Spring on Scilly, like most of the UK, had started slowly on the bird front and been rather chilly weather-wise, but there were a few highlights. It had been a record spring for the gorgeous Brambling and, despite the cool weather, up to 10 Hoopoes graced the isles.
Then, on Friday 15 April, Rob Lambert put out a message on the local birders’ WhatsApp group to say that he’d been on Bryher and met a birder who, when asked if he’d seen much, replied: “Not today, but yesterday I had a Woodchat Shrike and a Eurasian Crag Martin on Tresco.”
Wow! Now Scilly would be high on the list of places for a Woodchat Shrike to turn up in mid-April and, although a monster rare, crag martin is long overdue here. However, seeing as birders had been on Tresco on Thursday, Friday and Saturday with no sign of either, the report had slipped out of my mind.
On Sunday 17th, I was on the MV meridian en route to my favorite island of Bryher and, although it was full to the brim with 90 people, I was the only birder on board. On arrival, I walked up the quay with local handyman, Olly, who was working at a house along the road leading to Fraggle Rock and the campsite – an area that I was planning on birding first.
Having wished each other a good day, I had only walked about 20 meters when I noticed a hirundine over the nearby Watch Hill. Locking onto it I began to shake. It was chunky and had large white windows in a spread tail. After uttering an expletive I told myself: “That’s a crag martin!” Carnage kicked in, the bird quickly disappeared over the ridge. A few seconds later a hirundine reappeared but it was a Sand Martin. What the…?
Initial views revealed a chunky hirundine with large white windows in the spread tail, pointing to Eurasian Crag Martin (Scott Reid).
That also promptly disappeared from view and was replaced by a Swallow. Just when I thought I was losing the plot, the Swallow was joined by both the Sand and Eurasian Crag Martins. This time, the crag martin began to perform superbly and I stood drinking in its every move, including several very close fly-bys.
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It was then that I rang Chris ‘Chesney’ Langsdon to tell him the good news: “The bloke who reported a crag martin did see one, I’m currently watching it on Bryher with a Sand Martin and a Swallow. Flippin’ hell, a life.”
Due to work, ‘Chez’ had no way of getting to Bryher until the next day. He told me it was the worst call he’d ever received. Sorry chez!
Now the problem was to get others to see it. It turned out that there were two options: wait for the 10.15 am sailing to Tresco and try to view it across the channel before wading across to Bryher around midday when the tide was low enough to walk across, or, as in Kris ‘Spider’ Webb’s case, jump in a kayak and paddle the 3.5 km from St Mary’s!
It was well over an hour before Spider arrived, by which time the martin had not been seen for 20 minutes. Thankfully, it soon reappeared in the Fraggle Rock area and Spider began snapping away as the bird showed off. Will Wagstaff and Bob Dawson arrived having had distant views from Tresco and Andy, Vicky and Helena Holden also joined in the fun.
The bird gave great views for four further days until 21 April, but wasn’t seen subsequently (Scott Reid).
After an anxious wait, about 20 birders came across from St Mary’s at 2.30 pm and enjoyed some stunning views of this marvelous bird. All’s well that ends well as the bird stayed several more days.
The original finder didn’t put news out and the trail went cold, enabling me to have my 15 minutes of fame. On a personal note, it was a smashing way to bring up my 400th bird for these magical Isles. Happy days!