3 Nov 2016

Fair Isle. Part 4. Stejnegers Stonechat?

Yomping an average 15-20 km each day in full waterproofs, carrying a rucksack with food and drink and binoculars and camera makes you hungry. Lucky the food at the Obs is good and simple. A full cooked breakfast with porridge, toast and marmite set us up for the day. Packed lunches included a cold drink, fruit, chocolate bars and sandwiches whilst the shop provides supplementary rations and they've placed a kettle and tea / coffee making facilities in their garage for birders to use for a small charity donation - a fantastic base to dry out and rest for awhile of the weathers bad!

We got into a routine of breakfasting then heading out for the day whilst others returned to the Obs for lunch. Anyone who sees the rarities reports coming out of Fair Isle or Shetland who thinks its easy birding is very misguided. Its very hard work - easy enough if you stick to the roads but going through mires, ditches and across moors is where you'll find the majority of the birds. The assistant wardens put the hard miles in on a daily basis during their extended stay.

Anyway, back to the birds. We'd been watching an Olive-backed Pipit and a couple of Little Buntings in Shirva thistles when Chris spotted a chat heading up the fence line. He followed it and found it to be a Whinchat but in doing so found a Siberian Stonechat. It gave people the runaround for awhile before settling into a routine - he'd got a nice shot of the white rump and Nigel Jones (BBRC member) got a nice shot showing the black auxillaries. So, hopefully, this'll get through and be our 3rd consecutive year where we've found a BBRC rarity.

With multiple Pine Buntings, several Olive-backed Pipits, a possible Siberian Thrush (seen by Gary and Clive in flight and never seen again!), Dusky Warbler, Pechora Pipit and a host of scarcities, hopes were high that the week would bring a 'mega' rarity.

Sure enough we got a message from Kieran to say he'd found a Siberian Stonechat, possibly a Stejnegers, at South Landing. With this form being a potential future split we were keen to see it and spent many hours over a couple of days photographing it and watching whilst it evaded capture (it was eventually caught and ringed just after we left and a feather sent away for DNA analysis).

One of the features of this form is the ginger rump which I managed to capture in flight as the photo's below show.

It stayed faithful to the beach where it was obviously finding plenty to eat along with good numbers of Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and Rock Pipits. What was totally unexpected though was a Fair Isle 'mega'  - a Blue Tit!!! Chris was 'pishing' the Stonechat and a Blue Tit popped up.

Logan had found one a few days earlier in one of the geos so it was probably the same bird. Living on Unst Blue Tit was a lifer for him!

Thousands of thrushes arrived during our week along with more Woodcocks than I've ever seen. Each day we'd flush 10-20 along ditches, beside dry stone walls and even on top of the cliffs. I've never seen so many Song Thrushes in one place either and amongst the commoner thrushes we found a couple of Ring Ouzels. Goldcrest, Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs made up the bulk of the warblers seen as we'd missed the peak movement of Yellow-browed Warblers. However a couple still lingered and gave good views as they flitted along the stone walls.

 Male Blackcap flopping amongst the roadside vegetation - Blackcaps look floppy and you think theres something wrong with them buts thats just how they are.
 Male Siskin feeding on dandelion seed head.

Yellow-browed Warbler!

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