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Monday, 31 October 2011

Scilly 2011

I came back at 2.00am this morning from what was probably the best week's birding of my life. I love Scilly like nowhere else, not just because of its great birds but because of the old and new friends that you meet and the upbeat and exciting atmosphere that I have found nowhere else on my travels. This is my fifth visit to the archipelago, following Teacher's Week trips in 2009 and 2010, a day trip in 2010 and a two day twitch this September.

Saturday 22nd

After staying the night in a cottage in St Austell (where my parents resided for the rest of the week) my parents took me to St Levan to have a look for the Scarlet Tanager before boarding the Scillonian. This bird was causing me a great deal of anxiety - it turned up at about the worst time possible for me. I was thinking about what would happen if I was unlucky enough to miss the bird that morning and everybody else see it later on; I was starting to play with thoughts of flying back for a day on Monday. Anyway, we left later than planned and after a few miles I realised that I had left my phone charger in the cottage so we had to return. This meant that I ended up having less than five minutes on site - this time I spent talking to Johnny Allan who had missed the bird the previous day and stayed the night in Cornwall.

My parents and I left and drove to Penzance where my luggage was loaded onto the boat and I boarded after saying goodbye to them. Here I met Rob Stokes, Michael & Dan Booker and Nick & Russell Gardner. All had done the same thing as I that morning. We had no idea how our dilemma would solve itself . . .

Little was going on and by half way point on the crossing only a Bonxie, a Storm-petrel and a few Common Dolphins had been seen. Michael does like to fool around and we didn't for one millisecond take him seriously when he told us there was a Scarlet Tanager on St Mary's, until he flashed the pager in our faces. OH SHIT!!!!!!!!!!!! The atmosphere on board was a strange mixture of extreme excitement and excruciating anxiety. With no sign of the Cornish bird we were in a better position than anyone (apart from those already on Scilly) to see a tanager, but would we see it? Would it be like the Cornish bird and not play ball?

I left my luggage to be delivered to the B&B and Dan, Michael and I managed to snatch a cab - the driver already knew about the bird and where it was - on getting dropped off, birders walking away calmly told us the bird was still showing. We ran to the crowd but there was no show. It was a pleasure to catch up with Jerry & Judy, and Harry Barnard whom I knew from previous years. Time went on but at a much slowed pace and after twenty minutes or so the others decided to go off to look for the Upland Sandpiper and Olive-backed Pipits and Borough Farm. I need these but common sense told me to stay with the mega so I staked it out.


It emerged that the bird had been mobile and it seemed increasingly likely that it had moved on from its last pittosporum hedge. I was thinking about leaving to search likely areas, via the Upland and Olive-backeds when a birder emerged from the adjacent pine belt and informed us that the bird was viewable from in there. We rushed in and yes, phew . . . the dazzling first-winter male SCARLET TANAGER was on view, flitting about in the back of the same pittosporum hedge. Nick and Russell turned up and saw the bird. I tried to call Rob to let them know but couldn't get through. The bird landed in a bare tree quite nearby and then flew over or into the pine belt. I was satisfied and went to find the others and try to mop up on the rest of the rarities on offer.

Scarlet Tanager
Scarlet Tanager
I found Rob, Dan and Michael watching the obliging and bizarre UPLAND SANDPIPER and they went off to look for the tanager. It turned out that it was never seen again after it flew over the pines and I can only feel deep regret and sympathy for them missing out on it. The sandpiper was very active and moved between furrows in a daffodil field, occasionally walking very close to the birders allowing for some reasonable pics. Being a wader fan I spent a fair amount of time taking the bird before heading for Watermill Lane where I again found Nick and Russell. They kindly put me onto the pair of OLIVE-BACKED PIPITS - smart birds indeed and my first BB rare pipit species. They kept low and shuffled around and so were surprisingly hard to see and even more so to photograph.

