Tuesday, September 28, 2004


A bleedin' Cream-coloured Cracker on Scilly. Why couldn't it have turned up last week when I was there! Excuse me while I curl up in a corner and quietly sob.


Its nice to be back after two weeks away. I really do miss my garden and today is a great example why.

Hummingbird Hawkmoth (seen twice), loads of Migrant Hawkers, Common Darters, Small Tortoiseshells, Red Admiral, Peacock and loads of birds including 28+ Treeps and a seemingly now resident male Sudan Golden Sparrow!

Sudan Golden Sparrow He's now been here a month and seems to like Dudley's Diner! Is he a new resident?

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Day 8 | Week 2 | A Speyside Wildlife holiday.

After breakfast we have an hour to finishing packing and then get the bus up country to Mount Todden to look for two Lapland Buntings seen there yesterday. Although no sign, the farm fields are far from empty with quite a few Meadow Pipits kicking around and the nearby pines are alive with the calls of Goldcrests. Is it all happening too late?

St Mary’s Harbour

We take the coastal path southwards searching for the buntings. As we round a headland I shout ‘Monarch butterfly’ and point to a large, flappy, orange, black and white insect tearing past. Unfortunately no one else got on to it. Damn!

We follow the path over Porth Hellick Down (still no sign of buntings) where a Skylark flies over calling (trip tick and quite scarce on Scilly), and on to Porth Hellick pool. In front of the hide two moulting juvenile Dunlin are probing at the soft mud and a Green Sandpiper bobs around to our right. A Greenshank is asleep on the other side of the pool. The Dunlin fly across to the far side and are joined by a third, smaller wader. It’s a Little Stint and our second trip tick of the day!

We head on across Giant’s Castle and over the edge of the runway. Two Snow Buntings were reported from here earlier, but we and other birds can’t find them now. Dipped again! We find a sheltered spot for lunch overlooking the sea with a Grey Seal bobbing away beneath us.

We pass through the hides at Lower Moors. The pool smells disgusting so we don’t linger and with rain in the air make our way up Porthloo to say our goodbye to Juliet’s Garden – our fave place on the whole islands! Several cups of tea and stick cakes later, we make our way back in to town, collect our things from the guesthouse and head for the quay for our 4.30pm sailing back to Penzance.

The sea very calm, with hardly any wave action and little swell. The sun is shining over Scilly as we depart via Crow Sound between St Mary’s and St Martin’s. We get our second Lesser Black-backed Gull sighting of the week when a bird flaps over the back of the boat near Bar Point. At the Eastern Isles Steve points to what at first he thinks is the Buzzard sat up on the rocks. Wrong shape. It must be a juvvy Peregrine then. But its far too large isn’t it? And its too brown for a Peg. Its simply too distant to get any real detail on it, but I wonder whether it’s the escaped Lanner which has been seen recently on the islands (and this is confirmed on his return home when I email from one of the Scilly birders).

We continue towards the mainland, the wind coming from directly behind us so it feels like there isn’t any wind at all. We soon start to add a few new species to the trip list. Marilyn spies our first Fulmar sat on the water and I pick up a handful of Common Terns. Kittiwake is next up followed by two single Guillemots and a duo of Razorbills. Wow! We’ve added five species on the return sailing!

We had already done our roundup checklist the previous evening, with St Agnes taking island (place) of the trip, the Scillonian sea shanties on our way back from St Agnes as the magic moment, and the Buff-breasted Sandpipers as the bird(s) of the trip.

We dock at Penzance and meet Speyside friends Mary and Brian Chilcott who were on Shetland and Orkney with the four of us lat year and with whom Marilyn is staying overnight. We say our goodbyes with warm hugs and promises of seeing each other on future trips.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Day 7 | Week 2 | A Speyside Wildlife holiday.

We wake to brilliant sunshine and barely a cloud in the sky. The wind has turned to the north and has a nip to it. Hopefully that sun will keep us warm. After breakfast we take a brief stroll along the sunny side of Porthcressa and the Sallyport end of the Garrison before heading for the quay and on to the Sapphire for our transfer to Bryher.

Shags on a rock off Samson

We land at Aneka’s Quay and let the crowds disperse before heading out to Fraggle Rock and in to the fields overlooking the campsite. A few Stonechats flit around a horse paddock which holds a couple of Pheasant. Our spirits are lifted when we find a Willow Warbler flycatching from a group of trees. Along the campsite fields we rustle up a couple of Meadow Pipits and a couple of Chiffchaffs feeding in a bracken covered field. This is all good stuff and sure sign of at least a bit of movement.

We wander through the maze of fields down towards the Hell Bay Hotel. The constant calling of Goldcrests gives a further clue that birds have arrived. The place is crawling with them. We come a cross a brilliantly sheltered corner of tamarisk growing through the pittasporum, some small elms and an apple tree – all soaking up the late morning sun. ‘There’s gotta be some birds in here’ I mutter. Calling Goldcrests at last turn in to little birds flitting about the elms and apple tree. ‘That can’t be it’ I blurt. ‘There must be at least a flycatcher in here’. Bingo! As if by magic a Spotted Flycatcher sallies over the trees and perches in full view of us! It entertains us for a few minutes before moving around the corner so we follow – Steve with camera already readied.

Some decent Spot Fly action at last

With hunger hitting, and with so many people on the islands, we decide to hit the Hell Bay Hotel early where Marilyn, Dave and Andrea treat me to a sumptuous crab baguette. Yummy!

The delightful Hell Bay Hotel, Bryher
What a setting!

Anyone for chess?

We wander over to Gweal Hill to look across to Hell Bay before meandering through the fields across to the Church Quay for the 2.30pm transfer to Tresco.

It’s lovely and warm in the afternoon sun and jackets are removed and stuffed in to rucksacks. We walk along Pool Road down to Rosefield. Nothing more than a Painted Lady butterfly which is at least new for the week. With little to look at, we begin to get a little silly in the afternoon sun, and are soon trying to come up with the unusual names for birds. Denzil the Dunnock seems the firm favourite! Will it stick?

At the bottom of the Great Pool we eventually find the long-staying Little Ringed Plover (but new for the trip), but there is little else other than Redshank, Teal and a Grey Heron. Abbey Pool is little better providing only a couple of Dunlin. We walk down the Abbey side of the Great Pool and scan the northern end. Pintail. Pochard. Black-tailed Godwit. Tufted Duck! Another trip tick. A double check that there is nothing else lurking and we head for the quay to get the Sea King back to St Mary’s. Eight Little Egrets on rocks off Tresco and a couple of Sandwich Terns feeding off St Mary’s are the only distraction from the flat calm crossing.

Painted Lady

We arrive back at the guesthouse to allow plenty of time for freshening up before dinner, then checklist and packing! Last day tomorrow ahead of afternoon sailing back to Penzance.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Day 6 | Week 2 | A Speyside Wildlife holiday.

After breakfast we head out up the Garrison under leaden skies and a pretty fresh westerly wind. We are all feeling a little jaded this morning, so a gentle stroll around the Garrison wall free of rucksacks and scopes is just what we need. We spend an hour or so resuming our search for the Melodious Warbler seen by others yesterday afternoon. Although completely sheltered the dense cover is devoid of any migrants. Plenty of Robins, Wrens, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and Dunnocks – but not a single migrant passerine. It’s even started to rain. Great!

We arrive at Morning Point at the and of the Garrison and reacquaint ourselves with the first-winter Mediterranean Gull which Dave and Andrea confidently pick out among the other gulls. ‘One plumage down – just another three or four to learn!’ I quip. ‘That’s gulls for ya’ retorts Marilyn. We check the sheltered bushes around the point but nothing. Birds seem to be leaving faster than others are arriving the last few days and finding migrants is getting to be somewhat of a major skill. The walk back along the wall is equally fruitless until we at least chance upon a couple of Goldcrests.

We arrive back in town feeling as gloomy as the sky above us. ‘Coffees all round is it?’ I say, and with that we head for the bakery (providers of our fine packed (lunches) for a cup of the best coffee on the islands. That soon warms the cockles and the spirits.

We catch the bus up country and arrive on High Lane where we resume our quest for migrants. Five Woodpigeons and handful of Linnets have us beginning to think it might just be us after all! We head down through Watermill towards the cove. A little sheltered copse is alive with birds. Robin. Blackbird. Song Thrush. Another Robin. Great Tit. Where’s the migrants! ‘Spotted Flycatcher!’ I shout. ‘Brilliant!’ responds Marilyn. What a relief! We get brief views as it undertakes its flycatching sorties from the line of beech trees. ‘Pied Flycatcher!’ I yell. Wow! No migrant passerines all day and now both flycatchers together. Fantastic! We all get views of the Pied before its back to the Spotted which now begins to perform for us. The Pied is much less showy with only a couple more glimpses over the next 15 or so minutes. Hunger and midgies get the better of us so we head down to the sheltered cover where we collapse with smiley faces and tuck in to our lunches. I make a new friend in the form of Walter the Wiggly Worm which we are sure has us down as nutters to a passing couple on push bikes.


After lunch we head round to Innisidgen Burial Chamber. The usual coastal birds are ever present – Shag, gulls, Oystercatchers and a fly by Curlew. We wander through Trenowerth carefully checking all the sheltered areas. One field in particular is full of Chaffinches and Linnets – but much else. A fly-over Golden Plover is little compensation. The walk along Pungies Lane secures one of our resident quarries – Stock Dove!

We arrive on the Golf Course to the sight of four birders looking just in front of them. We wander over and sure enough, two Buff-breasted Sands! One looks like the St Agnes bird, the newcomer looking much more boldly marked on the face and upperparts. We collapse in the rough by one of the fairways and are treated to a supreme display of synchronised Buff-breasts searching for food. They completely circle us, passing to within 20 or so feet! Fantastic stuff!

More Buffy action

This is what makes birding so special – you never know what you’re going to see and experience next. Seeing the one Buffy close to on St Agnes was wonderful, but although still pretty blowy, nestled in the heather rough watching these two down to 20ft is equallt marvellous! ‘Any day with two Buffies in it has to be pretty special’ says Steve. With that, and aware that we are in the middle of a golf course where hard balls can occasionally come flying your way, we head down to Juliet’s Garden for a much deserved splash of tea (and the purchase of armfuls of bulbs from the farm shop). Looking through the café window down on to Porthloo I spot something. I set up the scope whilst drinking my tea. ‘Adult Med Gull’ I pronounce. With that, not only Marilyn, Andrea and Dave line up to look at it, but the couple at the next two tables do as well! A handful of Sandwich Terns sat on rocks around it are merely a bonus.

Adult Med Gull from Juliet’s Garden

The walk back to town is broken up with a visit to Jo Probert’s gallery at Rocky Hills where I, as a long-time admirer of Jo’s pictures in Juliet’s Garden, can’t resist one of her abstract pastels of Par Beach and the Daymark on St Martin’s.

After an hour or so of rest and freshening up we head back to Juliet’s Garden for our scumptous evening dinner (alas our last of the week here). The walk back is equally entertaining as Sunday’s with Marilyn this time showing off her skills at communicating with the ducks on Prorthloo Duck Pond.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Day 5 | Week 2 | A Speyside Wildlife holiday.

