Caught by the River

The Bird Effect Diaries

Ceri Levy | 9th February 2010

The diary of the making of a film. and an on going fascination with birds and their accompanying cast of human characters. By Ceri Levy. Read previous entries, starting here.

Thursday October 8th

Jim arrived this morning and he came straight round to the flat from the heliport, eager to head out immediately to Tresco and have a look at the Dowitcher. I’m just happy to have company at last, and even though I have seen the Dowitcher a couple of days ago, I’m hopeful that we may get the chance to see the Rosefinch that I dipped out on when I was last on Tresco. We disembark from the boat onto the island and head straight to Abbey Pool. We find the Dowitcher and the Pec Sand (that’s the pectoral sandpiper) as well as the Black-Necked Grebe within minutes and then Jim calls out that he has spotted a Spotted Crake on the other side of the Pool. I saw one recently about ten metres from me and I struggled to see this tiny camouflaged bird, but here we are and Jim is looking at one that has to be over 150 metres away. I pick it up briefly through my scope and am happy to believe Jim’s ID before it ducks into a reed bed. The surrounding birders are a mixture of disbelievers and believers, as this is a potential new bird to the Pool this October. It takes twenty minutes or so before the bird reappears and Jim is proven correct. I tell you, there is something very nerve-wracking about calling out a sighting of a rare bird, only for it to disappear for such a long time, and having to wait to be verified as of sound mind, and don’t forget it wasn’t even me that called it out. My motto is shut my gob, unless 200% certain of what I see.

After catching up with old friends such as Rob Lambert and Dick Ashby we move on to find the Rosefinch. I feel certain with such experienced birders I am not going to dip this time. It was surely my own inexperience that did for me the other day. Jim informs me that Quinoa is actually pronounced Ki-noi, which I am sure is not right, but just in case I’m wrong, I decide not to question it, plus I don’t want to interrupt his concentration and interfere with his bird vision as I am keen to get this Rosefinch tied down and in the bag. This little bird has been my first proper dip and I don’t like it. I think to myself “Come on Jim, let’s find it,” which really translates as “Come on Jim, please find it for me.” After 40 minutes or so, Dick asks everyone if it is ok for him to walk slowly around the “Ki-Noi” field to try and flush the bird out if it’s skulking in there. Everyone happily agrees and in he goes. Chaffinches, Sparrows and a couple of Linnets fly up and that’s about it, although Dick does find a Redpoll lurking in the deep foliage of the trees to the left of the field. Jim scopes it and I get an unexpected tick as I get a great view of the bird’s backside and then as it turns, I see it momentarily before it clears off. The Rosefinch is proving a thorny bird for me at the moment and reluctantly we concede defeat to this elusive fellow. Even though I have seen a new bird, I am a little agitated as it’s a second major dip on the finch. Could this be what they call a Nemesis bird?

Then the pagers go off like crazy as a Great Crested Grebe is reported as having been seen in St. Agnes Quay and then moving out to sea, and potentially heading towards St. Mary’s. This is an extremely common bird on the mainland but here it is only the twelfth sighting ever. This gets everyone scurrying around hoping to get an extremely rare tick for his or her Scilly list. We are on our way back to St. Mary’s and decide to go up to the Garrison, which faces out towards to St. Agnes. This will probably be the best vantage point for the Grebe if it is coming in our direction. From the Garrison we look out towards sea. I am certain I am going to find the bird on my own and am keen to prove my hawkeyed prowess to myself, as well as to the other people up here with us. I scan and scan and scan across the hypnotising sea but come up from my scope, clueless and birdless. Of course, yet again Jim picks out a tiny little creature, miles out to sea bobbing around in the waves. It is the Great-Crested Grebe.

It’s October, so therefore it’s not summer and there are way too many grown men with horribly white legs poking out from badly fitting shorts which are affronting my vision, in whichever direction I look. Why are the Brits so desperate to prove that large parts of their anatomy have not been graced by sunlight for decades? It gets worse when I see some of these ghostly apparitions jump from boats in the harbour and leg it up the hill in search of the Great-Crested Grebe, the mega rarity of the day. But even though it is odd to watch men desperate to see a speck of feathered buoyancy out at sea it does sum up an otherwise hidden aspect of birding to the rest of the world. It is not the bird itself that necessarily creates the fascination and intrigue, but the seeing of a bird, even a common bird, out of context in an unusual place, which is an enthralling part of birding. It may be hard to believe, but if a magpie turned up here on Scilly, I guarantee that there would be absolute pandemonium. I kid you not. Displacement, that’s what gets people going. Just look at the clamour for the GCG.

Now Rob Lambert is on the CB, desperately keen to see the Grebe, and asks what the latest news is on the bird. He is on a boat coming back to St Mary’s and after a short chat over the CB, discovers we have bumped into his dad, Stephen, who is in the clubhouse, so to speak, having just seen the Grebe through Jim’s scope. We tease Rob a little and tell him to hurry up or his dad’s list is going to be the only Lambert Scilly bird list with a Great-Crested Grebe upon it. I actually spot Rob through my scope on one of the boats coming back, and then pick him up again as he hurtles up the steep incline to join us on the Garrison. At least I can find a human with my scope. Casually, Jim tells him that the bird is available for viewing through his scope and relieved, Rob finally joins his father in Grebe unity.

7.00. Does this count as food? Burnt, microwaved, slightly mashed potato, served with a rubbish steak and kidney pie. How the hell is it possible to burn mashed potato? I can’t even be bothered to name and shame the establishment that served it. I vow never to eat here again. Understatement of the day – the food could be better here… It could be food!

Meanwhile, later at the Scillonian Club, Jim gets a mention with honours during the log for finding the Crake. It’s been a good first day for Jim, and not a bad one for me as I tag along like a hapless puppy.

Bird Definitions of the Day.

Nemesis Bird. A bird one keeps missing at every available opportunity. Continually it will have been on view just two minutes before you arrived at the hide or viewing area, and probably two minutes after you leave the site as well. People will say, “It was showing so well! Never seen one give itself up for viewing so readily.” i.e. it also makes you want to punch people.

Gripped Off. The above can lead to the feeling of being gripped off. This is when another birder tells you all about a bird you have missed, invariably talking about how wonderful an experience it was, how well it showed, how it stayed for so long etc. What matters the most of all, is that one person who wanted to see a particular bird didn’t see it and another person did. This leads to the feeling of being gripped off. Not nice.