Our annual pilgrimage to Scilly saw us on St Mary’s for ‘teacher’s week’ once again, with the usual suspects of Me, Brad, Jake and Adam plus Lancashire birder Steve Davis (not the snooker player) from the 22nd to 29th October. The rest of the group, Mark Halliday and Kerry set off the day before and were lucky enough to see the Red-flanked Bluetails at Innisidgen, which weren’t there the following day. The Scillonian III journey on the morning of the 22nd was different with good movement of smaller passerines including an impressive flock of over 90 Skylarks and a few Redwings, including a small flock that held a Ring Ouzel amongst its numbers. Once on the islands and with bags dumped at the digs, we headed out. The news then broke that Mark had found a Siberian Stonechat at Maypole, a great bird in itself and a Scilly tick for me, but after photographs were checked it turned out to be the UK’s 5th ‘Caspian’ Stonechat! Some excellent photos by James Packer showed the diagnostic extent of the white in the tail feathers, giving at a ‘wheatear like’ appearance as it flew. Whilst it is still considered a sub-species, it is a potential split and for me, the best bird of the week as far as ‘learning’ was concerned. There were plenty of other scarce migrants and autumn birds to keep us occupied for the remainder of the day with Yellow-browed Warblers seemingly everywhere, interesting Lesser Whitethroats and a nice ring-tailed Hen Harrier to name a few.
The following day was relatively quiet. The Caspian Stonechat could not be relocated so Brad and I had a trudge around the Garrison, stumbling across the first Black Redstarts of the trip before heading to Lower Moors where more YB warblers and 2 Jack Snipes were seen. The only other bird of note was a Firecrest at Carregduh Gardens. The easterly winds prevailed overnight and the following day was far more productive. A Dusky Warbler was trapped and ringed at Porthellick and knowing Jim was out ringing that morning, Brad and I were already in the are to see the bird in the hand.
We then stomped across the Island towards Telegraph where a couple of Woodlarks had been seen by Adam. Once there we began to check the field when a birder came over and started chatting. He told me he’d had a Common Swift a short time before and with that the Swift flew over our heads with a couple of House Martins. The bird was was always high and in difficult light, but I took a few record shots just in case! It then flew out of site and I thought nothing more of it. Adam then came over and I explained the bird and showed him my silhouetted images. One showed a very shallow forked tail which, combined with the current weather patterns pricked our interest. Adam decided he would hang around and get better views, whilst we walked off towards town.
As we got to Porthloo, I received the inevitable phone call from Adam saying he’d seen the bird well and it was a Pallid Swift. A bird I still needed for the UK! It was a hell of a walk back so we decided that we would try to get a taxi once we got into town. Before putting my phone away I checked Birdnet and saw the two Olive-backed Pipits had been reported near Carn Friars! Again, the other side of the islands! As luck would have it, as we got to the main road, a Taxi drove past with Alan Hannington in it! I flagged him down and Brad and I jumped aboard heading for the OBP’s. Once at Carn Friars the bird were seen in a small weedy field on the opposite side of the road, but as they flew up into the trees it was soon established that there was actually only one OBP and the other was a Tree Pipit. Still, good to see and compare the two birds. We then jumped into to Spider’s ‘Taxi’ and headed off to Telegraph where we had much better views of the Pallid Swift. We still then had to walk all the way back to our digs in Hugh Town! An exhausting day, but some great birds.
After yesterdays rushing around the next few days were somewhat uneventful other than a Wryneck on Penninis a very showy Pallas’ Warbler at Carn Friars and a cracking juv male Redstart on the airfield on the 25th and two new Olive-backed Pipits at Old Town on the 26th. There were two nice Black-necked Grebes present throughout the week just offshore in Hugh Town which could be seen from my bedroom window each morning!
On Thursday Brad, Jake and I went ‘off Island’ to Tresco and Bryher, taking Steve with us as for his first visit to theses islands. The wind had dropped and the sea was flat calm which made the short boat journey to Tresco very pleasant. Once on the island we scoped the shoreline and Brad picked up the three Spoonbills distantly on Samson and five Common Scoter in The Roads. A Curlew Sandpiper was unusual on the Abbey Pool and YB Warbler and Firecrest were by the crossroads. We then spent the rest of our time counting the wildfowl and waders in order to ‘gazzump’ everyone’s totals at that nights Bird Log! At 2.30pm we got the boat to Bryher and headed for the Great Pool to look for the reported Lapland Buntings. After a while with no look I scanned the bay in hope of finding the resident Hooded Crow. With a bit of luck and judgement I managed to pick it up on the shoreline feeding with Carrion Crows! Whilst its resident, it isn’t always an easy bird to find as it roams widely. I walked off from the others to get a photo of it and on my return found that they had relocated the Lapland Buntings! They were so close we had actually walked right past them! After a half hour spent photographing the birds we headed back to catch the boat.
Friday was spent with the same gang on St Agnes, which was fairly quiet apart from one field which appeared to hold most of the birds on the island, including two very showy Little Buntings, numerous Chiffchaffs and a Yellow-browed Warbler. We of course had our traditional pint at The Turks Head before heading back to St Mary’s!
The final day was spent on the Garrison before the early boat back to the mainland. However, I then found out about a Rook at Telegraph! Not a rare bird on the mainland, but very scarce on Scilly and I needed it for my Scilly list! It was 1310hrs by this time and the boat was leaving at 3pm! It had to be done, so dumping everything but my bins I set off for Telegraph with a bemused Steve in tow. It almost required us to run to get up there in time and back for the boat and we weren’t even guaranteed to see the bird, but, sweating as we arrived in the area, Steve picked it up flying over the hedge towards us! Bingo! Can you imagine twitching a Rook!! We then had to speed walk the half hour back to town and the boat.
Another excellent week on the islands, with excellent company once again, not only in our house, but seeing the same faces year after year is a great pleasure. Looking forward to 2017 already!