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Thursday, 28 October 2021

Scilly Sojourn, September/October, 2021 - Pt.1

At the end of September we departed to the Isles of Scilly, having missed a stay there in March due to Covid Lockdown, for a much-anticipated family holiday on St Mary's, staying in a wonderful self-catering property next to Littleporth Beach, Hugh Town, a property that we have stayed in several times before and found to be perfect for our needs. Lindsay and I were accompanied by our daughter Melanie and granddaughter Georgina (Georgie). This is how the holiday unfolded.

Sunday, 26th September          Ashby de la Zouch, Leicestershire to Hayle, Cornwall

          warm with sunny periods to start - wet and windy by evening

Lindsay and I set off from home just before 11.00 on our long drive from the Midlands to the south-west. We had several comfort stops at service areas along the way and, at around the half-way mark we came across extremely heavy traffic on the road, but fortunately this was in the opposite direction. I would estimate that there were probably around twenty miles (30 km) of virtually stationary traffic coming away from the south-west, and we wondered if anybody would be left in Devon or Cornwall when we got there!
We arrived at Hayle Travelodge at 16.20. By now it had become quite cloudy and windy. After we'd settled in we went off to get a Chinese takeaway meal at the Eastern Empire - a restaurant that we'd enjoyed a meal in a few years ago but, due to Covid times, was now only offering takeaway meals. While Lindsay went to order, I watched the birds on Copperhouse Pool (part of the Hayle Estuary) from the restaurant car park, regretting that I'd not got the camera with me. Godwits, Curlew, and  Little Egret were in the river below.  All I could do was take some shots and video with my phone until it started chucking it down with heavy rain. The results were not good and this shot of a Little Egret was the best of a bad bunch.
Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) - Copperhouse Pool, Hayle
The Chinese meal was great - prawn toasts, followed by crispy squid and noodles for me and crispy chilli beef and noodles for Lindsay, and washed down with a bottle of Henry Weston's vintage cider.
Before our departure from home there'd been some concern about the fuel shortages that were starting to grip the country. We'd set off with a full tank of diesel which had been enough to get us to Cornwall, but not back again. We'd planned to top up on the way down, but queues were long at the filling stations. The filling station beside the travelodge had run out of diesel but told us that they were expecting a delivery of diesel fuel between 07.00 and 09.00 the following day.

Melanie and Georgie had had a late start and arrived at about 20.30. We spent a little time together before turning in for the night.

Monday, 27th September          Hayle - Land's End Airport - St Mary's, Isles of Scilly
          sunny periods and showers - very windy

In the morning, our daughter reported to us that she'd been to the next door filling station and was told that the tanker had been diverted and that there would not be a delivery that day. Furthermore, she was informed that there was not any diesel in the Hayle and Penzance area. This was a little worrying as we would need best part of a full tank to get to the airport that day and then home after our week on the Scillies.
Having seen the potential for birds on Copperhouse Pool the previous evening, I decided on a visit in the morning while the girls were sorting themselves out. I parked opposite the Eastern Empire and went to have another look from their car park, finding that the tide was now in and the situation was somewhat different to the previous evening. There was, however, a group of Redshank on a distant 'island'.
Redshank (Tringa totanus) with gull and feral pigeons - Copperhouse Pool, Hayle
I set off to walk round to the far side of Copperhouse Pool and, as I  reached the bridge, I  found that the filling station opposite had diesel. After a quick call to the girls so that Melanie could top up her car, I  hurried back to get my car and get the permitted £30 worth of diesel which, with luck, would allow us to get home at the ned of our stay and not have to fret about the situation during the intervening week.

After this, I had a stroll along the west side of Copperhouse Pool where I found a Curlew, close to the road. 
Curlew (Numenius arquata) - Copperhouse Pool, Hayle
Having taken some shots from a distance, I was approaching on the footpath on the other side of the road when a couple with a boisterous dog approached from the opposite direction and on the Curlew's side of the road. I thought that I'd missed my chance, but the Curlew didn't bat an eyelid as the dog passed by, so I took this as confirmation that I could get some closer shots and be confident of not disturbing it, and this proved to be the case.
Curlew (Numenius arquata) - Copperhouse Pool, Hayle
While I was photographing the Curlew, a couple of Rock Pipits flew in briefly. Here's one of them.

Rock Pipit (Anthus petrosus) - Copperhouse Pool, Hayle
At the northern end of the pool, there were large numbers of Canada Geese, a Grey Heron and a few gulls. These were all at a considerable distance.

Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) - Copperhouse Pool, Hayle
I'd arranged to be back with the girls at 11.30 and got back to find tha they'd had a change of plan, and we'd be checking out of our accommodation late. This left me time for a quick visit to Gwithian for a wander round the sand dunes. This was less productive than hoped for as the wind was blowing strongly, much to the delight of the wind surfers. I did manage some shots of Stonechat.
Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola) (female) - Gwithian dunes
Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola) (male) - Gwithian dunes
The only other bird photographed was what I believe to be a Herring Gull (I'm not good at gull ID!)
Herring Gull ? (Larus argentatus) - Gwithian dunes
From the dunes, there was a pleasant view to Godrevy Lighthouse.

view to Godrevy Lighthouse, from Gwithian dunes
If nothing else, at least the strong wind was benefitting the windsurfers!
Windsurfer - Gwithian
After this it was time to return to the girls, and set off to Land's End Airport. 

Our 15.50 flight in De Havilland Twin Otter G-CBML (built in 1980!) to St Mary's on the Isles of Scilly departed on time and was uneventful. 
De Havilland Twin Otter G-CBML - from the property garden, Littleporth
Having arrived at our base for the week. Melanie and I  went off to the Co-op to get our click-and-collect order which, sadly, was missing many of the key food provisions for the week, but had most of the peripherals. 

Lindsay and Georgie had spotted a couple of seals out in the bay while Melanie and I had been to collect the shopping, and I tried for a few shots on my return, together with some shots of an Oystercatcher below the property.
Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) - from the property garden, Littleporth
Grey Seal (Halichoerus grypus) - from the property garden, Littleporth
Having sorted things out at base, I went out for a walk along Porthcressa sea front (Littleporth is at the west end of the sea front) to see what might be around.
The Porthcressa Three are a trio of feral ducks, loosely of the Mallard persuasion! One is pure white, one is almost drake Mallard and the third is a bit nondescript. The Three have been around for a few years now, spending much of their time swimming out in Porthcressa Bay. At least one of the three is female, and there have been breeding attempts in previous years that have been blighted by predation by gulls. I was, therefore, delighted, and a little emotional, to see that the Porthcressa Three had five well-grown ducklings with them this year.
The Porthcressa Three - - plus five! - Porthcressa beach
I couldn't resist a shot of a charming collection of shells that someone had painstakingly laid out on the promenade above the beach. I share their sentiment!
message in shells - Porthcressa
Just before returning to base, I  took some shots of  a Stonechat. If you didn't know already, I have a bit of a thing about Stonechats!

Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola) (female) - Porthcressa
A shower, just before sunset, produced a rainbow which I photographed from the garden with my phone.
Rainbow - from the property garden, Littleporth
It was good to be back on the Isles of Scilly!
Tuesday, 28th September          Porthcressa

          less windy, but showers all day (some heavy) with a few sunny intervals
Because of the unfavourable weather forecast, I decided to stay close to base, although this did not stop me getting rather wet on three occasions. This meant that, in case Georgie woke up (she's nocturnal) and was worried at finding no one around, I got the job of staying on the property in the morning while Lindsay and Melanie went on a shopping adventure to try and find substitutes for the missing foodstuffs, so that we could have some proper meals. I'm pleased to report that they had success. Between showers, I spent time in the property garden taking a few photos.

Many people keep garden lists consisting of birds seen seen from their garden. However, my lists only include birds that put a foot down in the garden. My garden list for this property regularly includes Stonechat, and so it was on this day. I did warn you of my penchant for Stonechats!

Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola) (female) - property garden, Littleporth
I took some more shots of Grey Seal out in the bay.

