|Needletail. Thanks to Josh Jones for letting me use his photos.|
In our minds, though no-one dared speak it, were thoughts of the air fare going down the drain and the chance of a Needletail going with it.
A Needletail. Dream bird.
If only the rear plate light had been working, we would not have been pulled over and we would still be hurtling our way towards Inverness Airport.
As it was, we were entertaining thoughts of the most disappointing breakdown ever. If necessary, we would have dumped the car in the services and found a way, any way, to get to Inverness. But time was against us and we just had to be on that flight.
No way could we even contemplate this costing us a Needletail.
A knock on the window and it was the friendly police officer suggesting that we try bump starting it, but to keep out of the way of the lorries. So, protected by the still flashing blue lights, Dan and I put our all into pushing the car along the hard shoulder. After several miles (well, it felt like that anyway) we had to stop. A heart attack really would spoil our chances of seeing a Needletail in the UK.
But Josh thought we should give it one more go. He thought the car just might start. So we did. And it did.
Crisis averted. Fair to say we would not be stopping again before we got to Inverness.
Just in case you're wondering what all the fuss was about... Needletail, fastest bird in the world, ultra, ultra rare, enigmatic, likely to disappear at any moment, but on the lists of so many of the old birders. Needletail. The ultimate catch-up bird. Needletail. White-throated Needletail.
And so soon on the heals of the Pacific Swift. Unbelievable.
So, at seven in the morning there we were, checked in, through security and taking full advantage of the Executive Lounge. Yes, that's right. The Executive Lounge! With free newspapers, free sweets, free coffee, free cakes. One of us even had a free Bailey's!
|Our plane - taken from the comfort of The Executive Lounge!|
We wasted no time in lowering the tone of the place.
The flight was short and a good job too. We were all absolutely hyped up for this bird. I couldn't keep still and my heart was racing (maybe something to do with the six shots of espresso macchiato I enjoyed in the Executive Lounge.)
Only at the weekend I was telling relatives how the Outer Hebrides were my favourite place to see rare birds in the whole of Britain, not quite expecting that just a few days later I would be coming in to land at Stornoway Airport.
We pulled up by the road overlooking the village at half past nine, where a small group of familiar birders stood looking strangely subdued. We baled out of the car before facing with the slow realisation that this morning's positive news had been an incompetent misinterpretation of a delayed twitter message - well, something like that, all a bit vague, Chinese whispers.
As the news sank in and we stood searching in vain for a flying bullet to appear over the village, the mood change was extreme, from tense excitement to desperate hope and despair. I dug deeply into my store of Stoicism. If they were all guaranteed, the edge would be taken off everything. Every now and then we need a dip to keep the successes special. The lows make the highs even better...
But a Needletail. Of all the birds to dip, a Needletail on the Outer Hebrides would surely test the resolve of the most optimistic of twitchers.
Just then, a phone call. STILL HERE. Over the loch just up the road. A scramble and then, THERE! THAT'S IT. Coming towards us. A brief view before we lost it. But seconds later it hurtled past.
Absolutely awesome. The low points of the last hour made it all the better. That dip could wait just a little while longer.
It had been an eventful lead up, but things were to take yet more twists and turns.
It wasn't long before we settled down to watching the Needletail as it gave great views twisting and turning over the loch.
|It's not often a mega rare shows this well.|
(Thanks Dan for the photo)
|Views don't get much better than this.|
Photos courtesy of Josh Jones
The bird was clearly spooked. It briefly disappeared before returning to give us a final by-pass and display of prowess. But it then headed off to the far end of the loch before disappearing round the corner. The arrivals off the boat were still inexplicably some way off (a delay in docking it turned out) and it wasn't looking good for them. Some forty minutes later they arrived. The bird had still not returned.
We said some brief "hellos" but didn't want to rub it in too much, so bade our farewells and headed off toward the airport very, very happy.
A great bird in a great place, good company, stunning views and to top it all both Josh and Chris had managed to capture stunningly good images.
Back at Stornoway terminal, the images went whirring into the ether of the internet, which was soon buzzing with admiration for the images.
News came through, too, that the Needletail had been relocated over moorland several miles to the south. So all who put in the effort had connected.
The flight back was a chance to crash out and for the body to begin recovering. The car started at the first time of asking and we began the journey South.
It wasn't long, though, before the final twist in the story. I glanced at my pager to see the message:
W. Isles White-throated Needletail till c5.45pm Harris SSE of Tarbert then appeared to be hit by wind turbine.
Three minutes later, it was confirmed that the bird had been picked up dead.
Everybody was in shock. The memory of this beautiful, powerful and enigmatic bird was still freshly etched into our minds and the poor thing had come to a most unfortunate end. Our emotions were really being put through the wringer today.
The news slowly sunk in.
As one post put it:
"VERY VERY sad news indeed. RIP my friend though safe in the knowledge that you gave several lucky people the best day of their life today."
After stopping off near Pitlochry to admire a singing male Common Rosefinch, I caught up on some much needed sleep as we headed south. I eventually got back just before four in the morning. Three hours until the alarm would be waking me up for work.
I wonder what the next adventure will be.