I have recently spent a great week's birding on the Isles of Scilly, with a host of fantastic memories and of course, photos. The weather was generally like Summer, with plenty of warm sun nearly every day and very little wind. OK, this did mean that the rarities were a bit thin on the ground, but I didn't mind at all. Being my first time on the islands I was wowed by the place, and whilst some Scilly birding may have been disappointed, I loved every minute. Thanks are due to to Richard, Geoff, Nigel, Stu and Paul T. for their great company and many laughs.
(photo above: St. Martin's from the B. N. Islander)
After an early start, we arrived at Land's End in time for a search in Nanquidno Valley for a Wood chat Shrike which had been about. That was unsuccessful but we did see two Choughs, plus three Stonechats. After the short (15-minute) flight from the Land's End Aerodrome, we arrived on St. Mary's in the early afternoon, and dropped our bags off at the house on Porthmellon just in time to dip a Red-breasted Flycatcher at Parting Carn.
We then headed for Porth Hellick Pool to see 10 Whooper Swans (above) which had arrived there and were to stay on the islands all week, plus a Green Sandpiper and a Snipe.
A check on Porthloo beach turned up two Mediterranean Gulls, a first-winter and a second-winter (above), a Curlew, a Wheatear and a Cormorant, while at the Garrison we saw two Yellow-browed Warblers (below) and a Willow Warbler.
It was then off to St. Agnes where I got good views of a Tawny Pipit at Beady Pool (below), Wingletang Bay. A Red-throated Pipit flew over, calling, and carried on flying SW straight out to sea. A Whinchat, two Stonechats and two Wheatears were also in the area.
A Rose-coloured Starling showed briefly but well between the lighthouse and the Coastguards (below), and c45 (European) Starlings were also seen. At Periglis Cove we saw four Bar-tailed Godwits, 20+ Ringed Plovers, three Dunlins, 30+ Turnstones, 96 Shags and three Swallows, and a Common Darter was near Big Pool.
Five Chiffchaffs were at Chapel Field, with another at The Parsonage and a Yellow-browed Warbler. In Barnaby Lane, en route to the Turk's Head, there was another Yellow-browed Warbler, two Firecrests (below) and two Chiffchaffs.
On the dullest day, with light rain later in the afternoon, a walk to Peninnis Head after breakfast produced just three Wheatears, two Skylarks, two rafts totaling 500+ Shags and several Gannets. Later, a Kittiwake and eight Little Egrets were seen from the boat crossing to Tresco. On Tresco, three Goldcrests, a Jackdaw and nine Stock Doves were in the Great Pool area, and eight Wigeon, several Teal, a Little Grebe, many Gadwall, three Canada Geese, 21 Greenshanks, 27 Redshanks and a Migrant Hawker were on the pool. A Water Rail was seen at Abbey Pool. An Angle Shades moth visited the house that evening (below).
I took the pelagic on the Sapphire, which lasted from 9.30am to 4.00pm, and enjoyed every minute. The birds seen were two Fulmars, two Puffins, two Guillemots, four Razorbills, two Arctic Skuas, three Great Skuas, a Meadow Pipit (!), two Common Gulls, a Black-headed Gull, 25+ Great Black-backed Gulls, 10+ Herring Gulls and 30+ Gannets. Other wildlife included an Ocean Sunfish, six Common Dolphins (very close to the boat) and seven Harbour Porpoises, plus a Basking Shark at Porth Minnick, which had been feeding there all afternoon.
Pelagic photos starting with Kittiwake:
After the trip I walked to Giant's Castle to see a Wryneck, plus two Stonechats and two Wheatears. On the way, the Basking Shark appeared to be just leaving Porth Minnick and was rounding Tolman Point.
Five Common Scoter were scoped distantly in The Roads from Porthmellon beach and two Firecrests were at Old Town churchyard. We then headed for St. Martin's where sightings on the island included a Peregrine from the boat just off St. Mary's, two Sandwich Terns and a Kestrel were at Higher Town Bay, a Lesser Whitethroat, a Redwing and a Fieldfare were at Higher Town, seven Red-legged Partridges were near School Lane as was a Pheasant, a Skylark, seven Linnets, c40 Meadow Pipits (but no sign of a Red-throated Pipit seen the previous day), six Golden Plovers and a ring-tail Hen Harrier were at Chapel Down. Looking north out to sea three Sooty Shearwaters and two Great Skuas were seen near a fishing boat as were a pod of at least seven Risso's Dolphins, and several groups of Harbour Porpoise were also present. The best sightings though were of a Minke Whale which spent the afternoon feeding off Watermill Cove (St. Mary's) near the Eastern Isles, which I watched along with many other people from Chapel Down on St. Martin's for some time.
As the warm, sunny weather continued, it was off to Bryher for another superb day. Two Shelduck were spotted off Sampson by Richard from the boat on the way, while on the island we saw a Richard's Pipit near Great Pool, which unfortuntaley flew off just after we got there, but at least I did see it and get good views of it in flight; three Ring Ouzels, six Fieldfares and 20 Redwings were in The Green/Sampson Hill area, a Chiffchaff and a Black Redstart were near the dump, a Merlin was on Shipman Head Down and a Sparrowhawk and two Kestrels were also seen.
