Sunday Book review – Scilly Birding by Simon Davey.

scillyOh to be on Scilly now September’s here!

I’ve only been to the Isles of Scilly once, as a child, on  a day trip on the Scillonian from Penzance, and around Easter time.  It must be time to go back!

It’s a pity they are so far away – but if they weren’t out west, 25 miles out from Lands End, they wouldn’t be the place to see stonking yellowthroats, crippling Swainsons and even stunning rustics.

If the last sentence makes no sense to you, then Scilly, in autumn, may not be the place for you, because it is then that it is invaded by rare birds and odd birders.

I would like to go there in September or October as much for the observation of the birding tribe as of rare wind-blown birds.

Simon Davey’s engaging book is one of those that tells you of the ups and downs of looking for birds – there are usually as many downs as ups.  Cold and hunger can be endured as part of the experience but when you keep missing the birds by moments, or sometimes worse, see them but so briefly that you don’t quite know what you saw (except everyone else tells you it was ‘the’ rare bird) those moments can be hard to take.

This is the tale of the ups and downs of two Scilly weeks in October 1984.  To some readers it will open up a strange new world of looking for rare birds and to others it will recall similar days of joy and/or (usually ‘and’) frustration.  It’s a good read and will appeal to more than the committed birder.

The observations of birders are completely authentic.  What a Scilly crowd we can be!

Simon Davey’s Scilly Birding: join the madding crowd is published by Brambleby Books and is available on Amazon as is Mark Avery’s Fighting for Birds.


8 Replies to “Sunday Book review – Scilly Birding by Simon Davey.”

  1. I think I’d rather parachute naked into an open air, rusty stanley knife museum than surround mesel with s(c)illy “twitchers” and “birders” banging on about they “dipped out” on the “gropper” or “burned up” their latest “sibe”….

  2. I’m very grateful to Mark for having reviewed this book, as I must now go out and buy it. You see, “I was there”, as we say in Wales.

    In ’84, I was 21 and had just graduated from UEA with a degree in Ecology. I got to the Scillies for the first time that year, and had a miraculous week in October during which I averaged over 2 British lifers a day. On the first day (I think – my memory may be playing tricks!), I got Yellow-rumped Warbler, Northern Parula and Red-eyed vireo, and it just went on from there. Being an impoverished student, I was there on a budget – I slept in a tent and lived simply – but those amazing birds, the characters, and the evenings in the ‘Porthcressa’ will stay with me forever.

    Happy days…

  3. That must have been 1985 Andrew, a year before I first made it out there much to my regret.

    To be honest if you are looking for observation of odd behaviour and ‘characters’ I think you may be decades too late. The 1980’s and early 90’s were possibly the heyday of madness on Scilly.

    It’s much more sedate now, and you’re likely to find a lot of affluent gents of pensionable age eating cream teas rather than hordes of tick hungry teenagers and twenty somethings. If you want a crash course in bad fieldcraft though look no further. Mobile phones, pagers and CB’s all set to 11 and usually a 500 mm lens being hoiked above head height on a tripod is standard fare.

    It’s still a magical place though and whilst I’m still lured by the hope of finding a displaced American vagrant it’s been common birds that have provided some of my fondest memories in recent years. Last year’s Irish coal tit invasion on St Agnes saw dozens arrive when the last one on that blessed isle was in the 1930’s I think. Having a four figure count of chaffinch with birds tumbling out of the sky the day after two sharp-eyed bird-race teams couldn’t find a single one was bizarre too.

    Time it right and it’s a fantastic birding holiday in beautiful surroundings with a flora that ranges from the diminutive endemics to gargantuan aliens.

    1. Thanks Peter. Your comment sent me scurrying into the loft to dig out my old notebooks. And you’re absolutely right – it was 1985. This getting old business is rubbish! Is my memory really that bad?

      It was a cracking year – the other highlights were both American cuckoos, bobolink and rose-breasted grosbeak.

      Which means that you were there in ’86, when I also went. That year I saw semi-palmated sandpiper, rustic bunting, ortolan bunting, Radde’s warbler and scarlet rosefinch.

      Two things occur to me. First, all those pensioners on the Scillies now could be the 20 somethings who were running around the islands in the ’80s!!

      And second, rereading my my notebooks, I had a ‘diary’ style (I fancied myself as a second Richard Millington!). So I can follow my adventures from years ago. These days, I hardly carry a notebook at all – just a mobile to add records direct into birdtrack. We’ve gained all those records for science, but I can’t help but feel we’ve lost something too.

      Anyway, thanks for the excuse for the nostalgia fest. Best wishes Andrew

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