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 Orphean Warbler sp.


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.

Posted in beachy head birding | Leave a comment

22nd September 2017 Bye for now…

Last post for sometime as I’m away for the next 4 weeks. My time split between St Agnes, Scilly and Fair Isle. Hopefully the weather gods will look favourably upon us and deliver unto us many avian delights… maybe.

A brief summary of the last few days can be covered by two words Swallows and Chiffchaffs.


A Chiffchaff at Crowlink choosing what is the passerine habitat of (no) choice on Fair Isle… a barbed wire fence.

5T6A7498 2

Part of a large flock of 70 Goldfinch in Shooters.

A feature of every morning this week has been a heavy passage of hirundines. At one point I counted 133 Swallow in a 60 second period. That would give you somewhere in the region of 1000+ birds every 10 minutes. Although the number of birds seemed concentrated into the period between 8am and 9.30am. Chiffchaffs again dominated the upper clifftop sites of Beachy Head with c65 seen this morning in the Birling/Belle Tout area alone. Other the a Whinchat on the 19th & 20th and my first Ring Ouzel of the autumn in Shooters Bottom, also on the 20th, there has been little else of note. Although the simple pleasure of watching mass migration set against such an impressive location is worth getting out of bed for.


Goldcrest in the Old trapping area. c12 seen on the 20th.


House Martin at Birling.

5T6A7476 2

Belle Tout lighthouse.

Below a Clifden Nonpareil, found by my brother whilst he was jogging along the seafront on the evening of the 21st September. An impressive beast and the first of which I have seen.


Clifden Nonpareil.

Posted in beachy head birding | Leave a comment

19th September 2017 Yellow browed Warbler

Another relatively still morning (as has been the case for the last 4 mornings) a slight westerly breeze mostly sunny.


Yellow browed Warbler in Belle Tout Wood.


With only a modest arrival of 2 or 3 Yellow browed Warblers into the south east I was pleasantly surprised to find this little fella in the wood this morning. Occurring on the exact same date as my first last year. Oddly silent throughout the time I spent with it and always remaining high up, feeding amongst the clusters of sycamore seeds. No bird says “proper” autumn than one of these. I also had a Pied Flycatcher in the same spot too, possibly my first continental one as I assume the ones that occur here in August to be UK breeders.


Otherwise, the bird situation has remained in a similar vein over the last 4 mornings. Still 100’s if not 1000’s of hirundines moving. Single Garden & Sedge Warbler amongst the heavy Chiffchaff passage (daily counts of 50+) on the 18th. Both Willow Warbler and Common Whitethroat are now barely detectable, dwindling from being the two most common migrants 3/4 weeks ago, to now only present in ones and twos during each visit. Skylarks are beginning to feature more prominently with c10 going over on the 18th, as have Reed Bunting with 3 on the same date. Goldcrest numbers are also creeping up towards daily double figures. A Redstart on the 18th was the first I have seen for a good week or so, also perhaps a continental bird. Hobby sightings on the 18th/19th could have been the same bird. A late Swift amongst House Martin on the 18th continued to eek out the long goodbye between my favourite bird and I. That might be my latest mainland UK one for many, many years. I have seen a total 3 later ones during October visits to Scilly.


Swift and House Martin from the 18th


Hobby over Birling.


Posted in beachy head birding | Leave a comment

17th September 2017

An overcast morning with a light, cool northerly wind. Cloud clearing only to return by midday. The hirundine numbers made for a spectacle today. I covered most areas except Shooters Bottom.


Initially the cool wind had concentrated large numbers of hirundines around the cliff tops. Throughout the morning there must have been somewhere in the region of 2500+ birds scattered around the headland. Made up of 70% House Martin, the rest being Swallow with the odd Sand Martin. Bob had a late Swift whilst ringing in the Hollow. The other notable species (in terms of numbers) were Chiffchaff.


Short eared Owl near the old trapping area.


