17 Oct 2022

17 Oct 22 - Another Memorable Scillies Twitch

On Thursday 13 Oct 22, news broke on RBA about a Blackburnian Warbler on Bryher, as I was about to leave for a dental appointment. I had no chance to try organising a flight for the Friday before I left the house & all the flights were booked by the time I returned home. At that point, I decided to wait & see if it was seen on the Friday. When news broke confirming it was still there, I looked again at trying to arrange a trip on the Saturday: again all the flights were booked. The weather looked grim for the ferry crossing with rough seas: I decided not to go, as I feared the crossing might take longer and would impact the time available to get on & off Bryher. It turned out that due to the low tides on the day it was found, that some Birders were dropped short of the beach & had to wade ashore. Additionally, I was still concerned about the C19 risks and mixing with many people, as I was flying abroad one week later, for a seven weeks in Indonesia on two back to back Bird Tour Asia trips of the Banda Sea and Remote Indonesia. If I contracted C19, then I wouldn't be able to fly. It just felt that there were a number of good reasons, in my mind, to not twitch the Blackburnian Warbler. While it was a UK Tick, I've about fifty in the US, Mexico, Ecuador & most recently Colombia.

Fast forward to the Sunday morning. Birders who were staying on the Scillies, confirmed that the Blackburnian Warbler was still present. It's not possible to get on or off the islands on a Sunday. I checked the weather for the Monday. The crossing looked bouncy, but the weather would be better than on the Saturday crossing, when a few hundred Birders successfully day tripped to Bryher. I had had some bad experiences on crossings on the Scillonian in the 80s and those memories are still raw. Crossings were best ensured, by going down low & trying to sleep. But that increased the C19 risk, so I needed to stay on the decks. However, having been to the Southern Oceans on a much better ship, I am a more confident sailor these days. I bought my ferry ticket for the Monday.

I arrived early in Penzance, found some en-road parking and I was the first Birder in the queue. More Birders appeared as we got closer to sailing. Once onboard, the back deck was busy on the crossing, with more down below decks.
Penzance Harbour: Waiting to leave
It was a bouncy crossing, but I was pleased that I survived OK: a few were less fortunate. It was a good seawatch on the crossing. I found a Sooty Shearwater and a pod of at least six Short-beaked Common Dolphins. As we passed the airfield, a queue of Birders started forming to ensure we could get off quickly. Matt Eade was in front of me & he found a Grey Phalarope as we passed Old Town: a nice bonus for the few of us who got onto it. We were quickly off the Scillonian & onto a boat waiting to take us to Bryher.
On the way to Bryher
The tides had improved & I was pleased that it was a dry landing on Bryher. After a ten minute walk, I was one of the first to arrive at the Blackburnian Warbler fields.
The Blackburnian Warbler fields: This photo was taken as I was leaving
There was a small crowd present. I found a gap next to one of the guys who was already in the field. He put me straight onto where to look. Within a couple of minutes the Blackburnian showed itself in the Pittosporum hedge close to us & where I had been told to look. The pressure was off: I had seen it well.
My first views of the Blackburnian Warbler was in this nearest left hand hedge
As more people arrived, it flew to the back of the field. I saw it again within a few minutes, before it became more elusive as people pushed further into the field.
The crowd became impatient: They pushed forward into the field, after their arrival had flushed it to the back of the field
Blackburnian Warbler: I didn't get to photograph it on the first good views. But after some more good views, this was the best of the first photos: all within about a few minutes of arriving
The Blackburnian Warbler was in the back hedge: I had had to move forward as too many people had pushed past where I originally saw it from
Richard Webb: Waiting for it to show again. It was good to see Richard again, as I've not seen a lot of him since he left Poole & moved to Norfolk
I saw it again after about thirty minutes. The good news for me was I had seen it quickly and also got some photos. There was a final view and it moved to the next field. I stayed put when most of the Birders moved into that field. I hoped they would flush it back into the first field. Unfortunately, they didn't. It was a typical Scillies twitch, with many people still not having seen it, despite having arrived only a minute or two after me. The longer they dipped, the more they chased & the less well it seemed to show.
Blackburnian Warbler: North American Wood Warblers don't understand the word subtle, unlike the Phylloscopus Warblers
Blackburnian Warbler: My next sighting before it flew to the next field
After forty-five minutes I moved to the field where it was now occasionally showing, but avoided the main crowd. This tactic rewarded me & I was well placed when it popped up close to me in the Pittosporum. Finally, people realised we were watching it and another surge of Birders occurred. A number hadn't read the book of how to be a Birder as far as the letter F for Fieldcraft. The Blackburnian Warbler flew to the next field.
Blackburnian Warbler: Finally, it popped up close to me
Blackburnian Warbler: This is the first twitchable individual in the UK and only the fourth record. The previous records are Skomer (5 Oct 61), Fair Isle (7 Oct 88) & St Kilda (12-14 Sep 09)
Blackburnian Warbler: It was present on Bryher from 13-29 Oct 22
Blackburnian Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
I had had good close views from this latest sighting. It was time to leave as I was fed up with the behaviour of many in the crowd.
Blackburnian Warbler
There was a Wilson's Snipe on St Mary's at the same time. This was still a Tick for me. I've only tried to twitch one on Scillies in the past & this was a particularly elusive individual. I thought it would be too tricky to try twitching both the Blackburnian Warbler & the Wilson's Snipe in the same day and still catch the Scillonian home: but apparently one or two people did manage it. Having ruled that out, I had time for a more leisurely time with the Blackburnian Warbler, before finding a cafe for a celebratory cup of coffee and some food.
House Sparrow: This House Sparrow didn't understand why I needed a camera with a big lens. It was happy to pose for my mobile
A view over Bryher
I was back on the beach with plenty of time, before the boat took us off to reboard the Scillonian.
Waiting for the boat to collect us & take us back to St Mary's
It had been a successful twitch, but the crossing back was to be even more eventful for me. More of that in the next Blog Post.