Saturday, November 2, 2013

Winter is coming and it's sending in storms on an almost constant basis. Pulses of wind and rain have been meeting us on an almost daily basis. As each deep depression whips up the sea hundreds of miles out in the Atlantic and being the first point of contact for these lumps of swell often producing impressive results. This is the North End looking, to me, incredible.

When photographing waves and the sea it is very hard to portray the size unless you have an object in the picture to relate to. These alas don't but take my word for it, they were big. Really big.

The North End of Tresco can be fascinating in a winter storm but for me the best time is when the storm is still out to sea and we have only a slight breeze this 'cleans' the swell up and produces these hollow wonders of nature. I spent quite some time mind surfing theses huge displays of nature's power.
Our Avian highlight this week is this American Robin. Not actually a relation of the more familiar European Robin but a member of the Thrush (or Turdus snigger snigger) race but is so named due to the red breast. There have only been 30 records of this common North American bird on British soil so we were lucky to play host to this little lady.
After the crowds had gone and with a little stealthy and clumsy 'sneaking' I was able to get quite close but the light conditions were terrible and the photos were not as good as I had wished not much use in waiting for another one to come along, could be some time....
Another visitor I bumped into, and one of my favourites was this Black Redstart.
For some strange reason the Spring and Autumn visitors we host seem to prefer the Cricket Pitch and the surrounding area. This female was munching away on a wasp getting her strength back for the continuation of her journey. We often host a small number of these inconspicuous but pretty birds and the flash of red from their tail feathers can be quite eye catching.
Barnacle Geese coming from Northern Russia and Greenland rarely come any further south than Scotland and Ireland for the Winter. This pair must have overshot the mark by quite some way when I found the loitering in one of the fields on Middle Downs. Being six foot four makes it rather challenging to get close to something stood in the middle of the field so when I startled them I was not surprised, but happy they gave me a little flyby before seeking some solitude somewhere else on the Island. Maybe I should disguise myself as a tree next time...
From one of the largest to one of the smallest. With the wind trying to strip any foliage of the shrubs and trees with what seems like an almost indefatigable purpose it is becoming easier to see the little songbirds that usually lurk nearby but hidden.
I love Goldcrests, being hyper energetic and absolutely tiny they are a nightmare to try and photograph but I quite enjoy the challenge. I would not like to admit to the number of blurry shots I had to sift through to find the odd one I am happy with. They are very vocal and often easy to locate, actually seeing one is a different matter. Once you do spot them it is worth spending a minute or two watching them dancing among the shrubbery feeding at an almost frenzied rate. There is something about the expression on their face, the markings on their face makes them look sad. How could you be though with a hairdo like that?
And finally, this is not some exotic visitor from tropical lands but a very lovely looking chicken providing with very lovely eggs from Boro Farm. At the time of writing this there is yet another strong south westerly gale blowing in from the Atlantic we may well get another rare American visitor or two...

Monday, October 28, 2013

Through a combination of laziness, work, storms and bad weather it's been a little while since my last blog entry. I haven't really managed a good whole day or afternoon outside and instead have been sneaking the odd hour with my camera here and there. Enough of the excuses Max...

The 'Great Storm' or St Jude as I have just heard it be named on the news (?) did not really materialize over here in the way the media predicted but it still whipped up the sea into a frenzy of mountains of grey sea and massive white horses. I ventured up onto the North End and hunkered down under an over hanging rock and put my camera in jeopardy trying to get a few shots in the torrential rain.
Men-A-Vaur, the outcrop of rocks in the top left hand corner is 125 feet above sea level and was frequently being hidden from view with the spay from angry waters.
On a wildlife front there should be some interesting avian arrivals to our islands after being blown in off the Atlantic. Stay tuned.... 
Until a few days ago I was getting a little worried as I had no decent pictures to post and the weather was not really co-operating, with lots of flat, dull grey days, although the nature was out there the conditions to get any good shots were not. Luckily the wildlife decided to come and visit me instead...
While going through my waking up routine, which I shall not divulge any details for the readers sake, I was greeted in the bathroom by this Red Underwing. It is one of Britain's largest moths being up to 8 centimetres in width and beautifully marked I was quite happy to share my bathroom with him for the day.
Apart from leaving the window open and the lights on at night there are not really any other ways of enticing wildlife into your house so I had to venture out and go to them.
We still have a scattering of Jack Snipe on the Great Pool. Sometimes I think that the rarer the bird the harder they are to see, I don't know if this is just me but these charming little birds certainly disprove my thought. If you are scanning the lake from one of the bird hides take a moment to look straight down and see if you can see one of these winter visitors bobbing up and down almost within touching distance. This little guy was tucked away hiding from the gusty wind and refused to allow me to picture his entirety deciding to keep his beak hidden until I ran out of patience and carried on my way.

