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Thursday 25 April 2019

Another Scilly Sojourn, Pt.2 - 14th to 18th March, 2019

Herewith, Pt.2 of my account of our visit to the Isles of Scilly, Staying on Littleporth, St. Mary's. If you missed the first part, you can find it here:-

Thursday, 14th March - Littleporth, Hugh Town Harbour, Littleporth, Lower Moors, Littleporth

If memory serves me well, I believe things had got extremely windy on this day, and I didn't wander too far from base after my exertions of the previous day!

After breakfast, I headed down to the harbour. A few weeks earlier I'd tried, by email, enquiring of Joe Pender (St. Mary's Boatmen's Association) about a private charter, so that we could take Georgie for a trip round the islands to see marine life and birds. I'd got an automated reply back to say Joe was away, and to contact Christine Gerald in his absence. Having got no reply from Christine Gerald, I contacted John Peacock of St. Agnes Boating, and got a very favourable reply. The arrangement was that John would contact me when there was a suitable window in the weather. However, seeing what the weather was like, and the forecast for the rest of our stay, I was confident that the opportunity was not going to arise, and this was confirmed by a short chat with John's Senior Skipper, Mark this day. I expect that we'll be contacting John again next year, with fingers crossed.

As I walked down the main quay, I was quite surprised to see a Rock Pipit on the road. I have not seen one on the quay before.

Rock Pipit (Anthus petrosus) - Hugh Town Quay
Continuing on the quay to the main buildings, I could see a Black-necked Grebe beyond the end of the quay. Access to the end of the quay is not available to the public, so I waited for a while, and was rewarded by it coming closer.

If you read Pt.1 of my account, you may remember that there were three Black-necked Grebes being seen. These, I noted as being #1 in virtually full summer plumage, #2 only partly into summer plumage, and #3 a little behind #1 in its plumage. The one that appeared this time was #1, and I was somewhat delighted that the weather was dull as I'd have been shooting into the light again.

Black-necked Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis) (#1) - Hugh Town Harbour
After this, I returned to Littleporth, where I had a session by, and on, the beach, taking a break for lunch part-way through. It wasn't a very productive session, but here are some from then.

Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) - Littleporth
possible White Wagtail (Motacilla alba) - Littleporth
Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba f. yarrellii) - Littleporth
In the mid-afternoon, I took a stroll to Lower Moors to see what might be around. The short answer was - very little. However, in with the cattle, to the right of the eastern entrance gate were several wagtails, one of which I again suspect may have been White Wagtail.

possible White Wagtail (Motacilla alba) - Lower Moors
After this I wandered back to base for another quiet and comfortable evening.

Friday, 15th March - Littleporth, Watermill, Toll's Hill, Pelistry Bay, Holy Vale, Carreg Dhu, Old Town, Hugh Town Harbour, Littleporth

After breakfast I set out on a journey that I knew I'd not manage if I didn't have transport for the first leg, so I called up Toot's Taxis for a lift from base to Watermill Lane. 'Mrs Toot' was very helpful, even giving me information on the school strike and march that was going to take place in protest about climate change - information that was valuable for me to transmit to the girls so that they could make sure that Georgie did not get totally fazed by this number of youngsters. It's a pity that Georgie would have totally shut down or, alternatively, fled  if faced by this number of schoolchildren, as we would all have liked to show our support.

I don't know much about wild flowers, but I do tend to take photos of ones that I find attractive or unusual. As I went down the lane, I photographed Three-cornered Leek, and what I think might be Tree Mallow. I have now been told by 'Conehead54' (someone who knows what they're talking about!) That this is a Cranesbill - probably Geranium maderense. Thank you for your much-appreciated input.

Three-cornered Leek (Allium triquetrum) - Watermill Lane
Cransebill sp. (probably Geranium maderense) - Watermill Lane
At the bottom of Watermill Lane I found the last part of access to Watermill Cove to be barred by water and deep soft mud. As I'd only brought low walking shoes with me, due to weight allowances on the plane, I didn't attempt access to the beach but headed southward, up onto Toll's Hill. I noted that the path northward had been closed off with warning notices about the danger from falling trees due to the wind.

From Toll's Hill I had views back to Watermill Cove and distant views of a Shag, and a Grey Seal that seemed very relaxed!

