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Thursday, 30 October 2014

A Scilly Sojourn (Pt.2) - October, 2014

My previous post to this blog covered the first three days of our stay on The Scillies. I now continue the story with an account of the next three days.

Thursday 9th October

Lindsay (my wife) had badly stubbed her toe whilst we were out on the Tuesday, almost completely tearing away the toenail (ooouch!!). It had been troubling her quite badly on the Wednesday, so we settled for a slightly easier day this day.

One species of bird that gave me much delight during our stay was Song Thrush. This might raise a few eyebrows, but this beautiful bird has sadly declined in my neck of the woods and I don't see (or hear) many at all these days. On the Scillies they were super-abundant and quite confiding, and were seldom away from the garden of the property.

Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) - Little Porth
For me it was wonderful to be able to photograph Song Thrush, Oystercatcher, and Stonechat from the comfort of the garden before setting out after breakfast.

Oystercatcher (Haematopus australegus) - Little Porth
Stonechat (Saxicola torquata) (male) - Little Porth
After breakfast we set off for Old Town, taking a cross-country footpath route rather than the road. En-route we stopped to photograph a Song Thrush that wanted to spend most of its time too close for my lens to focus on!

Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) - near Buzza Tower
Old Town churchyard is often good for interesting birds. There were none to be seen when we stopped here, but the churchyard has another speciality - Stick Insects. These have been a feature of the churchyard for a number of years. They feed on the brambles which, thankfully, the churchyard attendants leave in place. There are a few other places in the south-west of England in which these non-native insects have established colonies.

Prickly Stick-insect (Acanthoxyla geisovii)  - Old Town Churchyard, St. Mary's
Only two were seen, and these were extremely difficult to photograph due to their position. I had to use my phone for the first image! These are native to New Zealand! I originally thought that colour difference was sexual dimorphism, but I now understand that this species breeds parthenogenetically, and that all those present in UK are likely to be females!

After lunch at the Old Town Cafe, I left Lindsay relaxing on the beach, between coffees in the cafe, and went off to re-visit Lower Moors. I didn't have much success here as I couldn't get in the main hide, due to the number of people already in there. I only managed a shot of a Snipe, all my other efforts being greatly inferior and of very commonplace birds.

Snipe (Gallinago media) - Lower Moors, St. Mary's

Having collected Lindsay, we set off back towards Hugh Town, stopping off at a gallery en-route. Near to Porth Mellon I spotted a cricket in the road. Although there is not much road traffic on the island there is some, and this little fella was not going to last very long where he was! I hurriedly took a few photos, noticing that he'd already been in the wars and had lost a hind leg. I then quickly picked him up and put him in the hedge. I've searched, but I can't work out what species he is.

Cricket spp. - near Porth Mellon
It was Lindsay's turn to cook that evening, and the rest of us relaxed and enjoyed gazing out to the ever changing scenery. A Rock Pipit obliged in the setting sun on the railings at the end of the garden.

Rock Pipit (Anthus petrosus) - Little Porth
Lindsay cooked Semur Daging that night - a Sumatran dish that I cooked for her on our very first date, more than 44 years ago, and which we both cook now from time to time. The recipe came from a small booklet 'Recipes of the Orient' that was free with Elastoplast in my student days!

Friday 10th October

I'd been hoping to get some photos of the Wren which frequented the garden of the property, but this image, taken before breakfast, was the best I could manage.

Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) - Little Porth
Wanting to explore more of the island, but being a little limited by Lindsay's foot injury, we opted to hire transport for the day. There's no car hire on the island, but you can hire a 'golf cart style' buggy from an outfit called The Scilly Cart Co. We were assured that the battery on one of these was good for three times round the island. I forgot to take a photo of the cart, so here's one lifted from their brochure.

Scilly Cart Co. buggy
The buggy was great fun, easy to drive, and served its purpose extremely well. Our first stop was near the northern tip of the island, and we parked in the area known as Telegraph . A gentle stroll took us to Bant's Carn Tomb, from the Bronze Age.

