Wednesday 19th October very light NE Very sunny
My morning starts with joining Lee Gregory on the early morning trap run; a walk around all of the active Heligoland traps with the intention of catching and ringing migrants. Early! It is practically still dark and yet Lee soon catches a superb hawfinch in the Gully trap. What a bill!
I need to improve my accommodation and spend the rest of the morning doing just that.
After lunch the intention is to ensure that each of yesterday's year tick birds, the bean goose, Stejneger's stonechat and pine bunting, are seen well and on a day where I haven't used carbon transport. I am very well aware that I have used ferries this year. Britain has a number of incredible islands and many are extremely good for vagrant birds, the absolute best of which is undoubtedly Fair Isle. Other than by pedalo my only way of accessing the riches to be had is by ferry and I have never pretended that this is anything other than the use of carbon whilst on a so-called Green Big Year. On Jim Royer's Green Birding website there is a large 'F' in brackets after my name denoting this.
So down to South Haven I go and spend a couple of hours first watching Deryk Shaw and his son, Ythan trying to mist net the bird so that a small DNA sample can be obtained for analysis. Then after they give up, the bird being very adept at avoiding the nest, I have the bird all to myself and sit on the rocks to enjoy such a fabulous bird, a bird with such a perky personality.
It repeatedly hops up about a foot or so (thirty CMS) to catch flies and perches on rocks close by. Occasionally it is chased by a rock pipit and disappears over a rocky promontory over to the next beach. It always returns though to the beach where I am sitting after just a couple of minutes.
One fascinating aspect of it's plumage is how the colour of the rump changes according to the light. Sometimes appearing rather dull when the sun is hidden by a small cloud; the weather by the way is warm and very sunny and I sit with the worry of getting sunburnt on the side of my face, and then the rump is a rich orange when the sun is out. A delightful, fascinating bird, which Lee Gregory tells me is exactly the same as the 'Portland bird.'
There are other birds amongst the rocks and stranded seaweed and some come very close to me indeed as I lie prone on the lowest rocks leaning against a grassy bank. Turnstones turn the seaweed, rock pipits and starlings catch flies and the rarest bird on Fair Isle is doing the same,
a blue tit.
Meeting a few birders along the road by Quoy, I find out that there has been a waxwing at the Bird Observatory. I neeeeeeed it! I phone Lee Gregory and he tells me that he has just caught a first year male waxwing in the Plantation Heligoland trap and is on his way to the Observatory to process the magnificent bird.
Cycling hard up the island, I catch up with lee by the Double Dyke trap and together we walk and chat. He is as close to me as a friend as my brother and talking with him is always a real pleasure. I am desperate to see what is in his bag; the waxwing inside is still and relaxed and probably wondering how on earth it got in this pickle.
At the Observatory I wait outside the back door by the ringing room and await the arrival of the bird.
Lee and Cairan come out and there it is being gently held in Lee's hands. Photographs, admiring smiles and comments, the bird is passed to Cairan to release. Yet the bird doesn't want to go. It just sits on his hand. Minutes go by then eventually with a short squeak he flies, the waxing that is, into the nearby garden bushes. WOW! Or maybe . . WAB! What a bird!
Oh yeah, almost forgot.....
Waxwing, bird number 308.
Thursday 20th October very light E Very sunny
Orion, the Hunter is below a large Gibbous Moon as I stroll around the island. I have had a very poor night trying to sleep and having only snatches of dream-filled nightmares. It is only 5:00AM and it is still, cool and awe-inspiring. South Lighthouse has it's beam rotating and spreading the intermittent beam across the dark landscape. I walk around for over an hour as dawn starts to spread some pale orange light through thin clouds along the horizon to the east.
I return to my bike and with the light growing as the sunrise approaches, I start to search for my binoculars and camera. I left them somewhere last night and am not sure where! I put my earphones in to listen to Juzzie Smith, Good Vibrations and search in my usual places.
On reaching the Bird Observatory and finding my stuff in the boot room, there is panic all around. David Parnaby shouts, “possible Eastern Olivaceous warbler at Chalet!”
David gets the minibus and goes around the island picking up birders to see the rare bird. In the past a Land Rover did the same job with a red flag flying from it.
I cycle to Chalet. Steve Arlow has found yet another great rare bird but states that it is an icterine warbler. It comes out onto the fence and everyone agrees with him. Nice one Steve.
After ten minute or so everyone has gone and I have the bird to myself. Deryk Shaw and Micky arrive from Burkle to have a look. Micky is on the way to the airport for the first plane back to Shetland. His next port of call is Unst, the wonderful isle is the northern most island of The Shetlands. Another birder strolls past, Angus and another, Shaun. I tell Shaun of the long-eared owl that I have been told about at the ringing hut by the Plantation and he walkie talkie's the message to others.
I cycle there and there can't be many birds as easy to see; it sitting at base of a post beside the dry stone wall. It stares at me with large orange eyes as I sit down to watch and enjoy.
Shaun is coming from the Setter direction after I have waved to him that the bird is by me. He can't see it from where he is due to a bank obscuring his view.
Just as he gets to me and just as I am about to point out the bird, I get two strange text messages:
First text . . . Howard Vaughan
go go go go >>>> What??????
Second text Steve Nuttall
Hope you enjoy your Sibe accentor as much as me. The pain of missing the Shetland bird will make you appreciate it that much more
Me to Shaun “ I think there's a Siberian accentor on the island!”
third text . . . . Trevor Girling
Sibe acc troila geo fair isle. Go get it.
Fourth text . . . Gareth Hughes
I hope you are still on Fair Isle Mr!
Fifth text . . . . . Penny Clarke
Get that Siberian accentor!!!! Just come on RBA for fair Isle at Troila Geo!!! Best wishes Penny
Sixth text . . . . Phil 'The Oracle' Andrews
After almost seven weeks on the island I know the names of the geos and soon Shaun and I have trudged, climbed and reached Troila, .disturbing woodcocks on the way. Cairan is there. “It was here but went over the ridge. Lee is over there looking for it.”
Troila is a huge slope of scree and grass with a large rocky ridge half way down which prevents a view down to the beach. If it is down there this is not going to be easy. We all search frantically. Robins, wrens . . . .
Cairan thinks he has the bird.
“See the slab half way down, behind there!”
I can see a shuffling shape and, forgetting to change the ISO setting for the darkness of the geo, take a photograph of it. I show it to Cairan.
I phone Lee. “It's over here back in Troila.”
Over the next two hours the bird climbs ever closer and twenty or so birders get eye-popping views of a stunning, ever moving accentor; a shuffling, feeding dunnock with a badger's head. All the Bird Observatory staff are here sitting together on precarious ledges and the huge smiles denotes the wonder and excitement of Lee's find. Yes, Lee Gregory found it! The cherry on the icing on the rich fruit cake, Lee found it.
Deryk Shaw and Nick Riddiford are here. Tommy Hyndeman with his son, Henry and birders staying at the obs.
Some birders from the Aberdeen RSPB group have just got off the plane. Not a bad first bird to see on Fair Isle.
Even Micky is here. He was just about to get on the same plane when the news broke!
There is not only an intense pleasure in seeing a mega rarity, especially after dipping on the first for Britain one on Shetland last week, but add to that the delight in seeing everyone enjoying the occasion and the fact that my best friend on the island found it.
It dow ger any berra than this our kid!!!!!
No bird is officially on my Green Year list, or even my British life list come to that, until I phone and tell Mum and Dad. They may never understand the thrill, the desire and the commitment but they can enjoy hearing their oldest ecstatic.