Friday 21 October 2016

OK. Let's Catch Up with the Days . . . and the Tension Builds.

Internet has been difficult to access so photographs will be added later

Sunday 16th October strong to gale force SE heavy rain AM

It is very early morning and a gale is blowing outside. Heavy rain is forecast so, feeling a little stir crazy, I text The Oracle with birding lyrics inspired by some of my favourite comedy music from the distant past.......

Hello Mudder
Hello Fadder
Here I am at Grutness Harbour
Here on Shetland
A gale is blowing
And the rain falls hard so nowhere I'll be going.

It seems ages
I've been stuck here
Bike is broken
Weather I fear
No boat coming
From the Fair Isle
I'll just wait and sing my songs which are so puerile.

Take me home
Oh Mudder, Fadder
I'll not roam.
Won't go no farther
Can't one see that cycling's hurting me
Only sardines for my tea.


Then there's the old folk music classic . . .

Oh I'm going to the Fairest isle
I go there every Autumn
I search for birds
From dawn to dusk
And cry when I don't find them

And then a silly song with a wink to Charlie Drake.....

On the distant isle of Shetland
just a few days ago.
A first for Britain bird had left the hill
To where we do not know

I've got a lot of trouble Hugh
On account of a birding lack
Now tell me what's your trouble Gaz

The accentor won't come back

The accentor won't come back?

The accentor won't come back
The accentor won't come back
I've walked the hill all over that place
searched in stingers right into my face.
But of the sibe there's just no trace
The accentor won't come back

The pied wheatear was good
Yeah The bunting was too
Yeah, yeah
but the accentor is better than both of those two
The accentor won't come back

They banished him off to Fair Isle
Great birds for him to see
He had to list some new birds soon
The champion then he'd be

This is nice innit?
Getting banished at my time of life.
What a way to spend an evening.
Sitting by a geo on the edge of a cliff with some bins in my hand.
I shall very likely get pushed off!



Nasty woolly animal

Think I'll make a nice cup of tea,

bonk, bonk, bonk, bonk.

Good gracious. There's goes a nice great skua.
Must have a practice with my binoculars.
Look at him as he flies past,
Now slowly to my eyes and . . .

If you look at me I'll bonk you right on your head.
Ak ak ak ak

Aint it marvellous?
An isle covered in bonxies and I have to choose that one.

For three long hours he sat there
or slept 'til it was four
Then an old, old man in a Sunderland shirt
Told him not to snore

Now I'm the Fair Isle warden boy
They call me Sunderland Jack
Now tell me what's your trouble boy

The accentor won't come back!

The accentor won't come back?

The accentor won't come back
The accentor won't come back
I've walked the hill all over that place
searched in stingers right into my face.
But of the sibe there's just no trace
The accentor won't come back

Don't worry Prez
I know the bird
It's here
To you I'll show it.
If you want to see the accentor lift your bins
It's there
you know it?

Oh yeah.
Never thought of that
Daddy will be pleased.
Must have a go.
Excuse me.
Now slowly up and . . look.

Oh my Gawd
It's just a dunnock

Can you find a Sibe accentor

Don't talk to me about a Sibe accentor Gaz
You owe me for showing you the dunnock
I learnt you for using your binoculars.
First thing first.

Yeah I know that
but I think that on this occasion … . . .

(fade and end)

The rain still pours outside, the gale still blows and sea froth is flying past la fenetre. One last song........

Oh, Any new birds?
Any new birds?
Any new birds on Fair Isle?
It looks neat
a new bird is a treat
It would be special and would get me off my seat
I'm dressed in style
Haven't washed for a while
With my father's old green shirt on.
No I wouldn't give you tuppence for an old moorhen
Let's find birds
Some new birds

Just a week or two ago
Whilst on 2 and 99
Dave found an olive pip
I thought that would be find
So next day I popped along
to see the Sibe I hoped
Saw Lee Gregory
Using his 'scope.
I rushed along
Pushed him out the way
Thought I saw the pipit
and I began to pray
I rushed around and saw the bird
300 on the list
A lot of birders followed me
They thought that I was ****ed.

