Monday, May 31, 2004

I would have preferred to spend a second day chillin' with my Mama, but with it being bank holiday and me back at work tomorrow, I needed to get back ahead of the hordes hitting the roads. I set off at 11am and am back home by 4pm - sailed through! Even managed to stop off and do my shopping en route.

Hit the garden - grass always grows twice as fast when you're away, and then spent a nice evening with nextdoor neighbours Debbie and Tony munching on their b-b-q grub - thanks guys! Tony had music 'piped' through to the garden - non-stop tracks. He tells me its Q radio via the satellite - gotta check that out for those nights sat tapping away at this thing!

Sunday, May 30, 2004

I spend a rare day with my Mum in Exeter. I've come down with a stinking cold, so its just really great to chill for the day with her - had a lay in, lazy breakfast, read the Sunday papers (major luxury!), watched the (boring!) grand prix, chatted, ate too much (but not enough of the lamb dinner tho!), etc! What a fab day. Thanks Mama.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Yesterday's grim weather has passed, and a return to normal - sunny, warm and wall to wall blue sky!

The reduced group of Pam, Phil, John, Margaret, Alison and Steve take a walk out to Peninnis Head. With a red-backed Shrike found on St Agnes the previous day, the hope of finding a few newly arrived migrants is raised. But dashed! Its soon obvious that nothing has dropped in, at least not on this headland, and we make do with the resident birds including the ever-friendly Song Thrushes hopping ahead of us on the paths. At the head, we manage to catch sight of a few Fulmars and Gannets over the flat sea (hope it stays that way for our crossing later!). The headland is covered in Common Blue butterflies and the occasional Small Copper. With birds difficult to come by we revert to our own method of finding new species - birding charades!

We head back through Hugh Town and up to the Garrison where we have a leisurely lunch by the Newman Battery with spectacular views across to the Western Rocks, Annet, Bishop Rock Lighthouse, Samson, Bryher, Tresco, Tean and St Martin's (only St Agnes is missing!). A group of Herring Gulls join us, but are a little wary of coming down to the few bits of bread thrown down for them.

After lunch its back to town to collect our things from the guesthouse. Ice creams in hand, we claim a corner of the green which overlooks Town Beach and the harbour. From here we can see when the Scillonian II arrives and saves us having to stand in the queue on the quay for a long time. As it happens, the boat is delayed on its return from Penzance, and we don’t leave St Mary's until 18.45h – nearly two hours late!

The sea is relatively flat and with increasingly overcast skies, the hopes for a few seabirds is heightened. Fulmars and Gannets are much in evidence, but it isn’t until we are in sight of Longships Lighthouse just off Land's End that we come across Manx Shearwaters. Steve spots a Storm Petrel, but its so quick and flying away from us there is little chance for the other to get on to it. More Manxies stream past in line after line – some coming quite close to the boat ad giving excellent views, and sightings continue almost to Penzance Harbour.

Arriving back at Penzance after 21.00h everyone is keen to claim their luggage and get to their guesthouse or start their journey. Our bags quickly materialise from the large cargo containers, and we are soon bidding one another a fond farewell.

Friday, May 28, 2004

Overnight the islands have been lashed by wind and rain and we wake to an overcast and drizzly morning. We take a taxi mini-bus up to Pelistry and then a gentle meander along Pelistry Lane to Green Farm and down Green Lane to the coast. It begins to rain and most move faster than they have all week to reach for their waterproofs from their rucksacks! By the time everyone is zipped and hooded up its stopped raining! Still, everyone (bar Ray and Steve) are ready for the next shower.

At the coast we find the usual array of residents including Wren, Greenfinches, Linnet, Oystercatcher and two Shelduck. A Grey Seal bobs in the bay below us, trying its best to look like a buoy. The view across to St Martin's and the Eastern Isles is fantastic, even in the mirkiness of today.

We walk along to Watermill Cove and up to the burial chamber at Innisidgen where we take in the 3000-year-old tomb and again enjoy the views across to the other islands. The Scillonian III sails past, bringing another boatload of holidaymakers to the islands. A lone Kittiwake wanders in front of the boat and a huge flock of Shags fly low across the sea in front of us.

We walk through the pines towards Trenowerth and come across a lone Swift feeding low over the trees, sweeping back and forth on its sickle-shaped wings. Two Turtle Doves take off from a nearby tree and fly around before landing back in one of the large pines. One bird is viewable, and Steve soon has his scope on the bird and most get a good look before it takes flight.

The walk down to Telegraph is peppered with fine showers, but the trees at the Brant's Carn provides shelter for lunch - with yet another astounding view, this time overlooking Bar Point on St Mary's pointing out across to Tresco. A Stonechat and a Blackbird provide bird interest while we feed our faces.

We take the path around the seaward side of the golf course which is dotted with more Linnets and a couple of fine male Stonechats before arriving at JulietÂ’s Garden for a welcome hot drink and slice of cake.

We bid farewell to Ian, Sylvia and Graham who are leaving early to make haste to their newly arrived grand-daughter (or niece in Graham's case). Ray is also leaving early to get back home to Scotland to begin his own holiday with wife Anne and friends.

The remaining six of us head off in the mizzle down along the Lower Moor trail to the hide (taking in Porthloo Duck Pond and its collection of exotica. No you can't count the Wood Duck Phil!). The continued cool and dampness of the day is having its toll on the wildlife, with virtually nothing seen en-route. At the hide we do at least get good views of a Grey Heron stalking the reed fringe in search of prey.

With little sign of the drizzle lessening, we head back to town for a spot of prezzie-purchasing and early return to the guesthouse. After dinner the checklist is forsaken for the men's Pilot Gig race. We wander down to the quay in the brightening skies to join the race goers and enjoy the atmosphere of the being at in the thick of the action as the boats battle round the triangular course, with Golden Eagle taking first place. We wander back to the guesthouse in good mood and to prepare for our final day and departure tomorrow.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Early morning low cloud gives way to brilliant sunshine by the time we make our way to the quay to take the boat to Tresco. We land at New Grimsby, and after a quick look around the gallery, we head on towards the Great Pool. Four Swifts circle over Abbey Farm and a Goldcrest sings at the junction with Racket Town Lane. We walk slowly along Pool Road seeing Chaffinches, Linnets and Goldfinches feeding in the trees and fields. At the turn for the hide a Blackcap is singing but it is in thick cover and we fail to locate it. From the hide we see Mute Swan, Gadwall and Shelduck, but it is wader-free and we continue along Pool Road where we come across our second singing Blackcap. We eventually find him, but he proves extremely difficult to see and a Dunnock adds to the confusion. We continue down to Rowesfield where we are greeted by another singing Blackcap. A full-scale search ensues and most (but not all!) eventually get a glimpse of the songster.

We have lunch in the sun by the southern end of the Great Pool in the company of a family of Shelduck. As we finish lunch all the gulls, ducks and Oystercatchers take flight noisily from Abbey Pool. We search the sky but canÂ’t see what has put them all up. We make our way round to Abbey Pool which now holds far fewer birds, but a single Grey Heron and a first-summer Black-headed Gull are among the few birds left on the pool. Ray then picks up a raptor to the north over Lizard Point. It's a male Marsh Harrier and we all get scope views as it circles before heading off low towards St Martin's.

At the Abbey Gardens we split in to two groups. Ray goes in to the gardens with Sylvia, Ian, John and Alison while Steve continues the walk around the island with Pam, Phil, Margaret and Graham.

Ray's group enjoy the gardens (complete with Blackcap) before visiting Appletree Point to look for terns before walking back along the beach to Plumb Hill and back to New Grimsby for the

Steve's group walk along Borough Road, through Borough Farm and down to Old Grimsby. It is very quiet and apart from plenty of very fat Pheasants and a Red-legged Partridge, little else is seen before we take a break in the Island Hotel garden for a drink before joining the others at the quay.

The return trip to St Mary's is brightened up with a quick visit to Samson to pick a couple of day-trippers to the island. Just offshore Puffin Island, a Grey Seal is receiving a lot of attention from the gulls. The boat cruises within meters of the seal and we see it is feasting on a Conger Eel! Fantastic! The seal rolls on the surface with the half-eaten eel but the gulls donÂ’t look too keen on getting too close to the action and keep a respectable distance.

We return to St Mary's, and after freshening up head up to Juliet's Garden for a splendid evening - our last all together as we lose Sylvia, Ian, Graham and Ray in tomorrow afternoon.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004


Oh no its another gorgeous day! Just the ticket for our visit to St Agnes.

We arrive on the quay to the standard Wren salute (every quay on Scilly has one) and a Cuckoo flies over towards the island of Gugh (pronounced Goo). We walk down to Porth Killier to be greeted with news of a Rose-coloured (Rosy) Starling. But the bird has flown to the other side of the bay. We scan the far shore when Ray spots the Rosy Starling flying off towards the cricket pitch. We head that way when Steve sees it fly back and over to nearby Browarth Point. We trek round to the point but no sign. We follow the point back round to Porth Killier, and, surprise, surprise, the Rosy Starling is back with the Starling flock feeding on the beach where it was first seen! We view the bird as it feeds on the seaweed with the other Starlings until it flies off again. We decide to reposition ourselves by the beach where all the Starlings are feeding. As we head round we stop to look at a Cinnabar moth when a Common Sandpiper takes flight from some nearby rocks. It lands amongst the gulls and searching for it we find a single Whimbrel roosting up on the rocks. On the nearby beach we also find four summer-plumage Sanderling and eight Dunlin. We get our best views of Rock Pipit as one struts its stuff right in front of us on the beach.

Arriving at the 'Starling' beach, we find the Rosy Starling back on the seaweed feeding with the Starlings. Its plumage isnÂ’t that bright, the pale areas only having a hint of pink suggesting it is a first summer bird (hatched last year). Its still got a pink bill though, which proves useful when you can only see its head behind a mound of seaweed is very useful in picking it out from the yellow-billed Starlings. We get tremendous views before it again flies away which is our queue to find a sheltered sunny spot for lunch.

Crossing the cricket pitch a Turtle Dove does a fly-by, a Spotted Flycatcher is feeding under the Tamarisks and a Barnacle Goose of questionable origin is on the Big Pool, before arriving at Periglis. The beach is quiet apart from a couple of sun-seekers, and is perfect for lunch. Our view of the southern tip of Annet and out to the Western Rocks and the Bishop Rock Lighthouse is stunning. The sun beats down on us and there is hardly a ripple on the water in the cove. John and Margaret can't resist a paddle, and next minute they have their boots off, trousers rolled up and are waltzing in the shallows! What's that about mad dogs and English men going out in the midday sun? A Whimbrel on the rocks provides a brief snippet of birding interest.

After lunch we walk up to Lower Town and across to the 'Nag's Head' a wind-carved stone overlooking St WarnaÂ’s Cove. A Light Emerald moth flutters around our feet and we try hard to pin down a Meadow Pipit but none are that obliging. We head round to Wingletang where we get good views of a couple of Stonechats. Our second Cuckoo sighting of the day is a bird being pursued by Meadow Pipits. We walk through the dappled shade of Barnaby's Lane to Covean Tea Garden where most of us part-take in a spot of ice cream indulgence and a spot of afternoon tea. Steve of course can't have a cone like everyone else, and has to be greedy with a four-scoop sundae! All refreshed we take a stroll over The Bar to Gugh. On the Gugh end of The Bar is a fine spread of Sea Holly, and at Carn Bite we eventually catch up with Scilly Bee.

We catch the boat back to St Mary's, and after dinner, we walk up to the Star Castle on the Garrison to watch the woman's pilot gig race. This soon takes on a competitive feel when we learn that Eva, one of the waitresses from our guesthouse, is racing in the Tregarthen gig. Getting into the swing of the race we cheer on Tregarthen to an honourable fifth place.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

We again wake to a brilliant sunny day and head off to Bryher. During the crossing we see a single Guillemot, two Razorbills and several Common Terns. We make a brief stop at Samson to ferry a small number of visitors to this inhabited isle. Opportune, as the beach we pull up by holds a small number of Sanderling running around tideline and three Bar-tailed Godwits. Two Whimbrel take flight providing good views as they head past the boat. The nearby offshore rocks are dotted with a handful of Common Terns.

Arriving at Church Quay, Bryher a single Jackdaw is circling over Watch Hill. We disembark search the fields around the camp site for a Red-backed Shrike seen yesterday, but despite our (and another group's) best efforts, we fail to find it. Linnets are again plentiful and a single male Stonechat is seen.

We walk round to the Great Pool which holds a single Mute Swan and on towards Shipman Head Down where a Hooded Crow flies over. The first of the day's small passage of Swifts is seen among the many House Martins and Swallows. As we make our way up to past Great popplestone, the gulls from the off-island Gweal go mad and an Osprey appears above us. The bird heads slowly northwards before turning round and again drifting right over us giving fantastic views.

We arrive on Shipman Head Down where a Short-toed Lark has been seen. Over lunch Steve and Ray search the down for the lark but no joy. Attention is diverted by a Cuckoo perched up in a bush in the valley below us. More Swifts and hirundines drift over and the gulls on the nearby island are again up and calling frantically. The Osprey reappears over Gweal causing more mayhem, but order is soon restored when it drifts off to the north.

The Short-toed Lark flies past us and drops on to the Down a couple of hundred yards away. We reposition ourselves and after a few moments it appears on a clump of heather and we get views of this sandy little lark through the heat haze before it again takes flight. Searching for it a Wheatear is found, but it too quickly disappears.

We stop to look over the fantastically named Hell Bay before heading back towards the Great Pool. Butterflies are much in evidence in the searing sun, with Common Blues all over the down and Peacock and Red Admiral along the lanes and several brilliant metallic green Rose Chaffers are also seen. With the sun beating down we give in to temptation and retire to the Hell Bay Hotel for a much needed rest and drink (and enjoy the fabulous art!). A Common Tern and Shelduck on the adjacent Great Pool provide interest, as do the hotel garden Blackbird, Song Thrush and Starling. The latter gets our pulses racing with a cracking impersonation of a Whimbrel!

Suitably replenished and rested, we head back towards The Town where we bump into a single Turtle Dove within a flock of 20 or so Collared Doves. The Collared Doves are feeding in a garden but take cover in some pines as we approach, the smaller, darker Turtle Dove standing out in flight due to its dark tail with brilliant white sides. We hang around and eventually the doves make their way back to the garden, and so follows the Turtle Dove, giving splendid flight views before it disappears in to the garden.

We leave the island via AnnekaÂ’s Quay, built for one of the Challenge Anneka (Rice) TV programmes in the early 1990s. On the way back we see more Common Terns and handful of Razorbills on the sea.

Arriving back on St Mary's we head back to the guesthouse to prepare for dinner, all glowing from the day's strong sun, and all smiling following an excellent day on a jewel of an island.

Monday, May 24, 2004

We head to St Martin's in brilliant sunshine and under a blue cloudless sky. As we pass the St Mary's Golf Course Steve picks up a Peregrine wheeling above the rocks which gives us good views.

We land at Higher Town and are greeted by a showy Wren singing from the top of a patch of brambles. We head east along the south of the island. The trees and fields behind the cricket pitch offer only sparrows and Starlings, while the cricket pitch itself is dotted with half a dozen Blackbirds and a Song Thrush. By the pool, four Linnets land on the bushes, one male in particular looking dapper and bright, showing off his red forehead, chestnut back, grey head and red chest. A Cuckoo is calling constantly from Chapel Down direction, and after some searching, Ray picks it up sat on the side of a distant bush.

We continue round to English Island Point from where we view the sea across to the Eastern Isles. Kittiwakes are flitting back and forth and the right hand of the Chimney Rocks is covered Shags. At least three Grey Seals are bobbing up and down in the swell just off Nornour. A small passage of hirundines includes a lone Sand Martin. We continue our walk through the coconut-scented Gorse of Chapel Down. Here and there Honeysuckle is coming in to flower and few can resist a sniff of the sweet scented flowerheads. Below us a territorial pair of Ringed Plovers chase an intruder off their beach and a handful of Oystercatchers chase each other around in their usual noisy fashion.

We arrive at Chapel Brow and have our lunch overlooking the superbly named Bread & Cheese Cove. The view west long the north side of St Martin's is breathtaking. Round Island Lighthouse can be seen in the distance, as can the sandy beach of Pentle Bay on Tresco. A couple of Fulmars fly back and forth below us when Ray shouts 'Magpie!' There on the rocks is the Magpie that took up residence on the island in October 2003. 'With only around six records in the last 30 or so years, this is probably the rarest bird we will see all week' says Steve, who is more than pleased with the addition to his Scilly list! Looking south a group of Swifts and hirundines appear, slowly working their way towards us. There are around 20+ Swifts, House Martins and Swallows, and low over the bracken slopes of Chapel Down a couple of Sand Martins.

We wind our way slowly back across to the island to Lower Town. The sun is high, the sky blue and it must be getting warm as Graham takes off his coat! The high pressure and high temperatures provide great weather for walking and enjoying the stunning views, but are far from ideal for watching migrant birds - there simply aren't any. Steve explains that during periods of high pressure migrants pass through at high altitudes taking advantage of the fine weather, and what is needed is some unsettled weather and overcast skies to bring a few birds down on to the islands.

We arrive at Lower Town in good time for the return boat to St Mary's, so take a welcome break and drink in the garden of the St Martin's Hotel.

After dinner, most of us make our way down to the quay for Scilly Birdman, Will Wagstaff's, Shearwater boat trip. Just as we begin to board the Osprey (the boat), Ray notices all the gulls in the harbour are up and going berserk. 'Osprey!' he shouts pointing to the sky. Few seem to react so Steve hollers 'Osprey! Not the boat, the bird - flying over the harbour!' That did the trick, and most of 60 or so queuing for the boat manage to see this great raptor before it heads off northwards.

We head out towards Annet. Kittiwakes and other gulls are spotted, and a couple of Guillemots fly by. It isn't long before we see our first distant Manx Shearwater. A few more birds later, a party of five shearwaters cut across the front of the boat and come down the left hand side giving superb views as they bank from side to side turning from black to white with each twist.

We arrive at Annet, the main seabird island of the archipelago. This island was once home to hundreds of thousands of Puffins, but today holds only a 100 or so pairs. In North East Porth we come across several birds on the sea and pull up along side these 'sea clowns'. As we watch the birds on the water, about a dozen birds are zooming around in preparation to head back to their burrows. The mini cliffs are home to nesting Fulmars, and the island is dotted with Herring, Lesser Black-backed and Great Black-backed Gulls. The grassy top of the islands is where the Manx Shearwaters breed, and the boulder beaches are the nesting areas for the tiny Storm Petrel. We head off in to open water to see if we can find more Manx Shearwaters. Each night, the Manxies gather on the sea at dusk and wait until darkness falls before returning to their burrows to avoid being predated by the large gulls on the island. Overcast nights are best, when the light of the moon is blocked out, so clear night such as tonight arenÂ’t ideal, but we have already seen a dozen or so birds flying around, so we should hopefully find a some sat up on the surface. We zig-zag around and eventually find a group of five birds sat on the water. We manage to creep up to within a 100 yards or so and get great views before they take flight and wheel off, shearing away from us.

Time is pressing on and the sun dips below the horizon and as athe temperature drops we head back to St Mary's. Behind us we pick up about a dozen Manxies in flight and are staggered to see the lead bird chasing a large falcon low over the water (thatÂ’s one brave Manxie!). The falcon is enormous and is the Saker-type bird that has been seen in recent weeks around the island.

We arrive back at the quay thrilled with our evening's birding, and all hurry back to the warmth of the guesthouse for a warming hot drink!

Sunday, May 23, 2004

We wake to a brilliant sunny morning with a bright blue, cloudless sky. We make our way to Lower Moors where we are greeted by a singing Blackcap which refuses to show itself. Along the trail we hit on a hidden Reed Warbler singing loudly to our left and a Sedge Warbler sat up to our right. The Sedge gives good views but is drowned out by the Reed which sings from its hidden perch. A Willow Warbler sings from the top of a willow and from the hide we get close views of a couple of Moorhen chicks. Along the trail we find a few stands of Royal Ferns.

At Old Town Bay the beach is busy with Sunday sun-seekers so is devoid of birds. We head around Tolman Point where we hear a Whimbrel calling from up towards the airport. We stop to scan the skies for it when Ray spots a Peregrine circling over the airfield. We manage to get the scopes on it and everyone eventually gets views before it stoops and is lost from view.

The walk up to Giant's Castle is brightened up with a few Linnets and a Rock Pipit feeding its young. The sea is deep blue and flat calm. Ray picks up a Guillemot sat offshore and Gannet, Kittiwake and Fulmar are all seen heading past the headland before Sylvia spies the head of a Grey Seal close inshore. Common Blue butterflies dance around the heather but rarely settle for any length of time.

We enjoy our lunch on the near-deserted beach of Porthellick. A Ringed Plover pipes mournfully and we soon see why – it has chicks taking cover at the top of the beach. The sun beats down on us in this sheltered bay and at least one of us takes the opportunity to stretch out on the beach and doze.

We venture into Higher Moors from where we view Porthellick Pool which holds Shelduck, Gadwall (including a pair with five ducklings) and a Grey Heron. Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff serenade us and provide good views. Our walk round the loop trail sees us enjoying a trio of bright butterflies - Red Admiral, Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell which flit around the sedge areas which have terrific stands of Yellow Flag (Iris). Our second Blackcap of the day sings loudly from a nearby bush but despite a long search, we fail to see the hidden songster.

At the entrance to Holy Vale we enjoy a group of Swallows sat on the overhead wires. Along the trail we dodge the Hemlock Water Dropwort - tall Cow Parsley-like plants which are deadly poisonous! The dense foliage closes in all around us and the sheltered trail is blisteringly hot, stuffy and heavy with the scent of fresh spring foliage. The 'Cathedral' is largely devoid of birds, apart from a lone Spotted Flycatcher at the top of the trail.

Walking along the track to Four Lanes End, we enjoy the rich flowers. On Scilly its hard to know the natural plants from the introductions - a tapestry of species grow together enlivening every view. One field in particular is dazzling with a huge spray of Corn Marrigolds.

Along Telegraph Road we encounter even more Linnets and get good views of a lone Swift as it sweeps back and forth in search of its aerial prey before we ourselves take the turn down Porthloo Lane to Juliet's Garden for our own much needed sustenance!

Suitably replenished we make our way back to town before our evening walk back up to JulietÂ’s Garden for our splendid dinner - a more than fitting end to a fantastic first full day on the magical Isles of Scilly.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Ray (my co-leader) and I meet up the group (Pam, Phil, Ian, Sylvia, Graham, John, Alison and Margaret) at 08.15 am on the quay in Penzance where we board the Scillonian III and we are soon following the coastline towards Land's End. The sun is out, the sky is blue and we are straight in to the birds with Herring Gulls following the ship and then our first real seabirds - Gannets. We settle for distant birds at first, but soon birds are passing close by the ship with the occasional bird folding back its wings, and diving spear-like in to the sea. Fantastic! Fulmars, Guillemots, Razorbills and Puffins are seen hurtling past and a flock of Collared Doves appear overhead, settling briefly on the ships rigs before heading off north-eastwards towards land. As we near Land's End we see our first Manx Shearwaters, and eventually get good views of a couple of close birds.

We get our first sight of the Isles of Scilly and our anticipation is heightened. We pass the Eastern Isles with the long, sandy-beached St MartinÂ’s stretching out behind them. Looking down Crow Sound we can see Round Island Lighthouse in the distance, with Tresco to its left disappearing behind the main island of St Mary's. We turn in to St Mary's Sound and St Agnes appears on our left, with the small island of Gugh sat in front of it. As we turn towards Hugh Town, the view south-west down to Bishop Rock Lighthouse is breathtaking. The flat island of Annet stretches low in front of the peaks of the Western Rocks. The twin hills of Samson come in to view, with Bryher tucked behind it and a closer view of Tresco.

We disembark and head straight for our guesthouse. We have a relaxing drink before heading off to Thomas Porth for our lunch on the beach overlooking the superb setting of the town harbour under a cloudless blue sky. After lunch we head up to the Golf Course. Butterflies are enjoying the sun as much as we are - Holly Blues and Speckled Woods dance along the coastal paths. On the golf course we come across some familiar birds - Goldfinch, Song Thrush, Linnet and Greenfinch. We search hard for . . . the 11th tee - which takes a long time! 'It would have been easier with a green plan' comments Ian. The 11th tee is devoid of birds, so we head for the 12th. Sat underneath a sheltered stand of pines, we at least find a pair of Great Tits delivering beakfuls of food to a nest out of view, and a Spotted Flycatcher. A Carrion Crow is seen to catch a juvenile Starling in mid-air. It swoops down to the beach below us where the Starling is immediately devoured. Exciting stuff! But our hard-searched for quarry isn't in evidence. We take the coastal path below the golf course to search the gorse and scrub and get excellent views of Linnet and a pair of Stonechats. We arrive at the 14th and Ray immediately picks up a bird in flight. 'Woodchat Shrike!' he and Steve shout in unison as it lands by the tee. The cracking male performs well, catching a couple of beetles which it despatches pretty deftly. We enjoy the shrike until we have to give way to a group of golfers (well it is a golf course!) and we head back to town for dinner.

After dinner we enjoy Will Wagstaff's (the 'Scilly' birdman) excellent Wildlife of the Isle of Scilly talk - just whetting our appetites for the week ahead!

I can't let the day go by without mention of the mighty reds victory over Millwall in the FA Cup final! Man Utd 3 - Millwall 0. Not a trophyless season afterall! More that can be said for POSH who only just managed to clear the relegation zone in Div 2, finishing 18th. Oh hum - season ticket already bought for next year. More fool me eh!

Wednesday, May 19, 2004


One word best describes my garden bird watching at the minute - dovefest! With between 6-11 Turtle Doves, 15+ Collared and 4 Stock Doves feeding in the garden most afternoons, its dovetastic here on Farcet Fen. They are getting through around four litres of seed a day I put out for them, plus whatever falls from the seed feeders.

The Turts are getting ever bolder. They used to be very flighty and stick to drive where they have maximum visibility all around them. Now they freely wander all over the show - right up to the front door!

One Stocky decided to go one further today when I was startled as it landed on the window box right in front of me - less than four feet away! It seemed very interested to see what was in the box - nothing! So it joined the rest of the doves under the feeders.

I keep the lawn purposely cut very short now - not cos its nice en tidy, but simply cos most birds prefer to feed on short sward so they can see all around them - improved predator detection. I'm sure this has helped with the local Spars and cats, with relatively few casualties. Thinking of it, despite regular raids, I can only think of two Spar predations in 18 months. The eight cats around me take many more!

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Well what the chuff - its only like months since I entered owt in my diary. Oh hum! The big problem with setting somert like this up is keeping the damn thing up to date.

So, what 'av I been up to in recent times?

Late February - Graham Catley and Kev du Rose completely gripped me off with emails and digiscope shots of Wallcreepers et al they had seen in early Feb in southern France. Bugger it I thought! So off a group of us went for a crackin' few days birding La Camargue and surrounding environs. Frickin Wallcreepers for brekky on two days, a mega count of 652 Little Bustards (eat ya chuffin heart out!), a pair of displaying Bonelli's Eagles (if ya gonna bother - ya may as well bother good!), Slender-billed Gull, White Stork, Black Kites, Rock Spadgers, Stone-curlews, huge numbers of harriers and buntings and loads of other shit. Bloody fantastic! The whole thing only set us back around £230 each via Ryanair to Montpellier, stayed at Etap hotel in Arles and a hire car.

There's been plenty of it for a change. A semi decent run of passage waders and other birds in the Peterborough area including Temminck's Stint (PBC tick no. 210) found on the Nene Washes (and a second bird seen at Welland Bank Pits on 13 May), a few Bar-tailed Godwits, Whinchat (including three on Farcet Fen) and up to 11 (yes 11!) Turtle Doves in the garden! Can't say I've ever heard of anyone getting anywhere near that sort of number in their garden before (lets face it - how many people get Turts at all in their garden!).

Tree Sparrows continue to reside with me, Chris Hughes (ringer at Ferry Meadows CP and Bainton GP) came along to stick some shiny rings (and red colour rings) on my birds. We caught 13 and we missed at least 9 other birds. Amazing as I had only seen a max of 9 birds in the preceding two weeks! I reckon that I have 4-6 pairs breeding in the immediate area and visiting the garden feeders constantly.

The weekend of the 8/9 May was the local GPOG Bird Race. As defending champs our team (comprising Brian Stone, Katie Fuller, Kev du Rose (replacing Mikey Weedon who was in Canada) and myself) had something to prove, having scooped the GPOG Bird Race Tankard last year with the best ratio to date - 111 species from a total of 118 seen. We didn't let ourselves down. On what turned out to be a hard working cool and damp day we tied first place with 111 species from a total of 119 seen on the day. For a full list of what we saw see Katie's list.

Other local goodies include Long-eared Owls, Spotted Flys, garden full of buntings and stuff, oh - and loads more! Trust me.

But the best bird of the spring was a Hoopoe found by my good mate Brian Stone. I unfortunately missed it cos I was out of the country in . . .

LESBOS, 15 - 29 April - so I didn't really mind!! Hey, lets face it.Twoo weeks in Lesbos, quite probably the best birding anywhere in the Med/southern Europe or two weeks at home (even if it means missing a PBC tick!). This was the third year in a row I have had the pleasure of leading birding holidays for Speyside Wildlife on this fantastic Greek Aegean island which lies just 5 miles off the coast of Turkey. Each of my six weeks on the island have been co-leading with Speyside Wildlife's only staff guide - Mark Newall. Mark is one ofthee sharpest birders I have ever birded with (it helps like if you get paid to be in the field so much I guess!), and apart from being a great birder, he's also ace fun to be with (hey, I'll get people talking about the two of us if I go on any more!).

Lesbos was crackin'. The first week was a little on the cool, wet and windy side, and the old shorts didn't get a look in. The weather tho played a great part in providing top 'vis mig' (visible migration).Thee rain kept things down and in between the showers birds seemed to pop out of every bush at times (and out of the grass, and overhead, and out of the water!). We had a good weeks birding with the group, but Mark and I failed to pick up even a Lesbos tick between us.

On the group change over day though, that all changed (at least for me!). We had about eight hours between dropping one group off at the airport and picking the next one up. We headed out to the Vetara peninsula and had a cracking day's birding. Arriving at the river bridge we walked straight on to two Citrine Wags (Lesbos tick for me, and the first of 9 we would find in the next week - out of a total of 12 seen on the island - not a bad find ration eh). Caspian Tern was also added to my Lesbos list,but I think the best was a single Purple Ronnie (Purp Heron) and a couple of Collared Prats seen flying in off the sea from the headland - great stuff!

The second week was Lesbos at its best. The weather improved and with it the pace of birding gradually picked up as the migrants poured through. Mark and I both managed not only a Lesbos, but a life tick, when the group found a Eastern Bonelli's Warbler at Ipsilou - bloody fantastic! Well chuffed. Not so the next big bird - Little Swift, which I found in a sky full of swifts, swallows and martins - there were bloody hundreds of birds and nothing to give directions from only sky! Unfortunately it belted straight through and this first for the island was seen only by myself.

By the end of the week the place was hoochin' with Temminck's Stints (over 20 seen on our last day in under an hour along the East River), Bee-eaters where everywhere, and numbers of Red-footed Falcons were on the up including a group of 16 by the Kalloni saltpans. Other memories will include the flock of 21 Purple Rons looking for somewhere to land, flocks of marsh terns and bags of shrikes - Lesser, Woodchat, Masked and Red-backed all on the same day - oh, and a Roller! Simply fab, and I've said before, gotta be the best birdin in the Western Pal!