TRAVELLING NATURALIST TRIP REPORT

ISLES OF SCILLY

11 - 18 May 2002


Leaders:
Will Wagstaff
Phil Read

INTRODUCTION

Anyone visiting the Isles of Scilly should expect the unexpected. Who would have thought at the beginning of the week, with so few birds around, we would end the week having seen two extremely rare birds, including a first for Scilly. Not to mention a dragonfly first for Scilly as well. These magical islands never fail to surprise and delight.

PROGRAM AND WEATHER

Saturday 11 May

Fine weather enabled us to leave Penzance on time for our short helicopter flight to the Isles of Scilly. As usual we attended Will Wagstaff''s evening slide show which provides an excellent introduction to the wildlife of the islands.

Sunday 12 May. Moderate SE'ly wind. Cloudy with rain during the afternoon. Max. temperature 14C.

Our first morning was spent walking around the area close to Hugh Town including the Lower Moors Nature Trail. Birds were few and far between but we were able to watch a singing Sedge Warbler display-flying.

After lunch we set out on the traditional "Seabird Special" trip around the northern rocks and islands. We all enjoyed excellent close views of Manx Shearwater alongside the boat as well as, the always charming, Puffins. The weather deteriorated whilst we were at sea and we returned rather wet and cold but well satisfied.

Monday 13 May. Fresh to strong S'ly wind. Showers during afternoon. Max. temperature 14C.

We spent the day on Tresco. Again birds were hard to find in the strong winds but two Bar Tailed Godwits, one in summer plumage, were a nice find and Will spotted his first "dot" of the week; a rapidly disappearing Golden Oriole. The sunny weather helped enhance the famous Abbey Gardens where we spent the afternoon before an exciting boat trip home in decidedly choppy and damp conditions.

Tuesday 14 May. Moderate to fresh SW'ly wind. Partly cloudy. Max. temperature 15C.

We spent the day exploring St Mary's in fine weather. Everyone enjoyed close and prolonged views of an "interesting" Kestrel on the Golf Course which was thought might have been a Lesser Kestrel. Identification was confirmed the next day when local birdwatchers saw its pale claws. We investigated several ancient sites, to keep the budding archaeologists happy, and the bird highlights included a female Hen Harrier flying in off the sea.

Wednesday 15 May. Moderate S to SW'ly wind. Max. temperature 15C.

Another day, another island. This time St Martin's. We enjoyed the lovely views from the least fashionable of the main islands and saw the female Hen Harrier again, this time rather closer than the day before.

Thursday 16 May. SE'ly light to moderate. Max. temperature 16C.

St Agnes on a fine day is always a lovable experience and today was no exception. Its reputation for being the best island for waders was upheld and these included flocks of Sanderling and Turnstone, some in summer plumage. During our lunch stop we were briefly visited by a fine male Woodchat Shrike and an amorous pair of Cuckoos.

We explored the nearby island of Gugh in the afternoon and from the highest point watched a Marsh Harrier over St Mary's.

The evening "Shearwater Special" was enjoyed by all who went and included seeing around 200 Manx Shearwaters, a good number for Scillonian waters.

Friday 17 May. Calm becoming light northwesterly wind. Fog at first slowly clearing. Max. temperature 14C.

Our main reason for visiting the charming island of Bryher is to see the Dwarf Pansies at their only British site. As usual we set up the telescope so those who did not wish to grovel around on the ground cold appreciate these little gems. A fine Dotterel looked at home on the moorland-like terrain and it became apparent during the afternoon there was a noticeable movement of migrants from the south particularly swallows and martins but the finding of a Red Veined Darter dragonfly was a real surprise.

One of the highlights of the week, for Will and Phil if no one else, was hearing news of a Little Swift on St Mary's. The "twitch" that followed our landing back on St Mary's was greatly enjoyed by those who took part, despite the rapid hill-climbing involved. We were rewarded with close views of this vagrant from Africa.

Saturday 18 May.

Thankfully our departure day dawned fine and we were able to leave on our scheduled early morning flight.

SPECIES NOTES

BIRDS

Great Northern Diver: 1, in full summer plumage, seen from the boat on 12th.

Fulmar: Recorded on most days in small numbers. Close views from the boats.

