Sunday, 24 November 2013

Caspian Stonechat on Scilly

A Siberian Stonechat that had been present on St.Agnes during the week turned itself into something altogether more interesting, when Ashley Fisher saw the bird and noticed the rather Pied Wheatear-like tail, with extensive white in the basal half of the majority of its tail feathers. This feature indicated that this was a Caspian Stonechat, of the race formerly known as variegatus but now hemprichii. I wasn't going to go initially, much of this due to work fatigue, but after I'd manned myself up, I'm pretty glad I went as yesterday, Saturday, was a really enjoyable day out.

Leaving London at 1.30am, the journey down with Stuart P was straightforward and we arrived in Penzance just after 7am. Naturally, the first port of call was our stomaches, so we headed first to the new Sainsbury's (built on the site of the former heliport) before going to McDonald's for a quick breakfast. Unbelievably, we dipped Dan P - though we were later to find out that he'd called in at the one in Hayle so our gen wasn't too out...

Everything went as planned from then on - a shuttle bus up from Penzance to Land's End aerodrome (as we were coming back on The Scillonian), decent flight and then arrival on St.Mary's, punctuated by a Black Redstart by the terminal, where we were then immediately taken to the quay in Hugh Town, where Joe Pender took us over to St.Agnes in ten minutes on one of the Bryher boats. Thanks to the Don of Scilly, Mr H, for sorting out all the logistics and making things seamless.

A quick walk through St.Agnes was the next manoevre, and having turned off by the coastguards, before we'd even got to St.Warna's Cove the 1st-winter male Caspian Stonechat showed itself - flying past us, almost Wheatear-like - before perching up in the garden of a nearby house. After a short while, it headed back down to the beach where it spent the next couple of hours - flycatching and feeding on the abundant insects by the rotting seaweed. A real cracker of a bird, as indeed chats tend to be anyway. And with the uncertainty of its taxonomic status putting the stonewall tickers off, just seven of us and a couple of Scilly locals made the experience even more pleasant. As did a Siberian Chiffchaff feeding alongside a couple of nominate birds in the same area.

1st-winter male Caspian Stonechat St.Agnes, Scilly 23rd November 2013
With the Scillonian setting off at 2.30pm, we had just enough time to grab a pasty in Hugh Town before heading back towards Cornwall. I managed to grab an hour's sleep before heading up to the deck, where a handful of Balearic Shearwaters, a massive blow from a whale sp. and lots of Gannets and Kittiwakes made the crossing pretty enjoyable. Getting back to Penzance a bit after 5 was much less anti-social than the usual routine, so this meant that I was back in southeast London for 11pm happy yet totally shattered.

Isles of Scilly scenery - remarkably this was my first visit to the islands since December 2007
Highlight of today's action was the return of the adult Mediterranean Gull at Burgess Park - otherwise, few birds seen in Rotherhithe and plenty of time spent looking around bathroom shops.

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