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Saturday, 23 April 2016

Another Scilly Sojourn, Pt.3 - 19th to 21st March, 2016

This is the third, and final, part of my report on our 2016 visit to the Scilly Isles. The first part can be found here and the second part can be found here.

Saturday 19th March

All four of us were off to Tresco on this day, with a boat trip that started at 10h15 from the quayside. Sadly, a cold dull day was forecast, and they got it right! However, it didn't rain, so I guess we should be grateful for small mercies!

The boat to Tresco was not full and, for most of the way, Lindsay and I were the only people sitting out on top - everyone else staying in the warmer shelter of the lower deck. The boat called at the island of Bryher first, before calling in at New Grimsby quay, Tresco. On the way I managed some photos, including a few of this Shag.

Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) - between St. Mary's and Tresco
On landing on Tresco, Lindsay and I made our way directly for a warming pot of tea at the New Inn (excellent!), whilst Lynne and Roger headed off northwards to Cromwell's Castle. 

Suitably refreshed, Lindsay and I then went in search of Great Pool and the first hide on the northern side. It wasn't particularly difficult, but the lesser tracks are not signposted, so a bit of map interpretation was required.

Roger had seen that Iceland Gull had been reported on the islands and over the past couple of days had been getting increasingly frustrated at not finding one. We spotted one almost immediately and phoned Roger on the mobile - he and Lynne didn't take long to arrive!

The gull was 180 metres away and lurking behind a barbed wire fence, so my photos were not very good! Whilst waiting for Roger, I took photos of a Cormorant in courtship plumage that was a mere 140 metres away, and a somewhat more obliging Pintail at around 70 metres.

Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) - Tresco Great Pool
Pintail (Anas acuta) (male) - Tresco Great Pool
When Roger arrived, he pointed out that there was a hide on the other side of the pool, much closer to the Iceland Gull, and so I hot-footed it round there. 

I took a few safety shots from the path before I went down to the hide, and then took some of the bird from the hide. It was working away from me towards the water. I believe this was a 1st winter/spring bird. As I've already mentioned, I'm not a gull person, but I believe this species to be a bit of a rarity - it was an absolute first for me!

Iceland Gull (Larus glaucoides) (1st winter/spring?) - Tresco Great Pool
As soon as the bird reached the water's edge it took took off. Amazingly I managed to catch some usable flight shots, but the shots as it approached the water are possibly the most interesting as the wings, head, bill, and feet can be seen.


Iceland Gull (Larus glaucoides) (1st winter/spring?) - Tresco Great Pool
 It then spent the rest of the time that we were in sight of the pool, floating around on the water.

Iceland Gull (Larus glaucoides) (1st winter/spring?) - Tresco Great Pool
As it was now just as near to the first hide, I went back to join the others. I took a few more shots of the Pintail when it emerged from the reeds in order to have a stretch.


Pintail (Anas acuta) (male) - Tresco Great Pool
On leaving Great Pool we two couples went our own separate ways, although we both did a circuit of the pool. Lindsay and I visited the cafe at the Abbey Gardens. We saw our first and only Redwings and Fieldfares outside the Abbey Gardens, but they were very distant, and the photos not worthwhile.

After a visit to the Gallery in New Grimsby (fabulous, but a bit out of our league price-wise) we headed  to the quay to await the return boat. Again Lindsay and I sat out on top, but the light conditions were even more dull now, and no interesting photos were taken or wildlife sighted during the crossing back to St. Mary's.

I think that I'd probably got a little over-chilled that day so didn't do much for the rest of the afternoon. I did venture out into the garden in the late afternoon, just to take some shots of the Oystercatchers.

Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) - Littleporth beach
Lindsay was Chef that night. Neither of us can remember what we ate, but I know it was good!

Sunday 20th March

This was to be our last full day on the Scillies, and I was feeling a little battered from our visit to Tresco the previous day, so decided to stay close to base. Until early afternoon I stayed on Littleporth beach, and got some more photos of the birds there. At the risk of boring you with more of the same species as on my previous two posts, here are some from that first part of the day.

My main focus was on the Wren which did all its scavenging in the rocks at the west end of the beach - terrain that I'm not used to seeing Wrens in!







Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) - Littleporth beach
I endeavoured to get better images of the Black Redstarts, but didn't succeed. These ones weren't too bad, however. I think they're all females, but I'm not sure about that last one!




Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) (female) - Littleporth beach
I had another go at the Rock Pipits, and am rather pleased with the second image, below. 


Rock Pipit (Anthus petrosus) - Littleporth beach
At lunchtime, I returned to the house for a snack, and took a portrait of one of the Song Thrushes whilst I was there.

Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) - Littleporth
Suitably refreshed, I just had to connect with my beloved female Stonechat again.


Stonechat (Saxicola torquata) (female) - Littleporth beach
Not wanting to spend the whole day lazing around, I set off on a walk up past Buzza Tower (it houses a camera obscura, by the way!), to the track that is named King Edward's Road, and headed towards Peninnis Head. This proved to be a good move as, when nearly at the open part of the head, I spotted a Wheatear, hiding on top of a drystone wall. There'd been a couple of reports of Wheatear being seen on the Scillies but, so far, these had evaded me.

Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) (male) - Peninnis Head
I spent some time trying to get better images, and the bird did move to some more prominent positions, but (checking on Google Earth) it was 40 metres away!


Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) (male) - Peninnis Head
There was also a fine male Stonechat, but that was in an even more distant corner of the field. Here's a record shot of it looking comical!

Stonechat (Saxicola torquata) (male) - Peninnis Head
From here I went onto the open part of the head as I wanted to check that the trap, seen earlier in the week, had gone - it had!

Out on an inaccessible rock at the extremity of the headland were birds that were behaving like Rock Doves, but probably had a lot of feral pigeon in their blood!

Rock Dove x feral pigeon ? - Peninnis Head
I set off back on the west side of the head and, when I got to where I'd seen the Merlin earlier in the week, I noticed a number of Wheatear in the field over the other side of the drystone wall. I spent some time trying to get photos here too, but they stayed distant and the best I could manage were these.



Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) (male) - Peninnis Head
There were at least six Wheatear here, and suddenly they were all up in the air and scattering like mad (maybe, unseen by me, the Merlin had put in an appearance yet again?). One bird flew straight to the wall beside me! Sadly, there were obstructions between me and the bird, and if I'd have stepped back to get a clear view I have absolutely no doubt that the bird would have gone.  As it was, the noise of my camera shutter sent it off again. If only .........

Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) (male) - Peninnis Head
I was commenting, only last Saturday, to one of the birdwatchers in our club that it seemed strange to me that these were all male birds. He told me that it's the norm for the males to return first in order to set up their territory before the females arrive - I'd not heard of this behaviour before in passerines. I've still got an awful lot to learn!

Back at the ranch, I set about feeding the Song Thrushes. We'd now got two coming for bread on a regular basis. They'd learned that if they stood at the conservatory door, or if they stood on the backs of one of the chairs just outside the conservatory windows, they could look in and see us and attract our attention. The instant that I went outside with bread and sat at the patio table they were there with me. Lindsay managed to get a shot of me at the table with both birds in attendance.


Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) - Littleporth
Also that afternoon I managed a photo of Black Redstart actually in the garden. As it seems to lack any brown colouration, I think it's a non-breeding male?

Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) (male?) - Littleporth
That night we'd planned to go to the Scillonian Club for a farewell dinner, but Roger decided that he couldn't face being presented with such enormous amounts of food again, so Lynne and he stayed back at base and Lynne cooked, whilst Lindsay and I went to the Scillonian alone. The meal was excellent, and the portions were far more sensible this time, although very generous.

Monday 21st March

Today we had to be out of the property by 10h00. This was easy for Roger and Lynne as they were picked up at 10h15 to be taken to the airport for their flight to Penzance. Our departure was booked to be at 16h30 on the Scillonian III. We left our bags tucked away at the property in an approved place, and set off to enjoy what turned out to be the best day of the week weather-wise. 

Lindsay and I started by spending some time sitting on Littleporth beach, me hiding in the rocks again. This was my view from my position.

Littleporth beach
On that occasion, I didn't actually get any bird images that I want to share, but I did also spend a little while by the sea wall and bade farewell to my Stonechat.



Stonechat (Saxicola torquata) (female) - Littleporth beach
We then headed across to the north side of the narrow strip of town that separates Hugh Town beach from Porthcressa beach. The following image should give you some idea of the situation.


