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

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