Wednesday, 26 October 2011

...some time earlier

Oh oh! A flashback already.....

In the previous post I mentioned something about an earlier trip to the Isles of S, undertaken with Mr Lethbridge and the young Mr Bradnum, in order to experience a thing called a "wader-fest", comprising many unfortunate American waders dumped on this side of the pond by that strictest of mistresses, Katia.

The main target was to have been a Solitary Sandpiper; a shoe-in, a dead cert, a gimme, a bird that everyone and his dog had seen... ... which we of course didn't. My role in all this; to fill the backseat, make the other two look brilliant (which they pretty much are), to chime in with the occasional witticism, and keep the costs down - all of which I can proudly say I managed in excess of my remit.

It was to be my first visit to these fabled islands of which I'd heard and read so much about, but nothing could prepare me for the quintessentially englishness of the place with its tiny fields and high hedgerows. Time appears to have stood still and the whole scene was that of some television drama series, a Sunday night long-runner my mum would like with everything just right and the main characters unbelievable nice. Things moving at a different pace and a different time, even the weather obeyed some rules at odds with that of the mainland just a score or so miles away.

Firstly we had to get across there and down to Cornwall, which meant an overnight drive and a short fitful sleep in the back of Jono's car and his snoring (sensibly Bradders, accustomed to such nights, brought a tent which he pitched with the help of the car's headlights) in the RSPB's Hayle Estuary reserve car park. On the way down the track we passed a police car waiting for fly tippers, vandals or some such. What he thought we were up to doesn't bare thinking about, which is probably why he didn't come down to check us out.

After no sleep we had some time to go to Drift Res. to bag the Semi P that had been showing well for some time. Strike one. No sign of the little critter, though the young Bradders picked up the Lesser Yellow-legs distantly, and we all got the Spotted Redshank as it came in. No time though for closer inspection as we hoofed it down to the quayside to book ourselves on to the Scillonian.

While it was not blowing a hooley, it certainly was slightly choppy. The movement of the boat soon make taking its toll on the passengers inside judging by the increasing numbers of people staring intently into the paper bags provided by the Scillonian. Jono prepared earlier by taking some pills, Bradders waited for the buffet to open for a bacon sarny and I stared stoically into the distance.

News of a Northern Water Thrush on StMary's had come out the night before and, as expected, the boat was liberally scattered with hopeful birders, including one Gary Bagnall (he off the twitcher's documentary) and a few of his acolytes. As we passed Porthgwarra news reached of us a Black and White Warbler at Lower Moors, things as they say were humming!

Gary B, reformed filthy year lister Jono Lethbridge, Bradders the Younger

By this time I was beginning to enjoy myself and while the lad Bradders turned slightly off colour at one point we all survived the crossing in the company of some good birds (Manxies, Sooty and Balearic Shearwater, Storm Petrel and a smattering of Bonxies) and the occasional dolphin or two coming in to ride the bow waves.

Due to some expert planning a taxi was there to meet us as we docked and within a few minutes we were staring at Newford Duck pond in vain for the Solitary Sand (attempt #1 and strike 2). Time up and our taxi waiting it was another short trip down to Lower Moors to hunt the B&WW. The magnitude of the task soon became apparent, though only a small island the bits of habitat are quite extensive. We made for the last reported sighting position and worked outwards looking for the bird's associated tit flocks. Plenty of tits, no humbug yank warbler.

After some time and a few false alarms, it began to dawn on Jono and myself that this might not happen, but the youthful Bradders was in no way deterred and we have his determination to thank for re-finding the bird some time later. And what a smart bird it was, no pics unfortunately as auto-focusing was out of the question and my ability to manually focus quickly on the flitting bird was non existent. It showed well though, doing a bit of treecreeping, and I would have probably been better off on auto for the occasions I had a clear shot. Arse!

Job done, our next move was back to the duck pond for the SS which had miraculously been re-found. No taxi this time so a quick yomp up the narrow verdant lanes towards New Ford. As we approached Borough Farm we met some people peering over a hedge. Just a bloody Bee-eater sitting up in a hedge further down the field. Fan-f***ing-tastic!


We tarry awhile to soak up this happiness.

