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Tuesday, 4 November 2014

A Scilly Sojourn (Pt.3) - October, 2014

In this third (and final) part of my account of my October visit to the Scilly Isles, I cover the last two days of our stay. The first part of my account can be found by following the link here, and the second part here.

Sunday 12th October

We'd seen that there was to be a mini seabird trip round the islands taking place this morning, and Roger and I were interested. It was going to be led by well-known Scilly ornithologist, and the official recorder for Scilly, Will Wagstaff. I was a bit concerned that, if the boat was to be as packed as the regular boat to St. Agnes was on the previous day, it would be a fairly cramped and difficult session. In the event, there were only twelve participants in a boat, "Osprey", that has a capacity for 93 people. We had all the room in the world! The weather was glorious, and the seas quite calm, and at 10:00 we were on our way.

"Osprey" - photographed on 13th October, 2014
Will gave a very comprehensive commentary over the boat's PA system as our travels progressed. I confess to being somewhat unaware as to where we actually were for much of the time, so you'll now get a series of bird images, with little comment as to where they were actually taken.

Our first reasonably close sighting was of a group of Shag on a small rock in the sea en-route to Tresco.

Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) - near Tresco
 As we approached Green Island, just off Tresco, a Spoonbill was clearly visible in amongst the gulls.

Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia) - Green Island
Also present were a large number of Sanderling at rest. I've only ever seen Sanderling before in relatively small groups (6-20?) and running along the beach at the waterline. To see a few hundred all at rest on the rocks was new to me. Here's a couple of images of a few of these birds.

Sanderling (Calidris alba) - Green Island
Also present was a female Shelduck, looking rather incongruous in this location.

Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna) (female) - Green Island
Will commented that there was an unprecedented number of Grey Heron on the islands at present. This is one that flew past us as we passed by Pentle Bay (I think!).

Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) - Pentle Bay (?)
A bit further on, Will pointed out a lone Cormorant which flew to join a group of Shag. There are many Shag in the Scillies, but very few Cormorant in comparison. 

Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) - Tresco
Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) and Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) - Tresco

Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) - Tresco
Further on, possibly by Northwethel, we found a flight of Oystercatcher. These really are spectacular when in flight! Again, I'm not used to seeing this species in such large groups. Here's a couple of images of part of the group.

Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus)
Also in large numbers here were Curlew - and I'm used to only seeing them in ones and twos!

Curlew (Numenius arquata)
We called at the waters just off Round Island with its lighthouse. There was a raptor present, which Will pointed out to us!

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) - Round Island
At one point there were several Little Egret fishing from a raft of weed. To which Will piped up "Egrets, I've had a few, but then again too few to mention" to which the skipper responded by asking if anyone could drive as he was departing!

Little Egret (Egretta garzetta)
We passed to the north of the sinister rocks of Men-a-vaur, and then headed down between Tresco and Bryher, dropping off Will at Bryher, together with the small party that he was escorting round the island. After making another stop at Tresco it was a small band, indeed, that returned to St. Mary's on the "Osprey".

I've just realised that I've not given you any scenic shots yet in this post. Here's one taken on our way back to St. Mary's. I have no idea where it is!

View from the "Osprey"
Roger and I having met up with the girls at lunch time, Lindsay and I took a stroll up to the Garrison as Lindsay had only been to the eastern entrance. As we emerged from the Sally Port, I noticed a Humming-bird Hawk-moth fly past. To my amazement it landed on a wall (I've only seen them flying/hovering before). Sadly, it landed in the shade, and I found myself regretting (once again) that I'd not taken my macro lens on holiday. My, do they look drab when at rest!

Humming-bird Hawk-moth (Macroglossum stellatarum) - The Garrison, St. Mary's
I fared even worse when it woke up and started to visit flowers. The light was so bad I didn't stand a chance, shooting at 1/160th sec. Here's the best I could do!

Humming-bird Hawk-moth (Macroglossum stellatarum) - The Garrison, St. Mary's
We had a very pleasant hour or so's walk round the Garrison, not seeing anything of great interest in the way of wildlife.

Several places round the walls have canon in situ.

