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"The Elusive Sixty" by Sophie May Lewis

Posted: Monday 20th October 2014 by The Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust

Scilly rainbow - Sophie May LewisScilly Rainbow - Sophie May Lewis

Nearing the end of her 4 week Ornithology Internship with us here on Scilly, Sophie May Lewis tells us of her time on the islands so far, and what she's made of a Scilly birding season.


I arrived on the Isles of Scilly October the 1st; a sunny Wednesday lunch time after a long scenic train journey, a night stop over in Penzance and a thankfully, smooth crossing on RMS Scillonian III, full of expectation. My Collins Bird Guide to Britain and Europe and my North American Bird Guide were both well thumbed after weeks of preparation for what I was convinced would be the birding experience of a lifetime.

A cloudless September broke into a squally October, heavy overnight rain and wind that howled around the granite headlands was interspersed with bright sun and rainbows. A full moon pulled the tides high, reminding the towns of their proximity to the sea, and bathed all in silver half-light.

It turned out that October 2014 has been a quiet month in terms of birding on Scilly; looking likely for the quietest season since 1974.

The peak of the island’s popularity with birders was the mid 1980’s and numbers have dwindled slowly since then, partly due to the ease of both obtaining information and traveling at the last minute that comes with modern birding.
It would seem that this year the birds too fancied a different holiday location, with the East coast of the UK, and the islands of Shetland and Fair Isle being major hotspots.

It could be that the rarest of species passed through Scilly before the birding season got under way, or maybe they are simply waiting for favourable winds or some signal we have yet to understand. There has been some speculation about the effect of the driest September since records began, whilst others have wondered if simply more birders visiting the East meant more pairs of eyes to spot the birds?

However I was determined to make the most of my time on the islands. After all, I couldn’t come to Scilly and not go birding. And so I turned to Scilly Listing. A Scilly List is as the name suggests, a list of all the birds that a person has seen on or within the Isles of Scilly.
After currently 20 days, I have a total of 59 birds on my Scilly List. 59 is a total I am proud of, and yet frustrated by. It’s an odd number, clunky, and so close, so very near to that nice, round, full-figured number – the elusive 60.

With the quiet season continuing, another rain shower pelting the windowpane, the radio siting ominously silent on the sill, I have just 4 more days on Scilly.
I will return home to Sussex with fond memories, richer for the experience, and fully refreshed by sun, sea and wind. Long coastline walks have recharged my physical and emotional batteries, and social evenings with welcoming new friends have brought plenty of laughter.

But I still haven’t seen that Barred Warbler…

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