At around 4pm yesterday the Mermaid II cruised into the small bay on the lea-ward side of St Clement’s Island looking to show the 20 or so passengers on the 3pm “Seal Cove” trip the resident Grey Seal bull “Sammy”. I have no idea if they saw him because Adrian and crew were amazed to see a large white bird with a long, pointed, slightly down-curved orange bill, and long white tail-streamers sitting above Sammy’s usual spot. It almost immediately took flight over the island. I would probably have heard no more about it had Adrian and Billy not already kindly sent me down-loaded photos of a Red-billed Tropicbird they claimed to have seen as a wind-up a week ago when I was stuck on the Scillonian III, the same day as a genuine bird had been seen from Porthgwarra! Remembering this however, Adrian immediately recognised this as the real thing, and they steamed around to the eastern side of the island hoping it had landed again. There was some confusion as an orange-billed bird took off and was snapped by one of the passengers, but this was an Oystercatcher, and sadly it seems the initial sighting took everyone by surprise and the Tropicbird was already out over the bay! Readers may well wonder a) what all the fuss is about, and b) how on Earth we can be sure this is the same bird as that seen last week!? The answer is the same – this is an incredibly rare bird in British terms with only 3-4 previous records; Red-billed Tropicbird breeds all around the tropics with the nearest to us in the Cape Verdes or Caribbean. As there have been virtually nothing but north-north-easterly winds since the Porthgwarra sighting it is highly unlikely a second bird has arrived! And how do I know this is a definite second sighting? Because I am sitting writing this in North- blooming – Oxfordshire – that’s why!! Today’s 3pm trip was the first wild-life trip I have not been able to do since the tropicbird sighting a week last Friday, and if readers are wondering what that distant crunching noise is it is the sound of me grinding my teeth down to the gum-line!! Of course- I am really pleased for all the lucky folks on the trip (AM I HELL!!!), and I hope the bird is seen again, as the Mermaid II is probably the best place to start! Here’s hoping!
Disgruntled of Banbury/ Martin Elliott