Sad news recently that the Scillies helicopter service will cease from November. Whilst reading of its fate I was thrown back to my first Scilly trip, 25 years ago in October 1987.
In those days birding magazines consisted essentially of British Birds and two 'new kids on the block' namely Birdwatching and Birding World. Pagers, mobile phones and the Internet were practically unheard of. Birding entrepreneurs, Millington and Gantlett, had a stranglehold on information with the premium rate service Birdline. Many birders Dad’s must have been disappointed when they discovered that the 0898 numbers, that ran to several pages of the phone bill, were in fact the aforementioned rare bird service and not madame X’s naughty talk – perhaps young Johnny was gay after all? With a combination of limited funds and the lack of literature I often took to reading old back numbers (usually obtained free) of British Birds. Among these was the 1985 rarities report and for a 17 year old possibly the most exciting magazines I had ever held – hardcore porn was not freely available in 1987! The whole report was dominated by the October '85 Scillies rare fest – still regarded by many as the greatest fall of American land birds ever. Positively drooling I just had to go there.
|Black and white pictures was as good as it got back then.|
So it was, that after a spectacular late August Norfolk trip in 87’ (a classic in its own right) we set about booking our flights to Scilly. Even in 1987 the chopper was an exorbitant £65, a full two weeks money for a YTS at Rumbelows , my occupation at the time. The ‘Norfolk four’ were now reduced to three with my old school pal John discovering that girls were better than birds (as if) and packing in birding. In his place we were joined by James (nowadays Jim) Clarke, with whom I’d enjoyed a great Speyside trip earlier in the year. The Scillies 87’ team consisted of me, the Fray’s and James, or the brat pack as we were later christened!
A few days prior to the trip Rob’s car engine seized, fortunately Rob’s Dad Mic (top bloke) had a garage and loaned him a 12 month old 2.0S Sierra, Rob and I were only 17 with James 16 and Richard only 14!! We surely must have been the coolest looking kids to hit the southwest that October, though 4 scrotes in a stolen Sierra would have been more accurate!
The evening, before the trip, we stocked up on provisions from Tesco. As everyone knows there are no shops on Scilly, in fact everyone lives in upturned boats and feeds only on food salvaged from the shoreline – or so we thought.
Being on a budget our chosen accommodation for the week was a luxurious 4 berth tent that we would pitch on the sheltered Garrison camp site.With a few good birds already on Scilly and a crippling Black and White on the way in Devon we were on our way……
Due to the youngest member of our group being blind, and subsequently dipping, we spent too long at the Black and White and a speedy dash across Devon and Cornwall didn’t stop us missing our Scilly connection. Fortunately we managed to get on the last flight, though by the time we arrived at the camp site it was pitch black. No worries we would pitch our luxury 4 berth tent then relax after a delicious meal of corned beef and tinned tomatoes. Except the tent was actually a two berth and the meal tasted like shit! After a dreadful wet, windy and cramped night in the tent we awoke to our first birding day on Scilly….
The order in which things happened is a little muddled, but I'll do my best.
A Red-eyed Vireo had been present on the campsite for a few days and after a while finally showed in the large Garrison pines. The highlight of the day though was Rob bumping into a couple of birders that he'd met at Spurn in the spring. Turned out they were renting a house in Hugh Town and as Rob had shown them mercy and given them a lift from Spurn to Hull back in the spring, they returned the favour by offering the four of us a room in there cosy rented house. Cosy in the sense that there were now fourteen of us sleeping in it. Compared to the tent it was indeed a palace and after pleading with the campsite owner for our money back we moved in.
That night we attended the obligatory Porthcressa log call. The log consisted mostly of smelly men (and some smelly women) in waxed jackets, some still wandering around curiously with their birding equipment around their necks. Mike Rodgers systematically went through a list of the days sightings pausing to add observers counts and occasionally inject some humour into the proceedings. At the end Mike made an announcement, which went something like this;"This evening I've had a call from Dick Filby on Tresco. He has found a Philadelphia Vireo" The room fell silent then emptied quickly, as though someone had removed the lid off a biscuit tin of dog shit.......
To be continued...