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Monday, 8 April 2019

Another Scilly Sojourn, Pt.1 - 10th to 13th March, 2019

The Isles of Scilly are one of our favourite destinations for a week away, especially when we are able to be in the wonderful accommodation that we have now secured a regular annual week at. 

This time, however, our daughter (Melanie) and granddaughter (Georgina) were booked to come with us. Last year, Melanie came with us, but this year, with good reason, we had some trepidation as to how things might work out with Georgina. Georgie is turning 13 today as I write this. She is extremely intelligent, but well and truly on the autism spectrum. She also suffers from PDA (pathological demand avoidance) and has major social avoidance issues (extreme, if other children are around). In these circumstances there was every chance that we wouldn't even manage to get Georgie to the Isles of Scilly. In the event, things worked out better than expected in many respects.

Sunday 10th March  -  Leicestershire to Hayle (Cornwall)

We travelled independently in two cars, partly for reasons of capacity, but also as insurance in case things didn't work out with Georgie. Half way through the 291 mile (468 km) journey, Lindsay and I found ourselves coming up behind Melanie and, for a while we travelled in convoy, stopping at a service area to pick up a picnic lunch.

One of Melanie's favourite beaches is at Portreath, so we met up there and had a stroll on the beach. It was very windy and the sea was quite lively! The girls had great fun trying to skim stones.

Melanie, Georgie, and Lindsay - Portreath Beach
It was time to celebrate the start of the holiday with an ice cream, so we set off up to the cafe at the top of the beach. We were part way through our selection of what looked like fabulous ice cream when Georgie suddenly felt threatened by people in the cafe, and so we had to leave, empty-handed, in a bit of a hurry.

We met up again at the Hayle Travelodge, and checked in for our overnight stay there. It was agreed that we'd have our evening meal in take-away form from The Scottish Restaurant (McD's). Although this was only 250 metres from the Travelodge, I was told that we all had to go there in our car.  Lindsay and Georgie sat in the car while Melanie and I went to buy the food. We then returned to Melanie's room for our tea. As we had an early start the next day, we turned in for an early night.

Monday, 11th March - Hayle to Lands End Airport to St Mary's, Isles of Scilly then Littleporth

We had some concerns that Georgie would not get up in the morning in time for our flight, but those concerns were soon dispelled, with Melanie and Georgie being ready to depart before Lindsay and I. It was an easy run to the airport, and we arrived before check-in commenced, giving us plenty of time to visit the cafe to get something for breakfast.

We'd had very grave concerns that Georgie might refuse to board the 17-seat plane if many of the seats were occupied before she boarded and there was not a seat available that she felt comfortable with. A quiet word at the check-in desk secured us the ability to board first. The seating is 1-2, and Georgie chose to sit in the front single with me behind her in a single, and her Mum and Grandma in the two seats across the aisle from her, so she was surrounded by family. There was absolutely no stress at all (thank you IOS Travel!) and Georgie enjoyed the flight - which is more than can be said for Melanie and Lindsay!

Once landed on St. Mary's we were quickly whisked away in a minibus to our accommodation at Littleporth. Here we were met by property manager, Jenny, who warned us that the weather was going to take a drastic turn for the worse that afternoon with no improvement until the weekend and that the supply ship for the islands would not be arriving again before the Sunday, and we should go to the Co-op supermarket and buy provisions for the week - we were in self-catering accommodation.

Having let Georgie choose her room, Georgie elected to stay back at the property with Lindsay while Melanie and I went shopping. We came back well-laden, but still needed a return visit later. Fresh produce was flying off the shelves, and frozen/tinned products were starting to get depleted too.

That afternoon, I spent some time checking what was on the beach and rocks in the bay that the property backs onto. I found a somewhat different scene to that experienced at this time of year in the previous two stays we'd had here. There was no sign of the Black Redstarts, and there were far fewer gulls around. I was pleasantly surprised, however, to find a 'resident' male Stonechat, and the Rock Pipits were still here, although one seemed to have lost its tail.

