i n t e r n a t i o n a l !


F A I R   I S L E

25 August – 1 September 2001

Leader:          Mark Newell & Craig Round

Guests:         Roland & Matthew Wade, Colin Piper, John Piper, Charles Gordon, Bill & Pamela Jones, Barbara Payne, Glenn Overington, Marilyn Freed

Day 1            

We all meet up in Aberdeen Airport and take the short flight of less than an hour, across the North Sea to Sumburgh, at the south end of Shetland.  Here we are met by Mark, the other guide, before boarding a fleet of taxis to whisk us around the short distance to Grutness where the Good Shepherd ferry to Fair Isle is waiting for us. 

It’s a beautifully calm, clear day and as we pull out of the pier here, there are a number of Black Guillemots on the water with Gannet, Fulmar and Great Skua flying overhead.   As we round Sumburgh Head, there are a large number of Eider Ducks and as we enter the rougher water of the roost off the south tip of Shetland, we glimpse a couple of Porpoise and the fin of a Dolphin (probably White-beaked).  As we leave the choppy waters and make our way south west towards Fair Isle, which we can see highlighted on the far horizon, the gentle swell rocks us back and forth.  We pass a scattering of auks – mainly Guillemots and the odd Puffin and occasional glimpses of the fin of a Porpoise as it passes us by.  The 2˝ hour crossing passes and we have a group of four Cormorant flying over heading strangely north, before we make our way past the North Lighthouse of Fair Isle and into North Haven to tie off on the pier. 

We are greeted by what seems like the whole island as there are a group of Norwegian kids departing on the quick return of the boat back to Sumburgh and most of the island is here to see them off rather than greet us.  But we are still welcomed by Hollie and Deryk who run the Bird Observatory and we wander the short distance up to the Observatory as our luggage follows on behind.  We are shown to our rooms and given a welcome bowl of soup, a cuppa and a brief introduction from Hollie.  With the promise of several exciting birds down the island, we do not hang about.  Deryk kindly runs us most of the way to the south end where we clamber out the vehicles.  Almost the first birds that we see are two Common Rosefinch, which are proving particularly mobile on the island at moment and sure enough disappear, but another individual flies off to the north which we pursue and gain fleeting views of as it moves around regularly joining the Sparrow flocks.  We see a few Whinchat, Willow Warbler and get a feel for the island and a very unusual warmth that has descended on the Isle this afternoon.  There’s a chance to get our first brief views of the Fair Isle Wren,
a much darker race to the one we are used to further south and we see our first Meadow Pipits and Rock Pipits.  For comparison, a Tree Pipit sits obligingly on one of the stone dykes before disappearing off into the longer grass. 

As we work our way north, we have a brief check for a Wryneck that was reported here earlier in the day, but fail to find it and so carry on further north in the direction of another newly arrived rare bird in the form of a Rose-coloured Starling.  We are approaching the croft of Barkland where we strike lucky and see it wandering through the long grass with its more common cousins before it takes flight flying off to the south east.  We head around the school hot footing it in the same direction and eventually we are rewarded with good views as it feeds under a stone dyke, its contrasting black and pale pink plumage really standing out in the long vegetation.  There are more Whinchats and Wheatears here before we realise that time is ticking on and that dinner is fast approaching so we head back on up the road seeing a few more warblers.  We pass the plantation where a Greenshank comes up out of a ditch and a few folk are fortunate enough to see a Green Sandpiper.  As we approach the Observatory, there are a large number of Great Skuas flying out of the heather.  We are back slightly late for dinner but our apologies are accepted by the catering staff and we sit down to a well-deserved fulfilling meal before a chance to finally relax and gather our thoughts as the sun sets and the ferry returns from its second jaunt. 

Day 2            

Those of us that are up for the early morning ‘trap round’ find the weather outside decidedly poorer than when we left it last night, with fairly heavy rainfall disturbing our night's peace and continuing on until 7.30 in the morning.  We venture down anyway and meet Paul, the Assistant Warden, to decide our tactics for running the trap round and also speculate on the various noises and gifts left overnight presumably from people who have been off to the party the night before. 

