I was fortunate to volunteer for the duration of 3 weeks in July 2016. It was an opportunity for me to gain some experience in bird monitoring, surveying, ringing and habitat management, as well as obtaining contacts which could be essential in searches for employment later on in life. Furthermore, I was able to grow my knowledge of wildlife and improve my skills in wildlife identification.
Leaving home for 3 and a half weeks was always going to be strange. Independence is something I am trying to learn, ready for when I (hopefully) go to university.
In order to get to Fair Isle I had to take the train to London, then the coach to Aberdeen, in Scotland, then the ferry to Lerwick in Shetland, which is Britain's most northerly town, the bus to the southern tip of mainland Shetland, and finally the tiny Good Shepherd IV(see picture below) ferry to Fair Isle, Britain's most remote inhabited island. In Aberdeen I met up with Sam Hood who I would be spending some of my time on Fair Isle with. We travelled the rest of the way together.
At the observatory I was made to feel very welcome by all the staff as well as the guests. Food was cooked by the wonderful chef that is Orlando, who on one occasion managed to make carrots taste like cider because he put them in with the pork cooked in cider for dinner one day. That was a taste from home!
Whilst on Fair Isle, I helped in the ringing of the birds, as well as did some work on habitat management and bird surveying and monitoring. I ringed 18 storm petrels, c.20 puffin chicks (or, pufflings) (by putting my hand in their burrows), 3 herring gull chicks and a meadow pipit. All is valuable experience as I become a trainee ringer. Here is me holding a meadow pipit in the special ringer's grip:
A short video clip of me releasing a storm petrel in the early hours of the morning:
On 10th July we were clearing the scrape just outside the observatory and came back to the obs for a drink as it was a warm day. Chris (also known to the staff team as Doddy) and Ciaran came to check out our handy-work. whilst stood on the patio, Doddy noticed something in North Haven. "Orca." Doddy mumbled to himself, unsure what was lurking beneath the waves. "ORCA!!!" Doddy, now confident in his discovery, yelled to alert everyone present. Shaking, I raised my binoculars to my eyes, and was greeted with a truly magnificent spectacle of a pod of 5 killer whales in close at North Haven. I was so excited to see this! A once in a lifetime experience. To this discovery, Doddy ran through the observatory, alerting guests on his way, with Ciaran and us volunteers following behind. I rushed to put my wellies on and ran out the door and across to Buness for a closer look. Peering over the cliff edge we saw the orcas within 60ft from us. They proceeded to hunt and kill two grey seals right in front of us. That definitely made my time on Fair Isle brilliant. Here is one of Sam's photos of the killer whales:
(Taken by Samuel Hood)
In preparation for the match, us volunteers decided to have a kick about when all of a sudden burst a Fulmar out of under a van. it didn't have enough room to take off. It proceeded to vomit on the drive. Our bird was successfully caught by Sam and was ringed and safely released. Fulmars are seabirds who use projectile vomit as defence from predators. Here is a picture of a very photogenic one I saw on Fair Isle:
We did a lot of fencing, trap repairs, food sampling, bird monitoring and scrape management as well as some gardening for one of the islanders.
One day Oli Beacock, one of the volunteers found a long eared owl in the obs garden which was very wet from the rain. On another occasion we found a grey heron in a trap and it was brought back to the obs to be ringed, and was released after.
We spent most of our free time chilling in the lounge, catching up on sleep and going out across the island watching the wildlife and practising taking photos of many, many wheatears (I must have a few hundred wheatear photos) Here is a good take off shot I got:
The puffins on Fair Isle were extremely brave and I was able to get close to them.
Here are the best of the rest of the photos:
Great Skua looking angry as ever
Angry Arctic Tern as I walked through it's territory
House Sparrow on stone building
I would like to thank the observatory staff for accepting me onto the team and making me so welcome. To achieve this I used the John Harrison Memorial Fund at Fair Isle Bird Observatory, as well as the BTO Young Bird Observatory Volunteer Fund.