Friday, 21 October 2016
Fair Isle Again
Tuesday 18th October very light SW Very sunny
I am up very early, too early for daylight and I spend the dawn going outside to marvel at the speed in which weather can change on Shetland. Yesterday's gale has gone and the Moon is shining in a clear sky. Has the Moon taken away the birds I need? That won't matter if the Good Shepherd doesn't come.
I wash the windows and mop the floor of the place where I have slept for the last three nights. Breakfast is simple and light; just enough to settle my stomach for the gut churning boat ride and not too much.
9:30AM, the Good Shepherd comes into view around the headland. I will get to Fair isle today.
Noon, we set off. My plan for avoiding the usual sea sickness is to stay on deck, hold on to the rails for dear life and sing/whistle Rock music the whole way.
Joe Jackson, Juzzie Smith, Pink Floyd; it seems to be working and I even record my dreadful tones in order to concentrate on that instead of the deeply rocking boat. Rock on Prezza!
At times it amazes me that the boat doesn't capsize as the large swell barrels us one way and another.
Deryk comes out and asks me whether I am suspicious. The boat's Captain is, whistling is not allowed. Whistle in a storm.
It is so hard not to whistle to the guitar parts but tapping the rail as a form of air guitar keeps my mouth shut.
Emerson, Lake and Palmer's Pirates song with full orchestra seems appropriate somehow. “Who'll drink a toast with me, to the Devil and the deep blue sea?”
Three hours. Never has a harbour looked so wonderful. No sickness and I am off the boat fast.
Rachel, Florrie, Joe and Mati greet me with smiles and comments. Another lady on the quay I have never met before, Margo. We talk about singing as I tell her my new successful strategy. On hearing that I saw a TV programme about Ella Fitzgerald the previous evening, this wonderful Young at Hear lady starts to sing an Ella classic and what fabulous voice! I tell her and her husband Bill tat she must be recorded.
Right, mid-afternoon, three bird species to find but where are they?
I push the heavily laden bike up the hill past the Bird Observatory. A shout from the balcony of the same and there is Lee Gregory with his usual massive smile and next to him . . . Jumbo! Two fantastic friends to give me instructions quickly. Jumbo, who's real name is Clive, together with his birding bud, Gary are from Essex and we have met up on Fair Isle a couple of times before. Two brilliant blokes and birders, it is really fabulous to see them here again.
Bean goose, field by Upper Stoneybrek. Getting there to find no geese, I carry on along the road down to Lower Stoneybrek. A small flock of geese are here. Two white-fronted geese, a Gair Isle tick for me, a single barnacle goose, some greylags and a few pink-foots and …...
Bean Geese! Bird number 305, two to go.
Photographs quickly taken, I am off for South harbour where a very rare form of the Siberian stonechat is on the beach, Stejneger's, or so it is thought to be. “Piece of cake,” texts Lee. I'll meet you at Quoy for the pine bunting in about 30 minutes.
I get down to South Harbour and find a large log seat next to a beach as per the instructions given. No stonechat. I search the low cliffs and rocks around there and the graveyard. No stonechat. Piece of cake? It must be me.
Another birder comes part the Puffin National Trust for Scotland hostel, David, a birder I had met and got on with before leaving the island for the Siberian accentor dip. He is looking for purple sandpipers but he quickly tells me I have the wrong beach. There is another smaller log bench on the one over there. Looking in the direction he is pointing I can see the superb bird photographer, Steve Arlow, sitting near to that bench aiming his large camera at a bird on the beach in front of him. As I cycle off I hear David shout for joy; purple sandpiper onto his Fair Isle year list.
Bike left by the style, I run over to where Steve is photographing a mega rare bird for Fair Isle, a blue tit!
A little further away along the beach is . . . . .
Stejneger's stonechat, bird number 306, level with Ponc Feliu Latorre. One to beat the magnificent Spanish Green Birder. Thanks Steve!
Quoy. Another birder is there, Shaun from Poole in Dorset. No sign of any buntings, the first year pine bunting has been seen with yellowhammers. Lee arrives and a bird flies in to land on a bit of vegetation next to the netted enclosure in Stuart Thompson's vegetable garden.
I look at he bird. I photograph the bird. I know what it is but I quietly say to Lee, “is that it?”
Pine bunting, bird number 307.
Ladies and gentlemen, behold the NEW EUROPEAN GREEN BIRDING CHAMPION!
Gary Prescott aka The Biking Birder has done it.
Ponc has been beaten. Spain has been beaten.
The British flag can be raised. “Bring the urn home.”
The bird flies away. I turn once more to Lee and say, “ Can I?” A simple nod.
I've done it! I've done it! I've gone and done it!
Tears and dancing, screams and dervish runs, hugs and high fives, handshakes and huge smiles.