Before catching the return boat trip, three Spoonbills were seen in flight having been flushed from Green Island (there were four there in total but the fourth bird apparently landed nearby); the three birds, all immatures, landed back down on Stony Island and we then saw them from the boat (above).
In the evening, I couldn't resist going to see the Wryneck again, which was now on the coast path at Porth Minnick, and was rewarded with excellent views (above). A Black Redstart and two Stonechats were nearby.
We returned to St. Martin's following news of a Radde's Warbler, and also a Little Bunting, seen the previous day at Little Arthur Farm. In fact a lot of other birders had the same idea, which was a bit of a pattern for the week given the low number of rarities. The Radde's was a no show but we did get very good views of the Little Bunting as it fed in a weedy field (above), and later mud-bathed in a field opposite. Two Blackcaps and three Chiffchaffs were also seen here. I was glad we and returned to St. Martin's as I wanted to find a real rarity, and a specialty of this island. After a search on Chapel Down near the Damark, I eventually found, on the path, a Red-barbed Ant (below). This is a solitary species closely related to the Wood Ant and found only here and in a location in Surrey.
Other sightings were a Wheatear, several Turnstones, c130 Sanderlings, c110 Ringed Plovers and four Dunlins at Neck of the Pool earlier, a Ring Ouzel and a Redstart were near Higher Town cricket pitch, several Fieldfares (below), a few Redwings and Song Thrushes were at Higher Town, and an immature Arctic Tern and a Stonechat were at Chapel Down.
Back on St. Mary's, a Black Redstart was near the lifeboat station.
I spent most of the day exploring St. Mary's solo, seeing the parts of the island I hadn't previously been to. My first part of the walk though took me back to Porthloo Beach, where I saw four Bar-tailed Godwits, a Curlew, 13 Ringed Plovers, three Oystercatchers, a Grey Heron, a 2nd-winter Mediterranean Gull, four Mallards, eight Herring Gulls, a Great Black-backed Gull, a Black-headed Gull, eight Gannets offshore, two Pied Wagtails and two Carrion Crows. Sightings on the next section from Seaways Farm to Carn Morval Point were a Skylark, a Linnet, a Stonechat, eight Meadow Pipits and three Swallows and three Meadow Pipits, two Goldfinches and 28 Linnets were at Telegraph. A Water Rail was at Newford Duck Pond (below) along with a Moorhen, 26 Mallards of various shades, two Chiffchaffs, a female Blackcap and two Blue Tits.
At Trenoweth in the Jac-a-Ba garden there were two Goldcrests and a Chiffchaff, and a Grey Wagtail and a Kestrel were at Watermill Cove. It was at this point that I got a call from Richard about a Radde's Warbler, seen the previous day, which had been re-found at Carreg Dhu. This was on my route anyway, and after a pleasant walk up Watermill Lane and past Holy Vale, I arrived at Carreg Dhu. It was soon obvious that the bird was not going to play, so after a pit-stop at the Longstone Cafe I headed through Higher Moors to Porthellick Pool.
The ten Whooper Swans were still present and very close to the hide (above), and a Jack Snipe was feeding in the open at the edge of the pool (below). I also noted a Water Rail, four Moorhens, three Greenshanks, a Little Egret, c20 Swallows and a Meadow Pipit here.
There was little of note on the extremely pleasant coast path back to Old Town, just three Rock Pipits at Porth Minnick. Not long after getting back, news came through from Richard that had me and Geoff racing to Sandy Lane, near the Longstone Cafe. After some wait, and in fading late, the re-re-found Radde's Warbler finally showed, and gave good but all too brief views, before skulking back off into the undergrowth as is the habit of these birds. We returned via Lower Moors where a Snipe, a Water Rail, two Moorhens and a Chiffchaff were just about seen at dusk.
The last day, but with the return flight not until mid-afternoon, there was plenty of time to make the most it, starting with a Curlew and 15 Turnstones on Porthmellon Beach, a Black Redstart, and two Bar-tailed Godwits and two Rock Pipits at Porthloo. A female Blackcap was near the Longstone Cafe and a Firecrest was at Carreg Dhu.
Whilst sipping ale at The Old Town Inn, Geoff noticed a Black Redstart on the roof of the pub (above). These birds seemed to be quite abundant on the island by the end of the week. The walk back took us through Lower Moors again, where a singing Chifchaff and two Jack Snipes (below) rounded off the week nicely.
The total species count was 106 for the week, with a handful of lifer's thrown in: Tawny Pipit, Red-throated pipit, Rose-coloured Starling, Richard's pipit, Little Bunting and Radde's Warbler. Then there were the cetaceans, Common and Risso's Dolphin and Minke Whale, and the Basking Shark - all lifer's - as was the Red-barbed Ant.