Tuesday, 29 November 2011
Ric: heading south for the winter
Now that the eventful and rarity-filled observatory season has finally petered out to its wintry, blustery end, there is just time left for me to write a valedictory blog post before I depart south to my wintering grounds, exchanging the cold and stormy Orcadian climate for the street-level smog and ambient crack fumes of Greater Manchester. I am glad to say, though, that I will be returning to the clean subarctic air of North Ron early in the spring, and am already looking forward to what promises to be an equally exciting sophomore season at the bird observatory.
My departure does mean that, from this week, I will be handing over the responsibility of updating the observatory’s sightings blog to Mark, who will continue to keep you informed of any interesting bird news until I get back. I will, of course, continue to keep a scrupulous eye out for any grammatical slips and solecisms creeping into his postings, and will endeavour to intervene and hastily eradicate any greengrocers’ apostrophes and dangling participles faster than you can say “Harlequin Duck’s”.*
The never-ending series of gales and hailstorms in the last week have given us an opportunity to tackle the inevitable accumulation of end-of-season paperwork: Mark and I have been busy slogging our way up the mountain of ringing data that needs to be entered into the computer system and finishing off all our rarity descriptions from earlier in the year. It is an unfortunate by-product of successful birding and ringing that it tends to leave you with a backlog of tedious computer work, but at least it gives you something to do indoors on these stormy November days.
The weather has also been keeping us busy with practical maintenance work this week. Horrendously strong winds in the early hours of Saturday morning tore a couple of windows out of the observatory roof and ripped the polytunnel to shreds, leaving us with some improvised emergency repairs to do during the day. Mark and Kevin were quickly out of bed and to clamp the remaining loft windows down with mole grips before more damage could be done, and in the afternoon we managed to block the hole with wooden boards tied down with string. There are already yet more gales looming on the horizon, but we should be able to make our repairs robust enough to last until we can get someone out here to do it properly. The polytunnel covering is clearly beyond repair, and will have to wait until the spring to be replaced.
It is fortunate that we had had the foresight to remove all the potted plants from the already-damaged polytunnel before the latest storms ripped the plastic sheeting off completely.
Our efforts to patch up the gap in the roof seem to be holding up so far, even though the wooden sheets are mainly held in place by pieces of the guy cord that we normally use for the mist nets.
A welcome feature of island life in recent weeks has been the introduction of Saturday afternoon badminton sessions at the community centre. Attendance has not exactly been high so far, and one week we were turned away because the sports hall had been set out with tables and chairs for a book sale and coffee evening, about which we had completely forgotten; but Mark, Gavin and I have been enjoying our weekly dose of sporting activity and I expect them both to keep practising and become expert badminton players by the time I return. They might even be able to beat me.
I have now got just a couple of days left to finish the last few pages of ringing data, pack my bags, try to find one last rare bird, and dig out an ample quantity of Stugeron and ginger biscuits to last me the ferry journey from Kirkwall to Aberdeen – a sea-crossing that I am not particularly looking forward to. The rest of the observatory staff will be staying on the island for most of the winter, repairing any more weather damage, continuing the hitherto unsuccessful attempts to catch Bean Geese and swans at night, and, most importantly, rehearsing their parts and trying on their body-stockings for the spring pantomime.
*An effort that I’m sure will be appreciated in Tense Towers, if nowhere else.