Warmth and happiness

We were not unduly surprised that the Solitary Sand had buggered off again. Happiness you see, is a multi-coloured odd looking bird from the Med. But our time was up and we had a deadline to meet the ferry. Conclusion: 4 hours may not be enough to do the islands justice, maybe I'll come back again next year....

For one small boy it was all too much

The return crossing was better than the outward trip. Jonno provided us with Grey Phalarope, I got a Puffin and the numbers of other characters was up. A good day. Light was fading when we arrived back in Penzance which curtailed any ideas of going to dip the Semi-P that night, so it was off to the organised digs (a rather smart youth hostel - they've changed a bit - and for the better), beers and a chinese.

Having dipped the Semi P early doors (strike #3), we're off to Pendeen for some sitting facing the sea stuff. I've got my new Swarovski to run out for the first time seriously, and while it's not as powerful as I would perhaps like, its a joy!

The bird action, while not as manic as last time we were here (another story, another time) when 20,000 + manxies glided past us south, was quality. Soon we had all self-found Sabine's Gull, a full set of skuas, stormies, Leach's, more phalaropes, and a view of an Ocean Sunfish on its side.

Sabine Gull with some Kittiwake, it is there honest!

I even found the contentious bird of the say which everyone got on. At first it was mooted as a Wilson's Petrel: I of course had called out stormy, but its size and wing patterns concerned the more experienced watchers there. They huddled for a conference leaving Jono and myself the ever moving tapestry before us. While someone released news of a Wilson's the conclusion was, from the wise men (including Bradders) that it was either a Leach's, a big-un at that, or .... ta da da ta da da da ta... a Madeiran. However, they wouldn't commit. Arse!

By mid afternoon the crowds were drifting away as Sunday lunch beckoned, we were on a plan. Black Kites!

No, not a Black Kite, a Common Buzard

Black Kite this one

We drove towards where they had last been seen and as we approached one dutifully showed itself above the fields. We hastily stopped in a drive way. The one soaring kite, became two. Sweet! Then unbelievably three. Blimey! All three of Cornwall's wandering kites in one bit of sky. Job done and the trio sallied off. This left us more than enough time to follow up further reports of the Solitary P showing well on the east side of Drift. And it was. Sweet!

Our proverbial boots filed, though not quite the wader fest promised, we were more than enough happy to face the 6 hour schlep home and not even the rumours of an American Wigeon could dissuade us from our goal, home.

Scores on the doors: 93 species in two days, lifers for me: Lesser Yellow-legs, European Bee-eater, B&W Warbler, Pomarine Skua (with spoons), Black Kite, Semi-Palmated Sandpiper, a couple of year ticks. Good company, good times. Ta boys!

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Bitten ya-da-ya-da Day: 1

Scilly's got a few tasty birds on it I thought to myself as I stumbled round an un-yielding patch. I could do with some of that. It could be done. It could be arranged.

Getting the time off was the first obstacle.

Job done (with a proviso to give more notice next time). Of course!

Train booked, hotel too.

Lock yourself out of the flat: done.

No wait a minute, back up. That wasn't meant to happen.

No matter, spent a good hour visi-migging from the roof, while I waited for the locksmith, with the result of : 100 Chaffinch north, Siskin, Redpoll, Fieldfare, Redwing and even 35 Skylark over - better than the patch!

After a sleepless night next to a snuffling and shifting companion, a group of gregarious college lasses, a snoring guy across the aisle, I arrive in Penzance and rush round to the ferry terminal. Booked on, I take my favoured position on the Scillonian just about three weeks since the last time I was on her, hoping against hope that my stomach will behave itself and that I don't embarrass myself too much on the 2 and half hour trip (I once felt rather sick just popping across Pool Harbour to Brownsea). It's the fear of soiling yourself in the most inglorious way that encourages the demons, but with luck and and plenty to see things would be OK.

The fog descended as we left the harbour and my horizon dropped to a few hundred feet.

A couple of Arctics and a couple of brace of dolphin the only entertainment barring the constant dribble of Gannet and the slightly odd sight of a Chaffinch chasing the boat after we passed Lands End. After over-hauling us it decided turn back, so its probably in America now.

We landed on St Mary's, my honour and stomach still in one piece, and I set off to dump some stuff at my lodgings. Only it had closed for the Winter. I wasn't actually surprised.

The staff at the tourist office stepped in and found me a great little gaff, Mary's Hall Hotel, "all-in" it was quids cheaper than the slight seedy place I had booked. Sweet!

