24 Dec 2019

24 Dec 19 - Happy Christmas 2019

I've got a backlog of photos from this Autumn to sort out & add to the Blog, but other projects keep distracting me. Hopefully, I will start clearing this backlog in the next few weeks. In the meantime, this is a quick Post to wish everybody a Happy Christmas & thank you for following the Blog. A nice Christmas photo from last year's travels, albeit not sure when we are going to see a white Christmas again in Dorset.

King Penguin: South Georgia (2 Apr 18)

Happy Christmas & a Great New Year

4 Dec 2019

4 Dec 19 - The Last Carefree Twitch

On 18 Nov 19, I was surprised to see a Hermit Thrush had turned up on St Mary's. It was only the thirteenth UK record and there are only two Irish records. It was a late date for an American Passerine to turn up. It was still a Tick for me and a species that I have tried unsuccessfully to see in the past. On 17 Oct 87, I flew onto the Scillies and joined a lot of other Birders who tried to see one on St Agnes. Unfortunately, it proved to be a two day individual and we tried on the third day. To make things more interesting, we got back for one of the last flights of the day off St Mary's, only to find the helicopters were grounded due to adverse weather. We were given the option of trying to find a room in Hugh Town at our expense or to stay in the heliport overnight. The heliport provided blankets and stretchers to sleep on & kept the cafe open later than normal. It worked out better than the plan to camp or sleep in the car in Cornwall. They laid on the cancelled flights the following morning.

My next half-attempt at a Hermit Thrush came in at the end of Oct 13. I had decided to twitch the Cape May Warbler on Shetlands using a charter flight from Yorkshire. Having got back to Yorkshire that evening, there were two top quality Ticks in the UK for me. A Hermit Thrush that was showing on & off at Porthgwarra in Cornwall or a Mourning Dove on the Island of Rum in the Hebrides. In the end, I decided to drive to Scotland as I was halfway there & hope I could day trip the Mourning Dove, before heading for Cornwall. I reasoned that if I went South to Cornwall, that I wouldn't want to drive all the way up to Scotland again. Due to adverse weather, there was a change in the ferry timings for Rum: the result was I would have to stay for two nights on Rum before I could get off. I was happy with that. But it meant that the Hermit Thrush had departed before I could drive to Cornwall. I guess that is better to know that it had left, rather than get there & find I had missed it by one day again.

Since the 1987 individual, there had been another eight UK records. But they had all been on distant islands and only for one to three days. Hermit Thrushes had proved to be a tricky species to see. This new individual was found on a Monday & I was working on a hectic contract. It would be difficult to take a day off, as I had so much work on. Plus if I don't work, I don't get paid as there is no holiday pay in the contract world. Losing a day's work would cost me more than the cost of the twitch. I planned to see how things went during the week & to try getting a flight over at the weekend, as the Scillonian doesn't run for passengers in the Winter season. As it got closer to the weekend, the Hermit Thrush was still there, but all the places on the flights were booked. It's not surprising as the planes were the only way the islanders could get on or off the islands.

I left it for another week & it was the same the following weekend. Would it stay till my Christmas shutdown at work. That meant gambling it would stay for another three weeks & there were few places on flights with Christmas holidays anyway. The other problem was the weather was often grim with winds and or rain. But the Hermit Thrush was still present. I wasn't ready to fully give up on it as it was clearly hanging around, which historically they haven't done. Finally, I saw a break in the rough weather with a mild, sunny & still day for Wednesday 4 Dec 19. When it was present on the Monday, I bought my plane tickets for a day trip to Scillies. The first flight I could book left at 10:55, but I could stay on the island until it was dark. The only worry having bought the ticket, is Thrushes are nocturnal migrants and tend to move on clear night skies.
Waiting for the call for boarding
I arrived early at St Just airfield in the hope that somebody wouldn't show on an earlier flight. But there were no last minute cancellations. Had there been, then there were a couple of Birders Steve & David Lawton who were due to fly twenty minutes before me & they would have grabbed the earlier flight. Still at least there would be three of us looking for the Hermit Thrush & they should be on site a few minutes before me. The flight went on time & I was quickly out of the heliport and walking down to Kitty Down. It seemed excessive to jump into a taxi to get there a few minutes quicker. I arrived to hear the news that they hadn't seen it. The good news was the Hermit Thrush was still present that morning, but the bad news was it had disappeared about forty minutes before they arrived. An hour after I had arrived and we still hadn't seen it. One of the local Birders had wandered by for a short visit, but that extra pair of eyes hadn't helped.
The field had been roped off to avoid disturbing the Hermit Thrush: It was good the area was still roped off, even though the weekend crowds were not visiting
It was a big area to cover with just the three or four of us
Song Thrush: The local Song Thrushes have a reputation for being very tame
Song Thrush: Lovely, but this is the wrong species of Thrush
I wandered along the field edge & after ten minutes, I had it fly in from a nearby area & land on view. I had enough time to look at it, wave to the others and grab a few photos. But it disappeared before they appeared.
Hermit Thrush: My first view. Unfortunately, it flew before either of the Lawtons could reach me
After another fifteen minutes, one of the Lawtons found it feeding in an open area under the trees, along the left hand side of the field. We had to watch it from the main track at the bottom of the field & had to make do with it not being close. But at least we were far enough away to not disturb it. Fortunately, it stayed there for the next hour and we could watch it feed. Only once did it come out into the field edge, but it was quickly chased back into cover by a Song Thrush.
Hermit Thrush: This was species 542 for my British & Irish List, including six species only seen in Ireland
Hermit Thrush: They are a small Thrush with a noticeably rufous tail
Hermit Thrush
Hermit Thrush: It stayed around until 7 Dec, but that was its last day: I only made it with a few days to spare
Hermit Thrush: Soon after this photo was taken, it hopped into the trees & we didn't see it again in the nest half hour. It was time to move on
It was now early afternoon. I had a bit of time to go Birding. The quickest option was to head for Porth Hellick in the hope of finding a late Autumn Phyllos Warbler: but the best Bird was a Firecrest. Porth Hellick was equally quiet. There was time to carried on & have a quick look at the sea from the bay there. This produced at least three Short-beaked Common Dolphins feeding offshore with a large Gannet & Kittiwake flock. It was time to headed back to the heliport for my 16:30 flight off.
Moorhen: I had hoped for something more interesting than this Moorhen at Porth Hellick
I cut back from Porth Hellick to the airport along the path through Salakee Farm. I found a Hedgehog here. This is an introduced species to the Isles of Scilly and one that isn't fully welcome, given they are introduced. They should be hibernating by this date on the mainland, but I guess the combination of the milder winters and the last truly sunny day of the year had brought it out to look for food. Even though they are introduced, I was pleased to see a Hedgehog as I see very few these days. When I was a kid living on the Kent London borders, we had a Hedgehog that lived in the garden for several years while I was in my teens. I enjoyed watching it. Sadly, it is a species that is effectively extinct in the Dorset countryside. A combination of pesticides, ripping out of hedge lines with the remaining ones shared with Badgers, which are a significant predator have resulted in their loss. Fortunately, they are still hanging on in the urban areas in Dorset.
Little did I know this was to be my last carefree national twitch for a couple of years. Four months later was the first of the C19 lockdowns. My only twitch that year was a nervous one to Portland for the Yelkouan Shearwaters. I didn't do any more twitching in 2020. I didn't twitch the Northern Mockingbird in Devon in Mar 21, but I did when there was an opportunity for a more socially distanced twitch when it moved to Pulborough.
The obligatory last light photo: Just another five hours or so, before I would get home. Then another short night's sleep before the normal hour & three quarters drive to Winchester for work