Sunday, 6 December 2009

Childhood Memories of Scilly

David Campbell is 15 years old, is an up-and-coming keen, budding birder and photographer and made his first visit to the magical islands of Scilly during his half term. I stumbled on his website by chance and it bought back many fond memories of my early days on the archipelago (see for a detailed report of his visit, experiences and sightings).

Whilst reading David's blog, I became quite emotional. 2009 is the first year since 1974 that I have not visited the islands - my first blank year in 36 years. Scilly was once the highlight of my birding year and I would work hard all year to put an entire month in of birding there in October. Sadly, due to a combination of high prices, both in getting there and staying there, and a lack of enthusiasm and welcome from the islanders, Scilly died as a major meeting place and prime birding destination in October 1999. The lack of 'notebook padders' also seriously declined after that year - and by that I mean the number of Tawny & Richard's Pipits, Greater Short-toed Larks, Bluethroats, Icterine, Melodious & Barred Warblers, Ortolan Buntings, Red-backed & Woodchat Shrikes, Yellow-browed Warblers, Red-breasted Flycatchers and the like - all in stark decline (not only on Scilly but all over the UK in autumn) - and also the numbers of common migrants to work your way through (Pied & Spotted Flycatchers, Warblers, Common Rosefinch, Linnets, Buntings, et al).

I made one visit in October 2008 (Sociable Plover) and similar brief visits from 2005-2007 and spent my last long stay there in 2004. I must admit that I am devastated by the collapse of Scilly as a birding destination and it is the worst thing that has ever happened in the history of twitching - the islands were where all birding apprenticeships were served, nurtured and matured and where so many relationships blossomed and so many home and international trips were planned. The days of the Bishop & Wolf, the Mermaid and The Atlantic crammed full, with birders spilling out on to the High Street, are just but a distant memory, and the fantastic heavy days of the infamous 'Cressa and Sunset disco mothballed for ever.

I shall NEVER forget my days on those cherished isles and as I almost embark on my half-centenery year, I gaze ahead at the future of birding with some trepidation.

The Azores have now replaced Scilly as the destination to see mega-rare Nearctic passerines, and Shetland, Fair Isle, Orkney and the Outer Hebrides the main places in which 'new' birds can now be added. The Isles of Scilly have a golden heritage however and I am just so glad I lived and birded the islands through those wonderous years - Pied-billed Grebe, American Black Ducks, Blue-winged Teals, Lesser Scaup. Bufflehead, SHORT-TOED SNAKE-EAGLE, American Marsh Hawk, American Rough-legged Buzzard, Little Bustard, Semipalmated Plover, Killdeers, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Least Sandpiper, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, flocks of Buff-breasted Sandpipers, Wilson's Snipes, Long-billed Dowitchers, Upland Sands, Solitary Sandpipers, Wilson's Phalarope, South Polar Skua, Bonaparte's, Laughing and North American Herring Gulls, BLACK-BILLED & YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOOS, COMMON NIGHTHAWKS, CHIMNEY SWIFTS, Pallid, Alpine & Little Swifts, YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER, CALANDRA, BIMACULATED & NORTH AMERICAN SHORE LARK, AMERICAN TREE & CLIFF SWALLOW, American Buff-bellied, Blyth's & Pechora Pipits, Isabelline & Pied Wheatears, both ROCK and BLUE ROCK THRUSH, WHITE'S, SIBERIAN, WOOD, HERMIT, BICKNELL'S, Swainson's, Grey-cheeked, EYEBROWED and Black-throated Thrushes, AMERICAN ROBIN, Paddyfield, Eastern Olivaceous, Booted, SPECTACLED, Sardinian, WESTERN ORPHEAN, TWO-BARRED GREENISH, GREEN, Hume's Leaf, Radde's, Dusky, Eastern Bonelli's and Western Bonelli's Warblers, MASKED & SAXAUL GREY SHRIKES, SPANISH SPARROW, PHILADELPHIA & Red-eyed Vireos, Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll, BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLERS, NORTHERN PARULAS, Yellow-rumped & Blackpoll Warblers, NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH, OVENBIRD, COMMON YELLOWTHROAT, SCARLET TANAGER, Pine Bunting, YELLOW-BROWED BUNTING, YELLOW-BREASTED BUNTING, RED-HEADED BUNTING, Black-headed Bunting, ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK, BOBOLINK and BALTIMORE ORIOLE to mention just a few of the mouthwatering birds to befall since 1970.

I pray for David's sake that we can somehow rekindle that spirit that I followed (Lee G R Evans)