Upland Sandpiper
Olive-backed Pipit

Time of day was beginning to deteriorate so I made tracks for Lower Moors. I found only two birders, including Viv Stratten, in the ISBG hide and I got a very pleasant surprise when they pointed out that the only snipe on view, only feet away, was the first-winter WILSON'S SNIPE! All snipe are attractive birds and it was fascinating to study the plumage differences between this bird and Common Snipe. Were it not nearly dusk, I would have got some very good photos. Another birder entered and told me a New World warbler friend of mine was showing a short walk away and so I enjoyed brilliant views, for the second time, of the long-staying first-winter NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH as it fed on Shooters' Pool to the annoyance of a nearby Robin. I ate with Rob and the team at the Bishop & Wolf before going to the log where I had the delight on talking to the colourful bunch that is James Bloor Griffiths, Harry Barnard, Jake Aley et al.

Wilson's Snipe
Wilson's Snipe
Wilson's Snipe
Wilson's Snipe
Northern Waterthrush

Sunday 23rd

A walk around Penninis Head failed to add the Melodious Warbler to my list and produced only a Wheatear. I joined Micheal, Dan and Rob in having second helpings of the UPLAND SANDPIPER but the Olive-backed Pipits were nowhere to be seen. After sitting outside at a nice cafe, enjoying some sausage rolls and cakes the rain set in and this resulted in the destruction of my notebook which was extremely irritating. Little else was had other than about six Black Redstarts at Porthloo, an adult Mediterranean Gull near Toll Porth and a Greenshank which gave Scilly-standard stonking views at Lower Moors. After rumours of a nightjar-type bird at Penninis we stupidly staked it out in the evening in absurb weather before following the same routine as the previous night.

Upland Sandpiper
Greenshank
Black Redstart
  
Monday 24th

Rob and I started the day off by heading to The Garrison. Unfortunately, the previous day's weather was refusing to budge and we were looking like drowned rats within minutes. The best we managed was scoping a summer-plumaged Great Northern Diver in The Roads. We joined Dan & Micheal at Lower Moors, via Old Town Bay (Merlin, Kingfisher and Greenshank there) where the NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH was feeding before heading to Porth Hellick Beach and successfully seeing Bob Flood's White-rumped Sandpiper - a great bird for the trip list and beautiful to watch.

White-rumped Sandpiper

I said my goodbyes to R, D & M who were having last looks at Lower Moors and the Upland Sandpiper before getting the Scillonian back to the mainland; cheers guys for the great company! I took a very slow and very disappointing walk through Holy Vale - the best I managed there was a low Peregrine whose wingbeats I could almost feel physically. I had another look at the UPLAND SANDPIPER until the rain set in and I checked Newford Duckpond, Content Farm, the golf course and Porthloo. Three Black Redstarts at Porthloo and a 1st-winter Mediterranean Gull in the same spot as the other day's adult was the best I could find.

The final call of the day was Lower Moors again. I found Pete Denyer, Jamie Wilkinson and Liam Langley here. They were hoping for a view of the Waterthrush but didn't succeed. We did see the WILSON'S SNIPE again, though, this time with Common Snipe for comparison. There was also a Willow Warbler at Shooter's.

This time I enjoyed a burger with Pete, Jamie, Liam, James, Harry etc at the Scillonian Club before the log and banter until we got kicked out at closing time. Fun times.

Tuesday 25th

A Little Bunting had beeped on the pager from Tresco the previous day and there was a nice selection of birds to be enjoyed so the new team of Pete, Liam, Jamie and I planned to get a boat over there in the morning. I walked The Garrison  after dipping a Dusky Warbler at Porthcressa, with a Firecrest and a few Siskins to show for my efforts.

