Tuesday, 30 October 2012

The 2012 Scilly Season. Part 3, The Road to Mandellii?

A tough few day's birding then ensued.  On St. Marys for Sunday 14th October, a brief Serin on the Garrison didn't stick, and was subsequently seen on Gugh.  The following search of the Garrison did produce 2 Crossbills and a Great Spotted Woodpecker though, all flying over.

By the time of reaching Porth Minnick there was no sign of either the Little Bunting or Wryneck.  So a return to the Garrison at the end of the day did reveal a Ring Ouzel, showing really well.  But in reality, it was a bit of a salvage operation for the day.

Monday 15th October was a day of impending heavy rain forecast for the afternoon, and another day spend on St. Marys.  A morning walk through the Holy Vale, Borough Farm and Pelistry Bay didn't produce very much.  The main highlight of the day was the discovery of a Short-toed Lark, with Meadow Pipits in the horse paddocks of Carn Friars.

With the lark seen well, the rain did start to pour down heavily now.  Taking some shelter in the ISBG hide at Lower Moors for a while, a Jack Snipe showed really well, bobbing away as only a Jack Snipe does!

Over the course of the day, a Hume's Yellow-browed Warbler had been found in the Dump Clump.  The wet weather made looking in a rather dark Dump Clump impossible.  One for another day hopefully.  No boats went to St. Martins either today, and with no birders staying on the island, what's there to be found tomorrow, was the thought.

So Tuesday 16th October was to be a return to St. Martins, despite the Hume's Yellow-browed.  It sounded like there was a bit of contention surrounding this bird anyway, so that put my mind at rest for going off-island.  It so very nearly paid off too, as an Olive-backed Pipit was found around Little Arthur Farm.  The trouble was the boat I was on docked in at Lower Town, so had half an island to walk through to get there.

The OBP didn't settle at all, first flushed by a Merlin, then dog walkers.  On finally catching up with the group on the bird and setting the scope up, by the Higher Town cricket pitch, the bird took off west and over the hill by the Higher Town quay.  Aaargh, agonisingly close.  From the bird that I saw take off it could've been anything really, and Olive-backed Pipit is too good a bird to tick than with a view like that.

The rest of the time was spent scrutinising the fields along the coast path back to Lower Town, but no sign of the OBP and not much else either.  So the idea of heading to St. Martins was right, but execution wasn't quite there.  Back on St. Marys the sight of three Ring-necked Ducks taking off out of Porthloo cheered me up no end.

The Ring-necked Ducks must've been blown in ahead of a big depression out in the Atlantic, heading in for the evening and next day.  Indeed next morning, Wednesday 17th, the overnight rain had passed but it was very windy:

Thankfully the dump clump is quite sheltered, suppose I'd better head over to look for the Hume's Yellow-browed.  At the Scillonian club log the previous evening, people were happy with this bird being a Hume's rather than a bog-standard Yellow-browed, call is king.  It was also suggested that this could be a race of Hume's called Mandellii, which spend the winter in south-east Asia and do appear more boldly-marked than your normal Hume's.  All completely new to me, and absolutely fascinating.

Whilst watching birds hopping through the sallows, there was definitely one Yellow-browed type that was duller underneath, compared to another obvious Yellow-browed.  No point comparing the wing bars because they'll show up on this bird anyway.  I think that's safe enough to tick as Hume's.  Meanwhile, the Ring-necked Ducks had eventually settled at Porth Hellick pool, not surprisingly having a well-earned rest.

A slow walk through Holy Vale to Porthloo was next, via the Strudelhaus.  Upon reaching a nice comfy rock to sit on at Porthloo beach, most of the time was spent counting Oystercatchers, Curlews and Wheatears.  A few gulls passed overhead, and one of them was a second-winter Med Gull.  "Ooh, I could radio that out" I thought, especially as the bird was heading towards Hugh Town.  So the details were spouted out on Radio Filby.  "Channel 1, Channel 1.  A second-winter Med Gull flew south over Porthloo beach, heading towards Hugh Town. Over".  The details were then duly relayed. 

About 10 minutes later a rather panic-stricken looking birder approached me, demanding details of the Med Gull, in a manner reminiscent as if I was something scraped from the bottom of his shoe.  Shortly afterwards, this charmless chap then spoke on the radio "Apparently, the Med Gull flew over Porthloo towards Hugh Town".  Eh, what do you mean apparently?  I already said that, and saw it with my own eyes! 

Be careful what you say on the radios, because an argument could've easily started, had I wanted to.  But perhaps he didn't catch everything that I said.  About a minute later, the radio mentioned that the Med Gull was re-found on the other side of Hugh Town, at Porthcressa.  Ha, vindicated, that showed him.

