Blog

Wed 27th October 2010

Posted on November 9, 2010 at 4:50 PM

Scilly Trip 2010 - day five

.

I started the day pretty positive. Fair enough there wasn't a lot to be seen, but I decided I would catch the boat to St. Agnes to look for some of my own birds and get a change in scenery. After breakfast I had half-an-hour spare before the boat left so I hiked up to the Garrison to look for the RBFly that was seen last evening. It wasn't showing, although it was apparently still present, so I planned to go for it after I came back. Flying around the brambles and bracken in amongst the pines were a few micro moths. I don't know what they are yet - I shall have to investigate.

.

 

micro-moth from the Garrison

.

So I bought my ticket from the booth and settled onto "The Seahorse" for the short trip to St. Agnes. I noticed that more and more birders were getting on, and it eventually seemed that every birder on Mary's was making the same trip! It soon became clear that it was because, this morning, a Spotted Sandpiper had been seen on Aggie. Fair enough it is hardly a mega but with the slim-pickings this week, I think everyone just wanted to see something rare. We had hardly left the harbour when news reached me that there was a Dusky Warbler just found at Holy Vale back on Marys. Good job I didn't need it or I may not have got off the boat.

.

St. Agnes and Gugh - the most South-westerly part of the UK

.

So when the boat docked at the quay, the first call was to see the Spot Sand in case it disappeared. Since I had no idea where it was, I followed the line of birders who were walking around the North edge of the island until they reached the beach by the camp site at Troy Town - probably the English beach closest to America. The Spotted Sandpiper was feeding on the pebbled area and showed well although I couldn't get close enough for quality photos. After the problem sandpiper we had in Guernsey earlier in the month, this bird was quite topical and useful.

.

Spotted Sandpiper, St. Agnes - this photo shows that this bird was quite pale above, with the breast sides very pale and diffuse, with nothing in the middle of the breast. The only barring on the upperparts was on the wing coverts, everything else appearing very plain.

.

The tail was very short, and mostly you couldn't notice it beyond the wings. Also note the give away spots already showing on the very rear flanks.

.

A very open face with the eye-ring standing out a lot. Although the bill was quite long for the species, as can be seen here, there was an obvious down-turn to it.

.

The Spotted Sandpiper twitch

.

I spent the rest of the morning wandering around the island - plenty of Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests to see but very few other migrants of note. A Peregrine shot over Barnaby Lane and, as it looked pretty small, I wondered if it was the Tundra Peregrine that had been identified here recently.

.

The trees at The Parsonage, St. Agnes

.

Peacock, The Parsonage

.

The oddest sighting was made in the main village, when I spotted something walking down a farm track, and realised it was a migrant Water Rail. It was very close so I was just setting up my camera for some fab shots, when a cat pounced on it! I was just about to jump the gate and rescue it, when it ran off at speed and flew into a nearby field to recover. It seemed OK, but looked pretty tired.

.

Water Rail, pre-cat attack

.

Water Rail, post-cat attack

.

The weather was very bright and sunny by now and the island looked gorgeous, but I decided to take the lunchtime boat back to Mary's to try and see the Dusky Warbler.

.

The Turk's Head

.

Leaving from St. Agnes quay

.

Arriving back in Hugh Town, some birders were organising a taxi to take them to see the Dusky Warbler. I thought that was rather a girly thing to do, so I dropped my scope and bag off at the guest house and yomped the mile and a half across the island to Holy Vale. When I got to Higher Moors, there was a group of birders watching the bushes by the Pumping Station - the warbler had clearly moved slightly down the valley.

.

Looking for the Dusky Warbler

.

The Dusky Warbler was feeding in the tops of the sallows by the roadside - generally you expect these birds to be feeding low down in thick vegetation, but I suppose the insects were active up in the sun at the tops of the trees. It did show well every now and again and I was very satisfied with my views. It was difficult to pick out the plumage features as the bright sun was bleaching out the upperpart colours and head pattern, but the very pale legs and orangey vent were more obvious. Only when it briefly came into the shade, could you see the darker brown upperpart tone. Structurally, it was similar to Chiffchaff but a touch larger and longer, with a noticeably long, pointy bill. So, a great sighting - I really love my warblers - although it was clearly the wrong species - my totals are now: Dusky 4, Radde's 0. There was also a Lesser Whitethroat feeding in the same clump of trees.

.

photos were impossible, but here is my sketch of the Dusky Warbler done in the cafe afterwards

.

It wasn't calling very often but did sometimes. I did manage to catch one of these 'chacks' on the sound recorder (it appears at 7 seconds on the recording below).