Bant's Carn Tomb - Bronze Age burial chamber, St. Mary's
Nearby were the remains of the Iron Age settlement of Halangy Down - and I didn't take any photos! Our walk took us past the radio mast which was being painted - so that's where the defunct EE mast is located!

A stop to investigate Newford Ponds only turned up a Willow Warbler, but a couple of birding gentlemen who arrived on the scene seemed very happy to have it pointed out to them.

Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus) - Newford Ponds, St. Mary's
We then went to the Kaffeehaus for a light lunch, which was rounded off nicely with home-made Apfelstrudel. During lunch I was getting tantalising glimpses of a Clouded Yellow butterfly in the field adjacent to the cafe. Sadly it remained distant when I went to seek it out.

Clouded Yellow (Coleas crocea) - by the Kaffeehaus, St. Mary's
After lunch, we retraced our steps a little and parked the cart at the entrance to Watermill Lane. I was looking for the Yellow-browed Warbler that was being reported there. I arrived to find two people there who told me it had gone for the time being, but would probably be back. Fortunately I didn't have to wait too long before it appeared. I soon realised that photography was going to be nigh-on impossible at this sort of distance, but managed to get a record shot before it departed again.

Yellow-browed Warbler (Phylloscopus inornatus) - Watermill Lane, St. Mary's
I hung around for quite a while, hoping for it to return, and eventually gave up and went off to find Lindsay, who had made her way down to the beach at Watermill Cove. This was a wonderful beach, and ours were the only footprints! We collected shells, watched a Grey Seal, and I photographed yet another Rock Pipit - this one had me wondering for a while because of its pale legs and the extent of its lower markings.

Rock Pipit (Anthus petrosus) - Watermill Cove
Having rejoined our cart, we set off to the northern entrance to the Higher Moors nature trail. A stop at the first hide revealed very little, but the second hide had a real treat in store for us. We arrived to find three Greenshank in the distance on our right, at rest with their backs to us. Suddenly one of the other two people in the hide said "Water Rail", and a Water Rail duly appeared at a short distance in front of the hide. At first it stayed close to the reeds on the tiny 'island' that it had emerged from.

Water Rail (Ralus aquaticus) - Porthhellick Pool, St. Marys
It then did what Water Rails don't usually do - it walked right out into the open! and then walked past the hide, left to right, at only about six metres distance. Sadly, photography was rather difficult as, although the sun was shining brightly behind us, it was in the deep shade of the hide itself for most of the time, but the light was reflecting brightly on the water! As portrait photos of a Water Rail, these next images aren't up to much, but I'm including a number of them because I just love the light on the water.

Water Rail (Ralus aquaticus) - Porthhellick Pool, St. Marys
After this visit we made our way back to base, with me dropping off Lindsay at our abode, and returning the cart to its base.

That night, we returned to the excellent 'The Galley' for dinner. I'd been so delighted with what I'd had there two days earlier that I had the same again - and it was every bit a s good!

Saturday 11th October

All four of us were down at the quayside in time to catch the first boat to the neighbouring island of St. Agnes. It seems that the birding fraternity had all had the same idea as they had to put on a second boat to accommodate us all. We managed to get on the first boat. The crossing was uneventful, if a bit choppy at times, but it's a short journey. Once on St. Agnes we two couples split up, with Lindsay and I heading off along the north side of the island.

We saw our first Turnstones of the holiday in Porth Killier, although they stayed in the shade.

Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) (juvenile) - Porth Killier, St.Agnes
Near Big Pool there were several Meadow Pipits on the grass.

Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) - near Big Pool, St. Agnes
We then headed up the hill, stopping for refreshments at the Coastguards Cafe. There being reports of Short-toed Lark on Castella Down, we went there via a circuitous route which took in the Troy Town Creamery for one of their excellent ice creams. The views from Castella Down are wonderful! You can also see why the waters round the islands are full of shipwrecks!

