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!




Anonymous said...

Wow how well described - it was an action packed birding experience and my first chance to experience the beautiful Scillies - a step back in timešŸ˜Š

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed reading this and it makes me want to go back to The Scillies! Sounds like a great day.

Derek Spooner said...

Adrian, this is a terrific and beautifully illustrated account of what was clearly a remarkable day. THere are species here I have never heard of, let alone seen. I don't think I would have the stamina for a day like this, so thanks very much for sharing.