Cheered by the singing of Skylarks, we huddled together at the golf course café trying to keep out of the bitter wind while waiting for all 25 walkers to arrive. We then set off at a brisk pace for Leigh Woods and some shelter. Robin, Chiffchaff, Nuthatch, Blackbird and Blackcap sang as we walked among the Bluebells, and Jay, Great, Coal and Blue Tits put in an appearance. There were plenty of corvids about as we made our way to the coffee stop – there’s obviously a rookery nearby. A Greenfinch called, two Ravens flew over, and a pair of Buzzards turned up. On to Abbot’s Pool, passing a well-stocked birdfeeder busy with tits and Nuthatch. At the Pool everyone saw the Moorhen and Mallard but, sadly, only the very keen-eyed spotted a Pied Flycatcher fly over the water. Back to Ashton Court and a short walk back to the warmth of the cars through grassland dotted with Green-veined Orchids. A delightful ending to a walk filled with blossom, Bluebells and birdsong – Skylarks still filling the air with their song – and a total of 30 species. (Many thanks to Brenda for leading this walk.)
After threats of unusually low tides and easterly gales, the majority of the group set sail very early in the morning on the notoriously unstable Scillonian. As it turned out, we were pleasantly surprised to experience the calmest of seas you could hope for! Others joined later having taking the shorter route of flying to the small airport on St Mary’s. In total, we were 17 with an array of experience from newish birders to those with vast knowledge and awareness of the birding world. Sadly, the group was one down at the last minute due to a very unfortunate accident that put our 18th member into plaster from ankle to thigh.
A good number of seabirds: Fulmar, Manx Shearwater, Gannet, Shag, Cormorant, Razorbill and Guillemot were on the list before the beautiful islands appeared in view. Once landed, we walked around The Garrison above Hugh Town on St Mary’s en-route to the wonderful Mincarlo B&B. Bryony and Ella and the team were extremely accommodating and coped marvellously with all our needs.
We were given such a privileged tour around the Scillies courtesy of Jane who, having visited the Scillies about 25 times, was an expert leader knowing all the routes and best birding places on all five inhabited islands (including the local refuse dump on St Mary’s). Jane’s local contacts put us in good touch with the birdlife each day and we too were able to report into their network of communication about what was being seen and where. These contacts and the daily list on the birding record chalkboard led us to see the Snowy Owl on Bryher, the Iceland Gull on St Mary’s golf course and the Iberian Chiffchaff on Tresco. Had we not used modern technology to listen to the diagnostic call of the Iberian Chiffchaff the night before we may well have missed it, but Nick’s excellent listening skills meant we caught it by sound before seeing it.
Of course we concentrated on the bird life, but we also saw many things of interest including historical sites such as Neolithic burial chambers and the last resting place of Harold Wilson. The flowering plants were beautiful, with many we recognised but challenged ourselves to name. Many of the flora such as the Mesembryanthemum (Hottentot Fig) and Oxalis (Bermuda Buttercup) were introduced from South Africa. All the islands have bulb fields, with Daffodils and Ixias being grown commercially. The pollution-free environment of the islands meant many trees, granite walls and rocks were covered by amazing grey-green lichen which gave an eerie feel to the landscape.
There wasn’t a lot of animal life but we did have close views of the Grey Seals on the uninhabited rocks of Annet and saw six seal heads bobbing in the water off St Martin’s. We also saw Rabbits and Red Squirrel in Tresco Abbey Gardens and a bat out in broad daylight plus some suspected Hedgehog footprints. It is really impressive and important that the islands are now free of Brown Rats that would normally eat eggs and kill chicks of birds that nest on the ground and in burrows.
The inter-island boats provided a fantastic opportunity to see seabirds including all the auks but the tiny Puffins were few and far between. On a number of rocks, a Cormorant sat alongside a Shag giving the ideal opportunity to compare the size of these two related birds. Shags were far more abundant with over a hundred individuals in one raft (described comically by Lois as a ‘Shag-Fest’) all showing off their bright yellow eyespots. Other seabirds included the Great Northern Diver and the majestic Gannets that dived into the water at such speed as did the Sandwich Terns seen plunge-diving off the coast. On St Agnes, we had eye-level views of two Kittiwakes flying along the cliff edge where they were probably nesting. Song Thrush, Wren and House Sparrows were everywhere. On all islands there were more Collared Doves than Woodpigeons. Lower Moors on St Mary’s gave us some newly hatched Mallard chicks and four Moorhen chicks visible through the blind. Over the week we witnessed Song Thrush parents busily feeding their chicks in an eye-level nest close to the path.
Other less common birds included the Ring Ouzel, Water Rail and Hoopoe but not everyone saw these. We searched in vain for a Wryneck on The Garrison and for Rook at the north of Tresco but they were not to be for this trip list. After spotting the male Snowy Owl who stood out like a sore thumb on the dark heather moorland of north Bryher, it flew east and landed on a more prominent point. From there, we were all able to get great views of this magnificent bird. It was flushed by a couple of dog walkers who were oblivious to this spectacular bird flying just above their heads on its way to Tresco! We had excellent views of a very noisy Cuckoo and, for those who chose not to race to the top of St Martin’s but instead take a leisurely rest, a Montagu’s Harrier in flight. The St Martin’s pub claimed to have the best view in the world – and indeed gave a great view of the only Ravens seen all week.