Rock Pipit (Anthus petrosus) - Littleporth
probable Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba f. yarrellii)  - Littleporth

Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola) (male) - Littleporth
After dinner that evening, Lindsay and Melanie settled down to do some crochet work, Georgie played 'Star Stable' on her laptop, and I had a first look at the photos I'd taken that day, and then listened to music on my Walkman - we then all turned in for a relatively early night.

Tuesday, 12th March - Littleporth, Hugh Town Harbour, Buzza Hill, Lower Moors, Dump, Littleporth

It had got rather windy the previous afternoon, and we awoke to find that the wind was even stronger. In fact, for virtually the whole time that we were on the Isles of Scilly the wind speed was between 35 and 65 mph (55 and 105 kph). This did not make for good birding (the birds were keeping themselves tucked away) or good photography (both subject and photographer being blown about by the wind).

It was quite late by the time we'd all had breakfast. I went back to the shops to pick up some items that we'd overlooked the previous afternoon - I had to settle for alternatives to some of the items I was looking for, as many shelves were now totally empty.

It was mid-day before I took my first photos, down on the beach below the property. I spent a very happy hour here, sitting quietly on a rock for much of the time, waiting for the birds to come to me. I was delighted to see a Greenshank present, and wondered if it was the same one that was here last year. There seemed to be many insects around, providing a good food source. I spent some time trying to work out whether I was seeing a White Wagtail and, having consulted with a friend on the Leicestershire and Rutland County Recording Committee, I have come to the conclusion that it probably was - although he did say when I submitted photos of four birds, including the one below, that the birds weren't the purest he'd seen! Here are some from that session.

Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba f. yarrellii) (male) - Littleporth
probable White Wagtail (Motacilla alba) - Littleporth
Rock Pipit (Anthus petrosus) - Littleporth

Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) - Littleporth
Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) - Littleporth

Greenshank (Tringa nebularia) - Littleporth
After my session at Littleporth, I had a quick session behind the Atlantic Inn, as the tide was out. The Turnstones were very confiding, and just came towards me as I stood stock-still.

Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) - Hugh Town Harbour
Having returned to base for a quick sandwich as a late lunch which I ate in the conservatory, I was joined by a Song Thrush. From its behaviour I'm relatively sure that someone had been feeding it!

Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) - Littleporth
After lunch I headed off up Buzza Hill, stopping to take a photo of the bay as I did so. The property that we were in is at the bottom end of that red line.

Littleporth and Porthcressa
From Buzza Hill, I took the road to Old Town and then headed into Lower Moors. Here I found little other than Mallards and, as observed last year too, gulls coming in to take a bath.

Herring Gulls (Larus argentatus) bathing - Lower Moors
From Lower Moors I headed back to Old Town Bay, up the hill to the school, and then across to the dump. I saw nothing of great interest on the way and, as I was heading towards Hugh Town, I got a WhatsApp message from my granddaughter to say "Look what we found from the library" with the following attached. She might have her problems, but she has a wicked sense of humour!

fake news - from Georgina 'Stringer' Pegler
I can see I'll have to watch that girl!

The girls were still in the library when I got there, although it was about to close, and so we left together and returned to the property. It was another quiet evening, spent in much the same way as the previous one.

Wednesday, 13th March - Littleporth, Porth Hellick Pool, Hugh Town Harbour, Peninnis Head, Littleporth, Town Beach, Littleporth

An after-breakfast session for about an hour behind the property turned up what was (in my experience) an unusual number of Oystercatchers for this location, which came in and settled below the ramparts of the Garrison.

Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) - Littleporth
I also took more shots of the Greenshank, which seemed to be favouring being in the water on this occasion, and the Stonechat.

Greenshank (Tringa nebularia) - Littleporth
Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola) (male) - Littleporth
After this session, I headed off to Higher Moors, stopping near the junction to Porthloo near Sandy Banks, to photograph flowers, and hoverflies, although these is a subjects I know nothing about. My thanks to Bob Dawson from IoS for a partial ID on the hoverflies. The Three-cornered Leek is an Isles of Scilly speciality and seems very attractive to bees, etc. , in spite of its garlic-like aroma! I understand it can be used in cooking.

