Fair Isle Bird Observatory & Guesthouse

Fair Isle additions to the British and Scottish Lists

Fair Isle is famous for many things, including its knitting patterns, its place in the shipping forecast and for its rich marine environment, in particular its seabird populations. Nowadays, however, to most birdwatchers at least, Fair Isle is best known as a place to observe migrant birds, but in particular rare migrant birds. For a combination of reasons, including its geographical position, its isolation, the lack of deep cover for birds to hide in and the regular coverage by keen observers, Fair Isle has become one of the great migration hotspots in the whole of Europe.

The association between Fair Isle and migrant birds goes back to the early years of the 20th century, when it was ‘discovered’ (in migration terms) by Dr William Eagle Clarke, who first visited the island in autumn 1905. Clarke’s visits led to other eminent ornithologists visiting the island, including Mary, Duchess of Bedford, and Surgeon Rear Admiral John Hutton Stenhouse, and, in the years before the outbreak of World War II, the likes of Harry Witherby, Phil Hollom and George Waterston. Waterston, one of the great pioneers of Scottish ornithology in that era, eventually bought the island in 1948 (for £3,500), and the Bird Observatory was opened officially on 28th August that year.

Perhaps more than anything else, many birdwatchers dream of finding a ‘first’ – the first record of a particular species – for their country. Because of the reasons alluded to above, Fair Isle has developed an extraordinary reputation for ‘firsts’ for Great Britain (and Scotland). Since 1900, the island has been responsible for no fewer than 35 additions to the British List, the list of all bird species recorded in Britain which is maintained by the British Ornithologists’ Union Records Committee. A further 30 species (in blue below) have been added to the Scottish List maintained by the Scottish Ornithologists' Club. Three subspecies 'firsts' are also included below for completeness. The British total is more than any other single site – for example, the Isles of Scilly (all the islands in the archipelago), also famous for rarities, notched up 30 ‘firsts’ over the period 1900-2009. Those additions are celebrated here by plotting them on a map of Fair Isle (where possible). Many of the early records do not have any specific location attached to them despite extensive research.

1 Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica 2nd June 1905

Although there is some discrepancy in the account of the finding circumstances, it seems most likely that this bird was found dead some 10 days after having first been observed by the finder, George Stout of Busta. (Mediterranean and North Africa, other populations farther east)

2 Arctic Redpoll Carduelis hornemanni 18th September 1905

The first Arctic Redpolls were of the subspecies C. h. hornemanni (Hornemann’s Redpoll) and involved three individuals for several days from 18 September. The three on Fair Isle were shot, adult males on 20 and 29 September, and a juvenile male on 20 September 1905, and are preserved at NMS (NMSZ 1905.126.16, 1905.126.17 and 1905.126.19).

3 Marsh Warbler Acrocephalus palustris 24th September 1906

The first recorded in Scotland was shot in a potato crop and collected by William Eagle Clarke and Norman Kinnear. Initially thought to be a Reed Warbler, it was subsequently re-identified as a first-winter Marsh Warbler. The specimen is in NMS (NMSZ 1907.4.33).

4 Common Rosefinch Carpodacus erythrinus 3rd October 1906

The first Common Rosefinch was a first-winter male shot by Norman Kinnear in a potato crop on the island, with the specimen preserved at NMS (NMSZ 1907.4.55). It was originally recorded as a first for Scotland, but with the rejection in 2021 of the previous British first, it became the first for Britain.

5 Western Black-eared Wheatear Oenanthe hispanica 25th September 1907

William Eagle Clarke shot this bird, of the western subspecies, during a large influx of Wheatears. The 'Black-eared Wheatears' were split into two species in 2021.

Write-up in The Annals of Scottish Natural History journal

6 Yellow-breasted Bunting Emberiza aureola 28th September 1907

The first two Yellow-breasted Buntings recorded in Scotland were both immatures shot by William Eagle Clarke on the island, on 28 September 1907 (NMSZ 1908.15.7) and another in 1909, although neither was correctly identified until several years later after a further bird was obtained on St Kilda in 1910. The records were first published, without fanfare, by Clarke in 1927 in the 3rd edition of the Manual of British Birds.

