Monday, December 23, 2013

Photos about the Fair Isle - December 2013

Seal pup
An old badly eroded Northern Lighthouse Board brass Cap badge.
Found wedged into the rocks below the lighthouse.

Seal pup below the South Lighthouse

South Lighthouse in Sunshower between gales.

HM Coastguard Quad Training
Fair Isle's HM Coastguard Cliff Rescue Team have been selected to be the first in Britain to receive a quad and trailer to carry rope and equipment up the hills and to the cliff edges in case of an emergency. All the team received training, it was hard work as well as fun.

The school kids singing carols at the Christmas performance.

To all: A very Merry Christmas from Fair Isle!

Spice up your holiday spirit!
Tommy's Spiced Christmas Whisky - Open your Whisky bottle drop in spices. 1 stick of cinnamon, 2 star aniseeds, 7 green cardamom seeds, 1 whole clove and a halve of a vanilla bean. Wait 2 days or more to decant into a custom labelled bottle. Taste often until you like it! Suggestion the star aniseed is strong you my want to use only one or remove earlier than other spices. It really dresses up a holiday spirit. Ho Ho Ho! leave some for Santa. Cheers! 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Trip to Barcelona

Been to Barcelona and back since my last post.
I was invited down for Thanksgiving and to see my friends new place just north of the city. 
I stayed a few days more because I have been wanting to see the Antoni Gaudi Buildings ever since my History of Modren Architecture course with James Kettlewell at Skidmore College during the Summer of 1983. Thirty years later... I was not disappointed! Amazing! I had a great time and need to give a big thank you to my friends for finally getting me to Barcelona.

I took hundreds of photos here are just a few.

La Sagrada Famila - Gaudi's Cathedral 

Casa Balto - one of Gaudi's Apartment buildings
Park Guell & Barcelona
More info on Gaudi's buildings:

Caga Tio - Tio de Nadel
Catalonia Christmas Tradition aka "The Shit Log"
It was great fun walking through the Christmas markets.

Of course I did do so Birdwatching...
My birding was done mostly around the grounds of my friends place, Birding was hard, everything was far away and very mobile and then few into the back side of the tree. Black Redstarts where the most common birds around the Casa. The one bird I saw out in the open was a Hawfich up top a tree? I always heard they a hard to see? I did have a few lifer with Spanish resident species not common here in Fair Isle. Serin, Crested Tit, Sardinian Warbler, Spotless Starling, Firecrest, also probable Cirl Bunting and Short Toed Eagle. But the biggest surprise while out birding was sighting 3 wild boars!

Originally a winery dating back to the 13th century.
The wine still flows when the owners are home.
and there was dancing!
That hat made me look more like a Quaker selling oats than a calypso dancer.

Three Little Pigs!
I saw these Wild Boars sunny themselves while I was birdwatching.

Video of the Wild Boar.

Montserrat north of Barcelona.

The flight home over the Pyrenees. 
Wow! I could see little roads up to the top of some of the summits and thought of those cyclists that tick of Mountains climbs... ouch!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Birdy Art? or Charles Harper?

RSPB catalogue Christmas 2013
Recently I received my Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Christmas catalogue. I leafed through it, momentarily I was excited by the items pictured above. I thought, wow? did the RSPB use Charles Harper? As an American I have known about Charles Harper's artwork since I was a kid (over 40 years) often featuring in the children's wildlife magazine Ranger Rick, also Harper's art was a main stay illustrator for Birdwatcher's Digest and the National Audubon Society. With a closer look I found no mention of of Charles Harper or any artist name, just "Birdy" "Birdy design combines vibrant, contemporary styling with a definite nod to the 1950's." Needless to say I was disappointed with the RSPB for it's seemingly generic art on the household items in this "Birdy" style. Until someone can prove to me these are licensed Harper designs, I can't buy them, even though I sort of like it, I would always see it as an designers copy subverting the true artist. As an artist myself every time I abstract a bird I have to acknowledge Harper's influences in my own art, I personally find this a bit to close and I wonder what they were thinking? I support the RSPB and don't want to say anything to scathing about their product development, but I also support the protection of the artist & photographer's writes to their images.

