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Sunday, 1 November 2009

Scilly 2009

Porthcressa Bay

I am now back from my half term trip to Scilly, which actually materialised this year.

A day by day summary follows:

Friday 23rd October

Boarded the Scillonian III at around 0900. I spent all of the time in the fresh air scanning for seabirds. Little of note was seen but my efforts were rewarded with 2 overdue year ticks; Manx Shearwater (brief glimpse) and Great Skua. Also flocks of Razorbills here and there (with one flock containing two Guillemots), c.5 Kittiwakes and countless Shags and Gannets. Of note I spotted an Ocean Sunfish. Razorbills +Guillemots (latter being at far left and fourth from right) Kittiwake Gannet Gannet

Great Skua Great Skua

We arrived at the quay at St. Mary's around mid day in terrible weather. Didn't really do much proper birding; saw a female type Black Redstart, a Northern Wheatear, many Shags, Gannets, Rock Pipits, Turnstones and Oystercatchers (these were all pretty much ubiquitous and I shan't keep mentioning these). 1 Sparrowhawk over Porthcressa. 11 Swallows flew over Buzza Tower and one flew past my cottage.

Saturday 24th October

After seeing a Merlin dash through Old Town, St Mary's (a welcome year tick), I made the trip over St. Agnes to see the reported Marsh Warbler around the Big Pool. Got the 1015 boat over to the island and hastilly made my way over to the pool. On the way, at Porth Killier I enjoyed fantastic views of around 5 Black Redstarts including a male. At the Big Pool, I stood with ten or twenty other birders. We waited for a while before somebody decided to walk through the low vegetation around the pool, and one by one everybody followed his actions. Sure enough the MARSH WARBLER flew from the vegetation and showed well briefly a couple of times. This was my 253rd British bird. Also on the pool were 6 Whooper Swans. I asked around about the Rosy (Rose-coloured) Starling but nobody had reliably pinned it down. I proceeded to walk around the areas that I had learnt were most likely and pinned down a large Starling flock which I followed and scanned through but I couldn't locate the bird. As I was about to board the boat over to St. Mary's, a WONDERFULLY timed message came through on the pager that the Starling was at St. Warna's Cove c.1 hour previous. Dilemma time. I decided, in a rather cheesed off manner, to stay and look for the bloody thing. It was all completely pointless in the end because I thought at the time that Porth Killier was St. Warna's Cove, and spent my time there. I realised after ten minutes I wouldn't find the bird, even if that was St. Warna's Cove. So I gave up pretty quickly and sat overlooking the sea and relaxed for a while (I wouldn't have much time to do this for the rest of the trip); here I watched a Peregrine pass close by and some entertaining Rock Pipits at close quarters. Other bits and pieces on 'Aggy' was a heard-only Firecrest, a Bar-tailed Godwit, a Siskin, 2 Stonechat, many Meadow Pipits and Skylarks and a Merlin.

Below is a series of shots that I took of the Black Redstarts

and a Rock Pipit for good measure . . .

Back on St. Mary's a Water Rail was heard at Lower Moors. I received news on my pager of the continued presence of the Richard's Pipit at Porthloo Lane so made my way up there. Here I met Joe Ray for the first time, after being in contact with him for two or so years and enjoyed relatively good views of the RICHARD'S PIPIT before it flew into another field. A good bird and my 254th for Britain. Walking back through Holy Vale, I enjoyed EXCELLENT views of 2 Firecrests.
Richard's Pipit

I attended the Birder's Log at the Scillonian Club and continued to do this daily. It was very informative and good fun.

Sunday 25th October

On St. Mary's I pinned down the Snow Bunting at Peninnis Head that I had heard about at the log the previous night and enjoyed good views. This was a very welcome year tick and a cracking bird. A Firecrest was heard at Lower Moors with one or two Water Rails noted and plenty Chiffchaffs.
Snow Bunting

News of a Citrine Wagtail on Tresco was released so I made my way over to the Tourist Info centre in Hugh Town and bought me a ticket. I joined up with James Bloor-Griffiths who I had met earlier in the day and we enjoyed good views of the 1w CITRINE WAGTAIL (my 255th British bird) before having a quick check of the Great Pool where we noted 6 Greenshank, plenty of Redshank, a drake Pintail, a Water Rail, 2 Little Egrets (6 were on the shore) and many Teal and Gadwall.

