24 September 2010


I've just returned from two weeks (9th - 23rd September) on Scilly. I would've preferred to visit in October, but Scilly is an expensive place and a family holiday remains the most convenient way to get across - particularly given my taste for a particular accomodation. Thus, the middle of September was the best compromise. I will 'do October' in the coming years.

Before I go any further I should mention that I hired an RBA Pager for the two weeks. This was my first experience with a pager, and what a revelation it was. Mobile phone reception (particularly on my O2 iPhone) was patchy at best, and so I was unable to get any real use out of the 'Bird News Anywhere' service from birdguides. When I did check Bird News Anywhere it seemed that RBA broadcast all the news between ten minutes and half an hour earlier than birdguides. To be honest, I began to wonder if one simply copies from the other! Bird News Anywhere remains more economical than RBA for birding on the mainland, but for Scilly I cannot recommend the pagers enough... even if the beeping will drive you stir crazy!

From the perspective of someone only a couple of years into serious birding, I had a very successful time. I started the fortnight on 176 for the year, and finished it on 198.

The place was crawling with Gannets (year tick 177), the first of which was spotted from the plane on the way over. Within two minutes of stepping off the plane I had the Lesser Grey Shrike (lifer 200; year tick 178). It remained my favourite bird of the two weeks, as it stayed for four or five days providing glorious views on each visit to the airport:

I also took a short video of the bird from the road:

Immediately after the Shrike I shot across to Tresco (adding Shag (year tick 179) to the year list on the way over) to see the first winter Wilson's Phalarope (lifer 201; year tick 180) on the Great Pool. Glorious views through my telescope, but my photo of it was hilariously bad. Still, it was a lifer and so I must post the pic:

That evening I took to the airfield to get good views of three Buff-breasted Sandpipers (lifer 202; year tick 181), and view nine Golden Plovers. I took a photo of the Sandpipers, but due to the fading light and strong wind it's also pretty terrible:

The following morning I viewed a juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper (lifer 203; year tick 182) on Porth Hellick Pool, but took no photos as I had neither my camera or telescope with me. The bird relocated to Tresco's Great Pool and then Abbey Pool for the next week or so. From the hide I also spent a little time scannign for a reported Crake (sp.) and had a very nice extended view of a Water Rail.

A trip around the Eastern Isles on the 12th September produced my first Fulmar (year tick 183) of the holiday, and indeed of the year.

The 13th September provided my first opportunity to fulfil a long-held ambition... to take part in a Scilly Pelagic. Joe Pender took the MV Sapphire out five or six miles SW of St. Mary's. The chum and fish was prepared and we drifted for a few hours as a slick developed on the water.

The day gave me Razorbill (year tick 185) and Manx Shearwater (year tick 186) for the year, and lifers in the form of five or six Storm Petrels (lifer 204; year tick 184), two or three Great Skuas (lifer 205; year tick 187), one Balearic Shearwater (lifer 206; year tick 188) and 3 Grey Phalaropes (lifer 207; year tick 189). On the day, the only bird I managed to photograph even semi-satisfactorily was one of the three Grey Phalaropes:

Funny thing, a few weeks ago I had never seen a Phalarope. Today, I have Red-necked, Wilson's and Grey (in that order) on my list!

I have to say that the Great Skuas were the most thrilling birds to see. I've wanted to see on for as long as I've been birding, and they were as magnificent as I'd hoped.

The same evening I went to Peninnis Head to see the Lapland Buntings (year tick 190). Many Laplands were on the islands during the course of the two weeks, and although the following photo wasn't taken until a few days later, it was the best I managed:

The second week saw a juvenile Spotted Sandpiper (lifer 208; year tick 191) take up residence at Porth Hellick pool. A constant delight, I finally managed some photos on my last day, and also some of a Snipe that strutted about infront of the hide:

On the 17th September, the Boatmen put on the first trip to the Bishop since I'd arrived on the islands. Off I went - Sapphire the transport (my new favourite boat, incidentally). On the Western Rocks were my first ever Purple Sandpipers (lifer 209; year tick 192). Good views through binoculars, but photos from the boat were impossible with the Ixus I'd decided to bring. Still, I took one. It's a case of 'Spot the Sandpiper':

A 'Seabird Special' Trip with Will Wagstaff failed to produce any ticks, but we did see the resident Spoonbill on Green Island and get a nice view of one of the many Sandwich Terns on the rocks rather than in flight:

On the 20th September a second Pelagic was arranged. This was even better than the first - a much calmer sea, no need to chum (we chased Trawlers... going 20 miles out to sea!) and awesome birds.

A sole Puffin (year tick 194) was the only non-lifer, and a very welcome bonus:

Everything else had me on cloud nine... Sooty Shearwaters (lifer 210; year tick 193), two Arctic Terns (lifer 212; year tick 196), two SABINE'S GULLS (lifer 211; year tick 195) (one juvenile and one adult) and one juvenile Long-tailed Skua (lifer 213; year tick 197). I tried my best to photograph them, and think I did pretty well for someone using an SLR camera for the first time at sea! I feel I could get much better, of course.