The good news is, I just saw that the Audubon Magazine is giving away a classic!
Charles Harper Book!

Painting by Charley Harper


Published: 11/18/2013
We're giving away five copies of the 40-year anniversary edition of Charles Harper's Birds & Words. To enter the giveaway, just leave a comment below, and be sure to include a viable email address (it won't show up on the page). The official rules are below. The contest ends at midnight, Friday, November 29, 2013. In the meantime, here's a little about the book from the publisher, AMMO Books. Good luck!
This lovely reissue of the highly collectible 1974 classic is a Charley Harper gem. AMMO has carefully restored all the images and reproduced Birds & Words in its entirety and in its original format.
Hawfinch by T. H. Hyndman
One of my works on paper owing influences from Harper and maybe Picasso. It's hard to denie the artistic connections for me... My father started buying, framing and selling Charles Harper's signed and numbered screen prints in the 1970's. Some still hang on the wall of my parents house today.

UPDATE: "Birdy" is definitely not Charles Harper's designs. As I learnt this from one of comments left by one of my readers below, Birdy is designed by a group that call them self Magpie. Aptly named as we all know Magpies the birds have a habit of stealing things. Even if the designers honestly don't know about Charles Harper, I'm ashamed of the RSPB for having any connection to the "Birdy" line of products, they should know the history and similarity of images like these so famously used by American birding organizations.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Autumn Bird Highlights - Photographs by Kevin Kelly

Kevin Kelly
Siberian Ruby Throat

Kevin Kelly
 All photographs in this post were taken by visiting birdwatcher Kevin Kelly during the few weeks he spent on Fair Isle this past Autumn. My son Henry, Logan and I were standing right next to Kevin as we were all amazed to be so fortunate to have such great views. I was taking video of the Siberian Ruby Throat as he took the photos above. Stunning! Kevin kept his promise to send me copies of his photos of the memorable moment, he also sent a few other highlight bird photographs from his stay. 

"It was my first Autumn visit to fair isle after three previous spring visits. Fair isle never fails to produce in terms of beauty but it also delivers on quality of birds too. I am fortunate enough to work for the RSPB so to witness migration at one of the Uk's most northerly points was fantastic. With so many declines in our populations of species such as our seabirds the work of Bird Observatories like Fair Isle go hand in hand with the conservation work we do to try and ensure a brighter future. And these little beauties were just an added bonus to the thrushes and geese that arrive on mass." Kevin Kelly

Kevin can be contacted at

Kevin Kelly
Grey Cheeked Thrush

Kevin Kelly
Little Bunting

Kevin Kelly
Red Throated Pipit

Olive-backed Pipit

Blyth's Reed Warbler

Arctic Warbler

Snow Bunting
Thanks for sharing Kevin!
Kevin can be contacted at

Monday, November 04, 2013

Rare Birds! - Crossley ID Guide for Britain & Ireland

Blue Tit page from the new Crossley ID Guide - Britain & Ireland.
A couple a years ago I saw a promotional image of Black and White Warblers from then the new an innovative Crossley ID Guide for North America. I was hooked! Living on Fair Isle the most remote inhabited Island in the UK. I thought it might come in handy from time to time to identify birds on this legendary rare birding hot spot. Plus, I moved here from Upstate New York 7 years ago, I wasn't a Birdwatcher then, so, I thought it good to familiarize my self with American birds, the ones I took for granite for most of my life. I bought my copy on Amazon sight unseen. I wasn't disappointed, the book is like a photoshopped fantasy land for birdwatchers. I keep my copy handy and it sits often on the coffee table when I am hosting bird tours. It always raises a discussions on bird identification guides. The main debate is photography vs illustration? Like if you could only have one... Why argue, we have and need both!

