Saturday, 2 May 2015

Great Blue Heron, Isles of Scilly 25th April 2015

April had been a fairly quiet month. We'd managed to dip on the Welsh GREAT SPOTTED CUCKOO, missing it fly down into the valley from its roost by about half an hour, and then spending all day looking for it, but it never reappeared. 

On Saturday 18th April, two Black-winged Stilts spent the day at Drayton Bassett Pits and we were handily placed to pop in and see them. A nice bird to see again in Staffordshire, only 24yrs after my last one at Croxall.
 Black-winged Stilt at Drayton Bassett - 5th record for Staffs and my 3rd.

Then things started to warm up a bit. On 14th April, a GREAT BLUE HERON was found on the Isles of Scilly. Fortunately, it coincided with my week off, but having given the first birders over the run around and eventually disappearing, I wasn't planning a trip just yet. Then on the Thursday, it was found late in the day on Bryher, but this news wasn't enough to persuade me to go the next day. It seemed to have finally settled down on Bryher and showed all day Friday while we were in South Wales. Saturday appeared to be the big day for the mainland birders to go over, but I was put off by the forecast of 60mph winds and torrential rain. 
And so it continued to show on and off during the week, mainly on Bryher at sometime during the day. On Friday, news eventually came on during the early afternoon and so the trip was confirmed. We decided to cross over on the boat (because there were no flights available) but then, a stroke of fortunate came our way. Fog was forecast and all Saturday's flights were cancelled. Furthermore, an extra sailing of the Scillonian was announced. This meant we would arrive at 12:00hrs, but we would not sail off until 19:30hrs, giving us an extra three hours on the island.

I picked up the St Helen's wonderkid and Dave "Grizzly" Adams, who was joining us for the first time. For CJW, it was a sentimental and emotional return to the islands where he had spent most of his summer and October holidays during the 60's and 70's. It was the first time in 25yrs he'd returned to the islands. He was always telling us of those early days, birding daily under the guidance of Hilda Quick-Hide, and his tales of having tea with the famous Roger Hunt.

The birding started almost immediately. As we were waiting to set sail, a fine flock of 44 Whimbrel flew around the bay. The crossing was fairly smooth, but birding was fairly quiet, seeing just a few Manx Shearwaters, a s/pl Great Northern Diver plus a Puffin when we were closer to the islands.

There she sits, a gleaming in the sun
"Grizzly" showing the St Helen's kid how he holds his bins on a ship
At 11:00hrs, it started to rain, but we were a bit sheltered on the boat. The fog also descended, and as we arrived on the islands, visibility was quite reduced. We were already aware that the GREAT BLUE HERON had been seen on Bryher at c10:00hrs, but obviously whilst out at sea, we'd received no more news. We headed off the Scillonian as quick as we could and jumped into the boat to Bryher. A few cheque book birders (like Phill Locker) jumped on the fast, private hire boat, costing a cool £5 a seat. They set sail while we were still loading up.

We arrived on Bryher with the rain still beating down. We walked up the hill and then down towards the Great Pool. I could see the south shore and there was a bird standing on the beach. I lifted my bins. The quest was over and I punched the air.

We stood in the rain and watched the Great Blue Heron just stand there and look pissed off in the rain. When it did ease off, it would walk around and start to fish. It even flew across the pool in front of us at one stage. We did our best to keep our optics dry, but following another very heavy shower, we decided to head back for the 14:30hrs sailing back to St Mary's, where we hoped to find some shelter and dry off. As we waited for the boat, we realised the majority of the birders had the same idea as us. We were all soaked.

 Bryher - Great Pool

 Great Blue Heron on Bryher

Above two photo's by Dave "Grizzly" Adams

The strange thing was, as soon as we landed back on St Mary's it stopped raining and brightened up. We stood on Penninis Head and I can remember looking over to Bryher bathed in sunshine.

 Resting, coats drying off and finally getting a signal on the phone

We walked round into Old Town Bay and into the hide at Lower Moors. It was empty and as we carefully opened the flaps, there, right in front of us was a sleeping Greenshank.....and a Gadwall. We sat there for quite a while, resting mainly. I searched for the NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH in the reeds like I did on my last visit to the hide, but again there was no sign. It was nice just to sit in the hide, have a rest and sort my rucksack out, then get some of my damp stuff out, then from the other side of the hide a Night Heron was seen in flight before it dropped out of view, then I went back to my seat because I wasn't quick enough or concentrating on what was going on.

 Only on Scilly can they design a hide with a flap to open at floor level. Small people? Very low rares?

We decided to head back into Hugh Town and find some tea. We walked along the boardwalk and CJW knew vaguely where he'd seen the Night Heron land. As we walked I glanced through a gap in the bushes and there was the adult Night Heron sat preening itself. It was a three-heron day (Grey Heron in Old Town Bay for the record).

 Night Heron with my phone and bins!

We had a look at the Long-tailed Duck again in the harbour before we sat in the shelter. As you can probably gather, we were flagging a bit now. We had our tea, and joined the Scillonian for the 19:30 sailing. The fog descended now and we didn't see much on the crossing back, except a few Manxies and two Great Skuas.

The celebrations and party began on the boat going back.
The fog in the harbour. 

The St Helen's kid struggling to find his sea legs

We actually had the top deck of the boat to ourselves for some reason in the fog when it was dark.

We landed in Penzance at 22:10hrs and set off for home straight away. I drove first but I didn't quite make it to the start of the M5 as planned, falling short by about 20 miles. It was one of the most testing drives I've ever done and when CJW took over I just zonked in the back. The St Helens wonder kid then performed an amazing drive, and when I woke up we were at Frankley. Heaven knows how he managed to do it but it has to go down as one of the drives of that night. And as a thank you to CJW, here is a song especially for him by his favourite group and his personal heroes. Next time you see him just ask him to do his impression of then. It's fantastic