Manx Shearwater: At least 50, including some very close to the boat, during the "Seabird Special" on 12th. Around 200 seen on the evening of 20th during the "Shearwater Special".

Gannet: Recorded daily in small numbers but often close to the boats.

Cormorant: Seen daily around the islands. Close views of breeding birds on Mincarlo during the "Seabird Special".

Shag: A very common bird around the islands, often in large feeding flocks.

Grey Heron: Only records were 1 immature near Bar Point, St Mary's on 14th and 1 on Bryher on 17th.

Mute Swan: Breeding birds seen on Porthellick Pool and a pair with 6 cygnets on the Great Pool, Tresco on 13th.

Canada Goose: 5 on Tresco on 13th.

Shelduck: Recorded daily around the islands in small numbers.

Gadwall: Present on St Mary's, Tresco and St Agnes in small numbers.

Mallard: Widespread in small numbers. Commonly seen frequenting the sea and rocky coasts.

Tufted Duck: 1 female on Great Pool, Tresco on 13th.

Hen Harrier: A female was watched distantly coming in off the sea from the south on 14th and presumably the same bird was seen on St Martin's on 15th.

Marsh Harrier: A female/immature male was viewed distantly over St Mary's, from Gugh, on 16th.

Common Kestrel: Single birds seen on St Mary's on 12th and 14th.

Lesser Kestrel: We enjoyed prolonged, close views of this immature male bird on St Mary's golf course on 14th before its identification was confirmed on 15th. An extremely rare vagrant to Britain from Southern Europe and, not surprisingly, a first British sighting for the Travelling Naturalist.

Hobby: 1 seen in flight on Bryher on 17th.

Peregrine: Brief views of 1 over St Mary's on 12th and 1 carrying food near Bar Point on 14th.

Red-legged Partridge: Introduced birds seen on Tresco and Bryher.

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

Moorhen: Recorded in small numbers on St Mary's and Tresco.

Coot: Recorded on Tresco and St Mary's. 2 on St Agnes on 16th.

Oystercatcher: Widespread and very vocal around the islands shores.

Ringed Plover: Recorded in small numbers, with some birds breeding, around the shorelines.

Dotterel: Excellent views of a male on Shipman Head Down, Bryher on 17th.

Bar-tailed Godwit: 2, 1 in summer plumage and 1 in winter plumage, in Pentle Bay, Tresco on 13th.

Whimbrel: Migrant birds seen every day. Largest flock was 12 over Bryher on 17th.

Greenshank: 1 flew over St Martins on 15th.

Common Sandpiper: 1 seen flying around Big Pool, St Agnes on 16th.

Turnstone: Around 10 birds, some in summer plumage, in Porth Killier, St Agnes on 16th.

Sanderling: Migrant flocks of up to 20 birds seen on Tresco, St Mary's and St Agnes.

Dunlin: 2 on Tresco on 13th. 1 in summer plumage on St Agnes on 16th.

Herring Gull: Very common breeding bird.

Lesser Black -backed Gull: Very common breeding bird.

Great Black-backed Gull: Recorded daily.

Black-headed Gull: The only sighting was 1, 1st summer plumage, flying over the quay on St Agnes.

Kittiwake: Recorded around the islands on most days.

Common Tern: Common around the islands with some birds breeding.

Guillemot: Only seen in very small numbers, mainly during the "Seabird Special".

Razorbill: Seen daily around the islands with excellent views from the boats.

Puffin: 8, including some very close to the boat, during the "Seabird Special" on 12th. At least 5 during the "Shearwater Special" on 16th.

Stock Dove: The only sighting was 2 over the Abbey Gardens, Tresco.

Wood Pigeon: Recorded daily.

Turtle Dove: 2 on Tresco on 13th. A flock of 7 on St Agnes on 16th.

Collared Dove: Recorded daily.

Cuckoo: Heard daily and seen well on a number of occasions.

Swift: Single birds seen on 13th and 15th with a small influx on 17th.

Little Swift: An exciting end to the week was the "twitch" enjoyed by some of the group on St Mary's late afternoon on 17th. Eventually we enjoyed close views of this extremely rare vagrant to Britain from Northwest Africa. The first record for Scilly and obviously a British first for the Travelling Naturalist.