After breakfast we head over to St Martin’s under a sunny blue sky and fresh wind. Sea King gets us there without getting us wet and landing at Higher Town quay we make our way up to the town and down the track under Middle Town.

Arriving at St Martin’s

A Wryneck was reported here yesterday, but our slow walk with frequent stops nets us only a couple of Chiffchaffs, lots of Goldfinches and House Sparrows, and the usual butterfly cast.

On the track from Middle Town to Lower Town, Dave spots a large bird over the hillside above. It’s the Common Buzzard that has been around for the last week or so. It hops around from fence, to ground, to hedge, closely followed by two crows. As we near Lower Town we get great views as it gets a bit more flighty.

We lunch on Tinkler’s Hill overlooking Round Island and its prominent lighthouse. During lunch Marilyn and I scope the sea to our north-west. Gannets – loads of them, but nothing else. Heading up to The Plains two Ravens do a fly-by – appearing all regal as if they rule the place (and they do!). We head on down to Great Bay where a Dotterel was seen yesterday. No Dotty, but one end holds around 40 Sanderling, Turnstones, Ringed Plovers and Rock Pipits feeding around a large batch of beached seaweed. A Grey Seals bobs around in the bay.

Great Bay

Ringed Plover

Grey Seal

We take the coastal path towards Daymark. The whole area is covered in yuckas and this stretch of the coast looks and feels very much a Southern Hemisphere landscape – New Zealand-like (according to me –having of course never been!). We see our third Grey Seal of the day looking out towards the Eastern Isles.

Yucka landscape on St Martin’s

At English Point we come across another corner of waders, with around 100+ Sanderling. But the wind is hitting us straight in the face so we retreat to look in the sheltered fields of Little Arthur Farm. Predictably empty, we seek refuge at the farm café and after a couple of cups of tea apiece (and some buttered Barn Brack for me) we make our way to the quay for an early return to St Mary’s.


The boat journey back on Britannia is memorable. The sea is a little lumpy and the wind has steadily increased during the day and is now nicely up. White horses are all around us and it isn’t too long before the first splash showers many of the occupants with spray. Bounce after bounce is leaving a few people looking a bit bedraggled, and a young couple without waterproofs who are on a day trip on the Scillonian, are getting an absolute drenching. Brrrrrrr! My experience of choppy crossings pays off for us and we reach St Mary’s nice and dry with only a few splashes to account for. ‘If anyone’s dry we’ve got a bucket for the here’ quips Dave the Skipper.

Back on dry land we dump our gear at the guesthouse and head for the Garrison to look for the Melodious Warbler which has been seen again. No joy. We do manage good views of a first-winter Mediterranean Gull off Morning Point and returning to the guesthouse I pick up a wader flying over town beach. ‘Buffy!’ I yell. The others get a glimpse as the Buff-breasted Sand hurtles up towards the golf course.

After dinner and the checklist, all plans of evening entertainment in the town is abandoned in favour of an early night all round!

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Day 4 | Week 2 | A Speyside Wildlife holiday.

An earlier start with a pre-breakfast walk up to Garrison Lane for an unsuccessful search for the Wryneck. After breakfast we collect our lunches and head in to town for various retail needs before getting the boat across to Tresco.

A wet trip to Tresco

The crossing is a little bouncy but with only a wee bit of stray water. Before leaving New Grimsby we pay a visit to the gallery by the quay where I manage to keep my credit card in my pocket despite two gorgeous metal sculptures of bream (£588!) and mackerel (a snip at £298).

Back in the field our first interest is a flock of sparrows and a Starling bathing in a puddle. Unfortunately this is short-lived when two walkers disturb the group.

Sparrows bathing

We skirt around Dolphin Town along the grassy lane by the dairy herd – bull and all. A couple of Swallows rest on the barbed wire fence in the sun. At the hotel we take the path up to Merchant’s Point with fabulous views north-west over Gimble Porth, north over to Round Island with its lighthouse, westwards to St Martin’s and southwards over to St Mary’s. We head through Old Grimsby and manage, at last, to find some bird interest in the form of Jackdaw on the fence line of a field with a roosting flock of gulls from which Marilyn detects a single adult Lesser Black-backed Gull.

The view from Merchant’s Point, Tresco

We lunch overlooking Borough Farm before taking Racket Town Lane (adding Red-legged Partridge, Chiffchaff and Migrant Hawker dragonfly) to the Great Pool. The light is awful from the Pool Road side, so we head for the estate office end where scanning through the wildfowl I pick out two Wigeon and a single Pintail. A flock of waders fly down the pool towards us. Two different sizes – ‘Redshank and Curlew Sandpipers’ I declare. They land on the muddy edge in front of the hide, so we relocate quickly. On opening the hide flaps the seven Curlew Sands are feeding with the Redshank, their elegant long necks and bills and their deliberate slow probing action. On large muddy fringe to our left, I locate a Dunlin and wading around in the deep water, a Black-tailed Godwit. Teal, Canada Goose and Mute Swan are all added to the week’s list.

Walking down Pool Road we are stopped by one of the estate vehicles and presented with an exhausted Willow Warbler. We admire this tiny little migrant which is trying to find its way to Africa. Alas, think it’s too ill to make it, but give it a chance by releasing back in to a sheltered spot. Fingers crossed. At the second hide we get more of the Curlew Sands and I spot a wader flying on to the mud on the opposite side. ‘Pectoral Sandpiper’ I announce and sets his scope on it for the others to enjoy. We get good views, and the distinct dark breast, ending in a point in the middle is very easy to see. A pair of Gadwall perform for us right in front of the hide. As we leave, a couple of Water Rails sharm us along the boardwalk. Great stuff!

