Wednesday 11 April 2012


I've just spent the last two days guiding a South African birder & photographer around the isle. He was on a whistle-stop tour of the northern isles - with a view to make a longer trip in the future. He was a throughly nice bloke, full of interesting stories of the places he has been and characters he has met. Although it's a bit early in the season (and the winds were wrong) for much migration he seemed pleased with what I could offer him - including good views of the pair of Peregrines, close-ups of a Gannet colony and some stunning scenery. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, I didn't manage to get him a Puffin photo opportunity - even though birds were ashore when I went for a recce on Friday evening. We saw a few in the water but not a single bird came onto land. I also failed to secure him a nicely posed Long-eared Owl - but that wasn't my fault, it was flushed by some other over-eager photographers before we could get there! We went in pursuit and saw it only briefly at Kenaby. He left happy though, sporting a FIBO beanie (a much better garment than the one he arrived with!) and the proud owner of a sweater!
Today, the three youngest kids came back - all tired out after their ski-ing holiday with Grandma & Grandad, but excited to be home. Its lovely to have them back and I set them to work straight away. We gathered the ewes and sorted out those closest to lambing (18 of them) and moved them into the park next to the house - much to Munter the Ram's excitement, though this was short-lived as he was shifted into the haypark! So, shed cleaned out and partitioned, straw spread, feeding troughs/ring moved, silage bales transported............and we are all ready for lambs! Bring it on! Speaking of lambing, our other child, Lachlan, is enjoying his 'work' experience in the Borders, despite the 4am start he had this morning. He phoned this evening with tales of all the lambs he has proudly delivered.
Back on Fair Isle, lambing is in full swing at Setter now, including a set of quads and an eye-watering monster single!! The Obs is starting to fill up with staff, with David & Gillian arriving on the morning plane and regular returnee Becki Rosser in the afternoon! Meanwhile, Sarah (the workcamp Vet) also arrived to help Dave Wheeler with the lambing at Field - very much appreciated I am sure!

Saturday 7 April 2012

Wheresmekeys? Wheresmephone?

So, it took a bit longer than even I anticipated but for anyone who hasn't died waiting for it here is that update......
Today just happens to be the 13th anniversary of my arrival on Fair Isle. Thirteen years!!!!! Where did the years go?  Well I only had one child when I arrived (with Hollie), but now have four (!) so I know where some of them have gone - children certainly take the years off many ways!
So, what has happened at Burkle in the most recent of those years?
Lachlan made it into Vet School in Edinburgh. He is working hard but enjoying it and in his first year exams gained a distinction! Two proud parents at home! He is currently spending his Easter holidays lambing at a farm near Hawick.
Fyntan is also away from home now at the Anderson High School in Lerwick. Like his brother before him, he is doing very well academically and is just loving playing for a football team. We were concerned about him going away to the hostel, only getting home every third weekend. Everything is not perfect but on the whole he is coping better than we thought he might.
So this means Raven is the second eldest at the local primary school. She has stepped up to the mark with the maturity required. She is delightful daughter!
Ythan meanhwhile is still the loveable clown he was a year ago, just a bit taller!
Hollie has turned FORTY, is the school secretary and has started her own knitting company!!!!
I am working at this and that to bring money in to the house - ferryman, fireman, coastguard, roads, windmills, obs maintenance. Plus crofting in my 'spare' time! We sold 23 lambs in the autumn and got a good price.
Our flock has increased to 28 ewes now so should have more lambs to sell this autumn. Our lambing starts on 14th April but unfortunately I've lost one already - aborted this morning!
One other loss last year was our beautiful dog Lubo, who we had to have put down due to his sometime tendency to bite strangers. It was a very traumatic period of our fledgling crofting lives as he was such a lovely animal but obviously had a slight screw loose so we couldn't trust him. It took us all a long time to get over but a working croft needs a sheepdog so we now have Kes, who is also a loveable animal and now seven months is learning his trade.
Birdwise, I was delighted to add Pallid Harrier and White-winged Tern to my Fair Isle list.....and also a less glamorous Lesser Scaup - which was the first for Fair Isle.
I'll end with news that I start my guiding career on Monday - guiding for a globe-trotting South African birder for two days. Looking forward to it!
Almost finally, you may be wondering about the title to this post - take a look at a replay of tonight's Britains (not) Got Talent!!
 And finally, but certainly not insignificantly CELTIC WERE CROWNED CHAMPIONS TODAY!!!!!!!!

Saturday 17 March 2012

He Lives!

Its been almost a year since my last blog entry, so look out for an update soon!

Monday 11 April 2011


Saturday was boat day for me. Neil picked me up at 0700 and in thick fog we set sail for Grutness. There was a small swell but nothing to worry about but birding/cetacean searching was pointless due to the fog. We arrived in good time at 1015. There was a huge amount of stuff to load and try as we might we could not get it all onboard - we had to leave two pallets of animal feed and it wasn't until 1330 that we headed for home once more, tummys full with Hol's shepherd's pie! I eventually came back to Burkle at 1800 and everyone was due at a dance at the hall at 1900!!! A cup of tea, check the sheep, shave and shower and then to the dance! It was the postponed 'mens dance' from New Year so we all sat down for food, wine and a raffle (no I didn't win anything - I never do, in fact all the prizes went to a select few multiple winners!!!) followed witth a few childrens games and some dancing. It was all over by 2330, by which time I was sat in front of the TV with Lachlan, trying to keep my eyes open to watch 'Match of the Day'.