Three-cornered Leek (Allium triquetrum) - near Sandy Banks
Hoverfly (male of the Syrphus group - not hairy eyes) - near Sandy Banks

Hoverfly (Eristalis pertinax) - near Sandy Banks
Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) - near Sandy Banks
I'd reached Higher Moors and settled into the first hide and was debating whether to stay and try and get photos of the pair of Teal that arrived, having noticed that they are seemingly not common there (unlike at home!) when a message came through on the WhatsApp group that three Black-necked Grebes were in the harbour - one quite close. I have only ever seen Black-necked Grebes in winter plumage, and then not for several years. I quickly packed up and made my way to the harbour as fast as my legs would carry me.

I arrived relatively exhausted, but quickly spotted one of the grebes from the harbour wall. It was quite a long way out, but in quite good light, and it appeared to be in full summer plumage.

Black-necked Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis) (bird #1) Hugh Town bay
I got quite excited as this bird quickly approached the harbour wall and came very close. However, what I didn't reckon with was the dire light conditions that it ended up in. I have had to put in a lot of work to get anything like usable images from the shots I took.

Black-necked Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis) (bird #1) Hugh Town harbour
In the meantime, a second bird came into view. However, this one stayed distant, so I moved round to the end of the old jetty to try and get better views.This one still had quite a way to go before reaching full summer plumage.

Black-necked Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis) (bird #2) Hugh Town bay
I also got more views of the first bird, more distant but in much better light.

Black-necked Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis) (bird #1) Hugh Town bay
I was still standing at the end of the old jetty when I noticed a movement below me. The third bird, previously unseen by me, came into view at very close quarters. I think it must have been lurking tight into the corner below the boatmen's hut - too close to the wall for me to notice it from the main quay. This bird was not quite as advanced into summer plumage as the first bird. I like 'the evil eye' appearance in the second image below!

Black-necked Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis) (bird #3) Hugh Town harbour
It was so magical that I'd spent over two hours here photographing these birds before heading back to base for a late lunch.

I'm rather fond of Peninnis Head and I was into my third day without paying it a visit so, after lunch, I decided to ignore the strong wind and pay the head a visit. I was starting to question my judgement half way up Buzza Hill, but the wind didn't seem so strong as I passed along King Edward's Road.  

By the time I got to the head, the wind made things somewhat unpleasant, and got worse as I headed down the western side. I had a fruitless walk and didn't take a single photo until I neared the allotments, where I stopped to attempt some shots of a Little Egret way down below. I didn't do well as I was being blown about while trying to shoot.

Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) - by Porthcressa Brow
At a sheltered spot, further on, I photographed a bumblebee on Three-cornered Leek. I'm not very good at bees, but I believe this to be a Buff-tailed Bumblebee. My wife and I often smile when we see this species, as there is a story behind them. Georgie, when she was a baby, used to refer to bumblebees as bum-bum bees - so the Buff-tailed Bumblebee became the Buff-bummed bum-bum Bee to us.

Buff-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) - near Porthcressa allotments
As the person who'd reported the Black-necked Grebes had also reported White Wagtail at Littleporth, I thought I'd better take another look. I'm not entirely convinced that what I saw was one - I'd welcome comments.

possible White Wagtail (Motacilla alba) - Littleporth
After this, towards the end of the afternoon, I went to Town Beach to look for the grebes once more - the light would have been difficult from the quay. I was fortunate that birds #2 and #3 were just within photographic distance and I, at last, got some better shots of #2, although there's a lot of room for improvement!

Black-necked Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis) (birds #2 + #3) from Town Beach

Black-necked Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis) (bird #2) from Town Beach
Black-necked Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis) (bird #3) from Town Beach
I wear a fitbit type of device these days, and on this day I smashed my previous record for distance walked, coming in at 10.04 miles (16.15 km).

I think that I've probably gone on for too long, so will close this post now and produce Pt. 2 in a week or two.

I'm sorry if there's been a long gap between blog posts. I had well over 4,000 frames to go through and then, the week before last, I got laid low by a virus, one aspect of which was to put my brain into malfunction mode. Hopefully I'll be out and about soon!

Thank you for dropping by.