Monday, 24 October 2011

The 2011 Scilly Season. Part I, The John Higginson Project.

So I broke up from work on Friday 7th October, and the Waterthrush was still round the Lower Moors and Higgo’s pool on St. Marys. If that wasn’t enough, an Upland Sandpiper was found the next day. Not forgetting the now-confirmed Wilson’s Snipe, the Saturday really was, as Sir Alex Ferguson would say, squeaky bum time!

But before all that, there was the little matter of driving down to Penzance on the 9th, combined with a little bit of birding on the way. Plan A was to try for the Pallid Harrier at Black Down in Somerset. Plan B was some birding in Cornwall, including such goodies as Long-billed Dowitcher, Glossy Ibis and Black Kites.

Plan A was completely scuppered, when passing Bristol on the M5 the drizzle and mist appeared and got worse when leaving junction 20. No Pallid Harrier would have any sense flying around in that weather, so returned to the M5 and continued into Cornwall. The first stop was Davidstow Airfield in the north of Cornwall, pretty much on the edge of Bodmin Moor.

Trouble is, the mist scuppered here too! Although there was no sign of the Long-billed Dowitcher anyway. But what I saw of Davidstow Airfield through the mist I really liked the look of. A completely disused airfield and you can drive along the old runways, with grazing sheep keeping the grass nice and short.

Thankfully the mist and drizzle just about cleared when reaching Redruth, so Stithians Reservoir was more successful. The Glossy Ibis showed well, as can be seen here.

Other birds seen at Stithers included a Pectoral Sandpiper and an adult Med Gull. Just before checking into my guest house in Penzance, a search for Black Kites just to the west of Drift, along the A30 produced one of them perched in a tree. Not really the best of weather for soaring raptors. After that, check into the guest house, put the car away and pray that the Waterthrush, Upland and Wilson’s are still there tomorrow!

The next morning on the Scillonian ferry. The crossing was much calmer than I thought it would be, and seabirds along the way included a Manx Shearwater and 3 Bonxies. Once off the ferry, the serious business started of yomping to Borough Farm, through the Carreg Dhu garden and Holy Vale. There was probably no reason to walk quite so quickly, because the Upland Sand wasn’t going anywhere.

It's one of those birds that I've always wanted to see, a weird looking wader. It's as if someone has taken parts from other waders, put them together and hey presto, an Upland Sandpiper. Head and body of a Whimbrel, runs around like a Dotterel, legs from a Lesser (or Greater) Yellowlegs, and a matchstick for a bill!

With the Upland Sand safely under the belt, the afternoon could be spent with a relaxing walk back to Hugh Town, check into the guest house and wait until early evening for the Waterthrush to (hopefully) appear on Higgo’s pool.

Well it nearly went to plan, except that the Waterthrush appeared on Higgo’s pool early, just before 4:30pm! Aarrghh, and with that I legged it to the dump clump, following the trail of polythene! I’ve never seen the film “The Blair Witch Project” but I gather a lot of it involves filming people walking through woods. Perhaps it was filmed round the dump clump? And that’s why Higgo’s pool is actually named “Project Pool”? In any case, there indeed was the Northern Waterthrush feeding away, hooray!

Not the best picture you’ll ever see of the Waterthrush, mainly because I was shaking so much! Also wary that others want to see the bird, and with limited viewing space I made way. The pager then mentioned that the Wilson’s Snipe was showing at Porth Hellick. Shall I go for it now? There’s enough daylight left. So I legged it from the dump clump to Porth Hellick in about 25 minutes!

It was actually easier to see the bird through the camera because my bins were steaming up! Once you get your eye in on this bird, you’ll notice that the bird’s back is much darker than on a Common Snipe. This appears to make the mantle stripes to appear more boldly, reminiscent of Jack Snipe. The ear coverts look different compared with Common Snipe too. However, the main ID feature is supposed to be the number of tail feathers. Well, unless you're waiting for that with a super-duper camera, you've got no chance of getting that feature.

Once finished here and three ticks in the first few hours, it definitely took longer to walk back to Hugh Town this time!

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