Monday, 13 October 2014

Scilly Days

Variety. That is, I think, the word to sum up my first full week on Scilly. 
The early part of the week was spent mostly in the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust office at Trenoweth, and exploring the Higher and Lower Moors nature trails, whist the evenings took me to the Scillonian Club and the nightly Bird Log. The Bird Log is a social gathering each evening in the upstairs bar of the club, where birders gather to discuss the days sightings. At 9pm the Log is called, which consists of a well known and reliable birder being entrusted with calling a list of species and recording the responses from the gathered crowd as to numbers and locations of sightings that day. It is a serious occasion it would seem, judging by the hush, and muttered discussions and the tension when a contentious identification of a rare species is made. and yet, the calls for bird species and resulting responses are interspersed with laughter and witty remarks, making it a thoroughly enjoyable experience. There was no Bird Log on Thursday due to the club showing football on their big screen, but during the day there was some potential for good birding. 
October has started quiet, with only a handful of unusual birds being spotted. None-the-less I am quite satisfied with how my 'Scilly list' is developing. A Scilly list is, as the name suggests, a list of all the bird or other wildlife species the holder of the list has seen on or within the islands. My current total stand at 49 birds, 3.5 mammals, and 6 butterflies.

Blackcap, Carrion Crow, Chaffinch, Chiffchaff, Cormorant, Curlew, Dunnock, Greenfinch, Greenshank, Grey Wagtail, House Sparrow, Starling, Swallow, Collard Dove, Herring Gull, Great Black-Backed Gull, Pheasant, Rock Pipit, Linnet, Robin, Wren, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Reed Bunting, Kingfisher, Oystercatcher, Wood Pigeon, Gannet, Stonechat, Cormorant, Great Tit, Goldcrest, Goldfinch, Wheatear, Snow Bunting, Meadow Pipit, Moorhen, Pied Wagtail, Shag, Snipe, Water Rail, Yellow Browed Warbler, Kestrel, Purple Sandpiper, Spoonbill, Peregrine, House Martin, Sanderling, Turnstone 
Scilly Shrew (Lesser White Toothed Shrew), Grey Seal, Brown Rat, and a (sadly dead) Hedgehog
Speckled Wood, Small Copper, Red Admiral, Peacock, Clouded Yellow, Monarch

The challenge is on for that elusive 50th bird. A radio, kindly loaned to me by a fellow birder, sits on the desk beside my laptop, occasionally cracking with reports of Yellow Browed Warblers or Reed Bunting. Across the Islands other birders are listening to the same crackles and static, hoping to hear the name of a new rarity that will see them racing to join their fellow enthusiasts to peer into a hedge or field. So far, all is quiet. 

Island of Sampson, late afternoon

Later in the week, I joined the other volunteers at the Isles of Scilly Seabird Recovery Project on a full-island beach clean of St Agnes and Gugh. 
Saturday saw more trips to Higher Moors/Porth Hellick and Lower Moors. During my wandering I came across a lovely little gallery/studio and a kind gentleman, who's artwork was simply beautiful and I couldn't resist purchasing a print of Old Town Church. 

Christopher Perry's Elm Studio gallery, Old Town Road

Leaving the birdwatching to others for a short while, I took a visit to Old Town Church for a tick of a different kind. No avian visitor this, but a rather unusual resident that lives unseen in the brambles of the church yard. The Prickly Stick Insect. Interestingly all the individuals in this location are female, and yet still reproduce successfully. Bright green is the most common colour, but impressive specimens such as this brown one can also be found. 

A short wander on a beach close to town filled my jacket pocket with trinkets; tiny shells and frosted sea-glass. 
Rock Pipits and Turnstones chase sand-hoppers that spring from the seaweed on the tideline, whilst Oystercatchers whistle, swirling over the craggy rocks where Shags sit like black bowling pins above the waves. 
Dark Green of pine trees, the autumn brown of bracken and the lighter green of the yellow dotted gorse contrasts strongly with the deep, Mediterranean-blue of the sea, the white arcs of sheltered beaches, and the huge lichen shaded granite outcrops on the rocky headlands. 
Tiny fields sheltered by high hedges of Pittosporum, are ridged with deep furrows from which green spikes of daffodils and other bulbs seek the October sunshine, months earlier than on the mainland. Those fields currently uncropped, are filled with the summer-spent heads of red clover, or the yellow field-suns of corn marigold, a testament to the lack of herbicides or other poisons here; few if any farmers pour such chemicals on their land, and so the wildlife thrives and it too would seem, do the flower crops. 

Lichens, hundreds of years old, drape the branches of ancient trees with soft grey rag-rugs. The blind stone doorways of burial mounds from island occupants long past, gaze out towards the sea. 
Strong winds and heavy rain has been interspersed with sunshine and rainbows, butterflies and bumblebees can be seen all along the lane-side Elm hedges who's stone wall bases grow thick with ferns. 

When the day is done, a full moon has pulled in high tides, as the sinking sun hits the sea, gilding the horizon clouds. 

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