Dipping and tripping

When I start a post saying I’m absolutely buggered, it’s usually an accurate barometer of how good the day was. It implies an awful lot of effort’s gone into the day, which me being the generally slothful and lazy slacker I am, must mean the weather was looking good and I’ve made the most of it. More than that though… as yesterday proved, you need some good birds early on in the day to keep the momentum up, or else you risk easing off and thinking of better things to be doing with your time. Like drinking beer. Having a little nap on the sofa in the sun in the afternoon. Not birding. But today…

…I’m absolutely buggered.

Day started with a Tree Pipit just along the road from the house – an absolute classic bird that flushed with the usual characteristic call. They’re such obliging beasts, Tree Pipits. A call that does (well, to my ear anyway) precisely what it says on the tin – tSee! sounds a bit like tree! so they’re a complete doddle when they lift and shout their name. Shamefully, I did my best to encourage it towards the field behind the house, but it was like herding cats – it wasn’t going where I wanted it to, so I left it be and moved on to the loch behind the house. Common Sandpiper here on the shore, annoyingly flushing to the shore nearest the house where a bedroom window scoping wouldn’t pick it up. I dithered for a moment… flush it back, then hoof back to the house to scope it? Or leave it be, and press on? Common sense and the bird’s welfare won out, and I went on to walk around the golf course. South easterlies, drizzle… surely good for something? A nice rare wheatear maybe…

Of all the things I imagined I’d find, Dipper certainly wasn’t high on the list. In fact, it was right off the radar. So when I went to jump a ditch, clocked it crouched beneath me, and then watched it fling itself into flight along the shoreline I was… more than a little surprised. Dipper? Bizarre. I then spent a joyless couple of hours walking the coast as far as Vevoe checking the shore and every ditch that fed into it in minute and tedious detail trying to relocate it.

Birds meanwhile were clearly arriving. I had Swallows and House Martins hawking along the cliffs, and Spotted Flycatcher and Willow Warbler in the geos. JLI meanwhile, checking the shore behind me a little later scored Icterine Warbler and Cuckoo. By the time I was walking back along the road to check out West Loch on my fruitless Dipper hunt, I was beginning to feel the pain of unaccustomed exercise. JLI’s phone call, and the news it contained, couldn’t have been worse timed: 4 Dotterel on the hillside behind my house.

Oh shit.

An island tick. A year tick. A house tick. Shit shit shit.

I ran like a chequebook birder fresh off a charter – pounding along the road at a good clip. By the time I’d covered the mile to the plantation, I was gasping for breath. JLI’s car was parked beside the road. He’d left the keys in the ignition, so I tried to phone him and ask if I could borrow it, but went straight to answerphone… so I did what any good friend would do under the circumstances.

I stole his car.

Straight up to the house, charged upstairs, scope to the south-east window, picked out JLI and his son on the far side of the loch, followed the direction they were looking in, and found the birds. Yay. And then back to his car, along to the end of the road, and time to ‘fess up. JLI mercifully sanguine about the whole thing. The Dotterels meanwhile were oblivious to the drama, and were beauties. 2 males, and 2 females.

090517 Dotterel 042websize

090517 Dotterel 032websize

Hey! I can see my house from here...

Pressed on and added Knot to the house yearlist before linking back up with JLI to cover some other bits of the isle. Gave Brough a good thrashing, then into Symbister and more of the same. A couple of Sparrowhawks spooking the local Starlings were notable; also Pied Flycatcher, Redstart, Redpoll; reasonable amounts of Willow Warblers; and a couple of Garden Warblers.

Back to the north end of the isle, and another good going over for the plantation and the shoreline. Gave up eventually after 10 straight hours in the field (with a welcome 20 minute drying-out and bacon-rolling break at JLI’s house). But only to spend 30 minutes scouring the shore with the scope from upstairs until I’d finally nailed the Common Sandpiper for the house yearlist. Result.


3 Responses

  1. Stunning Dotterel pictures Jon. I’m very envious. Common sandpiper is, however on my back garden list, but as for Dotterel…

  2. Superb Dotterel. If you find one of those in Iceland next month, I’ll even put on an Arsenal shirt for you. I’m always amazed how rare they are in Iceland (fewer than 10 records) as there is such an abundance of apparently suitable habitat for them. We just need a few of them to find us and start a colony.

  3. I reckon that bit of joy riding might be a first for the island? An historical event even, one hopes it doesn’t become a trend.

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