Canon at Morning Point, the Garrison
One of the wonderful things about The Scillies is that the climate allows exotic plants to grow. Sometimes one finds the most amazing flowers in the most unlikely places. This beautiful lily (at least, I think that is what it is) was growing on a wind-swept, but south facing, cliff top location, surrounded by brambles and ferns.

Lily (?) - the Garrison, St. Mary's
That night, dinner was on us, as a 'thank you' to Lynne and Roger for their extreme generosity in inviting us to join them. We'd have returned to The Galley if it had been open on a Sunday, but instead settled for dinner at the Spirit Restaurant at the St. Mary's Hall Hotel. This proved to be an adequate substitute, although Roger's Roast Leg of Ryeland Lamb proved to be rather fatty. 

To start with, I had Pan Fried King Prawns served with garlic butter, toasted ciabatta and dressed salad leaves, followed by Roasted Cornish Hake Fillet served with seared Cornish scallops and local crab and chive risotto (is there a pattern emerging here?), and for pud. I had Sticky Toffee Pudding served with toffee sauce & Cornish clotted cream. I confess that the dessert was a step too far!

In spite of being stuffed silly, I did sleep quite well that night!

Monday 13th October

We were up early as we had to be packed and out of the property by 10:00. Lynne and Roger departed by taxi to the airport at 09:45, leaving Lindsay and I to hand over to the owners on their arrival at 10:00. I took some farewell shots of the Oystercatchers sinking their bills deep into the sand and of a thrush in the garden, and It was then a brisk 10 minute walk to the quayside with our baggage.

Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) - Little Porth

Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) - Little Porth
Our boat was not until 16:30 in the afternoon, but there was the ability to leave one's baggage at the boat between 10:00 and 11:00. Here they were loaded into a container, ready for shipment to the mainland in the afternoon. I was concerned that my (soft) case (in which I had my tablet, spare camera, and spare lens), would be at the bottom of a stack of cases six feet (2 metres) high. I was advised by the shipping company to leave my case in the waiting room and pick it up when I returned to board ship. This arrangement worked perfectly, and we left all our bags there!

Lindsay and I then had the rest of the day free. As we'd got a fairly long drive that evening after a sea crossing that's known for being uncomfortable, we wanted an easy day. We phoned for a taxi to take us for the short run to Old Town. Here we called at the Old Town Cafe for an ice cream and I left Lindsay to play on the beach whilst I went for another visit to Lower Moors. The main hide was busy but I did find room. 

Although a Jack Snipe was visible when I arrived, it was well hidden in the reeds, and seemed to be asleep. I bided my time and took a photo of a (Common) Snipe that was a little more obliging, although it kept its back to me.

Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) - Lower Moors, St. Mary's
A Grey Wagtail was tantalisingly in plain view, but a little too distant.

Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) - Lower Moors
Eventually the Jack Snipe woke up and started moving around. However, it never put itself in an exposed position whilst I was there.

Jack Snipe (Lymnocryptes minimus) - Lower Moors, St. Mary's
Suddenly a second Jack Snipe came into view and was far more obliging in its positioning, although somewhat further away than the original bird.

Jack Snipe (Lymnocryptes minimus) - Lower Moors, St. Mary's
The radios suddenly sprang into life - a Red-breasted Flycatcher (Ficedula parva) was in the Memorial Gardens over the road from the northern entrance to Lower Moors. Suddenly the hide was virtually emptied. I stopped to try and get some photos of another (Common) Snipe that had appeared, before departing to the Memorial Gardens.

Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) - Lower Moors, St. Mary's
I saw the Red-breasted Flycatcher - extremely briefly, and distant, and didn't get any photos at all. At least I'd got another 'life bird', bringing the total (I believe) to five for the holiday. It was now nearly the time that I said I'd pick up Lindsay so I had to hurry away. 

After a snack lunch in the Old Town Cafe I had a quick half hour in Old Town churchyard where I only managed to find the same two stick-insects again. I'm not sure if these two images are any better than my previous efforts, but they are a bit different.

