A text from Michael means a good bird: a phone call means drop your book, pick up your bins and leg it to the loch. We’re both guilty of taking campus listing far too seriously. He has Red Kite over me and that’s a sore spot but I’ve got Redstart over him and he’s not allowed to forget it. His attitude is better than mine though. His bins and camera have a permanent place in his rucksack, whereas mine live in my drawer. I’m used to not seeing anything on campus; when I do I’m birding by bare eye. It works: Wheatear and Waxwing didn’t escape me; but the Whooper Swans nearly did. I was out of signal in the library, only a chance meeting with him in the corridor did I learn that he’d found them. They were only around for the one evening.
I was midway through Paradise Lost when my phone vibrated. It was Michael’s number but when I answered it was Melissa. ‘There’s a Guillemot on the loch’ she said. ‘I’m coming’, I said, grabbing my bins and keys. She giggled as I hung up.
That giggle sowed seeds of doubt. I ran anyway. Down to the loch, aware of the likelihood that I was to run into a group of laughing ecologists. I couldn’t see them as I ran on to the bridge. Weezing, I clutched at the side, peered over, and splashing about in the loch I walk past every day, was a Guillemot.
I’m not sure what I felt more: astonishment at this seabird that had lost the sea, or gratefulness that I wasn’t the subject of a practical joke.
In the end I went for both.
It was still present at midday Thursday.