Posts Tagged ‘Isles of Scillies


Homing Bee Eaters

Well you couldn’t make it up could you?

Still buzzing from finding the four Bee Eaters on Porthloo Lane in Scillies last week; I was delighted to get a message from friend Andrew this morning informing me he had found four Bee eaters, just down the road here in Norfolk.

It would be tempting to think they were the same four. That would be extraordinary wouldn’t it? Well, I photographed one of the birds in flight on Scillies as you know from my previous post. The photo is repeated here again. Take a look at that worn 5th primary in the right wing. Now take a look at the photo of the bird I took today. It has the same worn primary. It’s the same bird. This is the same group of Bee Eaters in Norfolk as were on Scillies. They have followed me home!

Scillies Bird
Trimingham Bird

Sitting Tight

Anyone that comes with me to Scillies knows we usually take a trip to the island of Tresco. So it was again this week. The draw was two or three Little Buntings that had been seen around a large sallow growing at the edge of the Abbey Pool.

We stood more than a short time waiting for the buntings to show. They called and we even saw one in flight but they wouldn’t come out onto the path to feed. As usual when waiting for something that is being one stage up from elusive our eyes began to wander. In among the pool edge vegetation was a smart Nearctic wader; a Pectoral Sandpiper.

It fed around the pool most of the time we were there and if you were cautious, quiet and still, it ventured close. Smart birds these. As with most high Arctic breeders not at all conscious of humans.

As for the Little Buntings, we had to wait a further day for a similarly elusive bird back on St Mary’s to give itself-up.



I’m not sure if the term ‘elusive’ is always applied properly or not. On Scillies last week the Spotted Crake took some seeing. It was broadcast as ‘elusive’. Now does that mean only showing distantly? or does it mean it only shows briefly and is somewhat furtive? Well, neither applied to the Spotted Crake. It just didn’t show for long periods. It took us around four visits to connect. But when we did see it … the thing was all over us for what seemed like ages.



I was just tidying up one or two photographs the other day and came across this one I took on Scillies.

We were walking back to the quay on St Agnes having been entertained by a Red Flanked Bluetail in bulb fields nearby. The pittosporum hedgerow we walked beside was spilling over the path above head height and forming an enclave free from the wind. Where the hedgerow gave way to a few deciduous trees the sun sprayed shafts of light through the leaves to the ground where they danced around us. It was the sort of scene more typical of a late autumn woodland than of a footpath between fields. As I looked up something caught my eye. Against the backlit translucent pale green was the distinctive shape of a warbler. It was hanging and hovering as it picked insects delicately from the dappled foliage. A closer look revealed it was yet another Yellow browed Warbler.

Yellow browed Warbler St Agnes Isles of Scilly_Z5A0965


A Day on St Martins

I’d been promising the group a day on St Martins since the beginning of the week. St Martins for me is probably the best of the islands within the Scilly archipelago. There’s just something parochial but wild about it. Something familiar but foreboding. I just love the mixture of dunes, small fields, swaths of bracken and wild blue surrounding ocean. It is always on the agenda during our tour to Scillies.

An early boat had left St Mary’s Quay earlier that morning and I knew there had been some good birders on board. Maybe by taking a later boat we could ride on their shirt-tails and pick off what they had found or maybe even find one or two bits ourselves.

As we disembarked at the quay I began familiarising myself with the layout of the island once again. Familiar wonderful hedgerows and tiny charming cottages. Walking from Lowertown eastward and up the island we soon encountered the call of a Firecrest; seeing it however was a different matter. Calling distantly in the thicket above the Seven Stones pub it never did show.

As we walked on a call from the opposite side of a Pittosporum hedge made me jump it was that loud. The caller however once again remained hidden. I heard it fly off as it flew back the way we had come. I commented to my guests “That sounded like a Common Rosefinch”. This sparked a discussion. “What’s a Common Rosefinch look like?” “Where’s it from?” … everyone was keen to learn. A good team this.

I guess we’d walked another 400m when I could see finches flying in one of the tiny roadside fields. It was a marrow field. Some good ones in there too; big and long. The mild climate and rich soil is obviously good for vegetables. I suggested we would perhaps stand a while and go through the finches to see what we could find.

