After a couple of roadside Barn Owls in Wiltshire on the drive through the country, Phil, Ian, Mag, Paul and I reached Penzance harbour for a week on Scilly. This being my earliest Scilly trip so far, I hoped for a slightly different experience, with a subtly different suite of staple species and perhaps a few more rarities compared to my recent holidays there. The state of play as the Scillonian III chugged gently towards the archipelago, a Manx Shearwater the 'best' bird to pass us, was that an American Golden Plover was currently holding centre stage... but we remained hopeful!
As things turned out, we had timed it just right, for once! The first day was slow as we settled in (a Cetti's Warbler, a Water Rail and a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits the best) but on day two we twitched said American Golden Plover successfully on Tresco (though dipped an Arctic Warbler which had been found the previous afternoon). As we made our way back to the quay for the return to St.Mary's, we had that rare thrill of a mega alert sounding about a bird just around the corner!!! It was news of a BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER by the Great Pool! Haring it over there, we were almost first on the scene and enjoyed brief views in the pines before it melted away. The tension grew as every minute passed and every birder joined the crowd but before too long the very mobile bird was relocated and went on to give fantastic views, with patience. Being so jammy with this dream of a bird made up for the one I very narrowly missed back in 2011.
Other highlights from Tresco that day included a Lapland Bunting, four Pink-footed Geese, four Golden Plovers and a Yellow-browed Warbler. Back on St.Mary's, we tried for the Swainson's Thrush - another new arrival (things were kicking off!) - but dipped, though we did have a Merlin, seven Pink-footed Geese, a Greylag (a Scilly rarity), a Common Sandpiper, a Greenshank and a Water Rail.
The Friday started with a walk around Peninnis Head, where two Crossbills and seven Pink-footed Geese flew over, as well as a Raven. Two Sandwich Terns were in Porthcressa Bay. On St.Martin's, with a fair bit of work we eventually managed good views of the RED-EYED VIREO in the pines at Middle Town, my second in Britain. A Yellow-browed Warbler showed well at Little Arthur Farm and waders included a Bar-tailed Godwit, 13 Sanderlings, seven Ringed Plovers and a Greenshank. A Peregrine was stationed on a rock offshore.
A long walk around St.Mary's on the Saturday delivered brief views of the Barred Warbler at Watermill, plus a Wheatear, two Bar-tailed Godwits, two Sanderlings and five Siskins. We caught a late boat to Bryher, where we dipped the/a Swainson's Thrush but had seven Pale-bellied Brent Geese en route. Another long walk back on Mary's produced views of the Pectoral Sandpiper and a Great White Egret at Porth Hellick, along with a Cetti's Warbler, four Greenshanks and a Water Rail there. At dusk we tracked down the Wryneck at Deep Point.
Sunday was another St.Mary's day and it felt like there were more common migrants on offer. My personal Yellow-browed Warbler total for the day was 11. We successfully twitched the Nightingale at the dump and other highlights included Pectoral Sandpipers at Porth Hellick and on the airfield, a Jack Snipe at Lower Moors, a Whimbrel heard at Deep Point, three Whinchats, six Redwings, six Snipe, two Cetti's Warblers, three Sandwich Terns, nine Greenshanks, 10 Swallows, a Kingfisher, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, two Ravens, five Wheatears, 20 Siskins, five Water Rails and the seven Pink-footed Geese with the Greylag.
Highlights on day six included both Lapland Bunting and Snow Bunting showing well on St.Mary's, with six Yellow-browed Warblers, three Crossbills, 30 Siskins, a Wheatear, three Whinchats, a Peregrine, a Sandwich Tern, a Common Sandpiper, a Greenshank and the geese forming the supporting cast.
On the last full day, we vowed to settle the score with the Swainson's Thrush and get the earliest boat to Bryher. Before heading down the quay, we connected with the new-in Mandarin as it flew over Porthloo, and had the Red-breasted Flycatcher along the Lower Broome Platform. Other bits included a couple of Yellow-browed Warblers, plus a flyover Crossbill, two Bar-tailed Godwits, 11 Sanderlings and a Water Rail.
On Bryher, thankfully the SWAINSON'S THRUSH (another British second for me) showed without too much difficulty as it gorged on Pittosporum berries. We took a chance on a vague report of an AMERICAN BUFF-BELLIED PIPIT on Shipman Head Down, which was more straightforward to find than we thought. A couple of Snipe and a redpoll flew over.
In the evening, back on St.Mary's, we enjoyed a very showy Little Bunting at Porth Hellick as it fed on a track just yards away, where the goose flock flew over and waders included five Greenshanks and 14 Ringed Plovers.
The final day, we remained on St.Mary's and finally managed good views of the first-winter Red-backed Shrike behind Longstone cafe as we had cream tea! My first four Fieldfares of the autumn flew over and a Whinchat moved through Porthloo. An exciting minute at Salakee saw a Merlin fly through, to be immediately followed by first Scilly Hobby. Other highlights included a Bar-tailed Godwit, two Greenshanks, three Yellow-browed Warblers, five Swallows, a Wheatear and four Siskins.
The crossing back to Penzance, as we reflected on an exciting week, again had a Manx Shearwater as just about the only bird of real note, aside from a Common Gull - the first of the trip, a flock of four Grey Herons well out to sea, and the usual Guillemots and Razorbills