Monday, 26 November 2012


Lapwings in Tart's Field today

My first few days back at the patch haven't been too bad. I haven't found anything that's significant beyond the CFBW recording area boundaries, but since the patch's second Common Snipe of the year on Saturday, I had an adult Great Black-backed Gull that flew over the farm yesterday and today I found two Lapwings in Tart's Field. Both are scarce birds at the patch, the gull in particular, which is a rather sporadic fly-over. It took me over a year to see my first Great Black-back there, and not for wont of looking for them, but last winter there was a handful of sightings. Lapwings still bred at the farm in the latter half of the twentieth century and wintered there in numbers, there was even a wintering flock of up to eighty birds in the winter of 2007/2008. Nowadays they're sadly a special occurrence, which says something about farms and birds and their declining relationship; they were recorded on 22 dates in 2010 and on 24 last year.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Back in business

I've been ill over the last fortnight with chicken pox and been almost completely out of action, instead spending my days sleeping till 2pm then watching TV until 2am, reading a couple of books then going back to sleep. This was only broken by a flying visit to Samphire Hoe Country Park on Monday which simply had to be done because for some reason Desert Warbler has always been near the top of my wish list (it was a dip).

With the physical discomfort over and the spots fading I decided on Friday to break into my normal routine and headed to Banstead Downs Golf Course in the afternoon. This produced two Firecrests, which I was delighted to see as they're one of my favourite birds and their return is reassuring considering the extent of habitat destruction that the golf course has persisted on doing over the last year or two. I initially found wintering Firecrests here in late 2008 and numbers have reached 3-4 before.

Today I went to the patch for the first time in ages. I'd been sorely missing it so was desperate to give it a good go, despite knowing the abysmal forecast. The weather was indeed crap and birding in the conditions was a challenge, but a fly-over Common Snipe made it very worthwhile (only the 2nd record for me/the recording area this year, and the first was a heard-only nighttime record). It was good to reacquaint with the three local birders that were out today and I eagerly await the apparently more comfortable conditions tomorrow.

A miserable day, producing a Common Snipe

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Scilly October half-term break 2012

Click HERE to view a movie collection of some of the best birds of the trip - I managed to video more birds than I photographed!

Half term was later than usual this year and I was wondering whether it would be worthwhile doing my usual week at my favourite birding venue in Britain. Ian was keen to try it out though, so I became more interested in going as time went on and we eventually booked it. I wasn't expecting much but knew it would be a ball at least.

The crossing on Friday 26th was quiet, with an adult Med Gull and about thirty Common Scoters being the highlights as well as numbers of Razorbills and Guillemots plus a few Kittiwakes. We had the Common Dolphins riding by the boat all to ourselves as there were only about thirty other passengers, none birders, and they were all below deck. We worked out that we would be able to hop over to Bryher in the afternoon briefly so we did after seeing the male Lapland Bunting and three Ring Ouzels on Penninis Head and, thanks to Higgo's guidance, found Rushy Bay and the (American) BUFF-BELLIED PIPIT with no problem, the bird showing exceptionally well on the beach with a Snow Bunting, Rock Pipits and Meadow Pipits. A female Merlin zipped past before we made tracks to the quay to return to St Mary's. A walk around Lower Moors late in the day produced a showy Water Pipit and an even showier Spotted Crake. A Garden Warbler was probably the last I'll have this year. Also on St Mary's were two Black Redstarts, a Greenshank, three Ringed Plovers, a Common Snipe, numbers of Redwings, Stonechat etc. This was brilliant!

Adult Med Gull (crossing)
male Blackcap (Scillonian III)
male Black Redstart, Porthcressa
American Buff-bellied Pipit, Rushy Bay, Bryher
Snow Bunting, Rushy Bay, Bryher
Water Pipit, Lower Moors
Tresco was the island for Saturday. We had time for a walk around The Garrison which didn't get us anything rare but threw up a surprise Common Whitethroat along the Pine Walk. On Tresco, the three Ring-necked Ducks were on show as were a couple of Whooper Swans. I found a Firecrest near The Abbey. Other bits included Wigeon, Common Snipe, numbers of Gadwalls and Teals, Peregrine, Reed Bunting, a couple of Siskins, Lesser Black-backed Gull, a few Water Rails, Redwings, Stonechat, Greenshank, two Redshanks and small numbers of Chiffchaffs and Fieldfares. There were two Black Redstarts at New Grimbsy. Unfortunately we dipped the Penduline Tit which Ian was keen to see, walking past someone as they were filming it, unaware! It was a good day for Brent Geese, with 2 Pale-bellieds on St Mary's and five Dark-bellieds on Samson. There were also five Shelducks on Samson. Twenty Little Egrets were in the Tresco Channel. Other bits from St Mary's included Brambling, Greenshank, Grey Wagtail, Chiffchaff, Siskin, two Blackcaps and a few Water Rails.

