Monday, April 27, 2015

Almost perfect Scilly twitch

On Friday night I embarked on my first ever mega-island-twitch. Together with Nick, James and Dave we went for the Great Blue Heron that has been present now for about two weeks on the Isles of Scilly, the 2nd ever in the UK. For me it was also my first opportunity to visit these famous islands, so obviously I was very excited about this trip. We left Norwich before midnight and at first light we were parked at the Marazion Marsh carpark to recuperate a bit after the long drive. The others tried to catch a few minutes of sleep and I tried to see if the Pacific Diver that had wintered there was still present. It was not, but then I saw a Great White Egret roosting in the woods behind the reserve, so I had to wake the guys up. Common bird in Israel, but still pretty good in the UK and not bad as a first bird of the day. The egret soon left the roost and disappeared into the marsh.
Then we headed into Penzance for breakfast. 12 Purple Sandpipers were still present by the swimming pool:

Purple Sandpiper and Turnstone

All morning flights were fully booked so we took the Scillonian. As we were boarding the boat we got news about a Hudsonian Godwit in Somerset, not too far away. Immediately we started calculating how to combine a sweet little detour on the way back with our plans to head back home as quickly as possible. Not easy.
Quite a few seabirds were seen along the passage until we sailed past Land's End: several good rafts of Manx Shearwater, quite many auks (Guillemots, Puffins and Razorbills), and one Fulmar.

Manx Shearwaters

When we sailed into St. Mary's harbour we had distant views of a Long-tailed Duck:

Quickly we caught a speedboat to Bryher, for the main dish. The Great Blue Heron was quickly spotted as it flew in to Big Pool and showed well to the medium crowd that came on the Scillonian. At first the weather was poor, and the bird looked quite miserable too:

Great Blue Heron

Then the rain got lighter and the bird walked around a bit and tried to fish. What a cool bird! Forgot how massive they are compared to Grey Herons.


After we were satisfied with our views, as much as possible in these awful weather conditions, we went into the village to celebrate with a beautiful Lemon Drizzle at the Vine Cafe. On the way up stopped for a panoramic view of the heron and its surroundings - see it down at the bottom?

We spent the next few hours birding Bryher, as it felt that there were some fesh migrants in, possibly knocked down by the foul weather. As an Israeli I had to work hard on myself to get excited by the few migrants around, but the locals were quite choughed with our good fortunes: we had two Wrynecks, one Golden Oriole, 8 Tree Pipits, 3 Whitethroats, several Willow Warblers and three Wheatears. In addition, I had a probable Sibe Chiffchaff below Samson Hill. I had too brief views but it looked good. Unfortunately we had to run for the boat back to St. Mary's so I couldn't nail it. Too bad.


During the walk back to the Key where the boat waited for us the sun came out and it became quite beautiful. I desperately scoped Big Pool of Tresco hoping to see the Black Duck but failed to string any ducks there.

We had an hour to kill before the Scillonian took us back to the mainland, so we birded the Garrison that was completely devoid of migrants. Peculiar to see these black rabbits all over the place there:

Good to see House Sparrows and Song Thrushes are doing very good on Scilly:

2cy Song Thrush - note moult limit in GC

We got into Penzance close to midnight and were too knackered to go anywhere. We found accommodation nearby and decided to hit Shapwick Heath early in the morning despite the fact that the Hudsonian Godwit had taken off with a flock of blackwits yesterday afternoon. Unfortunately the bird did not return this morning. Really classic. All blackwits return, only the one bird of interest does not. 

Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits - sadly all with neat white underwings

We heard there some heartbreaking stories about birders who came from NE Scotland to miss the bird by an hour etc., so our situation was not that tragic. We were all disappointed by not seeing the bird we wanted, however I enjoyed the superb reserve. During the short time we were there we had 2-3 booming Bitterns, Wood Sand, Garden and Willow Warblers, one Cuckoo and generally pretty birdy there. The drive back home was uneventful.
Despite the slightly sour flavour that ended our trip for not seeing the Hudwit, still it was a mega experience. I really enjoyed the Scillies - very unique and beautiful (when the sun came out). Of course our main target, the heron, was great indeed, and we added some more quality birds.
Huge thanks to my brothers in arms - Nick, James and Dave.

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