Isles of Scilly Oct 2nd - 8th 1999

The anticipation started building on the journey down, I knew there were at least two ticks waiting for me on St Mary’s, with the possibility of many more good birds to accompany them! As many will remember 1999 was an incredible year on Scilly, but more of that later. This year was to be slightly different to my previous trips to Scilly, as this year I had my heavily pregnant wife in tow, and believe me with very few public toilets dotted around the Islands I knew there would be a few technical problems (any dads out there will know what I mean by this!).

Day 1

As we prepared to board the helicopter, on a wet and windy morning, we were rewarded for our studious checking of the gulls around the heliport as a fine first winter Mediterranean gull was hanging around, to alleviate the boredom of the waiting.
After landing and dropping our baggage at our home for the next week, our first destination was the road down to Holy vale, where there was a stunning young Bee-eater (my first lifer of the trip) flying around the open fields. A walk over to Telegraph provide some good views of a Richards pipit feeding in the tall grass, making viewing intermittent. And then came the most surprising bird of the day as myself and Simon found simultaneously a young Red-backed shrike both crying out `what’s that` as the bird flew past us and alighted on the side of the bushes, near to the Lower moors trail. Other birds of note on the first day were: Dotterel a young bird on Penninis, short-toed lark on the airfield, Kingfisher and Wheatear. As well as seeing my first Monarch butterfly (a rare American migrant).

Day 2

The morning was spent on a trip out around St Mary’s, trying to locate the birds we had missed the previous day, the highlights were a young Rose coloured starling on wires near to Maypole, and my second tick of the trip in the form of an immature Night heron hiding in amongst the reeds in front of the first hide along Porthellick. As well as Male and female Blackcap, Willow warbler and Chiffchaff.
A trip to Tresco in the afternoon was well worth the choppy crossing as we were rewarded by close views of an Ortolan bunting feeding down the muddy ruts of a recently ploughed field. A fantastic White-rumped sandpiper along with 2 Black-necked grebes on the Abbey pools. Pied-flycatcher found near the Abbey gardens, 12 little egrets on the rocks near Tresco and a number of Monarch butterflies.

Day 3

An early morning seawatch produced 1 Manx shearwater 2 Cory’s Shearwater and 1 Arctic skua.followed by a trip to St Agnes that was saved from being a total wash out when I found a stunning little gem of a Yellow-browed warbler, which lead to my biggest mistake ever! I accidentally called it by the wrong name and said yellowRumped warbler (a little American wood warbler), this sent a few of my friends into a panic before I corrected my mistake and held my head in shame! Also on the Island was a snow bunting on Wingletang along with a second Dotterel found by a good friend. (Seth). Then all of a sudden news broke of a booted warbler on Bryher, so a round about boat trip (Agnes to Mary’s to Bryher) was hastily arranged. The Booted warbler showed very well on the reed fringed edge of the great pool, beside the golf course (I use that term loosely its more like pitch and putt) as a Merlin flew over head. After the trip back from Bryher a quick walk up to Giants castle provided good views of Wryneck and Short-toed lark again on the Airfield. As well as the birds 5 Monarch butterflies were noted, at least 1 on each island!

Day 3

A warm and clear day provided what I thought would be one of my most memorable days on Scilly, after not seeing much in the early morning on St Mary’s we settled on a trip to Tresco (my friend Simon his wife Tina myself and my wife Anita). It started very well, with the Black-necked grebe and White-rumped sandpiper showing well again, the latter being joined by a Wood sandpiper while we watched it, Common sandpiper and Green sandpiper were also present on the island and a nice lesser whitethroat was most welcome, but then the news broke, a Siberian thrush had been discovered on Gugh (the small island attached to St Agnes), and as Simon and myself all but ran to the Quay to catch the first available boat we realised we had better wait for our wives and ask if they minded us going. The problem being one of them was not too good with boats and would have preferred to have had their partner escort them safely across, after much begging we were finally allowed to go, and caught the 14:30 boat across to Agnes. This is where problem 2 occurred, the tide was in which means the sand bar across to Gugh was covered, so we ended up having a bit of a wet landing. After all this we were rewarded with some average views of this stunning bird and only in flight, but the white underwing of siberian thrush is unmistakable when seen in contrast to the dark blue/black of the upper wing. Tick three was the best bird so far but the worst views, life is harsh sometimes!

