Let's get to Fair Isle. Yet first . . . . .
Friday 26th August
The ferry ride is reasonably smooth and the disembarkation likewise. Into the library to check on a few internet things and then a cycle to Cottisgarth RSPB reserve. Here there is a fabulous visitors' centre with a remarkable resonance when one sings. I sing the evening away as the sun sets over the nearby moorland hills.
Saturday 27th August
A ride over the hills and down to Harray to meet with a dear friend, Alastair Forsyth, beside an Orkney loch. Alastair has no interest in LBJ's, little brown jobs. Not for him the thrill of a quick flash of brown or warm brown or buff. No tertials and primary projections for he. No, he prefers to look through a large flock of ducks and just maybe find the one with a slightly different head shape, a slightly different bill. And thank goodness for that. Alastair has found an American duck, actually a ring-necked drake in eclipse. Eclipse meaning that nondescript plumage that many ducks take on during the Summer.
Bird number 277 goes onto the list. A male hen harrier drifts past, as does a sparrowhawk and eight ruff fly over the far shore of the loch.
Alan Beach, the local RSPB manager joins us. He asks me to say hello to David Parnaby, the warden of the Fair Isle Bird Observatory when I get there. That will be a pleasure.
The rest of the day is spent at Alastair's nearby house, with his wife Louise and one of their two daughters, Ellen. A lovely family of friends, we chat, observe what moths are within the moth trap from last night and look for hoverflies in their large garden. Alastair has a superb knowledge of both insect groups. The many moths in the trap include Northern spinach, snout, square-spot and rosy rustic, lesser bordered yellow underwing, dark arches and any large yellow underwings. There is also a new one for me, a chevron and one that has Alastair exclaiming with delight, a pink-barred sallow.
They talk of their garden birds after a hen harrier flies overhead, especially of Louise's thrill of seeing a white phase gyrfalcon on a fence post.
Louise believes that crystals give protection and she gives me a large whitish, heart-shaped crystal. This is for me to place in the ocean south of Fair Isle. The third one given, the other two are already in place; one protecting north Fair Isle, the other protecting the sea just south of Sumburgh Head, Shetland. I placed these thereon my previous Biking Birder trips; the former in 2010, the latter in 2015.
Ellen has a fascinating pet, a bearded dragon and holding him, well actually watching him climb my jumper is thrilling. Ellen has a beautiful Orcadian accent, a sing-song lilt lacking in my Brummie (Birmingham) monotone.
All too soon it is time to leave, the sun is setting and I need to get to the port in order to take the overnight ferry to Lerwick, Shetland.
Sunday 28th August
The ferry crosses a mill pond smooth sea and as Shetland place names come and go as the ship heads north towards Lerwick harbour; Sumburgh Head, Virkie, Channerwick, Mousa, I chat with an army veteran, Garry who is here to help ex veterans with a project called Military Veterans Agricultural Project.
Only the Cooperative supermarket is open on this the Sabbath and my dire need of new shoes will have to wait until tomorrow to be sorted.
I book into the Lerwick Youth Hostel and meet two Swiss girls from Berne.
After walking through the deserted town in order to suss out a suitable shoe shop, I return to more mundane things with laundry duties at the hostel. The hostel is a large Edwardian house with shining wooden stairways and large, high ceilinged rooms. A group of young under 12 year olds from Orkney are here with their teachers and coaches for a football tournament against their local rivals, Shetland. Considering their age they are remarkably quiet. Graham is a native of North Ronaldsay, the island I have just left and we talk about the people of the island, the Tullochs and of the observatory.
I receive a text from George Gay, the volunteer back at that Obs. “just had an icky warbler. You should have stayed.”
An hour or so later, another message; a Sykes warbler has been caught and ringed. Originally found by the ex-warden and announced as a booted warbler, the bird on being netted turned magically into a Syke's as measurements were taken. I am thrilled for everyone there. With an early morning wood warbler, that makes three birds that would have been new for my year list. I can only imaging the hilarity and excitement amongst the wonderful youngsters. They deserve such good fortune.
I watch an animation film, Megamind on Netflix and talk with an incredible German couple, Claudia and Michael from a town in Bavaria. They are cycling tourists practising for a three year cycle together around the World that they will start next year. They are preparing a website, www.2like2bike. I must keep in touch to see how this inspiring couple are getting on. Maybe we will meet up in Peru!