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Sunday, 17 April 2016

Another Scilly Sojourn, Pt.2 - 17th to 18th March, 2016

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

Thursday 17th March

Today, the girls were booked in for a craft workshop in Old Town. After breakfast Roger departed for a birding session on some other part of the island whilst I spent most of the morning on Littleporth beach. I found that, if I sat very still and quietly amongst the rocks of Little Carn, the birds eventually came to me. I got some of my best photos of the trip that day, particularly of the Black Redstarts.

Rock Pipit (Anthus petrosus) - Littleporth beach
Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba ssp. yarrellii) - Littleporth beach
We were seeing quite a lot of Chiffchaffs in shrubby areas on the island, but the following bird seemed a little out of place on a beach and was messing about almost on the ground. It seems to have reddish legs, so I wonder if it was a Willow Warbler? Through feedback (thank you!), I can now say with some confidence that this was a Willow Warbler.

Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus) - Littleporth Beach
Of course, I couldn't resist connecting with the wonderful female Stonechat again. In the following images you can clearly see her damaged left foot.

Stonechat (Saxicola torquata) (female) - Littleporth beach
For the most part, however, I was trying to get better images of the Black Redstart. I'd already got quite a few images of what I believed to be females. The first one is there because it (sort of!) has two Black Redstarts in the same image, and I'm relatively certain I'll never achieve that again!

Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) (female) - Littleporth beach
My main focus was, however, on trying to get better images of what I now believed to be 1st summer males - but I'm still not certain! I'm particularly pleased with the last four images, especially the last one.

Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) (male?) - Littleporth beach
After my session on the beach, I set off for a walk. I first went round the headland which is Carn Thomas, where there is a lifeboat station, to Porth Mellon. Nothing of interest was seen, so I crossed the road and went on the path which passes the island's rubbish dump. This is a good place for gulls but, as gulls are not really my thing, I didn't take a lot of interest, and continued along the path, ending up at Old Town. Here I made the mistake of deciding to take the path round by Carn Léh, over Peninnis Head, and back along the west side to Porthcressa and Littleporth. The mistake was that I'd said I would be back for lunch by 13h30 and I didn't set off on this leg until about 13h00!

Carn Léh is a spectacular rocky peninsular that juts out into Old Town Bay.

Carn Léh - St. Mary's
By the carn, I stopped to photograph the beautiful white flowers that we were seeing all over the island. I subsequently found out that these were known as Three-cornered Leeks as they were part of the Allium family, with triangular section flower stems.

Three-cornered Leek (Allium triquetrum) - by Carn Léh
Being in a bit of a hurry, I didn't take any more photos of interest but, at one point, small birds all took to the air and a raptor briefly appeared overhead from behind the drystone wall beside me and disappeared again, back over the wall, in 3 or 4 seconds. From the brief glimpse I had I thought it could have been a young Merlin.

As I was now only 5 minutes late, I stopped to take a few photos on the Littleporth sea wall as I approached base. Here's a couple.

Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) (male?) - Littleporth
Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes)  - Littleporth
That afternoon, Lindsay and I took a walk locally. Most of the rubbish generated in the Scillies is exported to the mainland for disposal. This entails the use of vessels a bit like oversized landing-craft, and an interesting way of loading them from the beach, opposite the refuse disposal centre. The boardway over the sand is not a permanent feature, and is laid by a team of workers each time a boat is to be loaded.

Refuse disposal - Scillies-style!
After our walk, we returned to base and I found the Little Egret was a bit more visible than on previous sightings.

Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) - Littleporth
That night we ate out at The Scillonian Club. The food was delicious and the service was good, but the portions were ridiculously large. The fries I had on my plate would have been more than enough for four people! Similarly, Roger's peas would have sufficed for all four of us. The prices were, however, extremely reasonable (and still would have been even if they were for reasonably sized portions), so we agreed that we'd all come back there on our last night.

