Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Scilly 1979 – a blast from the past

As usual, we cruised across to the islands on the Scillonian, a reasonably smooth crossing for once, dumped the bags and then tried to find out the latest bird news by the usual methods – the blackboards and semaphore. We quickly joined a stream of birders heading towards Higher Moors where a Subalpine Warbler was on show. Around 250 birders funnelled down a narrow muddy track, jostling and pushing to see the bird, tempers flared, some chap ended up in the ditch on his backside.   A great start.  A Rustic Bunting provided the next stop towards the north of the island and the rest of the day was made up with standard Scilly ‘fillers’ of the time: 2 Short-toed Larks, Pink Stink and a Tawny Pipit.  The following day a quick trot saw us down on Lower Moors looking for a Sibe Stonechat.  Viewing was tricky with the old ‘brass and glass’ scope, I wish they would hurry up and invent the tripod.

Excitement! a putative Blyth’s Reed Warbler had been found on St Agnes.  Unfortunately it was in a small private field.   Queuing for the 300 birders boating over to Aggy was the order of the day, with ten birders in the field for 15 minutes, tough if you don’t see it.  All progressed relatively well and in good humour as the bird performed well.  However, gentle mumbling increased to severe doubt and eventually the Guru of the day, Pete Grant, declared it was just a Marsh Warbler.  Trouble was, nobody knew what a Blyth’s Reed looked like.  My book gave some guidance; Brownish. Difficult to distinguish. See Marsh Warbler.  I checked Marsh Warbler; Brownish. Difficult to distinguish. See Blyth’s Reed Warbler.  Hmmm, crystal.

Stress set in over the next couple of days as we were led a merry dance by a Rose-breasted Grosbeak that would appear in front of birders, then vanish, then appear again in another part of the island.  The grapevine was not quick enough for this sort of thing.  We moped around in obvious places waiting for news and while checking around the airfield, where a Cory’s Shearwater off Giant’s Castle was an unexpected bonus, my eye was attracted to a vibrant orange thing up on Porth Hellick down.  A quick look through bins revealed a birder with striking orange hair jumping up and down waving madly (a standard communication method of the day).  He had the Grosser!  We legged it up there and enjoyed our first tick of the week. Stress subsided, a good bird at last.   ‘Beacon bonce’, as the orange-haired one became known, was our hero. 

A routine check of Aggy again turned up trumps as a Radde’s Warbler was discovered in a garden off the main road as we were passing.  Another tight squeeze ensued as there were few available gaps in the hedge.  An amused local provided some step ladders for personal, if somewhat wobbly, additional viewing.  This was quickly followed back on Mary’s by a proper dash up towards the golf course for a Swainson’s Thrush, another tick!  A trip over to Tesco’s added the regular Black Duck, a Ring-necked Duck and the usual Bob-white Quail.

The week ended quietly with the usual fodder of a Lesser Golden Plover (or American GP as you call them now), Spotted Crake, Little Bunting, another Rustic Bunting, R-b Fly, Yellow-broweds, a couple of Dickie Pips  and the obligatory ‘small dark wheatear’ – yes, it rained one day.  But a 2-tick week was not to be scoffed at and we departed happily enough.

Pics.  Top:  Grosser!, Above: team member Tim Andrews finds a Yellow-browed (note all the 'brass and glass').  Below: Radde's on Aggy, my turn for the steps! (whats that new-fangled metal thing with 3 legs?, Bottom: the best dressed birders today have Swift Audobons and a handbag (Beacon bonce takes a nap).

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