Sunday, 23 October 2011

Operation Waterthrush - 21/22nd October 2011

Throughout most of October, I have been keeping an eye on the cracking autumn that the Scillies are having and in the back of my mind, really wanted to get there somehow. As a result, I was overwhelmed when i got offered a space for a 2 day trip there from Jason Stannage. After some number crunching, I took up the place and joined Jason, Neill Hunt and Ian Woosey. We set off at 00.45 on Thursday night and was down in Cornwall for first light. News broke the night before of a 1w male Scarlet Tanager in a churchyard orchard at St. Leven. As all four of us needed this, we thought we'd give it a quick go before boarding the Scillonian III. Unfortunately there was no sign, so we were hoping it had gone overnight as we left the site. Boarding the boat, it took less than an hour before the pagers went off announcing the Tanager had reappeared! Gutting! The three hour boat trip gave us time to contemplate flying back for the bird...we however decided that we would get the Scilly birds and hope it would be there Saturday evening.
Lifers chronologically:
Wilson's Snipe - The main target of the trip was the Waterthrush at Lower Moors. Arriving at Shooter's pool, there hadn't been any sign for about 30 minutes, so I decided to make a quick dash to the Scilly Bird Club hide and instantly saw the Wilson's Snipe feeding at the back of the pool. Sadly, whenever I saw this bird, it was rather too distant for my modest 400mm so I wasn't able to get anything other than record shots. The bird on the other hand was very educational as it fed next to a Common Snipe. In comparison to the Common Snipe, the Wilson's seemed overall smaller, much colder in colour with only a small amount of rufous tone behind the ear coverts. The 'braces' on the back were very reminiscent to a Jack Snipe and the flanks were more barred. At the rear end, the bird seemed almost Spotted Crake like as it faced away and on the two occasions it opened its wings, I noted the heavily barred underwing and flanks. (I didn't get a decent view of the tail feathers however) Neill and Jason visited the bird again the following day and it showed down to 8 feet so were able to get some decent photos of the bird...shame the closest thing I saw was this Greenshank, however delightful it may be!

Wilson's Snipe - Neill HuntNORTHERN WATERTHRUSH - This was the only bird that Neill needed from the trip, so this ended up being the main target of the trip. Arriving at Shooter's Pool, it wasn't long before the bird called and flew to the back of the view into cover. The called is remarkably reminiscent to a Dipper. A couple of minutes later, I spotted movement at the back of the pool on a partially dried up patch. It was the thrush! A superb bird that walked out onto the mud several times wagging its rear end and showing off its stunning plumage. Always elusive, this was a difficult bird to photograph and in the poor light and the distance, I am actually happy with my results! At the time, I failed to pick up on the feature, but on the photograph below, you can just make out the faint streaking on the throat that distinguish the bird from Louisiana Waterthrush. A difficult bird to get decent views of, but when you did...boy was it a stunning bird! A species I have always wanted to see and can't believe I have actually seen it!

Above and below - Northern Waterthrush (Neill Hunt) - Note the streaking on throat on the picture below

Upland Sandpiper - moving onto Borough Farm, we connected almost straight away with the Upland Sandpiper as it sat on the far side of the field. All of a sudden, however, it stood up and started walking towards us closing the gap from 100m in heat haze to about 40 feet! This is another bird I have always wanted to see this bird certainly didn't disappoint! It was a superb bird that looks almost prehistoric and I am actually impressed by the size of the bird. It was getting onto the size of a Whimbrel whereas i thought It would be between Greenshank and Redshank in size. I believe this is a 1st winter bird, and I'm guessing this is to do with the 'saw tooth' appearance to the secondaries and primaries similar to the tertial pattern of a Redshank...feel free to comment on this.
Ending the first day dipping the Olive-backed Pipits along Watermill Lane and and seeing a Firecrest, 4 Yellow-browed Warbler and a Whinchat by Newford Duck Ponds. The evening was spent in the Mermaid Pub.
Lesser Yellowlegs - Day 2 started nice and late with an 08.30 cooked breakfast in our B&B. We decided to have a nice relaxed morning doing a spot of birding rather than twitching (although I thought better of this). Ian and I took the 10.15 boat to Tresco because we had never seen Lesser Yellowlegs and there was one present on the Great Pool. We wanted to get back onto St. Mary's as quickly as possible to give us chance to maybe get some better views of the birds we'd already seen or even do a spot of birding near enough to the harbour to be relaxed before our boat. We hadn't realised that we would have less than an hour on Tresco however so it was a mad dash off the boat to the very SE south of the Great Pool. A quick scan found some Redshank and in amongst them was the delightful yellowlegs. It was noticeably smaller, bright yellow legs, think dark bill with a pale base, long at the rear end with a slight supercillium, and spangled back. I managed to creep up of the bird and get a couple of decent photos...shame the light was in completely the wrong place however! A dash back to the harbour saw me bump into Andrew Holden who told me the Pectoral Sandpiper was showing from the other hide...I made a very quick trip in here and saw that briefly albeit not very well.


