Saratoga County

Innkeepers celebrate bird’s arrival on Scottish Island

A local artist who moved with his wife and son to a remote island off the Scottish coast a year ago
PHOTOGRAPHER:

A local artist who moved with his wife and son to a remote island off the Scottish coast a year ago spotted a yellow bird at his feeder last week that turned out to be gold.

The bird, which others also observed and identified, was a Citril finch, a yellow, black and gray non-migratory bird that is found in the southern Alps and Pyrenees. And it’s attracted a host of birdwatchers to the island because it was the first sighting of the Citril finch in Britain, according to Tommy Hyndman, formerly of Saratoga Springs.

Hyndman, his wife, Liz Musser, and his 7-year-old son, Henry, moved to Fair Isle in 2007 after being selected from a number of applicants by the National Trust for Scotland.

Hyndman, who describes himself as an “artist, hat-maker and amateur birdwatcher,” and his wife run a small bed and breakfast in a stone house that dates back to the 1700s.

Many of Hyndman’s B&B customers are avid birdwatchers who visit the 3.5-mile-long by 1.5-mile-wide island to observe and photograph the various birds that visit the island.

The island is noted for the various kinds of birds that pass through during migrations. In April, for example, many thousand pairs of puffins, a small bird that resembles a penguin, will come ashore to mate and live on the island for three or four months.

On June 6, when Hyndman first spotted the Citril finch eating at one of his many bird feeders, he couldn’t decide what it was. He went inside for his bird book and binoculars. He identified it after some observation as the Citril finch, not “an escaped canary or some type of serin or bunting.”

He then went in for his camera because he knew he needed more experienced bird watchers to verify his sighting. When he came back to take the photo the bird was gone.

He phoned the Fair Isle Bird Observatory to tell of his sighting and asked for experts to come and take a look.

An hour or so later an expert birder named Mike Gee, who was vacationing at the bird observatory lodge, dropped by and, as usual, asked what birds Hyndman had seen that day. Hyndman explained he thought he saw the Citril finch.

Gee explained to Hyndman that this was not likely because these birds are non-migratory and only found in their native France near the southern Alps and Pyrenees.

Just then the yellow bird returned. “Oh, my God, it is a Citril finch!,” Gee said. “It’s a first for Britain!”

The sightings of the Citril finch are also confirmed on the Web page of the Fair Isle Bird Observatory. The observatory and lodge were created nearly 60 years ago by ornithologist George Waterson. The Web site (www.fairislebirdobs.co.uk) in its latest sightings section says the Citril finch was sighted June 6 through June 11. Photos of the bird are featured on the Web site. Then crowds started arriving, bird watchers wanting to add the rare bird to their Fair Isle list.

“I really have no idea of what it really means for such a sighting,” Hyndman said. “It’s like I won a bird watching lottery I didn’t know I was playing.”

“As we watch the bird everyone calls friends and family and tells of the amazing little bird,” Hyndman said.

Hyndman, 45, said this week through e-mails that he and his family really enjoy the island life.

Fair Isle, which is part of the Shetland National Scenic Area, is described as Britain’s most isolated, inhabited island. It has about 70 human residents but thousands of sheep and lambs that provide wool for the sweaters hand produced on the tiny isle.

“We miss family and friends,” Hyndman wrote. “Sure we miss eating out or ordering a pizza delivered.”

“What makes us homesick is the smell of trees or thinking about our canoe and paddling around Moreau Lake,” Hyndman wrote this week.

But he said he, his wife, and young son are loving the experience and the people on the island.

“Henry is doing well in school and picking up a bit of an accent,” Hyndman said. “He has two baby lambs he bottle-feeds.”

“We do love it here and plan to stay a while longer and renew our visas,” Hyndman wrote.

The opportunity to live on the island was announced on National Public Radio (NPR) two years ago and Hyndman and his wife sent in an application. They were the only American family selected for the two-year stay in a four-bedroom stone house called “Old Haa,” which means the lord-of-the-island’s house.

The house overlooks a bay where seals often swim. Hyndman sells handmade hats to island residents and to residents of Shetland Island, about 35 miles away, through his Internet site: www.tommyart.com.

Robert Hyndman of Greenfield, Tommy’s older brother, said Thursday that the brothers usually communicate by e-mail.

“We talk on birthdays and holidays on the phone,” Robert Hyndman said.

He said his brother, his wife and son really seem to enjoy living “on an island in the middle of nowhere.”

The island’s food, mail, and supplies come by boat. Air service to nearby Shetland Island includes five to seven flights per week from the mainland. The mail boat, Good Shepherd IV, brings the bird watchers to Fair Isle.

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