Isles of Scilly Autumn 2017

Another autumn trip to St Agnes, Scilly. It’s no surprise to say that it is common knowledge Scillies has struggled to ignite the excitement and imagination over the last decade or more. Unfortunately poor or mediocre years have outnumbered the good ones. That will not be said about 2017, it has, up to the point of writing, been a strong return to past glories.


Rosevear Cottage, St Agnes.

So it was old timers Graham Gordon, Lee Amery, recent young signing Jamie Partridge and myself all heading down to Scilly, expectation buoyed by one of the best looking transatlantic forecast for as long as I can remember.

With a whiff of westerly in the air and a sudden turn to southerly winds, the first day began in style. Lee Amery was first out of the blocks, doing the house proud by notching up a Bee-eater (one of three that went on to linger around the islands) over Lower Town farm, followed 5 minutes later by the news of the discovery of a Red eyed Vireo near Covean (the later was extremely elusive before disappearing completely 24hrs later)



The remainder of the next 4 days was a mix of grafting away and looking at the forecast for the coming weekend, which just got better and better. The first frontal systems passing through overnight Thursday / Friday. On Friday morning, bang on cue, Jamie discovered a newly arrived Rose Breasted Grosbeak clinging to a Cornish granite outcrop on Wingletang. The bird had relocated to the Post Office by dusk often allowing excellent views up until the Sunday.


Rose breasted Grosbeak.


Saturday saw another yank arrival in the form of a second Red eyed Vireo at the Parsonage, this time a much easier bird to see and present for around 36hrs. At points it was possible to stroll the 100m between the Vireo and Grosbeak. It really felt like the Scilly of old.

Monday we went over to catch up with the Isabeline Wheatear, American Golden Plover and Pectoral Sandpiper on St Mary’s. The Wheatear was seen really well but the waders often distant. As the weather worsened we headed to the Mermaid for a couple of pints before the boat back to Agnes, eyes widening as the RBA messages morphed the reported “Red rumped Swallow” on Tresco into a Cliff Swallow!. We headed back on the boat in a happy boozy glow with a feeling like it was all unfolding before us. We knew where we would be heading the next day.


Isabeline Wheatear on St Mary’s airfield.


Below a distant American Golden Plover.


Tuesday we headed over to Tresco and after an short search the Cliff Swallow was seen well, at one point Jamie and myself had it feeding over the same small fields as two Bee-eaters. I can’t imagine that has happened too many times before anywhere in the world.


Cliff Swallow.




Two Bee-eater on Tresco.

It was whilst on Tresco I received a message from a friend on the mainland “who found the Waxwing?”… I read the message aloud to the others who quickly searched the RBA apps. To our collective disbelief a Cedar Waxwing had been found on St Agnes. We headed back to Agnes and after a short run around we all saw the Waxwing well. It even appeared in the small garden of our cottage on the 3rd.


Cedar Waxwing.




The Cedar Waxwing atop a cherry tree in our garden at Rosevear Cottage.

Things cooled a little after that insane burst of activity. However there were other minor things to keep interests tweaked, a Spotted Crake on the pool, Common Rosefinch, Little Bunting. In addition an arrival of Hawfinch to Scilly (part of the big national influx) from the 5th gave most people their best ever encounter with this typically shy & unobtrusive bird.


Hawfinch on Barnaby lane.


Towards the end of the second week I decided to remain on Scilly instead of travelling to Fair Isle. The third week showed promise but was pretty quiet, that is until Neil and Paul Wright discovered an incredibly skulking Orphean Warbler sp. at Troy Town. Just reward for their dogged work through out their fortnights stay. It was an utter headache to see, taking me almost 8hrs to catch up with it.


Appalling long range shot of the Eastern Orphean Warbler.


Common Rosefinch on Gugh.


One of two Lapland Bunting on St. Agnes.

So a return to form for Scilly in October? I guess we’ll have to see what next year brings. One things for sure the Azores high pressure was not as dominant as it has been in previous years which allowed more transatlantic weather to head towards the south west approaches and possibly more continental influence too. Certainly more wind and rain then the “Indian summers” that many recent trips have felt like. Scilly also needs to entice back a younger, motivated type of birder. It’s a big place with lots of cover.


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