Ambling along Pool Road I spot a birder digiscoping something ahead of us. ‘I wonder what he’s got?’ I ask. At that the birder beckons us to him. I run to him. ‘I think I’ve got a Common Rosefinch’ says the birder. I get on to a plain looking bird in the weedy field just as it fliesup to the pittasporum hedge. It lands. ‘Definitely is’ I say, looking at a classic ‘Grotfinch’ side on, its little beady eye and prominent wingbars plain to see. As the other reach us the Rosefinch and Linnets fly back down in to the weedy field. We search through the flock for the Rosefinch when they all take flight and head off in two directions. Damn! We spend the next hour searching the area but can’t find any Linnet flocks.

We reluctantly move on to Rosefield where we console ourselves with a cracking adult male Wheatear and a Grey Wagtail. We arrive at the tea-room three minutes too late to be served (nothing like being flexible and providing a service is there!), so after using the loos we spend our last 15 minutes up fruitlessly searching for a Redstart before heading off the Carn Near for the boat. On the quay a Little Egret flies over and get good views of a Grey Seal bobbing around just offshore.

Adult male Wheatear

Boats heading back to St Mary’s

Arriving back at St Mary’s the infant son of the skipper serenades us over the PA system as we climb the quay steps. Sorry, not a patch on the other say’s sea shanties coming back from Agnes! We take in Garrison Lake on the way to the guesthouse to look for the Wryneck, but fail again! And we fail again after our delicious dinner. Will we try again tomorrow?

Monday, September 20, 2004

Day 3 | Week 2 | A Speyside Wildlife holiday.

We wake to grey skies and rain, but by the time we’ve breakfasted and collected our lunches, its beginning to brighten up so we opt for a day on St Mary’s. The Rosehill end of the Lower Moors Nature Trail is quiet bar a few hirundines zipping around, in which we manage to pick out a lone Sand Martin. Entering the Old Town side of the trail we come across a couple of Goldcrests, Blue Tit and Robin feeding under the tangle of willows. We walk on through past the twisted and lichen encrusted trunks to Shooter’s Pool on which we find a Green Sandpiper and a Snipe. At the hides we find only a single Greenshank so we don’t linger and head out to Old Town. We pop into the galleries and studios along the road to Parting Carn, but birds are few and far between in the bulb fields.

As we reach Carn Friars Farm we hear the Greenshank from the nearby Porth Hellick Pool start alarming. Looking up we see a adult male Peregrine skimming overhead. We cut through Carn Friars Farm where we find swarms of Linnets and House Sparrows feeding in the weedy fields and strips of the bulb rows. A couple of Stonechats bob around the cabbage field.

We arrive at Porth Hellick where we enjoy lunch watching the receding tide. A single Little Egret flaps lazily around in search of a feeding area while at least five Greenshanks chase each other around noisily. Oystercatchers, Ringed Plovers and Turnstones pick around the sandy areas and over the seaweed.

An aboriginal inspired mural at Porth Hellick

After a spot of shell collecting we head up Higher Moors Nature Trail to view Porth Hellick Pool from the two hides. From the first we get brilliantly close views of a Green Sandpiper when one lands right in front of the hide only feet away from us. We can see the pale green legs and bill base which presumably gives the species its name (not obvious really!). A Water Rail ‘sharms’ from just left of the hide when a pipit drops in right in front of us and begins feeding along the reed fringe. ‘Tree Pipit!’ I exclaim. I run through the main ID features – thick breast streaks forming distinct stripes, yellow wash to the unders and the ‘soft’ wagtail motion of the tail. We get fantastic views as it creeps smoothly underneath the front of the hide before suddenly taking flight giving its distinctive buzzy ‘speez’ call three times. Wonderful stuff!

Jubilant at the unexpected finding and super views of the Tree Pipit, we head up to the next hide where we see a male Sparrowhawk drift past over the far side of the pool.

On the Holy Vale side of the trail we find a lone Chiffchaff ‘wheeeting’ from the willows by the path. We eventually get brief views if this dingy specimen.

Holy Vale

In Holy Vale we see only a few tits and Goldcrests, and Rat Pond and Content is devoid of anything vaguely interesting (sorry Collared Dove!) but we do find a dead Scilly Shrew near Telegraph Road. We reach the golf course where the St Agnes Buff-breasted Sandpiper has relocated to. We find a small group of birders watching one of the greens, but when we arrive we are told it’s just wandered over the brow of the distant green. Hmmmm. We agree we are unlikely to better yesterdays cracking view and vote for a cup of tea and something sticky. Juliet’s Garden it is then!

Refuelled we pay a visit to the Seaways Bulb Shop where Marilyn stocks up on gifts and we head back in to town, drop our rucksacks off at the guesthouse and head up Garrison Lake for the Wryneck stakeout (same bird seen by me and the previous group last week). We see everything but Wryneck in the favoured fruit tree and with dinner fast approaching we head back to the guesthouse. After a sumptuous Lamb dinner (followed by choccy trifle!) we head back up for the Wryneck. It doesn’t take long before a shape flies into the elms where it is rumoured to be roosting. ‘Wryneck!’ I exclaim, and Andrea, Marilyn and I get brief views before it takes flight and disappears behind the Duchy building on the Garrison. We’ll be back tomorrow for better views!

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Day 2 | Week 2 | A Speyside Wildlife holiday.

Over breakfast we decide to head for the airport to look for the Dotterel. With no scheduled flights, the runways should be clear and undisturbed. But whilst readying ourselves, my pager delivers news of a Buff-breasted Sandpiper on St Agnes. ‘St Agnes it is’ I decide. How quickly plans can change.

