Monday, October 12, 2015

The Scillies - Day One

It took me the best part of twenty-three years to make it to The Scillies, for someone that enjoys wildlife and of course birding, this was an embarrassing oversight of epic proportions.

The archipelago located 28 miles off the coast of Cornwall owes much of it's economy to tourism, but I'm sure to most, this fabulous place would not feature within the radar of people's holidaying considerations perhaps preferring the touristic trappings of the Cornish mainland.  I am a fool for not visiting the Isles before, for this is a seriously beautiful place.

The Scillies are drenched in birding folklore.  I have often heard anicdotes of the autumns of 85, 87, 99, and everything in between, of Siberian vagrants and Yank wanderers - Hippolais, Dendroica, Zoothera - there are many lists that go on and on and there is nothing tedious about them.  I was acutely aware of the historical birding narrative that these islands have scripted over the years, maybe times have changed a little, but it was still an exciting place to be.

Predictably choosing to fly, the fifteen minute flight from St Just on a Twin Otter appeared to hug the deep blue straits as it flew low between the two coastlines.  The minute specs of Gannet were visible as they sheared white feathery waves across an expanse of a deep blue calm sporadically shadowed by dark abstract shapes of a few passing clouds.

In a moderate breeze, the pilot's skill at correcting the aircraft against a slight crosswind as it approached the landing strip was impressive - left hand on the throttle, right hand on the steering column, while booting the rudder to correct the yaw - and it looked like great fun.  I had finally arrived.

The previous night though was spent in Penzance.  There were a couple of targets but a late arrival meant that these would have to wait till the following day.  However, an Alpine Swift that had been favouring the coastline from Lands End to Porthgwarra was apparently and inconsiderately picked off by a Merlin late on the previous day, an attempt to pin down a Common Rosefinch proved fruitless around dwellings in the Cot Valley, and a sketchy report of a Pallas's Warbler at Pendeen resulted in a short but agreeable walk around the rugged coastline, but nothing more.

The Cot Valley did however produce two vocal, typically flighty but striking Yellow-Browed Warbler that on occasion showed extremely well as did a single Firecrest high up in the conifer.

Arriving on the Scillies, there was no time to waste.  An Arctic Warbler had been reported somewhere near to the Garrison, but it was getting late and soon the light would begin to fade.  A brisk walk after some helpful directions from a curiously friendly birder directed me to the precise location.  A Firecrest showed well in the plantation, but there was no sign of the rare phyllosc.  A Peregrine caused a panic amongst the common birds but by then, most of the assembled crowd had dispersed, and it was time to leave.  It was great to be here.

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