18 Apr 2015

18 Apr 15 - A Well Executed Plan

One of the problems of starting a new job after having a long term job, is the problems & stress of a UK Tick turning up when there is no chance of taking time off mid week. Time off at short notice was rarely a problem with my last job. This is even worse when it is an effective first for the UK. I survived the late Winter without any problems & hadn't expected the first Tick to occur until the back end of the Spring. So was surprised to get a call from Peter Moore on Tuesday evening to say a Great Blue Heron had been found on St Mary's. It was only a mile or so away from where the only other UK record had been found. That proved untwitchable as it wasn't relocated the following morning & was a wise decision for me at the time, to give it a miss. With no chance of going mid week for the next individual, then there was the hope that by the weekend, it would either have slipped into a regular pattern or have moved on: making the decision for me. News from the Wednesday wasn't hopeful with many missing it as it had left Old Town Bay before the boat arrived & only seen by a lucky few later that day. With no news the following day, it looked I was going to be Birding Studland as usual. Then another call from Peter on Thursday evening, to say it had been relocated on the outer island of Bryher. We had already talked of our plans of flying on & off, so I asked Peter to book the flights. Should have been easy, but the Steamship company who also operate the flights, have a new webshite (not a typo) & it had crashed yet again. Fortunately, I was able to ring first thing the following morning and after enduring over 15 minutes of appalling music (perhaps designed to get you to ring off to reduce the calls), I finally got through. Tickets were quickly booked for the first flight on & last flight off: result. Five minutes later, Richard Webb was on the phone to see if I was tempted to go. After a quick explanation of our plans, he was also booking the same flights. Even better he mentioned the pager was advertising charter boat transfers to Bryher. In the meantime, I was checking with My Cornish mate, Brian Field on his plans (as he was one of the unlucky dippers on Wednesday). He was going back on the Saturday, but warned me of the extreme morning tides. All this was discussed with the boatman to ensure getting to Bryher would be OK. It was on paper & I had the first charter booked for the three of us was fine. We could take another nine Birders & the boatman said he would take names of other callers during the day, who also wanted to be on this 09:45 charter.
The Garrison: One of the many good sites on St Mary's. I've seen Parula Warbler in the top right hand corner of this view
After a half night of light sleeping (in worry about over sleeping), the alarm went off at the far too early time of three in the middle of the night. There was time for a filling breakfast, before having to put on my chauffeur's hat & get in the car. First stop, Wareham, to pick up the Peter and Richard. A quick check on the wildlife revealed, I had already recorded Sika Deer & baby Rabbit, whilst Richard had both Sika & Roe Deer and Fox. Peter's contribution of neighbour's Pussy Cat was disallowed, as would my local Alpacas had they been mentioned. All this filled the first few minutes of the drive West. Conversation continued until finally both passengers fell asleep by Dorchester (Richard) & somewhere in Cornwall (Peter). After a good journey, they finally woke up as I pulled into the airport car park. There was a strong, cold Easterly wind blowing which left me slightly concerned that the boat wouldn't run. A quick call to the boatman confirmed my charter was still on & we had a nearly full boat. I wasn't worried about the last place or two. There were bound to be a number of Birders milling around on the quayside who would happily join us.
Lower Moors on St Mary's: What a pity we couldn't see it on this pool
Time for a quick second breakfast (at the right time this time), before checking in. Safety briefings over, we were on the first flight out that morning & soon landing at the airfield on St Mary's, in the Isles of Scilly. The taxi quickly took us to the quayside, past a few of the historic locations of previous rare Birds. A quick scan of the harbour located our chartered boat was still at its mooring, but soon the boatman was heading out to it. We quickly got onto the boat & I was pleased to see the boatman was checking names to ensure other people who weren't booked weren't depriving more organised Birders.
The crossing to Bryher: It was great to be inside the boat
Soon we were heading out to Bryher, the long way around the island as the low tides, meant there wasn't enough water in the channel between Bryher & Tresco to take the direct route. Arriving at Bryher confirmed the tide was very low, with sand separating us from the quayside. But our boatman had warned me of this & quickly tied up at a buoy with a dingy. This easily took six of us at a time & a couple of minutes later, the first of the passengers were landing. The drawback of being first on the boat meant I was in the second dingy off. But we were soon in the dingy & being taken ashore only five minutes behind the first group. About ten minutes later, I could see the first group getting close to the Hell's Bay Hotel pool, as I stopped to scan the pool from a couple of hundred metres away. But I couldn't see the Great Blue Heron on the pool. But then a shout from Richard, confirmed he could see it. A second scan & I picked out the Great Blue Heron standing on the far shore. The plan had come together perfectly. I was on the phone to Brian Field at the time & could also get the news back to the Lands End Birders that it was still there as we were the first Birders on Bryher that morning.
The Hell's Bay Hotel pool from our viewpoint
It wasn't long before we were setting up tripods & telescopes well away from the pool to try & get a better view. Frustratingly, it had moved to the left hand corner & out of view from where I was standing. As I was moving to get a viewpoint, a shout went up: it's flying. No problem picking out this big beast of a Heron as it slowly flew towards us (having been flushed by non Birders coming out of the hotel before they walked right past the edge of the now empty pool).
Great Blue Heron: Once booted by walkers, it started coming towards us 
I could hear Peter road testing his motor drive on his Canon 7D. No chance for me. My camera was still in the rucksack, where it was safely placed to avoid any risk of seawater splashing on it. Still it wasn't long before my motor drive was also singing its distinctive call. In the hurry to get the camera into use, there was no chance to do anything more than switch the camera to AV & hope I had left it on sensible settings the last time I used it. The settings were fine, but I really needed to over expose against the brighter sky. But there was no time to change that as it continued to fly towards us. But finally, it dropped in height & I had the surrounding hill behind it. More relieving, it wasn't heading off from Bryher & the exposure should be OK now. It landed out of sight in a field.

Great Blue Heron: Good to see it had its landing lights on its forewing
Great Blue Heron: It was noticeably larger than a Grey Heron, with a deep chest & long bulky feet
Great Blue Heron: Finally, it started to drop in height to land at the edge of the nearby fields
Most of the group headed off for a higher viewpoint and quickly returned to say they had seen it in the field, before it walked out of view. I stayed put hoping it would quickly fly back to the pool. When that didn't happen, I joining the others, when word reached us that it had hunkered down and looked like it was going to roost for a while. There it remained & we carried on watching it from a distance.