21 Apr 2015

GBH - a Great Big Heron

When news broke last week that Ash Fisher had found his and the UK's 2nd Great  Blue Heron on St Mary's Isles of Scilly I had to  many commitments work wise to be able to drop everything and go. It was just as well I did because the bird disappeared the next day and with thick fog over a couple of days wasn't seen until it resurfaced on Bryher. The 1st UK record was found by Ash on the Scilly's in December 2007 during a period of strong westerly storms. That bird didn't hang around and only a fortunate few living on the islands go to see it.

Steve &  I were chatting about the GBH  on Hilbre and apparently he and Thomas had concluded there were two certainties about this bird, or at least one certainty and a probability. One, I was going to buckle and go for it and two, it'd be there when they took their annual holiday in October! That's exactly what happened with the recent long staying Northern Water Thrush -see here

Plans were made and changed and changed again and eventually I picked Alastair up at midnight from his house and set off through the night to Penzance in time for a couple of hours kip in the car. That was the plan but I hadn't allowed for the big fella's warthog impressions so by 06.00 I was wandering the streets of Penzance and watching the sun rise over a distant St Michael's Mount. St Mary's resident and all round top man, Higgo, had rung Al and told him the Scillonian was leaving 45 minutes earlier than usual because of the tides and to bring wellies as the low water meant we'd have to wade ashore once we'd taken one of the inter island boats to Bryher. The 2nd part of the message was never communicated to me...............................

After an uneventful journey in brilliant sunshine, during which we drunk a few brews and nattered away to old friends or just listened to Dan P talk when we couldn't get a word in, we arrived at St Mary's and piled straight on to the inter island boat to Bryher. With news from Higgo, who was waiting on Bryher that the bird was still there everyone was in high spirits

It was at this point I found out from the boatman that he'd have to ferry us ashore in a dingy a few at a time and then wade ashore. Most people decided to take their shoes off and roll their trouser legs up but figuring that if I stood on a weaver fish or sharp shell I could do my self some serious injury I decided on the wet boot option and consequently squelched around all day .Initially we'd planned to stay a couple of days but we both agreed that if we could we'd get off the same day as we both needed to get home. Knowing I had dry socks and a change of footwear in the car back in Penzance made the decision slightly easier. My wellies were also  in the car.....................

The man himself was waiting for us on the beach and after a brisk walk to the Hell Bay Hotel where the heron was fishing on the Great Pool. The occasional walker passed and caused it to stop fishing and momentarily freeze but it didn't seem to concerned.. However, it did appear to take exception to a photographer who decided she had to get that little bit closer by going right down the waters edge and flew to the opposite end of the pool. She may or may not have been responsible but justice was done as we'd all being enjoying good views as it worked its way round the edge of the pool closer to us and getting some good views and she didn't!

By now we were starving so we took our leave of the heron to wander up to the Vine Cafe for a pot of tea and a sandwich with Higgo. Sitting in the cafe he pointed out a sight I'd not seen since we lived in Suffolk in the 70's  - a House Sparrows nest made in a bush like a Weaver's nest!

With an hour or so to kill, before the 15.30 deadline to be picked up for the journey back to St Mary's, we meandered around admiring the view and doing  a bit of birding before heading towards a spot where a colony of very rare Dwarf Pansy's were known to grow.

The weather was and scenery were spectacular and this was my 1st visit to Bryher since 2005. I'd forgotten how beautiful it was.

With no sign of the Hoopoe Higgo had found the previous day we walked down to the beach to find the Pansy's. They really are tiny and there are only two places (both on the Scilly's) where the species can be found in the UK.

They are hard to pick out but there is one flowering in the top right of the photo and several more with flower buds visible.

Luckily we didn't have to repeat our wading antics as the rising tide meant the boat could get close to the quay to pick us up. Reaching the quay we found an old friend waiting to pick us up. Joe Pinder's 'Sapphire' on which we'd spent many a pelagic trip chumming for seabirds and tagging Blue Sharks. Last time I was on the Sapphire was hours after I'd heard our old Labrador, Molly, had died whilst I was away - see here

Once safely back on the Scillonian wit ha pasty and another mug of tea it was time to relax and try to sleep for a few hours before heading back to Cheshire. With Al sleeping most of the way  I made good time and completed the journey in just under 6 hours before falling into bed after and epic 25 hours.

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