Fair Isle

Last week I had a great few days on Fair Isle: the weather was exceptional, with blue skies for much of the time, and very little wind.

The island is a magnet for rare birds and thus also for bird-watchers: lying half way between the Orkneys and the Shetlands, it’s a staging post for migrating birds as they head south for the winter. Its location makes it the top spot in Britain for rare birds. The only problem was that the weather was not good for blowing rare birds in!

Fair Isle from the air

Fair Isle from the air (click to enlarge)

Red-breasted flycatcher

Red-breasted flycatcher. This is a juvenile – it takes a couple of years for a male to acquire his full colouring.

Probably my best sighting was of a red-breasted flycatcher. A number of birders were watching one in a field; as I left, I noticed another on the opposite side of the field – which then obligingly flew to a nearby fence-post. It remained flitting around the area, often striking photogenic poses in the process.

The main accommodation on the island is the Fair Isle Bird Observatory. It’s a great place to stay, with a strong communal atmosphere as guests share a common interest.

One afternoon I was chatting with one birder who was astonished at the number of Siberian chiffchaffs that were on the island. I therefore asked how one could tell that a chiffchaff is Siberian? Apparently the markings are much more subdued – which thus explained why I’d seen a couple of chiffchaffs with unusually subdued markings!

Siberian chiffchaff on Fair Isle

Siberian chiffchaff on Fair Isle

Fair Isle - west and east coasts, from Malcolm's Peak.

Fair Isle – west and east coasts, from Malcolm’s Peak.

If there’s one bird that characterises the islands more than any other, it’s the fulmar. Looking rather like a gull but actually more closely related to the albatross, virtually every cliff face on the island has a raucous colony of fulmars.

Fulmar on Fair Isle

Fulmar on Fair Isle: easy to confuse with a gull until you see the bill.

Apart from going down with a bad cold while I was there, it was a thoroughly enjoyable few days and I would be glad to go back!

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