Grey Seal (Halichoerus grypus) - from the property garden, Littleporth
Also, way out in the bay were a pair of terns, one of which was fishing and appeared to be feeding the other. I am relatively sure that these were Sandwich Terns, but please let me know if you think otherwise.
Sandwich Tern (Thalasseus sandvicensis) - from the property garden, Littleporth
Oystercatchers were also coming and going.
Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) - from the property garden, Littleporth
After Lindsay and Melanie returned, we had lunch and then I went for a walk along the Porthcressa seafront. There didn't seem to be much about, and I decided to take a few shots of gulls.

Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) - Porthcressa
I was photographing one gull which looked a bit different when a kind gentleman pointed out to me that it was a Mediterranean Gull.
Mediterranean Gull (Ichthyaetus melanocephalus) - Porthcressa
A Shag was fishing out on the water.
Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) - Porthcressa
Returning to base, I felt the need to take a shot of a large flower in the front garden. It seems that this was a Rhodostachys - a close relative of the Pineapple!
Rhodostachys (Fascicularia bicolor) - property garden, Littleporth
In the late afternoon another short spot of observation from the garden yielded little more than a Black-headed Gull on the beach below.
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) - from property garden, Littleporth
Thus ended a relatively flat day.
Wednesday, 29th September          Porthcressa - Peninnis - Porthcressa - Helvear - Porthhellick - Porthcressa

          sunny and warm - breezy to start but more calm later

This day was forecast to offer the best weather of the week. I had pre-booked the hire of a four- seater buggy for three days from Scilly Carts, so that Lindsay and Melanie, neither of whom are capable of walking long distances, could explore the island, taking Georgie with them - and perhaps me too! After breakfast I went to pick up the cart and came back to find that Georgie was adamant that she would not ride in the buggy and so, if Lindsay and Melanie were to go off together, I'd be back at base looking after Georgie - and this is how it was.

As neither Lindsay nor Melanie had driven one of these buggies before, they went off for a short trial run as an excuse for a shopping trip. Lindsay came back with gold, frankincense, and myrrh - I'm not kidding!

After their return, I had just enough time for a walk up to Peninnnis Head to look for birds. In this respect, I was singularly unsuccessful. Most of my photography was of butterflies.
Speckled Wood butterfly on the Scillies are of f. insula which is unique to these islands, having markings on the wings that are more orange than those of the main UK form, although this aspect is not so obvious as this specimen that was found a short way from the property garden as I set off for Peninnis.

Speckled Wood (Parage aegeria f.insula) - Littleporth
As I passed up Buzza Hill, and along King Edward's Road to Peninnis, I saw several more Speckled Wood, but was particularly pleased to find this Small Copper which was, I believe, my first of the year.
Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) - King Edward's Road
Near the top end of the road there were three small birds. I'm very much a novice birder and not very good at pipit ID but believe these to have been just Meadow Pipit. Eventually two of them came close enough for a photo.
Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) - King Edward's Road
Peninnis Head seemed to be almost totally devoid of birds, possibly because it was quite windy there. I found nothing to photograph other than scenery!
view to Pulpit Rock and Salakee Down from Peninnis Head
view towards St Agnes from Peninnis Head
I headed back to Porthcressa via the west coast path, mindful that, unusually, I'd not seen Stonechat on the head. I did, however, find a second Small Copper.
Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) - Peninnis west path
As I neared the allotments, I found a rather more orange Speckled Wood.
Speckled Wood (Parage aegeria f.insula) -Peninnis west path
Alongside the allotments, a large Ivy bush was alive with bees. I looked for Ivy Bee but didn't spot one in the short while I looked (I was already a bit late on my scheduled return time for lunch). I did photograph this bee which I believe is the common Western Honey Bee.
Western Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) - by allotments, Porthcressa
The afternoon had got warmer, and after lunch I was granted use of the buggy to go and look for birds. My first objective was to try and find the extremely rare Balearic Woodchat Shrike, that had been hanging around at Helvear, by Innisidgen, for a few days. I took the buggy and parked near the Wildlife Trust's offices in Trenoweth, walking through the woods to get to the area. With help, I achieved my objective, although the views were into the sun, and very distant. The first image, below, is an uncropped one, with the lens at 500mm (you may just spot the shrike atop the small tree). The second image is, therefore, a heavily cropped one at the same distance.

