• Welcome to BirdForum, the internet's largest birding community with thousands of members from all over the world. The forums are dedicated to wild birds, birding, binoculars and equipment and all that goes with it.

    Please register for an account to take part in the discussions in the forum, post your pictures in the gallery and more.
ZEISS DTI thermal imaging cameras. For more discoveries at night, and during the day.

A Scilly Diary. (1 Viewer)

Wow! Thank you, folks! Seriously was not expecting that. I'd sort of given up on this thread for a good while and wasn't planning to add to it, but it would seem that I may have acted in haste.

Also, your writing is superb.
That is so kind! I'm pitching two novels to agents as I write this, as I would like to be a professional writer. Zero interest so far, so maybe I should branch into natural history writing. :giggle:
I'm another one in the "Please keep going" camp! Especially as I know Scilly a bit from three visits in the 1980s.

As for the ones that got away ... I've had similar frustrations. It just makes the ones you do nail all the sweeter!

I'm another one in the "Please keep going" camp! Especially as I know Scilly a bit from three visits in the 1980s.

As for the ones that got away ... I've had similar frustrations. It just makes the ones you do nail all the sweeter!

Thank you!

Indeed - and I'm not inclined to chase everything, like the stressheads I see doing Big Years. Watching them is like watching a nervous breakdown in slow motion. I will win some, and I will lose some - such is life.
That's settled then. I have some catching up to do!

So, a couple of months back, several Bee Eaters turned up on St Mary's. It feels like so long ago, that I can't even remember how many of them there were! I arrived at the Southern end of the Lower Moors only to spot two other birders perusing the field that can be found on the immediate right of the reserve entrance. Even before I'd gotten off my bike, I could hear them calling.

I remember having a false alarm with a Bee Eater calling on Peninnis, the day the Serin turned up last year. That, by all accounts, was a rather cunning ploy by a local starling, which was known to do Bee Eater impressions. This appeared to be confirmed by the total visual absence of actual Bee Eaters, and the preponderance of Starlings, no doubt laughing at my gullibility.

My second 'not-quite' with Bee Eaters on Scilly was also last year when four turned up near Porthloo. I was busy working and alas was unable to connect with those birds either before they took off. Remarkably, the person who found them, refound the exact same birds near his home in Norfolk several days later. That's really weird. So anyway, I was determined not to miss these ones.

Third time lucky then. Within a minute I connected with one, then three, then quite a few, Bee Eaters, all sat on wires or in bushes on the other side of the field. Every now and then, one or two would sally forth in pursuit of the unsuspecting local aerial insect population. These colourful additions to our local avifauna were most welcome.

The birds stuck around the following day but quickly departed thereafter as I recall. This was one rarity that I think all local birders saw.

Due to distance, incompetence and laziness, this is the best I could manage of birds that remained distant from where I stood, but just out of useful photographic range:


  • DSC01498.jpeg
    25.4 KB · Views: 16
  • DSC01501.jpeg
    174 KB · Views: 16
So I deleted my last post. This was a personal decision as I read it back and decided that a few people would take it the wrong way and make even more trouble for me. It's out there, but no longer on permanent record. I'll just carry right on with my diary!
I understand what it’s like living in goldfish bowl
It’s nice to know people and chat but then the downside is everyone knows what you do it’s difficult

But don’t let the Bastos grind you down

Keep posting
So a Red-footed Booby turned up in the vicinity of Scilly. This is old news now, but then I am waaaay behind with the news.

If my memory serves me correctly, the bird was first seen from one of the pelagics. The bird settled into life on the Bishop Rock Lighthouse which lies immediately SW of Scilly proper and was immediately harrassed by the local gulls.

This, I believe, is only the second ever of the species in our waters, and needless to say it sparked a major twitch. I was unable to go that day because of work commitments. The following day, news was that one of the boatmen would meet the Scillonian late morning and take anyone from that boat out to the rock. I got myself down to the harbour and was quickly joined by about 20 or so other birders, who had disembarked from the Scillonian, only to rush over to the quayside like a gaggle of flustered chickens. Amongst their number was Lee Evans, and a few other faces I recognised but could not put names to (Fun fact: the UK birding scene and big listers in particular are not specialist topics of mine). We piled on and set off.

Now we've had a wet summer, I think it's fair to say, but as luck would have it, the weather for this outing was glorious - bright sunshine, light breezes, and a modest swell. It felt good. The big listers on the boat were in good spirits and we all chatted; but as is their predominant demeanour, there was an undercurrent of irritability and low-grade stress. I'm glad to say that the boatmen took it in their stride. Twitchers are hardly novelties to them, and I'm glad to say I found them to be perfectly civil company.

As we approached the rock, binoculars were trained en masse to see, with just an edge of anxiety, if the bird was still there. It was, and as we approached we all got our beadies on the helipad that sits atop the lighthouse, for there, with its wings sprawled out like roadkill, was the booby. Was it alive? For several heartbeats we weren't even sure. Then it lifted its head. Not being an ex-booby was greeted with a palpable release of tension.

For the next hour and half or so, the boat pootled around the lighthouse and gave us good close-up, if somewhat neck-straining, views. When the boat pulled back, we could actually appreciate it from a less anatomically arresting angle. The bird came to life more as we watched, not just lifting its head, but tucking its wings in and preening, looking down at the hairless monkeys that goggled at it, and keeping a wary eye on the Great Black-Backs that may have been speculating if it was small enough to eat. I'm happy to report that they didn't harrass it the whole time we were there.

The bird was a first summer - not fully in its adult finery - giving me the impression that it was a fine white bird that someone had dragged through mud. At least one photo I had perused before setting off made the feet look really red. Well that's not how they look in my pics, so make of that what you will. We soaked the bird up until the big listers started grumbling about needing to get back for the afternoon sailing of the Scillonian. Such is the life of a twitcher...

They needn't have worried. Upon landing, they still had over an hour to catch their ferry. Meanwhile, I repaired to the town cafe and had a coffee and snack. As I sat there, I observed Lee Evans outside the window renewing an old acquaintance, if I was not mistaken. You see Lee? It's not all terrible here.

EDIT: As of the 15th of September, the bird is still present and people are still going to see it. It isn't always guaranteed (one trip this AM failed to locate it), but it has to eat some time I guess.

Here are the usual rubbish pictures, which over the period of more than an hour, were the best I could manage:


  • DSC01555.jpeg
    70 KB · Views: 12
  • DSC01548.jpeg
    95.3 KB · Views: 9
  • DSC01520.jpeg
    4.2 MB · Views: 8
  • DSC01518.jpeg
    4.4 MB · Views: 8
  • DSC01552.jpeg
    5 MB · Views: 10
Last edited:
Hot on the heels of the Red-footed Booby... was another booby! This time, a Brown Booby turned up - in exactly the same place as the previous bird: the Bishop Rock Lighthouse. On a tiny rock several kilometres from the main group of islands that we know as Scilly were a pair of boobies. Yes, I went there....

Trust me, I've now heard every joke about these two birds being present together, culminating in someone saying that there were a pair of boobies on the bishop. Ahem... Anyways, straight-faced as ever I shall plough on!

News came through via the Whatsapp group and every birder on the islands collectively gawped. There had been records of Brown Boobies turning up in other parts of the UK, and perhaps this bird had drifted south to Scilly from Scotland or some such place. The hardcore twitchers had sated their appetites on those birds, and so the mad scramble for Scilly booby 2.0 was more or less confined to the island birders. Nearly every birder on Scilly piled down to the quayside for an evening charter. I say, 'nearly every' because I didn't.

In case I hadn't made it clear before, I'm a live-in carer, and there are certain times of the day - and sometimes night - that I'm really busy. Alas, that typically includes evenings. I simply couldn't abandon my position and leave an old man without his dinner or evening care. I can get away with zooming off for birds during the day because of the procession of day visitors he gets, including family, meals on wheels, and district nurses. I gambled on the bird being there the next day.

And so it was that the evening crew saw the bird. The Red-footed Booby remained on the helipad whilst the Brown Booby sat on the lower ledge of the lighthouse, amongst the Shags, where it sort of blended in due to its colouration. So, now I had every incentive to make sure I made the boat the next day.

I made it. The weather was more unsettled, but eventually cleared up as we set off. What could possibly go wrong?

I'll keep this brief... We didn't see the bird. In fact, no one that day saw the bird. Worse, it was never seen again. So, the evening boat crew of the day before were the only ones to see it. Whilst Booby #1 stuck around and is still there, Booby #2 said, 'Sod this, I'm off.'

Work commitments can cost you a bird; that's the simple reality of the situation sometimes. My one consolation is that I don't keep a British list, and I only make a half-arsed effort to keep a Scilly one. I've had Brown Booby over my house - in Australia. In fact I've seen lots and lots of these birds. So it's on the one list I really care about: my World List. And that, truly, at the end of the day, is what matters.

I haven't been on any of the other pelagics this year, which is a pity because they've been completely mental. Reports of unheard of numbers of Scopoli's Shearwaters; at least one Barolo's Shearwater (with another scoped from Peninnis Head on St Mary's); at least one Fea's Petrel was seen from the Scillonian; and not one, but two, South Polar Skua - a mega-rarity - were seen from the evening pelagics. That's a bird I dipped on in Peru...