Lesser Yellowlegs
Spotted Crake

I just about caught the Tresco boat. A first-winter Mediterranean Gull kicked things off over there and we located the juvenile LESSER YELLOWLEGS and the Spotted Crake without too much difficulty. These were two excellent birds to watch and were lifers for all of the team. A Pectoral Sandpiper was a further addition to the increasingly lovely-looking trip list, then the rain set in. For pitty's sake that's the third day of frequent rain! I braved the downpour to renew my supply of cocoa-solids and assorted junk food. Thankfully, blue skies dominated again for a while and we searched Borough Farm for the bunting to no avail. Time was running out so we headed to New Grimsby to get the boat back to Mary's. The others went to look for the waterthrush (failing again) and I had a final unsuccessful look for this nightjar thing before another fun evening. While browsing the web on my laptop I noticed a lot of Scilly messages on RBA that my pager had completely missed, these included a Radde's Warbler on St Agnes, an Osprey over St Mary's and updates on things like the Upland Sand. This obviously concerned me and I emailed RBA.

Pectoral Sandpiper
Wednesday 26th

Liam, Pete, Jamie & James (L->R)

At last a clear and pleasant day. I didn't have time for any birding before getting the boat to St Agnes for the warbler. Dick Filby from RBA rang me just as we were leaving the quay and offered a week's free full service on his new app as a substitute for my broken pager. He was very kind and helpful, I can thoroughly recommend RBA as a service that puts itself out to make sure you get the news as efficiently as possible. Anyway, James, Harry and I got to St Agnes and connected with the showy (by the species's standards) Radde's Warbler near Troy Town. I was delighted to finally nail one of these elusive blighters. They don't turn up in the south east that often but I have twitched a couple and failed miserably. Paul Gale and I found ourselves a bit lost on our way to see the Bluethroat, but this was good in the end because as we were walking along I heard the call of a Lapland Bunting which then showed well in a grassy field. I fell behind Paul after searching out a chat which turned out to be a Black Redstart and after a while found the spot for the star chat. As I was walking towards the gathering a bird plopped down on the grass in front of me - jeeze it was the Bluethroat! And, oh lovely, a good male too! I called everyone over and they got on it. It played hard to get, as it was mobile and elusive underneath a layer of burnt gorse. Liam, Jamie and Pete rocked up after arriving on a slightly later boat and connected with the bird - a lifer for them. I then took them to the Radde's spot and the bird was much more elusive. They all saw the bird but I don't think they were happy enough with their views to tick it. We also called in at Pereglis and had educational views of an educational Lesser Whitethroat which could well be minula.

Lapland Bunting

We got a late boat back to St Mary's and, seeing as the others hadn't picked up the NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH yet, we made our way to Higgo's Pool where it had been showing on recent evenings. A loud 'clink' call gave us a clue to its presence and it plonked itself on the little muddy pool to everyone's utter delight!


Northern Waterthrush

Thursday 27th

Pied Flycatcher

I didn't get to wander 'Aggy' as I had wished to so decided to get the boat there again in the morning. J, L & P also wanted to return there to have another go for the Radde's. I started with an ineffectual bash of Gugh - Black Redstart and little else.There was no sign of the Bluethroat or warbler unfortunately but Liam and I jammed in on a Richard's Pipit (which was sadly flushed by a photographer before I could get any pics myself) and got a good look at the Lapland Bunting again. A Pied Flycatcher in The Parsonage was almost as good. Five Black Redstarts and a Willow Warbler were the best I could find myself.  I got much better views of the eastern Lesser Whitethroat and some far better pics (Wednesday's were a pure blur). Pete and Jamie had already returned to Mary's and Liam and I got the 4.30pm boat again. It resolved that Jamie's decision was a good one for him, as just after Liam & I got back to Hugh Town he rang me and said 'Hi Dave there's a Red-eyed Vireo near Porth Hellick House, and guess who found it? Yours truly' I congratulated him and we pegged it over there. I tried to call a cab but couldn't get through. It was a pretty long treck at such a late point in the day but it turned out fine as we joined the crowd and ended up getting crystal clear views of Jamie's very own RED-EYED VIREO! He was chuffed to bits and filled out his form that evening at the log. He deserved his find; he kept saying he was sick of waiting around for birds already found and wanted to 'actually do some birding'. Well done Jamie, thanks for the tick - a valuable one as there's very very few records in Teacher's Week!

