The Birds on Fair Isle 16.6. - 17.6.
We cast off on the island of Westray and sailed around Papa Westray's southern tip, from there we set course to north-east for passing the island of North Ronaldsay on the north side. The day was windless and we motored towards Fair Isle. Suddenly from nowhere the waves started to grow. We had arrived in a really heavy current between Orkney and Shetland. The stream was pushing us forward with the speed of 6.9 knots while our SOG was almost 12 knots! Luckily we had a current from behind while passing the island. Otherwise we would have been just staying in one place as the current was so strong.
We arrived on Fair Isle on a sunny afternoon. The harbour has a fixed concrete pier and because of the tide we moored her with long lines for enabling the up and down movement together with the water level.
The staff of the bird observatory had noticed from the lounge window that the first boat of the day was arriving. They run down to take our lines and welcomed us warmly to Fair Isle. Later more boats arrived and during our visit there were up to seven boats simultaneously in the harbour. Altogether there is space for mooring three boats alongside on the pier and thus other boats were rafting up.
There is an active bird observatory on the island. The observatory also has hotel rooms available for visitors. During our visit there were about 20 birders staying at the observatory. They had some organized daily events and also own free time for watching the birds and trekking around the island. Everybody took notes about the birds seen and kept a log about birds’ locations on the island.
On Monday evening a thick fog landed on Fair Isle. The wind was rising and swell was entering pass the breakwater into the harbour, swinging the boats in rafts. Obviously this was not new to the residents of the island. When we arrived to harbour, the staff of the observatory pointed out that there are some jumbo size ball fenders for usage on the pier. We put the fenders between us and the pier. also the next boat on the raft used the big fenders as well. Overall even if the swell was a bit uncomfortable there was no big drama at all. Thx a lot for a foreseeing people at Fair Isle.
In the evening both the birders and the boaters gathered in the lounge of the observatory. Everybody was talking about the weather and if there would be any flights next day due to the fog. Earlier this day more birders had arrived to Fair Isle by plane because there was a sight of very rare bird just today.
At 9pm when everybody had got their cup of hot chocolate and home baked cake or used the offerings of a bar, the highlight of the day got started. The warden of the observatory rang the bell and opened the log, "Welcome to the daily log of the bird observatory of Fair Isle".
Every evening all the birds seen by the staff and visitors are recorded in the observatory's log. The warden went through all the species of birds and everybody had a chance to tell where and how many of them were seen. The session had an avid and intense atmosphere. Everybody made sure that own sightings got officially logged. The log had a long tradition, it have been kept since 1948.
Monday the 16TH of June was a special day. We were witnessing the visit of the Bridled Tern on the island. Usually this bird is nesting in tropical and subtropical areas like the Caribbean Sea. But today it was possible to see it on Fair Isle. The Bridled Tern was the reason why bird experts had arrived by plane from Shetland to Fair Isle. Now however it seemed that they cannot get back because of the fog. There was a ferry leaving to Shetland at 6am next morning. However because of the swell the ferry trip was not recommended to those having a sensitive stomach.
The bird log was an exclusive experience. It felt like we were in the middle of science fiction story and soon something would happen. It was so special to be in the middle of the North Atlantic on the lonely island where sheep were wandering freely and birds were everywhere and in addition there was a science station exploring them. It was fascinating to find this kind of special society on such a remote island.