28 Sep 2011

Northern Waterthrush.

News that last weeks Northern Waterthrush that we missed on the Scillys was still on show and had settled into a routine had me itching to go and see it! The opportunity came when Al Orton rang and asked if I wanted to go with him Sunday night with a view to (hopefully!) coming back Monday night.

Driving through the night in torrential rain we arrived to find Lands End airport yet again shrouded in fog. This time there was to be no let up and we opted to transfer to the Scillonian for the sea crossing. News of that the Water Thrush had been seen early morning heightened our anticipation and made us even more frustrated over the delay. Once we'd cleared land all the fog disappeared although there wasn't much to see bird wise with only a juvenile Black Tern being of any note. Two passerines (a Willow Warbler and a Meadow Pipit) briefly joined the ship before departing in a southerly direction. A large pod of Common Dolphins kept the majority of passengers happy - always a delight to see. Dolphins always seem happy.

Arriving at Hugh Town our first priority was to find somewhere to stay. We now realised we weren't going to have time to relocate the Waterthrush and would have to wait until the evening when it came into roost. Knocking on doors produced a room for the night and after dumping our gear and a quick brew we set off for some birding. First stop Lower Moors where a juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper showed well from one of the hides.

Noticing some Chiffchaffs in some waterside sallows I started 'pishing' to bring them closer. Next minute an Icterine Warbler appeared above our heads before giving us the eye and disappearing in disgust. Brilliant.

Searching the muddy pools in the woods around Lower Moors we were frustrated to hear the Waterthrush several times but weren't able to locate it. Noticing a few people already standing by Higgo's hide from where the Waterthrush had been being seen at first light and late evening we decided to head that way to ensure we got a good position. It was 3 pm and the bird had been showing from around 4.30 onwards.

As it happened there was plenty of space outside the hide and we stood with a handful of visitors and some resident Scilly's birders and watched the juvenile Lesser Yellowlegs that had decided Higgo's handiwork with a shovel was to its liking.

The expectation was high as the clock crept towards the magic hour. Nothing. As light began to fade last weeks Solitary Sandpiper put in a brief appearance before flying off towards the tip calling as it went an flashing its diagnostic rump pattern for us all to see.

5.30 came and went. Nothing - although we heard the Waterthrush calling several times to our left. Finally just as the light was well and truly fading at 6.50 and after several people had already given up and gone the Northern Waterthrush put in an appearance and performed for the happy crowd for about 30 minutes before flying off to roost. With the ISO on the camera cranked up I managed a few shots with a shutter speed of 1/24th of a second (extremely slow!).

After enduring 4 hours standing in a fetid swamp surrounded by mosquito's we were extremely happy and set off back to the accommodation  for a shower and change before hitting the Scillonian Club bar on curry night! Ouch.

Swampy orton outside Higgo's masterpiece.
Next morning dawned overcast and a hint of fog. After a full English we set off towards the airport to check on our flight status and look for the Woodchat Shrike that had been hanging around the perimeter fence. A good move. Asking at the check in desk we were told all flights to Lands End were being suspended but there was a small window of opportunity and a plane would be leaving for Newquay in 10 minutes! From there we'd be ferried by taxi to Lands End. It was either that or the Scillonian and getting home about 2 in the morning the next day. We took the offer and just had enough time for Spider to point out the Woodchat Shrike from the car park as Al finished his fag.

An uneventful journey saw us at Newquay and in a taxi. Arriving at Lands End we could see the problem. We were very lucky. Ground staff told us there that after we'd left visibility on St Mary's dropped to 30 m and all flights were cancelled.


Andy Wraithmell said...

Congrats on the NOWA Phil. Great account! Hope the autumn continues to produce some great birds.

Phil Woollen. said...

Ta Andy. Cracking Autumn for the Scilly's so far. Off to Shetland for a week next week so hoping that'll be as good.