For several years, we had been trying to get a late September or early October booking at our favourite property on the Isles of Scilly. Last year we were told that our wish had been granted. The property always offers it's visitors the same slot for the following year, and this offer is usually taken up without hesitation. It is, therefore, almost a case of waiting to step into dead men's shoes.
The main reason for wanting to book at this time was that it is the start of the bird migration season on the Scillies, but summer avian residents and the insect life are still around. This last aspect is something that does not feature much during our March stays.
My main observation/photographic objectives for the visit were modest ones, rather than seeking out some 'mega' rarity. There had been recent reports of several Wryneck on the islands and I have only had the pleasure of seeing and photographing this species once before. This was, therefore, a target species. The Scillies is a good place to find Hummingbird Hawkmoth and I have only previously managed five sightings and a couple of record shots, so this was my second objective. I have never seen dragonflies on the Scillies, so this was number three. Finally, the Scillies is home to its own subspecies of Speckled Wood butterfly (ssp. insula) and I have only previously achieved photographs of a very tatty specimen.
At the time of booking, there is no way that we could have foreseen the problems that Covid-19 brought in 2020. My wife, Lindsay, and I are both in the Covid 'vulnerable' category, mainly due to our age, and for the previous six months, since we left the Scillies in March, we have been being extremely cautious, avoiding shops, people, and public places. This visit was going to be a challenge as there was no way we could get to the south-west of England without several 'comfort stops' en-route, we'd be sitting with other people in an airport lounge, and - the biggest challenge of all - we'd be flying on a plane in close proximity to other people. Furthermore, we'd have to go shopping for supplies, rather than rely on home-deliveries. It was not going to be easy!
Sunday, 27th September
Having packed a picnic lunch for the journey, we set off from home at around 10h00 with a full tank of fuel. It was an uneventful journey with several comfort stops and a picnic lunch break in the car park at various motorway service areas en-route.
We'd booked an overnight stop at the Redruth Camborne Travelodge in Cornwall, and arrived there at approximately 15h30. This is a relatively new Travelodge and in quite nice condition. Sadly there was a crisis in progress when we arrived with a gentleman being locked in his bathroom for an hour when his door handle broke, so the receptionist (who was the sole member of staff present) was somewhat preoccupied, but did have time to explain that she only had one tea bag she could offer us for the complimentary refreshment tray - usually there's an unlimited supply.
After a long journey with me doing all the driving, we did not fancy venturing out for a meal, and Lindsay volunteered to pop over to KFC, the other side of the car park, for a take-away to eat in our room as our evening meal. While sitting eating our meal beside the window which overlooked the car park, we made some wry comments about the goings-on in the car park.
We turned in early that night.
Monday, 28th September
Our flight was booked for 12h36, with check-in between 11h36 and 12h06. We also had specific instructions to not enter the terminal until check-in opened for the flight. This timing gave us a gentle start to our day and a relaxed breakfast that we had brought with us.
Checking out of our hotel just before the 10h00 deadline we set off to the airport, stopping in Penzance to fill up the car with fuel ready for our return journey the following week. We found ourselves getting close to the airport somewhat early, so continued past the airport turning and headed to Land's End, noting that it was getting rather misty. Seeing that the car park was £7 and it was too misty to see much, plus we only had half an hour to kill, we turned round and then took the road down to Sennen Cove, had a quick look, and went to the airport. We were allowed to pop in before the hour to use the loos, and I was told that flights were on hold due to the low cloud, and recommended not to try checking in before 12h00 as the terminal was getting rather full of would-be passengers..
Knowing that flights (and sailings) to the Scillies can be a bit temperamental we'd booked a second night at the Travelodge which we could cancel without charge before 12 noon. We now had a dilemma on our hands - do we keep it or cancel it? We decided to keep it.
The day wore on, with flights showing as delayed and then, after a couple of hours delay, changed to cancelled. When ours eventually was cancelled we got transferred onto a flight at 16h20. At 17h45 we were informed that flights were now closed for the day and offered a booking at 12h55 the following day.
|Departure Board at Land's End Airport|
We set off back to the hotel, checked in again, and discussed our options for dinner that night. We went for the easy option which was to return to KFC for another take-away. Lindsay volunteered, once more, as she'd experienced the procedure and felt confident about it. In the event, she found the situation in KFC chaotic this time (she'd been full of praise for the set up on her first visit), and was more than a little concerned about activities in the car park. We were now convinced that what we'd suggested in jest the previous day was, in fact, a reality.
Tuesday, 29th September
In the morning, we breakfasted on biscuits and crisps that were intended for the return journey, but at least the hotel was able to supply tea bags.