Balearic Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator badius) - Helvear
The bird stayed around that small tree for a while and then disappeared to an area that was further away. As the sun was getting lower, making photography even more difficult, I departed for Porthhellick as both Pectoral Sandpiper and Glossy Ibis had been reported from there during the day.
As I approached Sussex Hide at Porthhellick Pool, I found a Common Darter on the handrail.
Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (female) - Porthhellick Pool
I entered the hide and was told that I'd missed the ibis by about quarter of an hour. As there were several people in the hide, I left and moved on to Seaward Hide. Here I was almost immediately rewarded with sighting of a Pectoral Sandpiper. Initially it stayed much obscured by vegetation, but slowly it revealed itself more clearly and even decided to have a bath right in front of the hide! Only once before have I seen a Pectoral Sandpiper, maybe 15 years ago, and at a great distance and not photographed, so please excuse me if I go overboard with photos.

Pectoral Sandpiper  (Calidris melanotos) - Porthhellick Pool
It was then time to go back to base for dinner, so that Lindsay and Melanie could take the buggy out in the evening.

It had been a very enjoyable day and my last shot of the day was a Stonechat from the garden.
Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola) (female) - from property garden, Littleporth

This brings me to the end of Pt.1 of my account of this visit to the Isles of Scilly. Pt.2 and Pt.3 will follow at some time in the future.

In the meantime, take good care of yourselves and Nature - - - Richard


  1. Hello Richard,:=) I'm so pleased you found the diesel petrol! How disastrous it would have been if you could not have arrived in time to board your plane with a full tank. You made good use of your time, before you left however, and took some lovely shots of the Rock Pipit, Curlew, and both male and female Stonechats. All your Stonechat images are beautiful,...the close ups of the ones sitting on the stone are really spectacular. The Pectoral Sandpiper was a good find, and you took some fine shots. I love the landscapes, and other nature images of butterflies and dragonfly. This was a most enjoyable post of your family holiday in the Scilly Isles. Thank you so much for your commentary, and all these beautiful photos. All the best,and take care.

    1. I'm absolutely delighted that you enjoyed this post, Sonjia. I enjoyed writing it as it brought back so many happy memories. I hope that you also enjoy the next instalment which I have nearly finished working on, so should be published next week.

      Stay safe - best wishes - - - Richard

  2. It looks to me as if you had a very successful week. The Chinese takeaway had my mouth watering to begin with, 😋 something I miss in our part of France so I have to cook it myself (sigh).

    Wonderful set of photos and even at a distance it was good that you saw the Balearic Woodchat Shrike. I love the Seals, butterflies and other insects, but I particularly like the shots of the Pectoral Sandpiper.
    Fun to see the De Havilland Twin Otter Sky Bus as well.

    I hope that all is well. Weekend nearly here, but now we have all retired I am inclined to not notice that a weekend is upon us other than the shops are closed here on Sunday!

    Wishing you and the family all the very best, stay safe, Diane

    1. Hi Diane. In this area, we usually prefer home-prepared Chinese style food, rather than takeaways. One of our favourites is my version of a sweet & sour, which is laced with brandy and lifted by a generous amount of maraschino cherries. Sounds weird, but really works!

      More, and better, shots of the shrike and sandpipers in Pt.2

      We're doing OK here, thank you. Although long retired, we still notice the weekend, but for the opposite reason to when we were working. Then, it was the opportunity to take a break and go out - now it's a time for staying at home and avoiding the crowds.

      Best wishes to you and Nigel - stay safe - - - Richard

  3. Hello Richard
    Part 1 is very successful, the weather doesn’t always play along is not so bad, if you love nature, a wet suit is also part of it ;-))
    I'm looking forward to the next part
    Greetings Frank

    1. Hi Frank. We did manage to have a good time, in spite of the sometimes poor weather. I don't mind getting wet, but worry about getting the camera wet, so rather than carry a heavy camera bag, I keep a large black refuse sack in my pocket. The wind is more troublesome than the rain when looking for birds. Fortunately it was not cold. Pt.2 of my account is nearly finished.

      Best wishes - - - Richard

    2. yes you are right .. first secure the camera ... that's how I do it too .. ;-))

    3. I agree, Frank. At least twice, when I have fallen in rought terrain, I have done a roll as I fell so that I took the damage, and not the camera!

