TRAVELLING NATURALIST TRIP REPORT

ISLES OF SCILLY

25 September to 2 October 1999


Leaders:
Phil Read , Will Wagstaff

INTRODUCTION

These magnificent islands were not at their best for the first few days as we suffered wind and rain. As the week wore on and the weather improved everyone began to appreciate their beauty. Many people are surprised by the few species of common birds on the islands but we certainly made up for that with an interesting array of rarities.

PROGRAMME AND WEATHER

Saturday 25 Sept. Mod SSW'ly wind. Fine. Max temp. +15 C.

The trip nearly started leaderless as Phil's car developed clutch problems on the way down and he drove in fourth gear from Taunton to Penzance (fun around the roundabouts). As usual our first evening was spent attending Will's slide show of the island wildlife. A fine introduction to the islands, for those of us that stayed awake!

Sunday 26 Sept. Mod SW'ly wind. Showers then heavy rain. Max temp. +16 C.

During our first morning walk we found a few waders around the shores including Sanderling and Common Sandpiper and we were immediately aware of the movement of White Wagtail that we would witness all week.

The day was spent around St Mary's. A juvenile Rose-coloured Starling, in what is probably the best place in Britain to see this species, was a satisfying start. Showers turned to rain as we reached the most exposed part of the island and after watching a Short-toed Lark on the airfield in pouring rain we retired, defeated, to a nearby cafe.

Monday 27 Sept. Mod SW'ly wind. Heavy showers. Max temp. +16 C.

As we passed the hospital at dawn on our early morning walk we inadvertently flushed a bird from a roadside wall. Frustratingly in the poor light we were unable to positively identify what was surely a Corncrake.

Torrential rain before departure and a rough sea resulted in us arriving on Tresco rather worse for wear but thankfully the rain abated and we all dried out. The Abbey Pool was most productive with a fine juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper and two Black-necked Grebe. These are a Scilly rarity and far less common on the islands than the American wader.

The Great Pool had a scattering of ducks including Wigeon and Gadwall but few waders. Whilst some of the group had a leisurely stroll around the Abbey Gardens the rest enjoyed views of Ortolan Bunting and the only Swift and Jackdaws of the week.

Tuesday 28 Sept. Mod/fresh SW'ly wind. Showers. Max temp. +16 C.

Those who managed the early morning walk around the Garrison enjoyed the best of the days weather but saw few birds apart from 2 Ravens.

The windy and at times wet conditions made birding difficult on St Agnes. A Pied Flycatcher performed well on the very untypical habitat of seaweed covered rocks. A Common Rosefinch proved very elusive but we were rewarded during the frustrating wait by the flypast of a Monarch butterfly. During a short seawatch those with telescopes were able to view a distant Sooty Shearwater.

The dark evenings at this time of year means entertainment has to be found indoors and two of the more energetic members of the group spent the evening Line Dancing with the locals.

Wednesday 29 Sept. Fresh/strong SW'ly wind. Fine. Max temp. +18 C.

Sadly poor health resulted in Teresa having to return home whilst the rest of the group went to Bryher in search of a Baltimore Oriole, which failed to materialise. Everyone enjoyed the rugged beauty of this island, including Sylvia who viewed the ground at close quarters, and fine views of a perched Monarch.

Evening entertainment was provided by Phil with a slide show of the Falklands and Antarctica (this time Debbie managed to stay awake).

Thursday 30 Sept. Fresh/strong WNW'ly wind. Isolated showers. Max temp. +15 C.

A return trip to Tresco proved a great success in the greatly improved weather. The highlight being excellent views of an adult White Rumped Sandpiper which joined the Pectoral Sandpiper on the shore of the Abbey Pool providing an excellent comparison. Most of the group had good views of a smart little Serin, whilst Phil had wandered off elsewhere and shortly after an Ortolan Bunting in the same field gave excellent views to all, including Phil.

Friday 1 Oct . Fresh WSW'ly wind.Fine. Max temp. +17.

Those who had made the effort to go out early every morning were at last rewarded as John found a juvenile Dotterel in a ploughed field on Peninnis Head which gave us excellent views.

The brighter weather brought the islands and birds to life and we spent an excellent day around St Mary's with fine views of a Short-toed Lark and Richard's Pipit and a juvenile Night Heron was watched attempting to remain hidden in the reeds at Porthellick. A strange looking pale bird found sitting in a field by Angie materialised into perhaps the star bird of the trip. Although a juvenile, the Bee-eater was not lacking in colour and gave us prolonged, if rather, distant views as it perched in a pine tree devouring its lunch.