So it seems very sensible for both the birds' welfare and ours to drive around the traps and leaving everything as dry as possible.  The first trap is very productive with four Wheatears, while the Gully and Hjondyke trap also yields a number more Wheatear plus Garden Warbler and Meadow Pipit.  We then move on to the Plantation where there is another Garden Warbler and a Pied Flycatcher.  We return our rewards to the Observatory where we are shown the ringing process allowing us a good examination of these tiny birds in the hand before releasing them, as we head in for breakfast. 

By the time breakfast is over the poor weather has disappeared to reveal a bright warm sunny day with only a gentle south westerly breeze, so we head down to the Havens and across to Buness.  We are barely out the door when some small warblers take our attention, first off is a Garden Warbler and then a generally obliging Barred Warbler, our first of the trip, is seen in the scrubby dead vegetation.  A perfect comparison.  We meet Chris who is coming up from the Havens with a young dead Guillemot in his hand and he tells us that he has also seen a Barred Warbler in a slightly different area at the same time as ours. 

Down on the beach, there is a Sanderling, an adult moulting out of summer plumage, Rock Pipit, Wheatears and a few White Wagtails around too.  On Buness we look down the eastern side which has a few Eider Ducks and Shags then a Green Sandpiper pops up disappearing off away as we pick through the Wheatears looking for something more unusual.  Further on, we see a Grey Seal hauled out on the rocks below us.  A number of Gannets go past offshore and a few Black Guillemots are bobbing around in the water as we pick up two more Green Sandpipers along with a few Redshank and a single Dunlin.  As we head back to the Havens and walk along the pier, we discover a little party of Twite.  We go past the Observatory where we see another Garden Warbler and then it is a slow amble south towards the trapping area.  As we come towards the first main dyke we see several Skylark and the dyke itself seems to be littered with Wheatears.  We count over 30 in the small section that is visible to us.  As we approach the Double Dyke trap a number pop in the box so we bag them up to take them off to be ringed.   We look down in the gully, which seems to be fairly lifeless but we have a demonstration of how the trap is driven which yields a single Wheatear and then on to the next trap.  Here we find six birds, Wheatears and Meadow Pipits, all self-caught.  So we take the first lot back to the ringing hut, process them and then return towards the Observatory and then take out those that are already sitting in the trap for us.  As we do so, Chris passes us and hands us another bird bag, which has got a nice surprise of a Grasshopper Warbler inside.  So we return to the Observatory, process the Wheatears and have a good look at the Grasshopper Warbler, a new bird for some folk, before having a superb Sunday lunch and a brief rest in the sunshine before we head south.

After a well-earned break recovering from lunch, Chris kindly drives us down to the South Harbour.  The afternoon carries on as the morning ended with bright sunshine, largely clear skies and a gently westerly breeze.  As we scan the South Harbour there are a good number of Grey Seals bottling off shore and a couple of Common Seals hauled out on one of the rocks.  A couple of Turnstone and Dunlin drop in below us while White Wagtails are scattered along the shoreline.  Inland, there are a few Common and Black-headed Gulls with ubiquitous Wheatears dotted around fence posts.  We walk up the east road passing the brightly coloured croft of Burkle on towards Quoy where our wander through the crop produces a few Pipits.  But there feeding in the Angelica is our second Barred Warbler of the day showing well as it plucks insects out of the seed heads.  We cross around the back of Houll to the west road and along one of the crops which yields a large number of House Sparrows.  In amongst them is the Common Rosefinch from yesterday which although elusive at first, finally sits up in amongst the potato crop showing well and long enough to get telescopes and binoculars on to it.  Eventually it flies off in the direction of Shirva and we head off in this direction on an unsuccessful search for Wryneck.  So we take the north route around Shirva and here Glen picks up the Rose-coloured Starling out in the long grass with the Common Starlings.  It takes flight flying around and briefly landing on a couple of houses for us to see before it sets off further north and dropping into one of the fields.  We continue north seeing a Pied Flycatcher around Lower Stonybreck before we pick out the Rose-coloured Starling feeding in the short-cropped grass of Upper Stonybreck.  Here it shows incredibly well with the wind ruffling up its shaggy head feathers and its light pink body plumage standing out in the mid afternoon sunshine.  It stealthily walks across the field before obligingly sitting up on top of the posts for a good period before flying off to the north to Barkland where we see it perched on the bird table.  There are more Whinchat and Wheatears with Golden Plover overhead.  We then catch up with the Rose-coloured Starling again at Barkland where it drops out the field and proceeds to walk up the road in front of us and starts bathing incredibly obligingly in one of the puddles before it is disturbed by a passing tractor and heads off around the back of the croft. 