Castella Down views - St. Agnes
It wasn't difficult to find the location for the S-t Lark. There must have been at least twenty birders there already. However, the bird spent most of its time in grass that was just a bit taller than it, on the far side of the field. It did, briefly, venture into the middle of the field (which is when I got the following two images) before returning to the far side again. Anyway, I'd got my third 'life bird' of the holiday.

Short-toed Lark (Calandrella brachydactyla) - Castella Down, St, Agnes
Convinced that I wasn't going to do any better than that with the lark, Lindsay and I set off again, pausing briefly at a rock which I believe is known as Nag's Head.

Nags Head (?) - St. Agnes
A stroll up Barnaby's Lane brought us to Wingletang Down and here we sat on a rock and had lunch by another amazing rock which I think may be Boy's Rock.

Boy's Rock (?) - St. Agnes
After lunch we headed east, ending up at Cove Vean. As we approached the cove, another amazing rock presented itself! I've no idea if this one has been named.
Cantilevered rock - St., Agnes
 Not far from this rock I tried to photograph a Curlew. It was a bit too far away, really.

Curlew (Numenius arquata) - Cove Vean, St. Agnes
Back near civilisation we bumped into Roger who woefully told us that he'd managed to drop his CB radio somewhere. He'd made a few enquiries, but to no avail. We parted company again and did a bit of shopping for gifts for those back home, after which we went back to the Coastguard Cafe. My wife went into the cafe to place our order whilst I sat outside in the cafe's garden. Lindsay was accosted by a gentleman who asked if her husband had lost his radio as, apparently it had been put out on the CB that a tall white-haired person, aged about 60, had lost one, and he'd found one. Lindsay explained that we would be seeing the owner and, having asked a couple of questions, the gentleman handed it over. Both Roger and I were flattered that we'd passed for 'about 60'.

After refreshment we headed for Big Pool again, as a Richard's Pipit had been reported there, and Lindsay insisted that it was appropriate that I see it. I did see it, but at an extremely great distance. After about half an hour it wasn't getting any closer, and we had to get back for the return boat to St. Mary's, so I left with a couple of extremely distant record shots, which I'll include as this was also a 'life bird' for me.

Richard's Pipit (Anthus richardi) - near Big Pool, St. Agnes
Roger was delighted to get his radio back, particularly as it had been a present from Lynne. We were on the first boat back to St. Mary's, which left fifteen minutes early as it was completely full, with people waiting at the quayside.

On the way back, we crossed with Scillonian III, but that photo will serve to illustrate our return journey to the mainland. Roger and I waited for the second boat so that I could point out to him who had found his radio.

That night, Lynne cooked a superb meal of Salmon with a crispy savoury crust. After dinner, we reflected on how lucky Roger had been to get his radio back. It wasn't the honesty of the birding fraternity that surprised us (they're a pretty good bunch in general), but that it turned out that he'd dropped it in a rather remote, and little visited, location and he was lucky that it hadn't sat there undetected for weeks!

Thus ended day six on the Scillies. The serious birders were still complaining that little was being seen, and I was still having the time of my life!

Thank you for dropping by. The next (and last) instalment of my account of our Scilly Sojourn will follow sometime next week.


  1. My word, Richard, your stay on the Scillies sounds absolutely marvelous, and some of the scenic shots are nothing short of breathtaking. I think you beat yourself up unnecessarily when commenting on some of your bird photographs. Most of us would be delighted with what you regard as a little substandard. In any event this was obviously a grand adventure and I for one would love to have experienced it. I can hardly wait for the final episode.

    1. Thank you for your kind words of encouragement, David. With so many birds around and such wonderful views at every turn, it was hard to go wrong a lot of the time. I hope that I get back there sometime!

  2. You keep teasing us with the image headers Richard lol. I can't believe some were disappointed with their trip. Richard's Pipit, S-T Lark, Y-B Warbler?!?. Them rocks are fascinating, the last one, has a name but I'm not printing a suggestion:-). Loved the Water Rail images and Song Thrush.

    1. I got it wrong with the header last time, Doug. I usually try and have a header which features what will appear in the next post, rather than the current one. I had planned to do the Scillies in two posts, but then realised, after the first post, that I needed a total of three posts. So now, both the previous header and the current header will feature in the next post - I promise!! - - - I'm not sure if what I've just written makes sense!