The 17th ended off with a seawatch from Penninis Head, but only six distant auks flew past.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

The 2012 Scilly Season. Part 2, Samson without Delilah

The evening of Wednesday 10th October was spent in the Scillonian club, supping Tribute and contemplating the plan for tomorrow, after a less than successful start.  A boat trip on Joe Pender's vessel, the Sapphire, was going ahead for the next morning.  Not a full-blown pelagic, but a tour of the outlying smaller, and uninhabited, islands and islets, with a landing on one of them if possible.  And of course, if a mega is found during the day then everyone aboard is on hand to move straight away.  All that for £12, so why not give it a try?

So Thursday 11th October began by boarding the Sapphire, heading towards Annet and the Western Rocks to begin with.  Hmm, what's that little dinghy for, that's trailing behind the Sapphire?  I don't know, won't worry about that.............

But anyway, two female Common Scoters and a Marsh Harrier were around Annet, then moving to the Western Rocks revealed many Grey Seals:

Also some fast-growing seal pups:

Four Purple Sandpipers were also found within a Turnstone flock on the rock known as Mellegdan.  The name of which should not be confused with a Melodious Warbler!!!

After that, it was over to land on Samson and explore this island, the largest uninhabited island in the archipelago, for a couple of hours.  It was at this point when I realised what the little dinghy was for, oh oh.  Samson doesn't have a concrete quay in order for boats dock in, so what you have to do is to climb down off the Sapphire and sit yourself on the rubber edge of the dinghy.  The boatman will then take you as close as he can to the shore.  Which in this case, was to wade in a least a foot of water and onto the beach.

However, be very careful when disembarking from the dinghy, because I took a stumble and my right leg was soaked nearly up to my waist!  More serious once on the beach however, was the discovery of two objects missing from my coat pocket.  Thankfully, my mobile phone landed in the dinghy, but my RBA pager was not so lucky.  Oh crap, crap, crappity crap, that's gone in the sea! 

Why oh why did I not put them in my rucksack?  I don't know, I just didn't.  Oh well, can't do anything about that now.  Despite Dick Filby also on this trip, no point disturbing him about it until the evening.  This is Samson:

The increasingly windy conditions were a great help in drying my trousers, but there weren't huge numbers of birds on Samson.  Thankfully though, there is one single Tamarisk bush on the island, and this contained a Wryneck.  But eventually time was up, and it was time to get back on the Sapphire, via the dinghy.

Next on the agenda was to check for wader roosts on Tresco and the eastern isles, with the Spoonbill also showing well on Green Island:

It was at this point where news was breaking of a Blackpoll Warbler on Bryher.  This meant a complete change of plan, Bryher it was.  On reaching the southern edge of Veronica Farm, all that I saw of the bird was it taking off out of a Pittosporum bush and into a pine tree.  Seeing the bird through the bins, two white bars on dark wings were obvious.  Checking the Sibley field guide later, that's exactly what Blackpoll Warbler has. 

So although happy that was the bird, the view itself was pretty unsatisfactory.  But, it was more than those who took the 3pm boat from St. Marys.  So for now, I suppose it will have to do.  The Sapphire left Bryher at 6:15pm, so starting the day at 9:30am, that £12 for day was excellent value.  All that was left to be done was to find Dick Filby in the Scillonian club that evening, to explain the pager mishap, just like turning up at the headmaster's office!  He was really good about it actually.  A replacement pager was on it's way, and a loan pager with Scilly news to keep going for now.

Instead of returning to Bryher the next morning, Friday 12th October, the day started off on St. Marys, teaming up with Kay, on her first ever Scillies visit.  Starting off on the Garrison until the American Golden Plover was rediscovered in Porth Hellick bay, and excellent views of a female Merlin perched in a pine tree along Carn Friars Lane.  En route to Porth Hellick, reaching Salakee Farm, the radio kicked into life once again, "Solitary Sandpiper on Bryher".  Whoa!!!  Right, enough time to enjoy the American Golden Plover for a while, then back into Hugh Town for the 2pm boat to Bryher!

When you return from your holidays, people always ask what you did.  Well me, on my holidays I looked at a pile of manure!

Look closely however, and this is where the Solitary Sand was discovered, giving crippling views.  Not only was it Solitary, the bird was on it's own as well!


Three Coal Tits were also seen on Bryher today, part of an unprecedented influx into Scilly, originating from Ireland.  You could tell they were Irish because of the yellow flush to their cheeks, and they were waving their shillelaghs!

It was also discovered that a birder, known to many as Higgo, found a likely-looking Blyth's Reed Warbler on Bryher that afternoon, just prior to the return boat back to St. Marys.  After last year's little triumph with Blyth's Reed, I didn't feel the need to rush back to Bryher the next day, Saturday 13th.  So instead of following the masses, I took a boat to St. Martins instead, to try and find my own birds.

