Friday, 1 March 2013

Northwards, February 5th...

For five days in late January I was struck down by an awful winter cold.  I'd been fit and well all winter until now, even right through the extreme cold period of early January.  The cold faded away but I was left with a terrible headache which lasted for about ten days.  I was scared of going to the doctor in case it was something serious  The crushing headaches lasted all day and were so bad at night I was sleeping for 3 hurs, waking up and then then not sleeping for another 2-3 hours.  Eventually I gave in and went to the doctors who prescribed a course of antibiotics, and a blood test - I had developed an ear infection that was causing the pain.  I felt so enormously relieved when I left the doctors, I felt like I was walking on air!
Over the years I have occasionally suffered from severe migraines, and these headaches were very similar but lasting much longer.  During this period, news came out of the Pine Grosbeak on Shetland retrospectively identified from photos.  I longed to see it, but could I possibly be fit enough to make he journey?  Imagine the nightmare of suffering an intolerable migraine attack whilst on the ferry to Shetland that was pitching to and fro in a force 9 gale?  I'd just want to go to hospital I think.  Even worse was the thought of reaching the bird and feeling so overcome with excruciating head pain that all I might want to do would be to lie down and go to sleep, unable to do anything whilst those around me are watching the bird.

Well thankfully, it did not come to that.  John Marchant asked me if I'd lke to join him on one of his month-listing extravaganzas to Scotland, taking in the Grosbeak.  Initially I said no on the day I visited the doctor and started the antibiotics on  4 February.  Next morning the migraine-style headache was back with a vengeance, and I had to walk down to the surgery for a blood test.  Somehow I made it out of the house at 07.45.  Amazingly a Waxwing few over me trilling, within sight of my house! - Surely an omen of good things to come?  After the blood test I purchased the strongest painkillers over the counter that I could, that could be safely combined with the antibiotics.  An hour and 15 minutes after taking two Solpadeine plus, the headache miraculously faded to nothing an I felt in a state of complete calm, almost euphoria - pain free for the first time in ten days!  The trip was now on...

We set off from Thetford at 17.30 hrs and headed off into the night, and eventually reached Speyside at 3am the next day.  We slept in the car until it was light enough to bird.  The temperature outside was -3oC.  When daylight came, Loch Morlich was certainly looking spectacular with the Cairngorm surround all dusted witrh snow.  Alas the road up to the chair lifts was closed due to snow, which precluded any chance of trying for ermine Ptarmigan.  Next was a dip on Capercaillie, followed by another dip on Crested Tit (although John scored a month tick with the latter).  By 13.00 we were on the road again, bound for Peterhead and then Rattray Head.  We passed through snow storms, some with thunder and lightening and then hail storms, then patches of sunshine.  Banff produced a handful of gulls, a Goldeneye and a distant Long-tailed Duck.  We didn't spend long due to the severe wind chill.  We reached Rattray Head  and proceeded to dip on the Desert Wheatear, being somewhat hampered by a sand and hail storm whipped up by the bitter northerly winds.  In all I saw very little this day.  We continued to Aberdeen to make the ferry terminal for the 19.00 sailing to Lerwick.  With northerly gales all day I was worried about a choppy crossing to Shetland.  The ferry was still scheduled to sail, but you know it's not going to be fun when they hand you the dreaded piece of paper:
Nevertheless, onward we went.  There were 25 or so other birders on there with the same idea as us including Lee Evans.  If Lee's there it's a good sign as you know he's going to work and look for the birds.  Not everyone does.

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