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I spent this morning (11th October) telling Simon that I was apprehensive about Corvo this year. There had been so many quality American vagrants in Britain and Ireland that I wondered if the weather systems were more suitable for vagrants here this year, rather than the Azores. I contemplated that perhaps the epicentre of American vagrant activity would shift from the Azores to northwest Europe. There had been regular reports coming from the Azores all year, by Portuguese researchers, and it had gone quiet for a while. I suggested to Simon that perhaps we were in for a duff autumn.
Then my phone went off. Dominic Mitchell had just found a Hooded Warbler and a Yellow-throated Vireo within a minute on Corvo. By the end of the day, several de-stabilising text messages informed us that in addition, there was also a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, a Northern Parula and two Red-eyed Vireo. Nearby on Flores there was a Scarlet Tanager.
In the middle of this we were conducting a search for a Broad-billed Sandpiper that had been seen at Wallasea, Essex. It had been missing a few days, so we went to Canvey Island to look for it there. After a while we picked up a small wader feeding amongst the Dunlins on the mudflats. It was preening at a distance. I took a couple of distant shots and on examination of the shots we concluded that this dark bird with a strong facial pattern must be the Broad-billed Sandpiper. The tide was retreating and soon all the waders would depart so we hastily released the news to several people.
Then the bird flew in closer. I got on it and exclaimed 'Oh shit'. Then it flew overhead and called just like a Little Stint. This conversation then followed;
Me: We better call them all back and tell them
Simon: Yer okay. (Simon starts going back through his numbers)
Me: You don't think anyone will come do you?
Simon: No, Everyone is on Scilly.
Me: Thank God for that.
Then we looked round and about twenty people were speed walking and running towards us. This included one guy holding a baby as he was leaping over the salt marsh and also a birder with his birder's wife. Worse of all Lee Evans was coming too. 'Oh My God!' They had all been nearby watching a Lesser Grey Shrike and had bolted at the erroneous news. By the time they had arrived they had received messages that the record was in question but continued nonetheless.
Simon and I agreed that we make no attempt whatsoever at making excuses and just take it on the chin. We had tried to call off the charge but they came anyway.
Twenty minutes of pain followed. The baby started crying, the birders wife, waited to catch our eyes, delivered a piercing look of scorn before stomping off across the marsh and everyone else walking away shaking their heads, leaving us alone on the bleak marsh with our shame.
Well, like Mush Ahmad once told me. 'It is a time bomb'. Everybody is going to make a public mess up. It is just a matter of time. Always there ticking away in the background to go off when you least expect it.
Maybe it was an episode of autumn fever. After hearing all that news from Corvo, maybe we were caught in some kind of un-hinged perception. Got jumpy and trigger happy. I don't know. But what I do know is that the ticking has started again. Lets hope it takes us a long time to forget- because it is when you forget- that it strikes.