7.11.15

Holy Grail of Birding SCILLY ISLES


My family and I were going to the Scilly Isles for the first time, and the main reason being for my dad and I to go birding/twitching around the beautiful islands.

Day 1

It firstly started with getting up around midnight for a 61/2 hour journey to Penzance, luckily I managed to sleep in the car so the hours flew past, when we reached Penzance it was still dark with dawn only just breaking, with the low sea mist we could make out St Michaels mount in the distance. We got our luggage loaded onto the Scillonian III, and 2 1/2 hours of seawatching began, we started with 6 Guillemots flew past, with the odd Shag floating out at sea, then the masses of Gannets were everywhere by far the most common bird we saw on the whole of our week, but when the weather cleared and warmed we spotted the odd flock of Puffins fly past but the star of the crossing was around 7 Common Dolphins bow riding within a mile or so of St Marys.
Land Ahoy!
When we reached dry land at Hugh Town, which is a beautiful town on St Marys, we were greeted by Lucy McRobert and  Rob Lambert we walked to our flat where we were opposite the road to the Scillonian Club, which is where the bird log takes place throughout October. So my dad and I dropped of our bags and went with Rob and Lucy to see our first of 12 lifers during the week and what a way to start with the Blyths Pipit at Penninis Head, showing very well in one of the pasture fields along Penninis's point, then it was straight off to Old Town churchyard for Firecrest and hopefully Yellow-browed Warbler (YBW), but sadly no luck so off to Lower Moors for another lifer the 2 Little Buntings but again we dipped on these two birds after waiting for 30mins, off to find our own and get another lifer, then at the famous pool that hosted the Northern Waterthrush for a few weeks (Shooters Pool) we found a bird not as exciting but still a lifer for me Jack Snipe, Rob and Lucy had suggested a brilliant cafe overlooking Hughtown, the famous Juliet's Cafe on our way we had White Wagtail and Black Redstart plus a very showy Greenshank, when we arrived the view was brilliant, after having the best Ginger Beer of my life (Non-alcoholic), we went for the possible 'Siberian Stonechat', which we saw but listening over the radio for the next 2 days and bird logs, the bird was deemed to be an odd plumage Common Stonechat, that was the end of what the birders called 'Chat Wars!'. After having 2 lifers in a day including a mega we decided to call it a day, but just outside Lower moors I spotted a small bird flitting in some blackthorn bushes, it revealed to be my first Firecrest it was only a glimpse of the birds face but the eye stripe was distinctive enough. So day 1 ended with 3 lifers with still many more awesome birds being spotted around the Isles.
Blyth's Pipit

Juliet's Garden Waiters!

Jack Snipe

Celebration looking at Hughtown in the distant


Day 2

My dad and I decided to go to Tresco for the Hudsonian Whimbrel and other birds, on the boat Rob spotted a Spoonbill that had been seen for a few days on a rocky outcrop, a good sign for a good days birding, as soon as we landed at New Grimsby quay, Lucy went in search of a confiding Pallas Warbler, as Rob took us through a short cut to Gimble Porth where the 'Hud' Whimbrel was showing, when we arrived it hadn't been reported that morning typical! But only a few minutes of searching this bird, a photographer that quickly I got 'camera envy', but getting distracted he had re-found this bird sitting in a rock only a few metres from me! So in under 24 hours on Scilly I had 4 new lifers under my belt with two of them being megas! After watching this bird for about 1/2 hour it finally flew showing no white rump, but I still need a Eurasian Whimbrel! We started walking back when we heard of group of Skylarks fly over but two 'bunting' like birds with them buntings are very uncommon on Scilly, then one of the birds called and some of the birds recognise this as a Lapland Bunting, after a bit of searching the local fields, the birds flew into the air and landed on a nearby wall, giving us a glimpse but good enough view of this bird. So not even been on Tresco for a day and already on 2 lifers.





