October 1979. The Scillonian docked at St. Mary's and my first task was...to find somewhere to stay. At this time the previous day I had no idea that I would be on the fabled isles. I was in a studio at art college, charcoal in hand, nude model across the room (don't get too excited, think Ann Widdicombe), but a birding mate of mine was starting a two-week birding break and I just couldn't resist it. I got a lift down with him overnight from London, but accommodation would be a problem for me. He was staying in a flat that was already oversubscribed with birders to the point that there were people sleeping in the kitchen (I bet that now the flats are empty in late October). The prevoius autumn I had 'dossed' in the waiting room at the quay, but rumour had it the island authorities had cracked down on this type of behaviour, and the waiting room door was locked at night.
I quickly found a B&B, comfortable and not to expensive. The landlady was a pleasant soul, her husband a grumpy old git. You can tell from this laid back approach that there wasn't anything mega to go and see straight away. By early afternoon I was strolling around and had seen a Tawny Pipt and a Short-toed Lark (both on the golf course), when news of a Rustic Bunting broke - a bird that I needed. No sooner had I seen that than a kefuffle started at the end of the viewing line of birders and they start running away, to what we didn't know. I joined them, along with twenty or thirty others, a tangle of tripods, bags and ex-military clothing, a kakhi snake wiggling its way along a St.Mary's lane. After 400m the birders ahead of us had stopped and were looking at something. My mind raced well ahead of itself, all thoughts of American warblers and unheard of asian gems. But it was just a Subalpine Warbler, albeit a smart male. And I 'needed' it.
The two weeks were rather poor if truth be told, the best bird being a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak that was elusive and took me three days to catch up with, but when it did fly over my head, showing off the intense crimson underwing, it was worth the wait. There was also the Blyth's Reed Warbler (horrendously rare at the time) that, after being trapped, turned out to be a Marsh Warbler. I relayed that tale on the original North Downs and Beyond blog.
On my return to art college (after being missing for a fortnight), my tutor asked me where I had been. Thinking on my feet I lied that there had been a family crisis that was rather personal, and that I didn't want to talk about it. He accepted it and no more was said. Phew...