Sunday, 25 August 2019

Isles of Scilly & Cornwall 16th to 21st August, 2019

It had been quite a few years since I had been to Scilly in August, almost exactly 20 in fact, when I had gone for the solar eclipse. That year I had gone on a mini pelagic and seen one Wilson's Storm Petrel and a Great Shearwater. 

My trip began with a false start. I rang up my overnight lodgings in Penzance on the Thursday evening to advise of my arrival time and to request a packed breakfast. As I would be on a 7.15 Scillonian, I didn't expect them to be cooking at half past five, so thought they would throw together a couple of sandwiches and a drink, which is quite a usual thing when you have early starts for birding. 

From the moment the guy at the Bay Lodge picked up the phone, he seemed to want an argument. He didn't seem to know that the Scillonian sailed early on certain days and my request for a packed breakfast was met with bewilderment. Saying that, 'He would sort things out when I got there,' I left it that and assumed he was having a bad day. However, checking my emails, as I am wont to do before bed time, I was bemused to find that he had cancelled my booking - via, saying that '...we are unable to meet your requirements... so i suggest accepting your booking is not acceptable...'

So, I was in the position of having to find new accommodation at the last minute, and found a room at The Queens Hotel. There is no apostrophe in the name, so I assume that a lot of queens have stayed there.

I caught a mid morning train and after a seven hour train journey I arrived in Penzance in pouring rain. I checked in to the Queens, a rambling pile of an hotel, with old paintings and a large dining room with white table cloths and a majestic view out into the bay.

After a slap up dinner at Fraser's fish restaurant, down the road, I filmed the waves crashing against the sea wall and looked forward to a choppy crossing on the morrow.

I woke up early and was brought a continental breakfast to my room by the porter.

Not difficult, is it?

I checked out after my breakfast and headed to the quay, where I deposited my rucksack, which the kind people at the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company would deliver to my guest house on St. Mary's.

Boarding the boat, I see a fellow birder (Gary), who points out a juvenile Mediterranean Gull, which is floating off the starboard. I got a few shots in what is pretty rubbish light, and the bird took flight and I rattled off a few as it headed east.

Juvenile Mediterranean Gull

As we set sail, the swell of the sea becomes quickly quite pronounced. After less than 10 minutes the ship begins to pitch and roll in the strong breeze, which has only eased a little overnight. Gary's wife is not a good sailor, and so it seems neither are many other of our fellow passengers. As Gary and I begin picking up Manx Shearwaters heading south, lots of people are throwing up. I feel sorry for one particular woman, who has two small children. While they're happily listening to Peppa Pig or whatever, their Mum is puking over the side. 

I'm curious as to why sea sickness affects some people and not others. I'm assuming it's hereditary. I like to think I have Viking genes or something.

Anyway, just as the Scillonian has run out of sick bags, we arrive in St. Mary's and I disembarked. After saying hello to my hosts at the Wingletang, I headed off birding around St. Mary's with the idea of getting lunch at Juliet's Garden.

Town Beach was awash with day trippers, so I moved on to Porthmellon, which was deserted apart from a couple of Black Swans, wading in the ebbing tide.

Black Swan

As I approach the birds, rather than coming for bread, they wade out into the deeper water. It was nice to see them in this setting rather than a plastic duck pond.

Continuing to Porthloo beach, which is also deserted, there are a number of Oystercatchers, a couple of Curlew and a Sandwich Tern, which is diving for fish close off sure. As I'm snapping the tern, one of the Curlews takes flight and gives really close views along the shore line.

 Sandwich Tern


Now properly peckish, I continue north to Juliet's garden and order a smoked cheese and rocket flat bread. A few sparrows are lurking hopefully by the table edge, but my attempt at generosity is rewarded by being swamped by the birds, which appear from everywhere and I'm soon in a Mary Poppins situation with 30 birds clambering over my crockery to mop up any tit bits.

Juliet's Sparrows

After lunch, I headed off for a bit of a hike, via Carn Morval, Telegraph and along Pungies Lane and around the east of the island, and thence through Higher Moors and Porth Hellick. There are singularly few passerines around, with the exception of Song Thrush and Barn Swallows. On the way back to Hugh Town, I found a family party of Reed Warblers in Lower Moors, and one perches up in the open. It's not quite sharp, but not a bad photo.

