Tuesday, 25 September 2012

947 miles for a Magnolia Dip.

A pager message on Sunday evening temporarily turned my life upside down.
***  MEGA  ***
Fair Isle

Fair Isle is a remote island between The Shetlands and The Orkneys. And it's not easy to get to, especially when the whole twitching community all wants to get there at the same time. If I had plenty of time I could drive to Aberdeen and get an overnight boat to Lerwick on the Shetlands, then a flight over to Fair Isle if it had seats, or a place on the once weekly boat across, which takes twelve passengers along with its precious cargo which keeps the island alive.
But that wouldn't see me on Fair Isle till Tuesday at the earliest. What chance of the bird sticking around that long? And goodness knows what day I'd be able to get back off and home. I would miss all my other commitments next week.
Flying on to Shetland might speed things up, but since the flights were taken over by Flybe they have become prohibitively expensive. Over £200 one way from Aberdeen, over £400 from Birmingham. Not an option.

To cut a long story short, several phone calls later and I had a place on a private plane from Wick. Several planes had been booked to go from various air fields in England, and the pilots from one company were happy to use their planes to shuttle birders to and from Wick airport, in the far North-East corner of Shetland.
We put together a crew and I prepared for the long drive North. The ever-patient Sue was put in charge of looking after the animals in my absence!

We drove through the most abominable weather until, in the early hours of Monday morning, we found ourselves here...

Monday 24th September 2012
Looking for Crossbills at first light in Speyside, at the foot of the Cairngorms.
All we needed now was a message that the Magnolia Warbler was still there this morning and we could complete the final stage of our drive up to Wick to meet the plane.
Just one problem. About half past 7 we received the news we did not want to hear. No sign of the Magnolia Warbler so far.
This was not good. But there was still a chance it would appear or be found nearby, so we decided to spend our time looking for some of the Scottish speciality birds in the Caledonian pine forest. But we drew a complete blank here too, compounded by the continued news that the Magnolia Warbler had still not been found.

Unfortunately for this one,
someone ignored the sign.
But we did see a couple alive too.


Realistically we had a deadline of between 10 and 11 o'clock, otherwise there would not be time to get on the island, so as that time came and went we headed south. Driving down the coast of Northumberland the Easterly winds got stronger and stronger, accompanied by squalls of showers. A White's Thrush was found on the Farne Islands, just a few miles from where we were, but there was no chance of any boats running today. Good job that all in the car had already seen one. The pager messages just kept flooding in. Those howling Eastrlies had predictably lured a queue of birds waiting for the right conditions to cross the North Sea, but they had flown into the face of a storm of torrential rain caused by a weather system heading up through the country. The result, the whole east coast of Britain showered in birds, the rarest of them in the Northern Isles.

We took advantage of low tide to drive onto Holy Island and sought any sheltered spots where birds might take refuge. This brought us to the vicar's garden, right next to the ancient Lindisfarne Priory. A few birds were flitting about in the wind-battered sycamores, but as soon as they attempted to move they were being blown around and would end up hundreds of yards away. But we did manage to see a few Redstarts, a couple of Spotted Flycatchers, a Ring Ouzel, Brambling and, best of all, a Common Rosefinch. And over the beach a couple of young Long-tailed Skuas harassing the local terns before resting on the sand. 

Still no sign of the Magnolia Warbler though, and if it was found now we would have to start the whole quest again tomorrow.

So nothing to do but continue the long drive back to The Fens.

I wonder what birds have taken refuge in the farm hedgerows and trees while I have been away. I will probably never know, unless they're still there in the morning.

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