Sunday, 10 April 2011

Looking Back... Albatross at last!!!

Having never been a prolific seawatcher, I knew the best and only chance of adding Albatross to the list would be twitching the long stayer on Unst, Shetland, present on and off from 1972. Plans were made for the haul up to Shetland in 1995 and it was now just a case of hoping it would be sat on it's ledge when I peered over the cliff top at Hermaness on 2nd May.

Circumstances changed and I ended up going up on my own, driving to Aberdeen in my first car, a clapped out Ford Fiesta was an experience in itself, but I made it and caught the ferry across. Having never been to Shetland before and with no transport on the islands I decided to seek expert help, Hugh Harrop offered tours to see it for about £30, a bargain I thought. He collected me from the ferry and drove up through the other islands, across the inter-island ferries, to Hermaness. We trekked up through the Bonxie breeding grounds, getting dive bombed in the process and made it to the cliff. Hugh, having seen the bird recently was confident it would be there, but surprise surprise, no sign!!! Fortunately I was booked into a B&B back in Northdale, so spent the night there. I was on my own the next day and walked back to the cliffs, but again no sign. I spent the rest of the day in beautiful sunshine, surrounded by Puffins in breath taking scenery, but needless to say, I was gutted. Consolation came in the form of a White Stork at Northdale on Unst, a lifer at the time, but I thought my chance for "Albert" had come and gone.

Fast forward another year and I was giving it another go! This time with my Dad and we were flying over from Aberdeen and hiring a car. I knew where to go, so had no need for Hugh this time. But again we were to be disappointed. We spent a couple of days sleeping in the car at the car park at Hermaness, but the bird never showed.

I was on the Scillonian pelagic in 1999, where several of us were convinced we had an Albatross on the sea on the inward journey to Penzance. The ship was turned around but nothing was found. There were lots of comments that it was just a Gannet, but I guess we'll never know and I knew I couldn't tick it.

Fast forward another 8 years to 2007 and I'm booked on the RBA trip to Sula Sgeir, a tiny rock island out in the North Atlantic, 40 miles north of the Butt of Lewis.

Sula Sgeir - this has to be one of the most inaccessible twitching locations in the British Isles

Bank holiday Monday, 7th May, found me making the mammoth journey up to Ullapool, 475 miles from Brough. I arrived exhausted but at the same time incredibly excited at the prospect of the next day's events. The overnight journey out to Sula Sgeir was "choppy" at times but dawn saw us approaching the rock. Everything on board was silent as we searched the cliffs and then at 6.30am (forever ingrained in my memory), a shout went up and Martin Scott had picked it up. Soon afterwards everyone was on it, AMAZING!!!

Black Browed Albatross - Sula Sgeir, Western Isles 8th May 2007 (photo: S Hinley)

Some birds and some twitches, you turn up and see the bird straightaway, no problem, but then others you really have to work for. Well this is one bird that I feel I put in the time and effort (and money!), and I feel that I deserved this one. To this day it is still one of my most memorable twitches, amazing bird and amazing place, it would take something pretty special to top it.

1 comment:

  1. I'd always heard that the albatross on Unst was the only one in the northern hemisphere. Do you think this was the same one?