Saturday, 2 April 2011

Rick: Dark Skies, Bright Trousers and a Minor Haircut Accident at NRBO

First of all, this being my first post on this new blog, a quick introduction is required: I’m Richard, usually known as Rick or, if you know me from my previous job at Bardsey Bird Observatory, ‘Rich E’. I’ve been on North Ronaldsay since late January (I arrived to find the island in the drowsy and possibly hung-over aftermath of the previous night’s Burns Supper), and I’ll be working at the obs for the whole season. This is my first time on the island, but everything has been great so far and I – along with the rest of the staff here – look forward to what we anticipate will be a fantastic year ahead.

With Rael back, Mark and Fleur settled in and Paul returning from his holiday in Manchester, the obs was able to field a full-strength birding team from the start of the week; and it didn’t take long for the increased coverage of the island to produce some decent birds (details of which are on the sightings blog, via which you probably came to reach this page). Having eventually settled on what we believe to be the most effective rotational system for conducting the daily census, organised systematic coverage of the island has now commenced.

As well as the birding, we have an extensive to-do list of jobs at and around the observatory that should keep us all busy for the foreseeable future. This week we’ve continued planting various patches of shrubbery that we hope will survive the Orcadian weather long enough to provide shelter from said Orcadian weather for all the autumn’s expected mega rarities. The potato patch has been re-rotivated and continues to be an attractive lure to Twites, Linnets and any passing yellow buntings; and we have been able to trap and ring several finches there during occasional windows of mist-nettable conditions.

While Rael and Paul were turning the tattie patch, Mark and I had a go at rebuilding the collapsed dyke by the Heligoland trap. Neither of us really knew what we were doing, but I think the finished wall looks suitably tidy and homogenous with respect to the adjacent stonework, which is pretty much the effect we were going for; and we even incorporated a stile that is almost completely solid to stand on.

The wall in progress, and after completion. Here Mark is also modelling a new line of birding trousers, guaranteed to scare all Lanceolated Warblers within a 50m radius out of hiding.

The most important job of week was undoubtedly the installation of Mark’s old dart board in the staff room. Once it was in place, it only took him a matter of minutes to hit the first 180; although nobody has yet managed to replicate this feat. As well as darts, the Scrabble set also got its first airing of the year this week. Modesty almost prevents me from disclosing who won, but it was an extremely close game and I did, admittedly, have to resort to my knowledge of Himalayan hybrid cattle (zo) and traditional Chinese life-forces (qi) to beat Rael.

Although the quality of the above picture is terrible, there is one feature that demands explanation. Keen-eyed readers may notice Rael’s interesting, experimental new hair cut: the result of an accidental experiment into what happens when you start to cut your own hair without using a mirror, and forget to put the length-controlling comb on the clippers. We tried really hard not to laugh.

There was an interesting talk about astronomy during the week by Steve Owens of the Dark Sky Society, who was staying here to gather some data on how dark the North Ronaldsay night sky is. It is, apparently, especially dark, and we should soon be given official recognition of this and be designated the world’s first ‘dark sky island’. Steve will hopefully give a write-up of his visit, and on the pre-eminent inkiness of our firmament, on his Dark Sky Diary when he gets back home.

North Ronaldsay's dark sky.

A slightly more interesting view of it, taken when the aurora borealis was visible in early March.

We’re now starting to get a few more visitors staying at the obs, including a sheep conference, whatever that involves, which is to be held here in the coming week. The new Heligoland trap is taking shape and should be nearing completion once we find what’s happened to the mesh we were going to use. A few more birds are starting to appear now, so the trap will be a priority job in the next few days. With a bit of luck, pictures of the finished, or nearly finished, article will be posted next week, when Rael will write-up his account of the week’s events.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the warning, I'll have a haircut BEFORE visiting the island!