Thursday, 28 October 2010

Blast from the Past - The Ovenbird twitch - 28th Oct 2004

Another blast from the past from the Clayhead Crew, as today is the 6th anniversary of our trip to see the OVENBIRD on the Isles of Scilly. It was a remarkable day and below are my diary notes from October 28th 2004. On Monday 26th October 2004, John and Jean Harding discovered an OVENBIRD near the feeding station at Trenoweth. Eventually, it was re-discovered and the twitching began

(497) 16:52 ***MEGA***SCILLY OVENBIRD ST.MARY’S NR WATERMILL 4.45PM. BN 16:50 25/10/04

Unfortunately, this also coincided with a large low pressure approaching with storm force winds and torrential rain predicted. We originally were trying to go down on Tuesday, but the Scillonian III was leaving St. Mary's at 14-00hrs, thus leaving only 1½hrs on the island. In conversation with PJ, he said the area was heavily brackened with many paths. With 600+ birders all trying to view the bird, it might have been impossible to see the bird in such a short time. We decided to travel down later in the week. The weather was at its worse on Wednesday, and the Scillonian III was cancelled on Wednesday and Thursday. The aeroplane was definitely not running on Wednesday, but they would reassess the situation on Thursday. This was a gamble; as if we left the decision to go until Wednesday afternoon, then there might not be any seats available. I had other commitments on Friday, and so the only option was to go by helicopter on Thursday. We decided to wait for positive news on Wednesday 27th and then book the tickets for Thursday. The positive news did come through, and the bird had survived another night. However, the next message on the pager did concern me a little -

(616) 09:20 SCILLY OVENBIRD ST.MARY’S HAS BROKEN LEFT LEG 09:20 27/10/04

I tried not to worry too much, and thought that maybe it would not move about too much now. GAS booked three tickets on the 09-45hrs flight from Penzance to St. Mary's, and PJ booked another for PL, but he was returning on the 17-30hrs flight. We were coming back on the last flight off the island at 18-00hrs. All the plans were made when this message came through at dinnertime

(628) 12:12 SCILLY OVENBIRD ST.MARY’S BTW WATERMILL+TRENOWETH 12.10PM THE BIRD IS IN A VERY POOR STATE & WILL BE TAKEN INTO CARE. 12:10 27/10/04

I phoned PJ, and we decided to cancel the trip. He phoned the booking office and was able to transfer his ticket to next year. We were going to cancel, but decided to wait until later on in the afternoon, just in case something else was found on the island. Just to confirm the situation, the next message confirmed our unfortunate decision.

(630) 12:42 SCILLY OVENBIRD ST.MARY’S BTW WATERMILL+TRENOWETH 12.35PM BAD INJURY DOWN LEFT SIDE BUT BIRD IS STILL ELUSIVE AND NO FURTHER ATTEMPT WILL BE MADE CATCH IT BUT ITS THOUGHT IT WILL NOT SURVIVE. 12:42 27/10/04

PJ phoned up Paul Flint at Birdnet, and his conversation resulted in this amazing message, plus arguments developing between RBA and Birdnet.

(635) 14:00 SCILLY THE OVENBIRD ST. MARY’S HAS A GASH ON ITS LEFT SIDE ITS LEFT LEG STICKS OUT AT A RIGHT ANGLE AND IT CAN’T GRIP WITH ITS LEFT FOOT THE OTHER LOT CLAIM IT APPEARS OK ON THE SAY SO OF THE LOCAL VET WHO IS NOT A BIRDER. 13:58 27/10/04

Doubt started to enter my mind after this message as to what was the current condition of the bird? If we cancelled and didn’t travel, and then the bird was still showing on Thursday morning, we would have felt a little cheated.

(636) 14:08 SCILLY OVENBIRD ST.MARY’S BTW WATERMILL+TRENOWETH 2PM HAS BEEN SUNNING ITSELF NOW DRIED OUT AND LOOKS PERKIER 14:06 27/10/04

PJ phoned LGRE up, and he said that reports were wrong, and the bird was OK. This was confirmed by this message at 17-15hrs. PJ rebooked PL’s flight, and we all breathed a sigh after such a stressful afternoon.

(647) 17:16 SCILLY OVENBIRD 5.10PM SHOWING BY TRACK BTW WATERMILL & TRENOWETH THE BIRD IS FEEDING OK AND LOOKS A LOT BETTER THAN IT DID THIS MORNING. 17:13 27/10/04

Thursday 28th October 2004 – Isles of Scilly
We arranged to pick PJ up at 03-10hrs, and then drove to Fenton to pick PL up. I drove the first leg down to Sedgemoor, and then GAS took over. In parts it was a clear night, and a partial eclipse of the moon was observed. We received reports that one helicopter was down, and we would be experiencing some delays. We arrived at Penzance at 08-30hrs, and discovered that our 09-45hrs flight would be leaving at 10-15hrs. As I was walking back to the car, we received this message, confirming that the OVENBIRD had again survived the night.

(656) 08:33 SCILLY OVENBIRD ST.MARY’S SHOWING ON TRACK BTW WATERMILL & TRENOWETH. BN 8:31 28/10/04

I was still extremely tense, and, along with PJ, found the waiting for the flight across hard. We eventually took off at 10-20hrs, and we landed at 10-40hrs on St. Mary's. There was confusion at the airport, where the taxi we had booked had been taken by another six birders. We grabbed our bags and crammed into another taxi, arriving at Trenoweth at 11-00hrs.PJ and PL both ran off. I walked, but soon lost GAS and so I walked faster. The area was under the conifers, and I soon came to an area on a slight hill. A group were standing under the trees, staring down at the floor. PJ pointed down, but among the branches and pine needles, I couldn’t see a thing. I moved around slightly, and then I saw the Ovenbird sitting on the floor, crouching for shelter behind a mound. It appeared that the wing was sticking out, and it appeared to be a bit unhealthy. I looked around and realised GAS hadn’t arrived yet. I walked back to the path and phoned him. He told me he had gone through a gate and was heading for another. I knew I hadn’t walked through any gates, and started to look for him. I eventually found him across a field, walking in the opposite direction. I guided him back and we all enjoyed incredible views as the bird just sat on the floor, approximately two metres away.


