Friday, 16 October 2009

Birding the Isles of Scilly - part 1

Over the next few posts, I'll be sharing with you my week long trip to the Isles of Scilly. This is a group of small islands just 28 miles off the south west tip of England. I've pinched the following introduction from a brochure about the islands as I thought it encapsulated this special place very well. "Escape to a place where nature cannot hide. A wild archipelago that basks in a mild climate. A place where the views flicker from sunshine glinting on the vast canvas of the Atlantic, to eerie fog and dramatic storm clouds thundering across the sea. A place where ships have foundered on granite reefs lashed by ocean swells. A place where the rugged coast is punctuated by soft, pearly beaches."
My other birding friends had already been on Scilly for a week and I would be joining them for their second one. I drove the 3.5 hours down to Penzance at the ungodly hour of 2am to catch the 7.30 flight on Friday. There are 3 ways to get over to the islands. My preference was by helicopter (apologies for the dodgy photo here. I was probably feeling a bit shaky for this shot just before boarding my flight!)The journey takes about 20 minutes and is quite exhilarating. On the way over, I could just make out some Northern Gannets flying way below me (birding already!) (-: In the photo below, I'm just approaching St Mary's which is the largest of the inhabited islands with a population of 1,590 and is 1,554 acres in size.Touchdown at St Mary's airport went safely. There were just 5 of us on the flight so as you can imagine, claiming baggage didn't take very long! (-:I mentioned other ways go get over to Scilly. There is the Skybus option which I've never taken so far. Could be fun though!The third option is to sail over in the Scillonian, a smallish passenger ship. I have done this in the past, order to be able to dock in the shallow waters around the Isles of Scilly, this ship has a shallow, flat bottom to it. In an even moderate swell this ship wallows about like a pregnant whale! I have never been sea sick so far, but I just don't like sailing on this boat. I leave that to my birding friend Jane who absolutely adores the crossing whatever the weather!Here it is coming in to dock at St Mary's quay.At this point, I thought I'd show a photo of my birding buddies. From left to right there is David, Me, Geoff, Jane and Dave. They're a great bunch of people and it was a pleasure to spend the week birding with them.No sooner had I downed some breakfast at the house we'd rented than Jane dragged me out the door and down to the quay to catch a small boat to the island of St Agnes. She knew that there was a life bird on the island for me and was keen to get me off to a good start. These small motorised boats are the most popular way to get between the five inhabited islands, for holiday makers anyway. St Agnes is the southern most island of the group and has a population of 90 people. It is 366 acres in size and is probably the wildest of the inhabited islands. If a bird gets blown off course from America, then St Agnes is probably the first landfall it would see. A few years ago, I 'twitched' an American Robin on St Agnes on my first ever visit to these islands. The photo below shows the small quay where our boat put in.In the bay by the quay, I saw this Shag diving for fish. It was really close in and didn't seem to mind me taking loads of shot of him.The water was so clear, it was fun to watch him underwater.As he surfaced each time, the water seemed to cling to his feathers. As we made our way inland, the views all around were fabulous. It was great to be back here after a break of several years!The southern half of the island is an area of heather and bracken and large granite stones and is called Wingletang. I don't know the reason for it, but it's a great name! (-:This rock formation reminds me of a running dog with it's ears laid back! (-:Back at the quay, I noticed this Rock Pipit on an incredibly green rock which contrasted nicely with the pinkish granite.It was a great first day on the islands and by the way, yes I did see my life bird.....a Red-breasted Flycatcher. Unfortunately I didn't manage to get a photo of it. I'll have more about the Isles of Scilly in my next post. Click to enlarge any of the photos.


Chris said...

Hi Jenny,
This is an excellent firs post, and now I'm waiting for the next one... Congrats for the lifer, and for the shag shots, they are beautiful... I have to say that the landscape also looks quite unique... you probably got a very nice time there. Have a nice week end.

dog trot farm said...

Well this truly is an adventure, how amazing. Birding people are just the best! Looking forward to future photos. Thanks, Jenny Wren

Mary said...

Already exciting :-) I think of those choices I would pick the helicopter, too. I like that to me. I think your running dog rock looks more like a pig to me....I guess it is like looking at clouds where everyone sees something else. What a marvelous place and I'm looking forward to more photos!

Eve said...

Great scenes and post Jenny. That Shag is really neat! Love the helicopter...thanks for getting that picture! It's great seeing you with all your gear. I'll be waiting for more!
Yes I thought the "dog" looked like a piggy too!!
More please!

Rural Rambler said...

What a great holiday you took! Beautiful pictures and very interesting. The shag is cool and the look of the water on the feathers is fascinating! Just all very interesting to read. Can't wait for more. I think the rock looks like a pig too :)

The Early Birder said...

Hi Jenny. Views of the Scillonian brought back vivid memories of my only visit to the Isles as a clouds for 2 weeks & then the return trip in a force 7 gale...not to be repeated! Congrats on the RBF & looking forward to the following posts. FAB

Jenny said...

Hi Chris, I wish I'd stayed longer to take more photos of that shag, but it was my first day on the islands and my life bird was waiting for me! (-;

Hi Julie, glad you're enjoying the adventure so far, lots more to come, you might get bored towards the end! (-:

Hi Mary, see my comment to Julie above! By popular concensus my dog stone has now become the piggy stone! (-:

Hi Evie, I took better copter ones at the end of the week, but that's to come... I took so many photos, I'm going to stuggle to narrow them down to a few postings I think! YIKES.

Hi Pix, I was facinated with the water on that Shag too. As I said to Chris above, I wish I'd spent more time taking photos. Maybe next time I'll go for 2 weeks! (-;

Hi Frank, I don't think I want to experience the Scillonian in a big sireeee! Thanks for the congrats on the lifer, they're getting harder and harder to come by now! (-:

John said...

Hi Jenny,

Lovely first post of your trip. Looking forward to the rest. Congrats on your Lifer. Well worth the trip.

The photos of the Shag are brilliant. The photos bring back happy memories of my birding trips there.

Thank you

Quiet Paths said...

I was able to get such a wonderful sense of this place through your photos and narrative, Jenny. What a wonderful trip. I am really looking forward to more.

Jenny said...

Hi John, I'm glad it's bringing back good memories. I hadn't been for a few years, so it was lovely to get back there.

Hi Christine, I just know you'd adore this place! It's so up your street, so to speak! (-:

Jenny said...

Hi John, I'm glad it's bringing back good memories. I hadn't been for a few years, so it was lovely to get back there.

Hi Christine, I just know you'd adore this place! It's so up your street, so to speak! (-:

Anonymous said...

Hi Jen, this is a great start and I am looking forward to the rest of the posts. I didn't expect to see the Shag so shiny on the head as that, its different to the Cormorant, I though it had been in oil for a mo there.

Kelly said...

Hi Jenny! Oh wow.....a whole week with friends on an island....birding!!! You must have had an amazing time. I can't wait to see all the posts. The Shag is an unusual looking bird. I see what you mean about the water clinging to him. His head looked more like a seal's skin than feathered!

Kelly said...

p.s. I would have chose the helicopter too. It's so commando!!

Jenny said...

Hi Roy, it was nice to get so close to a Shag for a change. I was surprised at how the water clung to it so much. I would have thought it would run off in beads of water, but no.

Hi, yes it does look more like seal skin on that Shag. On the helicopter ride back, when we lifted off, we went backwards for about 50 feet and then sideways and then tilted up and away! It was fun! (-: