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Tuesday, November 11, 2008
A Visit to the Isles of Scilly
Red-flanked Bluetail Twitch
A long way to go for a Song Thrush
Olive backed Pipit
With a certain amount of trepidation I set out for my first ever trip to the Isles of Scilly; a seven hour train journey from Peterborough to Penzance. A Sociable plover and Grey cheeked Thrush had been reported for most of the preceding week. Will they still be there to initiate my visit to this Mecca of Birding locations?
After an overnight stay in Penzance and a quick nervous check to confirm that the Plover and Thrush were still in residence I embarked on a noisy helicopter crossing to Saint Mary’s. The Plover being in walking distance from my hotel in Hugh Town was first on the list to visit. I started out at a gentle pace which then accelerated through various stages until I was almost running the last few yards up Telegraph Road and there it was, the subject of my worries for the past week, a poorly looking, and hardly moving pinky buff-grey dot at the back of a grassy field. I forced myself to watch and study the poor specimen for thirty minutes or so to convince myself all the concern was worthwhile. The next day the Plover had disappeared. Had it recovered or succumbed to the forces of nature.
The next day a ferry to the island of St Angus was arranged to connect with the Grey-cheeked Thrush, the Olive-backed Pipit and the Blyth’s Reed Warbler. The viewing of these species and no doubt many others can be at times quite difficult because of the existence of very tall hedges and restricted viewing spaces. However in most cases some excellent monitoring and crowd organization by volunteers allowed most people time to witness the birds.
As we were leaving St Agnus a report came through of a Bobolink being seen. After ascertaining that the report was of a flyover we boarded the ferry. On arrival back at St Mary’s we came across numerous people who were due to return to St Agnus on a specially introduced ferry to see the Bobolink. Although we informed them that the bird had not stayed, they were not deterred and left for St Agnus which had apparently been renamed this season as God’s Island because it appeared to attract more good birds than the other islands. On arriving back at St Agnus a report came in of a Red- flanked Bluetail on St Mary’s; the island they had just left. This coupled with the knowledge that the Bobolink had not stayed warranted a quick return to St Mary’s for the Red- flanked Bluetail twitch . Oh the vagaries of birding, especially on Scilly.
Being a first timer on The Scilly Isles you are labeled as a Silly (Scilly) Virgin. However I was not made to feel in any way excluded. Most people were prepared to offer advice and exchange information on the whereabouts of reported species. In fact at times it appeared obligatory it stop whenever you met another person or group to pass on recent experiences. Although, by all accounts, the number of people visiting Scilly is down on past years I still felt that the Islands had been taken over by birders. Almost every corner turned presented a different population of birders. To be part of this family all with a common interest for an extended period of time was an unexpected but welcomed experience.
Apart from this constant verbal communication, information of new (birding) arrivals was impossible to miss. Telephones (some providers could not receive a constant signal on the Islands), pagers and the local walkie-talkie system ensured full coverage. Quick access to twitch sites is well catered for by the ability to put on special ferries and, on St Mary’s, an efficient cheap taxis service.
The normal place of entertainment in the evenings on St. Mary’s is the Scillonian club where food and drink is available and the daily birding log takes place. The atmosphere at this place is special being a continuance of the feeling of togetherness with a common cause which I felt during my meanderings around the islands. On one particular night an unreal atmosphere occurred. Not only was the normal bird log taking place but in the background, at either end of a not overlarge bar area, were two TV screens showing different Campion League football matches. One would think this would be chaotic enough but you then add two television crews filming an episode of ‘Three Men in a Boat’ with Griff Rhys Jones and Rory McGrath you get a completely bizarre occasion. To have been part of this evening was very special and, for me, emphasized the atmosphere on the Scilly Isles.
The week was completed with the addition of a Barred Warbler, Firecrest and Wilson’s Snipe before the long train Journey Home giving a total of five lifers and ninety species.
Would I go again? Most probably if only to experience again the friendly and extended family atmosphere. However next time I would consult a clairvoyant first to find out which would be the best week to go! The week after I returned a Snowy Owl visited the Islands