Monday, 11 May 2015

Go West! Hudsonian Godwit and Great Blue Heron

The news of a Great Blue Heron, a second for Britain, on the Isles of Scilly on April 15th sparked only mild interest in me at first. It was a long way away, the bird was being awkward and as I had to work on Saturday morning I couldn't go anyway. The bird stayed, however, became more settled on the pool on Bryher and I was free the following Saturday; my interest levels began to rise... One small problem though, as most of the people I knew who wanted to go down to Scilly had already gone or were going on Friday I found myself without a car share. The prospect of a solo drive to Penzance was one I didn't want to do so it looked like I was stuck again. Out of the blue I was offered a place in a car IF someone dropped out. There was an anxious wait until Friday but the crew remained intact and I had no place. Then they offered to squeeze me in (I am only little) but unable to get an appropriate flight off Scilly I had to decline. I went to bed somewhat glumly, at least I would get a lie in for the first time in several weeks.
The following morning I woke at 8.05 and glanced idly at my mobile phone. Surprisingly for the time of day there were 2 text messages. The words Hudsonian Godwit Somerset had me instantly wide awake. Turning to my slumbering husband I announced I was going to Somerset and leapt out of bed.  My husband had seen the 1983 bird so I hastily arranged to meet up with my friend James in Letchworth for the long drive west. Two small obstacles delayed my leaving, my elder daughter was off on a Duke of Edinburgh practice expedition and had to be got ready and there were bottle-reared lambs to feed. Daughter was seen off with me clutching bottles of milk in each hand and I finally hit the road at 8.55. My sat-nav reckoned I wouldn't be in Letchworth until 11.15 but lets just say I beat that time with plenty to spare. It was only when we were ploughing around the M25 did I remember that I had forgotten to make my daughter a packed lunch (oops), but as James said, the Duke of Edinburgh award is supposed to be character building!
We had an anxious 3 1/4 hour drive down to Shapwick but regular updates on the pager reassured us the bird was still there. The large car park was just about full but we found a place and made the  walk to the godwit at a brisk pace passing happy, relaxed birders returning along the embankment. Too our huge relief the godwit was on show when we joined the crowd and it put on a superb show posing at every angle, lifting its wings to show off its smoky black underwings and flying around occasionally displaying its wing bars. After watching it for an hour and a half it was out turn to amble happily back to the car. We left the car park at 4.15 with birders still arriving unaware that the godwit had flown off. On the drive home we made plans to go to Scilly the following weekend if the Great Blue Heron was still around and as it was the World Pilot Gig championships that weekend we both booked places on the Scillonian in hope.The heron obliging moved to St Marys at the start of the week but on Friday the news wasn't good, just a single no sign message at lunchtime. Reasoning that we would be gutted if the bird was still there on Saturday we gambled and set off on the long drive westward buoyed by a message reporting the bird still present.
It was a dismal damp day in Penzance which meant staying below decks on the Scillonian but dosed up with Stugeron I survived the voyage. Finally on St Marys, we joined a small group of birders route marching from the quay to Lower Moors, winding our way through the packed gig rowers above Town Beach. We piled in to the ISBG hide and there was the Great Blue Heron straight out in full view, looking a little damp but actively preening. Phew!

We watched it for a good hour then headed to Juliet's Garden for a celebratory lunch which happened to coincide with the spectacle of 150 brightly coloured gigs racing from St Agnes to Hugh Town. The roar of the crowds was audible across the harbour

 After an amble across the island we returned to Lower Moors for another look and found the heron actively hunting close to the hide, often peering intently in to the rushes before pouncing on a hapless eel.

It was soon time to return to the Scillonian to start the long weary journey home but it had been a trip well worth doing.

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