.

You need Adobe Flash Player to view this content.

.

A not very interesting spectrgram of the Dusky Warbler call.

.

Very pleased with two good birds today - a massive improvement - I rewarded myself with a fine cake at Longstones Cafe.

.

.

With just a couple of hours of daylight left, I thought I'd just be able to get back to the Garrison and try and look for the Red-breasted Flycatcher again. After a rather tiring walk to get there, I was pleased that the bird was still present and pretty soon it showed amazingly well, flycatching from the pines in front of everyone. I cursed that I hadn't stopped and collected my scope - I would have been able to take some good pictures of this bird.

.

[Click here to see some great photos of this bird, plus the Spotted Sand and the Dusky Warbler,

taken by "The Somerset Birder", James Packer]

.

So, a much better day, with some rare birds seen. I had a nice pizza for tea at "The Deli", which was a very pleasant eatery next door to the Bishop & Wolf. At the Bird Log, the talk was mainly about this possible Sharp-shinned Hawk. Apparently, someone had taken photos and the bird looked "very good" - although we couldn't see these photos as they had been sent to an "expert" for verification. I hadn't definitely seen this bird yet, so really, I had to try and see it tomorrow, just in case.

Tue 26th October 2010

Posted on November 6, 2010 at 3:35 PM

Scilly Trip 2010 - day four

.

I awoke with lots of enthusiasm as the bright and sunny weather of the last three days had given way to some soggy weather. A front had arrived during the night which can often bring any migrants to ground and so I was confident something good would turn up. Ideally I would have waited until the drizzle had started to stop so the recently arrived birds would be out feeding, but as I was short on time, I set off anyway. I started on Penninis and there were a few birds around there, mainly Redwings and the odd Fieldfare, plus a couple of Skylark and a Snipe.

.

Gugh and St. Agnes looking from Penninis

.

Old Town Bay from Penninis

.

Dropping down into Old Town Churchyard, I soon realised that there had not been an obvious arrival since there were no more birds around than I saw when I popped in yesterday. But I paid my respects to the most famous resident of the churchyard.

.

.

It was still drizzling and, after checking with some birders that nothing else had turned up already, I set off across the island. I did Old Town, Salakee, Porthellick and Higher Moors and there was just common migrants to be found, apart from a Yellow-browed Warbler calling at Porthellick. Weirdly, I had not seen a birder for over 2 hours. This was quite unusual on Scilly and so I suddenly got all twitchy and worried that everyone was watching a mega somewhere. So I pelted on up to Longstones Cafe to find out. But I wasn't missing out, which was good, but not good really as nothing new had been seen. So I went up to Mount Todden where a Subalpine Warbler had been for a while. However, it was apparently very elusive and indeed it eluded me during my half-hour look, though a Reed Bunting fed in a nearby field.

.

So I carried on down the lane to the coast and went down into Pelistry Bay. Here, in a small group of sallows overhanging the beach, there were two Chiffchaffs. One of them was the image of a Siberian Chiffchaff - brown and white with a broad creamy super - but it didn't call unfortunately.

.

a young Cormorant dries its wings, Pelistry Bay

.

Watermill valley

.

I headed inland when I reached Watermill and at Newford Duck Pond I came across a small group of birders waiting by a field. Yes! I thought, something's turned up - but alas no. What they were waiting for was a possible Sharp-shinned Hawk that someone had just seen briefly. This bird had been on the island a few weeks and was apparently a very very small Sparrowhawk, as small as a male Merlin. This tiny size implies that it could be a Sharp-shinned Hawk from America, which would be a first for Europe. I thought that I would have just as much of a chance of seeing it as I wandered around than just waiting there, so I didn't stay too long, and it didn't sound like anyone had made progress with the ID yet.

.

A hopeful or delusional group of birders searching for a Sharp-shinned, Newford

.

The afternoon was now half-gone and I strolled down to Porthloe beach, and I was going to check Lower Moors but dark clouds were gathering to the West. So instead, I slunk back to my room for 40 winks. I was now actually getting quite despondent. More or less half my trip had gone and I had seen a distant AGP and a few Yellow-broweds - not quite what I was hoping for. The evening meal was more successful tonight with a decent veggieburger at another famous birders pub - the Bishop and Wolf. A bit of hope from the Bird Log was that a Red-breasted Flycatcher had appeared just before dusk on the Garrison. But overall I was feeling quite glum, so I had a couple more beers than usual and slept very soundly.

.

.

