A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Scilly Pelagic Birding - Great Shearwaters put on a show (Day 3)

Monday dawned with beautiful weather yet again, and our hopes were high as we set off from Hugh Town at around 5pm. With (thankfully) no Wilson’s yet again on Sunday, this was our last chance to connect in what had so far been a disastrous year for sightings. With the previous latest sighting being the 17th July, no one was really sure what was causing the absence of birds, although one theory was that the seas were a touch too cold. Close fly-by views of Great Shearwaters yesterday had us hoping they would put in a repeat performance tonight, and luckily we weren’t disappointed.
Great Shearwater - Scilly
In a brilliant sequence of events unfolding over around 60 seconds, the call went out of a Bonxie sat on the sea, which the boat began to head towards. This plan was swiftly abandoned however, as a Sooty Shearwater zoomed past the side of the boat at close quarters. With everyone reaching for their cameras, a second shout 10 seconds later came from Scott of “Great Shearwater!” Having picked up his camera he had looked up expecting a Sooty Shearwater, but instead had laid eyes on a Great that had come out of nowhere! Fantastic!
Great Shearwater - Scilly
Great Shearwater - Scilly
Great Shearwater - Scilly
Great Shearwater - Scilly
We watched for several minutes as this large shearwater gave several circuits of the boat (all thoughts of the Sooty were long forgotten by now!) and we took in the diagnostic dark cap, dark and white tail and the extremely dark upperparts. Much larger and agile than a Manx Shearwater, the difference in size and flight style was obvious, and the pale underwings with dark smudges were also clear to see.
Great Shearwater - Scilly
Great Shearwater - Scilly
Great Shearwater - Scilly
Great Shearwater - Scilly
Great Shearwater - Scilly
Great Shearwater - Scilly
In total, we eventually had an estimated 5+ birds (told apart by the difference in pattern on the underwings) and several in particular gave absolutely breath-taking views, coming to within 7 metres of the boat (they were so close my lens wouldn’t focus!). One in particular kept diving below the surface right in front of us to feed on the fish remains thrown overboard – a behaviour I wasn’t aware of in Great Shearwaters. Everyone watched in awe as the bird performed spectacularly, making circuits around the boat and giving a show that none of us would forget in a hurry. What a way to see a lifer!
Great Shearwater - Scilly
Great Shearwater - Scilly
Great Shearwater - Scilly
Sadly as the light faded, we unfortunately just couldn’t make a Cory’s or Wilson’s materialise, and despite the best efforts of everyone on board, it just wasn’t to be this year!
Scilly Pelagics
Just a week later, 3 out of the 4 pelagics managed to connect with a Wilson’s, whilst the Sunday pelagic scored absolutely incredible views of a Fea’s Petrel soaring around the boat – the ultimate in pelagic birding and one which we will hopefully connect with on future trips! Whilst we had been a week too early for the Wilson’s, this may have been a blessing in disguise, as not booking on the Sunday pelagics would have resulted in heartbreak had we been there a week later and missed the Fea’s!

Checking past records, the second week in August has traditionally been the best for Wilson’s, with a 54% score rate, while Fea’s can turn up at pretty much any time. The fact that both this years and last years bird turned up within a couple of days difference between dates could indicate that anywhere around the 16th and 18th is ideal – boding well for next year’s trip falling between Monday the 15th and Saturday the 20th.

Exploring the islands on our final day before the ferry back gave us an opportunity to admire the subspecies of Speckled Wood found on the Scilly Isles (subsp Insula). Slightly more orange than our individuals on the mainland, whilst the difference is only slight, fluttering around the trees the butterflies were noticeably more orange. 
Speckled Wood (insula) - Scilly
Speckled Wood (insula) - Scilly
Speckled Wood (insula) - Scilly
We also got great views of a number of eels in the streams surrounding Lower Moors Nature Reserve- another new fish for me and a species I have been wanting to see for a good while.
Eel, Lower Moors
Eel, Lower Moors
Lower Moors itself is renowned for attracting a whole host of megas over the years, including a recent overwintering Northern Waterthrush and a Black and white Warbler found frequenting the lichen covered trees on the outskirts of the boardwalk trail! Whilst not as productive in recent years as in its heyday in the 80’s and 90’s, hopefully these beautiful islands can soon start producing the goods again in terms of mouth-watering American vagrants.
Lower Moors trees - once home to a Black and White Warbler
With next year’s trip already booked, fingers crossed that we are able to time it right to connect with Wilson’s next time around, and maybe even secure once in a lifetime views of that most mythical of petrels like the lucky few on the Sunday’s pelagic – bring on the Fea’s! 
St Mary's, Scilly

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Scilly Pelagic Birding - Magical Marine Life and Moths (Day 2)