7 Lanceolated Warbler Locustella lanceolata 9th September 1908

Shot by William Eagle Clarke, this was the first record for western Europe. Initially thought to be a young Grasshopper Warbler, it was re-examined (and re-identified) following Clarke’s receipt of a specimen from Orkney in 1910. By 1970 there were 11 British records, nine of which had been seen on Fair Isle! The Fair Isle total stood at 95 (all in autumn) by the end of 2017, of 150 British records. This is perhaps the most iconic of the ‘Fair Isle specials’. (Siberia, east to China and Japan)

7a Eastern Subalpine Warbler Sylvia albistrata 6th May 1908

An adult male shot by George Stout of Busta on 6th May 1908 (and now in the National Museums Scotland) became the first record of 'Subalpine Warbler' when the previously recognised first (St Kilda, 1894) was re-identified as a Moltoni’s Subalpine Warbler. Following the IOC split in 2020, this record becomes the first UK record of Eastern Subalpine Warbler.

8 Savi's Warbler Locustella luscinioides 2 on 14th May 1908

The first two were both on Fair Isle in May 1908, and ‘frequented the grassy sides of a small burn’. They were extremely shy, but eventually one was shot by George Stout of Busta for identification. Their occurrence was described as "one of the most interesting events in British ornithology for many years".

Write-up in The Annals of Scottish Natural History journal

9 Icterine Warbler Hippolais icterina 1st June 1908

Scotland’s first "was observed on some bare, open ground ... amid a rush of birds". It was shot on the island by George Stout of Busta and recorded by William Eagle Clarke.

Write-up in The Annals of Scottish Natural History journal

10 Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus 24th September 1908

One shot in standing corn by William Eagle Clarke in 1908 was the first. Indeed, the three Reeds Warblers found on the island in 1908 and 1909, were at that time "the only known instances of the Reed-Warbler’s appearance in Scotland; and are also, I believe, the most northerly record of its occurrence in Europe", one reported earlier in 1906 being re-identified as a Marsh Warbler.

11 Red-throated Pipit Anthus cervinus 2nd October 1908

A female, shot by William Eagle Clarke, who heard another on 1st November 1908. (Arctic Eurasia, from north Norway east, and into Alaska)

12 Alpine Accentor Prunella collaris 6th October 1908

William Eagle Clarke found this bird resting on a cliff face along the west coast of the island and was close enough to shoot with ease. He refrained from pulling the trigger though, as the specimen would have been lost in the Atlantic below.

Write-up in The Annals of Scottish Natural History journal

12a Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis 9th October 1909

The first Eastern Yellow Wagtail was a first-winter shot by William Eagle Clarke on 9th October 1909. The specimen was deposited at NMS, where it was sexed as female (NMSZ 1910.132.15). At the time, this form was considered to be a subspecies of Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava, but since 2018 it has been recognised by BOU as a separate species.

Write-up in British Birds journal

13 Lesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavipes 24th September 1910

The first Lesser Yellowlegs seen in Scotland was shot by William Eagle Clarke, while feeding "on the margin of one of the ponds which supply the water for the primitive mills in which corn is ground" at Gilsetter. The specimen was deposited at NMS, where it was sexed as male (NMSZ 1910.161.81).

