It was an exhilarating ear-popping flight from Exeter, following the coast of Devon and Cornwall, out beyond Lands End to the Isles of Scilly, with Pete reading the map!
With no flights on Sunday to disturb the birds it seemed like a good day to explore St. Mary’s where our first birds were Linnet and Rock Pipit on the sea wall right outside the guesthouse. Numerous Gannets were cruising out to sea beyond Peninnis Head and then the devout socialists in the group paid their respects at James Harold Wilson’s grave in the Old Town cemetery. After a break for elevenses in the Tolman Café, we heard that we had just missed Lapland Bunting and Red-throated Pipit on the airfield, presumably flushed by a fast flying Merlin, which zoomed by just as we arrived. A couple of Golden Plovers then made use of the landing strip, providing a nice view in the scope as they ‘parked’ on the runway. We found a Greenshank in Porth Hellick and then with Pectoral Sandpiper and a bouncy Jack Snipe showing well on the pool at Higher Moors, we took it in turns to squeeze into the hide for a look through the scope at these two star waders. Moving north along Holy Vale, we found several Chiffchaffs and briefly saw a Yellow-browed Warbler. Returning to Hugh Town via Porthloo and Town Beaches we added Curlew and Turnstone to the list, with a Water Rail seen by lucky Iris from the hide at Lower Moors. Finally we found several Sandwich Terns in the bay off Porthcressa Beach, so not a bad list for a quiet day.
Today we chose to visit Tresco, spotting Little Egrets on the rocks before landing at New Grimsby quay. At the north end of the island we found a pair of Kestrels and a family of Stonechats. The castles at the north end of the island usually provide panoramic views, but it became so murky today that we could barely see the path! Moving on, Old Grimsby was the perfect place for a picnic lunch with 35 Ringed Plovers, several Sanderlings, a Turnstone and a Knot also having their lunch on the beach. On the Great Pool new birds included Redshank, Gadwall, Shoveler and a Garganey, with a Hobby hawking overhead, while the splinter group that called in at the Abbey Gardens enjoyed close views of Red Squirrels and the amazing Golden Pheasant.
With no news from the ‘off islands’ and poor weather forecast for the afternoon, we decided to stay on St.Mary’s today and try again for the Lapland Buntings and Red-throated Pipit. On the way, a Red-throated Diver, still in breeding plumage, gave superb views at less than fifty yards in Old Town Bay, with ruby red eyes gleaming in the bright sunshine. The Red-throated Pipit seemed to have fled the airfield, but we soon pinpointed two of the three Lapland Buntings, feeding amid a crowd of Meadow Pipits, Linnets, Goldfinches, Pied Wagtails and Wheatears. By now the wet and windy weather had arrived and so we retreated to the hide at Lower Moors, where we had fantastic views of Jack Snipe alongside a considerably larger Common Snipe, with a Greenshank parading across the front of the hide. Back in Holy Vale we had brief views of Yellow-browed Warbler and Firecrest, followed by much closer views of the Pectoral Sandpiper on Porth Hellick pool. So even on a quiet day we still managed to see a good selection of star birds.
The beach outside the guesthouse this morning produced a Black Redstart showing well right below the sea wall. At 10.15 the Kingfisher took us to St. Martin’s, with Stonechat and Wheatear on the beach at Higher Town. Heading west toward Middle Town we found a Whinchat posing not far from the track. A little further on, a melanistic Pheasant looked stunning with its iridescent blue-green neck shining in the sun as it foraged in a bulbfield. Remarkably we found a Water Rail enjoying the sunshine in the same bulbfield, allowing amazing unobscured views in the scope! After lunch by the beach looking across to Tresco, we watched a Raven being mobbed by a Carrion Crow en route to St. Martin’s Head. The view from the head was alive with Gannets plunging into the deep blue sea, and amongst the melee we spotted a dozen or so porpoising Dolphins, and then half a dozen large and curious Grey Seals monitored our progress along the coast path on our way back to Higher Town quay.
Our Black Redstart was still performing in the same spot outside the guesthouse this morning, before we boarded the Seahorse for St. Agnes, where we enjoyed blue sky and sunshine all day long. We began with a tour of Gugh in the hope of a rumoured Wryneck, but with no luck, before doing a circuit of Wingletang Down with plenty of the usual Stonechats, Wheatears, Linnets and Meadow Pipits but nothing new. After a break for ice cream at Troytown Farm, we watched a very amusing Kestrel running around the cricket pitch, and catching a feast of caterpillars, which seemed like strange behaviour for a Kestrel. This could have been ‘bird of the day’ but then up at The Parsonage we had fantastic views of at least two Firecrests, with their bold eyestripes and bronze shoulder patches illuminated by the bright sunshine. That was one of the quietest days I have ever had on the Isles of Scilly. Nevertheless, this trip still produced great birds from North (Jack Snipe and Lapland Bunting), South (Firecrest), East (Yellow-browed Warbler) and West (Pectoral Sandpiper).