22
Jan
22

Horns of a Dilemma

Some time ago, in October 2001 to be exact, I was on the Isles of Scilly. Where else would you expect me to be in October? The Scilly archipelago lies some 20 something miles from the outreaching peninsula of Cornwall. Surrounded by the Atlantic, the islands are a crossroads for migrating birds; a rest haven amid the ocean.

Sadly my note books for this period have been destroyed. We’ll not go into that now but I do so regret not having them. They were a record of my thoughts and observations that I would love to have as a reference. So what follows is from my memory of the day.

I was on the beautiful island of Tresco for the day. Anyone who has been to Tresco knows what I mean when I call it beautiful. It’s a charming place with a unique atmosphere rivaled by nowhere on Earth I’ve been. Having caught the 10:30am morning boat from St Mary’s and landed at New Grimsby Quay at the North end of the Island I had come to Tresco for some particular bird. I can’t remember what it was. There are a couple of large freshwater pools on Tresco that attract duck and waders as well as rails and crakes, so to be honest it could have been anything. I just can’t remember. I can’t even recall if I saw whatever I went to see. However, I remember thinking I’d catch the early boat back to St Mary’s at 2:30 so I crossed the Helliport and made my way to Carn Near at the South of the Island to catch the return boat.

As I walked down the concrete roadway each isolated clump of vegetation seemed to be harbouring a Stonechat. As I neared the quay I could see there was a chap sitting down on the ground to the right of the path up ahead of me. He was watching something through his bins on the area of short cropped turf and gravel in front of him. I stopped and lifted my optics. ‘Bugger me’, I thought, it’s a Shorelark. I’d never seen a Shorlark on Scillies before. It was a Scillies tick! I continued walking until I was opposite the lark and took another good look. It wouldn’t have to be a long look. The boat was due.

The more I looked at it the odder it appeared. It didn’t look quite right for Shorelark. Something was different. I made the decision to forego the 2:30 boat in favour of the one leaving at 4:30. I wanted to sit down and study this bird. I remembered noting the different face pattern and the colouring of the scapulars being unfamiliar.

This week, 21 years later, the BOU accepted this bird as the first UK record of ‘Horned Lark’. This is a sub-species of Shorelark and is Nearctic in origin. Residing in the arctic region of North America and Canada.

Subsequently the lark visited other islands and I think the shot below was taken on St Agnes by Niall Machin who kindly allowed me to use his photo.

So this tale gives anyone that cares to read it a cautionary warning. Two in fact. Firstly if something doesn’t look quite right, study it … and take notes. Secondly keep your old notebooks. You’ll regret it if you don’t.


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