14 Blyth’s Reed Warbler Acrocephalus dumetorum 29th–30th September 1910

Found by Mary, Duchess of Bedford, and shot by George Stout of Busta and his brother Stewart Stout the following day. Eagle Clarke sent it to Ernst Hartert at the British Museum for confirmation. (Finland, Baltic States and European Russia east into Siberia)

15 Thrush Nightingale Luscinia luscinia 15th May 1911

Shot by Jerome Wilson at the South Light. Mary, Duchess of Bedford, noted in her diary: ‘Wilson shot what Mr Eagle Clarke says is a Nightingale. It does not seem to me nearly russet enough for our common one.’ Clarke later correctly identified it. (Scandinavia, central and eastern Europe and into Siberia)

Write-up in The Scottish Naturalist journal

16 Pine Bunting Emberiza leucocephalus 30th October 1911

A male, shot by Jerome Wilson was sent to William Eagle Clarke at the National Museum of Scotland for identification. (European Russia, east through Siberia and Central Asia to parts of China)

Write-up in The Scottish Naturalist journal

16a Lesser Grey Shrike Lanius minor 3rd June 1913

Scotland’s first was an adult female obtained by Jerome Wilson and now at NMS (NMS.Z 1913.145.5).

17 Aquatic Warbler Acrocephalus paludicola 23rd October 1914

Scotland’s first was shot by William Eagle Clarke on the island on 23rd October 1914.

Write-up in The Scottish Naturalist journal

18 Pechora Pipit Anthus gustavi 23rd–24th September 1925

First seen at Gaila by James A. Stout (Mires Jimmy) on 23rd and shot the following day by John Stenhouse. James Stout was first alerted by the bird’s unfamiliar call when flushed. Pechora Pipit was an addition to the British List that Stenhouse had been hoping for, based on knowledge of the species’ breeding distribution and, on retrieving the corpse, Stenhouse said: ‘James, I think this could be Pechora!’ (NE Russia, Siberia, eastern Asia)

Write-up in British Birds magazine

19 Paddyfield Warbler Acrocephalus agricola 26th September to 1st October 1925

Seen by John Stenhouse, George ‘Fieldy’ Stout and Jerome Wilson on 26th, and shot by Fieldy on 1st October. The second Fair Isle record, on 16th September 1953, was also the second for Britain, and the Fair Isle tally is now 25 (the majority in autumn). (Eastern Europe, east through southern Siberia and central Asia into China)

Write-up in British Birds magazine

20 Black-winged Pratincole Glareola nordmanni 18th-19th May 1927

The first was killed by Stewart Eunson at Burkle, and sexed as a female when skinned by Jerome Wilson, who gave the specimen to John Stenhouse. It followed a few days of easterly winds.

22 Pallid Harrier Circus macrourus 24th April to 8th May 1931

A second-summer male was identified by George 'Fieldy' Stout and shot by James A. Stout on 8th May. It was sent to the National Museum of Scotland, but the keeper of Natural History questioned the identity. This prompted an indignant reply from Fieldy and it was eventually sent to the British Museum in London, where Norman Kinnear confirmed the identification. (From Ukraine through central Asia to NW China)

23 Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris spring 1933

An individual was shot in the spring of 1933 by George Stout, although the fate of the specimen is unknown.

24 Booted Warbler Iduna caligata 3rd September 1936

Shot by George 'Fieldy' Stout; the only previous European record was one on Helgoland, Germany, in September 1851. (Finland, east through Russia, west Siberia, central Asia to China)

25 Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus 14th May 1949

This was found at Skadan by Geoffrey Hughes-Onslow and W P Vicary, who saw a pale ‘Ringed Plover’ fly past them at Muckle Uri Geo towards South Harbour, where it was relocated and identified. This bird was originally sexed as a ‘probable female’, but a reinterpretation of the description suggests it was in fact male (Birds of Shetland).

26 Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler Locustella certhiola 8th–9th October 1949

This bird was discovered in a turnip rig at Lower Leogh by W. H. Bierman, Robin Ruttledge and L. P. Samuels. It was not trapped, and the fact that it was accepted (and still stands) as the first record for Britain is a tribute to the field skills of these three and five other observers and ‘their careful and patient teamwork, extending over several hours on 8th and 9th October’. (Siberia to northern China)

Write-up in British Birds magazine

27 Crested Lark Galerida cristata 2nd November 1952

The sole Crested Lark recorded in Scotland was seen near the Chapel by James A. Stout.