Citrine Wagtail (top SLR pic cropped, bottom phone-scoped pic cropped +video)

We got the boat back to St.Mary's. A Little Egret flew over Porthcressa Beach as did c.5 Swallows +many Meadow and Rock Pipits and Skylarks.

Monday 26th October

On St Mary's my early morning walk yielded a Black Redstart near the dump and a self-found but frustratingly heard-only YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER in strange habitat at Buzza Hill; it was probably moving through quickly. Also 2 Stonechat, 2 Goldcrest (Lower Moors), 6 Common Snipe over Lower Moors/Old Town Bay, Firecrest at Old Town Bay and Water Rail at Lower Moors. Little Egret Porthcressa. + usuals +Curlew.

I made another trip over to St. Agnes to have another go at the juvenile Rosy Starling. After much effort and searching and scanning, another birder told me where the field was that the bird was feeding, unfortunately, this was out of view wherever you went so you had to wait until the bird flew up. Myself and another birder both got a brief view of the ROSY STARLING in flight before seeing it atop a bush all too briefly before it again flew down to the field. This was my 256th British bird. Also seen on 'Aggy'; 1 Peregrine with prey +2 Stonechat. I made a brief stint over to Gugh and saw nothing before getting back to the quay and boarding the boat back to St. Mary's.

Tuesday 27th October

I suppose the highlight of my daily early morning walk was a female/1w Northern Wheatear showed well in the field by the Health Centre with the plastic Owl in it. A Ringed Plover flew over Porthcressa.

I got the 1015 to St. Agnes with Harry Barnard and we both enjoyed good views of our target, a PALLAS'S WARBLER in The Parsonage. This was a complete stunner of a bird, showing very well for me; so tiny, so active and with so many striking marking, this was the highlight of the trip for me and my 257th British bird. 1 Firecrest showed well. Ashley Fisher, some other birders and Harry and I put our fair share of money in the pot and arranged a chartered boat to Bryher to look for the 1w Serin that was reportedly showing well. 4 SPOONBILLS were on Merrick Island in Tresco Channel. 6 Shelduck and a Cormorant were on some rock and a handful of Little Egrets were knocking around.

We spent some time looking for the Serin, Joe Ray was already there and had been treated with brilliant views. Eventually, somebody saw the bird fly into a tree and we waited for the bird to re-appear. Foolishly, I went around the corner to ask a local birder about the resident Hooded Crow and when I returned the others informed me it had just flown to Tresco . . . nice. I wasn't too bothered, I didn't need it for Britain, it would just be a nice year tick.

We boarded the boat over back to St. Mary's. Harry and I walked to Holy Vale and pinned down the YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER (my 258th British bird; I don't count heard-only). We made our way over to Porthellick/Higher Moors and saw 1 Common Snipe, 2 House Martin, a singing Firecrest and heard 2+ Water Rails (2 showed well at Lower Moors). An enjoyable day with 2 lifers.

Wednesday 28th October

This time my early morning walk produced a 1w Mediterranean Gull at Porthcressa Beach where a Fieldfare flew over (my first of the autumn). There was also a handful of Redwings in the area which I had also seen daily til now. A Grey Wagtail flew over. 1 Little Egret in Porthcressa Bay was being harassed by a Grey Heron. It really was a beautiful morning. A Stonechat showed well on the way up to Peninnis Head. One fem/1w Black Redstart was at Peninnis Head. Lower Moors was, as usual, packed with Chiffchaffs, 5 Common Snipe and 2 Water Rail showed well at Lower Moors. A single Greenshank was present in Old Town Bay. 2 Ringed Plovers flew over the Quay as I boarded the boat to Bryher to look for the Hooded Crow. On the way to Bryher, 10 Shelduck were on the same or possibly another rock. Stonechat

