Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Swainson's Thrush on Skokholm, Sweden

On Tuesday I was working as usual and while glancing through my messages, I noticed one about a SWAINSON'S THRUSH that had been trapped in Stokholm. It also said it was a second record and I remember thinking that it wasn't a bad record for a city. I then texted CJW saying "Swainson's Thrush in Sweden"; a remarkable record considering the British Isles had already seen a VEERY and GREY-CHEEKED THRUSH this spring.

A few texts later I read something odd. Then it dawned on me and I actually started to laugh. Sometimes you read something and instantly you think you know what you've read, and its very difficult to alter what you thought it said. I was convinced it was in Sweden despite it being Skokholm and not Stokholm.

So there was a SWAINSON'S THRUSH on an island off Pembrokeshire and on Wednesday, news was released that it was still present and that boats were being organised for Thursday to go across. During Wednesday afternoon, I suddenly thought that I'd better do something about this bird. So I rang the number to enquire about the boats across on Thursday. There were no seats available for the Thursday sailings, but they were taking down names for Friday and would confirm the sailing on Thursday midday should the bird continue to stay. My head suddenly said that I was working on Friday as per usual. Then my inner chimp butted in and I booked three seats.   

Again the SWAINSON'S THRUSH stayed throughout Thursday and the first boats went over. They had to wait an hour to see it, but by all accounts, a very enjoyable day was had by all. The boat organisers rang me before 12:00hrs on Thursday and confirmed the boat would be sailing. All excellent stuff. There was just one last thing to organise, and that was the day off work. (It remind me of the SOOTY TERN twitch to the Skerries off Anglesey in 2005. RSu had managed to get us on a boat sailing out of Cemaes at 17:00hrs. He would pick me up at 13:00hrs. That was a Friday too. Amazing how quickly you have to think sometimes in this game when you are working). For legal reasons I must point out that I wasn't ill on Friday, I was legitimately granted the day off. I just haven't earned the overtime yet.

Everything was now sorted. We set off at 02:30hrs. The journey was going smoothly until we came to the bottom of the M50. There were signs for a road closure and a diversion but it was not clear and I didn't pay much attention to it and so we carried on down the A40. It was only then that we realised it was the A40 that was shut. We had to drive all the way back up again and it put 45 mins onto the journey. It seems at the moment every early morning trip ends up with a road closed somewhere.

We arrived at Martins Haven at 08:00hrs and the boat was due to sail at 09:45hrs. As we were there in plenty of time, we sat on the beach and waited. Fortunately, we already knew that the SWAINSON'S THRUSH was still present. I spoke to the captain of the Skomer boat who informed us that our boat would be round later and it was a RIB. I grinned and walked back to CJW. I did think about walking back to the car to get my waterproofs, but I thought we would only get slightly damp.

Martins Haven
CJW started sulking when he found out the yellow one was his

The twelve who had booked on the only boat to sail across to Skokholm all assembled and the large dingy sailed into the bay. I immediately decided I was going to sit on one of the middle seats, totally surrounded by everyone else and therefore staying dry. I sat down only to be told to move forward to fill the seats up. I ended up on the front row, left hand side.

We were already informed that the crossing between the mainland and Skokholm was choppy today, due to the tide flowing in between the two. Before we headed off, we were also told that there was a possibility that we might not be able to land at all due to the swell. Out we went. First a bit of spray came over, then as we sped up and went further out the waves started coming over. I pulled my hood up and just bent over. We were soon dripping wet from head to foot. Luckily, from previous wet experiences, my scope and camera were all bagged up safely inside my very wet rucksack. It didn't matter where you sat, all 12 of us were drenched. But we thoroughly enjoyed it. It was one of those experiences that you'll never ever forget. I could have been at work, but instead I was bouncing over the sea, bracing myself for the next soaking, heading for a new island few people have visited.

As we neared the island, we started to relax and laugh about the trip over, compared each others clothing puddles and then we started seeing Puffins. We couldn't believe how many there were. As we sailed in we were surrounded by them, taking off from the surface literally feet away from the boat. It was stunning. We headed for the jetty and the warden was monitoring the swell. We sat offshore for about 15 mins while the tide dropped. But there was so much going on around the boat. Then we attempted to land. First all of the gear was handed over, then with the help of the boat hand and the warden, we had to time our jump ashore perfectly with the heaving sea. Everyone managed it except pops who just decided to try and jump out and ended up on his knees.

Once on the island we headed up to the buildings. It was quite steep and uphill all the way, and so we stayed with pops to make sure he was ok. He's 81, not been well recently, had been in a rubber dingy zipping over the sea and was soaked. And it was drizzling. But he was enjoying himself I think. 

We were soon by the courtyard, standing at the back of the small crowd. It was all carefully marshalled and everyone could see and knew where to look. It carried on drizzling but we'd only been standing for a few moments when the Swainson's Thrush popped out on its favourite branch. It was a brief view, but it was there.

We stood watching the site for about two hours, and every twenty mins or so the Swainson's Thrush popped back into view. Eventually the rain cleared and the sun came out and we were actually drying off. We chatted to the warden, and two volunteers approached me and announced that they were actually from Stoke as well (on a three month stint on Skokholm).
Swainson's Thrush, Skokholm, June 2015

The fortunate few

Imagine painting that every year
The back hedge was where the Swainson's was.
The warden in blue and the two volunteers guarding the mob. The group at the back were wardens from Skomer

We slowly wandered back to the jetty (we weren't allowed anywhere else on the island. The wardens made sure of that when two of our party tried to wander off). We saw a Spotted Flycatcher feeding in a bush but spent most of the time walking, looking at the scenary and thinking about the amazing trip.

Stunning place especially when the sun came out
The landing jetty
Waiting for the return boat
CJW and pops all ready for the return trip
Nice and dry for a few moments again

But it wasn't over yet. We were told the journey back would be better as it was low tide now. We headed off, seeing seals and endless Puffin again, and other than a bit of spray we were motoring along merrily. Then the captain changed direction and headed towards the mainland. And then the waves came crashing over again. I was sat at the front again and within seconds I was completely soaked again. This time, it even ran into my boots. All 12 of us were saturated. But who cared. It was a trip to remember. Awesome place, bird, company, transport. It goes straight into my top five twitches of all time.