28 Grey-cheeked Thrush Catharus minimus 5th October 1953

Found by Willie Eunson, who saw it feeding in front of the Observatory trap. He trapped the bird, which was identified by Ken Williamson, and aged as a first-winter. (Canada, Alaska, NE Siberia)

Write-up in British Birds magazine

29 Citrine Wagtail Motacilla citreola 20th–24th September 1954

Trapped in the Gully, late in the evening of 20th, this first-winter bird was examined in failing light by Horace Alexander, Miss M. Haydock, Henry Mayer-Gross, Mrs A. W. Thom, Valerie Thom and Ken Williamson. It was first thought to be a young Yellow Wagtail M. flava with an atypical blue-grey mantle. It was roosted overnight and tentatively identified as a Citrine Wagtail the next day. It remained until 24th and was followed by the second for Britain just a week later, on 1st October. The identification was confirmed when skins were checked at the NHM in November that year. The third, fourth and fifth British Citrine Watails were recorded on Fair Isle in the autumns of 1960, 1961 and 1962. (NE Russia, north, central and SW Asia)

Write-up in British Birds magazine

30 Hudsonian Whimbrel Numenius hudsonicus 27th-31st May 1955

This bird was found accompanying passage migrant Whimbrel on the close-cropped grassland below Malcolm's Head by Ken Williamson and Valerie Thom. According to the former (in his Fair Isle book), they "spent a good deal of time stalking it ... this involved a lot of wriggling and squirming over the damp and rocky ground (to say nothing of hide-and-seek behind dykes and plantacrubs)". At the time of the sighting, this form was regarded as the North American race of the Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus. Since 2011, it has been recognised as a full species by BOU (except for a brief period in 2018-20 when it was again classified as a subspecies). A second island record came in autumn 2007.

Write-up in British Birds magazine

31 Thick-billed Warbler Acrocephalus aedon 6th October 1955

Trapped at Leogh using a Yeoman net and a small portable catching box, the bird was examined by a number of observers on the island, including Herbert Axell, James Ferguson-Lees, Valerie Thom and Ken Williamson. It arrived during ‘classic’ autumn fall conditions, with south-east winds over the North Sea, rain and the occluded front of an Atlantic depression lying over the Northern Isles. (Southern Siberia east to NE China)

Write-up in British Birds magazine

32 Semipalmated Sandpiper Calidris pusilla 28th May 1956

Ken Williamson and Horace Alexander discovered a small, unfamiliar wader feeding with Dunlins and Turnstones on the beach at Kirki Geo. It was provisionally identified as a Semipalmated Sandpiper; and, as the observers were aware of the problems of separating this species and Western Sandpiper, on the following day it was trapped in a mistnet. In the hand, the identification was confirmed as Semipalmated. However, when the record was circulated around BBRC, I C T Nisbet suspected that it was actually a short-billed Western and it was subsequently accepted as the first Western Sandpiper for Britain. There the matter stood until Martin Garner suggested the mistake had been that of Nisbet and his colleagues, not the Fair Isle observers. It is now consider this to be the first record of Semipalmated Sandpiper for Scotland, and the second for Britain.

Write-up in British Birds magazine

33 'Steppe Grey Shrike' Lanius excubitor pallidirostris 21st September 1956

Found by Ken Williamson at the Haa and trapped later in the day, when its identity was confirmed as being (by the taxonomy of the time) of the desert race pallidirostis of Great Grey Shrike. From 1996 to 2017, this form was considered to be a subspecies of Southern Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis, but in 2018-20 pallidirostris was recognised as a species in its own right, only to be relegated to a subspecies of Great Grey Shrike in 2020. (Central Asia)

Write-up in British Birds magazine

34 Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia 27th April to 10th May 1959

Found by Roy Dennis on Ward Hill and subsequently trapped by Roy and Peter Davis. It remained around the Observatory after its release and was occasionally heard in song. (North America)