(674) SCILLY OVENBIRD ST.MARY’S 11.20AM ON TRACK BTW WATERMILL & TRENOWETH BUT AGAIN APPEARS UNWELL AND IS STRUGGLING TO STAND.BN 11:20 28/10/04

It was difficult to digiscoped the bird, as it was too close, and the viewing area was cramped. The floor was uneasy and very springy. The pathetic state of the bird was clear when it tried to move. It couldn’t walk, and just used its wings to attempt to move. It just rolled about the area, and then just sat there. It was a sad sight, and took the edge of what should have been an incredible bird. It was clearly unwell, and needed help urgently. Will Wagstaff and Bryan Thomas were coming up to take pictures of the bird, and when they arrived discussions took place. It was decided to capture the bird and take it into care. Will took his hat off, and after a brief flutter, the Ovenbird was in his hand. We had only just made it in time. The bird was now in care and untickable!

(676) 11:38 SCILLY OVENBIRD HAS BEEN TAKEN INTO CARE 11.30AM & MAY BE FLOWN TO MOUSEHOLE.BN 11:36 28/10/04


The bird was taken away, and we all stood around. Part ecstatic as to the nature of the tick, elated that no-one else could tick the bird now, but sad that we saw it in such a state.

(684) 12:51 SCILLY OVENBIRD WILL REMAIN IN CARE ON ST. MARY’S. THERE WILL BE NO VIEWING DUE TO BIRDS EXTREMELY POOR CONDITION.BN 12:49 28/10/04

We eventually wandered away from the Ovenbird site, and headed for Newford Duck Pond where a PALLAS’S WARBLER had been already seen that morning. A small crowd had gathered around the duck pond, but there was no sign of the Pallas’s Warbler after a ten-minute wait. It was here that we received the following pager message –

12:30 CORNWALL CREAM-COLOURED COURSER UNFORTUNATELY DIED OVERNIGHT IN CARE AT MOUSEHOLE BIRD HOSPITAL.BN 12:28 28/10/04

We walked past the Longstones Café, and found a taxi parked up outside a barn. PJ went in and persuaded her to take us to the Incinerator.The taxi dropped us off right outside the Incinerator. In one of the gardens opposite, a Waxwing was feeding on fallen apples.

We watched it for a while before it went out of sight. Some passing birders had told us that a RED-BACKED SHRIKE was showing at the end of the allotments. We walked down the path, and the juvenile Red-backed Shrike flew out and landed on the hedge further down, showing very well. We also received a report that a YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER had been seen a little further down the path. We stood sheltering under the trees for ½ hour while it rained. There was no further sign of the bird, but another 10+ Common Chiffchaffs were seen. We walked back towards the Dump Clump, where we had better views of the Waxwing.

It was now 13-30hrs, and it was raining steadily. We walked to the Mermaid where PJ bought us a drink. PJ had been speaking to Ren Hathaway who had got the Ovenbird in his house. There had been a lot of ill feeling caused by the taking into care of the Ovenbird, and Ren had arranged for Scilly birder Bryan Thomas to come and see our pictures and videos of the bird. They were after some ‘evidence’ to show the state the bird was in. Bryan took my memory card away, and took some pictures from it. We sat in the Mermaid chatting away, and were joined by Nigel Hudson. Eventually it stopped raining, and at 15-15hrs we set off. Our flight off the island was at 18-00hrs, but we needed to be at the airport by 17-00hrs. It was still raining on and off, but also the wind had increased. In the harbour, Nigel Hudson told us that there were 30+ BLACK REDSTART feeding. We looked down from the wall on a beach full of birds, all pecking around the rocks and seaweed. We counted 6+ Black Redstarts, 5+ Common Chiffchaffs, 30+ Robin including some with very orange breasts. These were Continental Robins. There was also a Stonechat and many Rock and Meadow Pipits.

We walked round into Porthcressa, but the wind was extremely strong. Another Black Redstart sheltered on one of the window ledges. Seaweed was strewn everywhere as a result of the high tides and winds. We headed for the airport as the conditions were worsening. We had phoned the airport and the choppers were still flying. Apparently, the wind had been worse yesterday. We walked to the hide on Lower Moors, mainly looking for JACK SNIPE. The water levels were too high. We did see a Common Greenshank, Cormorant, three Mallard and a Black-headed Gull. We carried on walking towards the airport.

At Careg Dhu, a PALLAS’S WARBLER had been showing all day. This was only just up the road, and we had time to walk there. GAS decided to miss out and head for the airport. We arrived at 16-15hrs. After only a short wait, the Pallas’s Warbler came into view and flitted about in the trees in front of us, showing very well. We watched it do two or three circuits, before we headed back to the airport. We took off at 18-05hrs and enjoyed a relatively smooth flight. It was raining heavily in Penzance, and in the dark and the confusion, I managed to take the wrong rucksack. It didn’t stop raining until we were well past Exeter, and in parts it was torrential. We arrived home after midnight, a journey of 5hrs+.

(708) 18:28 SCILLY: WE ARE VERY SAD TO REPORT THAT THE OVEN BIRD HAS DIED. BN. 18:25 28/10/04

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