There are still plenty of Chiffchaffs flitting their way through the trees I believe they will be with us throughout the winter.
Another permanent fixture on the islands are our stonechats. This female decided to pose for me after a rather fruitless walk along the south end of Tresco. I was on the lookout for our overwintering Short Eared Owls who should be arriving very soon.
We were used as a pit stop for these two Whooper Swans who spent about 24 hours with us while fuelling up for their mammoth journey to Southern Europe. Weighing around 10.5 kilos and being one of the heaviest flying birds in Europe it must be one hell of a tiring journey.
Here they are with our more often seen resident Mute Swans.
The arrival of Redwings is a certain sign that the nights are getting longer and the temperature is dropping. Massive numbers of these migrants have been seen flying overhead in many parts of the UK with reports of 45,000 being reported on the Internet. Although a number like that being highly unlikely it is worth looking for smaller influxes of these on any of our open spaces on the island.
Although adopting a better safe than sorry attitude to the recent storm I think the media did hype up it up a little too much. I believe this Song Thrush took it all too seriously and was tucked away in the undergrowth in the Abbey Gardens ready for the apocalypse.
On the rare bird front this Subalpine Warbler has been on the Islands or a week or so now and is a first for me. This bird is far from home as it usually resides in the South of Europe and Northern Africa. They have a very attractive but subtle colouration with a blue and pink tinge to their plumage. I only had a couple of minutes spare and will try to get a better shot. Fingers crossed...