Day 4

After a night of heavy celebrating, I took an early morning walk up to the Garrison, and the lower broom platform to be precise, which produced 1 Rat and 1 Goldcrest. Whilst up there I received a phone call alerting me to the fact that a second Zoothra thrush had been found on St Agnes, this time a White’s thrush (having had unbelievable views the year before on Lewis, I was not as keen as some to rush to the bird but still managed to be on the first boat over) The bird was in a private area of the island and was extremely elusive, I only managed a brief flight view, enough to be sure what it was but not as good as I had previously had. Also on the Island was an absolutely stunning Red-breasted flycatcher that showed down to 3 feet and even allowed me to get familiar with its call. Catching the 14:30 boat back to St Mary’s meant I missed a Radde’s warbler on Agnes and another on Tresco, and with nothing else of note on Mary’s the afternoon was spent pottering around and revisiting birds already seen.

Day 5

A RED LETTER DAY and no mistaking Thursday 7th October 1999 will go down in history for many as a day never to be forgotten. I chose to start the day on Tresco looking for the Radde’s warbler from the previous day, and for most of the time had to make do with a lonely Yellow-browed warbler and a stunning Firecrest as well as Raven, Peregrine and a washed out Sedge warbler. this was until as I was within meters of the Quay and the boat back to St Mary’s when the news broke of a Short-toed eagle that had flown over St Agnes, St Mary’s and was now over St Martin’s, a run to the far side of Tresco allowed me very distant views of this First for Britain, as it soared over St Martins, Although distant it was very easy to pick out due to its size. Feeling elated I thought I would have one last try for the Radde’s warbler and managed to jam into it, two new birds (ticks) in under 30 minutes how could this day get any better, so I returned to St Mary’s and the flat we were staying in, no sooner had I sat down when a phone call from Simon told me to get to the Airfield. I raced up to the right area and was rewarded with fantastic views of one of the strangest waders around in the form of an Upland Sandpiper 3 ticks in a day!!! What a day!!! I finished the day off there and headed to the pub for a relaxing drink and some time to relive this day of days.

Day 6

The sixth and final full day on the islands started on Penninis with nothing of note bar a few Blackcaps So It was over to St Martins for a reported Bonelli’s warbler, unfortunately on the journey across it turned out to just be a Chiffchaff. However the trip was not a waste as we were treated to some absolutely superb view of the Short-toed Eagle both in flight and perched on the eastern isles, with the bird showing down to only a 50 or so meters! Unfortunately there was nothing else of note on this last day, but after a week containing such gems as a first for Britain, Short-toed eagle both Whites and Siberian thrush and a stunning Upland sandpiper no birder could leave disappointed.

Black-necked grebe
Cory’s shearwater
Manx shearwater
Night heron
Little egret
Grey heron
Mute swan
Canada goose
Pale bellied brent goose
Hen harrier?
Short-toed eagle
Red-legged partridge
Water rail
Ringed plover
Golden plover
Common snipe
Upland sandpiper
Common sandpiper
Wood sandpiper
White-rumped sandpiper
Grey phalarope
Arctic skua
Great skua
Black-headed gull
Lesser black-backed gull
Herring gull
Sandwich tern
Stock dove
Collared dove
Turtle dove
Bee eater
Short-toed lark
Sand martin
House martin
Richards pipit
Tree pipit
Meadow pipit
Rock pipit
Grey wagtail
Pied wagtail
Mistle thrush
Song thrush
Whites thrush
Siberian thrush
Sedge warbler
Reed warbler
Booted warbler
Barred warble
Lesser whitethroat
Yellow-browed warbler
Willow warbler
Radde’s warbler
Spotted flycatcher
Pied flycatcher
Red-breasted flycatcher
Blue tit
Great tit
Red-backed shrike
Carrion crow
Rose-coloured starling
House sparrow
Snow bunting
Ortolan bunting

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