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MAGICAL ISLES OF SCILLY - Wednesday 16th - Wednesday 23rd October 2013

Wednesday 16th October
We met at Penzance Quay for our trip across to the Isles of Scilly. There was a strong westerly wind blowing as we boarded the Scillonian III but we were soon distracted by the sight of flocks of GANNETS offshore and a ROCK PIPIT on the quayside.

At 9.15am we were away and had set off on the two and a half hour journey. Once out of the lee of Mounts Bay it was decidedly choppy. Hundreds of GANNETS were seen including some very close to the ship. About half way across two GREAT SKUA drifted past, one of which showed well in the morning sun and then a few minutes later, three COMMON DOLPHIN came out of the water close to the boat.

Eventually the waters eased as we came into sight of the Scillies and it was great to be on terra firma once again! After dropping into the shops to pick up lunch, we checked in at our guesthouse before enjoying lunch close to Town Beach. We were interrupted by a BLACK REDSTART seen along the tideline before it flew off to the lifeboat station.

We then took a gentle stroll along Peninnis Head, noting several of the more common Scilly birds including SONG THRUSH, where numbers are always good. Butterflies enjoyed the sunshine and included SPECKLED WOOD, RED ADMIRAL and SMALL COPPER.

Along King Edwards road we stopped in our tracks, as no more than three feet in front of us a SNOW BUNTING fed. This delightful bird gave excellent views, feeding on small seeds and vegetation along the track and completely unconcerned by our presence.

Further along we spotted another scarce bunting, this time a LAPLAND BUNTING but it was far less cooperative, as it soon disappeared behind a rock and only seen briefly afterwards. We did have some compensation with CLOUDED YELLOW butterfly, a small party of ROCK PIPITS and at least three WHEATEARS. TWO SWALLOWS and a single HOUSE MARTIN flew over the eastern side of the headland.

Eventually we ended up close to Old Town Church, where we had excellent views of a WHIMBREL along the beach, before being flushed by a rat! With time getting on, we had a quick look in Old Town churchyard with a visit to ex PM Harold Wilson’s grave before arriving back in Hugh Town.

We met at 6.30pm for pre-dinner drinks before enjoying a beautiful meal of Lentil Soup followed by Roast Pork and vegetables and Creme Brulee for dessert. After a brief rest from our indulgence, we wandered over to the Scillonian Club, where the nightly bird log was taking place.

It was then back to the accommodation for a good night’s rest, whilst looking forward to the next day’s birding.

Thursday 17th October
We awoke to find clear conditions and a slight breeze forecast for the day, so after a wholesome breakfast, we headed into Hugh Town and picked up items for lunch before making our way down to the Quay. With the weather forecast showing a deterioration for the following day, we had made the decision to head over to St. Agnes.

Whilst waiting for the boat to leave the mooring, four SANDWICH TERNS flew by and a GREY WAGTAIL flew overhead. At 10.15am we headed westwards noting a few GANNETS and SHAG along the way. After disembarking the boat, a lot of birders headed onto Gugh to look for a reported Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler that had been seen briefly by St. Agnes birders at dawn, but despite extensive searching, it hadn't been seen again.

Instead we made our way along the coastal track towards the Big Pool. A check of several fields produced a few REDWING, GOLDFINCHES and WILLOW WARBLER, whilst on the next open field we found a delightful SHORT-TOED LARK that started off at the back of the field and ended up very close, allowing us excellent views of this Scilly scarcity.

In nearby fields we could hear WATER RAIL calling and along the bank to Periglis Bay we watched a pair of STONECHAT. With the sun shining, we had lunch on the beach and from here were fantastic views over the bay and as far as the island of Annet.

A GREY SEAL swam in the bay and on the rocky seaweed covered shore we found a few DUNLIN, RINGED PLOVER and TURNSTONE. It was then off up towards the lighthouse, where an investigation of several fields produced a few CHIFFCHAFF and a male BLACKCAP along with plenty of SONG THRUSH. On reaching The Parsonage, some birders we knew quickly put us onto a delightful PIED FLYCATCHER which showed brilliantly in the good light as it caught flies from the branches of Elm trees. We spent some time here, which paid dividends when we heard a YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER calling and eventually we managed to spot it further along the path.