  4. Lovely to read the report about one of my favourite places. Sadly haven't been since October 2019. I would have gone this autumn but had my father's 90th birthday celebration to attend.

    I agree with your tentative Herring Gull & Meadow Pipit IDs. The Speckled Wood race on Scilly is very attractive & reminds me more of those in southern Europe than our mainland race.

    Some wonderful plants on Scilly & lovely to see the Fascicularia. I've seen this naturalised by Old Town Bay. I did grow some once but never got this wonderful colour. I usually bring back one or two plants- have several Aeoniums from Scilly.

    Thanks for lovely photos (gorgeous close-ups of Curlew & Stonechat) & to bring back my own memories. Hope to return next year.

    1. Hi 'Conehead54'. My congratulations and best wishes to your father on achieving his 90th - even if it did cost you the loss of a visit to the Scillies. Yes, the Scillies (together with the Outer Hebrides) feature in a short list of our favourite places on the planet. I hope that you manage to get there next year - if in the autumn, we may bump into each other, without even knowing it!

      When I first saw Specled Wood on the Scillies, I too thought of the ones in southern Europe. I find myself searching for the more orange ones when I visit the Scillies in the butterfly season.

      I have sometimes thought of trying to bring back plants from the Scillies, but have refrained from doing so in the expectation that they probably wouldn't survive in the more hostile climate of the north Midlands.

      Thank you for your visit and kind words. I'll keep my fingers crossed for your visit in 2022. Best wishes - - - Richard

  5. Hi Richard, beautiful photos of the beach life. I like the lighthouse and all the beach birds. Have a nice weekend !

    1. Thank you, Caroline. I know that you are fond of beaches and sea birds. I wish you a good weekend too! - - - Richard

  6. Hi Richard! There have been really wonderful photography items.

  7. Good morning Richard: Imagine if you had not been able to fill up! What a disaster that might have been. I wonder if people are starting to carry a tank of fuel with them as an emergency supply if they can't obtain it en route. Obviously this just exacerbates the situation for others though. I am happy that you were successful in your quest for the Pectoral Sandpiper. That's a bird that is reliable here spring and fall as it migrates to and from the Arctic, never in large numbers, but always present. Great series of pictures throughout, and I am glad that you were able to indulge yourself with your favourite Stonechats. To rent the buggy was a great idea! Best wishes to you and Lindsay.

    1. Much of the problem, David, was caused by the media publishing that there was a danger of a fuel crisis. The first action of many was to visit their nearest filling station and fill up their vehicle and any cans they could muster and fill them too. I've not heard anything about the issue recently, so suspect that all is now OK. We've not needed to fill the diesel car since returning as we are almost exclusively using our all-electric car.

      Pectoral Sandpiper is not particularly rare in UK, being classed as a scarce visitor, even on the Scillies. How fortunate you are to have these delightful birds as regular visitors.

      Best wishes - - - Richard

  8. Hi Richard
    What a wonderful collection of birds, Sandwich Tern and Pectoral Sandpiper. I would love to see to. And butterflies, brilliant.

    1. If I could, I would make it my duty to send Sandwich Tern and Pectoral Sandpiper your way, Bob. Sadly, I am not blessed with such powers - I will just have to cross my fingers for you instead!

      Thanks and best wishes - - - Richard

  9. Your consistently superb photographs combined with a scintillating Scilly summary has Gini and I longing to visit the coast!

    While perusing the images, I was reminded of a personal failing. (I know, I was surprised, too!) When I visit a coastal area, I become so engaged in seeking birds unique to that habitat that I often totally forget about other potential photographic subjects. Your wonderful collection of insects brought that home. I need to pay attention to more than just the birds!

    We're happy you and Lindsay had an overall fantastic Scilly Sojourn! We are even happier you are generous enough to share it with us!

    1. From the great diversity of subjects you include in your blog posts, Wally, I don't think I believe you when you say that you are too preoccupied with birds to notice other subjects. One of the main attractions of your blog for me is the variety of wildlife you beautifully portray in your posts - as well as the narrative, of course!

      We always have a wonderful time in the Scillies, no matter what the weather might throw at us, and hope that we will be able to return for many years to come.

      Best wishes to you and Gini - have a great week - - - Richard


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