Tuesday, 1 December 2020

Perfectly Sociable

The recent discovery of a Sociable Lapwing in Cornwall reminded me of an exciting episode that featured in NQS Mk 1. So I've dipped into the archive for this topical excerpt...


12th October 2008 - A Little Twitching

...we headed round to Old Town via a Black Redstart (trip-tick pour moi) and then up to the Longstone Cafe, where most of us spent about half an hour consuming sensible lunches, whilst I spent one and a half hours consuming most of their stock. Eight thousand calories later I was helped upright and we v-e-e-e-ry slowly made our way towards Trenoweth, right up the far, far end of the island, where we were hoping to add another Yellow-browed Warbler to our tally. Just as we heard it call, Paul's pager went off. Olive-backed Pipit at the Dump, almost all the way back to Hugh Town - a good 45 minute walk (a brisk one, even). Should we bother? We were very tired, and I was very turgid, but how could we not? My bulging gut was absolutely delighted to be bounced vigorously back down the island. We arrived to news that it had flown ages ago, up towards the Health Centre. OK, enough torture, let's walk very gently indeed back to our digs up on the Garrison - another 20+ minutes. I was, frankly, knackered.

Once indoors I flop gratefully into a chair. The pager again: OBP relocated in field next to Health Centre! It has to be done. Paul and I head out once more, down the hill towards Porthcressa, and up the steep and evil Buzza track to the Health Centre. Trying to look cool and relaxed whilst gasping and sweating is a tough number, but I think we pulled it off. The bird hadn't been seen since the pager message had been put out. Great. There were quite a few hopefuls peering into the field from all angles, and we joined a crowd out on the main road to await developments.

Ah, this was twitching - just like I remembered. The chasing, the dipping, the sweating, the hoping it pops up in front of YOU, and not that lot over there. One tool that Paul and I did not have was a CB radio (or whatever they're called these days). However, lots of them were attached to nearby birders, and suddenly they all crackled into life:
", possible, um.......Sociable Plover......[static]....[graunch].....towards Porthellick....."
Oo-er, no mistaking the import of that! Everyone, to a man and woman, about-faced and peered in the direction of Porthellick (which was totally out of view, way over the other side of the airport). Look at them all:

After a few minutes of folks at Porthellick saying "nothing here" and everyone starting to relax a bit and to think "string, I'll bet it's total string" another voice seeped out of the ether. Now it has to be admitted I am paraphrasing, but I promise I am not making this up - the radio exchanges went something like this:
"Er, on the airport...on the airport...there's this, um....bird....I'm looking at this bird"
"Hello? Birder on the airport? Come back?"
"Yeah, I've got this bird on the the turning circle"
Dick Filby, brisk, authorititive, mildly frantic: "What bird do you have on the airport??"
Our mate on the airport is clearly a little shy about using actual species names, and launches into a tentative description.
"It's wingtips......"
"What kind of bird is it?"
It's like Twenty Questions. But quite exciting. A little thrill is rippling through the assembled mob.
"....and a creamy supercilium...."
By now you can hear the clatter of tripods being collapsed and folded.
"...and a dark crown...."
OK. That's enough! Let's GO!
Somehow Paul blags a lift off a local with a Transit van full of builder's gear and 4 of us pile into the extremely cluttered back. As he's shutting the door and putting us into total darkness he casually mentions that we should be careful, 'coz there's a load of glass and stuff in there. One of the guys immediately wants to get out again (I kid you not), but it's too late - there are three of us between him and the door (which is locked anyway) and we've already started to move. A few minutes later we are spilling out again - all of us surprisingly intact (and one of us possibly slightly embarrassed) - and hurrying across forbidden bits of airport. Scope up. Well I never......

Sociable Plover - an authentic Scilly Airport biggy!

By now it was gone 6:00 and pretty soon after this a load of mist rolled in and blanketed the island. We nabbed a taxi to take us back to the Garrison, briefly glimpsing the Red-breasted Flycatcher that had turned up there earlier in the day. A 5 minute hobble to the cottage and we were done. Totally.

The next day the Friendly Plover paraded (very slowly, and occasionally) around the Standing Stone Field at Lower Moors. We rolled up just after midday and I performed a little digiscopy. Here is a selection of the more in-focus efforts:

[Edit. Actually, in the spirit of 2020 minimalist birder's photos, here is just one effort, arguably the most evocative one...]

The Standing Stone field doesn't look much like this any more


Today's birding was squeezed into about five minutes between jobs, and another fifteen at the end of the day. Not without reward though. Steve discovered three Egyptian Geese on Bridge Marsh at lunchtime. The species is rather scarce locally. But then so are Black Swans and free-flying Budgerigars. Anyway, I still went for a quick look...

Oof! Get IN!

As dusk fell I hoped that a Cattle Egret or two would fly in to roost with the Little Egrets at Coronation Corner. In the event I did even better. Four Cattle Egrets dropped on to the far bank of the river among a group of 20+ Littles, prompting me to try for a photo in the gloom...

Cattle Egrets are far left, third from left, and the two birds immediately right of the Heron. Obviously.


  1. I remember that Sociable Plover/Lapwing. It was in a field near Telegraph I think when I/we saw it, maybe the same week.

    1. I think it moved there from Lower Moors. What an excellent bird! 😊

  2. I saw that bird in flight over the tower, absolutely amazing! I remember lots of garbled CB noise too. And yes, it showed a lot better in Standing Stones Field the next day. Weird thing is, I was camping up the Garrison throughout (probably near The Boiler's tent, I remember his thunderous snores from most times I've camped up there...) so I must have at least seen you a few times?

    1. Yes, I'm sure our paths crossed many times Seth. We were in Cedar Cottage, right by the campsite entrance. On one occasion I had crippling views of the Red-eyed Vireo, about 15ft away in the garden holly tree. And of Martin Clunes by the football pitch, from our living room window.

    2. I stayed in Cedar Cottage for a week this October! I've seen a Red-eyed Vireo there too. How very spooky...

    3. It is! I figured that's where you stayed. Apart from the uphill trek every evening, a great location.

  3. One of my most wanted bird Gav. Theres not been one up here since the early 70s. I will be at the next one!

    1. My first was an absolutely mint adult on Dartford Marsh in '85, and my second only a year or two later, a juv. So I was a bit spoiled early on. Obviously they've got a lot rarer since then! Can't see them suddenly becoming regular again though, sadly...