The airstrip at Newquay in Cornwall is a strange place, but then most places are at 5am, especially after Neill has whizzed you down the tarmac from home overnight, and the cockerels on the next door farm are only just warming up their cockadoodledoo-ing.
No time for dawn farmyard fun yesterday though as we stuffed our tripods and ‘scopes down our trouser legs and waddled up to check-in with Jason Stannage and Alan Wright.
The day return Skybus flight to Scilly doesn’t allow any hand luggage you see, but needs must when a Cliff Swallow drives.
Once the lovely folk had squeezed us all into the Twin Otter we took off – Jason is apparently not very keen on flying, but he did seem extremely interested when the rocks below the airfield on St Mary’s sheared into view 20 minutes later.
Surprising what you learn about your friends on a twitch – I never knew Jase was a praying man…
We landed on St Mary’s at 0830 and were bussed down to Porth Hellick and birding ten minutes later – the Lesser Yellowlegs was on the pool with Dunlins and Green Sands, a Peregrine powered through and Spotted Flycatchers, Willow Warblers and Whinchats were in the bushes – but the Cliff Swallow that has been zooming about here on and off since the beginning of the week was conspicuous by its absence.
It was all a bit tense for awhile as we continued to sweep the skies with Paul Hackett (great to see you again buddy), Peter Moore and son and a small band of birders on the edge of a nervous breakdown.
At least the cloud was low and there were plenty of hirundines about, but it was a relief when I heard a roar from the beach at about 1045 and legged it round with Jase down the boardwalk to find about 15 people watching the Cliff Swallow hawking over the fields at the south west corner of the bay.
Bliss as it razzed over our heads for an hour or so – a real star.
I even managed some blurry dodgy pics of it through the P900 as it zoomed around on rounded wings and tail – a sexy blimp compared to the skinnier Swallows and House Martins.
Against a background it looked surprisingly brown, but was still very distinctive.
Up against the sky it was just a beast.
Mr Hackett patiently tried to explain to me how to use my camera properly as the Yankee powered about over our heads, but I was too excited to listen closely (“Ooo here it comes again!!!!”).
Luckily he let me digi-poach this “bum and collar” image from the back of his camera, so ta for that Paul.
As midday approached the skies began to clear and the hirundines started to drift higher and higher, and we soon lost track of the mega, but it didn’t matter. Job done.
We wandered back round the cliffs towards Old Town past Wheatears and Stonechats, bouncing over the broccoli head landscape of maritime heath in hot sun – ahh, Isles of Scilly magic.
A de rigueur stop off at the Old Town Inn for a few pints of Guinness before the flight back was as part of the schedule as Hummingbird Hawkmoths in a Scilly flower border…
All we had to do then was lie to Jase about how serene the flight would be and stroll down the lane to check in and leave the Fortunate Islands.
Always hard to go.
Back on terra firme early at 1515 and off we went on up the road.
Taking a well-earned break from driving, Neill very kindly offered to share his passion for iffy prog rockers Marillion, at Volume 100, accompanied by storm force karaoke as I steered north.
It was certainly a unique experience – thanks Neill, it definitely kept me awake in a “startled rabbit in the headlights” kind of way.
I can safely say it’s the first time I have ever seriously contemplated leaping from a moving vehicle I was driving at 80mph.
Roundabouts? Magpies? Jesters????
Whatever happened to ’77 baby?
Nerves in tatters we pulled over at Upton Warren on the edge of the southern Yam Yam territories for a quick look at the beautiful little Baird’s Sandpiper there in the last dying rays of the evening sun.
At least I could use fading light and “prog rock poisoning” as an excuse for the crap pictures – but just look at the projection on the wee gem…wonderful to watch one again as yelping Green Sands and Curlews dropped into roost.
Another truly splendiferous day fellas – thanks Neill, Jase and Alan….