Saturday, 3 May 2014

Another Fair Isle Double!

The second half of April 2014 was spiced up with a few birding sojourns close to home. A day out in the Brecks produced a few of the region's specialities and views of the male two-barred crossbill at Lynford; a mini twitch to the Cam Washes yielded a pair of red-rumped swallows, my first multiple of this species in Britain; a half day at the Ouse Washes produced a few migrants and some decent passage waders; and a trip out to Baldock produced a fine male 3rd calendar year hen harrier, albeit not the Monty's it had been I/D'd as prior to my visit.

The first big bird of the spring often breaks around the end of April or beginning of May. We've already had this in the form of the excellent crag martin at Flamborough. The next biggie was to be an island job, Fair Isle to be precise, a location temporarily home to a fine male Cretzschmar's bunting, and like the martin, a massive potential grip-back for me!

There has been just one truly twitchable Cretzschmar's, one for 3 days on North Ron a few years ago, a bird likely to have generated more spelling mistakes in birders' notebooks than perhaps any other. All records have come from the Northern Isles, making it a much prized rarity indeed. This latest Cretz was not a bird to miss, not least because there was some serious back-up material on the island in the form of a fine male Caspian stonechat, a potential new bird for me and a likely future split. And like the bunting it would represent just the fifth record for Britain. It could be just like the Fair Isle double of 2003 when I went for a savannah sparrow and collected my second Sibe rubythroat into the bargain.

This mega bunting was found by ex-warden Deryk Shaw while checking out an RB fly just opposite his own croft. These 2 two birds, together with the stonechat, has taken his 'garden' list to over 150, a list truly rich in terms of quantity yet even more impressive in quality, but that's Fair Isle for you!

Luckily news of the bunting's continued presence broke early on the day I travelled, enabling us to have most of the day on the island. The ever-accommodating obs staff collected us and delivered us to a damp field in the south of the island at Boini Mire. Here the bunting was showing on and off in long tussocky grass. It wasn't particularly close (perhaps 70 – 80 yards) but was a right stunner in a gorgeous orange and blue colour scheme, much brighter than any male ortolan.

With the stonechat just a five minute walk along the road at Lower Leough, we soon headed off to look for it and found it showing like a dream, sometimes down to just a few metres, sporting that great wheatear-esque tail and a handful of other diagnostic features. What a day this was turning into! Birders soon drifted off to check out a couple of nearby short-toed larks, leaving me with the stonechat virtually to myself.

I eventually tore myself away and returned to Boini Mire but the bunting had moved on. I stayed in the general area, checking out a few nearby crofts and fencelines, but couldn't relocate it. I decided not to try for the nearby larks which was perhaps a bad decision, as I heard later that they had been showing well and there was a wryneck close-by too. I also somehow missed Deryk's RB fly, and was later gripped off by some stunning photos. Instead I rambled around checking out the commoner migrants – a few tree pipits were much in evidence among the dozens of meadow; there was a smart male redstart and equally smart male whinchat; lesser whitethroat, white wagtail, brambling and a fly-by redpoll provided further interest.

Around lunch-time I had brief views of the bunting as it flew by me, giving its fairly distinctive 'wip, wip' call, but I immediately lost it to view and couldn't refind it. I continued searching for another hour or two, and managed to kick up a jack snipe and blue-headed wagtail from a ditch in the same field but all too quickly it was time to head home and I was left reflecting on what had been quite a day, one on which Fair Isle yet again had proven that when it comes to rare vagrant birds, there really is nowhere better.


  1. Glad you managed to twitch the Cam Washes Red-rumped Swallows. Jonathan and I got the news out quickly so that they may be seen by others. After seeing your report and pictures we must go to Fair Isle one day!

  2. Great find David, just reward for your regular visits with jonathan and thanks for putting the news out. I can't recommend Fair Isle enough, but it ain't cheap!

    1. Thanks James, strangely the Ring Ouzel found earlier combined with the Red-rumped Swallow took my Cambs Washes and surrounds to 150 species, just like Deryk Shawn's garden list! I bet his list has greater quality though! We will get a mega one day!