One thing I didn't miss out on were the tuna boils we had offshore from St Mary's. Fin Whales turned up - along with lots and lots of Common Dolphins and Harbour Porpoises - and put on a show for anyone prepared to head out in the blustery weather. Large shearwaters also turned up, in thoroughly insane numbers. On one particular day, at least 15,000 Cory's Shearwaters were counted. Being over at Normandy these days, I headed out to Deep Point and stood there gawping at the spectacle. About 300-400 metres out, the shearwaters were uncountably numerous.

And now, autumn was creeping up on us. Things were about to get busy...
Last edited:
This'll be a quick one.

Call came through of a Red-backed Shrike at the junction of the main Telegraph Road and the road to Longstone. Now, we get RB Shrikes on a pretty regular basis on the islands (I found an immature bird near the turning circle of the airport only the other day), but the nice thing about this bird was that it was an adult. Off I went.

Even though it was August and really quite hot, there was a gathering of birders near the junction of the two roads, all peering south into the fields there. Turns out they were nearly all together in a large holiday group as I didn't recognise any of them as local birders. I guess there's no call for this sort of thing (OK, one local did turn up before I left).

With a few directions, I kept an eye on the pittosporum that bordered the fields at the back and sides. Apparently it was commuting between three adjacent fields and showing intermittently. Also, if it appeared in the hedge, then it would only be a distant view - more than a hundred metres. Red-backed Shrikes aren't super rare, but the adults are lovely birds, so this was a pity; but having missed the long-staying juvenile last year near Carn Friars thanks to absolutely terrible directions to its whereabouts, I wanted to see it nonetheless.

I needn't have worried: the bird appeared in the back hedge and sat there facing our direction. RB Shrikes head on look incredibly pale, reminding me of Isabelline Shrike which was once part of the same species complex. I was a tad on the busy side, so I admired the bird for all of a couple of minutes, reeled off several photos that were quite frankly awful, and headed off. Job done.

Oh yeah, this is the best of the pics. That's how bad they were:


  • DSC01562.jpeg
    29.2 KB · Views: 9
Two Honey Buzzards were reported over Cornwall. It had been a slow day bird-wise and I went for my usual walk. As I headed down into Holy Vale en route to the Longstone cafe for a caffeine pitstop, I mused on the Red Kite influx. Amongst those kites had been a Honey Buzzard, which of course I'd missed.

Being on the wrong part of the island when birds are flying about, is a common occurence. It's not that unusual to be trailing said bird by mere minutes, arriving at its last reported location as the bird has ghosted away, only for you to rush to the next reported location just in time for the bird to go back around you and fly over your damn house for several minutes... (yes, Common Crane, I'm looking at you).

And so it was I got my caffeine boost at the Longstone cafe on what was a rather nice day. September had seen a last gasp burst of summer - including the hottest day of the year - and my circuit had baked dirt everywhere. Trainer weather, not heavy boots weather, in other words. I do this circuit regularly, and was rewarded once at my pitstop by a Wryneck calling nearby. I couldn't see it from my coffee haven, and so settled just for the audio version of this somewhat cryptic bird. We'd had loads of Wrynecks in the spring, and as it turned out, we've had loads this autumn as well. Wryneck doesn't really qualify as a rarity here; it is way more common than some common British species. And so it proved as I watched one for several minutes on another occasion at the Southern end of Holy Vale. But I digress.

As I watched migrant warblers and searched tit flocks in the pine belt at the top of Carreg Dhu for something rarer, a report came through of two birds of prey over Telegraph. I was close by, for those not familiar with the geography of Scilly, and rushed back the way I'd just come. Tall enclosing hedges characterise this part of the island, presumably as we're well away from the influence of salt spray (though Pittosporum seems to be literally indestructible -I swear some people would cover every inch of the island in the stuff, given the opportunity). Anyway, it's hard to gain a vantage point until you head up the incline back to Longstone where suddenly the vista opens up and you have a chance of seeing a larger chunk of sky that your targets might fly through.

I needn't have worried. I rushed out from under the tall pines of Carreg Dhu and emerged by the line of stone cottages. There were lots of hirundines swirling about in the sky. Accompanying them was the undeniable outline of a raptor. Excellent! No need to run up the hill. It took me seconds to identify the bird as it was actually pretty close and not that high up: a Honey Buzzard. I couldn't see the second bird, but it hardly mattered. This was my first for the island and would do very nicely. Of course my camera refused to focus on the bird as it spun about on the thermals and eventually it was lost to view over the trees. Had the camera bothered to do it's basic job, I'd have at least one nice photo for you. Ah well...
Last edited:
Had the camera bothered to do it's basic job, I'd have at least one nice photo for you. Ah well...

You paint the picture so well with your words, that a photo is not needed. Although, I do like when you have photos. Now off to google Pittosporum. And I see it is original to New Zealand!

Users who are viewing this thread