A white morph Gyr Falcon, a charismatic bird of prey the size of a Buzzard and all the way from Greenland has been present on North Uist for the last ten days or so, and in fact as I write this it is still there and being seen everyday. I went to see it last Tuesday, driving eleven hours through a rainy night and then taking a Caledonian MacBraynes ferry from Uig on the Isle of Skye to Lochmaddy on North Uist, at 9am on the Wednesday morning.
The Gyr Falcon was not seen that day despite myself and four other birders present on the island splitting up and searching the north end of the island which it favoured. The next day we searched again until it was time to catch the ferry back to Uig at 4pm. This time there had been around eight of us looking for it but still it did not show up. We had dipped but that was it and we accepted that the bird had probably gone as they do not often remain long in one place.
Our ferry was just about docking in Uig at around five thirty in the afternoon when a text from one of the birders still on North Uist told me that the Gyr Falcon had just shown up and was sitting on a fence near to the RSPB Balranald Visitor Centre. Ouch! That was a real blow to my morale but there was nothing I could do but shrug and embark on the long and tedious drive home. Needless to say the Gyr Falcon has been seen every day since without fail.
On the drive south I reflected on the situation and let's face it with another ten hours driving I certainly had enough time. After the first hour or so of hearing the hugely disappointing news from North Uist I found myself slowly realising that, yes it was a bitter disappointment but for me it is not just about the birds on an odyssey such as this. Of course it is preferable if you see the bird but for long distance twitches like this there is more to it, as I relish the opportunity to leave a supposed normal existence to take off on a whim and a wild flight of fancy. To do something that is well beyond the norm, feel the surge of excitement and know there is no one or any thing to constrain me apart from my own inhibitions is an alluring prospect. To know as I set off into an unknown immediate future that I have metaphorically jumped the fence of the everyday into a very different world of extremes of emotion and behaviour is beguilingly attractive.
It is addictive, no doubt about that and so long as I enjoy it I will remain in thrall to it. There is, I am discovering relatively late in life, a whole wide world out there just waiting to be discovered. Not just different countries and different places, both at home and abroad but also a different mindset to travel to, where anything is possible and there are no constraints except to overcome a mind that is used to routines.
So yes, I missed the Gyr Falcon but I got huge enjoyment out of the day and a half I spent on North Uist as I was breaking free once again from the shackles of domesticity. North Uist is also beautiful and the existence of the islanders is very different day to day from my cosy niche in Kingham. The wildness and beauty of a small island of white shell sand beaches and pounded by a wild Atlantic sea is in itself not to be underestimated.
The beach with Balranald in the distance
We also found a dead Pilot Whale lying on the beach at Balranald on the second day.
I would have much preferred to see a live one but this was the next best thing. Even a Pilot Whale, one of the smallest whale species is impressive, this individual being about twelve feet long and with a formidable set of teeth. Attendant on the dead whale was a juvenile Glaucous Gull, completing a classic combination of dead whale and gull scavenger.
The Glaucous Gull was unusually wary compared to most I have seen and at the sight of anyone too close for comfort it would take to the air and circle effortlessly in a sunlit blue sky as we watched it from the top of the sandy dunes. It never left the vicinity of the beach but would just sail on outstretched wings, buoyed by the strong southwesterly wind, back and fore above the dead whale.
So there, it was not all bad and maybe, just maybe if the Gyr Falcon is still there in ten days or so I will give it another go. After all there is nothing to stop me if I put my inhibitions to one side. Is there?