We have some time to spare before catching the boat, so we wander along Porthcressa front. In the Sallyport corner there is a collection of birds – House Sparrows and Rock Pipits flit around the seaweed; Herring and Black-headed Gulls pick along the shoreline; and Turnstones and two Sanderling are sat up on the rocks. A number of the Turnstone and one of the Sanderling fly to the beach and begin to feed. The Sanderling gives super close views as it picks away at the sandy patches between the patches of seaweed and rocks, running around like a little clockwork toy.


We take the Kingfisher to St Agnes and get reasonable views of several Common Dolphins leaping out of the sea behind the boat. We also see a raft of about 50 Shags as we near the island. From the quay we head straight for the cricket pitch with other birders. No sign of the Buff-breasted Sandpiper there so over to look at the adjacent beach of Periglis Cove where it was originally reported from.


A few anxious minutes until I notice a couple of birders at the other end of the beach looking at something. ‘Got it!’ I proclaim. ‘Follow me’ I add, and we hastily reposition with the other birders in gateway to view the sandpiper only a few yards away. What a little cracker. This biscuit coloured Dunlin-sized, Ruff-like, dumpy wader is trotting around beach picking at insects along the edges of the many patches of seaweed. I explain that this little wader breeds in northern-most Canada and Alaska and winters in Central and northern South America but is a regular vagrant to Britain. It usually favours short grassy areas, like the nearby cricket pitch where I saw one on last years Speyside week on Scilly.


This was the first I had ever seen on a beach or away from grassy areas. We spend an hour with ‘Buffy’ watching it move around the beach, including a fly around when disturbed. At one point it cowers and presses itself low to the sand. ‘Arial predator’ Steve suggests. Looking up I see a male Peregrine over the cove. ‘Many waders freeze and cower like that when raptors go over’ I explain, ‘they rely on their plumage to camouflage them, rather than breaking cover and alerting the predator to themselves’.

View across to Annet

We take the coastal path along the side of the campsite on to Castella Down. A handful of Curlew sit out on rocks with the gulls. We pass a field with some splendid cabbages and purple-tipped broccoli. Hmmmm . . . looks good enough to eat! We see only the off Rock Pipit, Starling, Dunnock and Wren as we pass Troy Town Maze and arrive at Long Point. The pebble beach features a ‘forest’ of pebble stacks. ‘What a lovely place for lunch’ says Marilyn, and the rest of us take little persuading! The pebble stacks are great and we all take a few photos. Dave discovers a couple of ‘pebble people’ laid out on flat rocks. I can’t help but enhance one of them in an all too obvious way! We eat lunch under bright blue skies and a baking sun looking out to sea watching six Gannets circling and plunging spear-like in to the sea after their quarry.

The stacked stones of St Agnes

Stoned people

After lunch we pass the ‘Wounded Angel’ rock (or cow on a rock according to me), round St Warna’s Cover and on to Wingletang Down. We have only a couple of Wheaters and Stonechats and Common Blue and Small Copper butterflies for our efforts. We wonder at some of the strange rock formations on the down, including a rather phallic specimen, and one huge angular rock which looks likes it is balancing precariously on smaller ones below.

We wander down Barnaby Lane where we see a handful of Speckled Woods, Red Admirals, Peacocks and Small Whites. Running out of birds and in need of a rest, we head for Covean tea-room and a well-earned cuppa.

The St Agnes old light

Refreshed we head off down past the parsonage when Marilyn suddenly realises she has left her scope at the tea-room. While Marilyn goes to retrieve her scope, Andrea, Dave and I watch the beginning of the gig race from St Agnes back to St Mary’s. Marilyn rejoins us and after a few more minutes watching the gigs head across to Mary’s we head on down to the Chapel Fields (no birds!) and arrive back at Periglis for some more views of our little friend Buffy. We shelter from a squall (from where we can still Buffy) and on coming out from our sheltered spot, we see a Peregrine lift off the beach clutching either a wader (Turnstone?) or a Starling. It heads off to nearby rocks to consume its bounty. Buffy doesn’t look too disturbed by this, but after a couple of minutes, lifts from the beach and heads off high over the island towards Wingletang.

With wander over to Porth Killier where we watch a few White Wagtails and a couple of Redshank before heading back to the quay for our transfer back to St Mary’s. Unusually, most of the passengers are islanders who have been over to Agnes for the gig racing, having spent the afternoon in the Turks Head hostelry. No sooner have we left the quay when a spontaneous singing session breaks out amongst the gig race crowd. For the next 30 minutes (I’m sure Alex the skipper purposely returns slowly!) we are treated Scilly sea shanties – some familiar (Rod Stewart’s ‘I am sailing’ and the Beach Boys’ ‘xxx’) and some not so. It was a wonderful moment of Scilly lore, with much of the boat in full, animated song celebrating the day’s gig racing and the island community. In 17 years of visiting the islands, I’ve never experienced anything like it, and its not only the best transfer I’ve ever made, but one of the best highlights of all my time on the islands.

Only one thing can match Scilly sea shanties, and that’s dinner at Juliet’s Garden. We meet up at 6.30pm and wander along the coastal path up to Seaways, picking up a couple of first-winter Mediterranean Gulls and a Kestrel on route.

Scilly sea shanty time

Gigs pulled up outside the pub – where else?

After a sumptuous dinner, we decide to walk it off in the dark, sheltering from a squall for a couple of minutes and playing ‘in the dark oral charades’ trying to guess which of the ornamental wildfowl on Portloo Duck Pond I am describing! Well – it is Scilly after all!

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Day 8 | Week 1 | A Speyside Wildlife holiday.

After breakfast we all do our own thing. Alan and Wendy have decided to forgo the return sailing on the Scillonian III and have booked on the 1pm chopper. Charles makes his way over to Tresco while Alan, Wendy, Bill, Pam and Terry head for the Garrison, bumping in to me while I’m searching for a reported Melodious Warbler. But no with the Melodious, but Terry and me add Kittiwake to the weeks list when a flock of 13 flap lazily between St Agnes and the Garrison. We bid farewell to each other again and Steve heads off to meet the incoming group off the Scillonian.

Day 1 | Week 2 | A Speyside Wildlife holiday.

Marilyn, Andrea and Dave met each other on the quay in Penzance and boarded the Scillonian III for their sailing over to the islands. The crossing was far from magical with many passengers being ill. A few birds are seen including Manx and Sooty Shearwaters.

I greet the green-gilled trio on St Mary’s quay and we walk to the guesthouse for a rest and cuppa before we head off to up Penninis Head in search of a Dotterel (the same one I and the other group chased round St Mary’s yesterday). The walk along Peninnis takes us along the side of Porthcressa. Its low tide and the sea is at its lowest leaving large pools separated by huge rocky formations. A single Little Egret flits from pool to pool in search of tasty morsels.

Little Egret

The sky is brilliant blue and the sun is getting hotter. The light south-west wind does little to cool us. Wrens, Blackbirds and Dunnocks line our route towards the head. The end fields are busy with Wheatears and Linnets. But no sign of the Dotterel. We stop for lunch by the old millstone before heading down to Old Town Bay. One field is crawling with Meadow Pipits – more than I have seen in the last week, which is another good sign of things beginning to move. Another Little Egret is hopping around the rock pools in Old Town Bay but there is very little else other than gulls searching through the exposed seaweed for a snack.

We take the Lower Moors Nature Trail to the hides. A Grey Heron is stalking the opposite edge – about 50 feet away from us! It tries to tackle a large eel, but the eel gets the better of it and wriggles free.

Grey Heron

A Snipe tries to sleep on the island in the middle of the pool and a juvvy Moorhen picks through the thick green weedy top.


‘Tchuw. Tchuw’. A Greenshank flies in but lands out of view. A minute or so wait and it appears in front of us revealing a delicately marked juvenile. It poses in front of us, standing on one leg, while preening. Steve can’t resist and his camera is son clicking.


We move on to Shooter’s Pool where a handful of Linnets are bathing in the puddles. A Willow Warbler is hopping around one of the clumps of reeds and we all manage a glimpse of this bright individual with a nice lemon yellow wash to its face and chest.

The sheltered Rosehill section of the trail provides only moor low feeding Swallows and House Martins. The walk back in to town finds both Peacock and Red Admiral on the same ivy bush and several White Wagtails flitting around Porthmellon beach. We spend a few minutes watching some guy on a surfboard thing being propelled using a mini-parachute thing (there’s probably a name for this but we can’t think of it!). It’s pretty impressive whatever it’s called!

After our first meal together we go through the first day’s checklist and I explain what lies in store for the rest of the week. Marilyn, Andrea and Dave all head for Will Wagstaff’s (the Scilly Birdman) evening talk on the Wildlife of Scilly.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Day 7 | Week 1 | A Speyside Wildlife holiday.

The wind howled and the rain lashed down during the night and we wake to grey skies and heavy rain. After breakfast we abandon our planned trip to St Agnes in favour of a bus ride up the St Mary’s to the hides at Porth Hellick pool. And the switch pays off as shortly after arriving Alan picks up a Water Rail close to the hide. We watch this adult feeding out in the open for about 20 or so minutes – fantastic! It wanders closer and closer until it is only about 30ft from the hide. At one point it gets agitated and begins to give a high pitched alarm call. Two more Water Rails are seen briefly bathing along the reed edges, but not as brief as the Spotted Crake which walks through my scope view and refuses to materialise. Grrrrrrr! Charles spots a Kingfisher on a perch in the far corner of the pool, but no sooner are we on to it and it flies. Grrrrrr (again!). A Green Sandpiper also gives excellent views, all dark on top and white underneath and bobbing as it feeds. Greenshank and Snipe complete the cast.

We walk up to Port Hellick Down in search of yesterday’s Dotterel. There has clearly been a fall of commoner birds with Song Thrushes everywhere including eight together! Stonechats bob around the heather and a couple of Wheatears skip from rock to rock. Just as we arrive at the top of the down, and with no sign of the Dotterel, the pager tells us that it is on the golf course. Grrrrrr (again!!). Oh well. Terry finds a Large Yellow Underwing in the heather which we pick up to take a closer look. As it flies of it flashes its brilliant yellow hindwings.

Red Admiral

We walk along the pine belt back towards the pool with Goldcrests calling constantly. The fields are full of Linnets and Meadow Pipits, while the bank hedges are alive with Wrens, Dunnocks, Song Thrushes, Blackbirds, Starlings and House Sparrows. The walk back gives us excellent views of the Loaded Camel – a rock formation shaped like, well, a loaded camel!

The Loaded Camel

We lunch on the rocks overlooking Porth Hellick. The tide is out and the whole rock pool and seaweed strewn beach is covered in Ringed Plovers and Turnstones. A Greenshank picks its way through the shallow pools.

We take a look in the hides but the pool is quiet. We arrive in Holy Vale as the weather makes up its mind on what to do – sun out. At last! The whole place is buzzing with birds. Tits, Dunnocks, Wrens, Goldcrests, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs are very vocal. One Willow Warbler is in sub-song and at least three Chiffchaffs are trying hard at learning their song! Just before the Cathedral we all get great views of Goldcrest and some of us catch glimpse of a Blackcap. The Cathedral is quiet by comparison, but arriving at the chalets, I spy a Spotted Flycatcher flying up to canopy of one of the tall elms above us. It flies back down and across to the old orchard where it joins a Pied Flycatcher on overhead wires. Pied and Spot Flys in the same scope – wow! Both flycatchers perform brilliantly, the Spotted keeping mainly to the wires but the Pied spending quite a bit of time in the old apple trees until a Robin chases it off!