Mon 25th October 2010

Posted on November 5, 2010 at 5:40 PM

Scilly Trip 2010 - day three

.

Quite disappointingly, I had to miss my cooked breakfast as I had to get checked in for the chopper at half seven. The lady at the B&B kindly left out some milk and cereal for me to scoff before I dashed out the door. I forced everything into the one bag for check in - no hand luggage on the helicopter - although I refused to let my scope go in the hold! The price of the helicopter is daftly expensive for such a short flight, but I reluctantly decided to pay for this luxury in the end - the boat is half the price, but the times were inconvenient and cancellations/vomiting due to the weather are always possible on the Scillonian. At least the chopper flies all the time and is a corking way to fly!

.

Early morning at Penzance Heliport

.

Twenty minutes after take-off I was on St. Mary's. The Scilly Isles are just a small version of Guernsey. Both places have a very similar look about them, especially on the larger island of St. Mary's. Although, even though it is much smaller, there does seem to be more countryside on St. Mary;s compared to the over-populated Guernsey.

.

Looking from Hugh Town, over the bay to Porthloe

.

My Guest House was The Lyonnesse which I heartily recommend. It was great staying there and I will look to do so again. It is birder-friendly, with lots of pictures of rare birds on the walls. The only negative aspect of my stay there was having to share the breakfast room with two couples every morning - one Aussie and one Brummie - both of which were quite dim and also rather racist!

.

The Lyonnesse Guest House

.

So dropping off my bag at the hotel, I quickly sorted out my kit and started birding. I decided not to get any proper breakfast as I would grab something at the next cafe I passed. Usually when I arrive on Scilly, there is something already there, to go for straight away and I'd head there at speed. Last time it was Blyth's Pipit, the time before that Sora, but this year zilch. So I could be a bit more casual and I headed straight for Lower Moors which is probably in my top three favourite birding sites in the UK - no exaggeration.

.

Lower Moors, St.Mary's - birding heaven

.

The first bird I saw was a very brown and whitish Chiffchaff that I presumed was the Siberian Chiffchaff that had been present at this reserve for a few days. It gave no calls but a brief snatch of song that was a bit odd. There were other Chiffchaffs in the bushes and a Yellow-browed Warbler was calling from deep within, but not showing. Further down the track, I had a second Yellow-browed Warbler calling from the trees just above my head. I don't know how I missed it as it was so very loud and close, but it seemed to creep away without showing at all. Walking through Old Town, it was devastating to find that the Tolman Cafe was closed for the season which I was relying on for much-needed food. By now, it was beginning to become clear that there were very few birders knocking around - less than I'd ever seen beforeon previous trips. Scilly is not in vogue at the moment, with Shetland becoming the place to be. Of course from Guernsey, Spain is closer than Shetland, and especially this late in the season, it is not something I'll be doing for a while. So I continued round to the Airport which only had 5 Skylark and a Wheatear on it.

.

Runway security is taken very seriously on Scilly - who needs a fence when you can just put up signs

.

Birding - its just loitering but with bins

.

So continuing round to Porthellick, my stomach rumbles were putting me off and I was keen to find a cafe that was open. I had a possible Water Pipit in the bay, but there was nothing on the pool, although I did hear a brief Yellow-browed Warbler distantly on the Loop Trail. Pushing on, there were a few birders at the Pumping Station bushes at Higher Moors,where a Yellow-browed Warbler called loudly in the roadside sallows. Frustratingly, again this bird was not showing at all. This was five YBWs in a row now and none of them seen! I decided to not be a wimp about my hunger and pushed on to the western edge of St. Mary's where a few birds of interest had been seen in the Mount Todden to Pelistry area. Again, the lack of birders meant it was difficult to locate the semi-rarities that were here. If there are lots of birders on the island, you come across little groups of people looking at things and you wander over to see what they are watching and you see more of what's around. There was apparently Little and Lap Bunt, Serin and Subalp in this area but whereabouts exactly, no idea. So I eventually slogged it down to Longstones Cafe which I knew was open and had my first food in 7 long hours.

.

Longstones Cafe is a perfect birders cafe. An up to date sightings board, the internet constantly on Birdguides/RBA, free wifi, knowledgable staff, good views and fabulous views. A must visit every day. However, I was not going to lounge around and I headed back down to Lower Moors. This time I finally did get my good views of Yellow-browed Warbler and the bird was also very vocal again.

.

You need Adobe Flash Player to view this content.

.

Yellow-browed Warbler - The spectrogram shows similar V shapes as the Porthgwarra bird but there is some variation (e.g. at 7 seconds there is apair of falling notes rather than down-up).

