In memory of our dear friend, Duncan Stewart - 1990-2008


Isles of Scilly

24th-31st October 2008

This was our second visit to the magical Isles of Scilly, the first being in that astonishing week in October 1999 which produced Short-toed Eagle (1st for Britain), Blue Rock Thrush, White’s Thrush, Upland Sandpiper, Radde’s Warbler, Yellow-billed Cuckoo and so much more. Surely this week couldn’t be as good?
Fascicularia bicolor - a naturalised Chilean species
We were lucky to find a really excellent little flat (“The Crow’s Nest”) on Thorofare, just behind the Co-op in the centre of Hugh Town, which gave us great views out across the bay to Porthloo, Bant’s Carn, and Tresco across The Roads. With good cooking facilities, a hot shower, a comfy bed, TV and public wi-fi access beamed up from the harbour, we were well set up. There were even jigsaws for when the inevitable rain came!
Our flat (red spot) in Hugh Town
Town Bay
Us on the beach
A typical inter-island boat
Smugglers' Ride - top floor for us!
View to Penninis from the Garrison

Bird-wise, the honest answer to paragraph one's question was: no – not quite! We were a crucial fortnight later (this being teachers’ week), and the weather was not always very clement. After a balmy first afternoon, the wind swung round to the northern half of the compass, and stayed there pretty much throughout the rest of the week. So it was squally, chilly and at times very windy. Nevertheless, the islands were as gorgeous as ever, especially when the sun broke through, as it often did. Add in lots of excellent tea shops, coastal walks, boat trips (for seals and the famous gardens on Tresco), and we had a brilliant time.

Old Town beach
St. Martin's (north coast)
The Pulpit Rock - St. Mary's

The bird highlights were very considerable: top of the pile was a stunning 1st year Snowy Owl which arrived after two days of blasting northerlies – the sixth for Scilly and the first since 1972! This was a new life bird for us both – we missed it in Norway in 2000.


First-year Snowy Owl - fresh in from Greenland, and the
highlight of the week: and a lifer for both of us!
Following close behind were not one but two Grey-cheeked Thrushes from across the Atlantic (another lifer for us both), a crippling Red-flanked Bluetail, White-rumped Sandpiper, Spotted Crake, several Yellow-browed Warblers, Snow Bunting, Marsh Harrier, Merlin, Spoonbill, Great Northern Diver, Scaup, Woodcock, Hawfinch and lots of Black Redstarts.
Grey-cheeked Thrush #1, Porthmellon Beach - about the 50th ever for Britain. An American vagrant. Life tick all round!
Grey-cheeked Thrush #2,
Old Town - the 51st!
Twitchers doing their thing
Old Town beach
The major controversy was over a Shrike found on St. Mary’s – several top birders were having it as the fantastically rare Brown Shrike – we (and many others) were not entirely convinced, and at present the consensus (not unanimous) is that it was in fact “just” a Red-backed Shrike....
Lanius sp. - probably Red-backed,
but with the possibility of Brown
Shrike not quite eliminated yet....
White-rumped Sandpiper - from
100m away! An American vagrant
Of course, the commoner birds were also a delight – ultra-tame resident thrushes, lots of Shags, Gannets and gulls, and loads of Starlings and House Sparrows.
Song Thrush - fantastically tame, especially at Carreg Dhu
...also daftly tame!
Song Thrush
Song Thrush

As ever, the islands were still ablaze with plant colour, even in late October – a lovely mixture of natives and sub-tropical exotics. The Fascicularia, Bermuda Buttercup and Three-cornered Leek particularly caught our eyes (and nose, in the last case). Royal Fern, Hottentot Fig and Wireplant (Muehlenbeckia complexa) were also noted commonly.


Abbey Gardens, Tresco
Aeonium, Abbey Gardens, Tresco
Golden Pheasant (feral), Tresco
Julia being "sub-tropical"!
Protea, Abbey Gardens, Tresco
Chiffchaff - a common European migrant - on St. Martin's
"Garry the Gull"....
....a Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Snow Bunting - stalked to ten feet
Male and female Snow Bunting
As for mammals, they were limited to a few Rabbits, a Brown Rat and lots and lots of Atlantic Grey Seals out on the Eastern Isles - plus a very brief Common Dolphin on the way over on the Scillionian III - in between vomiting sessions.... [speak for yourself, Simon! J.]
Atlantic Grey Seal
More Grey Seals
Grey Seal hauled out on Eastern Isles

The few insects seen included Red Admiral, Peacock, Speckled Wood and Small Copper.

So, a wonderful and refreshingly British holiday – but maybe we’ll come in spring next time....brrrr!

Holy Vale - Cornish Elm-lined and gnarly
Penninis lighthouse
Simon "would to the ocean"....
Sunset over St. Agnes


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