On Bryher I failed miserably to find that bloody Hooded Crow but found a Curlew Sandpiper and enjoyed good but brief views of the 1w SERIN which had returned to its favourite fields near the post office. A welcome year tick. Also 54 Ringed Plovers, 3 Grey Plovers, 3+ Lesser Redpolls, 4 Spoonbills still and a single Greenshank. 2 Water Rails were heard at Samson Hill.
Spoonbill and Little Egret

I was keen to return to St. Mary's to see the 1w female Bluethroat at Rosehill just north of Lower Moors. I got off the boat and walked as quickly as I could, breaking into a run once or twice before I got to the surprisingly large gathering. I am truly pants at estimating numbers but there were perhaps around 100 people there . . . the bird was frustratingly elusive and I was scared that I was going to miss it but sure enough it did show (though it took me too long to get onto it, as I was in a panicky state). James let me look through his scope and I saw my first BLUETHROAT (My 259th British bird). Happy, I headed home.

Thursday 29th October

My final full day. Thrushes were evident in the Porthcressa Bay area with 40-50 Redwings knocking about and a flock of 60-70 Fieldfares NW. A Merlin on Peninnis Head was harassed by a Great Black-backed Gull and it flew to Gugh/St. Agnes. A male and 2 female/1w Black Redstarts showed briefly on Peninnis.

I went to St. Agnes with James and looked for the Radde's Warbler for a couple of hours. This bird had apparently been suppressed for no reason for several days . . . we failed in pinning it down but James saw a Warbler's undercarriage with it's bright orange legs. He also reckoned he heard it a couple of times. We enjoyed good views of the juvenile ROSY STARLING on the beach below the coastguard cottages, it was great to finally get good and prolonged views, but these views were truly supurb. 6 Whooper Swans were still present on the Big Pool. 3+ Blackcaps were noted.

Rosy Starling (juvenile)

Whooper Swan

Back on St. Mary's, 6 Common Snipe, 2+ Water Rail (1+ showing) were at Lower Moors with a putative Wilson's Snipe. This would be a major rarity. Some people are saying it definitely isn't one but I think there might be some confusion over which bird was which and how many were involved etc. Plenty of the usuals (+Curlew . . . slightly more unusual)

putative Wilson's Snipe (foreground on first photo and the only bird in second)

Friday 30th October

My last day . . . and an enjoyable one. I spent the morning and early afternoon with Harry Barnard and his parents, and James Bloor-Griffiths. The putative Snipe and c.15 Common Snipe were at Lower Moors and a YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER was heard around the Hilda Quick hide. A Reed Warbler was seen where the old tin hut used to be at Lower Moors. 5 Little Egrets were in Porthellick Bay. 4 Ringed and 10+ Golden Plovers were at the airfield with a male Northern Wheatear. 9 or 10 Black Redstarts were newly arrived and moving inland between the airfield and Giant's Castle (there was also one or two at the east end of Hugh Town, one of which was later seen by Harry's dad and James flat on the road). 1 YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER (seen), a Goldcrest, 10+ Common Snipe, 1 Cormorant, 4 Little Egrets, 1 Redshank, 4 Greenshank and 2 House Martins were at Porthellick. I said my goodbyes, headed off to the quay and boarded the Scillonian III. The crossing was pretty good. The highlight was a pod of Common Dolphins that jumped at close range by the side of the boat for a short while. My first cetacean ever, I think. 3 Great Skuas were seen and I got much better views of a Manx Shearwater as it was getting dark. Also c.23 Kittiwakes and many Gannets. We drove home through the night and got back home at around mid night. I actually got some sleep in the car this time!

My British list stands on 259 and my West Pal/Life list is on 275. My British year list is on 236.

I really, really, really enjoyed this trip. I saw some fantastic birds, even if none were mega rare nearctic passerines, enjoyed brilliant scenery (the islands are truly unique and stunning, everything is mini too!) and made some new friends. I truly hope to come back next year; I'd be so gutted if I couldn't.