The weather forecast for Thursday and Friday was wet and windy and so Wednesday would be our best day for a while. On the Tuesday evening Dad, Aly and I spent an hour or so discussing our options for the next day. They included booking places on a mini pelagic which would be leaving the quay at 1pm, heading to St Martin’s for the Rose-breasted Grosbeak, trying for the Blue Rock Thrush on the Garrison or touring the northern part of Marys for a possible Blyth’s Reed Warbler, the difficult Short-toed Lark, the White-rumped Sandpiper and the Green-winged Teal.
WhatsApp messages over the last few days had suggested that the Rose-breasted Grosbeak was very mobile and proving very difficult to connect with. Some people had missed it altogether and others had to visit three times. Aly and Dad fancied the pelagic and so the plan was to try for the Blue Rock Thrush on the Garrison after breakfast and then Aly and Dad would join the pelagic. I would then tour around the northern part of St Marys on my own.
While we are having breakfast on the Wednesday morning news came through of a possible Yellow-throated Vireo on St Martin’s and that an early boat would be going at 8:45am. We cancelled the plan for the Blue Rock Thrush and decided to go to Martin’s. The vireo might not come to anything but it seemed likely that there would be quite a few people going to Martin’s and so seeing the grosbeak might be easier as a result.
The grosbeak had first been found on Sunday 13th October, they day before we arrived on Scilly. We got onto the 8:45am boat and joined 13 other intrepid birders. Unfortunately the boat dropped us off at Lower Town quay (rather than Higher Town) and so we had a 25 minute walk and not a 5 minute one.
The advice had been to stick round the bakery area, the fields above the cricket pitch and the shrubs and bushes which ran alongside the path down from the quay to the bakery. We got to the bakery at around 9:35am. I looked on Google Maps to familiarise myself with where the quay and the cricket pitch were and then returned to the bakery. Within 10 minutes a message on WhatsApp reported the the grosbeak was currently viewable from the bend in the main path down to Higher Town quay. Having already checked Google Maps I knew exactly where to go and I led the way with an anxious group of birders following in my wake.
Within two minutes we joined a small group of birders and they got us onto the grosbeak which was sat quietly preening on an exposed branch. After an anxious 30 seconds, when from my angle the bird was blocked by a tree, I had very good binocular views but wasn’t able to get it in the scope before it flew. Immediately obvious were the huge bill and head, the striking white supercilium, the white wing bars and white tertial spots. Someone found where it had flown to and we enjoyed another brief view as it perched nicely. The grosbeak then spent the next few hours evading us as it bombed around the various stops on its circuit.
I enjoyed a treacle tart and a mug of tea and the next boats of birders arrived. The first boat had landed at Lower Town, like we had, but the second overspill boat, full of birders who had arrived late at St Mary’s quay, docked at the much closer Higher Town and they saw the grosbeak as they got off the boat!
After our lunch we headed back slowly to Lower Town quay and queued early so that we would definitely get off on the 1:30pm boat. Aly found a Black Redstart on the rocky cove next to the quay.
This was actually my second Rose-breasted Grosbeak in Britain with the first also being on St Martin’s, in 2001. There have been around 40 records in Britain and this individual takes me to 249 for the year.