Write-up in British Birds magazine

35 Sykes’s Warbler Iduna rama 29th–31st August 1959

Trapped in the Gully by Roy Dennis and J. Bazey, this bird was identified with Peter Davis in the hand at the Observatory. It was released at North Haven and seen there again on 31st. It was recorded as a Booted Warbler of the race rama, since Booted and Sykes’s Warblers were considered conspecific at that time. The second for Britain was also on Fair Isle, on 20th August 1977. (Central and southern Asia, east to NW China)

Write-up in British Birds magazine

36 Western Bonelli's Warbler Phylloscopus bonelli 22nd September 1961

This bird was seen and later trapped in a potato rig at Brows, near Midway. It was discovered by the ‘Pund boys’ who fortunately made a particular note of its distinctive call, enabling the record to be subsequently accepted as P. bonelli.

Write-up in British Birds magazine

37 River Warbler Locustella fluviatilis 24th–25th September 1961

Caught ‘in the incomparable warbler ditch at Lower Leogh’, the bird was found and trapped by Gordon Barnes, Peter Davis, R. M. Nedderman and Peter Slater, being identified and aged as a first-winter in the hand. It was released in Gilsetter and was seen the following day at Lower Stoneybrek. Eight years passed before the second British record – also on Fair Isle, at the Plantation in September 1969. (Central and eastern Europe, east to Siberia)

Write-up in British Birds magazine

38 Dusky Thrush Turdus naumanni 18th-21st October 1961

This bird was initially seen near the Haa by a group of observers that included the warden Peter Davis. It was not until it was trapped at dusk the next day in the Vaadal trap at the north of the island that its identity was confirmed. It was the third record for Britain.

Write-up in Scottish Birds magazine

37a Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni 17th October 1964

Originally heard at Landberg, this bird was eventaully trapped in the Single Dyke trap by Roy Dennis and Eddie Wiseman on 17th October 1964. Its identification was only confirmed several months later when the observers were able to examine skins at NMS. At that time, it was considered to be a first for Britain, but was later pre-dated by one trapped on Skokholm in 1948, but not identified until 1979.

Write-up in British Birds magazine

39 Pallas's Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus 11th October 1966

Considering that Pallas’s Warblers are now seen annually in the Scotland, it is surprising that the first was only recorded as recently as 1966. Roy and Marina Dennis found it beside a building at North Haven. It allowed close views and, typically for this exquisite species, was watched making hovering flights to pick insects off leaves, like a Goldcrest. At that time there were only 18 British records.

Write-up in Scottish Birds magazine

40 Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala 26th-27th May 1967

This bird was a male discovered inside the Observatory garage by Roy Dennis and Bill Landells at about ten o’clock at night and was quickly caught fluttering against the window. After being examined and ringed it was roosted overnight and released the next day. It remained around the Observatory buildings until mid-afternoon on 27 May.

Write-up in British Birds magazine

41 Cretzschmar’s Bunting Emberiza caesia 10th–20th June 1967

A first-summer male was first discovered when flushed by Roy Dennis, Bill Landells and Mikael Kristersson, who were trying to sound-record Corncrakes at Gaila. It was not seen for four days but then relocated, trapped and identified in the same area by Roy Dennis on 14th. One on Fair Isle in June 1979 was the second British record. (South-east Europe, Middle East)

Write-up in British Birds magazine

41a 'Black-headed Wagtail' Motacilla flava feldegg 7th-8th May 1970

A superb male was found feeding among short grass along the shore of the tiny pool of Easter Lother Water by Julian Harris. (South-east Europe, Middle East)

Write-up in Scottish Birds magazine

41b 'Eastern Common Nightingale' Luscinia megarhynchos golzii 30th October 1971

The bird was found freshly dead near Setter by Gordon Barnes, and examined by Roger Broad, Brian Marshall and Iain Robertson. It appeared to show characteristics of the eastern subspecies, showing biometrics of Nightingale but with pale greyish tips to the coverts forming a wing-bar, and a long tail. The specimen was sent to the BM(NH), where this identification was confirmed. BOURC accepted the Fair Isle bird as the first of this subspecies for Britain in 2002. Specimen at National Museums of Scotland (NMSZ 2000.303).

