Thursday, 27 October 2011

The 2011 Scilly Season. Part 3, getting jammy with a couple of warblers.

I suppose when you arrive on the Scillies on a trip like this, the first thing you want to do is twitch the things you need to twitch. As the lifers were done and dusted (five in the first 48 hours, now that’s ridiculous!), I could relax a bit and do my own relaxed style of birding, just as was done on St. Agnes the day before.

It’s also a time when the two-way radios start to become really useful, for instant bird news. The 15th was spent on St. Marys. An interesting start to the day began with the discovery of a Deaths-head Hawkmoth from a moth trap in Hugh Town.

I've never really got into moths, but I have to admit this one was really impressive. The picture doesn’t really emphasise what a whopper it really is. And true to it’s name, it does look like it has a picture of a skull on it’s back!

Following a report of a Radde’s Warbler in the dead pine walk at the Garrison, the morning was spent here. No sign of the Radde’s unfortunately, but the Subalpine Warbler did eventually show in an ivy hedge by the football pitch. Also one or two Clouded Yellow butterflies here.

After a pasty for lunch, from Griffin’s bakery and butchers, I thought it would be rather nice to have another look at the Bluethroat at Porth Hellick and Carn Friars. As birders will now, showy Bluethroats don’t occur very often! Prior to that, a check of Old Town bay produced a Greenshank, a Kingfisher and two Turtle Doves in the vegetable field next to somewhere called Nowhere! The cemetery at Old Town was rather quiet, but Harold Wilson was eventually found. Perhaps the Wilson’s Snipe should pay homage?

I'm afraid to say that Harold Wilson is a bit before my time as Prime Minister. He retired on the year I was born! But that made way for Jim Callaghan, then Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown and now of course the Cameron/Clegg coalition. But I've heard the that the Wilsons and their family spent as much time as they could on Scilly. I don't know about you, but I can't imagine the Blairs spending their spare time on Scilly. Barbados possibly.........

But continuing to Carn Friars, the Bluethroat continued to show well. Obviously age is creeping up on me, so I can’t remember if I had the scope or not in order to digiscope it. I have no pictures of it so I couldn’t have done. Thank goodness for a picture from Martyn Whalley, as autumn Bluethroats go this is a good one.

Whilst at Carn Friars, the pager and radio started kicking off, informing everyone of a Radde’s Warbler at Salakee Farm. What luck that it’s only a 5 minute walk away from Carn Friars. Eventually everyone was treated to a wonderful show of the Radde’s Warbler, as it flew out of the Pittosporum hedge, into the rough grass by the farm tack, caught a grub, flew underneath a trailer and munched away on the grub.

A brilliant bird. You learn things as well when you watch them, particularly the way that Radde’s Warbler will pump it’s tail upwards, unlike Chiffchaff which pumps it’s tail downwards. A useful thing to look out for. Also, the orange undertail coverts are a much more of a distinguishing feature than it’s supercilium.

The 16th involved a boat ride over to St. Martins for the day. This island was kind to me last year, as I managed to connect with Tawny Pipit, Melodious Warbler and Red-flanked Bluetail. So I always wanted to intend to do at least a day here this time. Just as a general birdwatch of course, and to explore the east of the island, which I didn’t manage to do last year.

Things started off with a Whinchat by the cricket pitch, plus Willow Warbler and Common Redstart at Little Arthur’s Farm. At the east end of St. Martins is the daymark. Allow me to illustrate what a daymark is:

The American Golden Plover had been in residence on the heath south of the daymark, along with 3 European Golden Plover. They took a bit of finding but we got onto them eventually.

The St. Martins flats on the south west corner of the island, where the Tawny Pipit was last year, is also the best place on the Scillies to look for flocks of waders. During the afternoon the tide had gone out and on the flats contained good numbers of Sanderling and Ringed Plover, a few Turnstone and only one each of Dunlin and Whimbrel.

Whilst doing the wader count, the pager went off and it said “probable Blyth’s Reed Warbler, St Martins, by the school”. “Ooh, that’s interesting” I thought. So once the wader counts were completed I eventually made my way east along St. Martins, as did Kent birder Martin Coath. We eventually found Andy Jordan and got to the spot where the warbler in question was last seen.

However, we got sidetracked for a while because my radio went into meltdown! This was due to a continual running commentary from St. Marys, of 3 Black Kites! At the time they were soaring over Porth Hellick, so a run to a clear view of St. Marys had to be done. An eventual scan with the binoculars eventually found 3 dots over the east side of St. Marys. Obviously they were 3 large raptors, but it was only the radios that could tell you that they were the 3 Black Kites from here.

Anyway, we had this warbler to get back to concentrate on. After a short wait, the bird in question flew out of the dunes and back into the hedge. Personally, I only saw it through bins. Thanks to good old Pittosporum (I’m starting to dislike this plant very much!), I couldn’t make out the wing shape and primary projection. What I did see looked like an obvious acrocephalus Warbler, but much paler overall on the upperparts, completely white underneath and no rufous shades, a very white throat and dark legs. It also called, chacking away just a Blackcap. Then it hopped away never to be seen again and we had to get the boat back.

I must admit, I don’t like it when I think I’m beaten. Left to only my notes I don’t think how on earth any rarities committee would be able to accept it as a Blyth’s Reed Warbler. Thankfully though, Andy Jordan managed to get some excellent photos of the bird. Many thanks to Andy for allowing me to use a couple of them here.

Seeing them at the time, in the field and on Andy’s camera, we all thought this looked very interesting. Particularly from what you can see above, that very short primary projection and a prominent eye stripe between the eye and bill.

My own experience of Blyth’s Reed Warbler is pretty limited. I’ve seen them before at Bharatpur, but that’s not really the place where you concentrate on the little brown jobs. You’ve got all the Storks, Herons, Egrets, raptors, roosting Owls and Nightjars to concentrate on!

So with that all on my mind, despite the 3 Black Kites showing nicely over the centre of St. Marys from Hugh Town quay, the only place I wanted to be that evening was in the Scillonian Club just after a sniff of news on this bird. Thankfully for me a friendly face from Staffordshire was around to talk to that evening. That being Steve “The Snapper” Richards, making a long weekend of it to see the Waterthrush. So at least we provided a mutual birding-counselling service to each other!

Later that evening, it was confirmed that the bird was indeed a Blyth’s Reed Warbler! An early boat to St. Martins was arranged for the next morning. I didn’t go on that boat because I went into celebration mode, the pints of ale didn‘t half flow!

It's a good job the Scillonian club doesn't have a jukebox, because as it was party time there's only one song you can play at a time like this!

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