Prickly Stick-insect (Acanthoxyla geisovii) - Old Town churchyard
After this, it was back to the quayside by taxi, and then on board the ship. They say that Scillonian III does not sail well because she is virtually flat-bottomed as she needs to be able to cope with underwater hazards round the islands. Furthermore, although equipped with stabilisers, these are only ever used in absolutely dire circumstances as their deployment greatly increases the fuel consumption of the craft. Fortunately ours was quite a calm crossing back to the mainland, and it was dark long before we reached port at around 19:15.

Scillonian III - taken on 11th October, 2014
Having collected our baggage from the container which eventually arrived at the inner end of the jetty, and then gone to pick up the car, it seemed strange to be driving again after more than a week without a car. I was extremely glad that we'd changed our mind and booked a Travelodge at about the half-way point of our journey. Lindsay had taken a travel pill before boarding the boat, and couldn't keep her eyes open and was certainly incapable of driving. She was still pretty much zonked out the following morning!

I'll not 'start a new day' for our trip back on the Tuesday, but just say that it threw it down with rain almost all the way home. We'd been so very lucky with the weather whilst on The Scillies.

Our grateful thanks to Roger and Lynne for a totally wonderful holiday. Hopefully we will be able to return the favour one day.

To the readers of this blog, thank you for dropping by.


  1. Lovely captures of the Curlews in flight and the Songthrush.

    1. Thank you, Linda. They were all part of a wonderful experience.

  2. Good morning Richard: This has been a wonderful account that you have treated us all to (my English teacher must be rolling around in his grave!). I am sorry that there will be no more instalments! Like you, I have never seen Sanderling in such large numbers and I am sure it was quite a spectacle; even the fact that they were perched up on the rocks would be unusual for me. I always see them scurrying to and from the water's edge. The picture of the lone Shag is really lovely. The delicate green sheen is quite apparent, a character seldom seen when the birds are perched at a distance. Great job altogether. I have really enjoyed reading each episode.Best wishes, David.

    1. I'm delighted to hear that you've enjoyed my posts, David. I've enjoyed writing them, as it has rejuvenated my memories, and also led me to discover things that I didn't know whilst I was there. I'm already dreaming of a return visit, but it'll probably not be before 2016.

      Best wishes to you and Miriam (which reminds me - still no sign of the Hedgehogs, I'm afraid!) - - Richard

  3. I've enjoyed reading every word of this and your other trip reports,a long with your delightful scenery images.
    You've seemed to packed so much in such little time,must go one day.
    Your Spoonbill and Jack Snipe are awesome,loved looking into the Insect World,great work all round.

    1. Thank you, John. I wish I could have managed images of stick-insect even half as good as your recent efforts!

  4. Fabulous photos Richard, well done. I really like the Spoonbill, think that is my favourite. I have been taking photos of the humming bird hawk moth in our garden now for some years and I have only really ever got two shots that were what I classed as good. I have never seen one settled, they never seem to be anything except flying when here. Have you seen the Bee Hawk Moth Hemaris fuciformis, they are so pretty ? Have a good week Diane

    1. Thank you, Diane. Those Humming-bird Hawk-moths aren't easy, are they! No. I've never knowingly seen either species of Bee Hawk-moth, although I suspect it would be easy to just think one was looking at a large bee! It would make my day if I ever did see one - and both species occur in UK!

      With my best wishes - - - Richard

  5. Yet again you got a fantastic set of images. My favourite wader is the Sanderling so the group photo really fascinated me. The only time I have seen them all in a group like that was at a high tide roost site. The Spoonbill was also a delight. I think one day I would like to go, just two questions is it better in the Autumn (more chance of stray birds form across the pond) or Spring and with all the boat hopping was it pricey?

    1. Thank you, Doug. I'm sure that you'd really love the Scillies. With your cycling background that might well be a good way for you to get around - bike hire is possible.

      In answer to your questions:-

      I'm told that the autumn migration is rather better than the spring migration. Timing it is key, but timing it in advance with any accuracy is difficult. October is generally reckoned to be the best month, and usually the week I was there would have been a good one, but this year it all seemed to happen a week or two later than usual - probably because of the unusually warm weather.