Write-up in Scottish Birds magazine

42 Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis 31st October - 1st November 1974

This bird was found by Gordon Barnes on his croft at Setter. Early in the day it was seen only briefly, but was watched well in the late afternoon, when it was also observed by Roger Broad. The following day the bird was relocated, but it was not very approachable and flew between various stubble patches before finally allowing a prolonged observation while it fed with two Rock Doves, whose appearance ‘it approached … in size and bulk. The plumage appeared dark, the upperparts lacking much of the rufous hue of Turtle Dove’. It flew off and was not seen again.

Write-up in Scottish Birds magazine

43 Hermit Thrush Catharus guttatus 2nd June 1975

Found in a newly ploughed rig at Field, by Stephen Rumsey and Harold Nash. The bird remained approachable for other observers that day but was seen to tower up into the sky, gaining height until it was lost from view, just prior to dusk; it was not seen again. (North America)

Write-up in British Birds magazine

44 Tennessee Warbler Vermivora peregrina 6th–20th September 1975

Amazingly, the first and second British records of this species were on Fair Isle in the same autumn. The first was seen briefly by Chris Heard and Graham Walbridge at Finniquoy on 6th September. It was relocated the following day in a crop at the south of the island; it was trapped on 18th, when it was aged as a first-winter, and remained until 20th. The second bird was found calling loudly at the mouth of the Observatory trap by Roger Broad on 24th September but was found to be unringed. (Canada)

Write-up in British Birds magazine

45 Siberian Rubythroat Luscinia calliope 9th–11th October 1975

Found around the North Grind trap by Simon Cook, Andy Lowe and Pete Roberts, this bird was subsequently trapped at the Plantation with the help of Roger Broad. Although originally thought to be a male, because of faint traces of red in the white throat-patch, it is now considered to have been a first-year female. (Siberia)

Write-up in British Birds magazine

46 American Kestrel Falco sparverius 25th–27th May 1976

Brief views of an ‘odd looking kestrel’ were obtained by several observers on the afternoon of 25th May. It was finally tracked down and identified as an adult male American Kestrel by A. M. Taylor at North Raeva, at dusk. (North America)

Write-up in British Birds magazine

47 Bimaculated Lark Melanocorypha bimaculata 8th June 1976

Found on a small, cultivated area near Field during the evening by Steve Whitehouse and David Wynn, who realised that it was either this species or Calandra Lark. They were soon joined by Billy Fletcher, and, after further prolonged observation down to distances of 15 m, the three observers were able to identify it as a Bimaculated Lark and alert visitors and staff at the Observatory. It had departed by the next morning.

Write-up on BirdGuides webzine

48 Pallas’s Reed Bunting Emberiza pallasi 29th September to 11th October 1976

First found near Skerryholm by Roger Broad. The only other observer to see it that day was lighthouse keeper Jim Watt, and it remained unidentified. The following day, Pallas’ Reed Bunting was first suggested by Bill Oddie and Andy Lowe, although its featureless appearance (it was an adult female) and a lack of reference material meant that it was difficult to identify. It was finally trapped on 10th October when the identification was sealed. A first-winter at Upper Stoneybrek in September 1981 was the second for Britain. (Central and eastern Siberia, east into China)

Write-up in British Birds magazine

49 White-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys 15th–16th May 1977

Initially trapped in the Double Dyke trap by John Potter, the bird’s identity was confirmed by Roger Broad and Mike Peacock when examined at the Observatory. It was released at Shirva and was seen there the following day. In circumstances recalling the American Kestrel of the previous year (see above), the second White-crowned Sparrow for Britain was found a few days later, in Yorkshire. (Canada and Alaska)

Write-up in British Birds magazine

50 Yellow-rumped Warbler Dendroica coronata 18th May 1977

The first Scottish record involved a male, found by John and Jean Woodland, feeding around rocks at the South Light.