Sand Martin: 6 on Tresco on 13th and 1 on Bryher on 17th.

Swallow: Passage noted every day with a significant movement on 17th.

House Martin: Recorded in small numbers on 4 days. Noticeable movement on 17th.

Yellow Wagtail: 1 seen briefly on St Agnes on 16th.

Pied Wagtail: Brief sightings of 1 on 15th and 1 on 16th.

Tree Pipit: 1 flew over the tearooms on St Martin's on 15th.

Rock Pipit: Regularly seen around the rocky shores.

Woodchat Shrike: A fine male of this scarce southern migrant gave good, if rather brief, views on St Agnes during our lunch break.

Wren: Abundant and very vocal.

Dunnock: Very common and vocal.

Blackbird: Very common.

Song Thrush: Very common and delightfully tame.

Robin: Recorded most days in small numbers.

Stonechat: Common breeding bird.

Wheatear: Small numbers of migrant birds seen on most days.

Sedge Warbler: Heard and seen well on Lower Moors on 12th.

Willow Warbler: Widespread and vocal in small numbers around the islands.

Common Chiffchaff: Heard around the islands each day in small numbers.

Blackcap: Small numbers heard on 4 days.

Whitethroat: Seen on St Mary's and St Martin's in very small numbers.

Goldcrest: Heard singing on Tresco and St Mary's.

Great Tit: Common around the islands, particularly St Mary's and Tresco.

Blue Tit: Seen on St Mary's and Tresco.

Magpie: The long staying individual, (we saw it last year as well), still present on the islands. This is only the sixth confirmed record for the islands but has so far failed in its attempts to return to the mainland.

Jackdaw: The only record was 2 on Tresco on 13th.

Carrion Crow: Recorded daily.

Raven: The 2, and only, were seen on Men-a-vaur during the "Seabird Special".

Golden Oriole: One of Will's smallest "dots". A female flew off high from Tresco on 13th.

Starling: Common and widespread.

Chaffinch: Only recorded on St Mary's and Tresco.

Greenfinch: Widespread in small numbers.

Goldfinch: Widespread and fairly common.

Linnet: Widespread and very common.

House Sparrow: Common breeding bird.

MAMMALS

Grey Seal

Lesser White toothed shrew (deceased)

Rabbit

Long Finned Pilot Whale (deceased)

Brown Rat

BUTTERFLIES

Large White

Small White

Green Veined White

Small Copper

Holly Blue

Peacock

Red Admiral

Painted Lady

Speckled Wood

DRAGONFLIES

Red Veined Darter: A female of this species, a rare migrant to Southern Britain from Southern Europe and Africa, was found on Shipman Head Down Bryher on 17th. This is the first known sighting for the Isles of Scilly on an exceptionally early date. They normally arrive in Southern England July to August; however its arrival did coincide with a noticeable passage of birds from the south including the Little Swift from Africa.

Two or possibly three individuals were present but only one was studied in detail.

