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!

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