Delighted by this we went for an afternoon tea at the Coastguards Cafe, where a SPARROWHAWK flew over. Afterwards, we walked back towards The Parsonage where the flycatcher was still obliging and a PAINTED LADY butterfly fed. Down near the Post Office we came across a small number of CHIFFCHAFF feeding in a pine tree before we wandered back down towards the Quay.

The journey back produced good numbers of SHAG on the rocky islands, as well as several GANNET. It was then back to the guesthouse and good to have a hot shower.

Dinner was once again delicious with Smoked Mackerel Salad followed by Gammon Steak with peach and stilton and a homemade Bakewell Tart for pudding. It was off to the Scillonian Club for the birdlog and a nightcap before retiring to bed.

Friday 18th October
With heavy rain and strong winds overnight, we opted to stay on St Mary's, so after breakfast we headed into town to get lunch and wandered past Town Beach towards Lower Moors. Several CHIFFCHAFFS called from deep cover but kept out of view and from the viewing screen at Shooter's Pool a couple of GADWALL were seen.

We reached the ISBG hide although getting in was a tight squeeze! A GREY WAGTAIL flew in briefly and a KINGFISHER zipped past, but the real highlight was a stunning JACK SNIPE bobbing up and down really close to the hide and giving superb views. An adult LITTLE GREBE was seen in the open water before we decided to carry on our walk.

A stop overlooking Old Town beach provided us with some new birds for the tour, namely LITTLE EGRET and GREENSHANK, both of which fed on the tide-line. A look out to the south showed huge crashing waves and we were glad not to be on a boat today!

Our next port of call were the gardens at Carreg Dhu which were sheltered from the strong winds. A male PEREGRINE flew over briefly and a small party of HOUSE MARTINS fed overhead. GOLDCRESTS were seen, but there was no sign of the Firecrests reported earlier. After lunch, the group wa;led to the north of the island whilst Steve, feeling unwell, returned to Hugh Town.

After ten minutes, the heavens opened and everybody got soaked! The rain did stop temporarily and a BLACK REDSTART was noted, as well as several CHIFFCHAFF up at Newford Duckpond. With the rain now falling heavily, everyone headed back rapidly, to try and dry off in preparation for the following day.

We met at 6.30pm for a pre-dinner drink. Dave cooked a great evening meal again, with Nectarine and Cream Cheese to start and Cod in Parsley Sauce for mains followed by a delicious Chocolate Fudge Cake.

Saturday 19th October
After a spot of early morning rain whilst having breakfast, by the time we had left the guesthouse it had eased off and was brightening from the south. A fruitless search for Black Redstart was made on Town Beach, so we headed into town for our lunch before heading out onto a windy Porthcressa Bay.

A couple of LITTLE EGRET fed in the shallow pools along the beach and a few SHAG offered close views along the tide-line. Overhead we had brief views of a PEREGRINE that was hunting STARLINGS and COLLARED DOVES and a KESTREL hunted the same area. We then went down to the Quay to wait for our boat to Tresco.

Whilst waiting on the boat, a SANDWICH TERN flew over before we set off with Fraser Hicks at the helm, accompanied by his little black dog. The journey north gave us excellent views of GANNETS overhead and a small number of SHAG on rocky outcrops. Landing at Carn Near, a couple of STONECHATS were near the quay and a quick check offshore saw two COMMON SCOTER flying past.

A stop at Abbey Gardens for facilities gave us brief views of a beautiful RED SQUIRREL that was part of a re-introduction programme onto Tresco and it was good to bump into Essex birder Dave Acfield, who gave us an update on birds on the island. Abbey Pool held small numbers of TEAL, GADWALL and our first MUTE SWANS of the trip, as well as a WATER RAIL that flew past. Further along the path, a YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER called frequently in dense cover but did not show in the short time we were there.

