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Monday, 11 April 2016

Another Scilly Sojourn, Pt.1 - 14th to 16th March, 2016

This first part of my account of our visit to The Isles of Scilly, follows on from my previous post, entitled 'Gwithian' which relates to our overnight stop at Hayle, on our way to the Scillies.

Monday 14th March

We had a relatively early start in order to catch the ferry from Penzance to Hugh Town, St. Mary's, on the Isles of Scilly. We'd tried to use the excellent parking facility that we'd used in 2014, but gave up after several delays to their stated 'opening of bookings' date. Instead we went to Scilly Parking, situated just outside Penzance. We were advised to be at their facility by 07h45, so we left our accommodation at 07h20. We arrived early and were helped into the waiting minibus by the driver, getting to the quayside by 07h45. The instructions for the ferry clearly state that recommended check-in is one hour before departure. It would have been helpful if the ferry company had also stated that earliest check in is one hour before departure. We had to queue on the pier, out in the open (absolutely no shelter whatsoever!), for half an hour until the staff in the check-in building checked their watches and called us forward, dead on the dot of 08.15. There were Turnstone on the pier during this time, but my camera was packed away ready for check in.

As we boarded the Scillonian III it dawned on me that I was the first passenger to board the first boat of the year - a fact that was not lost on a radio reporter that collared me soon after boarding! My wife Lindsay and I had a good laugh about this, as I have an uncanny knack for getting found by the press.  I must have one of those faces!

The crossing to The Scillies has a reputation for being a rough one because of the prevailing westerly winds. We were lucky to have an easterly behind us on this day, so it was quite comfortable. It was also very cold outside where I spent most of the 2¾ hour crossing, and only a little warmer inside as I suspect that there'd been no heating on in the vessel since last year!

As we left harbour, a drake Eider swam past, but I missed the photo. During the crossing, Gannet and Guillemot were seen, but at great distance.

There was a frisson of excitement as the islands came into view and, as expected (and hoped for), we took the 'low tide' route which passes to the west then south of St. Mary's before swinging round the  Garrison, and into harbour.

As we approached Peninnis Head in the misty gloom we could see that the sea was not overly calm.

Peninnis Head from Scillonian III
Having rounded the head, Porthcressa, and the property that we would be staying at, came into view. We would be in the house immediately behind the left hand end of the rocks in the foreground of the image below.

Porthcressa from Scillonian III
Before we arrived in harbour, Shag and Cormorant were both seen from the boat. On our previous visit, sightings of Shag greatly outnumbered those of Cormorant - a situation that was to be reversed on this visit.

Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) -  from Scillonian III
Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) -  from Scillonian III
Retrieval of our baggage, once we had landed, was very swift and we set off on foot for our accommodation. We were staying at the same superb property as on our previous visit, and this was less than 10 minutes away. Roger and Lynne, who had kindly invited us to share their booking with them once again, were arriving on a later flight from Penzance Airport and so, having checked out the property, we set off for the shops (to buy the basic provisions), and to find somewhere for lunch. We had an excellent snack lunch at The Farm Deli in Hugh Town, resolving to return (which we did!). Whilst there, I was amused to see that the archipelago is starting to be creative with its name. I am aware that this might be totally lost on my overseas readers!

promotional sticker - The Farm Deli, St. Mary's
We awaited Lynne and Roger's arrival, and then had a good catch-up session before unpacking. Part of the time was spent reacquainting ourselves with the magnificent views from the back of the property, and also observing the birds, although not much was seen on this occasion. I did note that, as is usual for the Scillies, the Song Thrush in the garden was very confiding.

Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) - our garden, Littleporth
Whilst in the garden we noticed Scillonian III heading back to Penzance via the 'low tide' route. I suspect that those on board were not in for as smooth a crossing as we had, as you might see from the following two images.

Scillonian III, passing Porthcressa
The beach (known as Littleporth at the western end, where we were) was, for the duration of our visit, home to a small group of Oystercatchers with, usually, seven present.

Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) - Littleporth Beach
That night we all ate out at The Atlantic. Ambiance, service and food, although not disastrous, were all disappointing and we vowed not to return.

Tuesday 15th March 

After the dull weather of the previous day, we were pleased to wake up to some sunshine, although it was still cold and windy. Before breakfast, I noted that the Oystercatchers were still there.

After breakfast, I took more photos of the Oystercatchers, and very quickly spotted Stonechat and Black Redstart from the garden. The Stonechat was a female, and very quickly became a great favourite, as you will find out! The Black Redstarts (I spotted two at first) seemed to also be females.

Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) - Littleporth Beach
Not being used to seeing Black Redstarts, I find that I was almost certainly confusing young males that were not in breeding plumage, with females. Indeed, I probably am still confusing them, so please excuse me (and put me right) if I get it wrong. I found that the Black Redstarts were quite nervous birds (unlike the majority of the birds on the Scillies). I spent many hours, during the week, trying to get photos of them, as I may never get the chance again. I did, however, get some better images later in the week. I think that this might be a female

Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) (female?) - Littleporth beach
The female Stonechat was absolutely delightful, and relatively confiding. Initially, I didn't notice that she had a damaged left foot which she could only rest the back of on the ground. I confess to falling in love with this plucky little bird so there will be a lot more of her in this trip report. Here's a couple of images to be going on with.

Stonechat (Saxicola torquata) (female) - Littleporth beach
At this point, it might be appropriate to show a little more of the location of our accommodation. The property is marked 'a' in the image, below, and has a large conservatory (heated). The garden goes down to the left hand white retaining wall, over which there are heavy chains supported by galvanised posts. On the other side of the retaining wall is a narrow  public footpath, maybe 1½ metres wide. There is then a sea wall which drops down to the beach. Although not necessarily recommended, it is possible to make a quick exit from the garden by hopping over the retaining wall and chains. The rocks, marked 'b' are known as Little Carn, and the Stonechat spent most of her time between these rocks and the small pile of rocks marked 'c' at the end of the sea wall. At 'd' there is a seat on a triangle of grass, and this overlooks more rocks at the western end of Littleporth beach. The Black Redstarts spent most of their time on these rocks and on Little Tarn, and also around the boat which you might just make out below the sea wall outside the property's garden. These locations were also the haunt of Rock Pipits. The Black Redstarts and Stonechat could also frequently be found anywhere on top of the sea wall, and sometimes in the gardens of the seafront properties, including ours.

I'd spent most of the morning around Littleporth, while the girls went shopping, and Roger disappeared to do some serious birding. After we'd all met up and had a snack lunch, Lindsay and I set off for Old Town, via Buzza Tower. Nothing of great interest was seen en-route, and Lindsay came with me to look and see what was around from the hides at Lower Moors. The answer was absolutely nothing! Last time I was here, I was enjoying Snipe, Jack Snipe, and Greenshank, so it was a little disappointing. As we left Lower Moors, I found my first Chiffchaff of the year, near the gate.

Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) - Lower Moors
We checked out Old Town Churchyard to see if we could find the Stick Insects, but had no luck. Maybe they are not showing as adults at this time of year? 

We then returned by road to Hugh Town and our accommodation. I spent time trying to get images of the Rock Pipits and better images of the Black Redstarts.

I think that these first two are possibly of early 'first summer' males.

Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) (1st summer male?) - Littleporth beach
These next two are of a bird which I suspect is female as it is very brown.

Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) (female?) - Littleporth beach
For some reason, my camera seemed to be reluctant to focus on Rock Pipit. I'm wondering if there is something cryptic about their markings, as far as the camera is concerned. Here's three that I did manage.

Rock Pipit (Anthus petrosus) - Littleporth
Roger had been down to the harbour on the Monday to see what boat trips were running, and had spotted Turnstone there, so I headed off to see if I could find them - it wasn't difficult!

Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) - Hugh Town Harbour
Lynne was Chef for the night, and provided us all with an excellent meal, after which we all chilled out, before heading off for a relatively early night.

Wednesday 16th March

It was still cold and windy, but we had a reasonable amount of sun during the day. Today we'd decided to hire one of the electric golf carts that are available from Scilly Carts, so that we could explore some of the further reaches of the island without too much walking between various locations. As Scilly Carts doesn't open until 09h00, I had time to take some more photos at Littleporth. I managed to confirm that there were at least three Black Redstarts at Littleporth.

I'm pretty sure, from the  dark grey colouration, that these first two are of 1st summer male Black Redstart. 

Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) (1st summer male?) - Littleporth
This one, however, I believe to be a female.

Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) (female) - Littleporth beach
Last time we visited the Scillies we were surprised that birds that we would consider common at home were relatively uncommon. In fact, to me, if a bird was sighted there was a better-than-even chance that it would have been of interest. This still proved to be the case this visit, even though the rarity migrants weren't around. Here's a 'common bird' however - on the chains of the boundary of the property.

Dunnock (Prunella modularis) - our garden, Littleporth
This next image of two of the local stars on the sea wall was taken from the garden - the only time, as far as I can recall, that I managed to get both species in the same shot.

Stonechat and Black Redstart - Littleporth
We hired a 4-seater cart so that we could drop Lynne and Roger off at Telegraph, at the north-west end of the island. Lindsay and I then continued on to Newford Ponds (only Greenfinch and domestic ducks seen) . Our next stop, which took some finding, was at Pelistry. We parked the cart and headed up Green Lane to Green farm, and then turned right towards Toll's Hill, from where there were some great views towards St. Martin's (an off-island) and the Eastern Isles.

We then continued round Toll's Hill and, as we descended towards North Pelistry, I spotted a distant male Black Redstart in full breeding plumage. I managed a distant records shot, but failed to pick up this bird again for a better shot. This was one of only two sightings of breeding plumaged males that I would get this trip.

Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) (male) - Toll's Hill
At the edge of North Pelistry Beach, there were masses of beautiful wild violets.

Violet sp. - North Pelistry beach
Down on North Pelistry beach we found winter plumaged Ringed Plover, which I found quite difficult to photograph. These are the best that I could manage.

Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula) - North Pelistry beach
One of the real beauties of the Scillies is that it's not difficult to find a beach with fabulous views - and with not another soul in sight! Lindsay sat on a rock and admired such a view (you might just spot her in her best camouflage!) whilst I scouted around opposite Toll's Island.

View from opposite Toll's Island
After this interlude we headed back up to Pelistry and collected the cart. Our next stop was at the start of the track that leads down to Porth Wreck. There was a sign there to an 'entrance grave', and so we set off on foot again along a rather muddy track. It was well worth it to see Giant's Grave, which dates from around C15th BC!

Giant's Grave - Porth Hellick Down
On the way to Giant's grave we'd seen the most wonderful Narcissi growing wild. I meant to take a photo of them on the way back but it had got very overcast by then so I didn't bother. Narcissi, are a feature of the St. Mary's landscape at this time of year and come in many different forms and colourways. I find that I omitted to take photos of any of them, although they do appear in some of my images.

From here we went to the Golf Club for a coffee out on the veranda overlooking Hugh Town in the far distance.

Our next stop was at the entrance to Higher Moors nature trail. Lindsay joined me at first, but found she was getting cold in the first hide so returned to the cart. From the first hide there was Canada Goose and Shelduck.

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) - Porthellick Pool
Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna) (male) - Porthellick Pool
A visit to the second hide didn't produce any sightings of interest.

On the way to the pool I'd seen and heard several Chiffchaff. It took a while to get some shots of them on my way back to rejoin Lindsay.

Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) - Higher Moors
I'd misunderstood the instructions given when we picked up the cart, and thought that we were approaching the limit of the batteries (we weren't!) so we headed back to Littleporth, where I dropped off Lindsay and then headed to Porthmellon to deposit the cart.

It had been a very tranquil day - apart from the Navy helicopter (recently returned from duty in Malta) that had been clattering around the island on exercises for much of the day.

Royal Navy (Agusta/Westland EH-101 Merlin) ZH841 - from Porthmellon
On my way back I stopped to photograph something else that we'd been seeing buzzing around all day - a bee! Bob Dawson has kindly informed me that this is a Buff-tailed Bumblebee - thank you, Bob!

Buff-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) - Porthmellon
There was plenty of time left in the afternoon to revisit the beach at Littleporth. First I managed some close-ups of my favourite Stonechat - well I did warn you about this bird!

Stonechat (Saxicola torquata) (female) - Littleporth beach
The Black Redstarts were also showing well. I think that this was a male.

Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) (male?) - Littleporth beach
I'm relatively sure, however, that this is a female. Although the first of the two is a poor image, it does show what the birds were feeding on - there are thousands of 'sand hoppers' on the beach.

Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) (female) - Littleporth beach
Also on the beach was a Pied Wagtail.

Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba ssp. yarrellii) (male) - Littleporth beach
Returning to the garden, I found the Song Thrush. Lindsay managed a shot of the bird taking bread from my hand.

Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) - our garden, Littleporth
 me with Song Thrush - our garden, Littleporth
Also from the garden, I got images of a distant Little Egret, a Blackcap in next door's garden (the only one seen all visit), and of one of the Starlings which favoured landing on the railings atop the sea wall.

Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) - Littleporth
Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) (female) - Littleporth
Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) - Littleporth
That night, Lynne requested that I cook the Sicilian- inspired pasta dish that I'd cooked for us all back in 2014. It seemed to be well-received.

The second part of my trip report will be in a few days time. There will be a some different birds in there, including a couple of 'firsts' for me.