Spotted Flycatcher

We continue up to Maypole where a load of Swallows are chattering away on overhead wires. The ‘Rat Pond’ is bird-free, but some of us manage to glimpse a Garden Warbler along the elm-lined track to Content Farm where we also flush a dozen Red-legged Partridges.

We arrive on the golf course with great anticipation of finding the Dotterel still there. Fat chance! All we can see are Wheatears, Linnets and White Wagtails. We scour the course but no joy, so we retreat forlornly to Juliet’s Garden (where else?!) for a pick-up cuppa and slice of something sticky.

The walk back in to town is without any excitement so a few of us decide to try our luck again with the Wryneck up Garrison Lane. It hasn’t been reported today, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still present. An hour later we give up. It must have gone. Must it?

After dinner, news that the Dotterel was back on the golf course at around 6pm, some of us grab a taxi and dash up there to use what is left of the light to search for this elusive wader. On arrival we find quite a few gulls. Good sign. It means no golfers on the course. We set off round. Every little clump of grass is scrutinised and every movement of a Wheatear followed. Nothing. Damn! This bird really is giving us the run around. The sunset however is simply breathtaking. The pale red sun sinks slowly into the Atlantic Ocean behind Samson. The sky is picture-postcard blue and pink. Bishop lighthouse twinkles away, and the Moon slips into the sky as the merest of crescents. What a sky.

What a sunset!

We all muster in the lounge for our last checklist of the week. With three new species added to the weeks tally, we end up on a very respectable 87species of bird. We’ve also seen 11 species of butterfly, three moths, several mammals and several other insects.

The place of the trip is close, with Bryher pipping St Martin’s, and Juliet’s Garden (all our visits!) just ahead of the Water Rail and tonight’s stunning sunset for Magic Moment. Species of the trip is going three ways. Who can forget the stunning views of Whimbrel on St Martin’s. Surprisingly, the Red Underwing moth gets a couple of votes, but edging the voting, the St Mary’s Wryneck takes the honours (and rightly so!).

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Day 6 | Week 1 | A Speyside Wildlife holiday.

Yesterday’s respite from the westerly winds was short-lived, as normal wind service is resumed and the skies look a little on the threatening side.

After our usual hearty breakfast, we make our way up Garrison Lane to look for the Wryneck some of us saw yesterday. We give it an hour or so, and although I see it briefly on one occasion it isn’t playing ball this morning.

Two of our party head off to do their own thing - Wendy back to Bryher and John not hit a small ball with some sticks (golf they call it). The rest of us depart and catch the 11.00 am bus up country. We arrive at Pelistry and take the walk along Green Lane to Green Farm where we see a Whinchat very briefly. The fields are stuffed with Linnets and House Sparrows – but little else. The walk down to and along Watermill Cove is butterfly strewn, with Red Admiral, Speckled Wood, Painted Lady, Common Blue, Small Copper, Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock all seen. The clumps of ivy in the sheltered sunny spots received most attention, especially from the Red Admirals. During our stop overlooking the cove we manage only a Chiffchaff, a White Wagtail and a Stonechat. It’s very disappointing.

We walk on round to Innisidgen Burial Chamber where we have lunch. Charles immediately picks up a Pied Flycatcher on the sheltered side of the large stand of pines. The near large pine is alive with Chaffinches, Wrens, Robins – loads of commoner birds but no migrants. Our lunch stop provides yet more spectacular seaviews looking across to the Eastern Isles, St Martin’s, Tean, Round Island and Tresco. The colour of the sea is a beautiful mix of deep blues and turquoises. A Grey Heron stalks one of the nearby rock pools. The grey skies have given way to another gorgeous day, and here behind the pines we are sheltered from the winds. Lunch eaten and several of us are flat on our backs soaking up some of that sun! Bliss.

We head on round towards Trenowarth where we come across possibly the same Pied Fly as earlier. There are more little bulb fields crawling with sparrows and finches – but no more migrants. Newford Duck Pond is disappointing with no warblers in the trees, but crippling views of Moorhen! We walk on down to the golf course to see if either the morning’s Dotterel from the airport has relocated, or if John is still on his round of golf. We predictably draw a blank on both! The golf course holds even more Linnets and a single White Wagtail. Juliet’s Garden was never needed more!

Beverages and slices of cakes all round give way to a near bird-free walk back in to town. We dump our bags and head back up to Garrison Lane for the Wryneck. We again stake out the pear tree it has been seen in most frequently and wait. And wait. A Hummingbird Hawkmoth relieves the boredom but disappears. Ann then spies it returning and it lands on the wall in front of us. Fantastic! I reach for my camera and click – gotcha!

A hummer

‘Wryneck, just left of the Collared Dove!’ I shout. Everyone is straight on to it. What cracking views! It sits out in the open for a minute or so before departing off down to the right (but where does it go?!). Unfortunately, John, the only one of the group who hasn’t now seen Wryneck, arrives within minutes of this terrific sighting, and despite a further 45 minute wait, we see no further sign.

Wryneck apart, it’s been a pretty hard day trying to dig migrants out of a near migrant-free island. But the day is rounded off with evening at the splendid Juliet’s Garden. Those of us who chose to walk up enjoyed excellent views of a juvenile Sanderling with the Turnstone on Porthmellon, a juvenile Common Tern, two first-winter Mediterranean Gulls and a Lesser Black-backed Gull at Porthloo and loads of White Wagtails feeding along the beaches. Superb!