Flight Photo of the Hud Whimbrel

Digiscoped version

Spoonbill with Hughtown in the background


 We went through Old Grimsby and found 2 Sandeling and  a Greenshank. We arrived at New Grimsby and headed towards the Great Pool, where we racked up most of the duck species for the week; Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Pintail, Garganey plus Little Grebe, Canada Geese and two Pink-footed Geese which I'm told are quite a rarity on Scilly. As we walked down the track towards the top end of great pool, a group of birders  were watching 5 Firecrests amongst about 20 Goldcrests, and these birds aren't shy, getting very close to these awesome birds. Then on the radio someone had called a Red-throated Pipit on the helipad at the Abbey Gardens, Rob, my dad and myself dashed over there, but when we arrived no one was there and with a good half hour of searching no luck, then looking behind I spotted something I wouldn't have thought  I'd seen on Scilly a RED SQUIRREL! Apparently some had been introduced on the island, after watching the squirrel, I headed back on  myself to where I thought I'd heard some crests calling at the Abbey Crossroads. When i arrived straight the way, goldcrests were moving through, then a Firecrests flitted past, then a different bird altogether in the willows behind the hedges, after a good few minutes of getting terrible views and hearing it calling this mystery bird, it showed itself to be my first ever Yellow-browed Warbler (YBW)! And getting some pictures proved that, I was so happy with myself then just after putting it out on the radio, it flies of typical! But then a similar call blasted out behind me, ANOTHER Yellow-browed Warbler! Two YBW in a matter of a few minutes but this time this particular stayed around for other birders to see this individual. After watching this bird, we headed back towards New Grimsby and round to the southern tip of Tresco, where we saw Kingfisher, 2 Greenshanks and plenty of Great-blacked-backed Gulls. At the tip off the island (Carn Near) more Sandelings, Oystercatchers and a few Ringed Plovers. After taking the boat back to St Marys, we quickly dashed to Porthcressa Beach for the Mediterranean Gull which we saw plus I found 2 Firecrest in the gardens behind, two Black Redstarts and the first White Wagtails of the trip.


The first YBW

Better Photos of the second bird

Day 3

After going to the bird log at the Scillonian Club, the Red-flanked Bluetail had been re-found, so we took the boat with round 60 other birders to St Agnes, after going to the site where it had been previously, but no luck so the birders split up all over the island when news broke it had been briefly seen  at the cricket grounds towards the northern end of Agnes, within a 10 minute wait this bird popped within only a few metres in front of us! Giving us amazing views of this gorgeous bird and getting closer each time! Then realising this bird was my 270th bird! That was something to celebrate for so after the bird disappeared for a good 10 mins we went to the local post office and had one of the best Cornish Pasties I've ever had (Scilly Pasty) we headed to the southern tip of the island Horse Point, where a Minke Whale has been spotted as we walked down we got Rock Pipit added to the list and   a fly over Swallow, when we arrived at Horse Point, no one was there but after some searching we found a pod of 8 Common Dolphins quite far out. As not much else had been seen and no sign of the Red Flank Bluetail all afternoon, we took the early boat to Marys, where on the way back I saw my first ever Harbour Porpoise! Two of these creatures swam quite close to the boat before diving down. After landing a Marys, news broke that the Short-toed Lark had been seen on the airfield again, so we made our way round to this bird, taking a longer route around Pennines Head where the Blyths was still showing well, plus I found 2 Wheatears as well. We finally got up to the airfield with no luck at all with the lark sadly. We quickly popped into Lower Moors but no sign of the Little Buntings at all. So the end to our 3rd day but still so many places that we've not visited.


Harbour Porpoise 


Red-Flanked Bluetail (Digiscoped)

Red-Flanked Bluetail (Digiscoped)