I raised my bins and the first bird I looked at was a Rosefinch. The ‘guide’ tripped in as I ensured everyone got onto the bird. I could then relax and enjoy the bird myself. The more I looked at it the more I started to talk myself out of the identification. A nagging doubt set in. I took some photos. The bird disappeared. I looked at the photos…   The bird was brighter than any Rosefinch I’d seen before. Ever. Not grey but tan. No drab non-descript plumage this. This thing was an avian zebra. I texted an iphone shot of the image displayed on the back of the camera to friend Andrew on St Agnes. He had Brian Bland with him. Between them they would allay my doubts.

I waited for a response. Surely it had to be a Common Rosefinch. I’d heard one call 20 minutes beforehand. It had that beady isolated eye… but it was oh so streaky … and brown. This is Scillies for Christ sake. Had I eliminated all the American Sparrows?

Andrew phoned. “Brian says if it had been greyer he would have no hesitation in saying it was a Rosefinch” – Mmmmmm. Yep, that more or less summed up what was running through my mind.

Other birders trickled by. I showed them the back of the camera too. These were experienced birders too. Lots of scratching of heads and rubbing of chins. It wasn’t until Dick Philby saw the screen that he confidently cast his knowledge … “It’s a Common Rosefinch!” he said. No doubt drawing on vast experiences of seeing variously aged birds abroad. Apparently very young birds can be a little more ’interesting’ than the drab adults.

Every days a school day… and I’m certainly not above learning. I guess looking at the photo below you may be thinking ‘what the hell is he thinking – it’s a Common Rosefinch!’ – Well maybe, but this is Scillies. Anything can pop up on Scillies.

A couple of Lapwings and Skylarks later we called at the bakery and celebrated with cakes and coffee.

I was keen to make the most of our time on the island and wanted to move on towards the ‘Day-mark’; a large landmark on the east of the island. It was here while searching for Lapland Buntings I took a chance peep at the sea. Maybe a whale would pass by?

Bang! – Minke in the scope.

It rose again and at least one other member of the team was on it. Cetaceans are always hard to share with others. Distance is difficult at sea and landmarks (or should it be seamarks) are few but the trailing fin and the arched grey body with the lack of a blow were immediately distinctive and familiar. This was to be the first of two we had this tour.

The day had been a good one. We sailed back to St Mary’s having seen perhaps the best of St Martins. However there was a Short eared Owl and a Blyth’s Pipit to greet us. Only on Scillies … remarkable Scillies.

2015 10 13 Common Rosefinch St Martins Isles of Scilly_Z5A1200 ..




Most of the Alba type Wagtails moving through western Britain onto Scillies at the moment will be White Wagtails. The beaches and areas of short turf such as the airfield and golf course are at times seemingly brimming with them.  Several entertained us on the tideline last week as they refuelled on insects before they moved off on their journey south.


Waiting Patiently

My guests had never been to the Scillies before and they were keen to see the various islands as well as the various birds we could find. They all liked St Martin’s and found it quite ‘wild’ compared with St Mary’s where we were staying. After climbing the road from the quay we stood patiently aside a small garden where the ivy was heavy with pollen so much so the garden was buzzing with insects. We waited patiently for a Bonelli’s Warbler that had been seen frequenting the garden. We waited around an hour before it showed … but my word did it show. I’ve seen several of these quite charming warblers in the UK and many more abroad on the continent but never have I seen one so well and for such a prolonged time.


A Scillies Tick?

Sometimes all things are not as they seem.

Earlier this week a little after we landed on St Marys in the Isles of Scilly we visited Little Porth. Here on the white sand and in the bright sunshine feeding on the tideline was an Ortolan Bunting. This was a young bird having a hard time despite the photo below indicating otherwise. The poor chap was infested with several ticks that were surely debilitating his ability to survive. He was around for a few days before disappearing; perhaps succumbing to a predator or the weather. I like to think otherwise. I decided in my mind he made a recovery and managed to head south onto the continent where he’ll grow up into an adult bird.

Speak to some of the old timers on Scillies and they will tell you of flocks of Ortolan’s in days past. Sadly no longer is this the case and we have to be satisfied with ones and twos. Maybe that will change and the Ortolan we saw on Scillies will do his bit in procreating the populations of the future. I hope so.

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May 2023


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