Friday 18th March

We all had a relatively late start this day, and just pottered around for part of the morning. The place we were staying in had attractive gardens, front and rear, which largely featured plants which it would be nigh on impossible to grow on most of the UK mainland. Here's a small part of the rear (seaward) garden.

Garden -  Littleporth
I spent half an hour on the beach with Lindsay, and managed a few more photos.

Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) (male?) - Littleporth beach

Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) - Littleporth beach
Having put together a picnic lunch, Lindsay and I set off for Old Town, via Buzza Tower. We then walked through Old Town churchyard, and on to Carn Léh, where we sat on the seat at the foot of the carn and had our lunch in total isolation. As we left to head towards Peninnis Head, I noticed a Little Egret fly in behind the carn. I went back to see if I could find it and, round the back of the tarn, on the seaward side, I noticed a heart-shape up on the rocks. I just hope this was in celebration of happiness.

on Carn Léh
A little further on, the Egret suddenly appeared, flying towards the airport side of Old Town Bay. For some reason I found myself being surprised at the distance between its legs!

Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) -Old Town Bay
One of the attractions of Peninnis Head is the amazing rock formations to be found there. Here are a few examples (the second and third images are of the same formation from different angles) :-

Rocks on Peninnis Head
Not all the rocks, however, have been naturally placed!

Standing Stones - Peninnis Head
Hidden away behind the lighthouse I was disturbed to see a trap that had been set. It was baited with a large dead chick (no idea what it was). I reported this to the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust who have stewardship of the head, and who had no knowledge of this. They subsequently contacted me to say that they had investigated and found that it was set to try and catch an escaped albino Skunk! The owner was informed by the police that, in future, the trap could only be set if he was there to observe it.

There were a few Rock Pipit up here too.

Rock Pipit (Anthus petrosus) - Peninnis Head
From the lighthouse, we made our way to the seaward end of King Edward's Road, but turned left in order to stay on the head and skirt round the western side. Immediately we started seeing (and hearing!) Wren. I've never seen so many Wrens in such a short distance!

Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes)  - Peninnis Head
A little further on, Wren gave way to a couple of male Stonechats.

Stonechat (Saxicola torquata) (male) -Peninnis Head
It was while watching the Stonechat, which happened to be at exactly the same place as I'd seen the possible Merlin the previous day, that the bird suddenly appeared again! It was at almost exactly the same time as the previous day too. Again it was only in view for a few seconds. This time, however, I did manage some record shots which the Islands' leading birdwatcher, Will Wagstaff, subsequently pronounced to be Merlin - my first ever photos of one. It's a pity they weren't better!

Merlin (Falco columbarius) (juvenile?) - Peninnis Head
As we left the head, I photographed a couple of flowers.

Three-cornered Leek (Allium triquetrum) -Peninnis Head
Bladder Campion (Silene vulgaris) - Peninnis Head
After coming off the head, as we skirted round the allotments of Porthcressa I got what are possibly my best ever portrait images of Wren. A raised tail would have been nice, however!

Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes)  -Porthcressa
Late that afternoon I spent some more time watching Littleporth beach and came up with a few more images. The first is not a good one, but it does show the fan of the tail.

Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) (female) - Littleporth beach
From the bottom of the garden, I suddenly noticed a male Black Redstart in full breeding plumage at the end of the sea wall, in with a load of junk which had accumulated there. I took a few record shots before it flew out of sight. I tried to find it again, but failed! These were the best I could come up with, taken at a range of 65 metres (measured on Google Earth).

Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) (male) - Littleporth beach
 - and that was my last sighting of a breeding plumaged male Black Redstart!

That night we had another splendid meal, prepared by Lynne.

The third (final!) part of my trip report will be in a few days time, and will almost certainly be somewhat shorter than this one. It will also feature a few new birds, not featured in the previous two parts.

Thank you for dropping by.


  1. This really does seem like an idyllic place to visit, Richard, and the fact that you have to walk everywhere is a bonus. Not only does it ensure that you get some exercise, it is the perfect environment for birding and photography. You must have been sorry to leave!

    1. It is superb, David. I suspect that it would be a different kettle of fish in high season but, going out of peak season, most of the time one is exploring in glorious isolation. As for the exercise - by the time we returned I was exercised-out. It took a week for my knees, hips, and back to recover! It was worth the pain, however!!!!

      Yes, I was sorry to leave but, hopefully, we'll return sometime.

      My very best wishes to you and Miriam - - Richard

  2. Firstly I have to say well done on reporting the trap, glad it wasn't set for something more sinister though.
    The Merlin is a massive bogey bird for me so I would be well happy with the images you got as starting point, mine are really, really bad.
    Such a shame about the Stonechat with the damaged foot but it looks healthy. I really liked the Rock Pipit images a bird often overlooked due to it's plain plumage but a really difficult bird to stay locked onto too (auto focus wise) with Pipits I normally aim just under the bill for head on shots and just behind the eye for side on profile until your previous post I'd never considered the plumage tricking the AF.
    Finally the Redstarts are easily the best images, bird wise, I think you got that species of the 'bogey' list, well done.

    1. That trap did worry me, Doug. I was wondering if someone was wanting to catch himself a Merlin!

      I too was satisfied that the female Stonechat was managing quite happily with the damaged foot. She was very active and 'chirpy'.

      With the Black Redstart, I now need to get a fair image of a male in full breeding plumage - then I might start to relax on that species, although it will always be a privilege to see one.

      My best wishes to you - - - Richard

  3. What a wonderful place this is. So many birds and wonderful rock formations as well. A place I would love to visit but there are so many more places...
    Your pictures are wonderful Richard. What I also liked to see is the disposal of the rubbish from the island.
    Take care,
    Regards, Roos

    1. Thank you, Roos. The Scillies are very very special islands! I could happily live there, but Lindsay says she'd feel too isolated.

      I hope that all is well with you. Best wishes - - Richard

  4. Just a great place, and what fine observations!

    1. Thank you, Anne. It's a wonderful place - one of my favourites in UK.

      Best wishes - - - Richard

  5. Fanastic close up images of your birds Richard! The Three-cornered Leek plant you would not want in your garden :-\ I had them, they spread like wildfire and they smell of garlic :-\ I had to pull them all up. I would say your bird is a Willow Warbler, the Chiffchaffs have darker legs.

    1. Thank you for the warning about the Three-cornered Leek, Linda. I had noticed the garlic aroma that they put out.

      I was leaning towards Willow Warbler because of legs, location, and behaviour. However, birds on the Scillies seem to favour different environments, behave differently, and sun shining though legs can sometimes make them look paler and more red!

      Take good care. My best wishes - - - - - Richard

  6. Bird images are your thing, I do believe Black Redstart is your best Richard, love it all.

    1. Thank you, Bob - those are very kind words coming from the master!

      My very best wishes to you and yours - - - - Richard

  7. Part 1 and Part 2,are amazing,your photography is tops,from the first image to last are a vision of delight.
    Looking forward to Part 3.

    1. Methinks you are too kind, John - thank you. I've got a way to go before I achieve your standards!

      Part 3 is almost in the can already. Hopefully it will be put up before the end of the week.

      My best wishes to you both - - - Richard

  8. Hi Richard, you certainly had a wonderful trip with super images, hard to pick out a favourite but love the Wren, see you Thursday if not before. John

    1. Sorry, John - somehow I managed to miss your comment until now. I can't resist a Wren, but my own favourite is still the Stonechat.

      Yes, we did meet up on Thursday - not Wednesday (don't know where my head was when I posted that comment on your blog!).

  9. This was well worth waiting for, I wish I had your patience. I have tried sitting and waiting but have never had much luck....I sit down, the dogs sit down and we wait.......Then the dogs bark. "Look there's one!"
    on the rare occasions I find traps I just destroy them, I don't even like the nets ringers use but to be fair they are usually supervised.