Scarlet Tanager - Neill Hunt
SCARLET TANAGER - We hadn't realised why everyone was so anxious and excited whilst waiting for the boat back to St. Mary's until I had a quick chat to Andrew who told me that the Scarlet Tanager had been found on St. Mary's and was currently showing as we spoke!!! The boat seemed to take forever but Andrew and others arranged a taxi for 8 of us and by 12.10 we were present by Holy Vale and galloping towards the 50-60 assembled twitchers. The bird was in a row of hedges across a field when we arrived and 50 birders had to view from a very small gate and any little holes in the hedge they could find...The viewing was horrible with very little of the hedge visible at any one time. The bird was very elusive and It seemed to take an age before I caught site of movement. It suddenly popped out and sat in the sun side on. This is all I needed to pick up the yellowly green plumage, very dark wings, reasonably short broad bill, and smallish size (probably between Robin and Redwing in size). No matter how hectic the twitch was or how brief my views were. I picked up all the features of one of the rarest birds I have ever had the good fortune of seeing. One of those birds you always want to see, but never imagine it actually happening! Thanks must go to Andrew Holden for arranging the twitch for us. (From what I can gather in the quick read of Birdforum I have just had, the Scilly bird is actually a different bird to the Cornish bird... I think the cornish bird showed brown fringing to the greater coverts, whereas the Scilly bird didn't.)
Tanager twitch Holy Vale - note the big hedge we had to view through on the right! (Jason Stannage)
Olive-backed Pipit - After the Tanager became more elusive, Jason, Neill and I decided to have another look for the pipits as we really weren't far away at all. We arrived on the road by the second field along Watermill Lane and the birds had just been seen flying through the trees by the farm. It wasn't long however until someone shouted, 'got 'em!' He got us onto one pipit that was half way along the field with a Song Thrush. I was looking at the bird and something didn't seem right. I was struggling to ID the bird and assumed that maybe looking into the light didn't make them look especially special, because I just couldn't turn it into anything other than a Meadow Pipit. I was about to say something when Jason said, 'that's just a Mipit isn't it!?!' We all agreed this and then Neill picked up two birds at the back of the field. I got onto them straight away and the diagnostic head pattern that I have studied so often when being gripped off my Shetland pictures appeared in my scope. Now these WERE Olive-backed pipits. Viewing at this distance and into the light didn't help photography at all, but scope views were excellent and it was reasonably easy to note the 'tear drop' behind the ear coverts, heavy supercillium, broad streaking to the warm brown breast, short legs, reasonably plain back with very faint streaks and overall stunning appearance. I have wanted to see one of these for years and is probably my 3rd all time target bird to see. Result!
Due to forecast bad weather later on, we had to get the Scillonian III at 3pm rather than the 4.30 boat. The sea on this passage was slightly rougher with the weather being a little more unpleasant. This however made for a fantastic crossing as an observer with 3 species of cetacean being seen! To start off with a Minke Whale swan in front of the boat and was seen by about 5 of us on the boat. This is my first ever whale sp! Shortly followed by 2 Bottle-nosed Dolphin and then a single pod of 13 Common Dolphin which leaped out of the water at the same time which made for almost emotional viewing! Such stunning animals! On the bird front, the highlights were 2 European Storm-petrel, 2 Atlantic Puffin, 2 Arctic Skua, Great Skua and a Chiffchaff that landed on the boat half way, went into the grill to the engine room, then hopped out and flew off very high north (wrong direction!) We arrived back in Penzance at 6.00 and then drove back arriving in Liverpool at about midnight.
Left-right: Jason Stannage, Neill Hunt, me, Ian Woosey outside Evergreen Cottage Guest house (our accom for the night)
I would just like to say a massive thanks to Jason for inviting me along and also for providing me with a bed when we got back to Liverpool. Also thanks must go to Neill Hunt who drove essentially the whole way, provided most of the gen for locations on Scilly etc. Also a final thank you to the 3 lads who I joined on the trip for providing 48 hours of entertainment, stories and for contributing to probably the best 48 hours of birding I've ever had!
A superb first trip to one of the most beautiful birding locations I have ever been. Completely different to anywhere else I have ever seen in Britain.

2 comments:

Kane Brides said...

Sounds like an awesome trip Zac! Look forward to hearing more soon!

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