The main urgency for our walk was to get to the Swarovski Hide on the Great Pool, where a SORA RAIL had been feeding during the last ten days. Reaching the hide, we managed to either get in or stand outside, where we could view the reed-bed. A few minutes passed before the bird was spotted walking through the reeds, before we had good views in a clear area.

We managed more views of this rarity and at times it was seen alongside a WATER RAIL. Delighted, we headed off for lunch which we had overlooking the Tresco Channel. We spotted a HOODED CROW offshore from Bryher and along the shoreline close to us were good numbers of MEADOW and ROCK PIPITS as well as a single WHEATEAR.

After lunch we spent time overlooking the Great Pool from Abbey Drive and excellent light enabled us to pick out good numbers of wildfowl, including a juvenile GARGANEY amongst SHOVELER, TEAL, PINTAIL, GADWALL and MALLARD. GREENSHANKS numbered around 20 and a BLACK-TAILED GODWIT roosted close to the shore.

In nearby fields we watched plenty of RED-LEGGED PARTRIDGE and around 8 COMMON PHEASANTS, both introduced to Tresco for shooting. Another stop at Abbey Pool gave us views of an adult COMMON GULL, the only one reported on the islands that day, before we went for a well deserved cuppa in Abbey Gardens.

As we left the gardens we had better views of a RED SQUIRREL as it dashed around the pine trees. The walk up to New Grimsby found us yet more RED-LEGGED PARTRIDGE and near the Great Pool we watched a small party of STOCK DOVES flying over.

It was then time to go back to the Quay and catch the 4.30pm boat which passed several islands in the Tresco Channel. They provided roosting sites for 14 LITTLE EGRETS. Once again, GANNETS gave excellent views overhead before we reached St Mary's.

Our evening meal was very welcome once again, starting with Pea and Ham Soup followed by Beef Casserole and then Pannacotta with Raspberries for dessert. Most of the group went to the Scillonian Club for the bird-log and saw photographs of a reported Spotted Crake on St. Mary's that was in fact another Sora Rail!

It was then back to the guesthouse for some rest before the following day.

Sunday 20th October
With heavy rain, strong winds and thunder overnight, things had calmed down somewhat by the time we had breakfast. We opted for a visit to the east side of the Garrison first thing as it can be sheltered by prevailing winds. Although not alive with birds, we did manage to see several GOLDCREST amongst the more common species.

A sea-watch from Morning Point was productive, with good numbers of GANNETS flying past including some feeding just offshore, but the best bird by far was a BALEARIC SHEARWATER that flew westwards towards St. Agnes.

After picking up lunch we wandered out of town, stopping at Porthmellon Beach where a single WHEATEAR was present amongst the seaweed. Our walk took us to Higher Moors where we could hear two YELLOW-BROWED WARBLERS calling from the Sallows, but frustratingly they remained elusive. More frustrating was the accipiter close by that looked good for Goshawk but was just too brief a sighting to call!

We enjoyed lunch in the shelter of Porthellick Bay and although quiet for birds, it was a tranquil spot in the sunshine. Afterwards, we checked out pools from the bank and found three COMMON SNIPE roosting on islands and in some nearby fields, a few Moorhens fed. Continuing on, we reached Borough Farm and had excellent sightings of four BLACK REDSTARTS and around 20 REDWINGS in the ploughed field. A good find was a WHITETHROAT, seen feeding on brambles close by.

By this time it was time for tea and luckily for us, the ideally situated Country Guesthouse was just around the corner! Several members of the party took advantage of the Apple Strudel which had just come out of the oven and looked delicious....

With news of a Common Rosefinch coming through, we wandered down through Holy Vale, but at the far end there was no sign of the bird. With time getting on, we trotted back towards Hugh Town and after meeting some birders who had recently seen a Spotted Crake, we diverted for a quick look. With time against us, we joined a small group and after a few minutes, there was the SPOTTED CRAKE. Unfortunately everybody didn't get on it so we decided to head back the following day.

