22 Nov 2011

A Veery, Veery good bird in a Mucky kind of place

When news broke of a Veery in Muck, Highland I immediately looked at the map. After missing two on the Shetlands a couple of years ago I was keen to catch up with this diminutive American catharus thrush. I'd never heard of Muck but Google informed me it was a remote Inner Hebridean Island with 35 inhabitants, no airport and only a three times per week ferry service. Hmm. Didn't look as if I was going to get there especially as the only ferry on consecutive days was Friday and Saturday otherwise it meant a 2 -3 night stay. News that the bird was showing exceptionally well didn't help!

Luckily a local skipper, Pete Fowler, made himself available with his catamaran, the Orion,  to ferry birders out to Muck from Mailag so with Fred doing all the planning we set off Sunday evening from Cheshire and headed north through the rain to the port of Mailag. Seven hours and several close encounters with Red Deer jay walking later we arrived tried to sleep for a couple of hours parked on the quayside. Impossible. The crescendo of snores from LeDonis and The Apprentice kept Groucho., Fred & myself from snatching more than the occasional bit of shut-eye. Forget forty winks this was about one.

As dawn got closer a few other birders turned up including my old University mate Graham Megson and Brian from Ellesmere Port!. In total there were 14 of us hardy souls and we were soon and being treated to hot drinks and a stunning sunrise.

Malc doing his best Jedi impression.

Unfortunatley the weather was pretty dire but as predicted the rain decreased from torrential to a horrible drizzle as we arrived. Pete, our skipper, had phoned through to the finder of the bird who informed us that the Veery was still there and showing well! Great news and even though a close scrutiny of the weather over the previous couple of days had us believing (hoping) the bird wasn't going to move off there was still the possibility that it could have been taken by a cat as happened to one unfortunate Veery that arrived on Shetland.

There's only one road on Muck and it led across the island to our destination at Gallanach Farm where the bird had been feeding on a muck heap and commuting between there and the farm house garden.
Thirty minutes later we'd yomped the width of the island and immediately spotted the Veery feeding on the shit heap. Totally unconcerned it rooted around for grubs or insects from the steaming midden whilst an appreciative group of birders watched in silence. No mobile phones or pagers bleeping on this twitch - mainly as they didn't work!

By now the drizzle had changed to a full blown down pour and with optics and camera's steaming up we left the Veery to its dung heap and headed back to the port where Pete was waiting for us. Just time for Fred & me to pose for the obligatory photo. Not only a British tick in the Veery but also an Island tick.

By now we were all pretty happy but knackered. The journey back to Malaig was uneventful but despite detouring close to Aigg the weather meant we didn't see any Golden Eagles but we did see a couple of Great Northern Divers. Taking it turns driving we got through Glasgow ahead of rush hour and arrived back in Cheshire 22 hours after we'd initially set off.


Andy Wraithmell said...

Brilliant Phil! Veery's sure make for great twitches!

Phil Woollen. said...

Cheers Andy. Shame it wasn't Hilbre! As we were driving back from Shetland about three years ago news of a Veery broke on Foula followed later in the day by one on Whalsay. Talk about bad luck and timing.