Birds of Fair Isle

See some of Britain’s rarest winged wildlife

Antarctic Peninsula

Region: Arctic

Destinations: Fair Isle

Fair Isle: best known for the birds

Of the many great birdwatching locations we endeavor to visit, Fair Isle is among the most popular. The island is located roughly halfway between the Orkney Islands and the Mainland of Shetland, and apart from its traditional knitting style is perhaps best known for its bird life. On Fair Isle you might even see a few rare species of bird, including Pallas’s grasshopper warbler, Pechora pipit, lanceola warbler, Caspian plover, and calandra lark. From April to August, the cliffs that surround Fair Isle are packed with seabirds such as razorbills, storm petrels, northern fulmars, kittiwakes, and guillemots.

The Fair Isle Bird Observatory and Guesthouse

The avian life of Fair Isle is so noteworthy that the island supports its own fully functional bird observatory and guesthouse. Built in 1948, the thoroughly outfitted observatory is a fantastic place to watch bird migration, providing an unusually comfortable level of lodging for such a place. Many record sightings of rare birds have been made either at the observatory or on Fair Isle in general, supporting claims that the island is perhaps the best location in Britain to view rare birds.

Knitting, the Norse, and other Fair Isle facts

Another feature for which Fair Isle is known is its traditional style of knitting, which can be identified by its “stranded colorwork” pattern. Named after the island itself, Fair Isle knitting uses a pallet of around five colors, two colors per row. Long before such Scottish innovations, another group of inhabitants claimed Fair Isle: the Norse. Many of the island’s place names, in fact, come from Norse settlements dating as far back as the 800s. Fair Island has also been the site of two shipwrecks, one of them a 16th century Spanish Armada flagship and the other a 19th century Canadian sailing vessel.

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