With chefs night off, we visited the Pilot's Gig restaurant where we had a cracking meal, if not too much of it! We then managed to get into the log just as it was starting and afterwards retired back to the guesthouse to get some rest.

Monday 21st October
After yet another wet and windy night with more showers predicted throughout the day, we left the accommodation a little later than usual. With the bad weather, the Scillonian and all flights to the islands had been cancelled which meant no fresh food in the Co-op!

Out first stop of the day was Porthcressa Bay, where we only managed several minutes due to the gale force southerly winds blowing in our faces. Porthmellon Beach was much more sheltered and here we watched five HOUSE MARTINS hawking insects close to the Lifeboat Station. We then headed into Lower Moors where we hoped everybody would get to see the SPOTTED CRAKE and it didn't take long before this cryptically marked bird was seen feeding underneath tree roots close by.

A heavy shower sent us scuttling into the Hilda Quick Hide, from where we saw a single MALLARD and a MOORHEN! Once the rain had eased off, another look at the crake was made before carrying on to Old Town Bay and Churchyard. The far corner was quite sheltered from the still strong winds, but once again another shower sent us running for cover, this time in Old Town Church.

When the rain had stopped, a search of the brambles was made for Prickly Stick Insect, but to no avail. We did have good views of a CHIFFCHAFF and a few GOLDCRESTS. It was then off for lunch in Old Town Cafe and a break from the dodgy weather.

Afterwards we ambled through the Dump Clump, noting at least five CHIFFCHAFF and a few GOLDCREST as well the more common species. Porthloo Beach was our next destination and here the beach held plenty of passerines including four BLACK REDSTARTS, three WHEATEARS and GREY, WHITE and PIED WAGTAILS, until a female MERLIN came dashing through and perching on rocks on Newford Island.

With the weather still not fantastic, we decided to call it a day and have some time off for tea, shopping etc although some of the group headed onto the Garrison for a spot of sea-watching. Along the path we were shown some BALM-LEAVED FIGWORT, a plant that is scarce and only grows in Cornwall and the Scillies.

Once at the end of the Garrison we could see plenty of GANNETS moving past, with good numbers of SHAG and a GREY SEAL, but no hoped for shearwaters. The walk back along Porthcressa Bay yielded two first-winter MEDITERRANEAN GULLS giving close views with the more numerous BLACK-HEADED’S.

It was then back for a hot shower before meeting for the bird list and pre-dinner drink. For starters we had Tomato and Mozarella Salad, followed by Roast Chicken and Lemon Meringue Pie for dessert - delicious!

Once again, we headed over to the log call, where we participated whilst having an enjoyable nightcap.

Tuesday 22nd October
The night was again wet and windy but the day’s forecast a vast improvement on the previous day, which was encouraging! After breakfast we took a stroll along Porthcressa Bay looking for any Starling flocks, just in case the Rose-coloured Starling was there, but despite searching it was nowhere to be seen. We did have some compensation though, when a PEREGRINE flew over giving great views.

After picking up sandwiches, we strolled along the lane towards Lower Moors and soon heard a YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER calling. Eventually with some patience we got views of it as it flitted around a group of Sycamores. A CHIFFCHAFF sang nearby in the early morning sunshine and a GREY WAGTAIL flew over.

We headed back to Carreg Dhu gardens, where the warm sunshine encouraged at least two FIRECRESTS to show themselves, albeit briefly. A HUMMINGBIRD HAWKMOTH fed in a sheltered corner and offered good photo opportunities as it buzzed from flower to flower.

We then enjoyed a lovely stroll down to Pelistry Bay, where we found PAINTED LADY, CLOUDED YELLOW and SMALL TORTOISESHELL butterflies in the sheltered lane. We relaxed whilst eating lunch on the beach in the warm sunshine and a scan of the bay produced GREY SEAL and two COMMON SCOTER flying past the bay.