51 Calandra Lark Melanocorypha calandra 28th April 1978

Tony Williams found this bird feeding with Skylarks on a field of newly sown oats at Field. It was the second record for Britain, following one in Dorset in April 1961.

Write-up in Scottish Birds magazine

51a Eastern Black-eared Wheatear Oenanthe melanoleuca 18th June 1979

At 6 p.m. on 18th June 1979, Dorian Buffery found this bird in the catching box of the Double Dyke trap. It was photographed and a full description was taken, but the exact identity of this wheatear remained unsolved until it was compared with skins sent up from the NMS. This form was elevated to a full species in 2021.

Write-up in the FIBO Annual Report

52 Yellow-browed Bunting Emberiza chrysophrys 12th-23rd October 1980

This bird was found by Alan Kitson in a turnip crop at Field, before being trapped there in a single-shelf net by Pete Ewins. It was part of a classic fall which included three Siberian Stonechats, Short-toed Lark and single Little and Rustic Buntings, with a Pine Bunting two days later. These all arrived on a north-easterly wind, caused by a deepening low pressure system off the Norwegian coast, which was funnelling birds from a large high pressure system which extended into Finland from Siberia.

Write-up in British Birds magazine

53 Sandhill Crane Grus canadensis 26th–27th April 1981

First seen flying over Ward Hill by Dave Borton, the identification was confirmed later by Iain Robertson and others, when the bird was seen over the Observatory and then in Homisdale (where the bird was aged as a first-summer). It roosted at Easter Lother Water and was present the following day, though flushed by the morning plane. (NE Siberia, North America, Cuba)

Write-up in British Birds magazine

54 Savannah Sparrow Passerculus sandwichensis 30th September - 1st October 1987

The first Scottish record involved a bird which arrived during a moderate south-south-westerly wind. It was discovered at Shirva and identified by Pete Ellis, who had stayed out over lunchtime instead of returning to the Observatory, and was rewarded by finding the bird lurking in a turnip rig.

Write-up in British Birds magazine

55 Blackburnian Warbler Dendroica fusca 7th October 1988

The bird was found by a small group of adventurous observers, Gordon Avery, Pete Massey and Jack and Matthew Willmott, who had ventured north from Observatory on a wet and unpromising day with strong north-westerly winds. When first seen, it was on the cliffs in North Restensgeo. However, after brief initial views, it disappeared for an agonising hour or so before being relocated by Chris Donald at Furse, and its identity finally confirmed.

56 Blyth's Pipit Anthus godlewskii 13th-23rd October 1988

This bird was found by Arthur Livett and Paul Salaman in the area around Quoy and identified the next day after prolonged observation by a group of observers led by Nick Riddiford and Dave Russell. At the time, the field identification features of this species were not fully established. Some features considered to be important then have since been shown to be equivocal, while others, several of which were first highlighted in an excellent account by Dave Russell, have since been shown to be crucial, most notably the call. After several circulations around BBRC and following consideration by BOURC the record was accepted and when, in 2018, the 1882 Sussex record was reviewed and rejected, became the first British record.

57 Asian Brown Flycatcher Muscicapa dauurica 1st–2nd July 1992

Discovered and trapped by Paul Harvey in the Plantation during an early morning trap round. Chiefly because of the perception that such a late spring date was unusual for a Siberian passerine, together with concerns about the bird’s provenance, this record spent many years in Category D. However, further records in Yorkshire in October 2007 and on Fair Isle again in September 2008, helped this record become fully acceptable as the first for Britain. (Siberia, east to China and Japan)

Write-up in British Birds magazine

58 Red-necked Stint Calidris ruficollis 31st August 1994

This bird was found as a fresh corpse by Jimmy (Midway) Stout, an island resident who was a stalwart observer and recorder on Fair Isle in the years prior to the establishment of the Observatory. He discovered it lying by the South Harbour on his return from a fishing trip. The corpse was identified at the Observatory the following day. As well as the first for Scotland, it was the first record of this species in juvenile plumage in the Western Palearctic.