We had a bit more time to play with before our flight, so parked in the car park above Sennen Cove, where the contactless payment machine took a bit of working out! We had just parked when a Stonechat landed in front of the car. Lindsay sat in the car while I went for a walk on the hillside that slopes down to the beach in the hope of finding a Stonechat to photograph. I had no such luck.
|view from above Sennen Cove|
It's now confession time. At one time, a group of four small birds flitted up into a distant tall bush and I grabbed a shot before they departed. I felt that they might have been Linnet. It's only when I looked at the photo that I'd managed that I found that they were Dunnock. This is a species that I see daily at home, but have not seen in this environment before and never more than three together.
|Dunnock (Prunella modularis) - above Sennen Cove|
We arrived at the airport to find things somewhat more promising. We were checked in without any problems, the plane was boarded in number order of our boarding slips, and we were on our way at the allotted time. It was a bit of a bumpy landing at St Mary's aiport but, otherwise, a pleasant short flight of about 15 minutes duration. Paulger's Transport were there to meet us and take us to the entrance of the property.
On arrival, my first job was to head to the Co-op to pick up our provisions for the week. We'd placed a click-and-collect order for the previous day, and they had kindly held onto it for a further 24 hours. All I had to do was go to the back entrance where someone wheeled it out to me in a shopping trolley that I was told I could take away with me and bring back later when I'd finished.
It was a sunny afternoon, although rather breezy, and I had a missed day to compensate for, so headed out. There had been reports of Wryneck on Peninnis Head so I set off in that direction.
The property we were in backs onto Littleporth beach, which is the west end of Porthcressa beach. and as I passed along the beach-head I was delighted to see the 'Porthcressa Three' were present. These three feral ducks are inseparable friends and spend much of their time on the sea and beach of Porthcressa. More surprising, however, were the Sanderling - I have never seen Sanderling on this beach before. There were three of them. Here's one of them:-
|Sanderling (Calidris alba) - Porthcressa|
At the eastern end of the beach, I noted a bird on the water that looked a little strange, but too distant to identify via my binoculars or on the camera at 500 mm. I gave it little thought and moved on and, just round the corner, noted a Wheatear on the rocks at the end of the beach. This was the first time I'd ever seen a Wheatear by a beach.
|Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) - Porthcressa|
From the east end of Porthcressa I made my way up the hill towards Buzza Tower, stopping to grab some shots of a Kestrel, mindful that the previous Kestrel that I'd photographed on the Scillies had turned out to be a Lesser Kestrel which caused quite a stir. No such luck this time!
|Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) (female) - Buzza Hill|
I then made my way up King Edward's Road to Peninnis Head. On the way, I saw several rabbits. Rabbits are quite numerous on the islands and I was sorry to see, later in the week, that Myxomatosis is in the rabbit population on St Mary's.
|Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) - Peninnis|
By the windmill ruin I spotted a very tatty Painted Lady butterfly. I am showing this as I believe that, sadly, it's the only one of this species that I have seen this year.
|Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) - Peninnis|
Peninnis tends to be a hot-spot for Wheatear, and I found one on a gorse bush.
|Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) - Peninnis| There are usually Rock Pipits around the rocks on Peninnis Head.
Shortly after taking that last shot, a fellow came hurrying towards me and asked if I'd seen two people looking for the Wryneck. I hadn't, but he also told me that just a couple of hundred metres away there was a Lapland Bunting being watched by three birders. It was worth a look! Shortly after I arrived, the fellow returned with his two friends - a father and son who I'd been chatting with during our long wait at Land's End Airport the previous day!
|Rock Pipit (Anthus petrosus) - Peninnis|
The bird soon showed and I got some shots that I was reasonably happy with before it disappeared.
People then dispersed, and the pair with their friend kindly asked if I'd like to accompany them back down to Hugh Town. I declined as I wanted to have another go at trying to find the Wryneck. I didn't succeed and, having given up, my route took me back past the Lapland Bunting location - and it was out again! I stood still and waited as it slowly made its way towards me, giving me some far better photographic opportunities. I will probably never get the chance to photograph this species again so please excuse several images.
|Lapland Bunting (Calcarius lapponicus) - Peninnis|
I have a soft spot for Stonechats, and so this report on this stay on
the Scillies might feature this species in a disproportionate
abundance. Peninnis is the most reliable place I know for Stonechat and
rarely fails to deliver.
|Lapland Bunting (Calcarius lapponicus) - Peninnis|
|Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola) (female) - Peninnis|
|Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola) (male) - Peninnis|
Whilst up on Peninnis Head, messages started coming through on the WhatsApp Bird group, concerning a 'whistling-type' duck being seen at Porthcressa. This was identified as a Fulvous Whistling Duck, and disparaging remarks were made about its pedigree, which is not surprising as it is a native of Central and South America! I realised that this must have been the distant duck I'd seen on my way to Peninnis, so headed back to investigate. On my way, just before arriving at the beach, I spotted a small but attractive leaf beetle which Mark Telfer kindly identified for me - thank you Mark.
