Monday 19 September 2011


With both a NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH and a BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER still showing on and off on the Scillies it was all becoming way too unbearable to cope. I could handle life without the glorified Water Pipit but that bark probing, little barcode was twisting my melon. I needed to connect with her at any cost. After receiving the green light from my understanding boss I attempted to gather a crew together for the risky journey south-west.

With the usual suspects unable to juggle prior work commitments, I finally located a travel companion who was not so career minded. Due to the threat of disciplinary action by his current employer, this individual will be referred to as 'Bill Focker' for the remainder of this blog. Unfortunately poor 'Bill' had been in poor health over the course of the weekend and upon consultation with his doctor he was prescribed a full 24 hours of refreshing sea air in order to assist his recuperation. Via the medium of a well known birding based chat group we also managed to enlist another reprobate for the trip. Now ordinarily I would much sooner spend ten hours in a car with Michael Barrymore, a blister pack of Rohypnol tablets and a bottle of poppers than in the company of a good 83% of Birdforum users. My fears were soon dispelled however when I found out a like minded chap called Martin Smyth from Coventry would be joining us.

So I left North Warwickshire at around 1.30am, picked up Martin from Solihull and connected with 'Bill Focker' on the M5 for the remainder of the long journey. After a good old natter we quickly found our way to the traditional birding watering hole of Exeter Services where we chanced upon another trio of Warwickshire birders. Like ourselves they had also failed to confirm travel arrangements over to the Isles of Scilly. We therefore decided to team up and enquire whether an extra plane could be sourced to fly us over to St Mary's as soon as the booking office opened.

After some sterling driving work by 'Bill' we found ourselves at a rather damp and misty Drift Reservoir, just east of Penzance at around 7.00am. After a long walk down into the western arm we soon picked up our first American vagrant of the day as a juvenile LESSER YELLOWLEGS popped into view accompanied by a single Dunlin. We then turned our attention to the eastern side of the reservoir where we encountered a juvenile Spotted Redshank, a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper, another Dunlin and a lone Northern Wheatear. Unfortunately though there was no sign of the juvenile SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER that had been showing so well the day before.

LESSER YELLOWLEGS (juvenile) - Drift Reservoir, Cornwall.
Photo kindly provided by Brian Field
We then made our way through the murk to Land's End Airport to beg a plane seat. Just as we arrived though 'Bill' received a call from Phil Woollen. The scumbags at the Isles of Scilly Steaming Shit Company were far from interested in laying on additional flights. After a quick U-turn and a frustrating wait in a queue we found ourselves sitting on the dock of a bay like a trio of caucasian Otis Reddings. It was time for a three hour involuntary sea-watch aboard the 'Sickonian III'.

The crossing was a pretty smooth affair and a few good birds were logged along the way. The highlight was a single Leach's Petrel not too far off Land's End with a scattering of Storm Petrels and Manx Shearwaters thrown into the mix. As we approached the islands the weather improved a great deal. As the boat negotiated its way between St Mary's and the Eastern Isles you could be forgiven for thinking you were cruising somewhere around the Caribbean as opposed to the extreme south-west of England. As we approached the harbour I made sure I was in prime position to disembark and as the gangplank hit the quayside I was off like a greased weasel. Within minutes 'Bill Focker' and I had hailed a taxi and soon afterwards we were both knee deep in mud at Lower Moors.

Just a few birders were present amongst the tangle of lichen covered branches and amazingly a couple of them had enjoyed a tantalisingly brief glimpse of the NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH just seconds before we arrived on the scene. At this stage I was frantic and to make matters worse there was no sign of either rarities. After what seemed like an eternity but in reality was probably about ten minutes, a call went out a short distance from where I was searching. After a quick, squelchy scramble and a jostle for a viewing spot I was watching my first BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER in Britain. I was completely speechless, rooted to the spot and totally oblivious to everything around me except for the amazing monochrome gem that picked its way around the gnarled trees just feet in front of me.

BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER (first winter female) - Isles of Scilly.
Photo kindly provided by Ashley Powell

The American beauty continued to show exceptionally well on and off with a little patience and a touch of common sense. Unfortunately though its nearctic cousin was the complete opposite. Despite a thorough search of the Lower Moors area none of us could relocate the NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH. To be honest though I had clinched the main target so I was far from disappointed. A juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper showed well from the hides along with a single Greenshank but the only other species logged were the odd Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler amongst the usual resident species.

With the clock ticking away 'Bill' and I decided to head over to 'Higgo's Pool' behind the dump clump. Whilst John Higginson was working on his latest water feature, the SOLITARY SANDPIPER that had been present on the island for a while dropped in to feed. After a trek through the scrub we were enjoying tremendous views of yet another transatlantic vagrant.

SOLITARY SANDPIPER (juvenile) - St Mary's, Isles of Scilly.
Photo kindly provided by Ashley Powell

After admiring the bird for a while we then traipsed up to The Garrison and along the Lower Broome Platform. Almost immediately we were admiring a stunning Red-eyed Vireo methodically feeding around the sycamores. The bird continued to perform well until it was time to head back to the quay for the return crossing to Penzance.

RED-EYED VIREO (first winter) - St Mary's, Isles of Scilly.
Photo kindly provided by Andy Hale

There were a few disappointed faces aboard the Scillonian III due to the NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH failing to show. This disappointment then turned to rage with some of the guys as the bird was relocated just as we were heading past Peninnis Head. To be honest though I was still buzzing after the previous four hours of high octane birding.

Apart from a single Sooty Shearwater and a few Great Skuas the crossing back to the mainland was pretty uneventful until we reached Land's End. At this point the seabird action started to heat up a little. As we approached Tater-Dhu lighthouse a feeding group ofCommon Dolphin were spotted and trailing them were a small group of plunge-divingGannet, a trio of Balearic Shearwaters and about a dozen Storm Petrels. A superb end to another memorable day in this magical part of Britain.

After the recent taxonomic announcements by the BOU, both HUDSONIAN WHIMBREL and SIBERIAN STONECHAT became a couple of appreciated 'armchair ticks'. This meant the BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER became my 450th species for Britain. What a species and what a location to reach the milestone with. The T-shirt is at the printers, hope that it is not too tight!

Special thanks to 'Bill Focker' for his driving and patience, Martin Smyth, Jules Allen, Mike 'The Dog' Doughty for their good company, Dan Pointon for his stake-out of Lower Moors and both Ashley Powell, Andy Hale and Brian Field for use of their excellent photographs.


  1. Nice one Arch. See yopu on Shetland for the biggie from 4th october...........

  2. I doubt I'll be heading up there mate, my faith in 'The Fortunate Isles' has been restored. It's Scilly all the way!