59 Black-faced Bunting Emberiza spodocephala 20th-24th October 2001

Paul French found this bird at the Haa. It was very elusive, moving through crops and around drystone walls, although it did stay for five days. It arrived during south-easterly winds, which also brought a Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler to the island the previous day and four Dusky Warblers to various parts of Scotland, while a Siberian Rubythroat was found dead in Shetland a few days later.

60 Chestnut-eared Bunting Emberiza fucata 15th–20th October 2004

Seen first at Skadan by Hywel Maggs, it was identified the following day after being trapped and examined by a number of observers, including Deryk Shaw, Alan Bull, Phil Harris and Rebecca Nason. It was found to be a first-winter of the nominate race. (Siberia, east to China and Japan)

Write-up in British Birds magazine

61 Rufous-tailed Robin Luscinia sibilans 23rd October 2004

First seen by Mike Wood and his two young daughters, Emily and Kate, in Johnny Arcus’ Park, the identification of this unfamiliar Siberian chat caused much debate, and it was initially thought to be a Catharus thrush. Eventually, Alan Bull, Nick Dymond and Deryk Shaw, among others, managed to identify it on the basis of reference literature at the Observatory, and it was seen by a boatload of Shetland twitchers who had set out expecting to see a Hermit Thrush! It was trapped and ringed, and aged as a first-winter. (Siberia and NE China)

Write-up in British Birds magazine

62 Citril Finch Carduelis citrinella 6th–11th June 2008

Discovered at the Haa by Fair Isle resident Tommy Hyndman, who described ‘a strange Siskin with a grey head’. He looked in a field guide, identified it as a Citril Finch and left a message at the Observatory, but it was still with a degree of incredulity that, later that day, the bird was seen by other birders on the island and Observatory staff. A singing male, and probably an adult. (Central and SW Europe)

62a 'Eastern Grasshopper Warbler' Locustella naevia straminea 20th September 2012

First seen in the Obs garden at noon, this tiny Locustella warbler was later trapped and examined in the hand where its size, wing structure and plumage fitted an eastern subspecies of Grasshopper Warbler. Some feathers that had become dislodged in the net were sent to Martin Collinson at the University of Aberdeen for genetic analyses. The results unequivocally supported an eastern origin for the bird and identification as L. n. straminea. (Siberia, Kazakhstan, western China and north-west Mongolia)

63 Magnolia Warbler Setophaga magnolia 23rd September 2012

Found by Jason Moss on his Sunday afternoon off, this bird frequented an un-named geo (now called 'Moss Geo') just north of Grey Geo, Lerness on the west coast for one day only. A phone call to fellow assistant warden Will Miles soon confirmed the identification and started the steady stream of visitors making their way westwards. Although apparently roosting on the cliff at dusk, it could not be relocated.

Write-up in the Annual Report

64 Glaucous-winged Gull Larus glaucescens 2nd March 2017

This 4cy individual was found by David Parnaby. After spending the afternoon around Ditfield and Johnny’s Peats, in the company of a few hundred Great Black-backed and Herring Gulls, along with five Glaucous and a single Iceland, it was not seen again, despite the same five Glaucous Gulls being present on 3rd.

Based on a text by Deryk Shaw, Roger Riddington and Eric Meek, 2011.

The facts and figures presented here are up to date to the end of 2020, according to data published in the 2019 report (and earlier reports) of the British Birds Rarities Committee. Apart from annual reports of the BBRC, other key sources of information used include annual reports of Fair Isle Bird Observatory Trust, The Birds of Shetland (Pennington et al. 2004), The Birds of Scotland (Forrester et al. 2007) and Rare Birds Where and When (Slack 2009). Only records that have been accepted by BBRC and BOURC are included. The geographical range of each species given is a simplified description of the species main breeding grounds; it is intended as a guide only and not to be exhaustive.