Totals included; 100+ Meadow Pipit (a lot of birds on the ground this morning) c30 Yellow Wagtail, 2 Tree Pipit, 2 Grey Wagtail, 3 Alba Wagtail, 2 Skylark, 1 Siskin, 1 Wheatear, 1 Spotted Flycatcher, c80 Chiffchaff, 2 Willow Warbler, 1 Reed Warbler, c15 Blackcap, 2 Common Whitethroat, 2 Goldcrest and a single Merlin.


Spotted Flycatcher Belle Tout.

A raptor watch between 11.00 and 12.50 produced c10 Common Buzzard sightings, a Short eared Owl, 4 Kestrel, 2 Sparrowhawk and a Peregrine (local). SL had a Marsh Harrier earlier in the day.

Posted in beachy head birding | 1 Comment

14th September 2017

Yet more south westerly wind, it’s been a week of relentless howling winds which are far from favourable conditions on Beachy Head. Not only the direction but strength makes birding difficult on the exposed headland. I visited Birling, Belle Tout and Shooters.



There were a surprising number of birds in the Belle Tout area, mostly concentrated in the wood and also the east, sheltered side. No counts but significant numbers of Blackcap, Chiffchaff, the odd Common Whitethroat, a single Willow Warbler, one Wheatear and a couple of Goldcrest heard. Overhead about 60+ Meadow Pipit, 6 Yellow Wagtail and +50 Hirundines (mostly House Martin) went through along with a single late Swift.

I also had a look at Princes Park lake to check if any seabirds had taken shelter there but found that was not the case! However a Yellow-legged Gull that first appeared in late July was amongst the gulls there. Looking more 1st winter like with a decent progression of mantle moult and the bill beginning to change colour. Although a little more worn, comparison with photo’s from July confirm it’s the same individual. The lake tends not to retain them beyond autumn so maybe this one will stick around.


Yellow legged Gull at Princes Park.



Posted in beachy head birding | Leave a comment

10th September 2017

My first visit in 6 days. The day started relatively calm and still but by 09.30am the west wind had freshened as an Atlantic depression arrived over the UK.  By afternoon gusts were up towards 50mph+. I covered my usual loop from the pub to Shooters and return.


Wheatear near Shooters Bottom.

It was business as usual for me, pretty much a similar spread of species as earlier in the week. It was the first morning I have seen Meadow Pipit moving in numbers. Most of the activity seemed centred around the bushes near the pub. Totals included 10 Chiffchaff (a good few others heard calling) 1 Willow Warbler, c20 Whitethroat, 2 Redstart, 1 Whinchat, 5+ Wheatear. Over head 80+ Meadow Pipit moved west, 5 Yellow Wagtail, 4 Grey Wagtail, 80+ Hirundines mostly Swallow with House Martin heard and a single Sand Martin seen.

Posted in beachy head birding | Leave a comment

4th September 2017 Wryneck

Anyone hoping for Wryneck photo’s, sorry not a chance with this evenings encounter!


A moody day all round.

A frustrating day. The weather was mostly damp with very low cloud until late afternoon. A failure to catch up with the Baird’s Sandpiper in the Cuckmere was a complete waste of time. The bird went AWOL during my time there this morning, I did see a Spotted Redshank, Avocet, c18 Dunlin, c5 Ringed Plover and c20 Oystercatcher. I also received a soaking whilst out there.


Ringed Plover in the Cuckmere.

Later in the day I toyed with the idea of returning to the Cuckmere but having seem many 100’s in the US a good few in the UK (including East Sussex) I thought I’d have a look at Beachy Head in better weather. Very low number of birds seen, just a few Whitethroat and Stonechat but finally, at about 6pm, Beachy’s first Wryneck of the autumn. The bird torpedoed around the western end of Shooters Bottom, never sitting still for even a good look through bins let alone a photo. A Redstart was calling persistently at dusk.

I’m now absent until Sunday 10th, I’m off cycling in Ibiza.

Posted in beachy head birding | Leave a comment