Lucy McRobert: karma kestrel


They say that karma is a Lesser Kestrel. (Don't they? I do.)

In my last column, I whined vociferously about my husband Rob's Scilly 2022 year-list attempt. I fully support frantic dashes to Bryher for Eurasian Crag Martins and Blackburnian Warblers, but I draw the line at agonising over Whinchats. There was also that time he left our daughter's doctor's appointment while in the surgery to chase a black-eared wheatear species on the golf course. 'Bring on 2023,' I thought, when family-friendly birding service can resume.

It was a quiet start to the year for Scilly birding. There were endless Western Cattle Egrets and a very sticky Richard's Pipit that loitered around the airport cafe for weeks, but not much else to get excited about. Thursday 23 March was a day like any other. I was at work in the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust office; husband was working back on the mainland. We shared the sincere sentiment that we didn't want any rare birds to turn up while he was away. The stage was set.

My colleagues are used to me grabbing my binoculars and dashing from the office, garbling random streams of consciousness interlaced with a few profanities and leaving the door banging. My strategy to avoid getting into trouble is to drag at least three colleagues with me. If one of them is the CEO, then so much the better. So, when we received a message from Bob Flood (he's as good at identifying rare falcons as he is Zino's Petrels) saying that he had spotted a probable Lesser Kestrel at the golf course, it felt like the game was on. The pace of typing doubled, clearing my inbox and workload, just in case. 

The Lesser Kestrel caused quite a stir on Scilly, although not all islanders connected with it (Ashley Fisher).

You might imagine that being a recent year-list widow, I would take some glee in scoring a potential lifer on my husband. He’s got an impressive 530+ British list, but 15 years living in St Andrews, Fife, meant that he has missed some megas with a southern UK bias, including Lesser Kestrel. To make matters worse, this was the same species that turned up on St Mary's three years ago – except that was the start of the spring 2020 lockdown, and we were stuck on the wrong side of the water. There are few birds that could be more painful.

Thus, any glory I experienced as I ran full pelt along Peninnis Head was sharply tempered by the bigger picture: this was the biggest grip in our relationship. 
Of course, the bird was performing beautifully. It drifted and dived, glided and hovered, sometimes at eye level, sometimes just above our heads, sometimes skirting down the headland to give a stunning bird's-eye view. If you're going to see a new bird 10 minutes from your house, this is how to do it. Of course, every local birder soaked up the news that Rob was on the mainland, cackling at the irony and taking turns to send him messages (some of condolence, some of wicked amusement). 

"At least you won’t get fired and divorced in one day," quipped someone, pointing to my CEO who was delighting in the bird.

Never with such trepidation have I picked up the phone. I even considered lying and saying that I hadn't been to see it – but with photographic evidence to the contrary, that would not hold up. And besides, that would have made us both sad. Plus, two days later, my dad, stepmum and four-year-old daughter all got ridiculous views as it hawked overhead on our sunny Sunday walk. I'm pretty sure we'll be explaining this one in couples therapy one day.

All in all, Rob handled the 'gripping off' with a stoicism I didn't realise he was capable of. The whole thing was softened as he joined 34,000 other Bolton Wanderers fans at the EFL Trophy final at Wembley, storming to a 4-0 win over Plymouth Argyle. He's now back on Scilly and avidly searching for a Montagu's Harrier (a Scilly tick for him and, spoiler alert, I've seen two here, including one on my hen do). Every time I raise my binoculars, I live in hope that the Lesser Kestrel will drift into view and release him from his agony …


Written by: Lucy McRobert

Lucy McRobert is a wildlife author and communications professional, as well as a Birdwatch columnist. Follow her on Twitter: @LucyMcRobert1