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Scilly 2011: still there!

Gareth Richards had four days off in half-term and we decided to revisit Scilly. Flew on the Skybus from Land’s End aerodrome at 10.40 on Monday 24th, found a B&B in Hugh Town, dumped our bags and set off to Lower Moors to try for the Northern Waterthrush which has been present since 16th September. But that plan was soon abandoned when we passed a couple of birders looking intently into a tiny bulb field behind Porth Mellon. “Got anything?” “We’ve seen a bird we can’t identify.” In other words, it could be mega. After about 20 minutes it showed again, very briefly in the shadows of the back hedge. Thrush Nightingale maybe? But as the crowd swelled there was talk of Veery, Hermit Thrush and even Rufous-tailed Robin. Over the next couple of hours, more and more people squeezed into the narrow viewing space, pressing me deeper and deeper into the hedge. Gareth and I both eventually saw it reasonably well and called it as a Common Nightingale. Only my second on Scilly but we’d all been hoping for something rarer, perhaps hoping too hard.

The Northern Waterthrush was to prove a devious adversary but the Wilson’s Snipe that has eluded some this autumn could not have been more accommodating. On constant show with about 6 Common Snipe, it had a preen, showing off its diagnostic underwings and outer tail-feathers before flying towards the hide and walking up the bank to feed just a few feet from me, in company with a Common Snipe for convenient comparison.

Common (L) and Wilson's (R) Snipe

Wilson's Snipe

We did see the Waterthrush in the afternoon from the Shooter’s Pool screen, calling and showing for just a few seconds. Tickable but not very satisfactory and so we hung about till dark hoping in vain for a better view. The tedium of waiting was relieved by a vocal Yellow-browed Warbler and by a brief view and a few ‘tacks’ from a Dusky Warbler just after it was found by Spider.

We spent the first and last hours of Tuesday waiting in vain at Shooter’s Pool for more views of the Waterthrush. In the middle of the day, we birded our way up to Borough Farm for superb views of the Upland Sandpiper. With that UTB, we were free to just bird and try to find some rarities of our own. Just a few fields away, Gareth found a Woodcock feeding out in the open in a bare field on Watermill Lane and we both had our best ever views of this species.

Woodcock at Watermill

On the coast path at the end of Green Lane, I picked up a dragonfly that fluttered weakly at my feet as I walked past: male Red-veined Darter Sympetrum fonscolombii! Further up Green Lane, a small crowd was watching a Hawfinch making a right mess of eating haws.

Male Red-veined Darter. A fully mature individual should have more extensive red on the abdomen.

Neither of us could face another dawn at Shooter’s Pool so we were birding Porthcressa Beach when we heard that the Waterthrush was showing on Higgo’s Pool. We missed it by three minutes, gave it another 40 and then just as Gareth gave up and set off … ‘zik!’ and there it was! It made up for its previously elusive behaviour by giving us (me, Gareth and Tony Davison) absolutely stonking views just a few metres away. After 20 minutes or so, it flew off and we punched the air! YES!!!

The Northern Waterthrush. I've always been a sucker for a zonking great supercilium.

We had the rest of the day to head out and find rarities, splitting up to cover different parts of the north of St Mary’s. In the first 24 hours of our stay on Scilly, other people had found 2 Olive-backed Pipits, Little Bunting, 2 Dusky Warblers, Pallas’s Warbler, Radde’s Warbler and White-rumped Sandpiper. Unfortunately Wednesday was a quiet day (the best find of the day was a Bluethroat on St Agnes) and we found little of note. But birding on Scilly, even without seeing anything rare, is a pleasure. And I did end the day with some excitement after a passing birder tipped me off that the Treecreeper was showing again in Carreg Dhu garden – I ran for it! My third Scilly tick of the trip (with Waterthrush and Dusky Warbler).

Thursday. Dawn on Peninnis Head with a few migrants on the move overhead including a Redpoll and a Lapland Bunting amongst others. Bizarrely, as I’ve noticed before, the vismig on Scilly seems to be of birds coming in from the west and heading back east. Perhaps at first light they realise that they’ve gone off course and turn back towards land? A fleeting view of a bird flitting out of a weedy field got both of us excited. It was ultra-wary and after chasing it through several fields it gave itself up – as just a Skylark. Faulty rare-dar!

Yesterday’s Bufflehead was still present at Housel Bay on the Lizard and we reckoned our 16.35 flight back to Land’s End would give us at least half an hour of daylight on the bird. In fact, everything went really smoothly and we spent over an hour watching the Bufflehead on a tiny pool. Perhaps the best candidate for a genuine transatlantic vagrant Bufflehead that we’ve had in Britain?

Bufflehead. It was gone by the following morning.

UTB = Under The Belt

1 Comment

  1. Eddie Wang says:

    Cool trip Mark. Wanted to come out but just had too much on!

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