Wednesday, 30 October 2013

CAPE MAY WARBLER - my account

Here we go...

Made a few phone calls and after a bit of uncertainty I got a confirmation text that we were good to they say.

Arrived at Full Sutton airfield at 7.30am. The other chaps were already there, namely Franco, Simon Slade, Steve Smith and a chap from Nottingham who's name I didn't catch. No sign of Dave the pilot yet! Around 10 minutes later he arrived and preparations were made...Then the pager gave us the news we were waiting for...still present!

An event free 2 and a half hours later and we were dropping down on to Unst...

The weather had been great all the way up until we started our decent...then heavy rain, unfortunately. Very grim indeed...

Still we'd made it!

As we were dis-embarking I noticed the pilot looking at the wing flaps? More later! We waited for the other plane to arrive then into the arranged minibus and off to the favoured site with tension mounting...

Here it is! 2 sycamores!! After a few minutes one chap saw a movement, nobody else did? Much more scanning, still nothing in the heavy rain.  good ten minutes passed, still no sign.

The local Raven looked puzzled...

Then out of nowhere, there it was, acrobatically feeding ...amazing stuff...

Not bad at all considering the conditions. Some of the other lads got better images which I'll post later.


So, happy days? 

I'm afraid not. Sure we were all ecstatic with our LIFER but things were about to take a turn for the worse on Britain's most Northerly Isle!

We returned to the minibus and headed for the (very nice) cafe. Dave was there and informed us that the wing flap was jammed and we couldn't take off!!! Oh dear!
He explained that the other pilot would have to go to the mainland to fetch a mechanic. 

No joy here but he did improve things slightly enabling our plane to fly to the mainland for eventual repair. No use to us however! It was then decided that another plane would have to flown up from York!!! 

It was now mid-afternoon and starting to go dark. Still, the plane should arrive just after 6 so we would be back at York around 8.30 problem.

Just one last thing to check...the airport lights. Now then, bear in mind this is a dis-used airfield? My concerns were unfortunately confirmed when the local chap came back from his test to inform me that "the lights were not working" The other lads were oblivious to this problem by the way as that had gone Birding. I wimped out due to my mobility problems. That's my excuse anyway.

So. what to do?

The upshot was we had to get to the main airport at Sumbrugh on mainland Shetland...the only one with lights! I don't know how well you know Shetland but it's a fair length. We weren't far from the northern tip and the airport is at the southern...oh and don't forget the 2 ferries between the islands!

The ferry off Unst left at 5.55 pm. We had to get to the airport by 8.  According to Google maps it's 77 miles from Baltasound to Sumburgh Airport and they give a time of 3hrs 12 mins.

The lady from the shop/cafe was superb. She drove us to the ferry, crossed onto Yell and dropped us off by the second ferry  to go across to the mainland as foot passengers, were we would hopefully be met by our taxi? Many, many thanks!!

The taxi was thankfully waiting and we drove off into the darkness.


Then in the distance, the airport! As we arrived a received a call from Dave asking how we were doing. He gave us directions and met us at the arrival desk. He'd wisely primed the staff of our predicament and after an essential toilet stop we sped out onto the airstrip and boarded our plane just after 8 pm.

We'd made it!

My first charter twitch and it turned out to be a beauty.

        American Wood Warblers are special...very special. I've seen the bird described as dull? Not for me. I prefer subtle. A fantastic bird and an amazing occurrence. The first twitchable record in Europe I think I'm correct in saying. I just had to try for it. Yes, it was expensive, but it's 700 miles by road and sea and again Google estimate it would take 23 hrs!! I don't have that time to spare, plus I hate boats!!
        I promised myself that if I set myself up with a job out here I would go for certain "ultra-MEGAS" if possible. I'd missed a lot of birds whilst teaching and was determined to try and get some back now. It I did. No regrets, I loved the whole exhilarating experience. Great company, a fascinating place, very friendly and helpful people and an AWESOME BIRD.

I must mention the staff at work for there help and support. The biggest thank you, as always, goes to my wonderful Louise for not just supporting me but actively encouraging me and celebrating my success on my return. I am a very fortunate man.  I thank you once again.

Has to go down as my number one RUSH BIRD (see left hand column)


Barry Bishop said...

Well done Alan. A good after dinner speec I think. How's about you taking to the road as a speaker!! I am sure that many bird clubs would book you. Having spent many happy hours on Shetland, mainly Foula, I am aware of how isolated you can feel when things go wrong.
Keep up the good work.

Alan Whitehead said...

Cheers Barry. Loved it...maybe a little too much?