Visitors from the East

We went over to St Martin’s yesterday

Despite the threatening skies we managed to avoid the rain

There had been a big fall of redwings overnight – they seemed to be in every field we passed

We also saw around 40 fieldfares during the day

When we returned to St Mary’s we went off to see a Siberian Stonechat (Saxicola maura)

Siberian Stonechat differs from Stonechat in several ways – it has a marked supercilium, white tips to the tail feathers and a pink unstreaked rump which blends into pinkish flanks

This video shows these features

screen-shot-2016-10-23-at-10-24-07In addition the Siberian Stonechat has black underwing coverts


The Siberian Stonechat has now been re-identifed as a Caspian Stonechat which is a sub species of Siberian Stonechat which is being considered as a species in its own right.

screen-shot-2016-10-23-at-17-08-22As this tweet demonstrates it is the long white markings in the tail which differentiates Caspian from Siberian

screen-shot-2016-10-23-at-17-01-12And  the same white tail markings taken from our video above also shows this characteristic

A day on St Agnes

We went to St Agnes yesterday. We were expecting another quiet day ……..

I visited the small St Agnes church next to Periglis beach to have a look at the stained glass windows. This is the original one over the altar.

This is a newer window designed and made by Oriel Hicks – a Scillonian artist – the Agnes Lighthouse

And this is the most recent window – gig rowers – also by Oriel Hicks

There were 3 ringed plovers on Porth Killier

And rather surprisingly a mandarin duck – which started off on the Pool and then flew to Porth Killier beach

The best bird of the day was this red-flanked blue tail (photo by Richard Taylor) – it was rather flighty but eventually we got some reasonable views. Interestingly a further two red-flanked blue tails were also recorded on St Marys at the same time. There have only been five records prior to these sightings.

During our walk on Gugh we found a dead water rail


Amazingly just before we found the dead water rail we heard that an Arctic Warbler had been found dead after it had collided with a window at the Lighthouse on St Agnes. On closer examination it was determined that the bird was in fact either a Pale-legged Warbler or a Sakhalin Warbler. Either way this bird is a first for Britain and the Western Palaearctic! Of course nobody can include it on their lists as the poor bird was dead. Very odd to think we were bird watching 500 metres away from where the bird was found at the time it died …….

The easterly winds are working their magic!



The day of the dolphin

Yesterday we witnessed a very large pod of dolphins feeding off the end of Peninnis – I have never seen so many dolphins together before. All of the individuals we saw were short-nosed common dolphins – it is hard to give an exact number of animals but it was probably between 200-300. At one point the pod (maybe 4-5 individual pods) stretched over 1km and was associated with hundreds of feeding / diving gannets.

Here are a few pictures (quality is low as the dolphins were several hundred metres away)


Three dolphins along with some gannets

After watching the dolphins for around an hour they eventually went out of sight heading off towards Gugh. We then set off to look for a wryneck and a snow bunting. At one point I thought this might be my best wryneck picture – the brown splodge in the grass!

wryneck-2Fortunately it popped out and sat on the nearby brambles

Whilst the birding on Scilly has been very pleasant there aren’t many birds around with only a smattering of migrants. However with the recent easterly winds the East coast of Britain has seen an unprecedented fall of very rare migrants including a ‘first for Britain’ – a Siberian Accentor – there have now been 6 different individuals recorded from Fair Isle down to East Yorkshire. These events have made the birders on Scilly rather envious!

The British ‘accentor’ is better know as the dunnock – we didn’t want to miss out……screen-shot-2016-10-20-at-20-42-03Here is a tweet about the Siberian Accentors in Britain – the easterly winds are back on Scilly today and we are expecting a storm on Sunday – high hopes therefore for Monday.

A day on Bryher

We spent the day on Bryher yesterday – it’s an island which is really growing on me.