Delighted with our sightings, we pass the Chalet with its Mute Swan and on up the road past Field and down towards the plantation which we walk around looking for something unusual amongst the only trees on the isle.  On to the airstrip where we encounter large numbers of Great Skuas including quite a few youngsters.  There are a few Ringed Plovers and White Wagtails while another Golden Plover flies overhead.  So we walk the length of the airstrip and then drop down into Homisdale.  Here we put up a Snipe before looking at the young Fulmars that are still in their nest scrapes in some of the planticrubs.  We then follow the stream back down to the road but are briefly interrupted by a Fulmar which has managed to get itself stuck in the ditch.  It’s retrieved by Mark and then carried to the cliff face where it is flung off over the edge to fly off out over Finniquoy eventually splashing down for a bathe and to clean up.  After dinner the delightful evening is our own before our checklist and a chance to contribute to the daily observatory log.

Day 3            

Those up for the trap round manage to avoid the rain again but have a more normal return with a Wheatear, Rock Pipit, Meadow Pipit and a Garden Warbler.  So back to the Observatory for breakfast and then we head out with the aim of working our way south west-ish for a bit of a walk along the cliffs and wander back through the crofts.  We are only a short distance down the road when the van rapidly approaches us and Deryk hands a bird bag out of the window.  We are all delighted to be shown a Wryneck, which has been caught in one of the garages down the Isle, and we get a chance to see it at close quarters as it demonstrates the origins of its name.  It is obviously in reasonably good  condition as it is doing its serpent-like motions with its head while the cryptic colouring is quite a treat for us. 

So delighted with this surprise, we carry on south past the croft of Setter and out towards Pund, the ruined buildings that once housed the Duchess of Bedford on her visits to the Isle.  On the rough fields, in amongst the rabbits, we come across a group of five Golden Plovers including a couple of adults still having the traces of their black bellies of summer plumage.  Quite a few Snipe get up from the ditches and a Skylark takes off from the grassland.  There is little around Pund itself so we carry on south westwards down the Gilly burn to the cliffs which prove quite exhilarating with the wind whipping itself off the Atlantic and hitting the high banks here and removing any lingering sleepiness from our eyes.  We work our way down to the strange rock formations of the Reevas and after several minutes peering down into a seemingly lifeless North Reeva, a quick movement reveals itself to be a Spotted Flycatcher that is hunting insects around the cliff face.  We then move a little further south seeing the stack with its outline resembling Queen Victoria before a brief rest peering into South Reeva which reveals a couple of Fair Isle Wrens but little else. 

On a little further south, we cut back along the Meadow Burn into some of the crofts and walk these areas which provide plenty of Twite but little more until we get down to overlook the South Harbour for lunch.  There are a number of Grey Seals bobbing around in the water again and Common Seals hauled out on some distant rocks.  Out on the skerries there are numerous Shags and a single young Cormorant flies in and perches up while a few Turnstone skittle past us and Redshanks drop in briefly to feed.  After a well-earned break in the sunshine out of the wind and a chance for a quick doze for some folk, we carry on towards South Light passing the Puffinn.  We see a few Eiders in the bays before a Knot flies past and lands on a small pool where it joins a Dunlin and a few Rock Pipits.  We get a chance to see these at close quarters before working our way down to Muckle Uri Geo where there are more Redshank and the Knot has found a restful spot for a bit of a sleep. 