The next day thankfully dawned with beautiful periwinkle blue skies and a cloudless horizon –perfect weather for enjoying a boat trip out to sea but less than ideal conditions for drawing birds in (for which a stiff breeze is needed). Despite this however, we still had a fantastic days outing, and we more than made up for the lack of birds with a variety of interesting marine life.
St Marys, Scilly
Having hoped to catch up with at least one Ocean Sunfish whilst down in the Scilly Isles, it was great to see at least 5 of these incredible fish during the day. First observed as just a large dark fin flapping on the surface, we later got great views as several individuals floated serenely past the boat on their backs before swimming swiftly away once they had caught sight of us.
Ocean Sunfish, Scilly
Ocean Sunfish, Scilly
Ocean Sunfish, Scilly
Dolphins also made an appearance throughout the day, and we watched in awe as a pod of Common Dolphins joined us to bow ride for around 10 minutes, splashing playfully at the front of the boat just metres away. We also spotted a pod of larger Bottle-nosed Dolphins, easily identifiable by their much bigger size and more curved shaped fins. Not quite as approachable as the Commons, they kept their distance, and are apparently more uncommon in these waters.
Common Dolphins, Scilly
Common Dolphins
Bottlenose Dolphins, Scilly
Bottlenose Dolphins
Bottlenose Dolphins, Scilly
With a spot of fishing taking place, we also got good views of some sea fish, most notably a Gurnard and a Garfish - a pelagic needlefish with extremely elongated jaws that was fascinating to see as it was brought on board (both released back in to the water afterwards). 
Garfish, Scilly
Despite the less than ideal conditions, we were still able to attract a large number of European Storm-petrels to the boat, and a trawler several miles out to sea provided a great opportunity to see what species of birds were present in the slick. With gulls and Gannets in turn attracting shearwaters, we were hoping for both the large shears that we had yet to connect with – Cory’s and Great. Sadly we were unable to get on a very brief Great Shearwater that only a handful were able to connect with, and despite the bird seeming to land amongst the Gannets, we weren’t able to relocate it on the water’s surface when the boat went in for a closer look.
Trawler, Scilly
A very obliging Sooty Shearwater performed incredibly well however, sitting on the water and allowing a close approach from the boat for around 10 minutes, giving fantastic views and revealing the silver tinged sooty underwings each time it took off and landed.
Sooty Shearwater, Scilly
Sooty Shearwater, Scilly
Sooty Shearwater, Scilly
A first year Long-tailed Skua also provided my closest ever views of this species, again sitting on the water and allowing a close approach. While originally posing some questions as to whether this was an Arctic or Long-tailed and highlighting the difficulty in separating young birds of the two species, the cold coloured outlines of the feathers and overall very small and slim build pointed to Long-tailed.
Long-tailed Skua, Scilly
Long-tailed Skua, Scilly
With time pressing on, it was time to return to shore after 7 hours at sea, and the beautiful weather combined with continuous interest off the boat ensured I thankfully didn’t feel the effects of seasickness like the previous evening! Despite the best efforts of Bob Flood and the crew however, the constant steaming and chumming back to shore failed to produce any of our target shearwaters or Wilson’s petrels, and not being on the Sunday pelagic, this just left one more evening to connect.
Scilly Pelagics
The many gulls on the way back!
Skua, Scilly
As well as birds, the moth life on Scilly was also extremely interesting. Zac, staying just two B&Bs down from us, had brought his moth trap, so each day we headed over to check out what delights had been caught the previous evening. Being so southerly, Scilly is a great location for migrant moths, and we were hoping that over the weekend we would get some interesting species. Here are the highlights:
Grass Eggar - Scilly
Grass Eggar
Grass Eggar - Scilly
Marbled Green - Scilly
Marbled Green
Rusty Dot Pearl - Scilly
Rusty Dot Pearl
Ruby Tiger - Scilly
Ruby Tiger
Marbled Coronet - Scilly
Marbled Coronet
Broad-barred White - Scilly
Broad-barred White
Blood-vein - Scilly
Blood-vein
Blood-vein - Scilly
Bloxworth Snout - Scilly
Bloxworth Snout
Early Thorn - Scilly
Early Thorn
Ruby Tiger - Scilly
Another Ruby Tiger on a shop window after a pelagic - maybe even the same one!
Several Hummingbird Hawkmoths buzzing around a Buddleia were also fantastic to watch – my best ever views of this migrant moth. Busily feeding from flower to flower and darting round exceptionally fast, it was hard to get photos as they whirred above our heads, but I managed a few record shots of these brilliant day-flying moths. 

Hummingbird Hawk-moth
Hummingbird Hawk-moth
Hummingbird Hawk-moth
Hummingbird Hawk-moth

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...