Friday, December 31, 2004

End of year review

Well, not the birding year I had hoped for with far less local birding done.

But . . . I still managed nine Peterborough area ticks - Great Northern Diver (River Welland, Nov), Red-necked Grebe (Ferry Meadows, Dec), Slavonian Grebe (Ferry Meadows, Dec), Tundra Bean Goose (Bassenhally Moor, Dec), Red-breasted Merganser (River Welland, Apr), Temminck's Stint (Nene Washes, May), Wryneck (Langtoft, Oct), Pied Flycatcher (in the garden, Aug) and Red-backed Shrike (Prior's Fen, Sept). These take me to an end of year standing of 217 species in the Peterborough area, and joint second in the local listing stakes!

. . . and 11 new species added to my garden list! In order, Curlew (Mar), Great Crested Grebe (Mar), Oystercatcher (Apr), Little Grebe (Apr), Quail (Jun), Red Kite (Aug), Pied Flycatchr (Aug), Grey Wagtail (Aug), Reed Warbler (Aug) and Pink-footed Goose (Nov) [and doesn't include the female Pintail I had flying along the drove when I was heading towards Tebbitt's Bridge and I watched it fly right over my house!]. This saw me ending the year on 103 species, and top of the local garden bird league! My garden year list ended on 93, two up on last year. Likely species I missed this year (which I have had in the past) included Whooper Swan, Gadwall, Wigeon, Redshank, Green Sand, Stonechat (recorded nearby on the fen) and Blackcap. Number of species seen each month - Jan (49), Feb (49), Mar (52), Apr (58), May (63), Jun (60), Jul (52), Aug (61), Sept (53, Oct (52), Nov (56) and Dec (56).

My British List grew by three species - Western Sand (Dorset, September), Cream-coloured Courser and Ovenbird (both Scilly, October). I failed to get to the Fife Masked Shrike which was a bit of a bummer.

I did get to some great birding destintations during the year, many of which were as a wildlife tour leader for Speyside Widlife - Camargue (Feb), Lesbos (Apr), Scilly (May and Sept) and Shetland and Orkney (July). I did however manage one of my dullest ever east coast birding days on the Lincs coast in Oct - the same day Yorks and East Anglia was leaping with stuff!

Overseas bird of the year - Eastern Bonelli's Warbler, Lesbos (Apr)
British bird of the year - Ovenbird, Scilly (Oct)
Peterborough birds of the year - Red-backed Shrike, Prior's Fen (Sept) and Wryneck, Langtoft (Oct)
Garden bird of the year - Pied Fly
My places of the year - a part from my beloved garden and Scilly - Rousay (Orkney) and Lesbos

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

More grebe ecstasy

Well, I may have been 100 miles away in Yorkshire undergoing some post-xmas relaxation with family, but that wasn't gonna get in the way of my Peterborough area tick no. 217 - a Red-necked Grebe at Ferry Meadows CP. Alerted by my ever thoughtful friends, the Natural Stone and Bogbumper, I hot footed it back down the A1 this afternoon to eventually secure my latest area tick to take me equal with the Natural Stone (and both of us only seven species behind area leader Martin Coates!).

A couple of record shots snapped in the fading afternoon gloom.

Red-necked Grebe Ferry Meadows CP

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Slav Grebe falls at last!

Since moving away from the Ortons two years ago, it takes something really good to get me back to old haunts such as Ferry Meadows CP, and what better than a P'boro area tick (no. 216 - hot on the heels of 215, Tundra Bean Geese at Bassenhally Moor last Friday).

Slavonian Grebe Ferry Meadows CP.

Found by Nene Park Trust stalwart Terry Daunt yesterday, I was confident it was still going to be present as when these birds do turn up they have a habit of hanging around. So, unlike messers WeedWorld and Bogbumper, I didn't lose my much needed beauty sleep this morning, or fight through the P'boro traffic, but waited on news and sauntered down to FMCP late morning by which time the light was reasonable but the wind was up - can't have everything.

The Slav performed well, ranging from the Sports Centre to the pontoon corner and took a real dislike to dogs and children around the edges of the lake and so decided to spend much of its time in open water rather than fishing along the shallower edges which it tried to do occasionally (until disturbed by dogs and/or kids again!). Oh the joys of urban/suburban birding - not!

Friday, December 10, 2004

Bean, gone, and back again!

On Sat 4 Dec, Bill Meek found a flock of Tundra Bean Geese on the Nene Washes RSPB reserve, but as soon as he got news out, they buggered off! Step in Jonny Taylor - Nene Washes ace bird finder - who relocated them some days alter on Bassenhally Moor.

Peterborough area tick no. 215! Thanks gents.

Tundra Bean Geese Bassenhally Moor.

A rather poor shot in dull light and murk!

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Great Northern Diver

News of a Great Northern Diver on the River Welland at Crowland came too late for anyone to get to see it yesterday, so dawn this morning saw WeedWorld and Bogbumper on site at 0700h to spread the good news that it was still present. A much wanted Peterbirder area tick for many of us (and no. 214 for me).

Immature Great Northern Diver

Just look at that bruise on its for'ed!

Friday, November 05, 2004

Long-tailed Duck

A text from the young Bowell informing me that he had just found a female Long-tailed Duck at Welland Bank Pits/Deepings Lake (or whetever it is called now). Having seen the OBP bird back in '99, I wasn't in a mad dash to get to it (for a change!), so wandered up late afternoon to get rather distant views as it fed. Also present the winter Black-necked Grebe, Goldeneye and Wigeon.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Whoops on the Welland

A visit up to Vine House Farm for a meeting (and to collect some seed) had me picking up a single Brambling around the yard. Afterwards, a quick check of hte River Welland north of Crowland and I came across another couple of Bramblings and these two Whooper Swans (adult and imm).

Late Common Darter

Noticing a Common Darter basking in the strong autumn sun outside the office window, I couldn't resist trying to be creative with the strong light. Just look at the amber suffusion to the wings. Unfortunatey, the movement of its jaws as it chomped on a fly doesn't come through on a still shot!

Sunday, October 31, 2004

God they're gorgeous

In what was a non-birding weekend, I managed to get to Beachy Head (site tick!) for an hour or so. Despite it teeming with bodies, I was delighted to find a cracking pair of Firecrests feeding together in one group of bushes right by the Beachy Head pub. The male really was a (fire) cracker!

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Ovenbird - R.I.P

St Mary's, Isles of Scilly
Found, Monday 25 October 2004
Died, Thursday 28 october 2004

'Digibinned' using my LEICA Ultravid 8x42s and Nikon Coolpix 995

Alas, it went the same way as most Ovenbirds found on this side of the Atlantic, and the Cream-coloured Courser which also died in care this morning.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Ovenbird! - now we're cookin'

Ovenbird. St Mary's, Isles of Scilly

'Digibinned' using my LEICA Ultravid 8x42s and Nikon Coolpix 995

Just a month a go I was thinking that I might be in for my first ever tick-free year. But nah, birding can be cruel and it can be magic, and running up to today I'd added Western Sand and Cream-coloured Courser in the last few weeks.

Resting on my laurels and thinking I'd seen the best bird I could get to of the autumn, the news of an Ovenbird on Scilly was shattering. Another bird with mythical status!

With a heap of work to get through I worked early morns and late evenings Monday and Tuesday so that I could afford Wednesday in the field. So, setting off at 11.00pm last night, I headed south-west.

I arrived at Penzance in time for a kip before relocating to Tesco for breakfast and to wait for news of the Ovenbird. I hadn't booked a chopper flight as if the bird disappeared (or died!) overnight, I would lose my £87 if I cancelled the ticket. But with an incoming storm already gusting near-gale force, Skybus and the Scillonian III cancelled for the next two days, would there not be a queue of hopeful birders waiting to rush for the few remaining seats at the heliport?

Just after 9.00am news came through that the Ovenbird was still present, so I legged it to the heliport and walked straight on to the next chopper flight to St Mary's. I was shocked to see only four other birders on the flight (and empty seats!) - appen the rough weather had p[ut pay to more traveling down (and it was mid-week after all).

We arrived at the site near Innisidgen, St Mary's at about 10.25am. The bird hadn't been seen since the 9.00am sighting, when it briefly appeared and walked off into ground cover. Rollox! The wind then picked up some more (gale force by now!) and the rain started. And it didn't sop for nearly two hours. If you weren't stood behind a tree, then it was akin to being bucketed with water. It wasn't good!

About two hours later it ceased and within minutes the sun came out - nice, bright and very warm. Many of us spread out to look for the Ovenbird. I soon located it with another birder in a sunny and windy hollow. My first view wasn't what I was hoping for. There, almost flat to the very wet ground, was a sodden bird with both its wings, tail and legs spread and head looking up to the sky. Jeez, I thought it was dead. Then it moved. We called other birders over and the bird, which was probably sunbathing in order to get dry, began to move, but each time it attempted to stand it simply flopped to the floor. The poor sod was knackered!

The assembled birders viewed it as it just sat in the wind and sun, slowly looking to be drying. It was agreed that we would attempt to catch it and stick it in a hat under someone's jumper and warm it up and to get it dry. As one guy was about to clasp his hands around it, it flew weakly back to the area it had spent the last couple of days feeding. It began feeding actively straight away, and in the sun and wind, it soon began to dry out. As it continued to feed, it got progressively stronger and less doddery, but it was always weak and occasionally a gust of wind would topple it over. Its left leg was obviously injured (not broken) as it was stiff and slightly trailing.

There was a collective relief to see the little bugger up and feeding and perking up all the time. Its a horrid feeling watching a bird that is visibly dying right in front of you, so the better it looked, the better we all felt (selfish I know!).

Conditions weren't condusive for scope use, so I improvised and hand-holding my Ultravid 8x42s, I set my Nikon Coolpix to the bottom end of the optimum macro setting and shooting at a max of 1/60th of a sec, I managed these half-decent record shots! People around me were amazed at the results, as I am, at my first ever 'digibinning'.

Just look at that crown!

'Digibinned' using my LEICA Ultravid 8x42s and Nikon Coolpix 995

I watched the Ovenbird for a good while before feeling that I was now missing some birding elsewhere on the island. Heading back up towards Trenowerth Farm and the place was chuffed with birds - Chiffchaffs in particular where everywhere. A Woodcock flew through. A couple of Black Redstarts suddenly appeared in front of me. A Merlin fought the wind overhead. And dozens upon dozens of Redwings bombed around overhead. Wow!

I picked my route for the next two hours, slowly heading towards the airport and making use of as much north-west facing cover (from the gale force SE wind!). The whole Trenowerth area was dripping with Chiffies and I managed a very grey (northern?) Willow Warbler and a Common Redstart to go with my brace of Black Reds.

Telegraph continued the theme. More Black Reds, including 11 along one field edge. Chiffies along walls. Skylarks. Mipits. I noticed everyone else was taking the road back to town, so I thought I would brave the Golf Course. Walking across the first fairway I was blown off my feet! Now that was a first. Wandering around I flushed 19 Snipe and another Woodcock. The sheltered treeline leading down to the club house held a minimum of 39 Chiffies and 9 more Black Reds.

Porthloo was mild (on the sheltered side of the island) and held a single Med Gull and another smattering of Black Reds and Chiffs. I headed through the Incinerator and failed to latch on to the Waxwing or Yellow-browed, but managed to catch up with the Grey Phal on a really wild Old Town Bay. The phal was literally blown out of the water and dumped on to the road so it was picked up and relocated to nearby Lower Moors pool.

A windy Old Town Bay

What a day. Despite the weather, one of the best birding days I've had in an age.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Wryneck - brightening up a dull day!

Returning from Scilly last night, both Katie’s and my euphoria of successfully twitching the Cream-coloured Courser was slightly tempered by news that we had missed a Wryneck on our home turf (found by Martin Coates's dog Sparky). Ouch! Still, we had Mr Creamy Courser under our belts, and Katie had also ticked Short-toed Lark, so life was pretty sweet.

For some time, Brian 'the natural' Stone, Katie and I had arranged some time ago to head out to the coast for a rare day out of area. Our plans were changed slightly in order to start at Langtoft for the Wryneck. With a clearing sky I wasn't too hopeful, but as we left Katie's, Mikey 'world of nature' Weedon called us to say he was watching 'the neck'. top man!

We arrived at the site and from the car we were able to get brief views of the Wryneck only feet in front of Mikey's digiscoping set-up. We quietly got out of the car out of view of the bird, but the bird was spooked and flew into a tree. Some 45 mins later it hadn't returned, so the three of us headed for the Lincs coast as planned.

The Lincs coast is a vastly underwatched area - and for good reason. With Yorkshire (White's thrush, OBP, Pallas's and Yellow-browed Warblers, RB Fly etc) and Norfolk/Suffolk (more Pallas's and yellow-broweds, RB Flies etc) dripping with birds, our anticipation and expectations were greatly heightened. But without good reason. Skeggie to Gib Point was dead! Goldcrests (and not that many) a couple of Chiffies (which I didn’t even see!), a Lesser Whitethroat (which I only heard) and star bird - a Woodcock (seen only by Katie and Brian!) - and that was it.

So, with no birds to look at I suggested heading back inland for another, and better, look at the Wryneck. Agreed. An hour or so later we were back at Langtoft and, driving through the gate we immediately spotted the Wryneck feeding along the kerbstones in front of us! Bloody marvellous! We spent the next hour or so getting closer, and closer, snapping and snapping. What a bloody wonderful creature. I'd seen Wrynecks well in the past, but nothing quite like this! (see Katie's photos).

For Katie's pics click here. For Brian's pics click here.

What a star!

Playing hide and seek

What you lookin' at?

Get in there!

Tongue action

Photos © Steve Dudley
Nikon Coolpix 995 | Leica APO Televid 77 with 20xWA eyepiece

Saturday, October 09, 2004

What a creamy cracker!

With Mr Creamy Courser the Cream-coloured Cracker still lingering on the magical Isles of Scilly, the Katie 'Bogbumper' Fuller, Mark 'Wardy' Ward and myself had already secured earlier in the week the last three places on the 07.30h chopper this morning.

The Courser though decided to change its routine yesterday. No longer content living in the sheep fields of St Martin's it moved to the airport on St Mary's. Ouch! Saturday's chopper and plane traffic will be the busiest in weeks, so if it decides to stay around the airport it might get disturbed and shoot off which might take some relocating. Mind you, if it did stay around the airport, it would save us the time and hassle of legging it over to St Martin's.

So, we set off at 22.00h last night and arrived in Penzance at 04.00h this morning and managed a rather unsettled couple of hours sleep before transferring to the airport for our 07.30h chopper flight.

We got in the air five minutes early and arrived on St Mary's 20 minutes later. It was still quite dull and with no other birders likely to be out this early, it was up to us to find Mr Creamy Cracker for ourselves. Half an hours search around the terminal building drew a blank, so we decided to leave others searching this area and headed for the windsock to check the end of the main runway. The choppers and planes were using the other auxiliary runway due to the easterly winds, so it meant that the Giant's Castle end of the airfield was relatively undisturbed. In the howling 40+mph winds we could barely stand up in this exposed area with absolutely nothing to shelter us. We gave the place a grilling and were just about to head for Peninnis when Wardy's pager alerted us that the Courser was viewable from the terminal building! Result!

We legged it back round (very sweaty indeed!) and approaching the terminal building along the Old Town footpath we spotted the gathered birders looking down our side of the airfield. 'There it is!' I yelled 'on the ridge!'. We quickly set up our scopes. Even though the wind was howling and it was still very dull, I decided to get at least a record shot of Mr Creamy Cracker just in case I didn't get the opporuntity later in what was not worsening weather.

After about five minutes the Courser walked over the ridge so we moved up to the terminal building. Wardy mused about wanting to see it in flight, and after five mins, an incoming chopper duly helped as the Courser rose with all the other birds and flew, like an out of control Little Bittern in the strengthening wind, and headed off towards Old Town before pitching down in a grassy field - out of sight!

It had now started to pee down, so we decided to make our way across to Peninnis and look for the Short-toed Lark. Despite passing birders who told us it hadn't been seen this morning, we arrived at its favoured field as it was found - result! And what a star bird - the brightest autumn bird I'd ever seen.

The bird looked as fed up and wet as we were, so we continued around Peninnis picking up a single Chiffie and good views of a rather bedraggled Short-eared Owl looking for some cover, before arriving in Hugh Town and pitching ourselves down in Cafe En Route for a crackin cuppa. We were dripping! Wardy and I stripped off and little puddles formed under our hanging coats, scopes, bags etc. Katie sat there all togged up slowly dripping into her own puddle under her seat!

Refreshed, warmed and a little drier, we telephoned for a taxi to take us back to the airport for another view of the Courser. We watched it for a while in the pouring rain. It looked well and truly fecked off as it huddled down behind a pittasporum bush in a bulb field. It got up a couple of times, ran around on its leggy legs before returning to shelter. Poor sod.

A very wet and miserable Mr Creamy Courser

Two very wet, but happy, dirty twitchers

Well bugger the Courser - poor us! We were pee wet through again, so we made for the airport building and straight to the check-in desk. Although not due to fly off for another three hours, I enquired about an earlier flight back to Penzance and was handed three boarding cards for the next flight - 20 minutes later. Result!

Back in Penzance we made for Tesco for a hot lunch (and free in Wardy's case - another result!) before heading home, arriving back on the fen at 21.30h. Scilly and back in 22 hours. Result!

Photos © Steve Dudley
Nikon Coolpix 995 | Leica APO Televid 77 with 20xWA eyepiece

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Solar moler

My little furry friend, Mr Mole, has been causing a bit of a do in the garden. He's taken up residence at the bottom end of the garden and each night burrows around and forms his little hills hither and thither. I wasn't too fussed at first, but when the ground began to get decidedly dodgy due to the many tunnels, and the mole hills just kept on mounting up, I thought it was about time something had to be done (even though the sparrows love to dust-bathe on the dry mole hills!).

Wanting a humane solution to my problem, I searched the web and discovered solar powered mole deterrents - or solar molers! I got mine ordered. It arrived. I unpacked it. I then stuck the solar sensitive top in the garden for three days to charge up the battery, stuck the thing in the most recent molehill (one from the previoius night) and hey presto! Ultrasonic beeps are now being transmitted through moledom and beyond. Success was instant. No new hills for two consecutive nights. Lets hope the solar moler keeps things that way!

My solar moler doing its job with old mole hills behind

Photos © Steve Dudley
Nikon Coolpix 995

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Sunflowers @ Farcet Fen

By 'eck! What's this? A field margin strip of sunflowers on the fen. Fantastic!

Sunflower strip on Farcet Fen

Today I decided to take a closer look, and whilst doing so, met Martin, the manager of this and two other such strips on the fen planted for game cover. Martin explained that his small shoot were looking at ways of creating better cover strips for pheasants which not only looked more attractive than the horrible looking traditional maize strips, but were also better for the pheasants and the local wildlife community.

Well I think they've hit on a winner with this. The strips have been planted under the new 5m field margin scheme. Sunflowers and quinoa (a South American version of Fat Hen) have been planted together to provide a wealth of food once the plants have ripened and dropped their seed. Plenty of sun reaches the ground below the bushy stand of taller plants, and the whole place is alive with insects. Whilst I was there a male Yellowhammer was buzzing around the strip.

The winter will be the time to tell if it has worked as a cover strip. As long as the plants remain standing and provide decent cover through to Jan/Feb time, then it will be deemed a success. Lets just hope all this free sunflower and quinoa seed doesn't take too many birds away from my garden!

Sunday, October 03, 2004

If we all go down to Minsmere . . .

. . . we'll see some chuffin curlew! Well,lets admit it, apart from a whacky bill and a great call, I can't see what else curlews have going for them. And to drive for two hours to see . . . er . . . a small curlew? Hey - lets party!

But hold on, whats this? A snake in the grass it looks like!


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?