At 6 pm on 29 April, a message came through on the North Ronaldsay island WhatsApp from Alex Wright. It consisted of a very blurry photo of an unidentified dove sat on the railings by the lighthouse. It had been taken earlier in the day by Helen Galland and she wanted to know what it was.
Dinner was being prepared, drinks were being served and the photo was inconclusive at best, so it was ultimately dismissed as a dodgy picture of a Collared Dove. Thankfully, though, it was at that moment that Pete Donnelly telephoned the Observatory to discuss a 'funny dove' at the lighthouse.
For the first few minutes of the call, I simply assumed that he was discussing the same photo that we’d all been looking at – but then the penny dropped. He was actually at the lighthouse, watching the bird at that moment! Having been working at the lighthouse, Pete had independently come across the dove and not yet seen the photograph on the island WhatsApp group. Things became a bit more urgent as he described it as "definitely not a Collared Dove" and that it was "too small [for Collared], with wonderful spots on the wings." However, he wasn’t sure exactly what it was.
Enough was enough. I ran into the bar and told Alison Duncan, who was cooking dinner, as well as Toby Green and his tour group. We all bolted out the door and raced up to the lighthouse.
When I arrived, the dove was sat on the grass in front of the café, a mere 10 m in front of Pete, who was lounging against his Land Rover. One look was enough – the small size, attenuated shape, orangey-peach body, shiny, iridescent purple neck patches, pale turquoise eye-ring and the big, black oval patches on the wings that Pete had described – it was a Mourning Dove!