The bloke who used to run the disco on the quay with an Aladdin Sane style painted face was looking past his best. He probably thought the same of me. "You still do the disco on the quay" I enquired. "Blimey, you've been coming here a long while" he replied. But let's hope he now has more than 5 records in his collection, I like Siouxsie and the Banshees but not every 15 minutes. After visiting the Isles of Scilly every year from 1975 until 1995, we had not been back for 17 years. This was the 'old gits return' tour, one last hurrah. First impressions were that not much had changed other than there were virtually no birders, a few more posh houses had appeared and everything was a lot more expensive. We set out to find birds.
The Aquatic Warbler was typically ground hugging and elusive as it grovelled amongst the iris by Porthloo Pond. A couple of flight views was the best on offer. By contrast, the Ortolan was best mate with the sparrows on Porthcressa beach and behaved in a similarly approachable fashion. A couple of Yellow-browed 'sweeeet'ed and showed briefly in Lower Moors and a Lapland Bunting rattled and rolled over the golf course. Just as I remembered it. Peninnis never seemed that far in the past but it felt like a long slog this time. A scattering of pipits including the Buff-bellied lurked around the lighthouse but the old lookout pole seemed to have gone. I was looking forward to climbing that again.
The fact was, everywhere seemed further than it was before. Did we really walk twice around St Mary's everyday? Anyway, no problem, now they have introduced electric carts for the old gits. However, there are significant changes; the birders are not only far fewer in number but on average much older and probably only a handful with much experience. Fewer birders out there, fewer birds being found. On one day, we were the only birders on the boat over to Tesco's. Scilly has become like an extended episode of Dad's Army; all the old dodderers holding forth whilst the young guns are away at new frontlines.
Captain Mainwaring is everywhere, pompously standing guard with his radio/CB and spouting. "Don't stand there you stupid boy, I've been coming to Scilly for 6 years now". Privates Fraser and Godfrey were dipping down at the shy Aquatic. "We are doomed" said Fraser, "there are more birds on Shetland". Godfrey shuffled up, "I had to be excused, but my sister Dolly says there are two Buff-breasts on the airfield now". "No you old duffer" says the Verger "one's a Dotterel". Meanwhile, Private Walker was down the Scillonian Club selling dodgy videos of the glory days.
Corporal Jones came charging up "Don't panic, don't panic. I've looked at the Snipe at Porth Hellick. They're all Wilson's". And so it went on.
We eventually added Pink Stink, R-b Fly, Barred and Bonelli's, with Yellow-broweds everywhere. No modern day mega's, but still a lovely place, and once upon a time that might have seemed like a reasonable haul.
Below: Ortolan, Buff-breast, Dotterel, R-b Fly and old gits twitch-cart.