We carry on around the South Lighthouse where there are a number of waders out on the rocks, mainly Oystercatchers and Ringed Plovers and a few Turnstone.  With a bit of careful examination, we locate an elusive Purple Sandpiper which frustrates a few as it merges in with the rocks showing its perfect cryptic coloration as a couple of Kittiwakes fly overhead.  So leaving the coastline behind, we work our way back inland past the Skerryholm crop and off towards the Haa.  As the first brief shower passes over, we walk the Quoy crop which yields a couple of Willow Warblers before we pass Schoolton and a brief glimpse of a Dove warrants closer inspection.  Sure enough, it turns out to be a Turtle Dove, which eventually settles down in the Quoy crop, and we get a chance to see it well.  After our brief attempts to turn it into one of the rarer Turtle Dove species, we leave it behind as a couple more Golden Plover fly overhead and work our way round through Boini Mire towards the shop.  The boggy area itself proves a moment of entertainment as Mark walks the ditch, failing to yield any small migrants but does produce yet another Fulmar which has become grounded.  With quite a breeze blowing across the Isle, our thoughts are that a brief fling into the air will allow it to work its way back to the sea but unfortunately despite a few flaps, it comes back down to earth again.  It is then carried up on to Da Houll with its wind turbine and with the strength of wind here, it should give it the uplift it needs and sure enough it takes to the wing gliding off to the west.  Unfortunately it loses height rapidly and comes back to earth in a field near North Shirva.  It is clearly not going to make it to the cliff edge by its own accord, so it is picked up yet again and carried off to North Reeva.  After a few abortive attempts, it finally flies out to sea. 

On to the shop where some folk get a lift back north in the mini bus.  They get back just in time to see a Barred Warbler as it is released after ringing, while those that remain on foot catch the Rose-coloured Starling in flight.  They also get good views of a Barred Warbler at the Chalet while three Swift fly over at Finniquoy and also see Greenshank and Green Sandpiper in the same area.  We get back to the Observatory just in time for dinner and another delightful meal before those that wish have a short stroll down to the Havens as the sun sets after another pleasant scenic day with a few birdie delights.

Day 4            

This morning we decide to head for our first trip up into the north of the island and we leave the Observatory at around 9.30am. 

The weather today has scattered cloud and a light southerly breeze.  The sun is out and it is another nice day as we stride northwards along the road towards the North Light.  En route, we get a Golden Plover shortly after leaving the Observatory and there are also quite a few Meadow Pipits and White Wagtails as well as several Skylarks that are dotted around on the bleak moorland alongside the road.  As we wind our way along the road we also see a nice party of six Cormorants which are flying in towards the island off the sea heading south.  They are several Wheatears and Snipe are seen as they are flushed from the roadside vegetation.  Mark heads off and walks alongside one of the nearby burns and we get good views in flight of a single Green Sandpiper which flies around overhead and drops in briefly on to Golden Water before flying off again heading south. 

Just before we arrive at the North Light looking up to Milans Houlans we can see a group of six Common Swifts that are hawking low over the ground and around the cliffs.  Arriving at the Lighthouse, we are greeted with the stunning view from the north cliffs looking out to Cathedral Stack and the large Gannet colony.  The sun is out and the sky is blue and we sit and enjoy elevenses near the fog horn below the lighthouse and we get fantastic views of at least three Common Swifts which are whizzing past at head height.  There is also a small party of four Swallows, which dashes past purposefully along the cliffs. 

After a while of taking in the view, we decide to head further around skirting the edge of the north cliffs up on to Milans Houlans and out towards Dronger.  Whilst we are heading up that way, we get our first butterfly of the week, a migrant Red Admiral, which flies swiftly past us and Glen picks out another group of three Cormorants which are flying by off shore.  We find a nice sheltered spot out of the wind, and take our lunch overlooking the main Gannet colony towards Cathedral Stack.  We get a fantastic view out to sea looking north to Sumburgh Head and the southern tip of Shetland and we can also just about make out in the distance the island of Foula, which is shrouded in mist. 

So we spend a while here enjoying the views and our lunch before it is time to move onwards and upwards.  As we climb the short but steep ascent to the summit of Ward Hill, we are greeted with absolutely spectacular views around the whole of the island looking right down south past the airstrip to the low-lying crofting land in the south.  We can see all the crofts that we have spent the last few days walking around and also right down to the South Light and away to the West Cliffs below us. It’s an absolutely gorgeous day as we wander around the ruins of the old army station on top of Ward Hill.  We see the Good Shepherd, which is coming back in from Sumburgh and as it steams past the North Light, we get good views as it finally docks into North Haven.  Birdwise it is fairly quiet, there are more Meadow Pipits and lots and lots of Great Skuas milling around overhead.  Whilst watching the Great Skuas, we pick out a single dark phase Arctic Skua which is lingering on the island.  It is our first Arctic Skua of the week and we get great views as it soars overhead and briefly mobs a Bonxie directly overhead before we beginto wend our way wearily back towards the Observatory. 