I found the duck resting on the beach in front of 'Dibble and Grub' cafe, totally unperturbed by anything going on around itself. It was not wearing bracelets and, as I understand it, was gone the next day, never to be seen again. I'll give it the benefit of the doubt in my caption!
|leaf beetle (Chrysolina banksi) - near Porthcressa|
The Sanderling were still on the beach.
|Fulvous Whistling Duck (Dendrocygna bicolor) - Porthcressa|
|Sanderling (Calidris alba) - Porthcressa|By now, I'd decided that I rather liked open-wing shots, so here's another.
It had been an interesting and rewarding first afternoon with pleasant weather on the Scillies. That eveneing we unpacked and relaxed.
|Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) - Porthcressa|
Wednesday, 30th September
The day started wet and windy, and there was little point in going out until later in the morning. A Song Thrush came to investigate us while we were having breakfast in the conservatory, and became our constant companion for the rest of the week, coming to say 'hello' at the door each morning.
On the WhatsApp Wildlife group someone had posted a picture of a Salp on Porthcressa Beach, saying that there were lots of them and asking what they were. From previous postings to the group, I knew what they were and had wanted to see them so, as soon as the rain passed in the late morning, I headed for Porthcressa beach. At first I was only seeing punctured specimens of this sea squirt but, eventually found some intact specimens nearer the east end of the beach. Not an easy thing to photograph in situ due to their transparency. You can read more about Salps here:- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salp
|Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) - our garden at Littleporth|
I couldn't resist trying for a shot of some incoming Oystercatchers.
|Salp sp. - Porthcressa Beach|
Having returned to base for a light lunch, I set off for an afternoon out on what had now turned into a warm day with some sunshine, although it was still very windy.
|Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) - Porthcressa|
Just before Buzza Tower, I stopped to photograph Ivy Bees - a species not found in my part of UK, but plentiful on the Scillies and one of the latest bees in the year to be out, due to the late flowering of ivy.
From Buzza Hill I wandered into Old Town and Lower Moors Nature Trail. Here I found the first of my targets - a Speckled Wood ssp. insula in nice condition and of a relatively strong orange colouration.
|Ivy Bee (Colletes hederae) - Buzza Hill|
As I was photographing the butterfly, I felt something crawling on the side of my face and brushed it off. I was a shieldbug and, fortunately, my action was quick enough for it not to have time to exude its 'stink' on my face!
|Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria, ssp. insula) - Lower Moors|
From the screen beside ISBG Hide, I took some shots of a Greenshank on the far side of the pond.
|Common Green Shieldbug (Palomena prasina) - Lower Moors|
I'd just photographed the Greenshank when I had a WhatsApp message from Lindsay who was back at the property. She'd had one of my prime objectives, a Hummingbird Hawkmoth, feeding for around five minutes on blue flowers only about 2 metres from the kitchen window! I was feeling somewhat miffed, but then I then found my second objective of the stay - a dragonfly!
|Greenshank (Tringa nebularia) - Lower Moors|
I was busy photographing the above and looking to then investigate a rather deeper red specimen further up the path when a group of people came towards me, frightening off the dragonfly as they passed. I was too busy trying to 'social distance' to see where either of the two dragonflies went. I hung around for a while, but they didn't return so I continued on the path to Rosehill. Here I found another Common Darter.
|Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (male) - Lower Moors|
Continuing on to Porthloo, from the slipway I spotted another Wheatear - this time, actually on the beach! However, the photos were very much sub-par. I then headed back to Old Town church via Porthloo and Moorwell lane past the dump.
|Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (male) - Rosehill|
Just past Old Town church, on the path towards Carn Léh, I stopped to photograph some butterflies. Here's one of a Red Admiral in reasonable condition.
I then continued onto Peninnis in the hope of finding the Wryneck. On the way I photographed one of the wonderful rocks to be found on the peninsula. I suspect that this rock might have a name - it certainly deserves it!
|Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) - near Old Town church|
I couldn't find the Wryneck, although it was reported as still being seen, but there were now two Lapland Buntings being reported on Peninnis. I think that this one - not my last, after all! - was probably the same one as on the previous day.
|rock - Peninnis|
I also photographed what I believe to be a fluffed up Linnet in winter plumage but also wondered if a Twite, although the bill seems to be the wrong colour. I'm still a novice birder!
|Lapland Bunting (Calcarius lapponicus) - Peninnis|
|Linnet? (Linaria cannabina) - Peninnis|
After this, I headed back to Porthcressa, where a kindly gentleman who was feeding the Porthcressa Three kindly pointed out two Mediterranean Gulls that were on the water. This is one of them:-
Having missed the Hummingbird Hawkmoth at the property, I headed up to the Garrison Sally Port, which is a favoured place for that species. I found that there was a good amount of Red Valerian up there (a favoured plant of the species), but it was all in deep shade at that time of day. I needed to be there in the morning. Thus ended another good day on St Mary's.
|Mediterranean Gull (Ichthyaetus melanocephalus) - Porthcressa|
I think this post is probably too long already, so I will stop now, and save the rest until Pt.2 - and there may even be a Pt.3?
Until the next time, take good care.