Leaving the hostel in Penzance by about 0730, I drove down to deposit the car with Penzance Parking, conveniently close to the Quay. The weather was pretty murky with more than a hint of drizzle… promising for a few birds on the Scillonian crossing. Compared to my previous experience on the boat (the extremely rough 2008 pelagic), this was to be a relatively smooth and pleasant crossing. A small number of Scilly-bound birders were scanning from the upper deck at the stern, and with a Sooty Shearwater seen shortly after leaving the quay, things were looking promising.
We also picked up a stream of Storm Petrels off the southern side of the boat, totalling about 15-20 over the course of the first hour. Unfortunately, the seabirds tailed off as we travelled west though, with only about 5 Manx Shearwaters seen, and certainly nothing else much better.
Arriving on St Marys at lunchtime, I dropped my bags off in the B&B, sourced a bite to eat, and headed out to refresh my memory of the island. Peninnis Head held little more than a few Stonechats and a Linnet flock, but heading round past Old Town and alongside the airfield was better – I came across a juvenile Cuckoo begging for food from its overworked surrogate parent, a Rock Pipit in this case. Sadly, I had no camera with me… I continued down to Porth Hellick and along the trail through Higher Moors (happy memories of Blackpoll Warbler!). 2 Green and 1 Common Sandpiper, and 6 Greenshank, were around the muddy fringes, but there was no sign of the Wood Sand that had been reported the day before.
By now, it was mid afternoon, and therefore time to head for the quay again. Over the last few years, pelagic trips from St Mary's have produced some of the rarest seabirds in British waters: Madeiran, Swinhoe’s and Fea’s Petrels, plus Scopoli’s Shearwater and literally hundreds of Wilson’s Petrels. Although I was booked on two full day trips over the weekend, there was no way I’d pass up the extra opportunity to get out there for a look.
As we steamed out past the Garrison, I asked where we were heading for – having heard about various underwater reefs and banks that contribute to productive seabird feeding areas, I guessed it would be one of these. Not so… “we’re just going five or six miles out to the SE, and then we’ll drift”. Scientific stuff, clearly. But, my God, did it ever work for us! Within about 10 minutes of switching the engine off, a couple of Storm Petrels came past the stern of the Sapphire, and then there was the shout we’d been waiting for: “Wilson’s in the wake!” Given the small number of birds in the area at the time, I was on it immediately, and enjoyed pretty good views. After the initial view, it reappeared near the boat on two more occasions, allowing everyone to note a few more features and get some experience of the bird’s jizz.
And if that isn’t lucky enough, try this. Also on the boat were two guys from the West Midlands; they’d been booked onto the Scillonian pelagic, which was now cancelled. Not wishing to abandon the idea of a pelagic trip completely, they had come down to Scilly for just one night, and would be returning the next day. Neither of them had ever been out looking for Wilson’s Petrel before – they’d just jammed straight in, trip number one, under an hour on the boat!
To be honest, the rest of the trip was something of an anticlimax… we did see a rather pale juv Arctic Skua and another Sooty Shearwater, plus sifted through about another 20 odd Storm Petrels, but my thoughts had already settled on “Anything else this weekend is a bonus". Wilson’s was the target: played for and got, as a certain Wanstead-based birder might say.