Caught by the River

The Bird Effect Diaries

Ceri Levy | 21st April 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.

Isles of Scilly – part 4, continued.
Friday October 16th

A day on St Mary’s alone today and I’m in a much better frame of mind, as I know where I am again, head wise that is. I take my camera with me to get some beauty shots and cutaways of scenery. It’s always those little details you can forget and the best time to do them is when it’s quiet and when it’s sunny.

I walk round the coast path and find a Wryneck, a secretive member of the woodpecker family, perched up on a rock, basking in the sunlight, which is a beautiful sight. I pass the info on across the walkie-talkies and soon a crowd builds up. It’s strange because I am certain that there are a lot of lazy people who just sit and wait for other people to find birds and report them in, and then they race off to see them. Personally I want to be out there as a pioneer, learning, exploring, finding and reporting my discoveries, as I love using the CB’s.

Mind you, there are people who use them a lot more than they should. There are people who use them for irrelevant conversations between themselves, which are of no interest to the living or the dead. And each morning I am greeted by some old twaddle coming over the airwaves. There is one pair that always chat and when you hear the callings of “Tom Tit, Tom Tit, are you there”, it is only moments before the oft repeated reply, “Good morning your Reverence.” What the blue blazes is that all about? I really want to discover who Tom Tit and his Reverence are but I am just a little scared to discover the reality of them and sometimes the truth is more shocking than one’s imagination. Anyway, I am on holiday and am of good cheer today so I will cast no aspersions (which really is unlike me) and wish them well.

Saturday 17th October

Jackie arrives today on the Scillonian.

So this morning I went for a walk before Jackie’s arrival, when a CB alert goes out for a Common Rosefinch on the path down to the school. I am actually standing at the end of this path when I hear the news. I have missed this bird too much this trip and have given up on seeing one. But could this be serendipity at work again? There is a small crowd of people watching and waiting and as I approach them, the Rosefinch flits onto a branch a few feet from me and I have a good 10 seconds to study it in all its underwhelming splendour. When it disappears a man moans that he wanted more time with it, which prompts another man to turn towards him and shout, “Be grateful you got 10 seconds!”

I walk away as more people arrive and anxiously ask if it’s showing. That has been me with this damn bird up until 10 seconds or so ago and I realise I have conquered viewing a Common Rosefinch. I stroll back home content, and even better for me, Jackie arrives soon after and I feel complete again. I miss not having her with me on my adventures.

Sunday 18th October

We have a quiet Sunday morning wander with the Lamberts and James Walsh, which is enlivened by the CB’s crackling alert to the sighting of a Cattle Egret. This is a pretty damn rare bird to find in the UK, although like the Little Egret, it is appearing more and more on our shores.

The bird is in a field that is only viewable from a farm garden and it has been arranged with the owner for birdwatchers to enter the garden to watch the bird. In return a bucket is left out at the garden gate for donations to charity. The first wave of people settles in the garden and gazes through the gap in the hedgerow at a beautiful view of the Cattle Egret in the adjacent field. Meanwhile more and more people pour into the garden.

Now, I know I’m short, so why would a man who is over 6’4” decide to stand directly in front of me when there is enough space for all to see? It’s greed for a view, that’s what it is. I mention politely what he has just done. He ignores me and I feel the urge to thump him but I swear at him instead. He of course takes no notice and I decide I have seen enough of the bird and move away from the crowd. This is the downside of some birders. Pure selfishness, and as I leave, someone else tries to climb a farmyard cart to get a better view than anyone else and suddenly there is an almighty crash as metal farming implements fall from the man’s precarious vantage point onto the ground. And guess what? The bird is spooked and flies off. Some of the crowd are now running hysterically out of the garden following the white dot in the sky. As my Uncle Jim says, “You either have an appointment with the bird or you don’t.”

For the rest of the morning we see the bird again and again as it flies around the island avoiding birders galore, and at Porth Hellick, it drops down in front of us and gives us the most splendid views while everyone else is trying to catch up with it in a Mack Sennett manner. It feels like a bit of bird karma for what happened with the tall selfish birdwatcher earlier.

We leave the bird to its preening and head up through the magical tree strewn forest path of Holy Vale, where we bump into a concerned birder, who runs guided bird tours. He has an entourage of expectant birders trailing behind him searching for the bird, which they keep missing at regular intervals. They are desperately trying to catch up with it so they can get a tick for their lists. (And I believe one for their leader’s Scilly list as well.) They are rushing towards the direction of the last sighting of the Egret with an air of anxiety, and some of the group really look as though they should not be running around at this pace at their time of life.

Ten minutes later we look up and see the Cattle Egret flying gracefully overhead. Sure enough we hear behind us a sound of rushing feet and panting sounds and it is the group heading back towards us. The Egret has just disappeared from view and the band of bedraggled birders head off in the most promising direction. A few moments later and the bird has appeared from a new direction and again heading the other way to the group. We lose sight of it and wonder if it is deliberately giving them the run-around.

As the puffing party passes past us for the third time, I suggest to our group that it would be mightily funny if the bird appeared now behind the birders, so we could shout out “Behind You” in pantomime stylie as they search high and low for that pesky bird. Thirty seconds later we see the bird fly behind them and we chorus “Behind You!!” Rolling around with laughter, we watch as the bird flies serenely behind and beyond the Keystone Kops, disappearing rapidly off into the distance. They turn on their well-worn heels as they hear our cries, and the tired troupe hobbles past us and for once head off in the right direction. That is the last we see of them that afternoon.

We later found out that the bird finally gave up the chase and settled long enough for the group to get a good look at it. That was one well-earned tick.

Cattle Egret. Photo Courtesy of Jim Lawrence

Monday 19th October

Today there is wind, rain and therefore potentially happy birders. We head off to St Agnes to record an interview with Will Wagstaff, the chairman of the Isles of Scilly Bird Group.

We wander around the island and after our lunchtime pasties at the Turk’s Head we set off to do an interview at a secluded cove. I stand with one ear facing the incoming wind. It’s a really good interview in the ever-brewing storm and I am touched by the honesty of Will’s answers. I have been asking the direct question these days in the interviews, as to what the bird effect has meant to each person I talk to. Will replies simply that he would not have become the same person he is today without them. And that encapsulates TBE for me. Birds enrich, enliven and engage people.

I start feeling odd when we return home and collapse on the couch and feel quite feverish. Oh God, I hope I’m alright and not coming down with something.

Tuesday 20th October – Friday 23rd October

Fever. Dying. Misery. Delirium.

Saturday 24th October

On Thursday Jackie got the doc in to have a look at me. I have a middle ear infection and finally today the antibiotics have made me feel nearly human again. I decide it is time to go back out into the world.

Outside is bereft of people like “28 Days Later”, because yesterday just about every birder left the island to go and see The Eastern Crowned Warbler in Durham. This is a first for Britain, which is a huge birding moment, especially for all the people who have seen nothing whilst they have been down on Scilly. Now the only people left on the island other than the locals seem to be Jackie and myself, and inexplicably, Rob and James too. The birders have left the islands. I repeat the birders have left the islands.

Sunday 25th October

We go to Bryher and Tresco with Rob and James. It is just so good to be out and about on our last day. Bryher is as beautiful as ever and we wish it a fond farewell. We head over to Tresco at lunchtime where there is a pretty rare bird to be seen, a Citrine Wagtail. We track it down and realise this is the last bird for the holidays. This is another tick for me, although that is not hard with my meagre list, and it is a fine farewell to the Isles. Same time next year anyone? But please make it fever free.

Monday 26th October

Back home by boat and train.

“Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us show up and get to work.”
Chuck Close.