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Wednesday, 3 November 2021

Scilly Sojourn, September/October, 2021 - Pt.2

Herewith the second part of my account of our family holiday in the Isles of Scilly. You can find Pt.1 here:-

Thursday, 30th September          Porthcressa - Helvear - Porthloo - Porthcressa

          frequent showers and windy virtually all day until evening, then still and dry

The forecast for the morning was wet and windy, with it starting to get drier after mid day. This left me in a bit of a quandary as to what to do for the day. At all times, there would have to be at least one of us in the property, as Georgie had yet to find the ability to step outside, and getting her to ride in the buggy appeared to be out of the question.

Melanie and Lindsay popped out to do a little shopping after breakfast, after which Melanie and I went off for a ride in the buggy so that I could show her parts of the island that she had not yet seen. We got out for a short walk to visit Giant's Tomb, a large ancient burial chamber, on Porthhellick Down. To give some idea of size of the burial chamber, Melanie's head is just about visible above the rear of the edifice.

Giant's Tomb (Porth Hellick Burial Chamber) - Porthhellick Down
On our return, Lindsay and Melanie took the buggy out again, while I stayed in to look after Georgie, who was still asleep in bed (as mentioned in my previous post, she is nocturnal), and had my lunch. This left me free to take the buggy out when the girls returned. I went back to the north of the island, getting soaked in the process, and parked at Trenoweth to walk to Helvear to have another go at getting some shots of the Balearic Woodchat Shrike ( which was now being referred as the 'Balchat'). 

I'd been in the area for about quarter of an hour and not found it when I met another birder who kindly took me further up the hill to a place where it could be seen from. I subsequently found a slight better place to view it from but it was still at quite a distance. This shot was taken when the rain eased off a bit.

Balearic Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator badius) - Helvear
I stayed there for an hour and a half, in the hope that it would come a little nearer, but was now wet through and rather cold, so I gave up and set off back towards base, stopping for a while at Porthloo where there was a group of Sanderling and another of Oystercatcher. I found that, if I stood still, the Sanderling would come very close and not be at all nervous about my presence - unlike the Oystercatchers, which gave me a wide berth!

Sanderling (Calidris alba) - Porthloo
Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) - Porthloo
Having arrived back at base to dry out, the girls decided to walk to the beach and, to our delight, Georgie decided that she wanted to go too. Then something really wonderful happened - Melanie and Georgie were outside before Lindsay, and Melanie managed to persuade Georgie to try a short ride in the buggy with her. The result was that, when they came back, all three of them went off in the buggy to what they refer to as Treasure Beach and had a wonderful time collecting sea glass.

That evening the wind dropped and the weather brightened, and after taking a few photos from the garden I  went for a short walk up through the Sally Port onto The Garrison and round to the harbour, where a Shag was on one of the floating pontoons.
Rock Pipit (Anthus petrosus) - from property garden, Littleporth
Grey Seal (Halichoerus grypus) - from property garden, Littleporth
Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) - Hugh Town Harbour
Thus ended a rather wet, but enjoyable day, with the birding highlight being getting a better shot in the bag of the shrike .
Friday, 1st October          Porthcressa - Helvear - Porthhellick - Lower Moors - Hugh Town beach - Porthcressa
          sunny for most of the day, apart from a rainy spell early afternoon
We got off to a bad start as the internet on the islands went down at 01h00, and was forecast not to be reinstated until Monday 4th - the day we were scheduled to depart. This would probably be a major disaster for Georgie.

This turned out to be a better weather day, and the most rewarding in terms of bird sightings. However, it started a little grey. 

Early in the day, there were two seals  way out in the bay, keeping each other company.
Grey Seal (Halichoerus grypus) - from property garden, Littleporth
I had to go to Becky's Cake Shop to pick up a cake that we had ordered for a planned early celebration of Melanie's birthday. I came back to find that Lindsay was not well and in touch with the doctor at home to arrange the necessary medication, which I then had to go and pick up from the hospital.

My next job was to rush Georgie and Melanie to the quayside so that they could get an out and back boat trip to the 'off island' of Tresco - yet more progress!

Lindsay encouraged me to go out on my own, taking the buggy, so I set off back to Helvear to see if I could get better shots of the Balearic Woodchat Shrike. I arrived to find a couple trying to find it, and am pleased to say that I was able to point it out to them immediately! Having seen it at a distance, they soon departed, and the bird then came much nearer than it had on my previous two visits, allowing better photography. I'll never see this species again, so here I go with a group of photos!

Balearic Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator badius) - Helvear
Having had my fill, I set off for Porthellick to try for the Glossy Ibis. On the path to the pool I came across a 'woolly bear' caterpillar crossing the path. I believe this was the larva of the Ruby Tiger moth.
Ruby Tiger (Phragmatobia fuliginosa) (larva) - Higher Moors
I entered Sussex Hide, which was empty, and immediately spotted the ibis on the other side of the Pool. It became more exciting when two Pectoral Sandpipers joined it. In the next shot, the head of the second sandpiper is just visible below the tail of the obvious one.

Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) + Pectoral Sandpiper (Calidris melanotos) - Porthhellick Pool
The ibis then approached a Common Snipe.
Glossy Ibis + 2 x Pectoral Sandpiper + Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) - Porthhellick Pool
Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) - Porthhellick Pool
As I left Porthhellick I photographed a few butterflies.
Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria insula) - Porthhellick
Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) - Porthhellick
Peacock (Aglais io) - Porthhellick
I returned to base to make myself a late lunch, and Melanie and Georgie went off for an exploration of the island in the buggy and to book the buggy for a further two days. It was wonderful to see the rapid increase in Georgie's confidence.

Lindsay wanted to be left to rest in the property, so I headed off on foot for the Lower Moors nature reserve. My intention was to then return via Peninnis. I got caught in a shower of rain just before arriving at Lower Moors and arrived at ISBG Hide to find one person just leaving and two other people who were on the verge of leaving. A Water Rail was in view on the far side of the pool. Photographic opportunities were limited, however as, when the clouds that had shed their load on me departed, I realised that I was looking west into low sun over the water. The first shot, below, was taken when it was still cloudy.

Water Rail (Rallus aquaticus) - Lower Moors
A Greenshank flew in and landed on the north side of the pool, where the light was not too bad.
Greenshank (Tringa nebularia) - Lower Moors
The Greenshank then made a short flight to the area that the Water Rail was in, frightening it off into the vegetation. The Greenshank was now nearer but against the light.
Greenshank (Tringa nebularia) - Lower Moors
I'm pleased to note that the rail soon plucked up courage and started following the Greenshank wherever it went. A Grey Heron arrived on the scene too.
Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) - Lower Moors
I suspect that I am not the only person who thinks that Grey Heron, and possibly herons in general, can look ungainly and a little amusing from certain angles:-
Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) - Lower Moors
My favourite shot of all from this session is this one:-
Wanna genuine Swiss watch, guv?  - only ten quid!
The Greenshank decided that it wanted to have a snooze and I popped outside to the blind beside the hide to take this shot.
Greenshank (Tringa nebularia) - Lower Moors
My intention to return via Peninnis was abandoned when a report came in via the WhatsApp group that there was a Portuguese Man O'War, with a By The Wind Sailor on Town Beach. I set off as fast as my tired legs would carry me and, thanks to the excellent location information, soon found the Portuguese Man Of War, but couldn't spot the By The Wind  Sailor - but then I didn't really know what I  was looking for. I had a rough idea of the appearance, but little clue as to the size other than it was said to be dwarfed by the PMOW!
Portuguese Man O'War (Physalia physalis) - Town Beach, Hugh Town
That evening, Melanie and I went out to buy fish and chips for us all.

Thus ended a heartening and quite productive day.
This also brings me to the end of Pt.2 of my account. All things being equal, Pt.3 will follow in about a week's time. In the meantime, stay safe and take good care of yourself and nature


  1. Absolutely incredibly amazing findings.

    1. Thank you, Anne. The findings were not all mine, but the photos were!

  2. When you are able to travel to a unique location, such as the Isles of Scilly, the weather becomes a secondary concern. One may not have another chance at a visit, so, make the most of this one! Just as you have done.

    Rain, wind, snow - if I saw a Balearic Shrike the trip would be a smashing success! What a beautiful bird!

    The Water Rail would have been icing on my cake.

    You included a smorgasbord of delectable subjects! Shorebirds, a seal, gorgeous butterflies and even a superb jellyfish specimen. The Man O'War is among my least favorite ocean inhabitants.

    Thank you for sharing your very special vacation with us, Richard! Please give our best to Lindsay and the rest of the family.

    We were both doing very well until we finished your post. Now we must go outside and empty the sand from our shoes.


    1. The Isles of Scilly are truly unique, Wally. I know of no other place that has so much to offer in terms of scenery, wildlife, and useful amenities, most of which are within walking distance, plus a pleasant resident population and a level of personal security that is second to none. The only slight drawback is the vulnerability of the access arrangements - flights and sailings can be cancelled due to weather conditions.

      That Man O'War is, technically, not a jellyfish. I offer this extract from an article by the US National Ocean Service:-

      "The Portuguese man o’ war, (Physalia physalis) is often called a jellyfish, but is actually a species of siphonophore, a group of animals that are closely related to jellyfish. A siphonophore is unusual in that it is comprised of a colony of specialized, genetically identical individuals called zooids — clones — with various forms and functions, all working together as one. Each of the four specialized parts of a man o’ war is responsible for a specific task, such as floating, capturing prey, feeding, and reproduction" - mind-boggling stuff!

      Having started to relax after previous concerns about receiving claims for your coffee consumption, I'm now starting to wonder if I have to worry about sand damage and contamination!

      Pt.3 of my account is now 'in the can' and should be appearing next week

      Best wishes to you both - - - Richard

    2. Forgot to say, your kind wishes were passed on to Lindsay, and I have been asked to pass her best wishes back to you both.

