Tuesday, October 26, 2010

St. Agnes, October 2010 (1)

a three-part journal...(scroll down for parts 2 & 3)

Part one - 2nd to 6th October

After a fine two weeks on Martha's Vineyard (and elsewhere in Massachusetts, trip report to follow), less than a day back in London to un/repack followed before boarding the Midnight Riviera out of Paddington for a fortnight on another island in the Atlantic, this time on closer shores.


After innumerable modes of transport and a sleep-free 48 hours, St Agnes 2010 began on the afternoon of the 2nd, far beyond tiredness and too stoked up about being back on the beautiful isle to crash just yet. Hooking up with last year's team, who'd already been aground for a week – Laurence (Pitcher), Paul (Derbyshire), Lee (Amery), (Peter) Brash and Agnes resident Graham (Gordon), by all accounts there was little to report, despite very favourable preceding Atlantic weather systems; fears of another legendarily quiet year remained buried however, with 14 days of idyllic forensic island-combing ahead.

Northern Wheatear

A seemingly ideal low pressure system and associated front a day or two before had resolutely failed to dispatch any glittering prizes, and the best on offer was a scattering of Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps amongst residents; but by just being there, it was hard to care.

Not a great deal of sleep later, and wide awake by 0630, the morning of the 3rd began as each morning would - a quick breakfast and coffee and out by the time the light was good enough. Staying anywhere on Agnes means birding begins as you open the door, and we're lucky enough to inhabit a farmhouse between the lighthouse and the Coastguards - ten steps and potentially fruitful habitat begins.


And each day's routine remained generally constant; in the field til lunchtime, a half an hour or so to refuel in the middle of the day, and back out until dusk. Where a combination of excessive alcohol abuse the preceding night and particularly quiet days occurred, early afternoon naps were an occasional luxury, as were Troytown Farm's unspeakably fine organic ice-creams and the odd Covean cream tea (the latter two consumed without breaking up the birding).

Each of us typically wandered off in different directions, meandering the island (and Gugh) during every daylight hour and instinctively dousing a different route every time, resulting in multiple scrutinies for the vast majority of the island on a daily basis.

Wilson's Snipe, Hudsonian Whimbrel, Great Blue Heron and American Kestrel - no doubts

The 3rd was uneventful, with settled conditions and just a sprinkling of migrants, including four Reed Warblers, a Pied Flycatcher in the lighthouse garden, a few Spotted Flycatchers, the first three Siskins over, a trickle of Swallows, Peregrine and Merlin, and small numbers of Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers, Blackcaps, Wheatears and Goldcrests.

Much the same for the 4th, although a Garden Warbler, a Redwing (both St Warna's), a Greenshank, a Lapland Bunting, and 30 Common Scoters offshore were all new for the notebook. A shopping trip to St. Mary's took care of the middle of the day, and the warm and bright conditions gave way to a blustery SW and heavy cloud by mid-afternoon. While checking the Parsonage canopy, a call from Graham provided the first star bird - a Rustic Bunting on the path by Porth Killier.

Rustic Bunting

Five minutes later and there it was, feeding happily in full view with a flock of Linnets in thickening drizzle - right place (close by, and with mobile reception), right time, with only fleeting views apparently gained later. Wingletang had been attracting Lapland Buntings in the preceding days, and a very accomodating flock of eleven allowed close approach along the eastern path - a species which became an overall trip highlight, brightening many a quiet walk between Horse Point and Covean.

The 5th produced a little more alongside a dusting of expected common migrants - catching up with Wryneck, two Firecrests and a Marsh Harrier on Gugh was a pleasure, while Agnes held little of note, despite the usual countless rounds from us all. The 6th, meanwhile, was even quieter - single Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, a few Golden Plovers and Wheatears were a stark return, and the flock of Lapland Buntings on Wingletang (thirteen today) were more than welcome respite.

Marsh Harrier

Four days in and with comparatively little to show, it seemed the Anti-American deflector shield over the islands (likely an invent of Shetland or Hebridean origin) was once again at maximum power; word of neartic passerines making landfall on seemingly every other available isle and headland along the east Atlantic seaboard from roughly the 6th to the 9th and beyond at least provided further inspiration - which in truth was far from required.

Lapland Buntings

The popular belief endlessly trotted out in recent years of Scilly being 'dead' and 'over', the rise in popularity of other migratory honeypots and outposts, and the subsequent near-desertion of the islands by the pagered masses went a long way to convincing me that it was just the right time to get acquainted with Agnes; combined with the beauty and serenity of the island, and the opportunity to join a committed team of Agnes faithfuls (all of whom are razor-sharp in the field and fine company out of it), it was an easy and timely decision.

And last year's relative drought only served to strengthen the faith, which would surely be rewarded in the coming days.....