I left mainland at 11 in the morning, with no news of new birds in. Flying from Tingwall we followed the cliffs of south mainland in the small aircraft and then headed out over open water until we reached Fair Isle; probably the best birding site in the UK, and a place that I have dreamed of visiting ever since I started birding.
And over the first few hours, the birding didn’t fail to deliver. As I got of the plain, a pair of Lapland Buntings flew over calling. My first birds on the island and my first self-found birds of this species. Not a bad start! I was greeted by the warden Dave Parnaby, and we set off down the hill in the car. We hadn’t got far though, when a medium sized, pale bird flew across the track in front of us. Dave stopped the van, and we quickly got onto the 1st-year Short-Toed Lark which had been present for a while previously. It showed well for a short time before flying off again, but it was a British tick for me and only my third bird on the island!
We headed down to the observatory where I was shown to my room and given a short introduction. After a quick look around I headed back out, this time armed with my camera, and quickly refound the lark showing well by the roadside. It was strikingly pale, with a sandy brown plumage, and a subtle peach wash to the unstreaked breast. The bill was short and deep, and the cap was darker and had a touch of rufous.
The bird eventually flew up the hill towards the water tanks, just as Dave Steel arrived from the obs. We headed up together and after some time we relocated the bird near the airstrip where it continued to show well until we left. We returned for lunch at the obs, where I learned that the Bluethroat was still showing well at Shira. I headed in that direction, and as I went, I noted several Lesser Redpoll, 2 Merlin, 2 Yellow-Browed Warbler, 1 Black Redstart, 3 Whinchat, 1 Whitethroat, 1 Blackcap and good numbers of Twite. A further four Lapland Buntings were also seen, including one very showy individual not far from the obs at Gully.
Unfortunately, there was no sign of the Bluethroat at Shirva, but there was plenty of other good birding to be had, with 50+ Golden Plover, 5 Dunlin, a Knot, over 100 Pink-Footed Geese, a Peregrine, Great Skua and Fulmar all seen. Not a bad first day by any means, though the general impression at the evening log was that it had been fairly quiet!