Tuesday, 8 September 2020

Scilly Pelagics and other goodies - 29 August - 1 September

Great Skua - Scilly Pelagic 31-08-20

It was the second year in succession that I had enrolled on the pelagic trips run by Robert Flood on the Sapphire, expertly skippered by Joe Pender. Having missed Wilson's Storm Petrel the previous year and having not seen one since 1999, I was keen to reconnect with one of these legendary sea birds.

I stayed overnight in Penzance, after spending a few hours on the Hayle. It was fairly quiet apart from a smattering of commoner waders and a couple of Northern Wheatears. I also took the opportunity to snap the nearly tame Turnstones in Penzance harbour and other easy pickings.

Juvenile Great Black-backed Gull

Ringed Plovers


On the Saturday, I took the mid morning Scillonian in a cold northerly wind and light rain. This precipitation cleared half way out and Scilly was bathed in sunshine.  Hearing that the Citrine Wagtail was still on Tresco, I grabbed a sausage roll from Kavorna and joined the queue for the boat. I had a ticket left over from October, so put it to good use. Arriving at New Grimsby, I hot footed it to the Swarovski hide and immediately located the wagtail, which was on the near corner of mud but close to the reeds. 

It called a few times, which was nice - somewhere between Yellow Wagtail and Red-throated Pipit to my ears. It walked closer and I had amazing views, and would have got some fine shots, but just as I focused, two Green Sandpipers flushed the bird, and it flew to the back of the mud. On the plus side, I got a half decent shot of a Green Sandpiper.

Juvenile Citrine Wagtail

Green Sandpiper

I caught the last boat back to St. Mary's and checked in with Lisa at the Bylet. This is the guest house that I originally stayed at, back in 1985 and 1986 before settling on the Lyonnesse, where I have spent many happy hours over the years.

Hearing about a Curlew Sandpiper on Porthloo Beach, I walked via Porthmellon and found a small group of people watching the bird at some distance, as it fed among the seaweed. When the others had gone, I made my way very carefully along the slip way, until I was at a safe enough distance from the birds as not to disturb them, but close enough to give myself half a chance of a decent photo. For me, part of the enjoyment of bird photography is not getting the closest possible photo at all costs but the physical challenge of outwitting the bird by using whatever cover is available along with some old fashioned field craft.

I ended up getting the Curlew Sandpiper down to three metres, albeit in failing light. A Dunlin walked around my feet. 

Curlew Sandpiper


With an early start the next morning, I grabbed some snacks from the Co-op when the queue had gone down and had an early night.

I was on the quay at 7.40am and met up with Alan Hannington. We reminisced over the hours of fun we had had compiling quizzes for a Facebook group during the peak of lock down, back in March and April. Facebook feels like a fridge freezer - in the sense of how did we ever manage without it in the 1970s?  But it really proved its worth in the dark days of the early lock down.

Anyway, we set sail at 8am and with Alan on bread duty, we were soon attracting a nice group of gulls.

The first proper bird was a skua, which was quickly identified as an intermediate morph juvenile Long-tailed Skua, which made several passes of the boat. Watching birds on the boat was one thing, and you do get amazing views. However, taking photographs seems to require an extra level of hand-eye-feet co-ordination.  I often thought I had got a stunning photo, only to find it was slightly out of focus, spoiled by camera shake or disappearing into the corner of the frame. Even so, the experience of seeing these birds at close quarters is thrilling and I love it. I could go on a pelagic every day!

The rest of the trip probably didn't live up to the initial expectations, although we did see a Great Shearwater, which was good in northerly winds, a nice group of European Storm Petrels and we got some amazingly close views of Fulmars

Juvenile Long-tailed Skua

European Storm Petrel


Arriving back at St. Mary's in the afternoon, I headed up to Juliet's Tea Rooms. Last year, their cakes were easily out done by Longstone's but they have raised their game and the coffee & walnut cake is totally awesome. So often, cafés seem to skimp on the coffee in 'coffee' and walnut cakes but this was a high octane caffeine fix. 

Dropping down to Porthloo beach, I could see Martin Goodey focused on something on the seashore. Lifting my bins, I could see a Greenshank feeding on the tideline. I had now what could only be described as a challenge. Virtually any movement by me in that direction would flush the bird. Also, my position meant that any attempts at a photo were pointless as the bird was virtually in silhouette. I saw no alternative (apart from going back for more cake) but to lie on the beach and inch along the sand until I was at least level with the bird or even between it and MPG. This took five minutes of discomfort and I'm still finding sand in odd places now.

The result was a few nice shots, and a video.


Video of a Greenshank - Porthloo Beach

On the Monday, there was an evening pelagic going at 5pm from the quay, so I had the day to explore St. Mary's. I checked out Porthloo first thing, but the tide was out and all the birds were spread out, so I walked to Old Town via Rosehill and Lower Moors, adding Reed Warbler and Willow Warbler to the trip list. Walking around the coastal path, there was a smattering of Northern Wheatears between Giant's Castle and the airport, but my attempts to sneak up on a Wheatear were thwarted by a family who flushed the bird before I could get a photo. 

I continued through Higher Moors and Holy Vale, by which time it was lunch and I paused at Longstones for refreshments. The Banoffee pie cake (to my mind more cake than pie - but I would have to defer to Mary Berry on that) looked tempting and as I tucked in, the unmistakable 'gyp gyp' of a Common Crossbill could be heard flying over. Cake and birds. That probably should have been the name of this Blog. 