Thank you for dropping by.


  1. Hi Richard, super blog with the start on your crossing on the Scillonian, I can see what you say, if it was much smaller you would have to row!! Super images of the Black Redstart, also like the Chiffchaff and Oystercatcher, look forward to episode 3. Regards John Hope you are feeling better

    1. Thanks, John. The next episode will probably be at the weekend.

      I think that I turned the corner yesterday evening - feeling somewhat better today. However, I remember saying something similar on Friday!

      See you soon - - - Richard

  2. A real tour de force. Most enjoyable thank you. Roll on parts two, three, four and five.

    1. Thanks, Adrian. Not sure, at this stage, whether there'll be a Pt.3, but I'm relatively sure it won't get to 4 and 5!

      Best wishes - - - Richard

  3. This really seems like a fabulous place to visit, Richard. It has obviously become one of your favorites, up there on a par with the Grant Arms perhaps.

    1. It certainly is up there with the Grant Arms, David, although we were self-catering here. The problem is that we've been spoiled by the absolute perfection of the property we've stayed in (layout, location, views, comfort, etc. etc.). Why's that a problem? Well the property is so popular that she is fully booked with 'regulars' who return for the same weeks each year. Lindsay and I would love to book for ourselves, with Melanie and Georgie, but we're having to wait to step into dead men's shoes. It is, therefore, for selfish reasons that I've not mentioned the property by name!

      If we can get a foot on the ladder we'd pretty much certainly make it an annual trip.

      Love to you both - - - Richard

  4. Just spectacular bird sightings :-) And what a great place!

    1. Thank you, Anne, it is a fabulous place - possibly one of my two favourite places in UK!

      Best wishes - - - Richard

  5. Fabulous scenery, the Turnstone is my favourite, but, I love all of them.

    1. Thank you, Bob. The scenery on the islands is superb. There will be images of some of wonderful rock formations in my next post.

      I hope that the weather isn't stopping you get out and about. Best wishes - - - - Richard

  6. What a fantastic Trip report,Part One,loved all your images,stunning captures.
    Black Redstarts look delightful,followed by your best friend the Song Thrush,for me,the star of the Trip is the Pock Pipit.
    I look forward to Part2 and 3.

    1. Thank you for your very kind words, John. I'll probably put up Pt.2 at the weekend, or maybe on Friday.

      My very best wishes - - - - Richard

  7. Glad you and Lindsay had a good trip, lovely set of pictures especially the Black Redstart and the Stonechat.

    1. Thank you, Linda. We certainly did have a wonderful time! Best wishes - - - Richard

  8. Oh my goodness, what a fantastic post Richard and this is only part one, wow!!! A brilliant selection of images too, the Black Redstart selection are all top class!

    1. Thank you for your very kind words, Paul - much appreciated! I spent quite a few hours trying to get better Black Redstart images - I think that there will be better to come!

      Best wishes - - - - Richard

  9. Hello Richard,
    What a wonderful trip you and Lindsay had. So manny birds you managed to see and this is only part one. The photos you took are so stunning. It seems to me a wonderful place to stay.
    I also want to thank you on your comments on my blog. I do apriciate that Always verry much.

    1. Hi Roos. We had a great time, and hope to get back there sometime! Thank you for your kind comments.

      With my very best wishes - - - Richard

  10. Superb images Richard. Of course I like the Stonechat. But I was also loving the Black Redstart then you spoilt us by getting both together (show off lol). The house you stayed in looks fabulous and so close to the sea too, perfect. I can't believe how close the Song Thrush cane to get it feeding like that us truly special

    1. Thank you, Doug. The house is superb - It would be difficult to find better in layout and location.

      There will be more about the Song Thrush later - it got better!

      Looking forward to your next post - my very best wishes - - - - Richard

  11. Beautiful pictures of the trip. The pictures of the song thrush are fantastic. The black redstart is great to see. Nice to be able to shoot from as close to the Stonechat. You can count the feathers. The bank pager is already so nicely photographed. thereby also take the stone runners and all the other birds. I am deeply impressed by your photography. My compliments.

    Greetings, Helma

    1. Thank you so much for your very kind words, Helma. I hope that your husband is recovering well from his accident.

      With my very best wishes - - - Richard

    2. Thank you very much Richard :-)

  12. Wonderful photos! The Porth Mellon bee is Buff-tailed Bumblebee :-)

    1. Thank you for your kind words and that information, Bob. I've updated the post accordingly.

      Best wishes - - - Richard


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