    1. Thank you, Adrian. I suspect that you've got somewhat more patience than I have - it's just that you and I use it in different ways. I could never have the patience that you have with your animation projects.

      I can sympathise with you destroying traps, Adrian, but I'd be worried that a burley poacher would show me as little respect for life as he shows the wildlife!

      Take good care. My best wishes - - - Richard

  10. Great stuff here Richard, of course the Stonechats did it for me. Difficult to say what's wrong with the females foot as it seems to be intact though deformed. Willow Warbler by the way Richard.

    Kind Regards.

    1. Thank you, Pete, for your kind words. As I'm sure I've mentioned before, you're the first person that comes to mind when I see a Stonechat! That female seemed to be getting on fine, in spite of the foot. She appeared to be managing so effortlessly that I suspect she'd lived with the problem for a long time - possibly all her life.

      Thanks for the confirmation of Willow Warbler - text edited accordingly.

      Best wishes - - - - Richard

  11. Splendid post again mate, another set of superb images that complement your narrative perfectly. But......that image of the Merlin is top notch, you did wonders capturing it in flight.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words, Paul. Very much appreciated. I was delighted to get any sort of shot of the Merlin as it was very frustrating to have missed it completely on the first sighting.

      Wishing you all the best - - - Richard

  12. My goodness Richard, you came so close to these passerine birds!
    Your photos are fantastic!
    Unfortunately the last ones don't show, I will try to come here again tomorrow.
    I'd like to see the Black redstarts, I never managed to take one single pic of the males in my garden :( !!!!!
    I would have tried on sunday again but there are 3 kingfishers around the lake and I wouldn't like to miss that, although nothing's guaranteed!
    Keep well and huge hugs to the both of you

    1. Hi, Noushka. Thank you for your very kind comments. Nearly all the birds didn't come much closer than about 8 metres, but I was getting the female Stonechat as close as about four metres.

      I hope you got to see those last images eventually, although the last three are just 'record shots'.

      Black Redstarts are somewhat rarer than Kingfishers in England, but I'd take a chance for a good Kingfisher image rather than a Black Redstart one any day!!! I hope you manage some more wonderful images of your Kingfishers!

      Take good care - we're thinking of you! Very best wishes - - - Richard

  13. (Once again I must apologize for not visiting lately. I keep thinking life will quit interfering with what I'd much rather be doing but, alas, not yet.)

    I have just spent some quality time with a cup of freshly roasted Ethiopian coffee and your recent "Scilly" posts. It has been a very satisfying experience. The combination of your superb photographs and excellent prose transported me to beaches, fields, rock formations, scurrying shorebirds, curious songbirds, fleet-winged Merlins and all the myriad sights, sounds and smells of an island adventure. Thank you.

    The series of images of the Black Redstart are very special, indeed! What a wonderful opportunity. We eagerly await Part Three.

    It's almost another weekend already! We hope you and Lindsay enjoy it to the fullest!

    1. No apologies needed, Wally. I too have been rather preoccupied of late and somewhat negligent of what is going on in Bloggerland.

      Thank you so much for your very kind words which, coming from the Master of illustrated wildlife travelogues, are very much appreciated.

      Thank you also for your kind wishes for the weekend. For us two, the weekend is usually time for doing things around the house, as everyone else is out and about with noisy children and barking dogs which run amuck and disturb all the wildlife. Lindsay's got a number of jobs lined up for me! The weekdays are the good bits between the weekends!

      My very best wishes to you both - - - - Richard

  14. You also shows a wonderful series with a variety of different birds. The bladder campion (Silene vulgaris) (photo 53) have photographed beautifully. A beautiful and varied series. My compliments.

    Greetings, Helma

    PS Could you add the translator on your blog?

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Helma, and for the information about the Campion. I have now edited the post accorodingly.

      Thank you also for the request to add the translator. Until you mentioned it, I assumed that Google automatically showed the translator when someone accessed the blog from a different country!! I have now found and added the translator gadget!

      My best wishes to you all - - - Richard


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