Banoffee Pie Cake

Walking back up to the main road, I had a plan to work Penninis before heading back to town for my rucksack and pick up rations from the supermarket. I went via the dump clump and had a pang of nostalgia over the Yellow-billed Cuckoo from October. 

It was relatively quiet bird-wise but it's a lovely walk via the bottom of Old Town church yard. There seemed to be a lot of Linnets about along the coastal path, and I was well into three figures before I hit Peninnis head, where there seemed to be a Northern Wheatear on every rock. I had the headland to myself it seemed and with a bit of patience I managed to get a decent photo.

Northern Wheatear

I made my way along King Edward's Road and more Linnets were gathering in the hedgerow, and a few were flying down to the puddles that had formed in the potholes there.  Walking tentatively forward I got to within a decent distance and then sat down on the grass verge, and waited for some birds to come down to drink.  However, I had not factored in the gentleman who decided to stop in the middle of the track and strike up a conversation, thereby preventing my Linnets from slaking their thirst. I was minded to tell him to go away, but he was of an age to whom I tend show a bit more respect, so waited for him to finish his talk and move on.

Now undisturbed the birds began to come and go, mostly in one and twos, and I was quite pleased with the eye level photos I got of drinking Linnets. Lovely birds even in their autumn streakiness.

With the pelagic just two hours away, I dropped in on friends and was supplied with some scrumptious Banana Loaf, and then went to the Co-op to get some supplies. While in the queue, Whatsapp beeped - reporting a couple of Black Kites over Salakee or some other far flung part of the island. Wondering how to react, I stood fast and got as far as third from the front when they came up as over the golf course. The cogs whirled and I realised I might be able to get them from the quay. In fact I didn't have to go that far and scanned the golf course from the little gap in the buildings adjacent to The Atlantic. 

A few seconds of adrenaline and I picked them up, soaring over the Club House. Okay, quite distant but definitely Black Kites! They were only ever going to be a record shot without a television camera or something. @recordshotmyars would be proud of the photo.

Black Kites

I rejoined the queue, got some bits for the sea trip and met other birders down at the quay. 

The winds were now southerly, which bode well for the evening pelagic. Indeed we were not far off from St. Mary's when the first good bird - a Black Tern was seen, although it didn't hang around. 

This was shortly followed by a Great Shearwater - great views but no photos.

After another 20 minutes, we ploughed into a nice feed, with a hundred or more Manx Sheawaters and at least three Sooty Shearwaters, although in my enjoyment of the moment, I never managed any decent photos of the Sootys.  

We steamed further out and 'dropped anchor' and chucked some chum over the side. This produced a steady trickle of European Storm Petrels feeding in the slick. However, it was just after sunset when it all kicked off - firstly with a really close Great Shearwater and then a Wilson's Storm Petrel. Bob picked it up in the slick and I was able to pick it out by following his description of the bird's behaviour, which is entirely different to the Stormies. Where as the Alamooties are all over the place - dancing over the water, the Wilson's seem to bounce up and down on the spot.

The bird was way too far out to even consider a photo, so I just enjoyed watching it. However as the clock approached 8.25 and with light seriously failing the bird flew round the bow and made a very close pass to port side and I just pointed the camera and hoped for the best. In the circumstances, I think it's a passable record shot. An hour earlier and it would have been a belter!

                                              Great Shearwater

Wilson's Storm Petrel

My final day and I had two options - follow up a Spotted Sandpiper at Porth Hellick or go for a Temminck's Stint on the Tresco Great Pool. I opted for the latter as it was a Scilly tick. I had seen a summer plumaged Spotted Sandpiper on Tresco way back in 1985 and watched it through Bryan Bland's Questar.

I caught the first boat out on a beautifully sunny day.  As we headed towards Carn Near, I scanned the horizon and picked up a large raptor way over the starboard side being mobbed by a Herring Gull to the north east of the island. Looking at bird's jizz, its behaviour and the movement of its tail and the pale shoulder bars, it was undoubtedly a Black Kite and presumably one of the birds from the previous day. I put the news out and headed straight for the Swarovski hide with the aim of being the first birder on the Stint. I arrived at the hide and as luck would have it - it was as far away as it could be but identifiable as a Temminck's Stint, especially with the assistance of an older gentleman's Swarovski binoscope.  I watched the bird for an hour but it never came close enough for a decent photo while I was there. The stint also had two Curlew Sandpipers and two Dunlin for company.

Wanting to make the most of my last day, I struck out into the island with the hope of finding a Pied Flycatcher, on hearing that there was a mini fall of birds on St. Mary's. I wasn't disappointed, and had one bird by the sewage plant and then later, a relatively approachable bird by the David Hunt hide. I also had a Sedge Warbler here.

Pied Flycatcher

Leaving Tresco just as it seemed to be getting good, I was back at St. Mary's just in time to grab a Pasty from Kavorna and queue for the Scillonian. I spent the whole journey on deck - of course and was rewarded with a Cory's Shearwater with 100 Manxies and a single Great Shearwater.

I'll be back for a few days mid October hoping for the biggie.

1 comment:

  1. Really enjoyed experiencingand relating to every second of that blog,nice one.