PLANT LIST

Royal Fern Osmunda regalis

Bracken Pteridium aquilinum

Common Polypody Polypodium vulgare

Monterey Pine Pinus radiata

Lodge Pole Pine P. contorta

Monterey Cypress Cupressus macrocarpa

Creeping Buttercup Ranunculus repens

Bulbous Buttercup R. bulbosus

Lesser Celandine R. ficaria

Common Ramping Fumitory F. muralis

Sea Radish Raphanus maritimus

Common Scurvy Grass Cochlearia officinalis

Danish Scurvy Grass C. danica

Common Watercress rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum

Heath Dog Violet Viola canina

Dwarf Pansy V. kitaibeliana

Heath Milkwort Polygala serpyllifolia

Pittosporum crassifolium

Tamarisk Tamarix gallica

African Tamarisk T. africana

Sea Campion Silene maritima

English Catchfly Silene gallica

Red Campion Silene dioica

Mouse-ear Chickweed Cerastium holosteoides

Sandwort Honkenya peploides

Rock Sea Spurrey Spergularia rupicola

Hottentot Fig Carpobrutus edulis

Sea Beet Beta vulgaris subsp. maritima

Tree Mallow Lavatera arborea

Cut-leaved Cranesbill Geranium dissectum

Dove's Foot Cranesbill G molle

Common Storksbill Erodium cicutarium

Wall Oxalis Oxalis megalorrhiza

Pink Oxalis O. articulata

Bermuda Buttercup O. pers-caprae

Sycamore Acer psuedo-platanus

Euonymus Euonymus japonicus

Tree Lupin Lupinus arboreus

Common Gorse Ulex europaeus

Broom Sarothamnus scoparius

Spotted Medick Medicago arabica

Red Clover Trifolium pratense

Subterranean Clover T subterraneum

White Clover T. repens

Hop Trefoil T. campestre

Common Birdsfoot Trefoil Lotus corniculatus

Orange Birdsfoot O. pinnatus

Common Vetch V. sativa

Blackberry Rubrus fruticosus

Silverweed Potentilla anserina

Tormentil P. erecta

Hawthorn Crataegus monogyna

English Stonecrop Sedum anglicum

Wall Pennywort Umbellicus rupestris

Aeonium sp.

Escallonia Escallonia micrantha

Ivy Hedera helix

Marsh Pennywort Hydrocotyle vulgaris

Sea Holly Eryngium maritimum

Alexanders Smyrnium olusatrum

Hemlock Water Dropwort Oenanthe crocata

Fennel Foeniculum vulgare

Wild Angelica Angelica sylvestris

Hogweed heracleum sphondyllium

Wild Carrot Daucus carota

Rock Samphire Crithmum maritimum

Portland Spurge Euphorbia portlandica

Sea Spurge E. paralias

Wood Spurge E. amygdaloides

Japanese Knotweed Polygonum cuspidatum

Sheep's Sorrel Rumex acetosella

Common Sorrel R. acetosa

Pelitory of the Wall Parietaria diffusa

Common Nettle Urtica dioica

Common Elm Ulmus procera

Fig Ficus carica

Oak Quercus rober

Grey Sallow Salix cinerea

Rhododendron Rhododendron ponticum

Ling Calluna vulgaris

Bell Heather Erica cinerea

Thrift Armeria maritima

Primrose Primula vulgaris

Scarlet Pimpernel Anagallis arvensis

Greater Periwinkle Vinca major

Tree Echium Echium sp.

Sea Bindweed Calystegia soldanella

Foxglove Digitalis purpurea

Germander Speedwell Veronica chamaedrys

Hedge Veronica Hebe x franciscana

Lousewort Pedicularis sylvatica

Bear's Breech Acanthus mollis

Ground Ivy Glechoma hederacea

Woodsage Teucrium scorodonia

Plantain sp. Plantago sp.

Field Madder Sherardia arvensis

Cleavers Galium aparine

Coprosma coprosma repens

Elder Sambucus nigra

Honeysuckle Lonicera pericylmenum

Red Valerian Centranthus ruber

Groundsel Senecio vulgaris

German Ivy S. mikanoides

Winter Heliotrope Petasites fragrans

Brachyglottis Brachyglottis repanda

Daisy Bellis perennis

Olearia Olearia traversii

Sweet Chamomile Chamaemelum nobile

Yarrow Achillea millefolium

Scentless Mayweed Tripleurospermum maritimum

Corn Marigold Chrysanthemum segetum

Common Dandelion Taraxacum officinale

New Zealand Flax Phormium tenax

Vernal Squill Scilla verna

Bluebell Endymion non-scriptus

Spanish Bluebell E. hispanicus

Babbington's Leek Allium babbingtonii

Rosy Garlic A. roseum

Three-cornered Leek A. triquetrum

Blue Lily Agapanthus praecox

Stinking Iris Iris foetidissima

Yellow Flag I. pseudacorus

Montbretia Croccosmia x crocosmiflora

Whistling Jacks Gladiolus byzantinus

Wild Arum Arum italicum

Reed Phragmites communis

Marram Ammophila arenaria

My thanks, as always, to Will for his expert leadership and sharing his wealth of knowledge with us. Not to mention his uncanny "dot spotting" ability.

My thanks to the entire group for their wonderful company and co-operation as well as their "willingness" to spend so much time on foot.

Phil Read

May 2002


© The Travelling Naturalist 2002