Sitting in Mareel in Lerwick, onto my second cup of tea, staring out the window at the lashing rain and howling wind (and the Purple Sandpiper scurrying around on the pavement outside!), I pondered my plan for the day: go shopping? try to see the Smew at Clickimin (without my bins)? Drink tea until I start sloshing? The ‘what shall I do with my extra day in Shetland’ is all part of living on Fair Isle, especially when travelling in the winter months. I realised that things might not go well when I woke up during the small hours of the northward leg of my ferry crossing as things rolled around in my cabin and I nearly slid off my bed. Sure enough, Fair Isle was recording wind speeds of 60mph (only beaten by Cairngorm that day according to Dave Wheeler) by the time I made it to Shetland (such a pity the Northlink can’t do ‘drop-offs’ as it sails past Fair Isle on the way North!) and flights were out the question. What I was definitely not expecting though was a text from Assistant Warden Will Miles to tell me he’d just found a Ring-billed Gull in the Parks – only the 4th for Fair Isle (although thankfully I’d seen the 3rd last year). Full marks to Will for a great find in a wind-chill effect of around minus five (although they weren’t my exact words at the time). Even a rather tasty plate of sardines and a hot chocolate weren’t compensation for missing the first Fair Isle rare of the season as the rain continued to hammer the Mareel windows and I wondered whether the fact that ‘Les Miserables’ was about to start showing on the screen next door was a sign of some sort.
Thankfully I was rescued by one of the FIBO Directors and after a bit of car-based birding (I still missed the Smew despite borrowing a pair of bins), it was back to his for a lovely meal of scouse and a snooze on the sofa whilst watching Africa (sorry Sir David, nothing personal I just hadn’t slept very well on the ferry).
Thursday saw a vast improvement in the weather and a simple enough flight back home. My first job on returning was to pick Grace up from nursery and thankfully the Ring-billed Gull put in a brief appearance near Setter as I made my way down the island, so I didn’t begin my birding year with a dip after all. Water Rail, Merlin and Common Scoter (the latter a year tick) were the only other species of note on a quick look round the island, although Will had also recorded Little Auk, Great Northern Diver and Iceland Gull around the island whilst I was away, bringing the year list up to 50 (which I hope you have all given a polite round of cricket style applause to).
|Here's looking at ewe. The Ring-billed Gull at Setter.|
|The distinctive tail pattern is just about visible in this shot as the bird takes flight.|
Friday will be a sad day for the island as the great gentleman Mires Jimmy is laid to rest having passed away last week in Lerwick aged 101. Sadly, I arrived on Fair Isle too late to meet him, but I have heard many tales about him; many relating to his wonderful ornithological knowledge and all mentioning what a great character and kind soul he was. The thoughts of everyone at FIBO are with Jimmy’s family at this time.