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A Report from

Scilly Excitement 3rd - 9th October 2012,

Chris Hall

A lovely blue sky for a pelagic trip aboard the Sapphire: On the way past St. Martin’s, we cruised past a female Common Scoter, and as the duck took off from the approaching boat, a Peregrine launched an attack from its rocky viewpoint, but without success. A little further on, two Grey Phalaropes sped by on the port side. As soon as the chum (mainly out of date rhubarb pies from the Co-op) started flying from the stern, numerous Herring and Great Black Backed Gulls began trailing the wake, and then the Gannets appeared out of the blue to track the boat at close range, followed by Sooty Shearwater, Kittiwake, Fulmar and a first winter Little Gull. By now the poor sailors among us had retired to the ‘sick bay’ calling for “Ralph” and “Hughie” on the leeward side of the boat, adding more chum to our wake. Meanwhile a Great Skua flew right over the boat, another Sooty Shearwater crossed our wake and settled close by, and we also spotted Guillemot, two Manx Shearwaters and a Swallow! After a spot of fishing, the catch of Pollack and Mackerel was diced into more chum, enabling us to watch the Gannets diving in right behind the boat and surfacing with whole fish heads. Three Great Skuas were now tracking the wake and a juvenile Kittiwake gave very close views as it glided right in front of us at the back end of the boat. On the way back through the Eastern Isles, we passed dozens of Grey Seals hauled out on the rocks.

With a poor forecast promised for today, we decided to stay local. No sign of the Ortolan Bunting outside our guesthouse, but we soon caught up with the Buff-breasted Sandpiper on Peninnis Head. It had palled up with a Dotterel, and so we had both of these confiding birds in the same scope view at just twenty yards range! Two quality birds showing really well; fantastic. Moving on to Old Town, we found several Rock Pipits among the carefully balanced rock pillars, followed by a Greenshank in the bay, loads of House Sparrows, and four Song Thrushes on the roof of one house, with another hammering a snail on the driveway. The nearby very soggy Lower Moors produced super views of six snoozing Snipe. By now the drizzle had turned to persistent rain and so we took shelter for lunch inside at Juliet’s Garden Restaurant. Our next target was an Ortolan Bunting on the golf course near the clubhouse, but the course was deserted thanks to the wet weather and all seemed hopeless, but, just as we were about to call it a day, Chris and John spotted something in the dip below the clubhouse. Despite the rain this was the bunting, still feeding on weed seeds, and just a few yards away, but looking very soaked and bedraggled, just like the rest of us. Returning to base in Hugh Town, a charming flock of at least 80 Goldfinches danced in and out of a small weed-filled copse and among them we found one Siskin and a leucistic Goldfinch, with normal wings but an otherwise white body, apart from a hint of red on the face.

A Western Bonelli’s Warbler had been reported daily for at least the last three days, near Rose Villa in Higher Town on St. Martin’s, and so we took the Sea King across to my favourite Scilly isle, hoping to find the villa and its unusual visitor. Sure enough, there it was, bright as a button, in the side garden of the villa, happily catching insects in an ivy bush and showing very nicely in the process, with a cute face, clean white underparts, grey back and bright green rump and wings. From here we did an anticlockwise circuit of this beautiful island up to the red and white-hooped beacon and on along the north shore, with two Ravens gliding by a lovely sandy beach and blue sea crashing onto the rocks offshore. Back at the jetty we soaked up the sun, like basking lizards, in stark contrast to the rain soaking we got yesterday.

With the arrival of a Sykes’s Warbler from central Asia on Tresco, this was our target today, but when we got to the site, with the wind billowing through the vegetation, there was no sign of the bird, and it was not seen at all day that day, so we had to make do with new birds like Gadwall, Wigeon, Red-legged Partridge, Lapwing, Redshank and Black-tailed Godwit. As the weather worsened, Tresco became a washout and those that couldn’t cram into the boat cabin on the way back got a good soaking.

A Grey-cheeked Thrush arrived on St. Agnes, all the way from north America, along with an American Golden Plover which we missed by less than fifteen minutes. On the same beach we did see two Dunlin with a dozen Sanderling, and as we watched them we were investigated by a curious battle-scared Grey Seal bull, just yards from the shore. A Redstart also popped up on the rocks along with a Stonechat. Next we joined the stake out for the vagrant thrush, which eventually popped up on a gate post and then hopped to a nearby tree stump, allowing a good view of this ‘scaled down Song Thrush’, with a grey cast to the plumage and far fewer markings on the underside. About half an hour later it popped up again very briefly but then disappeared. Further exploration of this island produced good sightings of Reed and Willow Warblers, Pied Flycatcher and an early Redwing.

That afternoon we returned to St. Mary’s for another visit to Peninnis Head, where the Dotterel was still showing, but without its sandpiper friend. There were plenty of Meadow Pipits floating around and then amazingly, less than twenty yards straight ahead of us on the path, we spotted an American Buff-bellied Pipit next to our ‘lucky’ bench where we first saw the Dotterel and Buff-breasted Sandpiper. Pipits are often tricky, but there was no doubt about this one in the scope, with a plainer back, darker legs, buff belly and a different call when it flew. Given the murky conditions, this was a real bonus bird.

Despite some adverse weather, we still did well with top birds like Manx and Sooty Shearwaters, Common Scoter, Dotterel, Grey Phalarope, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Great Skua, Little Gull, Buff-bellied Pipit, Grey-cheeked Thrush, Bonelli’s Warbler and Ortolan Bunting. Even when it’s quiet, Scilly is still exciting. Roll on next October.


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