In awe of the Vireo. 11th October 1987

So there we were, stood in a rapidly emptying Porthcressa. We followed suit and left for bed - at least that's how I remember it. 

The following morning we were up before dawn and heading our way to the quay. We didn't even spend time gelling our hair (which was where the Brat Pack name came from). Arriving at the quay, we were faced with sizeable crowd gathered in anticipation of the first boat loading - it was 5:30 in the morning and pitch black! I don't remember the journey much except that it was still dark and it was a beach landing - though some didn't actually wait for the boat to beach before disembarking. 

With dawn breaking we were dragged along with the crowd to the site of the vireo Borough Farm.  It didn't take long for the bird to be found, though it was distant, foraging along a hedgerow about 100 yards away. Despite crap views we ticked it (we had absolutely no morals back then), then stood around talking, waiting for it to reappear!  By now the crowd was huge, probably in excess of 400 though all impeccably behaved. In those days there was an unwritten rule that photographers were allowed at the front. This wasn’t a problem because in reality there was only a handful and most of them were established names in birding folklore, Cotteridge, Loseby, Tipling, Wheeler and Young – names you could trust.  They would ply their trade in the Porthcressa each evening selling prints of the latest rarities, indeed I purchased a fine pic’ that evening of the Vireo off Dr Wheeler.

Copyright Dr Pete Wheeler
Whilst waiting for the vireo to show again a Corncrake was found cowering or half dying, depending how you look at it and whether or not you needed it – we needed it so it was most definitely the former.  The only snag was that everyone wanted to see it and it only visible by crawling under a hedge with only space for two or three at a time.  Whilst waiting in the very orderly queue we were treated to stunning views of the Vireo as it picked around in the trees just a few feet above our heads. One memory that sticks in my mind is the huge mound of scopes and tripods that were piled up, whilst queueing for the Crake, it really was that crowded that you couldn’t queue with a scope. A bloke being dragged along the lane by a tractor and trailer (as it hooked itself to his rucksack) for a good few yards was an amusing distraction whilst waiting for our turn in the queue, fortunately only his pride was dented.  The Corncrake was a vision of health occasionally closing its eyes to have a little nap, during our viewing it appeared to be having a particularly long nap - I'm not sure that it actually ever woke up again!
Part of the Vireo crowd including us. Originally from an article in Birdwatching 
Having had our fill of the Vireo (if that were possible) and the Crake  we headed off for a further three ticks; Spotted Crake at the Abbey Pool, Richards Pipit on the Cricket Pitch and a cracking Rose-breasted Grosbeak feeding on blackberries . All showed well with the Grosbeak even giving us a flash of its rusty red underwing. This truly was the Scilly that we had dreamed of, 7 ticks in 3 days. 7? Err yes; didn’t I mention I also ticked Stonechat?

That evening we celebrated our tick fest with an evening in the Porthcressa.  We were probably a little less honest about our bumper haul when the tick tin was passed around, admitting only to the Vireo and the Grosbeak.  The Porthcressa log call was followed on a couple of nights each week by the now legendary Porthcressa Disco.  This consisted of a basket meal, bar and a cheesy disco playing the current hits of the day (which being an isolated island community was around 1982). The thing with birding Scilly in the 1980’s was that it was predominantly a male dominated environment and this extended to the disco. Any outsiders to the birding community stumbling on this salubrious night spot would be forgiven for thinking that they had wandered into the Isles of Scilly's one and only gay bar, even more so if they had spotted the white suited gent in slip-on shoes gyrating among the more common wax jacketed revellers!

We probably slept well that night, though I don't recall whose turn it was to sleep on the bed....

Tune in next time to see why leaving Scilly for a rare on the mainland can cost you dearly.

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