Thursday, 25 July 2013

To Islay and back for a Friggin' Frigatebird!


Ascension frigatebird (picture courtesy of Jim Sim)
It's not every day one of these turns up.

I've only been to Islay once before, and that was in the depths of midwinter to see the thousands of geese which flock to the island at that time of year.
But a couple of weekends ago news of an absolute MONSTER RARE had me racing Northwards for the third time in a week. Having twitched the Needletail on Harris the previous weekend and the Bridled Tern on the Farne Islands during the week, here I was again heading up the A1 aiming to catch a ferry to some far flung island early the next morning.

A somewhat indecisive and calamitous start meant that I had 5 minutes to pack and get going. I was to meet a team who were heading up the M6. Usually I would head across to Stoke, but this was not on the cards as I'd have to break the land speed record to meet the others there. Instead, an ambitious plan was hatched to meet at Carlisle. With a ferry to make in the morning from a remote stretch of shore in Argyll, the others were not hanging around and I had to make up quite a bit of time on them.
So I leapt out of gentle farm pace and into twitcher mode. To cut a long story short, and so as not to incriminate myself, I arrived at a car park in Carlisle just 5 minutes after the others. I hastily transferred cars and we headed through the night.
In the end we made it to the ferry terminal with plenty of time to spare and were delighted to be informed that there would, contrary to earlier indications, be room for our car as well as us. Several other carloads of optimistic fools were in the line too. I reckoned our chances of actually seeing the bird were low, but not as low as those who stayed at home for the weekend.

I'll cut the suspense right now and tell you that we never did set eyes on the Frigatebird. You can probably tell that from the title of this post. Having come all the way from Ascension Island (which lies roughly midway between the horn of South America and Africa) it had landed up here, sat on the harbour wall in a tiny town called Bowmore on the island of Islay. But it wasn't there when we got there. We didn't really expect it to be. After all, we knew it had flown off, harassed by the local gulls, some 24 hours earlier. However, birds are creatures of habit and there was just the tiniest hope that it might decide to return to this remote village. Or even that it might be soaring over the island. Frigatebirds are difficult birds to miss, absolutely huge, prehistoric creatures.


The very pier where the Ascension Frigatebird chose to alight.
The first time one of these birds has been seen in Britain for 60 years!

Optimistic twitchers scan the horizon for a miracle.
However, it was worth a go. And we had a most enjoyable weekend on Islay. I enjoyed my best ever views of Corncrake and a great view of a perched Golden Eagle. The scenery was stunning, the people were friendly and, at the end of the day, we came back from our mini adventure better off than when we left. Much as I love my life on the Fens, there is something very enriching about spending time on an island such as Islay.
It's not just about seeing the bird.
Twitching takes me to some fantastic corners of the country.
I wonder what my next twitching adventure will be. Hopefully there'll be a Blue-cheeked Bee-eater involved.

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