      Getting there is not cheap. We paid £89 each for the return boat fare, but then had to pay another £38 each for the flight upgrade on the outward. On top of that I paid £54 for the car park in Penzance!

      On the islands, I was expecting expensive, but I didn't think that prices were too bad! For example, a return boat fare to any island is £8.50. I think that our mornings birdwatching boat round the islands was £12. Hiring that golf buggy for the day was £35. However, most birders walk everywhere - St. Mary's (the main island) is only 2.5 miles from one end to the other! Food was a little more expensive - but you'd expect that as most of it has to come from the mainland. I can't comment on the cost of accommodation as I didn't look into that - just fitted in with someone else's pre-arrangements.

      I hope that this helps.

      Best regards - - - - Richard

    2. Thanks Richard, something I will look into

    3. Maybe we'll meet up there sometime!!

  6. Another superb post Richard, if I can managed it I short trip to the Scilly Isles next year has to be on my wish list. Loving the photo's especially the first Thrush image, quality!

    1. Thank you, Paul. You really should go. I'm really looking forward to going back there sometime.

  7. Dang! How in the world can you tell the difference between a Snag and Cormorant?!!! They look the same to me. WOW! That's quite the challenge. Excellent excellent birds! The Jack Snipe is really cool. I love Snipes in general but this one has some very nice coloring. So many of the birds are similar with some slight variances in color. Nice post and nice trip!

    1. As I stated in my recent comment on your blog, Chris, I'm never likely to be profficient at bird I/D. The truth is (and some people will probably condemn me for this), I'm more interested in the photography and observation, than the hunt for rarities to add to a list, although I can fully appreciate those whose interest lies in that direction.

      Having said that, the difference between Shag and Cormorant is easy compared with some of the I/D problems you highlighted in your recent post, Chris. For me, with Shag and Cormorant, it's largely to do with size (where it helps to have one in each hand) and the facial markings (yellow and white) and bill thickness. Furthermore, if you see one inland, it's rarely a Shag.

      The Jack Snipe versus the Snipe is easy - apart from the Jack's shorter bill, the Jack has a broad dark central stripe on the head. I'd love to see more Snipe than I do.

      Keep up the good work - I look forward to your next post - - - - - Richard

  8. I missed this yesterday. I a not a birder but do love seeing them.
    They are beautiful islands and you have done both they and the birds justice.
    The Scillonian III must be ready for her pension. She looked old twenty years ago.

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Adrian. The islands really are very special.

      I don't think that the Scillonian III is about to be pensioned off - she recently had a re-fit! Actually she's quite pleasant inside, even if if a little characterless!

  9. I really enjoyed going through all these pics, the variety of what you saw is incredible!
    The Humming-bird Hawk-moth is probably the one that surprised most!
    I live much more southernly and I haven't seen one in weeks!!
    But as always it is the Oystercatchers that catch my interest mostly since they have eluded me every time I went to the seaside :( !!!
    Brilliant photos of the Song thrush again, now I am seriously jealous!!! ;-)

    1. Wow. I made Noushka jealous!

      Thank you for your very kind words, Noushka. My wife considers Oystercatchers to be her friend. Everywhere we go on holiday we seem to find them abd she says "look, my friend Oystercatcher has come along too".

      Have a great weekend - even if it is a cold one! - - - - - - Richard

  10. The Sanderlings are so cute on your pictures. We love this species...:-). Greetings!

    1. Thank you, Piotr and Michał. I too think Sanderlings are cute - but they're at their cutest when they're running up and down at the water's edge!

  11. It has been a some time sinds my last reaction on your blog, What lovely pictures you took of some amazing birds. The Spoonbill is such a bird I love to see. Unfortunatley only to bee seen at the cost. And more in the Netherlands than in Belgium. But than again we have here Always the Cranes on their migration, now southwards.
    Well good luck and happy times with birding and photografing.
    Regards, Roos

    1. Welcome back, Roos! Spoonbill don't occur in many places in the UK either. They're usually only seen in the south-west of England - and you can't get much further south-west than the Scillies!

      I'd love to have seen those flocks of migrating Cranes that you show on your blog - a wonderful sight!

      With best wishes from a very dull UK - - - - Richard


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