Wednesday, August 28, 2013

There's a few too many leaves falling off the trees for my liking in the last few days. I can ignore that, but the fact that the odd blackberry is looking ripe means I cannot escape the end of Summer is nigh. As a consolation this time of year means that we begin to host migrant birds passing through, usually on their way to warmer climates for the Winter. I haven't been on any shark fishing adventures this week, spending most of my spare time mooching around the island.
Although I think I spend a bit too much time around the Great Pool recently it seems to be the best place to be for a range of wildlife. This above picture was taken on a bit of a grey day (hence the dullness) and is of one of the parents of the Mute Swan cygnet featured in previous posts having a stretch. The small number we have over here are permanent residents and can be seen all through the year.
I have been checking both pools over here for the kind of rarity that makes any birdwatcher dribble but I think sometimes some of the most common birds can really catch the eye. I really liked the blue flank on each of these Mallards as they flew off. My little 'gap in the hedge/hiding place' wasn't as secretive as I thought...
These Greenshanks are pat of quite a sizeable gathering that are making use of the mud around the Great Pool at the moment. I think the largest count I have seen was twenty five. They are stocking up on invertebrates and small fish before heading off to Africa. 

There are Dragon and Damselflies everywhere at the moment and they all seem to have one thing on their mind.... As they have such a short lifespan mating is the number one priority. Strangely enough this involves the male subduing the female by holding her by the neck and the female responding by bending her abdomen right round to conjoin. I don't think this features in the Karma Sutra!
I am holding back a little highlight to my week until the end of the post so for the sake of narrative I shall say that after checking the pools I went for a little wander down the beaches on the South end of the Island. Although the beaches were surprisingly quiet I did, almost literally, stumble across this Ringed Plover, another year round resident but they are so well camouflaged amongst the rocks and pebbles on the beach that it is very easy to walk straight past one without noticing. I like their big black eyes.
We currently have Little Egrets around the island at the moment too. You can see them in various places on the island but always close to water. Plum Island, the Great pool and the beaches on the south and west side of the island are the best places. The number seem to be increasing each year and I believe that we are not far off a pair staying throughout the year and breeding. This one was too focused on fishing to notice me 'sneaking up' on him. I'm not sure what the purpose of them is, and if there is one at all but their yellow feet are funny.
And now for my little highlight. Wagtails have always been one of my favourite types of birds, I like their liveliness and character. We have a few varieties in England that are fairly common. Nowadays Pied Wagtails seem to be all over the place, often living in urban areas and most people are familiar with them. There are several other varieties too though often much more colourful. I was told about two Citrine Wagtails that had arrived on Tresco and were seen close to the Bird Hide at the western end of the Great Pool and decided to try and find them. It is quite a rare occurrence for Britain to host these birds as they live in Asia and migrate to the southern part of the continent in Winter, the British Isles is a big deviation. Although there are usually a few recorded sightings each year you can never tell where they will be. To have two is a real rarity.
The two on Tresco were both what is known as '1st Winter' this means that the birds are less than a year old and do not have adult plumage. As the name suggests they will be bright yellow when they mature

Although I was very happy seeing these birds I wished they were the pretty adults I'd seen in books. So the next day my wish came true. Easy as that.
This was a first for many birdwatchers on the Scillies and to have a third in as many days is pretty much unheard of. And here she is.

One happy Max.
Maybe looking forward to the arrival of Autumn is a better way of approaching things than moaning about the end of Summer.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

 Well I've had fun in the last few days. The summer is still going strong and I'm getting through the sun cream by the litre. One of the things I have noticed in my time over here is that many of the locals forget to enjoy some of the attractions laid on for our visitors. This can even be despite the fact that the trips, nature, sights and activities are often what drew them here in the first place.

I therefore decided to take myself off on a couple of boat trips and rather enjoyed myself. Firstly I went on a shark fishing trip with Joe Pender a boatman from St Marys who has been fishing (tagging and releasing) for sharks for over 20 years.