    3. Shakespeare said it best: "A Portuguese Man O'War by any other name would sting as sweet." Had the scars to prove it for a long time!

    4. Ouch! Sounds extremely painful. I understand that they can sting for quite some time after death (theirs!).

  3. Thanks again for some wonderful photos. You did indeed get some excellent shots of the shrike. Look forward to the next instalment.

    1. As always, your kind words of encouragement are much appreciated - thank you. The next instalment is currently scheduled to be published next Tuesday.

  4. Nice post Richard. Well up to your usual standard. Take care,

    1. Thank you Mike. I'll try not to disappoint you with the third and final part!

      Stay safe - - - Richard

  5. Hello Richard,:=) Wonderful post, starting with the 4000 year old historical site. This incredible ancient Burial Chamber is so interesting. The heart shaped Bronze age pumice stone pendant would be upside down if worn round the neck I wonder if it had another use,...guess we will never know, but how amazing these finds are.
    The Balearic Woodland Strike is such a beauty. your closer images show just how beautiful it is, and the fan tailed image is lovely. The Glossy Ibis is really showing off the green sheen of his feathers in the nicely timed shot in second image.
    The Water Rail's patterned feathers are most unusual, and I enjoyed seeing the beautiful butterflies, the caterpillar, and Portuguese Man of War, all beautiful captures.

    Your favourite image of the Grey Heron, is mine too, and your humorous comment made me laugh.:=)) What a spectacular image. I have never seen anything like it before, and probably never will again. Thank you for such an entertaining post, with superb photos and commentary
    Take care Richard.

    1. Well-spotted with that pumice 'pendant', Sonjia! I guess it's possible that being pumice, with its abrasive properties, it could have been used as a tool for cleaning or rubbing down, rather than for decoration. As you say, we will never know.

      I was lucky with that fan-tailed shot of the shrike and with the wing-stretch shot of the ibis. I do like it when I get action shots rather than ones where the bird is just sitting there.

      Again, the Grey Heron shot that is my favourite is another case of the bird doing something a bit different, and it was an absolute bonus that that frame was an amusing one too. I didn't realise that aspect of what I'd captured until I reviewed the shots afterwards.

      Thank you so much for your visit and kind comments. Stay safe - - - Richard

  6. Hello Richard: After reading this account, and looking back to our experiences during our recent trip to Atlantic Canada, I am led to believe that Sanderlings have a friendship gene! They seem to have been as approachable for you as they were for us. I have seen Woodchat Shrike in several locations, with my best views ever being in Ethiopia. It is a stunning bird. It's great that Georgie finally overcame her fear of the buggy. I am sure that decision made everything much easier for everyone. I hope that Lindsay is restored to full health. No doubt you are already planning your next visit to this enchanted spot. Best wishes from Miriam and me. David

    1. Greetings, David! Yes, Sanderlings do tend to be extremely confiding, especially if you can get ahead of the direction that they are moving in and stay still (definitely no sudden movements) and wait for them to come to you. Snow Buntings also come to mind as being similarly confiding, and both species are an absolute delight to observe.

      There's no denying that a Woodchat Shrike is a handsome bird. This one, of the Mediterranean Islands race (badius) will have been a little different to the one you saw in Ethiopia.

      Lindsay's fine now, thank you, and we're very much looking forward to all four of us returning in March. It will probably be a less exciting mix of birds at that time, but nonetheless very enjoyable.

      Best wishes to you both - - - Richard

  7. Hi Richard
    You have caught the Balearic Woodchat Shrike and Glossy Ibis, fantastic. They are my favourite, I've never seen one. Beautiful Butterflies and Grey Seal, fabulous.

    1. Hi Bob

      I have been lucky enough to have had a couple of previous sightings of Glossy Ibis - one less than 5 minutes from my home. I expect that will be my first and last UK sighting of Woodchat Shrike of any race.

      Thank you for your kind words - stay safe - - - Richard

  8. Hello Richard
    the butterflies in the sun look very nice, my absolute top picture is the ibis, really a beautiful bird and great photos.
    Greetings Frank

    1. I shall miss the butterflies over the coming months, Frank. I was pleased to get the shots of the ibis - I wonder if I will ever see one again?

      Best wishes - - - Richard

  9. Espectacular reportaje con Dolmen incluido, me han gustado mucho todas las fotos. Richard me has hecho pasar un buen rato en esta lluviosa mañana de domingo disfrutando con tu reportaje. Un fuerte abrazo desde el norte de España.

    1. Gracias Germán. ¡Estoy feliz si te he alegrado el día! Aquí en Inglaterra hace sol en este momento, pero hace frío y viento.
      Mis mejores deseos - - - Richard.

  10. Sorry just catching up here as well. Fabulous photos. One day I will get back to normal I hope.
    Cheers Diane

    1. Thank you, Diane. I have every sympathy with your situation and hope that winter will enable you to catch up with everything - that's what I'm hanging my hat on! Best wishes - - - Richard


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