Garden birding

‘Gangmaster’ Garner has been pestering me to write another post. Having been in the office for most of the summer, or at least in Shetland – and not racing around the globe looking at some fancy new spotting scope and some groovy birds – I have been struggling to come up with something. But here’s a quick story of everyday garden birding in the best birding garden in Britain (unless you know better).

Fair Isle Bird Observatory garden – as viewed from room about 2 weeks ago. OK, so I’m biased… At the beginning of March 1996 this was just a piece of close-cropped maritime grassland. Mark Newell, Steve Votier and I got the sheep- and rabbit-proof fencing up that month, and then we started planting. First, we planted pallets – lots of ‘em (for shelter – shelter is the key). And then the shrubs (I hesitate to say trees). Anything tolerant of the salt. You can’t be choosy up here. It’s been a long slog, but at last it looks like a piece of decent cover, one that’s been nurtured by all the staff at the obs since then. It’s a tribute to everyone that’s worked in it, and Dave Okill who first suggested it.

And boy does it work! It’s now the largest patch of cover anywhere on Fair Isle and one of  the best birding spots on the isle. Since the beginning of June this year, the resident garden-watchers have seen:

River Warbler…

Paddyfield Warbler…


Oooooh yes. You didn’t think this was a post sans Carduelis did you? This bird is a cracker, an enormous (wing of 85 mm, tail of 69 mm), ghostly thing and surely most likely a young female hornemannibased on the overall size, ‘perfect’ undertail coverts, the rump and the fine mid/rear flank streaking.

And then this…

Another worn, summertime bird, this one much smaller, with a wing of 73 mm and a diddy bill, it seems to ‘best fit’ an exilipes. The undertail-coverts in particular are more heavily marked than many though still within range I think. Biometrics suggest it’s too small for hornemanni and islandica, while the UTCs alone surely rule out flammea and rostrata – ?

Any comments on the redpolls welcome. And, if you’re fired by birding a garden like this, there are still spaces available at the Obs this October – and what’s more there’s a special cheap rate for visitors arriving after 14th. Call Susannah on 01595 760258 or e-mail But don’t leave it too long…

Thanks to David and Will for the pics and for sharing the exciting birds.

3 thoughts on “Garden birding

  1. Dave Bunney

    Hi, I enjoyed your article about the Fairisle bird obs garden, perhaps we should find the UK’s best garden . I have a garden on Dungeness point, inspired by Portland Bird obs garden. In the 90’s it was just bare shingle, we are lashed by gales, have no soil only shingle and extremely low rain fall, it’s easier to attract birds than grow anything to be honest. It’s like a desert in the summer. I have managed to grow a thick vegetated garden, choosing the toughest plants and get rarities annually. Rarities have included, Crested Lark in 09, just outside the garden, Dark eyed junco, Dusky raddes, Icuerine (2), Pallass’s and Melodius Warblers and a recent Red breasted Flycatcher. Also had several Bee-eaters including on one of the wires opposite. In all there have been 17 species of Warbler’s recorded. The garden is a magnet as no garden has the same thick cover, 2 ponds and fresh dripping water are attractive to tired migrants and the garden is often alive with common migrants at peak times. Fly overs have included Black and White Storks, Golden Oriole, Alpine Swift and Black Kite. All of which I found from viewing from my garden. There was an article about my Garden in Sept ’11’ BirdWatch mag. “Green haven in sea of shingle”. All birds have been on the Dungeness Bird Obs website. I always keep my eyes open for birds turning up and D.B.O.D have been a great help.

    1. Martin Garner

      Hi Dave

      hey sounds like a good idea- well you will do very well in it anyway- what a cool place to live.I was there in feb this year and a place I have always enjoyed visiting. Next time I need to check out your garden!

      thanks Martin

      1. Dave Bunney

        You are welcome to visit, but come during Migration time, can be very quiet at other times, I can watch it 24/7, due to the nature of my job and if anything is found I put the news out. I am sure there will be more good stuff to come. Any info on such gardens would be of interest to me, you don’t see them written about very often.
        All the best
        Dave Bunney

Leave a Reply