Sunday, 20 January 2013

Tommy's Best Birds of 2012 - Fair Isle

Inspired by Surfbirds who asked... 
"what was you best birding moment of 2012?"

Last year I had so many great birding moments living on Fair Isle , Shetland, UK. 
What was my best birding moment of 2012?  And how can I tell you without bragging?  

My most thrilling was answering the phone to an excited Jason Moss on the west cliffs with an unidentified American warbler in view... He was verbally describing the bird, as he knew I kept my American Sibley and Crossley Bird Guides at hand. We tried to ID it over the phone, but I couldn't wait.  Quickly I said I'm on my way! I'll bring my books; my son and I jumped in the car like rally drivers, up the isle we go, half way up Fair Isle's highest point on Ward Hill close to the mast, we get out and over the moors and hills we go and then down to the steep descent to the cliffs edge, thinking all the while...American Redstart? or? what the heck could it be from his description and my limited knowledge? So many yellow-grey warblers in the world. Out of breath, heart pounding, it’s ID confirmed just before I got there. Magnolia Warbler! a second for Britain. Totally outrageous bird.


Another great moment was finally seeing the illusive Siberian Rubythroat in my garden. After days of dipping or brief uncertain glimpses, it was more a moment of relief than amazement. A bit anti-climatic, sort of dull as it was a female that never held still long enough to study it’s subtle features.  At the same time I was dipping an even rarer bird for Fair Isle. Blue Tit! Yes, no Blue Tit has been seen on Fair Isle since the 1970s. We’ve had 4 Siberian Rubythroats since then. Both birds were one of the few island ticks I had all year and most difficult ones to eventually tick. 


My moments don’t have to be about rarest birds to be the best or be the one that everyone would expect. I love to feed the birds, and sometimes I’m rewarded with more than Starlings and House Sparrows. One such moment started  with a dull grey female Rosefinch feeding under one of my nigerseed feeders just outside my windows that the Twite love so much. The next day the bird moves onto my feeder, I’m excited! This is unusual, but female or immature Rosefinch are not that uncommon on Fair Isle, but still it’s always a good bird to see. Unfortunately , we have not seen any red males in years. The bird eats until evening. I fill the feeder in darkness.  The next morning, getting out of bed, I call downstairs, “Is the Rosefinch still there? Henry yells “Yes,” back at me. I come down to see the bird again, “Ah, good morning.”  then I go to the other window to check my hedge for warblers as you do almost with out thinking. Stunning RED Male Rosefinch! Two feet away on the other feeder, I freeze. I calmly call my wife and son, with a whisper hardly moving my lips, I call my wife and son away from the breakfast table over to get a look. Stunning! A breeding red male in the morning sunlight. Awesome.



For me, I guess my best birding moments are shared with my son. I realised that my personal favourite, was really his moment with the Waxwings. I think everyone knows, we had another Waxwing irruption this year. I also think everyone has seen the hand feeding photos to the point, that it isn’t amazing any more. but that's what happens when you get use to amazing birds. I viewed this mostly from a distance from my front garden. One afternoon, Henry was out feeding the Waxwings on a stick with apples. No camera around, he puts the stick over his shoulder like a hobo and decides to go for a walk to the harbour with 10 of his Waxwing friends. The birds fly on and off the stick trailing behind him. Occasionally resting on a fence post, then flying to catch up.  Henry is just out for a stroll down the road, not looking back, but I’m sure he could hear the commotion behind him. He takes in the view of the South Harbour for a while, then starts back. I saw my son and the birds, so comfortable with each other. It is that moment, his moment that sticks with me. When returning home, I asked Henry, “What are you doing?” He said "Taking my birds for a walk.” simply priceless, not only as a birdwatcher but as a father.

taking my birds for a walk...

I did ask Henry to  stop and pose for this photo in the road when he returned home.
Both birds & boy not worried about of the other. Legend.


More 2012 Highlights
Great Tit - Island Tick!

Hume's Leaf Warbler - Lifer & Island Tick

Goosander in the South Harbour - Island Tick

Horned or Shore Lark
Finally my most dipped bird! Lifer & Island Tick

I was lucky to get the best photo of the Black-throated Thrush.

We also had an amazing year for the rare little brown birds...

Thrush Nightingales, River Warblers, Pallas's Grasshopper Warblers, Lanceolated Warblers,
a Paddyfield Warbler, a Pechora Pipit, etc.
My Fair Isle Wish List for 2013 - all my bogey birds that have I have missed...
Firecrest - Nightjar - Sandwich Tern - Leach's Storm Petrel - Long-tailed Skua

1 comment:

  1. I just love the tale of Henry and his birds going for a walk - how wonderful. I saw his very confident performance for Winterwatch. So hope this young man is going to be a naturalist of some kind when he chooses his career.

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