Oh, any new birds?
Any new birds?
Any new birds on Fair Isle?
It looks neat
this new bird is a treat
It's really special and has got me off my seat.
dressed in style
Haven't washed for a while
With my father's old green shirt on.
No I wouldn't give you tuppence for an old moorhen
Let's find birds
Some new birds

And now The Oracle would like to give you a hoopoe call
Go on Phil

I would like to continue this birding list that you've just heard with my hoopoe. Thank you.

Hoo hoo poo

hoo hoo poo


Oh temperamental ain't he!

WAIT A MINUTE......... a phone call from, coincidentally, The Oracle......note a phone call . . . not a text. This means a good bird.

Isabelline wheatear, Near the Loch of Spiggie.

Forget the fact that a gale is blowing and it is raining hard, it is another very rare wheatear. I need it.

The wind blows me there, well almost. It blows me along until I reach the northern shore of the large loch. Then it is a case of head into the wind and push until I get to the road junction where the rare bird has been seen.
I arrive. Six other birders are there. “It is in my 'scope,” says one.
Isabelline wheatear, bird number 304. A small looking wheatear, rather a dull overall appearance with a rusty peach colour on the breast except for feathers that are displaced by the water from the rain and terrain. Long black legs, creamy throat with a black bill and eyes, pale underparts. I need to see the tail pattern.
The bird keeps walking around the edge of this manured field. Photographers go closer. The bird flies briefly.
Job done, I can relax and two of the birders, Marco from London and Peter from the Cairngorms; the latter I met on last year's trip as I searched his area for ptarmigan successfully, chat and take a few photographs of a bedraggled but very happy me. Great pair.
Roger Riddington, the British Birds magazine editor arrives and congratulates me on reaching 300. He even pats me on my back!
Time to search elsewhere, I head off into the wind finding a flock of around fifty barnacle geese down by the polluted loch. No fishing or bathing (!) here, too polluted. How sad. No actually, how appalling!
Back onto the main road towards Sumburgh I have to push up hills to make any headway into the wind. Near to the top of one a bus driver, Dougie, stops to ask if I would like a lift. I thank him for his kindness and tell him that I cannot accept the offer. Just before that another Dougie had stopped his car to tell me that he was following my progress and was a Facebook friend, Dougie Preston. Brief encounters such as these really keep me going. Wonderful people.
Waders on the beach at Virkie are the usual candidates; redshank, sanderling, dunlin and turnstone.
Down and around Scatness, thrushes, mostly redwings. Also blackcaps, blackbirds and chiff chaffs.
Into the Sumburgh Hotel and a cup of coffee given free. I must be looking bad. A tad tired I am grateful for it. That will be a donation and I note that down in my notebook. In fact I need to collate the donations from the last couple of days. There's money for the chocolate bar found on the bike, money for this coffee, a donation from a couple, who say they saw me on BBC Springwatch last year, named Margaret and Martin from Cambridge, Paul Sclater and Michael.
An evening in the bar of the hotel before retiring to my 'abode' was great with bloke-ish company of locals and workers from Glasgow mixed together sharing banter. One of them, Neil, offers a drink but as I have only £2.09 I can't accept the offer as I wouldn't be able to reciprocate. The problem is with my bank. They are unable to transfer money from my savings to my current over the phone. Apologies are given by the customer service staff and even advice sought from advisers but to no avail.
Tea later was sandwich spread and Marmite on bread.... yummy!

