I know this is a bold claim but I don’t think there has ever been a worse dip in the history of British twitching. On 3rd July 1987, I sat my last A-level exam and then with Hamish Mackay, Ian Hunt, Adam Wilson and Adrian Jaques we set off in a hire car to see “Albert”. Albert was the 8th Black-browed Albatross for Britain and Ireland and only the second twitchable one after the bird which joined the Bass Rock gannetry in 1967-69. He (or she) had been a fixture in the gannetry on Hermaness from about February to September every year for 15 years since discovery on 21st July 1972. And we knew our mate Keith Holland had scored on the 2nd. How could we possibly fail?
But fail we did. It would have been 811 miles to drive direct to the northernmost headland of the northernmost Shetland isle, plus three ferries. To dip a mega-rarity that had been present for 15 years! We kept going back for 5 days, initially hoping it was just on a foraging trip and would fly back in at any moment. But as the days wore on, all hope was lost. We thought the chance of a lifetime had gone.
That’s not the end of the story though. Albert returned to Hermaness three years later on 27th March 1990: a totally unexpected second chance. I set off hitching north from London on the evening of 5th April. This wasn’t the usual hitch, chatting to a succession of generous strangers but the other sort – weird, frightening and dangerous. On the following morning in Glasgow I decided to fork out for a bus instead to get me the rest of the way to Aberdeen in safety. Finally, I arrived at Hermaness to savour the sight of a Black-browed Albatross sitting on its nest, alone and in the wrong hemisphere. The only good thing about dipping is that it makes it all the sweeter if and when you succeed.