Over the course of the day on St. Martins, I managed to find my own Irish Coal Tit and had it all to myself, as well as two Yellow-browed Warblers, a Common Whitethroat, a Peregrine with prey and a flock of 24 Sanderling.  Later that day, news from Bryher had mixed results.  Although the Solitary Sand showed well all day, there was no sign of the Blyth's Reed Warbler and only a few people had a single view of the Blackpoll Warbler.

Tea was had in the Bishop and Wolf for the evening, and a very nice piece of steak it was too.  But hang on, what's that music they're playing in the background?  You're kidding!!!!

You ain't seen nothing yet, that's a bit cruel isn't it?  All those Blackpoll dippers that'd been on Bryher all day, kick them while they're down!  Also, check Bachman Turner Overdrive's initials (BTO), now that is spooky.

Monday, 22 October 2012

The 2012 Scilly Season. Part 1, Gripped and Dipped.

So, it's Scillies time again.  Which all began on Sunday 8th October with the drive down to Cornwall.  Birding in Kernow was a little quiet.  A scan of the Hayle Estuary revealed both Black and Bar-tailed Godwits, a Ruff, 2 Med Gulls and 10 Little Egrets.

As there was nothing around  that really took my fancy to twitch (the Red-rumped Swallows had long left Marazion Marsh), and with a south-easterly wind picking up, I thought I'd try Porthgwarra for a seawatch.  This is Porthgwarra reader.

The one slight snag in the plan was I had no change for the pay and display machine.  The strengthening wind would've made seawatching difficult anyway, so an alternative plan was hatched.  At the beginning of the lane to Porthgwarra is a track towards Bosistow Farm, the southern end of the Nanjizal Valley.

A walk to the farm and back produced a few Goldcrests but otherwise quiet.  The pager then mentioned 3 Glossy Ibises and a Hooded Crow just up the road, to the east of Sennen.  The spot was surprisingly difficult to find without an OS map, but eventually one of the Glossy's and the Hooded Crow were seen in a field next to Trevear Farm.  First Hooded Crow I've seen in England too.

The next morning, Monday 8th October, the fog lifted from Penzance harbour, but still shrouded St. Michael's Mount, creating an atmospheric scene as the Scillonian ferry departed.

Unfortunately foggy conditions occurred during most of the crossing.  The fog lingered when even reaching St. Mary's, but not as high as the telegraph tower.

Realising how foggy it was, it made my mind up to go straight to St. Agnes for the afternoon, to try for the Grey-cheeked Thrush.  Even though I felt seeing the Thrush would be unlikely, it seemed like a better bet to try for this than looking for the Buff-bellied Pipit in the fog.  Not surprisingly, after spending a couple of hours looking at a dry stone wall, no sign of the thrush.  So a great big dip there, and St. Agnes deserves better then staring into one small field, but it was the right thing to do.

The following morning, on the 9th, started with a pre-breakfast walk to Penninis Head, as the Buff-bellied Pipit had been roosting here the previous few evenings.  Well, it didn't look like it was here at first light, so it was back for breakfast and back to Penninis again.  The mist was coming and going a bit, but at least the Dotterel was still around, just north of the lighthouse.

As was the Richard's Pipit further inland, along King Edward's Road.  At one point the bird showed brilliantly, perched on the top of a hedge.  Just in time for one digiscoped photo.

Whilst walking along the Penninis Farm trail, the radio system kicked into life, "Buff-bellied Pipit on the airfield, seen from the windsock".  Here we go, the first manic walk of the trip!  However, by the time of getting to up to the windsock, the Buff-bellied Pipit had gone behind a ridge and out of sight.  After a few hours of searching through the Meadow Pipits and Wheatears on the airfield, there was no sign.  The American Golden Plover was around however, and for the day formed an odd-couple pairing with a Curlew Sandpiper.

Other birds of note seen on St Mary's on the 9th included Redstart and Whinchat on Penninis, a single European Golden Plover and a female Merlin dashing around the airfield, 2 Dunlin and 9 Greenshank in Porth Hellick bay.  So in all it wasn't a bad day's birding, but the Pipit dip didn't make it feel that way.

Birding highlights on the 10th, still on St. Marys, included a flyover Tree Pipit over Porthloo, heading towards the golf course, but no sign of the bird on the golf course itself (neither was the Buff-bellied!).  Also a Jack Snipe at Lower Moors, juvenile Rose-coloured Starling at Porth Hellick, singles each of Sanderling and Whimbrel in Old Town and Porth Hellick Bays respectively.  Also the rather odd sight of a Northern Wheatear with a completely black back and red throat.  The bird must've been attacked by a Sparrowhawk or similar, and took evasive action by diving into a muddy puddle.

So after dipping Grey-cheeked Thrush and Buff-bellied Pipit, and too late for the Sykes's Warbler on Tresco over the weekend, not a great start.  It's not going to be like this for the next week or so, is it?