The trips leave from St Marys and last about five hours taking you approximately four miles off the archipelago. While the fishing is fairly successful there is always the chance of nothing biting. However from the minute the boat starts leaving a trail of bread off the stern to attract the birds  there is always something to look at.
This, and the first shot are of Fulmars. Although slightly resembling a gull these birds belong to the Petrel and Shearwater family. The huge nostril above their beak helps them smell potential food from huge distances. They live out to sea all year round except to breed and were not shy of our boat.
Almost as soon as we left the quay we met these Common Terns using the Spanish Ledge buoy as a place to watch the world go by. With a huge influx of bait fish and sand eels around the islands at the moment I believe the expected arrival of these quite pretty birds at this time of year will be quite numerous.

We also had quite a few juvenile Gannets following our boat. Once they reach their adulthood they become the stunning white birds most people are familiar with. Being the largest seabirds resident in British waters I like the way you can see the wingspan in the second picture.
We also saw quite a few rarer birds while out on the trip and I was wondering how to write up about this. I thought to myself that unless any of my readers were very serious 'Birders' I may bore them half to death. I was quite happy to see them though...
How about I try to do a sentence per picture.
 This is a Cory's Shearwater and is a very rare migrant from the Mediterranean, surprisingly numerous sightings have been recorded recently with our trip spotting seventeen.

The verdict still seems to be out on this one but it is believed to be a juvenile Arctic Skua. As the name suggests it resides in the Arctic and usually only gets as far south as the Orkneys and the Shetland Isles. They are the predators of the sea feeding on eggs and young birds.

Great Shearwaters migrate all the way from their breeding grounds on tiny islands in the middle of the Southern Atlantic Ocean northwards, incidentally the opposite direction than most birds. They follow the American coast before crossing the Atlantic and then venturing back South over the ocean.
Ok so maybe a couple of sentences each then.
Although not the best picture I wanted to add this picture of a Storm Petrel. I had never seen one of these before and I thought they were quite marvellous. They are tiny birds and uncannily agile, they feed on crustaceans and small fish gathered by hovering above the surface using their feet to grab onto their dinner.
Then there were Sharks!!!
After a about three hours they decided to bite. The first one caught weighed about forty pounds and being the first shark I had ever seen I was quite excited, but I wanted bigger. Another hour and we got what we were after.
This beauty was the same size as me, it was six foot four and estimated to be approximately eighty pounds. It fought for a good hour before being landed, tagged and released not before posing for the obligatory photo opportunity.
Blue sharks are beautiful creatures and do live in our British waters, unless you stink of mackerel, ooze pulped fish and are swimming miles off the coast you are pretty safe.
The summer months are the best time for Pelagic trips and if you are keen on your wildlife and want to see things you cannot on the mainland then I would strongly recommend venturing out.
I spent the following morning on dry land looking for the waders we are expecting at any moment over here. I didn't have much luck, again. However there as usual are always things to be seen.
This, I believe is a Blue Darner, there a quite a few of them circling around the Great Pool at the moment. I have always wanted to get a picture of one in flight and this is the best I have gotten so far. They are quite a challenge but I shall continue trying.

Another new one for me was this Sedge Warbler. They are fairly common birds, arriving in August and reside in reeded areas surrounding the lakes. This is another visitor that avoids our cold winter by spending the colder months in Africa.
Having not been on a boat trip around the off islands I ventured out for a few hours around Men-A-Vaur and the Western Rocks. Bird activity in these areas is fairly quiet as most of the visiting sea birds have left after breeding. It proved to be a successful trip though. The following pictures are not the best but I want to put them up to show you what else these islands have to offer.

Sunfish are very odd looking creatures indeed. Being the largest bony fish in the world they can often weigh up to a thousand kilograms and look like a head and a tail with no body. They come to the surface and flap a fin to attract seabirds to feed on any parasites living on them. Very occasionally if no birds attend their needs they will leap clear out of the water to dislodge the pests themselves.

