm Petrel in the hand at South Haven (photo by Ranger Georgia Platt)

Sightings of note: 4 Greylag Goose, 1 Teal, 1 Red-breasted Merganser, 1 Woodpigeon, 1 Golden Plover, 4 Whimbrel, 1 Bar-tailed Godwit, 1 Black-tailed Godwit, 3 Turnstone, 2 Dunlin, 5 Purple Sandpiper, 8 Redshank, 8 Lesser Black-backed Gull, 1 Red-throated Diver, 1 Great Northern Diver, 30 Storm Petrel (caught in a ringing session on night of 8th/9th, first of the year), 1 Sooty Shearwater (first of the year, seen from the Good Shepherd), 2 Grey Heron, 1 Carrion Crow, 6 Swallow, 1 Lesser Whitethroat, 2 Blackbird, 1 Robin, 1 Crossbill

Year List: 179

Other wildlife: 2 Risso's Dolphin (off South Light on 4th), 6 Red Admiral, Silver Y (present), Diamond-backed Moth (present), Shetland Bee (present)

29th June-3rd July 2021
more fog and low cloud on the 29th, 2nd and 3rd, calm and sunny on 30th and 1st, with a chilly northerly breeze at times
The last few days have brought in more fog and drizzle, but a nice and sunny break on the 30th June and 1st July meant that we could finally get some seabird work done again. On 30th we were back out mapping Bonxie nests, and are up to 372 nests now, with a few more places to cover. Quite a few birds are still on eggs, but most nests seem to consist of small chicks, which have a habit of wandering and making the actual nest site a bit trickier to find!

The 1st was a packed day of monitoring the Razorbill productivity plot at Easter Lother in the morning and visiting Greenholm for the Puffin productivity in the afternoon. We ringed and took biometrics on a good number of chicks throughout the day, taking full advantage of the decent weather. The first (incredibly cute) Fulmar chicks were noted on Greenholm whilst we were there, and we also caught and ringed a few Kittiwakes after the Puffin monitoring.

Left to right: Razorbill chick at Easter Lother, Guillemot chick also at Easter Lother and a Fulmar chick on Greenholm (photos by Ranger Georgia Platt)

A handful of migrants over the last few days, with another Rose-coloured Starling present, a Marsh Warbler on 29th and a few more waders moving through.

Marsh Warbler: one at Vaila's Trees on 29th
Rose-coloured Starling: an adult on 29th seen by visitors and seen again at Johnny's Peats on 2nd

Other sightings of note: 15 Greylag Goose, 2 Teal (pair on Da Water), 1 Woodpigeon, 3 Collared Dove, 1 Moorhen (same bird at Da Water), 17 Lapwing, 5 Golden Plover, 3 Whimbrel, 1 Bar-tailed Godwit (first of the year), 1 Black-tailed Godwit, 5 Turnstone, 1 Dunlin, 6 Purple Sandpiper, 8 Redshank, 2 Black-headed Gull, 4 Lesser Black-backed Gull, 2 Red-throated Diver, 2 Great Northern Diver, 1 Grey Heron, 1 Short-eared Owl, 1 Peregrine, 2 Carrion Crow, 6 Swallow, 2 House Martin, 1 Wood Warbler (retrapped at Obs on 29th), 1 Willow Warbler, 1 Chiffchaff, 1 Lesser Whitethroat, 1 Blackbird, 1 Robin, 1 Chaffinch, 1 Linnet

Year List: 177

Other wildlife: 1 Harbour Porpoise (off South Light on 2nd), 1 Large White (on Buness on 2nd), 1 Painted Lady, 1 Silver Y, Shetland Bee (present)

24th-28th June 2021
some varied weather over the last few days, with mostly cloud or fog with a fairly strong, chilly wind throughout
Seabird work has had to be put mostly on hold over the last few days due to unfavourable weather conditions, which although annoying, gives a good chance to catch up on indoor jobs. There's been a trickling of migrants, including some waders and a few passerines, with the highlight being a Wood Warbler trapped by Max at the Obs Garden today (28th). Quite random given the weather, although a strong SW wind could be what helped it along - the 4th record so far this year.

Sightings of note: 17 Greylag Goose, 1 Wigeon, 3 Red-breasted Merganser, 1 Woodpigeon, 1 Collared Dove, 1 Moorhen (same bird at Da Water), 1 Golden Plover, 35 Curlew (migrant flock), 16 Black-tailed Godwit, 1 Turnstone, 1 Dunlin, 2 Black-headed Gull, 1 Red-throated Diver, 4 Carrion Crow, 7 Swallow, 1 Wood Warbler (trapped and ringed at Obs Garden), 1 Chiffchaff, 1 Lesser Whitethroat, 1 Whitethroat, 1 Blackbird, 1 Song Thrush, 2 Robin, 1 Chaffinch

Year List: 176

Other wildlife: Shetland Bee (present)

23rd June 2021
low cloud and drizzle for most of the day, with some brighter spells and a light SW-NW wind
A rather impromptu trap round payed off on this grey and damp afternoon, as Alex trapped a gem of a Green Warbler at Vaadal. These gorgeous, bright Phylloscs are incredibly rare in the UK, with this bird being the 9th record for Britain and the 3rd for Fair Isle, and in typical late-spring-mega fashion, it turned up completely unannounced on light south-westerly winds. A fantastic way to brighten up a fairly dull late-June day!

Green Warbler in the hand at the ringing hut (photo by LTV Max Hellicar)

GREEN WARBLER: one trapped and ringed at Vaadal, which went on to feed around the Setter/Ringing Hut/Plantation area after release - the 3rd Fair Isle record of this species

Other sightings: 1 Collared Dove, 3 Whimbrel, 16 Curlew, 3 Redshank, 1 Lesser Black-backed Gull, 3 Carrion Crow, 2 Swallow, 2 Chiffchaff, 1 Chaffinch

Year List: 176

Other wildlife: Shetland Bee (present)

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