Day 4

  Today we decided to stay on Mary's as in the afternoon we were going on one of Joe Pender's Dolphin Dash Pelagics. So we got up early and tried again for the Shot-toed Lark, but again no sign of birds on the airfield, but we did spot two Harbour Porpoise at Porth Minnick bay. So we decided to go and check Lower Moors but again no sign of the Little Bunting, but in the field which it had been seen in I found a Lesser Redpoll with a flock (charm) of Goldfinches. Also the first Snipe of the week from one of the pools at Lower Moors, after a quite quiet morning we headed back round Penninis, with no sign of the Blyth's Pipit at that point, I saw something bomb through the air behind us, to find a Peregrine Falcon fly past, which brought up all the pipits and other passerines. After having lunch the whole of the family got on the Dolphin Dash, being promised a 'few' Common Dolphin, we started the boat trip out to Annet to see the breeding Common Seals, also another Peregrine on watch plus a Kestrel. We made our way out to the Western Rocks, when Joe's dog Bella, started yapping and whining turns out that she can sense dolphins from about a mile away! And she was right around 10 Common Dolphins started to bow ride the boat, and myself and my sister hanging almost over the end of the bow getting extremely close to these Dolphins, but after 10 mins they disappeared. So we carried on around the Western rocks to find 3 Purple Sandpipers, 20+ Sandeling and the odd Oystercatcher. Then went to the most South Westerly point in Britain; Bishop Rock, an abandoned lighthouse after passing the light house, we saw a massive feeding flock Gannets diving ahead which is a good sign as fish are nearby, within 5 minutes we had a pod of 20 Harbour Porpoise! But as watched these creatures we missed a Sooty Shearwater that was with the Gannets, but suddenly Bella 'went' off again but the bark was louder, then we saw why a pod of 100 Common Dolphins was heading towards the boat! For the next hour we watched these dolphins take turn bow riding a jumping out of the water, even one dolphin did a tail whip! This is one of my favourite spectacles of nature I've ever seen and is a memory I'll treasure for the rest of my life. At one stage I wondered why my camera wasn't focusing, the reason was that I had Common Dolphin blow spray on the lens, so I quickly whipped this fish spray off my lens and got back to taking shots of these Dolphins, after they swam off we went back to Marys but the drama wasn't over, someone shouted 'Arctic Skua' and this adult Arctic Skua, started to dive bomb this Kittiwake and we watched these birds battle it out for a few minutes. Wow what a great end to an amazing day!


One of the Purple Sandpipers

2 Sanderling and Oystercatcher

Bishop Rock

One of the dolphins

My favourite picture

My sister and myself looking over the bow (Lucy McRobert)

Bow riding Dolphins (Lucy McRobert)
Arctic Skua


Day 5

The weather had turned to the worst with choppy seas and strong winds, we decided to visit St Martin's an island we hadn't yet discovered but the Olive-backed Pipit (OBP) was still showing well in a bulb field, we were really surprised to find that only 6 birders altogether were going to St Martins, so pretty much the whole island to ourselves, we headed straight to the OBP, it did take an hour to find this small Pipit, but when another birder found it, it showed very well, but after looking at my photos showed that this bird had ticks on either side of its head after watching this bird for a good half an hour, we headed to a cafe that we had been told does delicious pasties called St Martins Bakery, we had a pasty and some lovely homemade Lemonade, after being re-fuelled we headed along the road towards Middle and Little town, along the way my dad found a Snipe probing in a vegetable patch and off one of the offshore rocks a group of 7 Greenshanks. When we got into Middle Town, there was a freshly cut thin grass field, with a good number of birds within, after a closer inspection most of th birds were Meadow Pipits, with the odd House Sparrow and robin, but just as we were going to move on I found an odd LBJ (Little Brown Job), which at first I narrowed down to a bunting, whatever bunting it was it was good find, as any buntings are scarce on the Scillies, but unlike a Reed Bunting this bird had a browny/yellow 'moustache', which narrowed it down to only two species I could think off Ortolan Bunting or the much rarer Cretzschmar's Bunting, it did take a while, but after a few phone calls, it was a Ortolan Bunting! A new species for my plus being a lifer, also a bird I didn't consider on seeing on this holiday, by far one of the highlights of the holiday, luckily after the other birders saw it flew off. Just in time to get the boat back to Mary's.