.

Pleased with finally getting a YBW in the bins, I went into the hides. It was getting to evening by now and the light was getting difficult.

.

Grey Heron, Lower Moors

.

which then walked within 2 yards of the hide window - no zoom required

.

From the second hide, two snipe were feeding on the mud opposite - one Common Snipe and one Jack Snipe. If you want good views of Jack Snipe, the hides on Scilly are amazing - there always seems to be one parading round in the open at one of them.

.

Jack Snipe, Lower Moors

.

.

.

Always a beautiful bird and a great end to the day. There had not been a lot to see during the day, but it was encouraging to see lots of Chaffinch and Redwing going over and perhaps something would land overnight.

.

I found the day exceptionally knackering. I had not had a full day in the field since the bird race, and here I had carried all my kit with me. I flounced out on the bed before heading to the famous birders pub, the Atlantic Hotel for some grub. Bad choice - they didn't have my first 2 choices and had to eat a crappy Pasta/Brie/Broccolli concoction which was not good, and the smell from the toilet kept drifting to me. I then went on to the Scillonian Club where the nightly Bird Log happens. If you haven't seen this before, all the birders crowd in and the local recorders go through the regular bird list, and people call out how many they have seen of each species and where. I can never bring myself to shout out my sightings across the crowded club, but I like to go and listen what's been seen. And today - pretty much nowt!

.

.

Sun 24th October 2010

Posted on November 2, 2010 at 2:10 PM

Scilly Trip 2010 - day two

.

After a restful night in the stable, it was disappointing to wake up really early, well before first light. I was hoping for something of a sleep in as I was not in a rush today. So I hung around listening to my iPod for a while drinking tea until it got light.

.

my room

.

I set off SW towards Cornwall but there was still no need to speed as my first port of call did not open 'til 10 am. So as I passed through St. Austell I decided to take some breakfast. One of the best things about any birding trip is the regular cafe stops.

.

A excellent site for a fine full english

.

So at 10 o'clock I was waiting outside the gates of The Lost Gardens of Heligan near St. Austell. I had come here to see an American Green Heron that had been present for about three weeks, and I knew that it was still present yesterday so I was expecting a relatively easy tick. However, as I paid my tenner at the kiosk, the lady says "you do know it's not been seen today, and no-one saw it yesterday afternoon either?". My jaw dropped and I told her I'd go look for it anyway - perhaps no birders had been there in that time. . . . .

.

. . . . . two hours later and no sign of the bloney thing, I was not best pleased. It had been there all those weeks and it decides to bugger off the day before I get there. I couldn't believe it. There are about 6 or 7 little ponds that it could have been on and I spent my time constantly racing round and round them, getting hotter and hotter in the sunny weather, getting that dipping feeling.

.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan were quite spectacular, especially the jungle section where the heron was hanging out - although I was not appreciating it at the time

.

At least whilst I walked, there was a few other birds to look at, including my first Nuthatch for ages and ages. There were also Jays and Coal Tits, two other species I don't get to see at home.

.

One of the favoured ponds of the Green Heron

.

I felt it was very unfair of the bird to disappear and I was not in a good mood as I left the site just after midday. This was supposed to be my guarantee of a British tick on the trip, as there were no others waiting for me further West. But I soon got over it - if its gone, then its gone - forever onward!

.

.

I headed straight for the valleys of west Cornwall, or Penwith, to try and find some migrants sheltering from the blustery winds. I first visited this area in September 1991 with the BUBO lads and it felt that I had wandered into some subtropical wonderland, after I had grown up birding in the cold North. Of course, now that I am in even warmer Guernsey I am used to such habitats but those valleys are still some of my favourite birding areas. I headed straight for Porthgwarra and had a pleasant couple of hours scouring the valley there.

.

Sixty-foot Cover, Porthgwarra - rare bird central

.

It was bright sunshine, as it had been all day, and most of the activity was going straight overhead quite high - plenty of Chaffinches and Redwings and other such birds. There seemed to be very little in the bushes, just the odd Blackcap, Goldcrest or Chiffchaff. Eventually, right down in the bottom of the valley by the car park I heard a Yellow-browed Warbler calling from inside the bushes. It refused to come out however and I never got to see the bird, but I did manage to record the call on the Remembird.

.

You need Adobe Flash Player to view this content.

.

The characteristic 'V' shaped pattern to a Yellow-browed Warbler call

.

