Wednesday 7 November 2012

Rare birds on Scilly: it's all relative

October half-term on the Isles of Scilly tends to give a slightly warped impression of the whole business of rarity. Last week, for instance, a Blackpoll Warbler from across the Atlantic, and a Blyth's Reed Warbler, which should have been heading from Finland to India or thereabouts, were the rarest birds I saw in British terms. But both were upstaged by a wandering Chough, which provoked Scilly listers into chartering the jet boat to St Martins where it first turned up.

Blackpoll Warbler - thought to be a different bird to the one on Bryher earlier in the month. Common as muck.

A streaky flight shot, in every sense. It showed down to 10 feet in the half light of early morning - this was taken later when the bird was more distant.

With over 20 records, the Blackpoll is the 'commonest' of the three on Scilly. While Blyth's Reed is historically rarer, the first record for the islands being in 2002, a recent run of this species has spoilt the locals somewhat. I have managed to see three of each species in about a decade of October holidays there.

Blyth's Reed Warbler - this species shows a longer supercilium and shorter primaries compared to Reed.

Blyth's Reed Warbler lacks the rich brown colouration of Reed Warbler and usually shows a darker tip to the lower mandible.

With just two accepted records since 1950, therefore, the Chough has become the most desirable species of the three for Scilly listers. I'm not too serious about my own Scilly list, but a Chough is a good bird to see anywhere. We couldn't get to St Martin's on the day of the bird's arrival but fortunately it relocated to Peninnis Head on St Mary's later that evening and was still present the following morning. It was getting a hard time from the local Peregrine and Crows as I watched it, and one of these may have been responsible for its sad end - it was found dead by an Islander the next day. Pride of place, then, in this post, must go to the Chough. Wherever it came from - Ireland, Wales, France and now Cornwall all being possibilities - may it rest in peace.

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