Monday 17th October strong to gale force SE dry and cloudy

Up Sumburgh Head after searching the Grutness garden and quarries along the road to the former first. In the first quarry I find a barred warbler and text Phil, The Oracle to place news of the bird on RBA (Rare Bird Alert)
Dan Poignton turns up and the warbler flies out between us. “Oh, you've found the barred then.” He had found sometime before me.
Robins and thrushes are on the dry stone walls and in the fields; birds are moving.
Getting up to the RSPB Lighthouse, after stopping to photograph Darth Vader of course, is extremely difficult due to the gale. Snow flake sea suds are flying in a tempest past me as I struggle to get up the steep climb. Past the fibre glass orca, I eventually get to the to top and view down the right hand geo. Three bramblings are feeding down there and a few goldcrests and blackcaps. More of the same, with robins, thrushes and blackbirds are in the revamped Lighthouse garden. A lot of money has been spent on the area and lighthouse buildings and despite everything being closed due to the lateness of the season, it is amazing to stand on platforms looking over to Scatness Bay and beyond.
Nowadays there are even self-catering apartments and in one of them are three very attractive young ladies, Jill, Andrea and Catherine. There first time here and with no car, they ask about what is local and of interest and I tell them of Shetland's best Viking spot, Harlshof and a couple more archaeological sires including Old Scatness. Selfies are taken.
I knock on the window of the RSPB office and meet Helen again, a superb RSPB staff member. Great to be re-acquainted.
Outside again, I meet Martin who works at monitoring seabirds and the effects of the local oil industry. Martin gives a donation and tells me about how any oil found on bird carcases can be identified to the country and even the field of origin.
A text from The Oracle,
White's thrush at Spiggie Hotel.
An hour or so later I am there to find that the inimitable Dan Poignton has found the bird, that it has flown off and everyone is searching for it.
Dan heads off across the valley to Scousborouh and I go the garden where it was originally seen. I knock on the door of the house belonging to the garden's owner and give the owner, a lovely lady called Jemyna, a chocolate bar and say thank you for letting birders search around. Jemyna chats, OK and so do I, about birds, the history of the area, especially the history of the hotel and her own family history. She tells me that her interest is in finding out about this and that she has managed to go back to the 1850s. Jemyna remembers meeting my late best friend, Gordon Barnes when he used to stay there in the 1960s and I tell her that when I return to Fair Isle I will buy Gordon's book and post it to her.
Off in search of the White's again, I find yellow-browed warblers and other common migrants. A moorhen is my most unusual find as it scampers into a tunnel beneath a huge pile of manure when it spots me.
Meeting up with Dan again, with the White's no where to be found, I complain.
You find a White's thrush, I find a moorhen!”
I may have said it before but Dan Poignton is a phenomenal young birder, one of the best bird finders in Britain. Tireless and immense,I can only stand and admire his strength and skills, knowledge and drive.
Cycling/pushing towards the main road a large car stops and out pops Logan, the young birder I had met a couple of times on Fair Isle. He was hoping to see the White's thrush. He is with an ex-South African, Paula. Paula empties her purse of coins into my collection boxes (hint!) and gives me a small cuddly owl to join in the company of heroes on the bike. “Call him Spiggie,” I am instructed.
Logan has something to show me, a sadly dead Northern form of the long-tailed tit. With it's pure white head it is wonderful to hold one but oh, for a live one; a real ambition bird. Logan will become a superb birder one day. With Paul Harvey's old binoculars around his neck, a South Shetland megastar birder, he can't go wrong. To be in the presence of extremely talented and famous birders such as Paul Harvey, Roger Riddington, Steve Minton, Nick Diamond etc. on South Shetland as well as the superb Fair Isle Bird Observatory team of David Parnaby, Cairan, Chris and Lee, and the ex-wardens who still live on the island, Nick and Deryk, how can he go wrong? Reach for the stars Logan.
In the Sumburgh Hotel again for the evening, my teaching pension has been paid into my current account and for the first time for over a week I can have a meal; haddock and chips followed by a magnificent hunk of cheesecake.
Late in the evening as I go to leave, the lads ask why am I doing all of this and on hearing “for charity” they insist I come back whence I return from Fair Isle.
Fair Isle. I return tomorrow, if the gale abates, the seas calm down and the Good Shepherd sails. There are three new birds for my year list on Fair Isle. Coincidentally I need three new birds for the European record, 307, Bean goose, Siberian stonechat and pine bunting.
Will I get there and will I get the birds? 

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