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Day 5 | Week 1 | A Speyside Wildlife holiday.

After breakfast we take the early boat to Bryher. With high winds and low tides there have been no boats to this island for several days. We land at Aneka’s Quay at The Town under a brilliant blue sky, bright warm sun and virtually no wind! Wow! After days of raging westerlies it’s fantastic to be able to hear something other than the roar of wind past your ears! We let all the other day trippers disperse and head towards Fraggle Rock and immediately come across a Whinchat flycatching from the top of a pittasporum hedge. We spend a good while watching this little migrant perform before turning our attention to a small number of Linnets behind us. We notice a baby Swallow sat on an open branch which is still being fed by its parents. We continue round the back of the Fraggle Rock Inn where Charles picks up a Spotted Flycatcher feeding from a wire fence at the bottom of the horse field.


Young Swallow

After most of us peel off the odd layer in the increasing warmth of the day, we take the path below Shipman Head Down to view the fields by the campsite, but apart from Stonechats, Linnets and House Sparrows, we don’t manage to pick up anything noteworthy. We reach Great Popplestone and decide to head for a pre-lunch coffee at the Hell Bay Hotel, which for two of us turns into an early crab sandwich lunch. We take lunch proper on the north side of Gweal Hill with a fantastic view across Great Popplestone and over to Hell Bay. Even at low tide, the breakers are crashing over the rocks make dramatic seascape. Over lunch I begin seawatching and am soon calling things out. It’s an Arctic Skua which makes Alan and Charles reach for their scopes and follow suit. Manx Shearwater follows. Then another. And Another. Steve picks up two Puffins but no one else can get on to them. ‘Great Skua over the boat!’ I blurt as the Bonxie harasses a gull, twisting and turning in the sky to get its quarry to give up its food item. A few more Manxies pass, then a handful of Fulmars. The pager later reports a Sabine’s Gull seen from the northern tip of Tresco. Drat!

Looking across Great Popplestone towards Hell Bay

Everyone suitably fed and watered, we head along the Bryher coastline, along the edge of Stinking Porth, then Great Porth and around the southern side of Samson Hill. There are few birds apart from the odd Stonechat and Wheatear, but the views are simply stunning. We stop to scan Samson in the hope the Pallid Harrier of recent days (and last seen flying towards Bryher last night) but no joy. We look across to the St Agnes, Western Rocks and the Bishop Lighthouse. The sea below is like a millpond in the lea of the island. A Grey Seal sticks head up through the glass-like surface.

We continue around Samson Hill and at The Brow come across a couple of Goldcrests in a lone tamarisk bush. A little further on we get the briefest of views of a clean and pallid looking ‘reed warbler’ in the bracken but it vanishes. ‘Hmmm’ I ponder, convinced we have just lost a Marsh Warbler.

We climb Samson Hill where a Pheasant runs ahead of us along the path. Painted Ladies are wandering this gorse and bramble hillside in good numbers, some settling on bramble flowers to nectar. At the top the views across the islands is breathtaking. Given we can just make out St Martin’s in a gap over Tresco, and the Round Island lighthouse sticking up over northern Tresco, we can see virtually all the archipelago from this single spot. Wow! Swallows zip low over the gorse covered slopes on all sides and Painted Ladies bomb around looking for flowers and warm patches of ground on which to bask. A lone Whimbrel flies over calling its mournful seven whistles.

Painted Lady

We head down the hill and coming out at Green Bay we meet a local birder who has just seen a Wryneck a few yards round the coast path. We hotfoot it back and end up at the point where we had left the coastal path less than an hour ago to climb up Samson Hill. With only 15 minutes to nail the Wryneck minutes start to tick away. I leave the group watching the pines it was last seen in and take a wide arc along the beach to the other side of the trees. After a few minutes I see a movement and out pops the Wryneck. I call the others over, but on their arrival the bird flies in to the bottom the adjacent tree. A few get a glimpse, but most haven’t connected. We go pack on to the main path and after another minute or so we can see the Wryneck moving through the lower branches. Again, a couple of us get on to it before it simply vanishes. We are fast running out of time and eventually I have to call it a day as we have to get back to the quay for the boat. Its one of those nightmares, having to walk away from a great bird, but miss the boat and you’re on the island for the night!

There’s mixed emotions on the boat back to St Mary’s as some have seen the Wryneck, whilst others haven’t, including Wendy who seems to be resigned to never seeing a Wryneck! A party of 10 Little Egrets on rocks between Bryher and Tresco did little to raise a smile for those who didn’t see the Wryneck.

We arrive back on St Mary’s and I offer a rather desperate attempt to look for a Wryneck which was seen near the Police Station at 9.20 this morning. Wendy, Charles, Alan and Terry all take him up and we climb Garrison Hill and head down Garrison Lane towards the Police Station. I look for the apple tree mentioned on the pager message in the morning. ‘There it is’ I mutter to myself. As I bin the bush I see a bird fly in to it. I can’t see it. That had to be it. ‘Wryneck!’ I shouts ‘Top left of the apple tree!’. ‘Got it’ proclaims Alan. ‘Its in my scope’ says Charles. ‘Aagh! Wonderful’ comes from a relieved Wendy.


The Wryneck stays put for us all to get a further look and Wendy moves on to my scope before it suddenly ups and flies off along Sallyport. We follow and slowly search the trees and gardens we can see in to. Nothing. We head up on to the Garrison Walls to view from a higher position. Still no sign. A Hummingbird Hawkmoth is found feeding feverishly on valerian. ‘A good sign that things are moving’ I say. But with no further sign of the Wryneck and dinner fast approaching, we head off back to the guesthouse with very broad smiles.