Two of the three Ring-necked Ducks, Great Pool, Tresco

Little Egret, Tresco
We stuck to St Mary's on Sunday, the highlights being a two Whinchats, two Pale-bellied Brent Geese, eleven Whooper Swans and a heard-only Lapland Bunting as it flew over the... BLACKPOLL WARBLER that we ran to see after getting the news while we were checking Holy Vale! Not the most mega yank that could have turned up but still very rare and very different to anything I'd seen before really, and just the sort of thing we were hoping we'd have to run for (or be lucky enough to find... yeah right...). Two Mistle Thrushes on the airfield were a satisfying Scilly tick. We had ten Black Redstarts across the island. Small numbers of Fieldfares and Redwings were knocking about plus Peregrine, Little Egret, Chiffchaffs, Siskin, eighteen Ringed Plovers, two Common Snipes, three Wigeons, two Pale-bellied Brent Geese, eleven Whooper Swans, Gadwall, Blackcap, Linnet and a small handful of Greenshanks.

Blackpoll Warbler, Content
Pale-bellied Brent Geese, Porth Hellick
Whooper Swans, Porth Hellick
Whinchat, Porth Minick
We planned to have another go at Tresco on Monday, as there were a couple of potential lifers there for Ian (another go at Penduline Tit, plus Red-breasted Flycatcher) and it seemed as good a place as any to potentially find something. A look on The Garrison before the boat produced two Great Northern Divers in The Roads. Find something I did, with a new Little Grebe on Abbey Pool, a scarce species on Scilly, with only a small handful of records per year, but why couldn't it have been something nationally scarce? I spent ages near The Abbey, hoping something would jump out of an area that seemed to have a lot of activity. Little other than a Firecrest did... We both saw the Red-breasted Flycatcher, this only being my second R-b Fly - although my view was fairly unsatisfactory, being relatively brief and into the light. There were two Black Redstarts on The Abbey. I counted twelve Greenshanks and seventeen Redshanks on Great Pool where five Whooper Swans fed near the Mute Swans which were just about tolerating their presence (I was told they had a major punch-up at one point). A Lesser Redpoll, a species at a premium during the trip, flew over. There were also a few Chiffchaffs and Siskins around, and two Blackcaps, a Peregrine and a Sparrowhawk. A Common Snipe flew from the Great Pool. A Shelduck was on the Great Pool and there were four on Samson, which also hosted seven Dark-bellied Brent Geese.
Red-breasted Flycatcher, Tresco
Firecrest, Tresco
Golden Pheasant, Tresco
Little Grebe, Abbey Pool, Tresco
Plans were hatched the previous evening for a group of birders to hit St Martin's on Tuesday. That morning I first head up to The Garrison, viewing three Spoonbills, two Shelducks and a couple of Little Egrets on Samson and two Common Scoters in The Roads from here. Also on The Garrison were a Brambling, Grey Wagtail, a couple of Fieldfares, a dozen or so Redwings and a Stonechat. I joined the ranks and with anticipation we met at the quay and enthusiastically spread out after we'd docked, wondering who'd be the first to hit lucky. As it turned out, a Chough had been found just as we were boarding, meaning we were in the perfect situation to connect with this great Scilly tick (only the third record since 1950). Most people shot off straight for the lost corvid, but I chose to carefully check all the fields and hedgerows on the way. This was unwise as I did miss the bird and was left with minimal time to look for the Barred Warbler that had been found the previous day (yes I still need this). When going back to the quay with Pete and Jamie (friends of mine who'd arrived the previous day), we caught a few glimpses of an interesting small/medium blueish-grey warbler-like bird flitting around in the gorse but it had to be left no more specific than that. Meeting back at the quay, lots of people were a little disappointed; Ian had spent all day searching in vain for the Serin, Higgo had dipped the Chough after getting a special boat to the island then being lucky enough to get a lift to where the bird was, and I'd had virtually no success. Pete was pleased, however, as Chough was a British lifer for him - perhaps he is the first person ever to see their first British Chough on Scilly! My success on St Martin's was limited to connecting with a reported Woodlark and logging a Crossbill, six or so Bramblings, Common Snipe, half a dozen Fieldfares, two Grey Plovers, eleven Sanderlings, thirty or so Ringed Plovers, Mistle Thrush, Stonechat and Reed Bunting. News from St Mary's came of a possible Blyth's Reed Warbler on The Garrison... okay interesting but we did nothing other than further information. On the boat back to Mary's it came through that it was a probable and was still there so we hurried up that nasty hill straight after getting back but it was getting dark and no acro showed itself, although a Firecrest did appear and a slightly unusually-placed Water Rail squeeled.