 My son and I are always looking through our bird guides when we are try to learn about or ID a bird we usually look at a illustrated guide, but we find that there is nothing like a photography guide at it's side to really get the full sense of the bird. When we hear about a rare bird sighting on the Isle, we always look at our guide books first before going out to relocate the bird. What I really like is multiple bird photos in different plumages, sexes and distances shown in a appropriate landscape. My old photo guide had one photo of each bird, sometimes in both sexes if I was lucky, this isn't enough information for the type of birding we do here. Fair Isle isn't all about the rare birds though, but then again it sort of is. You might see a common bird like a Bunting, Warbler, Wader, etc. You automatically know what is, but are you sure? Look again it could be that similar rare species from Siberia or North America? And all sorts of rare birds have a habit to get extremely lost and find their way to Fair Isle. Sometimes rare birds on Fair Isle are common else where in Britain. So a good bird guide can really make a difference. 

Blue-headed Vireo & Red-eyed Vireo -
 Using my Crossley ID Guide for Eastern North America Birds.

Besides just being a nice coffee table book, I really used my Crossley ID Guide for Eastern North America Birds a few times this year... Highlights being Red-eyed Vireo - Grey Cheeked Thrush and a few North American Waders. (click birds name for blog post details on each bird.)

In Autumn 2012 I added 4 new bird ticks to my Fair Isle List presently at 272 species. I was fortunate to use my Crossley American Guide when we had a amazing visit from a Mega North American... Magnolia Warbler! The other birds were Siberian Ruby Throat and the surprisingly very rare on Fair Isle Great Tit and Blue Tit. As I said, some common birds in the UK. like Blue Tits are Fair Isle Megas! No Blue Tit had been seen on Isle since the early 1970's. We have had 5 of the 8 British records of Siberian Ruby Throat since then. It just goes to show even though the New Crossley ID Guide for birds of Britain & Ireland only details 300 of the most common birds, it's sure to come in handy for birds we don't see often. Plus it's a pleasure to look at.
linked to
I'm thrilled that they made a guide for Britian and Ireland.
I"m sure it will get plenty of use as my bird guides are the most used books in the house.

I now have all 3 Crossley ID Bird Guides in my collection,
 including the one for American Raptors

Great! innovation for Great Britain. is proud to kick off the Blog Tour.
12 days at 12 birding blogs! have a look for the posting schedule.

Enter to win 1 of 5 free copies of the new Guide: 

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Killer Whales! Video! Five Orca Hunt Seals along the coast of Fair Isle.

Totally Killer!

Amazing video of Orcas hunting Seals in the north east coast and in the North Haven.

I saw at least 5 Orcas at once...

The Orca hunted most of the afternoon on Fair Isle, favouring the sheltered north-eastern coastline due to the gales and high seas raging from the south. After getting a call that Killer Whales were in the North Haven I had to wait over an hour until my wife came home with the car. They were still There! I spent about two hours running around and watching them in the passing rain showers and strong winds while on the cliff edges. They came in an out of the North Haven four times that I know of, I was there to watch twice! Outrageous up close encounters were had by the very few wildlife enthusiast still left on the Isle. I took the video on my pocket camera on video mode using a tripod. The video had no sound as I deleted it because it was nothing but howling winds... Youtube automatically suggest a background music, I assume based on the title and description? Too funny not to use! The images tell it all! 

The circling Orca...

Making waves to wash the seal from the rocks.

Amazing as it was to see... it's dangerous times for a young seal...

make sure to watch the video!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Nature of Scotland Award Winner! Nick Riddiford & Fair Isle Marine Environment & Tourist Initiative.

Nick Riddiford, 

Top honours were given to Fair Isle's Nick Riddiford last night at the Nature of Scotland Awards.
I know that Nick would also give a large amount of credit to this wife Elizabeth, Fair Islander's and the National Trust for Scotland, but take a bow! This award hopefully will bring some more attention to Fimeti and marine park initiative. 

List of all Winners
more info:

Congratulation's Nick to and from Fair Isle.

Young Gannet, North Haven, Fair Isle Oct. 29th, 2013

also... Happy Halloween!
Pumpkin made from old fishing troller buoy found as rubbish on the beach.