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





Jasmina said...

It was truly a day to remember 😊