Sunday 27 August 2023

Another day trip to the Isles of Scilly, hoping to see the Red-footed Booby! 23rd August 2023

Having been out to St.Mary's the week before and watched the happy faces of the birders that had been out to the Bishop's Rock to see the Red-footed Booby it played on our minds for most of the next few days and as soon as there looked to be a clear weather window I booked tickets on the Scillonian for "Part 2".


The Red-footed Booby (Sula sula) is a large seabird of the booby family, Sulidae. Adults always have red feet, but the colour of the plumage varies. They are powerful and agile fliers, but they are clumsy in takeoffs and landings. They are found widely in the tropics, and breed colonially in coastal regions, especially islands. 

I had a pre-determined plan on the first trip and it went really well but this one was going to be different... it all depended on the weather, if the bird was still in UK waters, and if there was a boat going out that had enough customers to make it worthwhile for the owner & crew.

This was a Wednesday and the Scillonian sailed an hour earlier, leaving Penzance at 08:15. This meant us leaving Wadebridge by 05:45 to allow time to negotiate the roadworks and hold-ups on the A30 and also to find somewhere to leave the car for 12 hours. That was actually the easy part, whizzed down the A30 and plenty of room in the little car park opposite to Battery Rocks. 

Mounts Bay was like a millpond with a glassy surface and our hopes of seeing lots of good wildlife on the voyage were high.


A second summer Northern Gannet

Guillemots already getting into winter plumage

As soon as we got sailing out of the bay we started sighting Northern Gannets and large numbers of Shearwaters. Just a few Auks were still about with 2 Guillemots already in winter plumage.

It has been an amazing year for Shearwaters with lots of Cory's, Manx & Great all streaming down both Cornish coasts.

Cory's Shearwater

Cory's Shearwater 

Manx Shearwater

As we motored along past West Cornwall we picked up small groups of Common Dolphins & Harbour Porpoise. Sometimes they put on a display & leapt in the wake of the ship, other times they dived and we never saw them again!

Common Dolphin

Common Dolphin 

Common Dolphins 

Harbour Porpoise

There were quite a few birders on board and word soon got around that a boat was going to meet the Scillonian when it docked at St.Mary's and that it would then head straight out to the Bishops Rock lighthouse in search of the Red-footed Booby.

All went well and we transferred from one ship to a smaller boat and within a few minutes we were heading out of port to cover the 4 miles out to the rock.It was estimated that it would take about 50 minutes and hopes were high that the bird would be there waiting for us!

Known as "the Bishop" the lighthouse was originally built in 1858 after a previous attempt was washed away. Several updates and versions have been completed over the years since and it rises 44 metres above mean high water.

The Bishop

The Bishop

The Bishop

Anyone interested in the history of this feat of engineering can use this link to the Trinity House website for more details. 

When we boarded we were greeted by a cameraman/journalist from ITV who were intending to film a news item about the Booby and the birders clamouring to see it so most of us kept our heads down as soon as he started filming!

As we approached the Bishop  all eyes were on the netting around the helipad landing stage on the very top as this is where the Booby had taken to roosting... lots of gulls but no Booby!

We were all a bit crestfallen but checked out every bird in a mile radius with our binos as the skipper did a quick circle around the rock just to make sure it wasn't hiding.

So we then headed farther out to sea in search of this elusive bird that had obviously decided that its rarity factor warranted us having to work to see it. Twice more we came back & checked out the top of the lighthouse to no avail.

We then headed across to the Western Rocks, an area littered with shipwrecks and one of the main reasons for the lighthouse being there.

The skipper hoped that the bird may have been sat up watching us but sadly all we got to see was well over 100 Grey seals both hauled out & in the water.

Grey Seal

Grey Seal

Grey Seal

Grey Seal

Grey Seal

Grey Seal 

Most of us on board now had become a wee bit despondent and had virtually given up on the Booby and presumed that the boat was now headed back to harbour.

We were lifted to see the bows turn back towards the Bishop for one final time! One of the guys next to me said "I think it's there!" and everyone raised their binos to the top of the tower in vain hope. Can't be sure till we get closer was the cry and everyone was on tenterhooks until we got a clear view of 2 red feet hanging over the side of the netting!

"There it is" came a shout and immediately everyone's faces lit up and cameras started clicking, including mine!

Spot the Booby

Red-footed Booby atop the Bishops Rock lighthouse

Red-footed Booby atop the Bishops Rock lighthouse

Red-footed Booby atop the Bishops Rock lighthouse 

 I admit to often being a bit blase at chasing rare birds (twitching) but I've made an extra special effort to try to see 200 species in the UK this year.  This was bird 189 and a few minutes later I got number 190 as an Arctic Skua passed the boat!

Arctic Skua

All lenses pointing at the Booby

Everybody happy now!

Another 50 minutes back to harbour with happy customers and just time for a wander across to Porthcressa cafe for a coffee & some cake before catching the 4:15 afternoon sailing back to Penzance.

More shearwaters, dolphins and porpoise on the return leg and another really flat sea trip which I must add is not always the case!

So was it worth it? Of course it was, a fantastic day out with friends and also made new friends and renewed acquaintances. The number of birds, cetaceans and other marine species we saw in one day was incredible. If you get good weather then there's nothing better than a day trip out to the islands, Red-footed Booby or not!

Here is the link to the ITV News feature that made Good Morning Britain the following day.  I can be spotted in the background but always with a camera stuck to my face!

ITV News




Friday 18 August 2023

A day trip on the Scillonian III to St.Mary's on the Isles of Scilly. 15th August 2023

I picked a fine weather forecast to book tickets for a few of us birder / photographers to enjoy a day out on the Scillies this week.

What a day it turned out to be. Whilst many birders were heading out to look for the latest rarity, a Red-footed Booby, my plan was to have a quick stroll around the beautiful island of St.Mary's for a few hours.

Old Town.

The boat left Penzance harbour at 09:15 which meant leaving home at 06:45 to allow time to negotiate the A30 roadworks, find a parking place and be onboard with 3/4 an hour to spare.

All went well and the sea was flat calm in Mount's Bay as the Scillonian left port.

Within minutes we were seeing Harbour Porpoise and small groups of Common & Risso's Dolphins, often accompanied by diving Gannets and Shearwaters in their hundreds.

We followed the coast of West Cornwall out towards Lands End, passing the famous Minack Theatre and Porthcurno as headed West.

Minack Theatre

 Risso's dolphins continued to show well alongside the Commons and lots of Shearwaters were passing the ship in a westerly direction.

Risso's Dolphin

Common Dolphin

There had been many reports of some of the rarer seabirds passing the Cornish coast in the past few days so we were searching for Cory's & Great Shearwater amongst the many thousands of Manx Shearwaters passing through.

Sure enough as we passed Lands End and headed out towards the islands we started to see lots of Cory's, large shearwaters with a very different flight to the Manx, browner plumage and a distinctive yellow bill.

Cory's Shearwater

Cory's Shearwater

Cory's Shearwater

Cory's Shearwater 

Another bird that we were looking out for was the Great Shearwater, I'd done my homework and knew what to expect but it's not always that simple trying to identify one in a seabird feeding frenzy and from a moving ship! However I did spot a few though quite distant.

Great Shearwater amongst Manx Shearwaters

Great Shearwater

Manx Shearwaters were passing by in thousands and it was difficult to get the camera's auto focus to lock onto them but every now and again I got lucky!

Manx Shearwater

Suddenly one of the many birders that were en-route to seek out the rare Booby, came running to say that a rare Fea's type Petrel was alongside the ship. Well it was a first for me but was at quite a distant & I have to admit that it would have been highly doubtful that I'd have identified it on my own!

Fea's type Petrel

This was getting better and better and then a young lad shouted out "Great Skua" & sure enough a Bonxie or Great Skua passed the ship heading West.

Great Skua or "Bonxie".

Arriving at St Mary's harbour in Hugh Town after an amazing wildlife trip we sought out somewhere quiet to eat our lunch. We had 4 hours before we needed to board for the return passage so we whipped through the town, along the beach at Porthcressa , where we saw about a dozen Sandwich Terns, and headed along the coast path out to Peninnis Head.


View from Peninnis Head back towards Porthcressa at Hugh Town.

We left Penninis and dropped down into Old Town Bay which looked absolutely stunning... mid-August, fabulous beach & about a dozen people!

Old Town Bay

Our time on the island was short and I wanted to suss out the nature trail and hides across Lower Moors so we wandered up through this wet marshy area along boardwalks and then made our way up to the top road  at Pump Lane and the edge of St.Mary's pool.

A quick ice cream, milk shake and some biscuits and it was time to wander over and check in for the return journey. There were lots of happy birders who had travelled across to see the Red-footed Booby as it had shown well, albeit at the top of Bishop's Rock lighthouse...but a ticks a tick!

We left the island at 4:30 pm and it was once again a wildlife filled trip back to Penzance.

There were lots of Gannets passing, soaring & diving and many passed close by so a few photos were of course obtained!

Northern Gannet

Northern Gannet

Northern Gannet 

As we neared the Wolf rock lighthouse we came across a feeding frenzy of Atlantic Blue-fin Tuna. Lots of shearwaters and Gannets also feeding on a shoal of small fish, probably sprats or mackerel.

Atlantic Blue-fin Tuna

Atlantic Blue-fin Tuna

As we got in sight of Lands End the wildlife seemed to ease back a bit although we still spotted small groups of Common Dolphin all the way back into Mounts bay.

St.Michael's Mount

Always good to see St.Michael's Mount as we head back and it was still good light and warm at about 7:15 when she moored up in Penzance. A quick hop across the road to the car park & some grub on the way home all added up a great day out.

Seriously thinking of doing it again next week!