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8 Sep 2016

Cliff Swallow!

Expectations had been high that the recent westerly winds might bring some Yankee vagrants to our shores. I can attest to the strong winds as our Florida flight arrived in Manchester 2 hours ahead of schedule aided by a strong tail wind that meant the seat belt warning lights remained on for about half the flight!

Sure enough news broke on Tuesday morning that a Cliff Swallow had been found on St Mary's. I didn't think anything of it as I was busy in the office and later in the week we were hoping to complete on a new house! However when news kept coming through that it was showing well I decided to start looking at options. I didn't fancy 3 hours each way on the Scillonian and most of the flights were already booked from Lands End. I ruled that out anyway as Lands End airport invariably gets fog bound! The best option was Newquay as there were no return flights from Exeter that would get me there and back on the same day. Unfortunately the Newquay flights were limited and I had to settle for a return flight that would only give me 2 hours on St Mary's....... Was this enough?

Fred kindly offered me a lift but it would have meant waiting at Newquay for 5 hours as he'd got an earlier flight so I decided to go alone with the intention of aborting the trip if the bird wasn't seen.

A sleepless night ensued as it always does when  I know I have to get up early and  I eventually got up at 4 am and decided to head off and beat the traffic and if necessary kip in the car for a few hours. I suddenly had a brain wave. As Fred's car was at Newquay I wondered if I could change my outward flight and fly from Exeter and cadge a lift with him from Newquay to Exeter as I knew we were both on the same return flight. Pulling over in Knutsford services I checked the flights on my phone. Sure enough there was an earlier flight from Exeter at 11.45 so I changed my outward flight and texted Fred to ring me when he woke up.

Feeling much happier I drove on and stopped at Taunton services for a cooked breakfast and a catch up with my emails before heading to Exeter with a hope that I might get a standby for an even earlier flight. The news that the bird was still there filtered through around 07.30 and I was definitely feeling confident. My luck was in - the kind lady at the Skybus check in desk rang HQ and I was told I could get an even earlier flight but I couldn't take any baggage due to the weight restrictions so I had to leave my rucksack of food and drink and my camera in the car.

As it happened we were late leaving Exeter due to a couple of elderly passengers going AWOL and As  I sat watching the safety briefing Fred texted to say all the hirundines had dispersed as the sun broke through. He also said Lands End was fog bound so no flights had made it yet and that there were only three people with him watching the bird.  I was hopeful that, with enough people travelling and the Scillonian due to dock that the bird would be re-found before we had to leave at 16.50.

The flight was uneventful and I tried to catch up on some sleep before landing at St Mary's airport. With no luggage I was first out of the airport and decided to walk slowly towards Porth Hellick and Lower Moors checking any groups of hirundines on the way.

I had only got to the T junction at the bottom of the access road before  I came across a group of Swallows sat on wires on Carn Friars Lane and stopped to check them out. F*ck, What was that! A hirundine with a pale rump and definitely not a House Martin slid across my field of view and disappeared behind a tall hedge. Bugger! I was pretty certain it was the Cliff Swallow but needed to be certain before I put the news out. Walking to the junction of Carn Friars Lane and Old Town (about 100m) Road I saw Matt Eades and Lawrence Pitcher walking towards me pointing skywards - Lawrence had also seen the bird briefly and now it was directly above us!!!!

Ringing Fred and then Chris Batty at RBA we watched the Cliff Swallow hawing over the pine belt by ourselves for about thirty minutes before the cavalry arrived. By now the bird had drifted further away and was closer to the airport and a few late arrivals who'd not seen the bird well headed up that way.

Fred, Lawrence, Matt and I decided to walk towards Porth Hellick pool to see the juvenile Temminck's Stint and lesser Yellowlegs that had been present before heading off to Old Town cafe for a sandwich and a celebratory cold drink!

With time pressing we said good bye to Matt and Lawrence who were catching the Scillonian and headed towards the airport. An uneventful journey eventually so me get home around 10.20 pm!

A great day and nice to catch up with a few old friends. I hadn't been to the Scillies for a few years since going for the Northern Water Thrush and Black & White Warbler ( See here & here and here for details of those birds) and I'd forgotten what a beautiful place it was.



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