Wednesday was another St Mary's day. I got up bright and early and headed to Penninis Head, where the Chough was relocated late the previous day. I arrived to find Higgo already there; he'd been waiting since 6.00am - that's a man that definitely wants his tick! We'd been waiting a while and it wasn't looking good. I was almost going to give up and head to The Garrison for the now confirmed Blyth's Reed Warbler when Higgo picked the Chough up as it flew in and fed on the path in front of us for ages - super! I don't see too many of these and it was a super Scilly tick of course! I ended up having breakfast after this, before enjoying simply astonishing views of a juvenile Red-throated Diver off Porth Mellon - it was so close you could have hand-fed it sardines. The Blyth's Reed came through again so Ian and I rushed back up there - the weather was crap though so we didn't give it too long. The rest of the day was pretty miserable and frustrating really - it was very wet all day and I was making very slow progress and soon lost Ian so ended up mostly birding on my own. There were three Bramblings in a field near Lower Moors and a Crossbill near Porth Hellick House. At Porth Hellick I connected with the six Greenland White-fronted Geese while the eleven Whooper Swans remained there and I enjoyed four Common Snipes flying around and five Greenshanks, plus a Wigeon. I managed to hear a Great Spotted Woodpecker - a visual would have been good for a valuable Scilly tick, but never mind. The end of the day saw me finally find my own Yellow-browed Warbler, the first one of the trip, plus a Siberian-type Chiffchaff and, as I was walking to the B&B in the twilight, an eared owl sp flying along the road (most probably a Long-eared). Also that day were a Blackcap, a few Chiffchaffs, Water Rail etc.
Chough, Penninis Head

Red-throated Diver, Old Town Bay
juvenile Greenland White-fronted Goose, Porth Hellick
Thursday was far nicer, with less wind and rain and more blue in the sky, so Ian and I were hopeful we'd see the Blyth's Reed at last. No such luck, the only birds we saw on The Garrison being the Lesser Whitethroat that had been found a couple of days before, a Peregrine and a Grey Wagtail. We decided enough was enough with the Blyth's and headed off to do our own thing, passing the reasonably showy and very fine Red-breasted Flycatcher at the Rosehill Trail on the way. It was here that news of two Waxwings at Old Town Churchyard came through, and we could not resist. We arrived in the nick of time to catch them as the Waxwings flew off. We staked it out for a while and got better views of one when it returned - super birds as always, especially this far south-west! We couldn't dig that much out, our scraping for the day were singles of Black Redstart, Wheatear, Common Snipe, Brambling and Little Egret, as well as four Blackcaps and three Siskins. The next greatest excitement of the day was actually the flock of seven Greylags that flew over while we were dipping Red-throated Pipit - a damn good Scilly tick!

Lesser Whitethroat, The Garrison
Peregrine, The Garrison
Northern Wheatear, Porthcressa
Red-breasted Flycatcher, Rosehill Nature Trail
Waxwing, Old Town Churchyard

Friday, our final day. We decided to concentrate on getting the Blyth's Reed, as this is a tricky one to get on the mainland and three lifers would have made a good return for me for the investments made in our trip. Besides, our bird finding efforts were failing miserably. It payed off! The BLYTH'S REED WARBLER finally gave itself up and showed for everyone, allowing itself to be viewed, videoed and photographed - thank goodness for that! My mood was lifted and we had some time to do a last bit of birding around St Mary's with Pete and Jamie, although we didn't find anything that great, we were sent off with Brambling, Black Redstart, Stonechat, Greenshank, three Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Peregrine and the first Cormorant that I'd noticed of the trip. Oh, and I found a Waxwing on The Garrison! We didn't have much light on the crossing back so it was poor for birding but Jamie, Pete, Ian and I had a good time chatting as we sailed back to the mainland, content with a productive trip.

Blyth's Reed Warbler

(N.B. Rock Pipits, Gannets, Curlews, Oystercatchers, Turnstones, Shags etc were pretty much daily sightings)

Thanks Ian for the trip and company, plus Pete, Jamie, James and Simon and others for their super company!

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Scilly, half term 2012

Full post soon, for now here's a video compilation of the trip: