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.

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