Yellow-billed Cuckoo – The Dump Clump, St Mary’s, Scilly

I had been to Scilly for a week in October in 13 almost consecutive years up to 2005. I then had a gap of 14 years but in 2019 I decided that another visit to the Scillies would really help with my year list target of 250.

In the days before we travelled I checked through all of my previous Scilly records and worked out how many of the birds I saw in each year would have been 2019 year ticks for me. The average across the 13 visits was 10.5 year ticks and as I was currently on 241 that would be enough for me to hit my 250 target before the end of the week. Slightly concerning was that the weather forecast wasn’t great for the week, fingers crossed.

As Aly had got into birding recently I suggested that we went as a family of four (Mum, Dad, Aly and me) and they all agreed. I wanted to fly from St Just, as I used to do, but was persuaded by three nervous flyers to go by boat. We headed down to Penzance and stopped in a Travelodge in Hayle the night before so that we were ready for the trip out on the Scillonian at 9:15am on the Monday morning.

The sea was pretty heavy as we headed out of Penzance. I never like travelling on the Scillonian as it is a flat bottomed boat to allow it to dock in Hugh Town (which is a shallow harbour) and so the Scillonian is often thrown about a bit in the swell. A few people around me were sick the whole time and by the end one chap felt so ill that he didn’t even attempt to get to the rail and was just sick all over himself where he sat. I later spoke to a birder who had watched our boat coming around the Garrison and he said it looked pretty bad.

We docked at midday. The first decision was whether to get on the 12:30pm boat to St Martin’s for the Rose-breasted Grosbeak. The issues were that it was a 25 minute walk each way on the other side, the bird was proving mobile and very tricky to see and that we wouldn’t have long trying to find the bird before the last boat back at 3:30pm. The alternative was to stay on St Mary’s and try and see as much as possible before dusk, this is what we decided to do.

Our first target was the Red-eyed Vireo which had been found in Old Town Churchyard on Tuesday 8th October. Unfortunately there was no sign in a two hour search but we heard that the Yellow-billed Cuckoo was showing at the Dump Clump near the school, having not been seen at all yesterday. We dashed off there.

We joined around 30 other birds along the track through the Dump Clump. Viewing conditions weren’t great with little room for each person and a very overgrown set of trees to look into. After about 15 minutes the cuckoo was seen again and we had brief views of it as it moved through the canopy.

My first views were of the chestnut primaries, the long black and white tail and the clean white underparts. On the second view, about 10 minutes later, I saw the head and the hooked yellow bill. The third view was equally brief as it flitted through the sycamores. I made a simple single pose sketch based on the short views I’d had.

I’ve only seen Yellow-billed Cuckoo once before and that was on Tresco in 1999. There have been around 75 records in Britain. This sighting takes me to 242 for the year.

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