We drop down off Ward Hill making a brief stop around the radio mast to check for migrants.  There are no migrants on view, so we carry on dropping down through the main Great Skua colony out on the moorland and whilst watching the Bonxies here, we see a single Dunlin and a Greenshank which are around the airstrip.  Also Mark manages to catch, a not quite ready to fledge, Great Skua chick which is pretty fully feathered and we get fantastic views of the bird as it sits quietly in front of us on the heather moor. 

Finally we make our way down to the plantation where it is very quiet with not many birds about at all.  We decide to head north back to the Observatory where some of the group make the short walk over to Buness for a brief sea watch.  There are at least six Ringed Plover and a juvenile Knot on the beach in North Haven and also Garden Warbler and Barred Warbler show well alongside each other for comparison.  On the sea watch, a group of three Herons fly in off the sea and circle overhead before they head off strangely north.  Within minutes of the sea watch beginning, two Red-throated Divers fly past passing heading south and we also get reasonable views of a single Sooty Shearwater.  We also see three juvenile Kittiwakes skimming close in by with a number of Gannets showing well as they drift along the cliffs before several distant White-beaked Dolphins are picked up and enjoyed by the keen-eyed observers amongst us.  We head back for dinner followed by Hollie giving us an excellent slideshow on Fair Isle past and present.  She gives us a bit of history and imparts a bit more all round knowledge on the island that we have explored over the last few days before we run through the checklist and log before retiring to bed.

Day 5            

Those up before breakfast on the trap round come back with a couple of nice little gems for their efforts.  Along with Garden Warbler, they return with Reed Warbler and also a Common Rosefinch which having been seen in the field is nice to examine close up, before their release back into the Isle and we settle down for breakfast.  Careful negotiations gain us a lift south being dropped off near the school.  We avoid the game of rounders that is going on and enjoy an impressive flock of over a hundred Twite that are wheeling around above us.  We then amble down the road passing quite a few Snipe going overhead, far more than what we have been seeing over the last few days.  We move on down towards the museum where we are going to spend a little while following up some of the observations from Hollie last night.  En route Glen sees a Barred Warbler while the rest of us enjoy the Turtle Dove from two days ago again in the Quoy crop and a little group of half a dozen Lapwing, which are our first of the week.  Cormorant are seen heading down towards South Harbour and a Garden Warbler flicks out of the crop.  Around the museum, there are a few more waders present with Redshank and Oystercatcher and the Lapwing again.  Overhead a Tufted Duck flies south, as we make our way into the museum for a look around the displays and a chat with one of the islanders, Stewart, whom imparts a bit more knowledge. 

We leave here and cross over towards Leogh and back up the west road checking the crops as we go.  Approaching Shirva, a female Blackcap shoots out of the tattie crop, again a new one for the week.  We get to Shirva itself where a Common Rosefinch comes out of the garden and we meet Stewart ‘Senior’, the father of the chap that we met at the museum.  He shows us his skills at building some wooden chairs carving out the backs in the shapes of violins to order for people from south.  After admiring his handiwork, we make our way on to the shop for an opportunity to get a few sweets, etc. 

While in the shop chatting to the folk that run it, Mark's phone goes and it’s Derek passing on the news that in the north part of the island Hywel has found a Yellow-breasted Bunting out towards the west cliffs.  So we evacuate the shop pretty quickly and make our way up the road hoping to be intercepted by the van.  Sure enough, Hollie appears and we are delighted to see the red flag in action as she attempts to locate any bird watchers on the island to point them in the direction of this newly arrived rare bird.  As we get taken up to the airstrip where we trudge across Sukka Mire and with the prospect with a rare bird at the end of our walk, we barely notice the wet conditions and uphill walk that we have to undertake.  As we reach the area known as Jimmy's Brae, there in front of us, Hywel is almost staring at his feet as the small Yellow-breasted Bunting is hopping around on the short-cropped grassland in the company of a couple of Meadow Pipits.  Despite the now distinctly wet conditions, we forget this aspect as we enjoy the streaky yellow Bunting as it feeds generally unconcerned by our presence.  It then flies a short distance away and perches on top of a rock where even in the poor light, its straw yellow underparts and eye stripes show clearly to all assembled. 

