Our Sightings Officer, Kathy, traveled to the Isles of Scilly for a holiday back in October. Of course, a holiday is never just a holiday so hear she tells us about her Scilly exploits!
The Isles of Scilly are very special to me. It’s where I became totally enamored with birds and formed some incredible friendships which have played a formative role in my life. One such friendship is that with Neil Glenn. Neil is famous for his ‘twitch and pitch’ mission, dashing off to see rare birds all over the UK as well as ticking off all the league football grounds he can. I met Neil on the islands back in October of 2010 and since then we’ve been firm friends, united by our love of wildlife and quizzes, even though geographically we’ve been seperated (in the East Midlands and Wales).
In October, Neil invited me to join him for a holiday on the Isles of Scilly and I was thrilled to head back there (not for the first time), especially during the autumn when the islands play host to all sorts of rare birds.
Starting with a stopover in Penzance, we boarded the Scillonian III early the next morning. The Scillionian is the ferry that serves the islands on a daily basis and provides a lifeline in terms of transport and supplies. It’s a large vessel, some 68 metres long and there’s plenty of opportunity to make the passage indoors in the warm, but for me that would be a waste of a great wildlife-watching opportunity. It was on the Scillonian that I saw my first minke whale and there are plenty of seabirds to keep an eye out for too!
On this particular trip, however, the highlight turned out to be an exhilarating coastguard rescue attempt – if only for practice!
Whilst the trip was mainly a holiday I had also arranged to speak with all the wildlife enthusiasts at the daily ‘Bird Log’. The Bird Log is a fantastic thing. Species names are called out and people chip in with how many they’ve seen that day and where amongst the islands. Some are large counts of wildfowl or waders and some are shots are in the dark after a rare bird previously reported has dropped off the radar. At the end of the list, “Any others?” can produce reports of the most incredible birds that have turned up from all over the world. The wealth of knowledge in that room gives me a huge sense of pride in being a wildlife-watcher even though I am way down the pecking order. So many people that have devoted so much of their time to British wildlife in one room is something to celebrate.
I was a bit nervous to stand up in front of all those amazing bird-watchers, artists and photographers, but as soon as I started to talk about cetaceans and Sea Watch I was okay! I received a lovely response from the audience (who due to a room a change, were actually bulging out of the doors!) as I told them about the species they were likely to spot around the islands and how to report on them. I also provided them with maps of actual sightings in the area so they could imagine the sort of picture we are able to build up from public sightings around the whole of the UK. The message of being a UK-wide operation was also of utmost importance because I realised that most of the birders in the room has traveled to the Isles of Scilly at that special time for the the bird migration and that they’d take flight (or ferry) back to their own habitats a short while later.
The main reason that I had been invited to speak to the room though, was because I had helped write a piece on a very special event that happened in the Isles of Scilly early the previous year; the first ever record of a bowhead whale anywhere in Europe! It may be of interest to know that this news story on our website has achieved the most hits we’ve ever experienced and we’re thrilled that we could share this news with so many of you!
The person who reported the sighting was Anna Cawthray, pictured above, alongside the animal. The photographer was a lady called Fay Page.
I spent one of my days on the beautiful island of St Martin’s with Neil and we enjoyed the spectacular views along with the fabulous bird life, delicious flapjack and homemade lemonade available! Shortly after finishing said lemonade, I trundled along to take a peek in the nearby gallery and was delighted to see the name ‘Fay Page‘ above a handmade silver jewellery collection. It didn’t take me long to remember why I knew the name and perhaps at the same time I spotted a tiny, silver bowhead whale! She had made a pendant of the very special animal, the first-for-Europe, that she’d been lucky enough to witness and I’d then spotted it in her little exhibition, on a small island, miles from mainland Britain. I was thrilled.
I was given a present on Christmas Eve that turned out to be this very special silver whale and I wear it nearly every day. In fact, I have it on now…
Neil and I spent our days walking and birding and were lucky enough to spot common dolphins and harbour porpoise on a number of occasions including off the fabulous Deep Point (below). What a brilliant land watch location?!
Look closely for the aggregation of white gulls which show the freeding frenzy of seabirds and common dolphins.
On our return from Scilly aboard the Scillonian once more, I was granted access to the bridge to collect data on the trip and to watch for cetaceans. It was cold despite all my outdoors gear, but I wasn’t going to give up so I stood there like the ship’s red-nosed figurehead and recorded all the way back to Penzance. I wasn’t disappointed. We were joined on several occasions by groups of common dolphin who made a beeline for the vessel.
Following my trip, I am pleased to announce that the company behind the Scillonian ferry have granted bridge access to Sea Watch observers! If you are travelling to or from the Isles of Scilly at any point then please get in touch with me to arrange data collection from the bridge. Similarly, if you live within daytrip distance then we’d love to have observers on there as often as possible. You can email me on firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like the opportunity.
Thank you for reading about my trip and happy spotting,