Monday, October 14, 2013


'What do you think about the introduction of the Red Squirrels?' I keep getting asked. 'How are they doing?' people say. I've tried my hardest to be as open minded as possible when considering their introduction to Tresco. There are several positive theories as to whether they are a good addition to our delicate micro-sized ecosystem and several thought patterns thinking that they are or could become a bad idea.
I won't ramble on with all of the different opinions I have heard as I am sure you have your own thoughts on the matter. I, however, am a little upset with my conclusion. I have taken onboard the conversations and media offerings about the matter and weighed up the pros and cons and come to my own thoughts, and they are so...
They are awesome! I cannot think anything other than that when watching them scamper around the island launching themselves from branch to branch, chasing each other for what seems to be no apparent reason, helping themselves to hazelnuts from the feeders and creating nutty larders in the pine needles. They are the sole reason the word 'scurrying' was created.
What makes these little endangered (in the UK only) rodents even better is the fact that they are quite easy to see. Nowadays a trip to the Abbey Gardens should factor at least a glimpse of these guys going about their business. Most of these pictures were taken towards the back of the Garden Visitor Centre where the feeders and roosts (if that's what an artificial squirrel's house is called) are situated.
However they have really taken to exploring the Island with sightings all over from Boro Farm to the Estate Office lawn. I do not want this to come across as a piece of Tresco propaganda but they certainly make this place a little bit more special.
As you can see from how close up the pictures I managed to take are, these new arrivals are already very tame. I was loping around in normal everyday clothing not really trying to be discreet and the six I encountered by the Gardens didn't seem to mind my presence at all. Oh, and they love hazelnuts.
On the avian front, although the hardcore twitchers are a little dissuaded with how quiet things are for mega rare migrants at the moment. Their military like sweeping of each island still persists and word travels fast if anything of interest has arrived. Being quite new to this game everything is a first to me and therefore I'm quite enjoying this Autumn.
This juvenile Red-Backed Shrike graced the scrubland by the houses North of Blockhouse Castle. They used to be breeding birds in the UK but it is now estimated that there are less than 5 breeding pairs in England. This little chap probably got blown off course from mainland Europe.
Shrikes are well known for their feeding habits. Sometimes called 'Butcher Birds' they feed on insects and small reptiles. In times of abundance they create themselves a 'larder' by impaling their catches on thorny branches and sometimes barbed wire in order to come back later when times are a little harder.
At this time of year go to any patch of wetland on the Scillies and stare at the reeds. There is a very good chance that a Jack Snipe will be bobbing up and down feeding on molluscs in the mud. If you cannot see one it's most likely your fault. They will be there however they have incredibly camouflaged plumage. Keep looking....
They are tiny secretive birds who rarely come out in the open. I was lucky to get this picture when a particularly confiding individual popped out to say hello and see what the world outside the cover of reeds is like. They are one of the few birds who decide to spend the winter with us and can be seen until the end of February or so.
This poor chap was absolutely knackered. For more than four days this Sparrow sized Snow Bunting decided to feed constantly and completely ignore the walkers passing right by.
As the name suggests these guys usually live much further up North in Scandanavia, Greenland and Iceland. Occasionally a few breed in Northern Scotland so for one to visit the most Southerly area in the British Isles is rather rare. I think they are quite pretty...
Water Rails are, in my opinion, quite odd looking birds. They are very secretive and spend most of their time skulking and lurking in the reeds around. I was on the wrong side of the sun to take this and my final picture but I doubt I'll get many opportunities to photograph one for a little while. Your chances of seeing one are higher during the Winter as we play host to a few continental arrivals.
So besides chasing Red Squirrels around the island even as the days get shorter there are still plenty of things to see. However I strongly recommend chasing Red Squirrels as much as possible...
I don't think this Water Rail really wanted his picture taken.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Well the fog has gone, kind of. We have still been plagued with the odd blanket of sea mist interspersed with a dash of low cloud but things have improved drastically. The above picture was taken from St Marys airport. It was rather eerie watching the cloud enshroud the islands as it crept in silently and lowered the visibility to tens of feet sometimes. When the sun did come out it was so welcome I took to pretty much staring directly at it to make the most of it. Sometimes it paid off and sometimes it just hurt my eyes.
Sundogs above the Abbey Pool caused by the light passing through ice crystals high up in the atmosphere.
Well that's probably the longest I have ever written on the blog without mentioning birds, so...Birds. Now is the time for the birdwatchers to flock to the Scillies by the hundreds in search for the rarities they dream of. Khaki clad men with telescopes strapped to their backs scan every hedge, rock, reed bed, nook and cranny in the search for the once in a lifetime avian visitor from all corners of the world. Already the list has begun, Arctic Warbler, Bluethroat, Purple Heron, Yellow-browed Warblers.....
Although I do like to see these rarities I do not really enjoy camping out causing traffic jams and jostling for a spot for hours on end. This often results in my pictures of said birds being pretty bad and not worth putting up. So birds and 'things' I have stumbled upon on my meanders will have to suffice.
Another brood of ducklings racing against time fattening and growing before winter gets its grip and the living gets tougher.
As much as I dislike their piercing calls, all year round residents, Oystercatchers are probably the most photogenic birds around. Inadvertently scaring them off towards the sunset made for quite a nice picture.
The Abbey Pool is teaming with plenty of different waders and ducks, a visit down that way can pretty much guarantee Grey Herons, Teal, Mallards, Snipe, Greenshank and others. I mentioned Redshank in my last blog and tried to get a shot for this post. With the exception of a nice blurry close up of one I took during a fly by this is the best I could come up with. The red legs are pretty obvious though.
With all these 'special' birds visiting it is very easy to forget our common birds and the entertainment they can provide. A little pointless piece of information but years ago we had an albino Blackbird on our shores who managed to breed with a 'normal' one. As a result of the passed on genetic information many of our resident Blackbirds are tinged with white feathers. This picture below is not the best by far and I took it a while ago on a pretty simplistic camera but I think it demonstrates our little phenomenon well. Keep your eyes out!
Although the vast majority of our seabirds have bred and ventured off into the Atlantic for the winter a boat journey around the off islands is still worth a trip. Now is the time that our resident Grey seals give birth to their young. Venturing up to the Spring tide mark the females, after gestating for 11 months, give birth to their pups.
They will then provide for their pups for one month until the next months spring tide comes about when the newborns will venture into the ocean for the first time and will have to fend for themselves.

I took these pictures en route to St Agnes via the Northern Rocks and on arrival to the smallest populated island I made a discovery.
Although providing some cracking meat, Tresco cows aren't as pretty as Troytown cows from St Agnes.

We still have a good number of butterflies and dragonflies although it is noticeable that the population is diminishing with the last of them desperately circling around on the hunt for a mate.
This Comma Butterfly (my second this year) seemed not to care for mating but more excited in enjoying our blackberry bushes and grabbing the rare ray of sunshine.
Finally, not the rarest of new arrivals but certainly my favourite. We have had a small influx of Yellow Wagtails arrive on the islands for a refuel before they continue their winter migration. Its the simple things for me but the fact that they are yellow, wag their tail constantly and are extremely playful make them high up in the 'make me happy when I see them' list.

They can be seen almost anywhere but frequently feed in the mud around pools on the islands.
For any of you serious 'Birders' out there, we currently have a Sora (American Water Rail)  that arrived today on the Great pool and after watching over one hundred hardcore birdwatchers jump aboard a boat with their CB radios blaring and pagers beeping like a heart attack wards ECG machines I decided to go for a quick glance after work and try to get a better look tomorrow morning. With any luck some tolerable photos should be on my next post.