News broke on Thursday of a wintering Common Yellowthroat at Rhiwderin near Newport on Thursday. Predictably a lot of birders needed the bird and soon Birdforum was alive with posts. I had a few texts to see if I was going and some had asked if I’d seen the 97 bird? Well, due to work I clearly couldn’t have gone yesterday and I would have had to sweat it out this morning. As I post there’s still no sign this morning.
All this made me think back to 1997 – my first year on Scilly. Dave Gray and I had taken the train to Penzance on Friday 3 October 1997 and stayed over before taking the Helicopter next morning. After checking in with the infamous Linda at Strand House we got changed into shorts and got out birding. A walk up to Telegraph got us off to a good start with a ringtail Hen Harrier that settled on Samson for a few days but no sign of the American Golden Plover.
There were a couple of lifers for me on Bryher (Yellow-browed Warbler and Common Rosefinch, I’m almost embarrassed to say) so we took an afternoon boat over as the forecast didn’t look too good for the next few days. Due to the tides we got off the boat via a plank and a wade ashore at the bottom of Samson Hill and headed up the island towards the Vine Cottage. Almost immediately we flushed a Lapland Bunting from the path which flew away over towards Samson.
I soon had two lifers under my belt as the Yellow-browed Warbler and Common Rosefinch showed well in the same garden. We got the boat back from Anneka’s Quay and headed back to St Mary’s and back to Telegraph. This time the American Golden Plover was showing well with a few of its common cousins.
Next day the rain started and we flogged around getting bugger all. Monday was even wetter but we tried our luck over on St Agnes. Soaked I found a lovely cafe in Higher Town. It must have closed that year or in 98 when I didn’t visit as I’ve never found it since. Cafe was stretching things a bit as it was really a woman’s kitchen but the soup and roll has never been bettered on the Islands.
Tuesday and Wednesday were complete wash-outs so the liver took a beating and we got chatting to the likes of Bernie Beck and Tim Lawrence in the Bishop & Wolf. Thursday was still wet but the wind had dropped and we could at least get over to Tresco where I ticked Black Duck and where we added Great Spotted Woodpecker and Common Crossbill to the Scilly lists. Still bloody good birds over there.
Predictably as the weather improved birds were getting found and it wasn’t too long before a mega alert went off: Common Yellowthroat Lower Moors but elusive. Arse! Even though the sun was now cracking the flags the trip back to Mary’s was wet. Wet! Wet! Wet!
Dave and I ran like fuck through Hugh Town leaving a Hansel and Gretel style trail of water as we went. As we got to Lower Moors, Neil Howes and Tony Shepherd greeted us with the just shown well and we almost fell off the Helicopter on to it smugness that makes you want to punch someone. Dave and I then pretty much stripped down to our vest and pants and draped everything over our waterlogged scopes to dry (Bushnell Spacemaster anyone).
After what seemed like an age we waited and waited and waited while our clothes gently steamed in the hot sun and then… pow! Up poppped the bird only a few metres away and what a bird. A real stunner.
Photos by Tony Collinson
Next morning I was up at dawn and apart from a few other birders I spent a good hour alone with the bird showing almost continuously. Happy days.