The view from Shipman Head Down looking west

shipmans-headLooking north to Shipman Head

Across to Bishop Rock

Rushy Bay

There were quite a few stonechats on Bryher including this attractive male

And a flock to six snow buntings on Shipman Head Down including this female in autumn plumage

ring-ouzelWe saw at least two ring ouzels – they were very flighty and this is the nearest I could get to any of them

A grey heron feeding among the seaweed

Bryher has undergone a lot of agricultural change in the years that I have known it – it has been described by my supervisor Professor Michael Winter as a ‘post agricultural landscape’. In due course I will write a short piece about agricultural change and the future for farming on Scilly.

A hard day on Scilly

Sometimes birdwatching can involve spending a lot of time standing around trying to see tiny birds flitting about in dense vegetation. Sometimes it can be very rewarding and other days despite the effort little of note is seen. Yesterday fell into the latter category – plenty of chiffchaffs and couple of reed warblers but little else.

We did this water rail briefly at Higher Moors

And the long staying black necked grebes performed in front of our accommodation in the harbour

snipeAnd there were 8 snipe at Lower Moors

Despite the lack of birds we had a great day – simply because we are on Scilly


Back to Scilly

I’m back on Scilly for the third time this year – this trip I will be mostly birding.

Leaving Penzance on an early Scillonian at 8am – sunrise over the Lizard with St Michael’s Mount in the foreground

A bit of excitement two thirds of the way across as the Coastguard helicopter practices a rescue – they lowered a man onto the Scillonian and then winched him off

The view from our billet at low tide

Early afternoon – two birders waiting for ‘news’ – no news either way

A big high tide at the Atlantic – water lapping over the top steps

A rather eery looking rainbow

Full moon over Hugh Town

Birding highlight of the day was this Eastern Yellow Wagtail – could soon become a species in its own right – note the eye stripe and the wing bars

starlingStarlings are under-rated birds in my opinion – cracking plumage

Scilly has a huge population of Song Thrush

They are also very tame – we walked right up to this one who had no intention of flying off whilst bathing

The Crown Liquor Saloon in Belfast

The Crown Liquor Saloon is a Victorian Gothic public house (or Gin Palace) which is  owned by the National Trust (one of 61 owned by the NT!). It is still run as a very popular pub.  This is how the NT website describes the place.

“The most famous pub in Belfast.  Wonderful atmospheric setting, with period gas lighting and cosy snugs. Ornate interior of brightly coloured tiles, carvings and glass.

The exterior is decorated in polychromatic tiles. This includes a mosaic of a Crown on the floor of the entrance. The interior is also decorated with complex mosaics of tiles. The red granite topped bar is of an altar style, with a heated footrest underneath and is lit by gas lamps on the highly decorative carved ceilings.

Built to accommodate the pub’s more reserved customers during the austere Victorian period, the snugs feature the original gun metal plates for striking matches and an antique bell system for alerting staff. Extra privacy was then afforded by the pub’s etched and stained glass windows. See if you can see the fairies, pineapples, fleurs-de-lis and clowns.”

The Crown was acquired by the National Trust in 1978 following a campaign to save it led by Sir John Betjeman among other. In 1978 £400,000 was spent on its restoration and further restoration was carried out in 2007 at a cost of £500,000. This ensured it was returned to its Victorian state.

The entrance to the Crown Liquor Saloon

The ornate exterior tiling

The Crown Liquor Saloon is directly opposite the Europa Hotel – which used to be known as the ‘most bombed pub in the world’ – during the Troubles it was bombed 28 times. It has hosted Presidents, Prime Ministers and celebrities, it was the main accommodation for journalists covering the Troubles who dubbed it the ‘Hardboard Hotel’. The Crown Liquor Saloon due to its close proximity to the Europa often became collateral damage from the bombs.

We spent our last night in Belfast at the Crown Liquor Saloon – initially all the ‘snugs’ were full

The entrances to the ‘snugs’ are marked by lions

The ornate tiling above the bar

H and Heath in one of the smaller ‘snugs’

Along with Bunny and PK

We finally all managed to get into one of the larger ‘snugs’ just before last orders

Finally a team photo (courtesy of H) from last Wednesday – one the first tee at Portstewart
DG, Fordy, Skins, Bunny, H, PK, Leo, Heath, me, Ado, Andrew and Marcus

Great trip to Ireland!