Saturday 2 Oct

The fine weather enabled our early morning flight to Penzance to arrive on time and everyone made their way home by various means (Phil in a breakdown lorry).

SPECIES NOTES

BIRDS

Little Grebe: 1 on Great Pool, Tresco on 27 and 30th.

Black-necked Grebe: 2 immature birds gave excellent views on the Abbey Pool, Tresco on 27 and 30th. This is a rare bird on Scilly.

Sooty Shearwater: 1 flew past Horse Point, St Agnes on 28th.

Gannet: Seen daily, often close inshore. Excellent views of fishing birds.

Cormorant: Seen daily in small numbers.

Shag: Abundant around the islands with flocks of over 200 birds noted. A very pale leucistic bird was seen from Tresco on 30th.

Night Heron: A spotty juvenile was watched hiding in the reeds at Porthellick on 1st.

Little Egret: Up to 14 were observed around the shorelines, mainly between Bryher and Tresco.

Grey Heron: Recorded daily in small numbers.

Mute Swan: Only recorded on Tresco where breeds.

Canada Goose: 10 on Tresco.

Wigeon: An eclipse plumage male on the Great Pool on 27th.

Gadwall: Only seen on the Great Pool.

Teal: Seen on the Great Pool and a few at Porthellick.

Mallard: Very common on Tresco. A few "real ones" on St Mary's.

Tufted Duck: 2 eclipse plumage males on the Great Pool.

Sparrowhawk: Very brief views of a female on ST Mary's on 26th.

Kestrel: Up to 3 birds seen almost daily.

Merlin: 1 very briefly near the airport on St Mary's on 1st.

Peregrine: We all enjoyed close and prolonged views of this magnificent bird. A huge female on Tresco on 27th. An immature male on Tresco on 30th and probably 2 immature males on St Mary's on 1st.

Red-legged Partridge: Counts of these introduced birds included 12 on Bryher, 12 on Tresco and 46 on St Mary's.

Pheasant: Introduced birds seen on Tresco and St Mary's.

Water Rail: Heard on a number of occasions but no sightings due to high water levels.

[Corncrake: A bird flushed near St Mary's hospital at dawn on 27th was probably this species, but we will never know.]

Moorhen: Common on St Mary's and Tresco. 1 on St Agnes on 28th.

Coot: Very common on Tresco. 1 at Porthellick. 6 on St Agnes on 28th.

Oystercatcher: Common, recorded daily.

Golden Plover: 4 on St Mary's airfield on 26th. 1 Tresco heliport on 27th.

Ringed Plover: Recorded daily in small numbers.

Dotterel: A juvenile showed well before breakfast but only fleetingly after on Peninnis Head on 1st.

Snipe: Seen daily but in lower numbers than usual. Highest count 6 at Porthellick on 26th.

Bar-tailed Godwit: 6 Pentle Bay, Tresco on 27th. 1 New Grimsby, Tresco on 30th.

Curlew: Recorded daily in small numbers.

Redshank: 11 on Great Pool on 27th. Otherwise very few birds around.

Greenshank: Recorded most days in small numbers. Largest group was 3 on Tresco/Bryher.

Common Sandpiper: 1 Porth Harry, St Mary's on 26th. 3 on St Agnes on 28th.

Sanderling: 12 on Porth Loo, St Mary's on 26th was the largest flock seen. Normally rather commoner at this time of year.

White -rumped Sandpiper: We all enjoyed excellent views of an adult on the Abbey Pool on 30th. The 14th record of this transatlantic vagrant on Scilly. A British first for the Travelling Naturalist.

Pectoral Sandpiper: A very smart juvenile bird on the Abbey Pool on 27th and 30th when it was joined by the White Rumped Sandpiper providing an interesting comparison.

Dunlin: Scarce. Highest count was 2 on Tresco.

Turnstone: Recorded daily around the islands.

Grey Phalarope: 1 flew past the boat returning from Bryher on 29th.

Great Skua: 2 fairly close inshore off Tresco on 30th.

Arctic Skua: A juvenile flew past the boat returning from Tresco on 27th.

Great Black-backed Gull: Common.

Herring Gull: Very common.

Yellow-legged Gull: A "third winter" bird on the Abbey Pool on 30th.

Black-headed Gull: Recorded daily but in small numbers. Largest flock 8 on Tresco on 27th.

Kittiwake: 1 flew past the Garrison on 28th. A few seen from the inter island boats.