From Hugh Town beach we were able to enjoy the splendid views over to Tresco in the brilliant sunshine, the Cormorant sunning itself on a rock, and (at mid-day) Scillonian III arriving from Penzance. I noted, from Twitter, that they'd had the first sighting for the year of Dolphin from the boat on the way over.

View to Tresco from Hugh Town beach
Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) - from Hugh Town beach
Scillonian III - from Hugh Town beach
We had lunch at the Farm Deli in Hugh Town. The crab sandwich was excellent! After this there was time to return to return to Littleporth beach for a short while before collecting our luggage and heading for the harbour jetty. 

I'm afraid the photography goes downhill for the rest of this post. The opportunities were limited, and the best opportunity was missed - as I will explain later!

I'm not sure what prompted me to do so, but I took some photos of the bright yellow lichen that was on some of the rocks. For some reason I found myself surprised that it didn't have sharp edges!


Lichen on rocks - Littleport beach
The first of the next two images is there, not for its quality but because I've never seen a Rock Pipit in a tree before!


Rock Pipit (Anthus petrosus) - Littleporth
I also managed to catch up with the Willow Warbler again.


Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus)  - Littleporth beach
The last thing I did before going to pick up the luggage was to stand at the bottom of the garden and take a shot of the view to the south-east. I hope that, one day, I'll enjoy this view again. 


At the landward end of the jetty I noticed that it was high tide, and that the Turnstones were at the  top of a slipway.

Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) - Hugh Town
We were amongst the first to board and, having settled Lindsay in a seat in an inside lounge, I went out on deck. Before we departed I took some more photos.

view across to Carn Thomas and the Lifeboat Station from Scillonian III before departure
The boat was very lightly loaded, and it seems that everyone had checked in early as we set sail 20 minutes before schedule. Although it was very cold outside once we were under way, I stayed out for all but about the last fifteen minutes of the two and three quarter hour journey. 

Out on the open sea, I had distant sightings of Guillemot, Gannet (which came a little closer), and Razorbill. In the image, below, of Razorbill, the right hand bird is already in summer plumage.

Guillemot (Uria aalge)  - Atlantic Ocean
Gannet (Morus bassanus) - Atlantic Ocean
Razorbill (Alca torda) - Atlantic Ocean
Before we reached sight of the Cornish coast, I had the most wonderful but fleeting view of a Dolphin. It breached twice in quick succession right beside the boat, and if it had done a third breach I'd have got a photo! I didn't have time to take in any details but in my mind's eye it was significantly closer to the boat than it was long. I'm not sure what species of Dolphin it was but if it was around 3 metres long, I suspect that it was around 2 metres or less from the boat. If I hadn't been looking over the side I'd have missed it.  A lady standing about 4 metres from me saw it too - we both let out a cry at the same time! I suspect, however, that we were the only two that did see it!

Once we gained the English Channel and were running along the south Cornish coast, bird sightings thinned out somewhat, and the light started going. The Tater Dhu lighthouse stood out like a sore thumb, even though it was not lit.

Tater Dhu lighthouse
A little later we overtook a fishing vessel, gleaming in the sunshine against the coast, which was in shadow. This boat was carrying a Lowestoft port registration number (LT61) but I think it works out of Newlyn.

Fishing vessel LT61, 'Sea Spray'
We'd had a very smooth crossing and arrived in Penzance well before schedule. By the time we reached the inner end of the quay, our luggage was already there for collection. We'd been given directions as to where to find our transport back to the parking facility, but came across a minibus with the parking company's logo on before we got there. I asked if this was our transport and was told 'no, you need to be round the corner and up the hill' which is what we'd originally been told, so off we trotted. We waited there for some time, and nobody showed up so we set off back to the inner end of the quay where we found the vehicle we'd been turned away from about to depart. The driver got out and said 'sorry, I didn't recognise you'. How he would recognise us when he'd never seen us before, I'm not sure!

We were soon back at our car and then it was only a few minutes back to our hotel.  I'll end this report here, as we set off for an uneventful journey home the following day and were home by 15h00.

Our thanks to Lynne and Roger for another splendid and memorable holiday. We hope to see you in the summer.

I'm not sure what, or when, my next post will be. Thank you for dropping by.