In all, the group saw 88 species which perhaps isn’t a vast number for a week’s intensive birding but it was the nature of the birdlife and the rarity of some that made the week so very special. The intensity of the migratory falls of Blackcaps following a foggy morning was amazing with behaviour never before seen by any of the group (feeding on the ground in a field on St Mary’s and grazing for sand-flies on the beach at St Warna Cove on St Agnes). On Wingletang Down on St Agnes we had a view of more than ten Wheatears, whose white rumps we all became familiar with during the week and, with so many Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers about, we were able to focus on their small diagnostic differences. The weather remained sunny for most of the week but the winds were chilly. We had only a couple of very short showers so we were lucky. The winds changed to north and north-easterly by the third day so the crazy numbers of migrants were no longer evident and the resident Sparrows, Song Thrush, Linnets and Wrens took over. The Snowy Owl was the ‘bird of the trip’ for most of the group but others gave that special token to some stunning species like the Gannet, or more humble species including the very tame Song Thrush or the ubiquitous and very noisy Wren whose explosive song is out of all proportion to its size.
Many thanks to those experienced birders who made us feel very welcome and shared their knowledge unselfishly and we are sure the whole group would like to give special thanks to Jane Cumming for leading from the front. Alison and Jeremy Pilling
If you are interested, there are some interesting photos of the Snowy Owl and Iberian Chiffchaff on a local Scilly birder’s blog site: http://scillyspider.blogspot.co.uk
Nineteen of us set off on a bright yet mainly overcast morning, leaving the car park meeting point to the sound of both Blackbird and Song Thrush. The road down towards the village gave us good views of Long-tailed Tits, a male Blackcap and an obliging Nuthatch that was feeding along the top of a horizontal bough. A House Martin passed overhead. On the steep climb through the woods we heard Nuthatch, a sound that continued to accompany us throughout the morning. We emerged in Upper Castle Combe where two rookeries (or one split rookery) hosted some 16 active nests. We then walked through quiet lanes where we saw three Buzzards soaring, Pied Wagtail, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, both male and female Blackcaps (three in one tree) and the first Swallow of the morning. In the middle of an adjacent field five roe deer relaxed, eyeing us warily. Some of the group diverted to a newly created pond, which held a Little Grebe as well as Mallard, Canada Geese and a Moorhen. Skylarks were heard and subsequently spotted. After the coffee break we made the long descent towards the village though the valley with its varying landscape. On this stretch we added Mistle Thrush, both Green and Greater Spotted Woodpecker, Chiffchaff, Yellowhammer and Kestrel; a Cuckoo and Raven were heard. Back in Castle Combe village a Goldcrest showed well as did a calling Coal Tit. There was lots of vibrant Bluebells along the way but not enough sun to encourage the butterflies. Back in the car park a Song Thrush foraged on the grass verge, exactly where it had been when we left three hours earlier. In total some 45 species were recorded. Thanks to Dave for leading this very pleasant and always rewarding walk. John Lees
In the car park a Goldfinch was “wall-creeping” under a window ledge, picking off the spider webs for nest making, with Greenfinch and Robin about. The walk started on the south side and wound round the park clockwise. We began by walking down to the junction of the motorway and river. In the playing fields 40-odd corvids rummaged with three Starlings, a Stock Dove flew over and the first of ten Great Tits was heard and seen. Up above circled 33 Lesser Black-backed Gulls and two Herring Gulls. An unseen Green Woodpecker teased us with its ‘yaffling’ somewhere on the woody hillside, with Blackbird, Magpie, Mistle Thrush, a Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, singing spring Wrens, Long-tailed Tit and Coal Tit. In the tall trees at the bottom, a Great Spotted Woodpecker was seen by all. The allotments across the river gave Blue Tit, Chaffinch and Song Thrush. Near the lake a Goldcrest’s song caught our attention swiftly followed by two Stock Doves hiding in the branches – a treat to see them so close. On the lake a Grey Heron fished among the urban waterfowl, with a couple of Muscovy Ducks. Two Collared Doves cooed and a Kingfisher flashed by, too fast for many. At this point a group photo was taken, now posted on the BOC’s Facebook. In the dried rushes was a Comma butterfly, with Peacock, Brimstone and Orange Tip all about. The return walk brought two more Great Spotted Woodpeckers, a Jay and a couple of House Sparrows. It was a glorious sunny day, and very enjoyable. Thanks to Richard Scantlebury for leading, and Nick Hawkridge for the count. Robert Hargreaves
Nine members met on a sunny but gusty morning for a walk around the high downland in a quest for Ring Ouzel. In the absence of a designated leader, Annie, the only person who had visited the area previously, led the walk. We were slow setting off from the car park with golfers teeing off over the car park entrance and in the direction of our path. Almost immediately we were lucky enough to see a Red Kite being mobbed by a crow. As we walked down an enclosed path bordered by hedge and small trees we saw a variety of birds including Robin, Long-tailed Tit, Blue Tit, Dunnock, Chiffchaff, Wren, Goldfinch, Blackbird and two Swallows. As we proceeded we had splendid views of Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Rook and a Raven. Once we reached the Washpool Valley we scanned carefully for possible Ring Ouzel or indeed any other spring migrants – but without success. However we did see Meadow Pipit, Sparrowhawk and a Buzzard. We also heard a Willow Warbler and Goldcrest. As it was such a lovely day the whole area was busy with families walking and lots of dog walkers and this probably didn’t help our search. It was a very windy walk over the higher downland back to the car park. Thank you to Annie for stepping up to lead the group. Sue Kempson