With this success and surprise, we head back towards the airstrip where we find an abandoned white van.  Most of us elect to walk back via Homisdale to the Observatory for lunch flushing up a Jack Snipe as we do so, another first for the trip.  We are back to the Observatory for a late lunch but it is all the more welcome considering our success of the morning.  With a brief rest afterwards,  we head south as the rain appears to be clearing a little, walking through the trapping area where a handful of Teal fly overhead.  Then we walk through Setter and on to Barkland where a Barred Warbler alights on the fence and a Willow Warbler flits past.  We get further views of the Barred Warbler as it makes its way down the road ahead of us and we move on to Stonybreck where a second Barred Warbler appears in the garden.  While on the brae nearby, we have superb views of a young Crossbill feeding in amongst the thrift heads down to about thirty feet and we have full frame-filling views in the telescope.  We are curious to find such a forest dwelling species hopping around almost at our feet.  We move on past the shop and down around Shirva where we again see the Blackcap before heading down towards Utra where we cross in the direction of Hesti Geo to the west as a Curlew and Bar-tailed Godwit fly overhead.  Down in the geo, a Grey Heron flies past while we locate a number of Turnstone with at least three Purple Sandpipers showing much better than they had two days ago.  We enjoy these before moving on to the South Light and looking down to Muckle Uri Geo where there is a smart red Red Knot, an adult, wandering around the edge of the tidal pool here.  Further along in another pool, we come across a couple of juvenile Knot while overhead a dark phase Arctic Skua flies past.  It gives good views before we rendezvous with the van for a welcome lift back up the Isle to the Observatory avoiding the incoming wet weather and settle down for another delicious meal. 

After the log and checklist, we wander down to the garages in North Haven.  Here we open the mist net and set up the ghetto blaster playing out the bizarre sounds of Storm and Leach's Petrels in the hope of luring them out of the mist and into the nets so that we can examine and ring them at close quarters.  It takes a while for the first bird to appear but soon enough, we are delighted by these tiny sea birds, their dainty features surprising us all especially with the conditions they have to live in out in the wild oceans.  Over the next hour and a half, we catch thirteen individuals before the drizzle increases in density and we have to pack it in for the evening, but delighted with our haul as we head off to bed.

Day 6            

This morning's trap round did not prove as successful as previous days, however, there is still one Garden Warbler caught this morning and brought back to the Observatory to be ringed.  After a hearty breakfast, we take advantage of a lift down to the south end of the island and get dropped off near the South Light looking out to sea.  This morning's weather is scattered cloud and there is a very light variable breeze but there is quite a lot of mist and fog rolling in from the south, which is hampering our observations a little bit this morning.  We decide to have a quick scan of the shore in South Harbour.  Looking amongst the weedy shore line, we pick out some nice views of waders, approximately five Turnstone, four Redshank, five Dunlin and a brief view of a Purple Sandpiper and also a nice winter plumage Sanderling which is picking frantically amongst the seaweed with the Turnstone.  Whilst watching the waders below us which give very good views through the telescopes, a single Peregrine flies past speeding around to the South Light.  It’s our first bird of prey of the week. 

So from South Harbour, we head round via the Haa, which is one of the oldest crofts on Fair Isle, and we head out towards Meoness where there are more waders gathered on the sheep-cropped turf, including fifteen to twenty Redshank.  We also get good views of two Ruff, a male and a female as well as three Golden Plover and there are at least six Lapwing feeding in one of the lower fields nearby.  We head up over Meoness where there are quite a lot of White Wagtails gathered on the cliff edge feeding on the short grass.  We have a quick scan out to sea.  There are numerous Fulmars and a few Gannets flying by in the fog before we head north again as a single female Pintail flies overhead heading south.  We continue up to the road and head up to the croft at Busta where we get cracking views of a female Pied Flycatcher.  It’s flycatching from a drystone wall and also perches on some of the fence posts.  We also have a very brief view of the previously seen Rose-coloured Starling which flits over the top of the roof and then does a disappearing act even though we search quite hard for it. 