Far away in the distance we also briefly saw a pod of Common Porpoise. This was the only shot of a fleeting glimpse we got but it made me smile.
We got one final surprise while traversing the treacherous rocks that have sunk an innumerable amount of boats in the form of a baby seal pup. It is almost unheard of to see them at this time of year with the days around the September spring tide being the most favoured time.
Yet again a bit of a distance away but it really was not worth risking life and limb for the shot. I'm sure I'll get the opportunity in a month or so.
I hope this bumper blog entry has not bored you to tears and showed you what we have to offer on these islands. There is always something to see and more. Now time for a spell check and to hit the hay. I've worn myself out in these past few days!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

It's the middle of Summer and, as a worker over here, it's all hands on deck. The islands are full to the brim with people enjoying what has been so far a very sunny and enjoyable season. People are occupying their vacation in all manner of different ways. I however have not really had as much free time to get out and play with my camera as usual. This does not mean that I have not seen some rather interesting things. For me the winner is not a living thing but this rather amazing car/boat. While going about my job on St Marys Quay this decided to 'drive' past...

On the wildlife front there are still butterflies and moths galore across the Scillies, and we are welcoming even more avian arrivals as they us our archipelago as a pit stop on their travels. The most noticeable are the Little Egrets and Grey Herons. I have been here for eight years and the number of Little Egrets visiting each year has gone up and up, I believe 31 is the largest count in one group on Tresco. I am yet to get a picture I am happy with of these quite elegant birds. Next mini project methinks.

I got this Grey Heron as he was heading off to roost in the trees between the Abbey and the Great pool. Sometimes there can be up to twelve perched in quite clear view. I just quite like the silhouette effect.

I have been meaning to talk about the Chaffinches we have on the Island. To get the best view of these pretty little birds head to the Garden Visitor centre and buy a slice of cake. If you sit outside you'll find on or near your table within seconds.
They reside on the islands and can be seen throughout the year. The population living near the Abbey Gardens seem to feed on Clotted cream and carrot and orange cake. On the flipside we have a population on the Rowesfield side of the Island and these behave a little more normally. During the Autumn months it is well worth scanning the flocks often feeding on the ground for Bramblings. A rare visitor that likes to hide amongst flocks of chaffinches.
I have been wanting to see a Clouded Yellow all summer and not seen a single one on Tresco. However on a quick jaunt to St Agnes with my visiting parents and within a minute or two of stepping off the Quay I decided to make a bit of a fool of myself chasing one around with my camera. Whenever I got within shooting distance the bloody thing flew of another six feet, waited for me to approach and did it again. At the point I realised I was giving an insect the 'V' sign and I decided I should stop chasing.
I was happy to find out that St Agnes, and St Agnes alone, seems to be teeming with them. All over the island they seem to be enjoying the Birds Foot Trefoil and the Thistles. This following picture shows another Clouded Yellow not quite emerged properly from his chrysalis. You can also see the not yet 'set' wing folding out.
I stumbled across this Cinnabar moth caterpillar on a footpath, and although survival rates for caterpillars are very low, after this guy has spent the winter cocooned away I may be fortunate enough to photograph it as a fully grown black and red moth next summer.

At this time of year the island takes on a tinge of purple. Towards the North End the Heather takes over and the rest of the island whether it the Abbey Gardens or the roadside Agapanthus blooms everywhere. I have to admit that although I enjoy it's presence on the island I do get a little blasé about it being everywhere. But when I stop and take a moment to actually appreciate it I realise what all the fuss is about.



Down by the bird hide the House Sparrows are still trying to be marine birds. It can be quite entertaining watching them fly from reed to reed often landing right on the tip straining the stem until it bends down to the surface. The adventurous birds fly off at the final second only to repeat the game again. I usually try to use a very fast shutter speed when taking pictures of things in motion, this time I slowed it down to try and capture a bit of the motion in the picture. Can't quite decide which I prefer, I think its the quicker speed.
It is quite interesting to note the different 'tribes' of sparrows across the islands. As well as the new 'Lakeside Gang' there is a clan frequenting the Abbey Gardens who are more than happy approaching the visitors and sharing a meal from the same plate. Towards Rowesfield there are thousands of them living off the grass seeds with the linnets and pigeon that are far more wild and extremely noisy.
At this time of year the wealth is flowing on the islands, super yachts come by, people drive car/boats, lobster shells fill the bins but I still love the simple things on the islands....