10 Oct 2008

Autumn magic

With 'Ulrika' Curtin & 'Statto' Williams, the weather guru's, predicting great things on the birding front the next couple of weeks were looking good. With several fast moving wave depressions hitting us and already depositing American vagrants on Ireland a good bird in the BOU only recording region was a distinct possibility. No one realised how good it would be. Certainly not me when I finished my business meeting in Belfast Wednesday afternoon and looked at my silenced phone to see a dozen missed calls from the lads. That could only mean one thing. Twitch on! A big bird had broken somewhere in the UK.....................................

An Alder Flycatcher had turned up in Nanjizal Valley near Lands End! A first for Britain no less and the birding grapevine was in meltdown. The fast movers were already on their way and by the time I'd returned his call Malc was at Cheltenham with Jason & Pod. A few phonecalls and some pleading with the missus saw me jumping in with Al Orton, Mark Powell and Ash Powell at 11.30 pm after arriving home from Liverpool airport and then dashing straight to the office until 10.00 pm to clear a backlog of work!

Picking Ash up at Plymouth at 03.00 we arrived at the field designated for parking around 5.30 am after a brief obligatory stop at the all night tesco's in Penzance for cold bacon, sausage and egg sandwich Thursday morning. Quite a few other cars already there but not as many as I'd expected! Even 'Paddy' Pointon had made the trip fresh from padding out his list with Irish birds.

As dawn broke the dark mass of birders shuffled their way across the fields to the designated spot and waited. For once there was little talking and with limited mobile reception even the mobiles were quiet! A couple of nail biting moments when someone claimed to have seen it and no one else had and then nothing. As the sun rose and started warming the bracken we watched and waited......................................

Suddenly the shout went up that the bird had been found caused a surge of adrenalin and soon everyone got onto this little 'empid' flycatcher as it charged around the bracken covered hillside. For the next two hours we enjoyed watching it as it flitted around and gave great, although distant, views as it showed off its eyering and double wing bars. Not to mention those pale fringed tertials!

One of my bogey birds has been Red-eyed Vireo. They're a Scilly's speciality. Note the emphasis on the 'has been'. I've missed them on so many ocasions over the last few years that it was becoming a personal crusade. Malc rang me to say a Red-eyed Vireo was still on the Garrison at St Mary's and were we going? Were we ever. A phonecall to Skybus got us booked on the 11.15 flight from Lands End leaving St Marys again at 15.40. 4 hours. Plenty of time. Next call was to Spider to his taxi fro mthe airport to the Garrison. With time to kill we decided to try a bit of proper birding but the need for a morning constitutional meant I had to get to the airport - quickly! Lucky we did as when we got there we found there was an earlier unscheduled flight and we got on it. We now had 5 hours on the Scilly's but we decided to leave the camera and all the 'scopes except one in the car.
Piling into Spiders taxi we headed for the Garrison. With Mark, Al & I all needing Red-eyed Vireo as lifers hopes were high but the bird hadn't been seen for a couple of hours. Imagine our relief when we arrived to see birders running. It could only mean one thing. The vireo was showing. Leaving Ash to pay the taxi we legged it and at last Red-eyed Vireo was added to my British list. What a stunning little bird - much better than the flycatcher we'd just left. With full 'scope views we were able to admire all the details from its blue legs to its beautifully marked head. I wished I'd bought the camera!

Two happy birders with Red-eyed Vireo firmly on their lists.

Hungry we headed down into Hugh Town for a pasty just as Spider reappeared. Jumping in the taxi again we headed off to Porth Hellick Down where an American Golden Plover had been showing well. A lifer for Ash!

Next stop Holy Vale where we found a Yellow-browed Warbler and a Firecrest in the blazing sunshine. This was turning into a 'red letter' day and it got better when we managed to see Lapland & Snow Bunting with juvenile Dotterel altogehter on the airfield. It was a very tired but happy group who returend to Cornwall and started the long drive home.
It was sad to hear and witness first hand that the Scilly's is no longer the birding hot spot it used to be. Numbers of visiting birders are way down on previous years. Even the Porthcressa has closed and is boarded up. No more Scilly's disco's to entertain the birders looking for that last pint! Perhaps now the local businesses will stop fleecing people and adjusting their prices accordingly. The presence of hundreds of birders in the autumn has extended the Scilly's tourist season by several months. Prices have risen dramatically and many birders will no longer going. Compare the price of going as foot passenger to Shetland with going to the Scilly's. Manchester to Shetland by air £160 ish. Penzance to Scilly's by helicopter (20 minutes) £118. Go figure people.

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