Just as we are about to head north from Busta, Mark gets a call on his mobile phone – the wonders of modern technology – from Paul the Assistant Warden to say that he has just found an Icterine Warbler in the garden at the Haa which we past earlier.  So we promptly head south and shortly arrive down at the Haa where we scan into the garden amongst the vegetable plot.  Within a matter of seconds, we have picked out the Icterine Warbler and gain stunning views as it perches on some of the wooden pallets around the edge of the garden and also forages for insects amongst the Sweet Peas.  It then flits over a dry stone wall and out of sight but we find it again later on after a little bit of searching. We also manage to find another Barred Warbler, which we get good brief views of.  With time pressing on and lunch beckoning, our organised lift from Hollie arrives and we all pile in and head back up the road to be only slightly late for lunch.  After lunch, we decide to head back south again where we have organised a visit to one of the crofts at Field for a talk from the local Meteorological Office weatherman, Dave Wheeler.  Just before we head out, we get good views of a Barred Warbler that has been trapped just outside the Observatory in the Heligoland trap.

There are signs that there may be a few new birds in just before we head out from the Observatory.  There is another Barred Warbler and a Garden Warbler in the Observatory plantation just outside.  So with expectations high and the merest hint of a very light south easterly breeze, we head down the road deciding to check some of the Heligoland traps on the way to our talk at Field.  Mark goes up through the gully trap and manages to catch a nice Sedge Warbler which is our first for the week and also a single Willow Warbler. 

A brief check of the plantation trap gives us fleeting views of a Common Rosefinch, which zips out and unfortunately is not caught.  However, Craig then walks the nearby Vaadal trap seeing a bird disappear into the catching box.  Unsure as to its identity at first it reveals itself to be a juvenile Red-backed Shrike to complete the set of scarce migrants this week. Everybody gets quite a lot of photographs of this absolutely cracking bird and also shots of the Sedge Warbler and Willow Warbler.  We phone Deryk who arrives to take the Shrike for ringing after giving us a lift to Field.

We arrive only slightly late and take a walk around the crofting land learning about this way of life with its struggles and rewards.  Moving on to the weather recording area we hear of the dedication required to supply the Met office with the necessary data.  Once inside we have a welcome cuppa while Dave shows us the recording process in his tiny office crammed with computers and equipment.  A fascinating afternoon which may result in some of us logging onto his weather webcam in the future.

After an interesting hour or so, we decide to have another half an hour birding as there seem to be birds arriving on the now slight north easterly breeze.  So we wander a little way south seeing several more Willow Warblers and getting good views again of the female or young Crossbill near Stackhoull Stores.  We also get absolutely cracking views of a Barred Warbler at the Post Office as it feeds amongst the Angelica at the side of the road only a matter of feet away.  Walking back, we see several Whinchat.  There is quite a few Snipe in some of the wet fields and yet another Barred Warbler near the Chalet.  There has been an obvious increase in Barred Warbler numbers as the week has gone on. 

So finally, tired and just a little bit damp, we arrive back at the Observatory for our evening meal and if the day had not been good enough already, a Common Rosefinch is brought into the Observatory to be ringed, trapped by Deryk in the gully.

Day 7            

Our final full day and we awake to a ‘dreich’ start of low cloud again and drizzle coming and going.  The early morning trap round produced Grasshopper Warbler and yesterday's Red-backed Shrike again caught, this time in the Double Dyke.  After breakfast, we brave the elements and wander south passing through the trapping area on down past Setter, where there is just a Willow Warbler, before reaching Barkland where hopping around amongst the Angelica, is a very confiding Wryneck.  We are delighted to see this one in the field having seen one well in the hand. 

We mosey on further down the road to Lower Stonybreck where two skulking warblers eventually reveal themselves to be Reed Warblers, clearly newly arrived.  We have a stop at the shop before moving on towards Shirva where yet again, we have fair views of Rosefinch before cutting across the island to Schoolton where we pick up yet another Barred Warbler hopping around in amongst the Rosa.  Further along in the Quoy crop is another Rosefinch and yet another Barred Warbler.  Then on to Aesterhoull where we pick up two more Barred Warblers.  It seems to be the most common warbler on the island.  We continue on up to the kirk where we have a look inside at the impressive stained glass windows and exhibition of paintings and photographs that are on display.  Back outside Charles' keen eyes pick out a Fieldfare feeding out in the short-cropped grassland, a new bird for the trip. 