After Porthgwarra, I tried Nanquidno but it was a similar situation there, so I headed back to my booked B&B in Penzance. I have stayed at the Whiteways B&B three times now - very handy and cheap as chips!

.

.

Walking into the town centre, I tried to find someone's Wi-fi that I could 'borrow' on my phone - which seems to be a lot harder to do than in Guernsey. When I eventually did, I checked the Birdguides website and was devastated to read that the Green Heron was "still at the gardens this afternoon"! Whaaaat!! So I bought a Pot Noodle and various chocolate items from the Spar, and slumped in front of the TV in my room, hoping that this bloody heron would stick it out for another five days and that tomorrow would bring much better luck.

Sat 23rd October 2010

Posted on November 1, 2010 at 4:35 PM

Scilly Trip 2010 - day one

.

My previous birding trip to Scilly was in 2007 and I thought it was about time I went for another visit - so during the year I have been organising the week ahead. One of the factors that puts me - and clearly others - off making the trip every year is the cost involved. The accommodation is reasonable, but the travel is expensive. There is the flight to Exeter and the flight to Scilly to consider, and the only satisfactory way of getting from Exeter to Penzance is by hire car. I have tried it by train but this really constrains you, since part of the Scilly experience is calling in to see birds in Devon and Cornwall en route. So it all adds up to quite a few hundred quid, but a couple of years of lunch duties at work have paid for it.

.

So early afternoon today I waved the family off at the departure gate, and fair play to Flybe, I was actually on the road outside Exeter Airport within an hour of my scheduled departure time. This meant that there was about two to three hours of daylight to squeeze in a bit of birding and I set off to Exminster Marshes, the closest site to the city of Exeter, where a couple of rare birds had been recorded recently.

.

Exminster Marshes are not that marshy really, mainly low-lying fields with ditches and the odd pond

.

One of the most obvious differences when you go birding in the UK from Guernsey is the large number of waterbirds at such sites. On the photo above you can just see the duck flock dotted around on the water. I was looking for a Glossy Ibis that had been regular here recently but it was not about.

.

This bird seemed pretty wild, with no signs of an escaped origin, so I added it to my British year list - I am of course talking about the Canada Goose on the right rather than the plastic jobby on the left!

.

It was starting to rain, but I walked South along the canal anyhow to the Turf Hotel, where you can stand right on the edge ofthe estuary and look out. The light conditions were not good but watching the waders feeding and flying around was spectacular. The two most common species were Black-tailed Godwit and Avocet.

.

Black-tailed Godwit in the evening light

.

A tight feeding flock of Avocet

.

There were only a handful of Pluvialis plovers on the mudflats and so I suspected that I would be disappointed looking for the American Golden Plover that had been seen here in recent days. However, one bird that was feeding by a Grey Plover appeared to be small with a bright clear supercilium, but it was rather distant and I was finding it difficult to say that it was 100% the bird in question. Luckily though, I was scoping it as it took flight, and it very clearly had dark underwings - a lot darker than I expected actually - and so confirming it as an American Goldie, which is only my second ever sighting of the species.

.

juv American Goldie - you can just see a pale super - poor photo I know, but it was quite distant

.

The Exe Estuary - the AGP was on the mud behind the boat

.

It was now dusk so I headed on back to the car, just as it started to tip it down, and a Cetti's Warbler sang from a nearby ditch and Water Rails were squealing. A most satisfying couple of hours in the field and a good start to the trip.

.

dusk over the Exe

.

I was very pleased that I had managed to find online a place to stay near Exeter for just £20, so I now had to try and find it in the dark. It was in a small village in the northern foothills of Dartmoor and I did have problems locating it, but I eventually droveinto the pub car park of the Drewe Arms. The lady behind the bar confirmed that I had indeed booked a "bunk" which concerned me a bit as I thought I had booked a room. I was even more concerned when she led me out to what appeared to be an outhouse/pig sty behind the pub. It was actually a converted stables and was a small room with a bed in it, a mirror, and a table with a kettle on it. Ideal for the tired birder.

.

"The Bunk"

.

I drove straight back to Exeter, grabbed a pitiful burger and went to The Picturehouse Cinema to watch "A Social Network". One thing I always like to do when I am away is catch a couple of films at the cinema, and this non-multiplex cinema I would definitely recommend. The film started off pretty good but 3/4 of the way through it got a bit boring for me which was lucky as I hadn't anticipated the length of the film and my car was about to be locked in the car park, so I had to leave before the film finished. I managed to negotiate the dark lanes again and fell sound asleep in the creepy stable - good job I hadn't just watched a horror film!