      Now you've got me guessing with the name for that rock formation !!!!

  3. HI Richard This is a superb post and really I would not know where to start to make comments butI will say this - the shots of the water Rail with the reflections are outstanding. VERY well done.

    1. Thank you, Margaret. I really do have a soft spot for light on water!

  4. I'll have to come back for another look after breakfast. This is really interesting. Just so much to see and appreciate.

    1. Thank you, Adrian. Sorry if I delayed your breakfast! Have a good one!

      Best regards - - Richard

  5. WOW Richard,
    I would have been thrilled to participate in that trip indeed, regardless of what serious birders" thought!
    The Song thrush, the rail, the Rock pipit I still have to see, and the cute little wren are gorgeous photos!
    I hope Linday's foot is getting better now...
    The prickly stick insect is quite something, they are not prickly here and I seldom see them.
    They can be found in and around brambles as your photos show but they are so well camouflaged they usually go unnoticed. Congrats for having detected it :)
    Well about the banner, it would really have been a shame not to have set it up, I love it, it tells a whole story of rocky beaches, interesting birds, especially the Spoonbill... well in short, a real "smack of the sea"!!
    I would have taken you to my Roller's site with pleasure, but it is difficult because it was shown by our spanish friends who asked us not to reveal the place for the birds peace and quiet.
    Keep well and brace up for bad weather, the fabulous indian summer we've had until now here is coming to an end!

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Noushka, and for the encouragement about the banner.

      I confess that I didn't find those stick insects for myself. I was shown where they were!

      The offer of a swap for the Roller was a long shot - but never mind. I'll perhaps see one again one day! ;-}

      It seems that our weather too will be getting much colder from tomorrow. We hit a ridiculously warm 20 degrees here today! It's a pity that it was cloudy at the same time.

      Have a great weekend - - - Richard

  6. Great series of photos and wonderful place. Best wishes from Poland. We have never seen Anthus petrosus and richardi...

    1. Thank you, gentlemen. Anthus petrosus is quite common in UK in the right places on the coast, but you can't get much further from the sea than I am, so I'm never likely to see one near my home. Anthus richardi is quite a rarity anywhere in UK.

  7. Thank you for a wonderful treat,these images are exquisite,the icing on the cake for me is the Water Rail,stunning reflections.
    I just loved it all.
    Well done Richard,thank you for putting a smile on my face.

    1. Thank you, John. It gives me great pleasure to know that you enjoyed the post.

  8. Another fantastic post Richard, as I scrolled down I was very impressed with your Song Thrush images but then I came across the Water Rail shots, flipping brilliant!! And what about those rocks, how very bizarre! Looking forward to your next installment.......

    1. Thank you, Paul. I'm just hoping that I get back to the Scillies some time. It's a fabulous experience!

  9. Wow Richard these posts are amazing with some fantastic photos, I love them all. No not quite, I am not a stick insect fan, we had some might big ones in Africa that gave me the creeps :-(( Some great photography here,you must be very pleased with the results. Have a great weekend Diane

    1. Thank you, Diane. Sorry if I made you uncomfortable with the stick insects. Many years ago, I use to breed stick insects - I had about six different species, some of them very different.

      Have a great weekend - - - Richard

  10. Hi Richard, I hope your wife's toe is better now :-) Many, many years ago, my friend and I kept stick-insects in large glass sweet jars filled with cuttings of privet. They weren't as big as the ones in your pictures, but they did multiply. Enjoyed your post, love the pictures of the Song Thrush, like you, I have not seen a Song Thrush for a long time.

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Linda. Lindsay's big toe is not giving her too much discomfort now, but she's got to go and have it sorted out properly.

      I used to get most of my Stick Insects from Virginia Cheeseman. I kept them in fish tanks. I see that, many years later, she still sells them from her home in Buckinghamshire - just put 'cheeseman stick insects' into Google.

      Best wishes - - - Richard


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