Right on cue, early on Sunday morning (10th), our first lambs appeared - a set of twins to 'Two Nicks'. Hollie looked out the bedroom window at 0630 but said she could only see three sheep so would have to get up to go to check. She went to the bathroom and I had squint out the window and spotted her (the ewe, not Hol) in the bottom corner of the field with two cleaned-up lambs. We hurriedly dressed and went to see them, I checked them over (one of each), sprayed and named them 'Blue One' and 'Red One'. It was a damp morning but calm and it felt like it was going to be a really nice day. Two Swallows (the first of the year) flew past. We came back inside and an hour or so later, Raven got up and was very excited to see them, but said we could not use those names, so she named them Ginnie & Ron - who are apparently two characters from 'Harry Potter'. Anyway, whatever their names they are very healthy and feeding well. 

Hawfinch - on the garden list!
Other new arrivals on Sunday included Sand Martins, House Martins, Willow Warbler and Blackcap. This morning (Monday) a nice male Hawfinch was hopping around the garden and it found its way into the chick coop and couldn't get out. I therefore seized the opportunity to get Hawfinch on the Burkle ringing list and quickly and safely cornered it and transferred it to a bird bag. I phoned the Obs to see if anybody there would like to see it. The bus rolled up a short while later with a full complement of (current) Obs staff and one of them was delighted to be given the opportunity to handle and ring such a smart bird.

A Happy Anonymous Ringer!

Obs crews - new and old!

Wednesday 6 April 2011

Welcome Home!

I'm not sure what to say.... We (myself & wife Hollie) have been 'officially retired' from FIBO for nearly a week now, following a month-long handover period to the new Warden & Administrator, David & Susannah Parnaby. However we are still working hard to make the start of the new era as smooth as possible so are still doing several hours a day for FIBO. For example, we spent most of yesterday making a list of amendments/photos for the FIBO website and the evening choosing Rebecca Nason canvases for the guest rooms. We would like to produce a farewell Newsletter and of course I have the 2009/2010 FIBO Report to complete. Hollie is also still helping Susannah out with bookings, accounts etc. So we have not severed our FIBO ties yet!! Its quite a hard thing to do, to hand over your baby to somebody else. Its been a pretty steep learning curve for David & Susannah and until the rest of the staff arrive (only the two AWs are here at present) and the season gets underway proper they will not really have a true indication of the job, but at least we know we have done/are doing our very best to help them with the transition. I hope they are looking forward to the challenge and am sure they will find their feet and do well.
So, FIBO aside I am desperately trying to find time to get the croft ready for lambing - first ones are due this weekend. A couple of promiscuous ewes have already lambed elsewhere on the isle!! Baaaad Sheep!
We only have 18 ewes in lamb (10 Cheviot crosses and 8 Shetland) and all are looking nice and round, getting fatter on ewe nuts. I only have one bale of silage leftI have been trying to decide how to move things around so that ewes are in a convenient place for lambing and the year-olds have enough grazing and Munter (our extra-friendly Texel Ram) doesn't feel left out! Before I can do this however I have a couple of fences to complete! I thought I had it all planned out when Iain Stout dropped by today and came up with an absolute Masterplan. "Why not put the first nine ewes to lamb in the wee park next to the house. You can then keep an eye on them at night from your bedroom window!!?" Genius!!! So that's tomorrow's priority - Fencing and then moving sheep.

Lubo, one of the best arrivals at Burkle! June 2009

Burkle house became a whole lot busier and noisier today! All the kids came home, following either a week away in Edinburgh/Glasgow looking at University accommodation (Lachlan) or two weeks away with Grandma & Grandad in Kent/Norway. Lachlan has finally decided he wants to go to Edinburgh Vet School (the fact that his girlfriend and best friend are going there may perhaps have something to do with it!?). The younger ones were keen to show us their photos and videos of them ski-ing/snowboarding and it would appear they had a great holiday. Lubo (the dog) was ultra-excited to see them all!! And Raven had to run over and greet the ponies. Fyn didn't seem that keen to go and kiss the chickens! Hmmm! Wonder why?

Bird News: Well, spring is definitely here (the grass has suddenly turned green in the past week) and it is definitely a bit warmer (even double figures some days!). Wheatears, Bonxies, Chiffchaffs, Dunnocks and Goldcrests are just some of the species that have been added to the yearlist in the past couple of weeks. Rather than just repeat what is already on the FIBO website just use this link to keep up to date

Brown-headed Cowbird, the rarest bird on the garden list to date! May 2009

Saturday 2 April 2011


Well, my post-FIBO life begins here.......and will have to get back to you later as I've got to meet the boat!