At this point I must point out that when I do the birding thing on my own I tend to go the comfort rather than fiscally prudent direction. So look out for "the best hotel guide what to do birding from" and its accompanying restaurant guide.

And in less than an hour I was out looking for my first bird. Perhaps in hindsight I should have gone for the Rosy Starling, but I went north for the Upland Sandpiper. Rather I went for the sandpiper when I couldn't find a way on to the golf course for the Red-throated Pipit (one of the birds I really wanted to see, you know just in case we get one on the flats!).

Just before the bulb field the upland had been showing from, I met a birder looking the other way. "I think I 've got a Wryneck", he said.

Indeed he had. I confirmed his ID as the bird flew across the field and sat up in a elder just up the hill from us. Sweet, another bird that was on my must see list, and strangely higher on the wish list than the supposed megas!

The bulb field the sandpiper liked to frequent was very empty. Not good. I looked at the empty field for some time, and concluded it was empty. Time was not on my side here, and dipping was not in the schedule. A few other birders turned up and stared at the empty field from a variety of angles. Nothing changed. Apparently the bird had flown of sometime before eastward. Hmm, deja vu (a Solitary Sandpiper reference that will become apparent in the near future, or if you are of an impatient nature:

I tagged along with this group for a bit picking up Yellow-Browed and Fieldfare (the first for the island this autumn), but lost them at the duck pond where our Solitary Sandpiper dreams were so cruelly dashed.

Somehow I ended up on the golf course with two ladies hacking their way towards me, their wayward slices also driving a rather interesting pipit my way too. I gave the green a very wide berth and waited as they started their next hideously over par hole. Somehow the Red-throated Pipit had dodged the flying missiles and popped out between me and tee. Good time to start thinking about getting the camera out.

Opportunity missed I was joined by a small group of birders and we followed the bird back up the fairway as it was chased repeatedly by its mipit cousins. By this time I realised that was as good as it was going to get, so I made my way off the course. By the entrance a probable juv Rosefinch (which I would have illustrated with a pic from Fetlar, but that's on the broken camera) gave a good view until I tried to take a snapshot.

Back up the road to the bulb field. Still empty.

A guy is walking towards me with a smile on his face. The Upland it appears is now in another bulb field further towards Borough farm and showing well. I am now very conscious that I am literally going round in circles. But a hundred metres up the hill, there's a guy on a quad bike (obviously important), just about to zip off. Happily he gets me on to the bird, which has hunkered down in a furrow apparently not moving, something it does rather a lot by all accounts.
And what a strange thing it is, a cross between a bustard and a pigeon to my way of thinking.

Job done. I courteously help a few other people on the bird and then head off for my rather good supper and well a needed kip. On the way though Lower Moors beckon. Rattle off Wilson's Snipe and Water Thrush and then home I thinks.

The Snipe a snip. It shone out from the dowdy European birds even as it slept and in the increasing gloom.

While I waited for it to move a very confiding Lesser Yellow Legs and Greenshank kept me entertained and I was bitten and not for the last time....

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Bitten on the Scillies

So here we are then, all the stuff Mr Fisher and I are not allowed to write about on the WB blog. For my part it's an opportunity to indulge my rubbish photos on an audience greater than one (hang on we're getting slightly ahead of ourselves aren't we?) and to regale you with insufferable stories of mine and Stuart's exploits off-Wanstead. My mum won't listen to them, she does have an excuse though having a fairly severe hearing impairment, the Samaritans refuse to take my calls anymore. So that just leaves the blank canvas that is the web.

I intended this to be chronological, but I am a lazy git so the approach will be more scatter gun. How Mr Stuart approaches his remit only time will tell.

My first episode (to arrive shortly, when I can be arsed), will be a illustrated account as to how I put the Scillies on the birding map. You should go there, you really should. Everybody there carries around telescopes and big cameras all day, with no means of fiscal support. They grow a lot of bulbs and shit, which being a Spring and Summer activity means that come Autumn they are free to walk (and occasionally run) around the islands with their variety of optics.

The islands are themselves very small and were only found recently apparently off Cornwall. You need to get a boat to get there. The one I got smelt of bacon sandwiches, which I think they run on.

Any way by way of a taster here's a picture: