Hmmmm. Scilly 2014: well, it would have been better if I had been able to post a picture of an amazing American passerine in the slot above but instead you've had to make do with a stunning view, which along with the social side in the evenings, is what always redeems even the worst of Scilly years. 2014 will probably go down in birding folklore as one of the worst years ever, at least since 1974 I've been told and when I become an old birder I'll be able to say "I was there".
It started off well enough. My flight was on time and I made the 10.15 boat to St Agnes. Arriving on the island we walked straight to Castella Down in search of the Short-toed Lark. Reaching the area my group split to search but the first bird I looked at was the Lark feeding at the back of the field with some Meadow Pipits
A report of a Tawny Pipit by the Big Pool had us rushing down to Periglis and although it turned out to be a Richards Pipit we had prolonged good views of the bird as bounced around amongst long grass and rocks. I finished my day, whilst others had retired to the Turks Head, enjoying a Barred Warbler feeding out in the open on Gugh.
The following day there was time in the morning to visit the incredibly confiding Snow Bunting on King Edwards Road on Peninnis before embarking on MV Sapphire for a mini pelagic.
We steamed out from St Marys for a couple of miles before looping round and coming back in via the Western Rocks. Birds were a little slow, a good view of a single Balearic Shearwater was the highlight and Joe Pender manoeuvred the Sapphire within touching distance (almost) of a Purple Sandpiper on the Western Rocks. However my keenness to do a proper Scilly Pelagic next August was reduced by a distinct queasiness which developed half way through the trip. I was glad to reach dry land.
Monday, and I caught up with my first Yellow-browed Warbler, Firecrest and RBF of the trip but birding was hard with very few even common migrants. Next day was a flat calm and I took the 10.15 boat to St Martins. Part way across, a pod of Common Dolphins was spotted in the Roads, or maybe they spotted us, as they came over and put on a fantastic performance around and under the boat. Our boatman, Joe Badcock, cut the engines to allow all on board plenty of time with these inquisitive creatures.
When they seemed to lose interest, simply starting up the engines caught their attention and drew them back in. This is the first time in 30 years of visiting Scilly that I've had dolphins perform like this in the shallow waters of the Roads.
On St Martins, a Siberian-type Chiffchaff showed nicely at Little Arthur Farm, and a Firecrest and an elusive RBF were conveniently close to the re-opened Sevenstones Inn. Meanwhile, birds were pouring in to my home county of Norfolk; surely things were going to pick up birdwise on Scilly?
Unfortunately it wasn't to be, and despite covering many miles and spending many hours in the field, the hoped for rarities just didn't materialise. In fact, hardly any new birds appeared and even a single Redwing was noteworthy. It was a beautiful day on Bryher on my second Sunday (see photo above) but the highlight of the day, a Reed Bunting, said it all in terms of birds.
The arrival of Hurricane Gonzalo prompted great expectations but Scilly missed out.
A Green-winged Teal on Tresco caused some excitement as it was a Scilly tick for many, but as the pager Mega-alerted repeatedly on Thursday 23rd, it was only an Ortolan Bunting, found by a team of BTO birders on St Agnes, that prompted the first extra boat of my 2 weeks. As mainland birders enjoyed a Yellow-billed Cuckoo at Porthgwarra just 30 miles away, two more American birds appeared on the Friday in the shape of a pair of American Wigeon, not quite what we had hoped for, and a White-rumped Sandpiper also put in a brief appearance on Tresco. Returning on the 2.15 boat to St Marys, Chris and I put in a few hours birding on St Marys. Admittedly we saw very few birds but also very few birders. Maybe that is the problem, too much cover and too few birders actually out looking. At least that increases the chances of actually finding your own birds!