19 Oct 2015

Wilson's Warbler

 There was a moments suspended disbelief when news broke of a male Wilson's Warbler on the Isle of Lewis exactly 30 years ago to the day of the only other UK record at Rame Head in Cornwall. Few people were lucky enough to see that bird so this one was going to cause a lot of interest. Due to work commitments I couldn't go straight away but arranged with Steve I'd pick him up to drive through the night to catch the first flight to Stornoway from Edinburgh a few days later.

Setting off from home sat 10 pm I picked Steve up and set off. The journey passed without incident and we soon arrived at the outskirts of Glasgow where we refuelled. Paul & Vicky Wren, who I'd last seen on Fair Isle, were also at the services but they were flying from Glasgow.

Arriving at Edinburgh we parked up and settled in the Flybe lounge for breakfast before heading off to Stornoway and our hire car. We met Wirral birder Stuart Brown at the gate and we arranged that he should share our car. 

Arriving on site at Port Nis we were met by Tony Marr who'd found the bird in his neighbours garden. I first met Tony when I travelled to Lewis last November to see a Chimney Swift. True to character he helpfully showed us all the birds favoured haunts and with the arrival of Paul & Vicky we quietly spread out and waited. The presence of a Yellow-browed Warbler that had been in the same area as the Wilson's was a good sign...........

Thirty tense minutes passed before Stuart whispered 'I've got it'. There it was a fantastically bright yellow male Wilsons Warbler sat on a fence unconcerned by its admirers. I'd left my camera in the boot of the hire car not expecting such good views as the previous day's it had been very elusive and some people got only the briefest of views. As if to make up for its previous tardiness the bird showed continuously for about 2 minutes as it moved along the fence surrounding its favoured plantation. Luckily Steve had the sense to bring his camera out!

As more people arrived the bird became easier to relocate when it moved. We picked it up on call several times as it flew to different parts of its temporary territory. After a few hours we decided to explore Lewis a bit further with the intention of returning to see the Wilsons Warbler later in the afternoon before our flight home. Stu Taylor, who I know from his RSPB days on the Dee Estuary, made the journey up from his current home on Benbecula. Last time I saw him was when we went for the Harlequin Duck on N Uist and he kindly showed us around and arranged our overnight accommodation so it was good to have a natter with him.

Driving to the Butt of Lewis we birdied a few sites with no success before just enjoying the spectacular views around the lighthouse.

Yours truly with the Butt of Lewis lighthouse in the background.
The famous lighthouse where a few years ago Britains only Purple Martin took up temporary residence.

With time pressing we headed back to Port Nis to find Lee Evans and friends panicking slightly as the bird hadn't been seen since we left. Luckily for them Steve relocated it and we said our goodbyes to Tony and headed back to the airport.

Twitching is a game of 3rds. The first 3rd is actually getting to site. The 2nd is seeing the bird and the final 3rd is getting home. As long as the first 2/3 rds are a success the final part doesn't really matter as long as you eventually get home. Our luck ran out with the final 3rd. Loganair cancelled our flight due to mechanical issues. We waited for 4 hrs before they decided to put us on the plane that was supposed to be going to Inverness. They planned to drop us off in Edinburgh then fly back for the Inverness passengers. We were sat on the plane when the ground agent told us there'd been a change of plan and we now went flying but would have to wait until the morning. Everything was a bit shambolic but we eventually determined we'd receive compensation and the airline were putting us up in a hotel overnight, giving us a £20 food voucher and paying for the transfers each way. The only downside was we were being flown to Glasgow in the morning where the airline would transfer us by taxi or coach to Edinburgh! Making the most of the situation Stuart, Steve & I enjoyed a good meal and a few beers before heading for some well earned rest. All of us had been up for over 24 hrs with just a brief nap on the incoming flight. 

After a good sleep and a heart breakfast we took our allocated taxi back to Stornoway airport and checked in. Hours passed before the announcement was made that Glashoe airport was fog bound and we'd be delayed. Cynically Loganair got us onboard so they wouldn't have to pay more compensation for a 2nd delayed flight. We sat for ages on the runway without moving whilst the captain waited for a weather update. 

We made two aborted attempts to land at Glasgow before the captain announced we'd have to divert to Prestwick to refuel. Naively we expected to be allowed off the plane and that arrangements would be made to transfer us from Prestwick to Edinburgh. However the airline had other ideas. Since we were on on a flight to Glasgow we'd have to wait on the plane until it had refuelled and then wait until the fog had learned at Glasgow to land there and get our transfer to Edingburgh.

A minor rebellion ensued with a group us us refusing to accept this stupidity - at least if we got off at Prestwick we knew what time we'd be getting home! Eight of us insisted in getting off the plane only to be told we'd have to arrange our own transport to Edinburgh. Talk about poor customer service. Six of us hired a minicab and eventually arrived at Edinburgh 18 hours late!

Eventually I arrived home at 19.00 a full 21 hours after I'd left home. A great trip though with good company & a good craic. 

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