Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Scilly stories (1)

It's October, and once-upon-a-time that used to mean that I would be embarking on a trip to the fabled Isles of Scilly. As a callow youth I had heard tales about the birding wonders that they offered. The previous autumn of 1975 had set new ornithological highs with Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and Black-and-white Warbler, together with a stunning back-up that even today would get the UK400 club weak at the knees. I didn't go in 76 or 77, but 1978 saw me unexpectedly sitting on the Scillonian one Saturday morning as part of a long-distance twitch. A Semi-palmated Plover had been found on St Agnes, a bird new for Britain and new for me in many ways as I had never heard of one before. The journey across was uneventful. As we docked, I felt as if I were undergoing a rite of passage. I was here...

To cut a long story short, we saw the Plover (oh so boring), waltzed around the island in double quick time (RB Fly, RB Shrike), back onto St Mary's (LB Dowitcher), dossed in the harbour waiting room (I bet that doesn't happen now!), spent Sunday on Tresco (Black Duck) and then... the weekend got more interesting.

An Isabelline Shrike had been trapped at Winspit in Dorset. The team I was with all needed it. Monday saw us first in the queue at the airport to buy the last four seats on the helicopter. Our return journey on the Scillonian would have questioned our ability to get to Winspit before dark. As the helicopter took off we all slapped each other on the back for being so damn smart to get the last four seats. After a quick stop at Hayle (Sociable Plover), we arrived at Winspit with plenty of daylight left. There was one slight problem though - no shrike. After kicking around the area for a few hours that status didn't change. The light was fading. We decided to give up and started to trudge back up the valley to the car, to be met by a group of birders who had left Scilly that morning on the Scillonian, the ship that we should have been on but for our speed at getting to the airport. Even though we told them that the shrike had gone they were all ecstatic. Hadn't we heard? Everyone on that sailing had watched a Black-browed Albertross sitting on the water. Everyone. No string, no three-birder fly past, they all saw it. We felt deflated. Had we not been so quick to the airport we would have seen it as well. I can distinctly remember one of our number saying, "F@*% me, when we got on that helicopter we thought we were the cat's pyjama's". Quite.


Jonathan Lethbridge said...

A great story Steve, it's stuff like this that makes birding so interesting.

Gavin Haig said...

Was 'loser' a legit term in 1978? Naturally I'm referring to our well known modern-day context, where its use is followed by much merriment and mockery! Classic!!