eastern Lesser Whitethroat
Red-eyed Vireo
  
Friday 28th

Golden Plover

I met Liam after breakfast and we went for a walk around the southern part of St Mary's. A Kingfisher whizzed by at Old Town and we got a shock when we kicked up a Short-eared Owl from heather by the airfield. Three Golden Plovers, a couple of Black Redstarts and a Clouded Yellow were very confiding in the same area and I finally got a view of a Yellow-browed Warbler at the Porth Hellick Loop where three Ravens flew over. A Firecrest showed well at Carreg Dhu gardens - to Liam's delight; he needed it! At last he will no longer turn up at a twitch and ask in excitement 'Did you say there was a Firecrest about!?!?' We were planning on heading possibly doing Content Farm then Lower Moors when Jamie rang to pass on news of a Red-breasted Flycatcher at Holy Vale. Liam jogged on and I just kept up a fast walk. It turned out it had only been seen relatively briefly, I gave it a little time before joining Adam Norgate and James for a search for the Richard's Pipit at Porth Hellick Down, which didn't result in any sight or sound of our quarry. We popped in at The Dairy Cafe to have a quick look at a Crimson Speckled moth and met later at the Scillonian Club for the last log of the Scilly Season 2011 and a few games of darts and pool, another brilliant evening.

moth grip-off - Crimson Speckled



Saturday 29th

the first shot I've ever managed of Common Dolphins

The morning started off slowly, after having breakfast and sorting out my luggage I had to do a couple of things in town before collecting the Essential Guide to the Birds of the Isles of Scilly from Nigel Hudson and dropping it off at the B&B. I dropped my scope a couple of times which didn't do my mood any good, then I went off to Lower Moors and put my foot right in a deceptively shallow/firm bit of mud. Goo and swampy water flooded into my boot which was stuck there and I started to lose my rag. I dipped the Dusky Warbler, again, but got a good look at a Yellow-browed Warbler and heard a Reed Bunting. The Red-breasted Fly had been seen once more at Holy Vale so I popped over there but got only fly over Raven and Siskins. With no more time for birding I returned to Hugh Town to pick up my rucksack from the B&B (finding a Whinchat on the way), had a rest at Porthcressa beach and got on the Scillonian III for its voyage back to the mainland. It was sad leaving but in all fairness I was utterly nackered after an intense week that seemed a lot longer than a week. No sea creatures of any note other than a pod of Common Dolphins kept us company on the return sailing.



some of the rarest birds were found in the islands' museum

I met my parents at Penzance and we drove home through the night without any trouble, getting back early this morning. I lay in until 11.00am and slowly headed out to Canons Farm where a Brambling or two was with large numbers of finches. I'm looking forward to the next week or so, early November is prime time for CFBW birding.

Thanks to my parents for this trip and to all the birders on the islands for all their excellent company. As I said it has been one of the best birding weeks of my life and I cannot think of a six hour period as productive and rarity-filled as that first afternoon when I got on St Mary's last Saturday. The birds were excellent, the evenings at the Scillonian Club were a hoot and the experience amazing as always. I'm looking forward to my next visit...!



To sum it up:

Lifers:

Scarlet Tanager
Upland Sandpiper
Olive-backed Pipit
Wilson's Snipe
Radde's Warbler
Red-eyed Vireo


Other great birds:

Northern Waterthrush
Lesser Yellowlegs
Bluethroat (male)
White-rumped Sandpiper
Spotted Crake
Richard's Pipit
Pectoral Sandpiper
Lapland Bunting
Yellow-browed Warbler
Pied Flycatcher
Eastern race Lesser Whitethroat

and more . . .


Britain Life List: 326