As we left the area, a small flock of GANNETS fed offshore and a quick check found us at least three HARBOUR PORPOISE feeding with them. Carrying on around the coastal path gave us good views of the Eastern Isles and St. Martin's and the sheltered waters held good numbers of GANNETS and SHAGS, but no sign of any reported Divers.

Newford Duckpond was our next destination and after a brief wait, we caught sight of another YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER flitting around Sallows overhanging the pond. We then decided to head for a cuppa and whilst strolling down the Telegraph Road, news came through of a Swift flying over the middle of the island. Despite scanning we couldn't spot it and we later heard that it had flown straight through to St. Agnes.

Afternoon tea was enjoyed at Juliet’s Garden overlooking Hugh Town and afterwards we checked out Porthloo Beach, where two BLACK REDSTARTS were present along with three WHEATEARS. We rounded off the afternoon on Porthmellon and Porthcressa Beaches with SWALLOW and HOUSE MARTIN, as well as a lot of STARLINGS but no sign of the Rose-coloured!

We met for our last evening meal which once again was delightful. The starter of Pear, Walnut and Stilton salad followed by Hake in Tomato and Spinach sauce and Sticky Toffee pudding was wonderful. It was then over to the Scillonian Club, where we partook in the log call before calling it a day and heading back.

Wednesday 23rd October
Our last few hours on Scilly were spent in the vicinity of Hugh Town and with blue skies and light winds it was a joy to be out birding! A check of Porthcressa Bay produced the usual ROCK PIPITS and a flyover SPARROWHAWK. Despite good weather, it somehow managed to rain which sent us sheltering near the end of the promenade.

When it had stopped, we wandered up the slope towards Buzza Tower and there on a chimney pot was a juvenile ROSE-COLOURED STARLING! We watched it till it flew down into the allotments with COMMON STARLINGS and despite searching, it was only seen again briefly in flight. We radioed it in and within a few minutes, some birders came and after we had left it was seen again. Near the health centre, a HUMMINGBIRD HAWKMOTH fed on Escallonia and was seen perched nearby.

Old Town Churchyard was very sheltered and this helped us find our next target - PRICKLY STICK INSECT. Within around 5 minutes, there it was sitting motionless on a bramble. We took plenty of photographs of this amazing insect before leaving it in peace. The warm sunshine also encouraged plenty of SPECKLED WOOD butterflies and a couple of smart PAINTED LADIES that obliged for photographs.

A stroll was taken through Lower Moors which failed to produce the Spotted Crake but did however give us a GOLDEN PLOVER and a COMMON SNIPE that both were heard calling, although we could not see them! The Shooters Pool area held two GADWALL and a smart GREY WAGTAIL that came down to feed. Nearby willows produced good numbers of CHIFFCHAFFS and a brief YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER.

After picking up a hot drink from the dairy, we had lunch overlooking Town Beach, the view being simply delightful with blue skies and sunshine. Afterwards, we picked up our hand luggage and wandered down to the quay ready to board the Scillonian III for our journey back to the mainland.

The ship left the quay earlier than scheduled and as the it sailed out around the Garrison, we saw good numbers of GANNETS and further east our first COMMON DOLPHINS were noted, including some leaping out of the water close to the boat. Steve then picked out a GREY PHALAROPE close by which was seen in flight before landing on the sea. More COMMON DOLPHINS were seen as well as small numbers of KITTIWAKE and both PUFFIN and COMMON GUILLEMOTS.

After around 1 hour there was some excitement on the upper deck and Steve scanned. He got onto a bird moving in large arc-like movements and then shouted FEA'S PETREL! We watched it as it flew past, before it disappeared into the sun. Birders on the top deck couldn't believe what they had just seen and spent the rest of the journey chatting with grins on their faces!

A short while later a GREAT SKUA drifted past and then two BALEARIC SHEARWATERS were seen, one each side of the boat. We arrived at Penzance Quay in good time and after sorting out luggage and saying our goodbyes, we all agreed that it had been a great tour with so many highlights!