Watermill Cove - from Toll's Hill
Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) - from Toll's Hill
Grey Seal (Halichoerus grypus) - from Toll's Hill
There is a long history of growing Narcissus on St. Mary's and it is no surprise then that Narcissus of various varieties can be found growing wild at almost every twist and turn. At this time of year, they are delightful.

Narcissus - on Toll's Hill
Heading down to Pelistry Bay, I noticed a Grey Seal pop up in the shallow water between Toll's Island and the beach. I waited, and eventually it popped up again, nearer to where I was standing.

Grey Seal (Halichoerus grypus) -Pelistry Bay
Whilst waiting for the seal to reappear, I started collecting small sea shells on the beach. I have never seen such a shell-rich beach, and there was an amazing variety on offer. At one point I found what looked like a well-encrusted coin, and got quite excited. Gold coins are fairly frequently found on the Isles of Scilly as there have been many shipwrecks over the years. The 'coin' was left in a bowl of vinegar for a couple of day, and guess what! - it was a 1997 QE2 two pence piece!

Having spent getting on for an hour on the beach, I headed inland via Pelistry, Holy Vale, and Longstone, ending up in Carreg Dhu Gardens, where I sat for a while having a snack, accompanied by a male Blackbird that sat on the arm rest at my elbow, hoping to join me in my snack - sadly, I had nothing suitable to share with him. 

I took quite a lot of shots of flowers in the gardens, but I'll just show one here. I have no idea what the shrub/tree was, but I thought the flowers amazing!  I have now been reliably informed by 'Conehead54' that this shrub is Brugmansia sanguinea - thank you!

Red Angel's Trumpet (Brugmansia sanguinea) - Carreg Dhu Gardens
From  here, I walked to old town and headed round the north side of the bay to Porth Minick to see where it was that the girls enjoyed so much. I could see why - they are, all three, avid sea-glass collectors!

As I headed back towards the road at Old Town, I noticed a very attractive flower. I'm relatively certain that this was a Fumaria species, but which, I am not sure as I believe there are a couple of species which are a speciality of the south-west and of the Isles of Scilly.

Fumaria sp. - near Old Town
A very short way further on, I spotted a couple of Curlew down on the rocks. The one on the right had me scratching my head for a while because of the marking on top of the head which resembled that of a Whimbrel, but I came to the conclusion that both were Curlew.

Curlew (Numenius arquata) - near Old Town
I then returned to Littleporth where I had a very late lunch before setting off for the harbour behind the Atlantic Inn. The tide was is a state where there was a little of the beach available, and the Turnstone were, as usual, very cooperative. However, the light was not good at this late hour. I took loads of shots, which didn't come to much at all.

Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) - Hugh Town Harbour
Also there, and relatively confiding, was a pair of Great Black-backed Gull. These seemed to be courting.

Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus) - Hugh Town Harbour
Further out, a young Shag was on a buoy. 

Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) (juvenile) - Hugh Town Harbour
Saturday, 16th March - Littleporth, Porth Minick, Churchporth, Porth Hellick, Hugh Town, Littleporth

A very windy day was forecast, with the wind direction largely from the north-west, so my plan was to stick to the south-east coast in the hope of finding some spots that were sheltered from the wind. 

Setting off from Littleporth after breakfast, I noted that the Porthcressa Ducks were just offshore. I first saw these three ducks in 2018, when their daily routine seemed to be to come down the path to the beach from the direction of town, cross the beach, spend the day on the sea, and then go back home again in the late afternoon, often being fed by people as they returned. I'd been quite delighted to see the same three was still there this year, although I didn't see them head inland at any time. These are obviously not wild birds, but it seems that they have become local celebrities, and even feature on cards available from the local craft centre. On this day, I couldn't resist a shot of them neatly lined up on the sea.

the Porthcressa Ducks - Littleporth
I headed up Buzza Hill, getting a taste of what problems the wind was going to give me, and then took the road to Old Town. Here I went round the coast, past Porth Minick. From here I was on ground that I had never trodden before. I continued to Church Point, then round the southern end of the airport runway, stopping to take a photo or two on the way. I believe this next shot is of the place known at Tom Butt's Bed.

Tom Butt's Bed ?
I then took the seaward path at the fork near Porth Loggos to Drum Rock and Porth Hellick. I was now back on familiar ground, and rather glad of it. There had been a couple of spots where the path had been close to a long drop to rocks below, and I'd been a little concerned about being caught by a gust of wind at the wrong moment. The shot below was, therefore, of a welcome sight.

view to Porth Hellick Pool
I headed inland from here, stopping in at both the hides for a short while to see if there was anything of interest. The best I could manage was a pair of Shelduck. However, it looked as if I was headed for a day without a single shot of a wild bird - so here they are!

Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna) (male) - Porth Hellick Pool
Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna) (female) - Porth Hellick Pool
From here, I walked back to Hugh Town, stopping briefly to photograph a solitary iris flower. I rather like irises, and was surprised to see one of this type flowering at this time of year.

Iris - near Tremelethen
I stopped off at Hugh Town harbour to see what was around, but only found the juvenile Shag on one of the floating pontoons.

Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) (juvenile) - Hugh Town Harbour
My day effectively finished wildlife-wise when I returned to base at 12h30. It had been unproductive, although useful for future reference, and somewhat exhausting in the extremely strong winds.

Sunday, 17th March - Littleporth, Peninnis, Carn Lêh, Old Town, Littleporth, Hugh Town Harbour, Pothloo, Lower Moors, Old Town, Littleporth 
This was, effectively, our last day on The Isles of Scilly as we would be leaving early on the Monday morning. I had a relatively late start and walked along the seafront path to head up Buzza Hill. The local Stonechat was quite obliging!

Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola) (male) - Littleporth
It was heartening, when I reached Buzza Tower, to see that the Mali Rose was moored at the quay and unloading much-needed provisions for the islands, having been absent for a week.

Hugh Town Harbour - from by Buzza Tower
On the way up King Edward's Road, I stopped to take some shots of a Song Thrush which looked delightful amongst the Three-cornered Leeks.

Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) - above Peninnis Farm
Somewhat nearer Peninnis Head, I noticed a female Stonechat in a field. At first it was distant, but I stood still by the gate post and it came somewhat nearer. There was also a male Stonechat here, but it stayed at an impossible distance.

Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola) (female) -near Peninnis Head
Also, whilst standing by the gate, I had the pleasure of watching a Wren preening at the entrance to its nest cavity in the wall. I was quite surprised when it posed with wings spread, taking in the rays.

Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) - near Peninnis Head
It was so windy when I reached the gate onto the head itself that I turned towards Carn Lêh, rather than the windy west side of the head which would have been a significantly shorter, but less comfortable route in the wind.

The area round Carn Lêh can be good for birds at time, but not on this occasion. It is, however, one of my favourite rock formations.

Carn Lêh
As I approached the environs of Old Town Church, a pair of Rabbits were playing at the top of an adjacent field.

Rabbits - near Old Town Church
I sat down on the bench outside the entrance to Old Town Churchyard to take a drink of squash, and became aware of a busy Wren that was nest-building. This one also was utilising a hole in a stone wall. Wrens seem to be exceptionally numerous in the Isles of Scilly and I suspect that this is largely due to the coarse build style of the stone wall boundaries to fields, etc..

Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) -by Old Town Churchyard
Having had a fruitless look around the churchyard, I headed down the road to Buzza Hill and Littleporth. Here, I had a relatively unproductive session with the Stonechat and the Rock Pipits, but it was definitely a Wren sort of day - at the rocky west end of Little Porth beach, a Wren is a common sight. I suspect, like the Rock Pipits, Stonechats, and Black Redstarts (none of the latter seen during this week), that the Wrens find plenty of insects amongst the rocks.

Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) -Littleporth
After lunch, I took a walk to Hugh Town Harbour and, from the end of the old pier, saw that the three Black-necked Grebes were together - although at a great distance. I took a few record shots, one of which is below.

Black-necked Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis)  - Hugh Town Harbour
As I was watching the grebes, a House Sparrow came and landed on the wall about a metre from me. It didn't seem at all perturbed by my presence!

House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) (male) -Hugh Town Harbour
Also, from the old pier, the juvenile Shag was on the nearest floating pontoon again, and an adult Shag was distantly out on the water.

Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) (juvenile) - Hugh Town Harbour
Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) - Hugh Town Harbour
From the harbour, I took a walk northwards, round the coast path to Porthloo, but little was seen. I then cut across eastwards to Lower Moors. Here, the only thing on the water was a male Gadwall.

Gadwall (Anas strepera) (male) - Lower Moors
Near the Old Town gate from Lower Moors, I spotted a rather battered Speckled Wood butterfly. I was immediately struck how this butterfly had a distinctly orange hue where I'd usually expect to see pale cream. This is similar to photos I've seen of specimens in southern Europe. It wasn't until I got home that I found out that this is a recognised subspecies from the Isles of Scilly. I'd better include a photo - even if it is a poor one of a tatty specimen!

Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria insula) - Lower Moors
I'd set off from Lower Moors to meet the girls at Porth Minick, but found them only a few hundred metres along the road from Old Town. It seems that they'd had to leave in a hurry because Georgie was very uncomfortable when other children arrived. As the girls are not walkers, I joined them in the taxi from Old Town to Little Porth.
Having had some refreshment back at base, I set off for a last look at Hugh Town Harbour. Behind The Atlantic, I found a Cormorant feeding and encouraging a juvenile. Surprisingly, both seemed quite confiding as I stood there. The juvenile seemed to be playing!

Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) (juvenile + adult) - Hugh Town Harbour
Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) (juvenile) - Hugh Town Harbour

I couldn't resist a farewell shot of a Turnstone either.

Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) - Hugh Town Harbour
The evening, after tea, was spent packing as we had an early start the next day.

Monday, 18th March - Littleporth to Ashby de la Zouch

I awoke to find that my wonderfully thoughtful daughter had spent her evenings, after Lindsay and I had gone to bed, crocheting, and that, as a 'thank you' for the holiday, she'd made me an owl which was sitting in my usual seating place. I was over the moon. Lindsay was similarly blessed with a beautifully crocheted fairy.

a much-cherished owl
We had a quick breakfast, and final sweep around in time for our transport to the airport. There was a short delay to our departure, due to 'operational difficulties' at Lands End, but it was not too long, and the Skybus staff were, again, very accommodating in allowing Georgie to board first so that she could choose a seat with family surrounding her. 

Melanie and Georgie set off homeward just before us once we'd arrived at Lands End Airport, and we all had a relatively uneventful journey home.

Again, we had seen the Isles of Scilly in totally different conditions to what we have experienced before, but we all had a fabulous time. Apart from a few very minor issues, our fears about our granddaughter came to nothing. 

I take this opportunity to thank Jenny Hicks for the excellent accommodation, Isles of Scilly Travel for looking after our needs so kindly, the IoS Bird Group and IoS Wildlife group for valuable information, and the IoS Wildlife Trust for all their great work. We're looking forward to returning at the same time next year.

Footnote 1 - Walking

Since late summer, I have been wearing a 'fitbit' type of device to track my activities. Prior to the visit, my daily target was 10,000 steps, and I'd probably achieve that on three or four days in a week. Unless you hire transport in one form or another, as a visitor to the Scillies, the only option is to walk. In the week (Monday to Sunday) that we were on the Scillies I achieved 107,110 steps (80.33km), which equates to a daily average of 15,301 steps (11.47km). On the Wednesday, I totally smashed my previous record with 21,540 steps (16.15km). I know, for serious walkers, this is no distance at all, but I came back feeling as fit as a fiddle!

Footnote 2 - Autism

I'll try and keep this brief - as mentioned in Pt.1 of my report, our 13-year old granddaughter is on the autism spectrum and has social avoidance problems and PDA (pathological demand avoidance) issues. This resulted around three years ago in our daughter (a single mum) being advised by Georgina's school that she should consider withdrawing Georgie from school to save her from being excluded from school and have it on her record.

Our daughter is a highly qualified teacher, but had to take very early retirement on medical grounds. For a while she attempted to tutor Georgie at home, but Georgie's condition was deteriorating rapidly. 

For more than two years we have been assisting our daughter in trying to get a suitable education for Georgie (who is incredibly intelligent and has a wicked sense of humour!). It is astounding, just how obstructive the local authorities have been in this respect. We have had to help our daughter with legal assistance and specialist consultancy on Georgie's condition. At last, we seem to have got somewhere with the authorities, and Georgie has started to attend a school where she has a classroom to herself, specialist tuition etc., and in just a couple of months we are seeing real progress.

I don't want to go into any further details, but I am mentioning this just in case anyone reading this knows of anyone with similar problems. I know that there are more and more children having special needs and the authorities having less funding to cater for those needs. If you are in that position, my message is:- Don't give up. Fight as hard as you can for as long as you can.

I'm not sure what my next post will feature as this weekend I had my first day out, after a month of being out of action with a virus. However, I'm hoping that I'll come up with something soon!

Thank you for dropping by.