St.Mary’s started to pick up momentum kicking off with a Solitary Sandpiper on Newford Duckpond on 13th along with a Blue-winged Teal. A probable Northern Waterthrush was spotted on the 16th and confirmed the next day but remained very elusive. With only 9 previous records this was a much sought Nearctic land bird but more was to follow. Birders searching for the thrush found a female Black-and-White Warbler; with only 4 previous records. A first winter female Baltimore Oriole, of which there have been 24 previous records, was also present on the Garrison 20-21st. Added to this was more than likely multiple Red-eyed Vireos with the earliest British record of one on 13-14th at Sallyport, one on the Garrison on 19th and another was reported on 21st at Porth Hellick and again more were to follow!
Something had to be done. An event was unfolding and as each record emerged each felt like a bang on the head with a frying pan to awaken my senses. I wanted to go. I wanted to see. Everything was there on Wednesday evening and after booking everything on the 22nd news on all the megas began to dwindle. Nightmare scenario!
Not many birders I asked could make the trip so it ended up being just Ken Croft and I. We arrived on the Scillonian and were due to fly back on Monday 26th so we had the equivalent of 3 days birding. The waterthrush wasn’t playing ball. Was that it? Was that the last of the megas departing? We patched the southern half of the island and saw 2 Pectoral Sandpipers (Porth Hellick) and a Buff-breasted Sandpiper (airfield) and a Whinchat (Lower Moors). With more gen on the Waterthrush dawn on the 24th began at the Project Pool, a small pool created at the back of the Island’s dump accessed from a increasingly squidgy footpath from the Dump Clump out through the juncus to the back of the dump. After 30 minutes a bird flew in and tucked in under some overhanging juncus emerging in little spurts of walking. It was the Northern Waterthrush showing to around 8 metres for around 30 mins. The weather turned and rain came in so we took shelter at Lower Moors looking out at nothing I took the opportunity to get some sleep. Many birders came in out of the rain and then left at 10am when it lightened and only 3 people remained; us and visiting artist Richard Thewlis. At 10:05 a bird flew in and called with a harsh metallic 'teck', Richard got onto it first; it was the Waterthrush again and showing at around 3 metres! I ran out of the hide to try and catch up with those that had left but they’d gone. I texted news out as the bird moved round the edge of the water for a couple of minutes but then it left just as people arrived 5 minutes later. Not the best scenarios for them but we had just watched this cracking bird at very close range. Internally three of us were buzzing. Luckily it was getting tracked down, despite having a huge range and it showed again at Project Pool at dawn and dusk.
As the rain finally cleared we headed up to the airfield and saw the adult Woodchat Shrike and then 3 Buff-breasted Sandpipers. News broke that the Solitary Sandpiper was on Project Pool. Back we went and the bird showed ridiculously at around 8 metres. We then missed a Wryneck at Old Town churchyard then ventured in search of the Bee-Eater further north but that effort only produced a Spotted Flycatcher. We tried again at Old Town Church and just as we walked in through the gate a bird flicked up from about a metre away and resettled just behind a headstone about 3 metres away. It was the Wryneck and it showed for about 40 minutes and we left it roosting in a Cordyline with Old Town Bay as a backdrop. What a day.
Sunday was slower. We patched the Garrison and Sallyport, picking up a Turtle Dove and went up to see the Woodchat again which showed a bit better despite a stiff breeze coming in from the southwest. An Ortolan Bunting was missed on the airfield as was a Melodious Warbler at Carn Friars. News came over of a Red eyed Vireo showing well in the Old Town churchyard. I ran from Carn Friars but there was no bird and no birders looking when we got there! We had a good look round but drew a blank so we tried birding in the shelter of Lower Moors again. Another birder came into the hide and mentioned that the Solitary Sandpiper was showing again on Porthloo Duckpond and as the morning had been quiet we thought we’d go and have another look knowing it would be showing well there.
On arriving we saw a wader asleep on the edge of the mud around 1 metre from the road! I looked at it and knew it wasn’t the Solitary Sandpiper. It was more slender, had a darker mantle with much more spotting than the Sandpiper, it lifted its head and showed a thin, short, all dark bill and as it hopped out of the water it revealed bright yellow legs. It was Lesser Yellowlegs and seemed to be fresh in and fairly tired. I texted news out and it took ten minutes for a few birders to arrive. The resident assortment of ducks on the pool were a nuisance and kept disturbing the bird but allowed us to see the neat white rectangle on the rump and fine baring on the tail. The tide was in at Porthloo hence the Yellowlegs was taking refuge nearby but there were 3 Med Gulls on the beach.
Heading back to town news came over again of a Red-eyed Vireo in the Clump Dump. Astonishingly a visiting birder tried a bit of pishing in the elms at the Dump and the Northern Waterthrush popped up followed 2 seconds later by a Red-eyed Vireo but by the time I got there it wasn’t seen again. We still had the next morning but time would be tight for our scheduled flight out at 14:30. News came out early the following morning that the REV had been seen only 30 yards from where it showed in the Dump Clump. We got there but again it had vanished, the 4th dip! After a bit of patching nearby we retraced our efforts back to where it was last seen and within an hour a group of birders watched it for a priceless two minutes or so feeding and flitting low in the elms by the new School. Brilliant! That morning the Waterthrush, Solitary and Lesser Legs were all together on Project Pool!
We headed for the airport looking out at a rolling sea mist advancing and unfortunately within an hour the airport closed and we would have to get the Scillonian back to Penzance delaying us by around 5 hours and meant it was going to be a very late night. On the bright side we still had some seawatching to do and the crossing turned out rather good. 10+ Stormies, 2 Sooty, 3 Balearic were seen along with 20+ Common Dolphin, I saw a probable Risso’s breach very distantly and just as we came to Boscowan a Minke Whale surface 4 times with 3 Small Porpoise nearby. What a finish to our 3 days!Crippling thrush:
1 of 2 Pec at 3 metres at Porth Hellick
Red Underwing, Catocala nupta at Longstones:
Solitary Sandpiper at Project Pool:
Wryneck at Old Town church:
Wryneck contemplating the nights accommodation:
The famous Mourning Point albino Blabi:
Lesser Legs found at Porthloo Duckpond: