Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Back in Time - 1984 First time on Scilly!

Saturday October 13th 1984 was my first visit to the fabled Isles of Scilly, Brian Wyatt and I spent a week the previous October (83) in Norfolk seeing a Roller and a couple of other rarities but also heard about all the rarities turning up on Scilly and we then decided to go there for a week next autumn (84) to see what all the fuss was about.

We left Oxfordshire early morning for an uneventful drive to Penzance and then took the 2½ hour boat trip over to Scilly on the Scillonian III and were rewarded with several Great Skua and Sooty Shearwater and other sea birds on the way across.

Back in the 80’s there were a lot of birders, maybe a thousand or so on the islands in October so a lot of birds got found and little escaped attention.

Arriving on Scilly around 12:30 we made for the camp site on the Garrison on St Marys to put the tent up and then back down to some birding. As the technology was not around at that time we would ask anyone with a CB “what’s about” or look on the notice board outside the Porthcressa cafe to find out what was where.

As there were some Dotterel on the golf course we decided to take a walk up there first and were rewarded with 3 of them feeding on the fairways, we also had a Red-breasted Flycatcher on the way up there. As we had time we then did some of our own birding and subsequently found a juvenile Ortolan Bunting that we did not know was present and then bumped in to a Short-toed Lark that had been around on Peninnis head for a few days. Not a bad start to the first day of birding on Scilly, then to the Mermaid pub for a few pints and a meal and then the weary trek up to the garrison and the tent. The final entry in my notebook for that day just says “knackered”.

Sunday dawns with news of a Yellowthroat on Bryher, so an early boat over to catch up with an American vagrant and was then seen frequenting an apple tree close to one of the beaches, then another boat for a visit to Tresco where we caught up with Yellow-browed Warbler and Firecrest, then St Agnes for a Blackpoll Warbler, Woodchat Shrike and a Little Bunting and then back to St Marys for Red-rumped Swallow, Tawny Pipit and Common Rosefinch................Not bad for 2 days on Scilly so far and even more knackered!

The rest of the week proved just as fruitful with Monday furnishing a Pectoral Sandpiper on St Mary’s and a “Grey-headed” Wagtail possibly of Scandinavian origin and then a Dusky Warbler on St Agnes frequenting the fruit cages.

The Tuesday was another amazing day with the Short-toed Lark and Dotterel again, also 2 Turtle Dove and a Lapland Bunting and another mega of an Olivaceous Warbler on St Marys, which I believe subsequently turned out to be an “Eastern Olivaceous Warbler”.

And so it continues with Wednesday bringing a Bluethroat and a Rock Thrush and on Thursday a Rustic Bunting and a Richard’s Pipit of note and back home on the Friday.

Along with other common late migrants such as Whinchat, Black Redstart, Western Yellow Wagtail, Wheatear, Swallow, Firecrest, Common Redstart, all of the "common warblers", Spotted and Pied Flycatcher, Snow Bunting etc seen throughout the week, it made for a brilliant weeks birding. Also that week falling in love with the islands, I have been to many islands and archipelagos throughout the world and Scilly remains one of my favourites.

That week also started my “triad” of species that I sought on every visit to Scilly; they were Yellow-browed Warbler, Firecrest and Red-breasted Flycatcher and I managed to see them on all but one visit.

With 11 new species seen and 104 species seen in total that week I was thinking “I will definitely be coming back again” which I duly did every October for the next 25 years!

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