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.

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