Sandwich Tern: Seen most days in small numbers. Mostly between Bryher and Tresco.

Common Tern: 1 flew over the Abbey Pool on 30th.

Razorbill: 4 distantly off Tresco on 30th.

Stock Dove: Only record was a brief view at Higher Moors, St Mary's on 1st.

Wood Pigeon: Common.

Turtle Dove: Only record was a brief view of 1 at Old Town, St Mary's on 27th.

Collared Dove: Common.

Swift: 1 on Tresco on 27th.

Kingfisher: Very brief views on St Mary's on 26th and Abbey Pool on 27th.

Bee-eater: The highlight of the trip for many. An immature bird gave prolonged, if rather distant, views at Higher Moors on 1st.

Short-toed Lark: 1 on St Mary's airfield was watched in pouring rain on 26th but thankfully at close range and in sunshine on 1st. A difficult bird to see in Britain away from the Scillies.

Skylark: Only record was 1 on St Agnes on 28th. This species no longer breeds on Scilly.

Sand Martin: A few among the swallows particularly around the Great Pool and Porthellick Pool.

Swallow: Common.

House Martin: Very few seen, mainly on Tresco.

Richard's Pipit: This scarce migrant showed extremely well near Porth Loo lane on 1st.

Meadow Pipit: Recorded daily.

Rock Pipit: Recorded daily around the rocky shorelines.

Pied/White Wagtail: A noticeable passage of White Wagtail during the week.

Yellow Wagtail: Two brief flight views on St Agnes on 28th.

Grey Wagtail: We recorded this passage migrant on three days but all records were birds in flight.

Wren: Abundant and very vocal.

Dunnock: Very common and vocal.

Robin: Very commonly seen and heard.

Whinchat: Migrants seen on four days. Highest count 4 on 28th.

Stonechat: Relatively common and widespread.

Wheatear: Migrant birds recorded daily.

Blackbird: Abundant.

Song Thrush: Still delightfully common and approachable.

Garden Warbler: Only record was 1 on Tresco on 27th.

Willow Warbler: Recorded most days in small numbers.

Chiffchaff: Recorded most days in small numbers. Some birds in song.

Goldcrest: Recorded most days in small numbers. Both resident and migrant birds seen with 6 on Bryher on 29th.

Spotted Flycatcher: Only record was 1 near Watermill Lane, St Mary's on 30th.

Pied Flycatcher: Heard on a few occasions but only sighting was a bird seen well at Porth Killier, St Agnes on 28th.

Great Tit: Recorded daily.

Blue Tit: Recorded daily.

Jackdaw: Only record was 2 on Tresco on 27th.

Carrion Crow: Recorded daily. 3 records of Carrion/Hooded Crow type hybrids on Tresco.

Raven: 2 seen over the Garrison, St Mary's and 1 over New Grimsby, Tresco.

Starling: Very common and widespread.

Rose-coloured Starling: We all appreciated prolonged views of a juvenile on telegraph wires on St Mary's on 26th.

House Sparrow: Still common and widespread.

Chaffinch: Only recorded on Tresco where common, particularly in the Abbey Tea Gardens.

Serin: A bright bird was well seen at Borough Farm, Tresco on 30th.

Greenfinch: Recorded daily in small numbers.

Goldfinch: Recorded daily. A flock of over 50 on St Mary's on 1st.

Linnet: Very common and widespread.

Common Rosefinch: Very frustratingly the only records were: 1 on St Agnes on 28th seen briefly by Will and fleetingly by a few others and 1 by the runway on St Mary's on 1st seen briefly by Phil and fleetingly by a few others.

Ortolan Bunting: We all enjoyed excellent views of a juvenile at Borough Farm, Tresco on 27 and 30th.

Lapland Bunting: Only record was 1 heard on Castle Down, Tresco on 1st.

Snow Bunting: 1 on St Agnes on 28th. 1 on Tresco on 1st. Both gave excellent views.

MAMMALS

Grey Seal

Brown Rat

Rabbit

BUTTERFLIES

Large White

Small White

Green Veined White

Small Tortoiseshell

Red Admiral

Speckled Wood

Small Copper

Holly Blue

Monarch (One of the highlights of the trip. Altogether 4 records of this transatlantic vagrant including prolonged views of one perched on Bryher.)

DRAGONFLIES

Common Darter

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My thanks as always to Will for his leadership and bird finding skills. I thank the group for their excellent company, despite all their insults, and particularly their fortitude and good humour in what were, at times, very wet conditions.

Phil Read

October 1999


© The Travelling Naturalist 1999