Here we rendezvous with Hollie who kindly gives us a lift back north and we get a welcome break from the inclement weather that for the first time this week is actually proving to be quite cold.  Back at the Observatory we have lunch and Alex kindly gives us another lift south where we get out at Utra and some of the group wander off towards the Haa to get fine views of the Icterine Warbler from yesterday.  We also see two more Barred Warblers which jokingly are becoming nick-named "Bored Warblers" due to their seeming abundance on the Isle.  Those that continue on down around South Harbour, pick out a number of Teal out in the sheltered bays along with a couple of Wigeon.  A couple of Knot fly past as we head down on to the beach at Muckle Uri Geo where we have a look at the Oyster Plant, a rare plant that is growing in the shingle.  We then climb up to shelter behind the walls of the lighthouse for a bit of a sea watch.  It’s generally pretty quiet offshore just the ubiquitous Gannets and Fulmars.  A couple of Kittiwake drift past and then we pick up a group of about 10 Dolphins that are moving southwards some distance offshore.  They are proving quite difficult to see in the choppy conditions.  Overhead there is Whimbrel flying around in the company of a Curlew, another new bird for the trip and a useful comparison before we resume trying to follow the Dolphins. 

Curiously every so often, there is a blow spout of water appearing in amongst the Dolphins.  This seems to be an odd thing for a Dolphin to do until we realise that it is in fact not a Dolphin when a tail fluke appears.  It can be nothing other than that of a Humpback Whale so rapid calls are made to summon the Observatory staff and also the other group members that are warbler watching.  With everyone descending on the South Lighthouse we look out to sea where the party of cetaceans have moved some distance away but we can still see the spout and a couple more glimpses of the tail fluke of what we are now certain is a Humpback Whale.  The Dolphins although distant put on a good display full breaching before they disappear from sight and we more than console ourselves with a couple of Sooty Shearwaters that glide past the Skerries and away out of sight. 

Most of us get a lift back to the Observatory with a few souls wandering north for their last look at the island.  The wind has dropped and the clouds have peeled away to reveal a beautiful evening with the sun glinting off the assorted colours of the houses as we return to the Observatory for our last evening meal.  After dinner a couple of people venture down to the Havens and see a couple of Common Sandpipers before we run through our last checklist of the trip.  We contemplate our highlights from the superb week on the Isle where we have been warmly welcomed by the Observatory staff and islanders alike, been well fed and well exercised and seen a wonderful array of wildlife.

Day 8            

We get up to an early breakfast before boarding the Good Shepherd for our departure from Fair Isle.  There is very little breeze but there is still a bit of swell as we head out of North Haven being waved off by a number of the Observatory Staff and Craig who is fortunate enough to be spending another week on the isle.  We slip out of North Haven through the choppy conditions making for Sumburgh Head, and weare not far out of Fair Isle before a very close Sooty Shearwater drifts past in the company of numerous Fulmars.  We also see the odd Puffin and a few Bonxies and then some distant Dolphins before, off the starboard side, a number of White-beaked Dolphins appear this time coming to within about thirty yards of the boat giving an excellent display before they peal away several minutes later.  Another Sooty Shearwater appears before we drift into Grutness seeing numerous Black Guillemots and the odd Common Guillemot.  We then have an hour or so to wander ashore around Grutness.  We see a brief Merlin and also a Shetland Wren and a few Black birds to compliment the list before we make our way back round to the airport and say goodbye to Shetland.


Red-throated Diver
Sooty Shearwater
Storm Petrel
Grey Heron
Mute Swan
Tufted Duck
Ringed Plover
Golden Plover
Purple Sandpiper
Jack Snipe
Bar-tailed Godwit
Green Sandpiper
Common Sandpiper
Arctic Skua
Great Skua
Black-headed Gull
Common Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Black Guillemot
Rock Dove
Collared Dove
Turtle Dove
Meadow Pipit
Tree Pipit
Rock Pipit
White Wagtail
Pied Wagtail
Fair Isle Wren
Shetland Wren
Grasshopper Warbler
Sedge Warbler
Reed Warbler
Icterine Warbler
Barred Warbler
Garden Warbler
Willow Warbler
Spotted Flycatcher
Pied Flycatcher
Red-backed Shrike
Carrion Crow
Hooded Crow
Rose-coloured Starling
House Sparrow
Common Rosefinch
Yellow-breasted Bunting


Red Admiral


Common Frog


White-beaked Dolphin
Harbour Porpoise
Humpback Whale
Grey Seal
Common Seal
Fair Isle Mouse