I also got shots of a Storm Petrel and a Manx Shearwater:

A juvenile Kittiwake flew directly above the boat for a few minutes. A great subject:

And of course, a half-decent photo of a Great Skua - truly fantastic birds:

There were also two non-birding moments that deserve a mention. The first was an Ocean Sunfish just off St. Martin's which I took no pictures of. The second was a pod of Common Dolphins (much further out) that decided to swim infront of the boat. It was beautiful - one could stand on the bow of the boat and watch them swim infront of you. A fabulous experience:

Great stuff, and a great day. £20 for the trip is indeed a bargain.

The last few days offered little but frustration. An Ortolan Bunting proved elusive on the Garrison, reports of a Great Grey Shrike on Tresco proved to be nonsense and a potential Thrush Nightingale (also on the Garrison) disappeared as soon as it was first spotted with no conclusive identification possible.

Birds I hoped to see on the islands, but didn't, are Firecrest, Citrine Wagtail, Wryneck, a possible Greenish Warbler at Holy Vale and a Common Rosefinch (although I did see a Turtle Dove during the search!). All were reported. To be honest, I can't believe I didn't get Wryneck. I'll get one eventually, though! I also spent a little too much time hunting for an Icterine Warbler that had been reported a couple of times on St. Agnes (once near The Parsonage and once on the track down to Cove Vean).

Some other photographs of birds I think are 'okay' are Black-tailed Godwits showing their tails, a Greenshank on Porth Hellick beach, a Grey Wagtail in the gloom at Porth Hellick Pool and a couple of Wheatears up near Deep Point (caught a couple in the air, too!):

On the drive back from Land's End to Gloucester I tried for the juvenile Red-backed Shrike on Treeve Common and the Glossy Ibis at Avonmouth. The Shrike, alas, wasn't showing when I visited but the Glossy Ibis (lifer 214; year tick 198) obliged with a flyover after it's regular ditch turned out to be unoccupied.

People say that Scilly's on the wane as a birding locale, but for me it still offers great joy. There are still so many birds I haven't seen, that Scilly (a place I love even excluding the birdlife) will remain my first choice. The local birders were all very nice and helpful and VERY knowledgeable, and I look forward to my next trip enormously.

Finally a tip for birding on St. Mary's... hire a bike.

Finally finally, where can I go to see a bleedin' Guillemot?

08 September 2010

I'm Going To Scilly Tomorrow.

Yes I am.

Right now, a Lesser Grey Shrike is parading about near the airport on St. Mary's, Buff-breasted Sandpipers and Lapland Buntings abound, an Icterine Warbler seems to have taken up temporary residence in the Garrison pines, Wrynecks seem to be under every stone and a freakin' Wilson's Phalarope has just shown up on Tresco.

Trouble is, I'm not on Scilly yet...

07 September 2010

Black Terns.

Another bonus bird this evening - two Black Terns (lifer 199; year tick 176) at Frampton's Sailing Lake. The birds were easy to spot after a quick dash down the M5 after work. Two minutes after my arrival one bird was kind enough to settle on a floating buoy (or whatever they're called) long enough for me to attempt a photograph.

Decent numbers of Black Terns about today - 36 at Chew and 25 at Farmoor. Might've expected more than 2 at Frampton!!!

04 September 2010

Red-necked Phalarope.

It turned up at Slimbridge on Tuesday. Naturally, I assumed it would be long gone by Saturday... but not so. At 0930hrs this morning I was watching a very smart juvenile Red-necked Phalarope (lifer 198; year tick 175) from the Zeiss hide. I've never seen a wader move so quickly through the water. If you looked away from the scope for even a few seconds, the next time you looked it was some distance away. The heat haze wasn't a problem at that time in the morning, and so the views were good. Most striking were the buff stripes. Another bonus lifer!

I tried to take photos, but the bird was too far away and too small. Nevertheless it being a nice lifer I have to post my effort. This... ahem... is it:

Wader-wise, also present were four Golden Plovers (one still losing summer plumage), one juvenile Little Stint (a fine example), 6-8 juvenile Curlew Sandpipers, one Ruff, numerous Black-tailed Godwits and many, many Dunlin and Lapwing. A Buzzard showed up and spooked the Lapwing, and bizarrely (I thought) tried a bit of hovering.

I moved onto the South Lake Observatory and saw three Spotted Redshank and one Curlew Sandpiper. The latter showed very well, allowing possibly my best views of the species yet:

I intended then to leave. I knew a Wood Sandpiper had been seen on the reserve yesterday, but all the talk was that it hadn't been relocated today. On my way to the exit I passed the sightings board and noted that it had been seen today...

(note the Aquatic Warbler that stayed for five minutes midweek!)

...but where? By chance I ran into Dave Paynter and asked him. The bird was at the northern end of the reserve and thus out of bounds to visitors. He was about to take the morning Landrover Safari out there, though, and said I could tag along in the Landrover. Great!

The Safari was pretty good, but unfortunately the closest we got to the Wood Sandpiper was hearing it call as it retreated out of sight! Plain bad luck!

Also seen along the way were numerous Kestrels, one Sparrowhawk, and three Hobbys - one distantly, and two hunting over the flashes. These provided glorious close views - possibly the best I've ever had. Actions and plumage. Adult birds. We watched them catch their prey and devour it on the wing. Finally, along the estuary edge a large Raptor erupted out of a patch of reeds before instantly disappearing back down again. It did this a couple of times, and I was the only person to see it. Based on nothing more than observation I strongly suspect it was a Marsh Harrier.