Ortolan Bunting

Olive-backed Pipit (Digiscoped)

Ortolan Bunting (Digiscoped)

Olive-backed Pipit

Olive-backed Pipit

Day 6

At the bird log the night before someone had seen a Spotted Sandpiper on the Great Pool on Tresco, so my dad and I decided we'd give it a shot to try and see this bird, there was so many people going to see the bird, that we had to wait whilst another had to come and take a few more birders to Tresco, but sadly this bird hadn't been seen all morning, and we didn't manage to see it as apparently it had flown off, but the fields behind the Swarovski hide, a lot of pipits were flitting around in the fields, within was my first Yellow Wagtail of the trip, plus I found a Whinchat sat on one of the fences, again just as we were about to the leave I saw a pipit that stood out with having a white belly, thin bill with some yellow on the end, but the same size as the Meadow pipits, but as soon as I saw it a Juv Osprey fly over flushing all the birds off, after looking in the Collins bird guide, the only thing I thought it could be was a Red-throated Pipit, but no one else saw it so I'll wait for another one. Apart from that Tresco was very quiet, so we headed back to Mary's but getting an adult Med Gull fly past was unexpected, then on the radio news broke that the Short-toed Lark and now a Richards Pipit were on the airfield, so my dad rang my mum who had hired a golf buggy, so she picked us up and dropped us off at Old Town, where we ran as quick as we could with all of our equipment, this was going to hopefully be third time lucky with this Lark, when we got up there straight the way we managed to see the Short-toed Lark at last! Plus the Richards Pipit flew in close giving us amazing views, still out of breath from a boat someone reported 2 MINKE WHALES of the shore from the airfield so everyone turned their scopes to the sea, and after 10 mins, I was watching some Harbour Porpoise breach in my scope, when what looked like a monster breached from within the Porpoises, my first ever Whale species MINKE WHALE!!!I shouted it breached another 3 times for the other birders to see. So going to see the Short-toed Lark, also to get a double prize with Richards Pipit and MINKE WHALE.

Richards Pipit

Short-toed Lark

Day 7   

It was almost the final day on the Scillies, so my dad and I decided to explore areas that we'd not yet been to so we walked round Pennines, round past the airport to Porth Hellick were we saw 2 Canada geese, then moving onto Higher Moors, which was very quiet, then to Holy Vale with no sign of the female Great Spotted woodpecker or anything else, we headed back to Juliet's Garden to meet up with the rest of the family, after having a filling sandwich and sorbet, news broke of a Pied Flycatcher at Careg Dhu, this maybe a 'common' species but sadly i missed these birds whilst in Cornwall in July, so my dad and I headed off for it, and it was showing well in a big poplar tree, with 2 Firecrest flitting around in the Bamboo plants. That was it until we were back in Hugh Town, when a report of a 'odd' YBW had been seen behind the lifeboat station (Cairn Thomas), turned out just to be a dull YBW. A very quiet day, but hopefully we'll see something tomorrow.


Common Snipe
Pied Flycatcher Careg Dhu Gardens


Final Day

Our boat was 2 o'clock so we packed our bags up and did a quick birding stop at Porthcressa Beach where we got the Juv Med Gull, 2 Black Redstarts and I found 2 more Firecrests. That was it back on the Scillonian III, hopefully for some better seawatching. The sea was very choppy I had to find a cranny that I could squeeze into, but i had a good view over the sea and found 2 Arctic Skuas, plenty of Auks (to distant to tell), Gannets and kittiwake plus the odd dolphin. Again very quiet but getting to the mainland didn't mean this trips birding was over...

Arctic Skua and Kittiwake

'Bonus' Twitch

For a few days at Lands End, in the complex there a Rose-coloured Starling had been showing very well, even feeding out of the hand! So quickly we dashed down from Penzance to Lands End, and with 30 seconds of walking in this bird flew down to our feet, but sadly after that I couldn't find it. Has to be the easiest twitch I've ever been on!!
Rose-coloured Starling


So having 7 days on the Scillies and the 'bonus' Twitch, my life list stands at 276 with highlights from the week being; 100 Common Dolphin, MINKE WHALE, Red-flanked Bluetail, Ortolan Bunting and many others. 

Firecrest Porthcressa (ringed)

Adult Winter Med Gull Tresco