North Haven, Fair Isle, Shetland 59:32.287N 001:36.251W

Frans & Sarah Toonen
Tue 6 Aug 2013 17:14
6 August 2013 SW and later W 3/4 Downwind all the way, pole up on the genoa and gype preventer on the main - first time we have fully rigged up this downwind configuration. 

Fair Isle - This bleak and gale battered island has sheer cliffs topped with grassy mounds carpeted with flowers. There are plenty of off lying crags for sailors to avoid and sea birds to enjoy. Mooring in the North Haven is free. One of the attractions is FIBO - Fair Isle Bird Observatory- where they monitor migrants and breeding birds. They also undertake research and bird ringing. We joined the trap rounds and saw 2 Wheatears being measured and weighed before having their rings attached. Frans joined the mist netting of the petrels (midnight to 3am) where the birds are attracted by taped petrel calls. Around 45 were ringed. The capture of a Swinhoe petrel on 2 consecutive nights was a huge event for the FIBO team, only 6 individuals have so been identified on British soil.

All visitors to the island can use the FIBO facilities and join in activities. In a short guided walk to the North Lighthouse we saw over 20 species: 
Great Skua, Arctic Skua, Snipe, Twite, Meadow Pippet, Dunlin, Wren (Fair Isle has it's own sub-species), Great Blackbacked gull, Puffin, one Puffling (not a made up word we promise), Gannet - amazing colony on off lying rock, Wheatear, Starling, Pied Wagtail, Arctic Tern, Common Tern, Eider, Ringed Plover, Oyster Catcher, Fulmar and chicks, Swift, Shag. FIBO has an extensive library and visitor centre/bar area so we have used that for internet and also dined there. They are very low on guest twitchers (a couple from Wrexham and a man from Liverpool who kayaks in the marina there) for their 16 rooms, the real twitchers will arrive in a couple of weeks when the autumn migrants species stop over in droves. Over 300 species have been recorded by FIBO. A forecast of Easterly winds caused excitement as that brings many migrants.  

Sue and Gez please note that none of the puffins we saw in Treshnish were this years brood. The pufflings stay in the burrow until they go to sea later in August. It is very unusual to see one unless it happens to be fledging but yesterday one came out of it's rock burrow and stretched it's wings, turned around and went back in. It's cheeks were sooty grey and it had drab legs rather than the adult orange. We shall look out for them on the water later this month. All the adults we have seen on the water are likely to be less than 4 years old and so they are not breeding but merely practising the rituals and looking for burrows to become vacant (as the old die off) for use in future years.

Guillemots and Razorbills have had a very poor breeding season here. At least there are some on the west coast as we have seen plenty from Pelagia on our way north. We may stay several days as this is a lovely island - chilly though for a change. We are the same latitude as Stavanger in Norway. 

South Lighthouse on Fair Isle with sun setting behind:  

A Gannet colony on Kirk Stack 1 of 14 major colonies in the UK, a truly amazing sight, wish we could get nearer. Using a scope we
could see black feathers growing though the fluffy down of the chicks. Juveniles are not fully white feathered for some years.

Ringing Storm Petrels, Frans got to release them again. Petrels are nocturnal during the breeding season.

The elusive Swinhoe Petrel, this particular one is number 6 being ever recorded to land on UK soil, a lot of birders
 would have given their right arm to be here… lucky Frans.