Saturday 18 May 2019

The one where Tense comes out

There have been easterly winds for a few days now so, bearing in mind the time of year, there have also been reports of sightings of rare birds all over Orkney (and elsewhere, I'm sure). Birds which are heading north to breed in the short, but bounteous, Arctic Summer have been blown off course, and the Orcadian birders are very organised in finding them and also spreading the word.

A local social media group is overseen by a dedicated volunteer, who manages to alert group members to a wide variety of fantastic wildlife. Not just birds, mind, but also Otters and any cetaceans that may be in Orkney waters.

And so it was on Friday morning. Our Lass had gone of to work, I was busy vacuuming whilst waiting for a customer to collect some equipment and my phone kept 'pinging' with updates of newsworthy birds seen on some of the outer islands of the archipelago. Now as I hope you know, I am not the kind of guy to drop everything and jump on a boat or a plane to go and twitch a rarity, so these reports were useful information, but no more than that. Then, the news arrived that a Woodchat Shrike had been seen in an industrial estate in Kirkwall. Not only was this bird on the same island as me, it was only fifteen minutes away (and that's driving slowly) and it would be a lifer for me. I have not previously seen a Woodchat Shrike. Well, there was that time when I was walking home from Junior School along a country lane when I thought I saw one, it is a very vivid memory, but I suspect it might have been a dream.

To be honest, it was a very moot point, as I still had forty five minutes to wait for my customer, so I couldn't really shoot into town to see the bird. Technically, I could do it... but it would be bad form if I was delayed and kept the customer waiting. So I vacuumed the workshop too and then threw a load of clothes in the washing machine.

Just before the designated arrival time, I received a different 'ping'. The customer was running late and would be another twenty minutes. At this point, a succinct expletive may have been uttered. By the time I was hanging out the laundry to dry, there had been further news that the shrike was still around, but for how much longer?

Resigning myself to the fact that the chance had passed, I decided to bake a cake, as there was plenty of rhubarb to be cropped and I had found some crystallised ginger in the dry goods cupboard.

The customer duly arrived, pleasantries were exchanged, equipment was handed over and farewells were said. On checking my phone, it appeared that the bird was continuing to show well, but now I had forty five minutes to wait for the cake to be ready. Birds on migration tend not to remain in one place as they still have some place else to be. It was a pleasantly warm day, with lighter winds, so decent enough weather for a bundle of feathers to do the avian equivalent of a satnav's "Recalculating..." However, this species does not usually occur any further north than Southern Europe, so who knows?

Remembering that Eagle-eyed M was in town, as we were due to meet up later to go and search for damselflies, I messaged to see if she had heard about the shrike. She had, and was collecting some new binoculars and then a coffee before heading over to the industrial estate. I had to admit that I was being delayed by confectionery. 

Eventually, the cake was deemed ready, hoicked out of the oven and left on a wire rack to cool, whilst I hot-footed it to the car and disappeared shrike-wards, muttering silent pleas that the bird would hang around for a few minutes longer.

Upon turning into the designated road, I could see, in the distance, past some industrial units, a few cars parked by the kerb. Beside them were four individuals armed with cameras and binoculars. This looked like the correct place!

I parked up and scrambled out of the car, trailing my own bins and camera behind me, and tried not to look too sheepish. For this was Tense on a twitch, a fact not lost upon several of the gathered birderazzi. In 2018, I may have overplayed my hand as regards my Small Year!

Thankfully, at that point, Eagle-eyed M pointed out the shrike to me and I concentrated on enjoying the moment, that this wasn't a dream, and after a further five decades I was finally watching a Woodchat Shrike.

The bird was some distance away across a paddock, perched in bushes on an embankment behind a wire fence. It was obviously very hungry and made countless hunting trips down into the paddock to pick up, presumably, insects from the ground. Occasionally, it appeared to be attempting the shrike trait of storing food in a larder, but Willows do not have the same capability as Blackthorn for this purpose.

Rather pleasingly for M, the first bird seen through her new bins was this one, which is certainly a christening present to savour.


Anonymous said...

Where is it? Only joking! I’d have thought that was worth either a burnt or an undercooked cake.

Imperfect and Tense said...

Ha ha! It is a lovely bird. But worth a burnt cake?! I suspect that says more about my predilection for confectionery than my desire for twitching :o)

Spadger said...

Wow - awesome Mr W. Really pleased for. Never seen one in UK myself. Could you have not found a more suitable time filler such as painting - at least you could go off and leave it instead of watching it dry!
As for my own bird exploits, while they are about and plenty of people have seen them, hobby seems to be elusive. Normally would of had one fly past the house by now at least. Still have cuckoo outside house which has been calling while I type. With little effort and just one major long weekend holiday I seem to be 180.

Imperfect and Tense said...

JD, get a Hobby :o) But seriously, I seem to be the only in Orkney not to have heard a Cuckoo so far this year. However, all the recent shenanigans has eventually pushed my 2019 total over the 100 mark. Speaking of long weekends, we're having a trip to the bird observatory on North Ronaldsay soon.

Spadger said...

That sounds like a lovely idea. I thought of going there last autumn but the idea got no further than a passing thought

Imperfect and Tense said...

Or a passage thought? :o)

Spadger said...

Ah very good Mr W

Had a pleasurable natural history (well mainly bird biased) weekend and even got something on bucket list which wasn't a bird! But I won't boar you with details as it'll only make you wild with envy!

There was a pin burst my 'happy' bubble day when I came home from a lovely mornings botany session with Roger C. Someone has mutilated what was one of the best trees in town. A lovely young oak just near my house that now looks like a replica set of antlers with some token flags flapping in the wind. Chair of council says he's seen several similar looking trees in the area over past few days - all near phone cables. So it seems BT are the culprits. I think my level of rage was off your 'Victor Scale' as was the anglo Saxon terminology!

Imperfect and Tense said...

Sounds like you're going to need all the mature Oaks you can find if you're thinking of pannage. Was it a county tick?!