Reed Warbler

I had an early(ish) night, with a pelagic booked for the next morning. I settled down after buying some tins of Amstel, pitta bread, dips and olives from the local Co-op, which somehow has only a 4 rating for food hygiene. I thought that was reserved for eateries. Not sure where they're going wrong?

I awoke the next morning, with a stiff breeze rattling the sky light and moving the palm trees outside the Wingletang. It was going to be a bouncy voyage. Three other birders, Nigel, Chris and Richard were also on the trip and we headed out with a packed breakfast!!! 

Robert Flood, who organises the pelagics decided to head north. It's not too long before we headed into choppy seas and there's a bunch of Manxies and Gannets feeding. Then Robert spots a Sooty Shearwater sitting on the sea. Unfortunately, the bird doesn't hang around long enough for a photo despite Joe Pender expertly manoeuvring the boat, but I got decent views in the bins. 

A few minutes later, as I'm scanning the sea, I got on to a skua and shout it out as it heads straight towards us. It's a cracking pale headed juv and after a bit of a run around, the bird shows beautifully. It's a real pearler and Robert declares it to be the bird of the season so far. Seeing the bird is one thing, but taking a photograph of it, when you're struggling to stand up, is another, and in that context, I'm pleased with my images. 

Long-tailed Skua

It's not long after the excitement of the skua is still buzzing around the boat that a Great Shearwater approaches the boat from the portside, but unfortunately just carries on and I only get brief views in the bins.

Robert then decides to drift as some old bits of mackerel and fish oil are emptied over the side. The smell is far less pungent than the chum I've encountered before and it reminds me of the cod liver oil that my Mum gave me as a little child.

We manage to attract a few European Storm Petrels, and a few Northern Fulmars and Manx Shearwaters in two hours. It's certainly the best views I've ever had of stormies and manxies, and I get what is certainly my best ever photo of a Fulmar.

 European Storm Petrel

 Manx Shearwater

Northern Fulmar

Joe started up the anchor and we steamed back south. There were two shouts for Wilson's Petrel, one which was distant and another which tanked past, and I got unsatisfactory views of the bird as it was lost between the waves. I wouldn't have ticked it, had I needed it for my British list. There was another Great Shearwater, but this was more distant than the first one and also bombed past.

After disembarking from the Sapphire, I dropped my bags at the Wingletang and walked around the corner, to catch up with my friends Melanie and Alan at the Lyonnesse, a placed I had stayed 15 times between the late 80s into the current century. Melanie's walnut, banana and honey loaf was showing very well and washed down nicely with a pot of tea, as Alan and I discussed the vicissitudes of English cricket.

In the evening, I did a walk around the Garrison Walls and took some photos in the perfect light before going for scampi and chips upstairs in the Mermaid.

Woolpack Point

 Morning Point

 The Garrison

Town Bay viewed from the Garrison

The next morning, the wind had dropped and I planned to visit Tresco Abbey Garden, as much to look for hoverflies as anything, my secondary passion after birds.

However, the garden has so many non-native species that there's little hoverflies of interest apart from a few of the commoner species. I do see a very nice Painted Lady, and it's quite a bold one and not one of these faded jobs that seem to be everywhere, this year.

Tresco Abbey Gardens

Painted Lady

Song Thrush

In the afternoon I returned to St. Mary's and noticed that a few Turnstones were feeding on the tide rack behind the Atlantic Hotel. 


and bumped into a birder, who told me that a Ruff was showing very well from the Sussex hide at Porth Hellick. I thought this was as good a plan as any, so hot footed it via Parting Carn and after 20 minutes I was sitting in the hide with the bird to myself, just a few feet away.


In the evening, I joined another pelagic, where we headed south. It was less bouncy than the previous day, but alas nothing of note was picked up, but we did get good views of the common species.

Eurasian Shag

Northern Gannet

I did a bit of light birding the following day, and returned to Penzance on the afternoon ferry. I was a flatter crossing than the outward trip, with 900 Manx Shearwaters, three Common Dolphins and a Long-finned Pilot Whale. Good stuff!

I was up early on the Wednesday and caught a train to Hayle. I had happy memories here from the heady days of the 1980s when I saw my first Ring-billed Gull at Copperhouse Creek.


Rock Pipit

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