I can’t stop thinking about the song “Wake me up when september ends” by Greenday. Autumn has come and passed. It’s november and soon it’s christmas. Primetime for birding in autumn is from mid september to mid october, but from mid august to mid november can be good if the wind is correct – so maybe one last rarity could show up before the end of november?
Søren left yesterday. In the morning we checked Sørvágur, where we relocated the stonechat and saw an eastern type lesser whitethroat. We also checked Gásadalur, where there was another stonechat – but neither the acro from the day before or the possible ruby-crowned kinglet could be found. So I drove Søren to the airport and went home. That was it for october.
But how was the month all in all? Utsira (Geir Mobakken) makes these nice reviews and I tend to do the same. First of all (and this is said to everyone visiting the Faroes) the weather determines everything. If the wind is wrong (i.e. WSW to N) you run the risk of seeing nothing – you would be more than delighted just to see a robin foraging in the snow! But if the wind is ideal (i.e. NE to SE) you can see 20+ yellow-browed warblers in a day and there are no limits for the obscure rarities that can show up (pallas gropper, green warbler, lesser kestrel, blue-cheeked bee-eater or whatever). If the wind is somewhere in between (i.e. SW to S) you will see a regular flow of birds, but only a few at each place and it takes a lot of work to find them.
October 2011 had it all. The first three weeks we had almost only SW’erlies and it gave only low numbers of birds – but a few good ones too. At least 12 goldfinches and good birds like Olive-backed Pipit, Pechora Pipit, Red-breasted Flycatcher and a few Yellow-browed Warblers were seen, but the general number of birds was low when you think of the fact, that we’re ind the middle of primetime. A lot of westerlies paid off on in one sence as both White-rumped Sandpiper and Semipalmated Sandpiper were seen during the period – but the weather systems didn’t bring that many american passerines to Iceland and we didn’t find any either A change for the worse happened from the 18th to the 24th. We had very cold winds blowing down from the north. The ground was covered with snow and many car owners had to change their tires. Northerly winds can destroy everything no matter what time of year we’re dealing with. So we had several days with no warblers at all – the only good things were a few iceland and glaucous gulls and a forecast promising SE’lies. And they came – a bit delayed maybe but the first real SE-winds came from 25th to 28th. Temperatures increased to 12 degrees celsius and we had a few days with more than 100 warblers seen. Good birds during this last period include wood sandpiper, a few yellow-browed warblers, 2 hawfinches, the first Richard’s Pipit for the Faroes, a Great Grey Shrike and a Red-backed Shrike – and the acro from Sørvágur two days ago…
All in all the weather made this october very hard for us. Normally you get at least a day or two with southeasterlies during the first two weeks of october – and the country is filled with birds. But this only happened after 24 days of winds from south, west or north. So we could have been more lucky. But on the other hand we could have had more northerly winds and that would have been a disaster. After all we did see an almost constant flow of new arrivals, but only in small numbers – just enough to keep us going.
So if you are visiting the Faroes in autumn in order to see migrants birds here are some advise:
1) If you only have a few days you look at the weather forecast and come here during a period of easterlies or you stay here two weeks or more to improve your chances of getting the right winds.
2) Never give up birding. Even though there are only a few warblers in the gardens never give up checking. You only have to check a few birds before the rarity is there! For instance we saw about 10 sanderlings, 2-3 dunlins, 1 white-rumped sandpiper and 1 semipalmated sandpiper. So don’t give up ’cause there are not many birds to check.
3) Expect the unexpected. There can be birds all over – or the snow can cover the ground. If you expect that the rarities are all over the place all the time you’re bound to be disappointed. But if you are glad to find your own yellow-browed warbler you can get a lot of “gladness”…
4) Never forget that it takes a lot of work to find the birds on your own – the more you work the more you find. And NEVER leave a bird unidentified – that is the recipe of loosing a mega! Be patient!
The cold facts are that we found 117 bird species in october (Sørens guess on the 1th october was 115!). We found two new to the Faroes: Richard’s Pipit and Semipalmated Sandpiper. And we found 24 birds that have to be submitted to the danish rarity committee.