At the beginning of August we left Stewart Island and headed north to the UK for the British Birdwatching Fair at Rutland (more of that later) and to see family and friends.
After a day or two acclimatising to the northern hemisphere summer I headed out to Oare Marshes to grab a Kent tick, in the shape of the long-staying Bonaparte's Gull. This diminutive American gull had spent the last couple of months at Oare never giving himself up but I got some close views through the scope. I reacquainted myself with Curlew and Green Sands, Whimbrel and Water Rail, and snatched a view of Bearded Tits playing hide and seek.
A couple of days later we drove from Kent down to the south west to spend a week on the Isles of Scilly with my good mate Pete Moore and his family, Claire, George and Rowan. The archipelago of the Isles of Scilly is a 30 minute flight from Lands End or two and a half hours on a boat from Penzance.
I've spent many a happy October on these islands during peak migration chasing and finding lifers but the month of August is prime pelagic time. Pete and I booked three pelagics out of St Mary's with Bob Flood on the 'Sapphire'. The first trip produced large rafts of Manx Shearwaters plus the odd (globally rare) Balearic Shearwater and a few European Storm Petrels. Along with a cast of Northern Fulmars and Northern Gannets was a good selection of gulls. The last raft of Manx revealed a couple of Sooty Shearwaters - quite astounding to think these birds could well have come from Stewart Island.
Pelagic number two produced superb views of Great Shearwater sitting on the water and in flight behind a fishing boat plus two Great Skuas and a few flybys from Manx and Balearic Shearwaters to keep the pace going. Our final pelagic produced the much sought-after Wilson's Storm Petrel. Known as one of the most abundant sea birds in the world, the quick flyby of this bird really got the boat fizzing and Pete got a great photo.
I was hoping for Cory's Shearwater on at least one of these trips but alas it was not to be. I do have some good sea birds on my UK list including Wilson's Storm Petrel, Great Shearwater, Fea's Petrel and Black-browed Albatross and I guess you always need a reason to go back.
After a fun week on the Scillies eating pasties and ice cream, making sandcastles on Porthmellon Beach, drinking beer at the Turk's Head pub on St Agnes and walking around Lower Moors it was time to leave. Our flight from the Isles of Scilly was diverted to Newquay making for a long day plus a stuffy bus trip back to Lands End to collect our car. Next morning we were on the road early leaving Cornwall and Devon in the rear view mirror in the pouring rain as we headed north towards Rutland and the site of the British Birdwatching Fair.
From small local beginnings "Birdfair" has been described as the birdwatcher's Glastonbury and this year celebrated its silver jubilee event. Our stand had a fantastic bunch of people under the banner of the New Zealand Birding Network; I was there to represent Ulva Island and Stewart Island for Ulva's Guided Walks; Brent and Sav, Wrybill Birding Tours; Lynette and Gary, Albatross Encounter; and Dave and Chris, Heritage Expeditions. It seemed a very busy fair this year which was good and bad. Good for business, but there were some interesting lectures we'd have liked to get to.
It's not all work though - it was an opportunity to catch up with mates in the birding world including Richard Chandler, Emma Perry, John Gates, and Rob Lambert and our toy kiwi that we used to promote New Zealand found a new home in Norfolk with Penny Clarke. At the end of the three days we were all pretty tired and after a few beers on the last night we all departed and went our separate ways.
I put a few more miles on the clock with a trip down to Dorset the next day to hook up again with Pete Moore for a pelagic trip in his local patch. This beautiful hot day produced some good birds, more Manx and Balearic Shearwaters and one lone Sooty Shearwater. An Arctic Skua put in a brief appearance, and a Grey Phalarope was the last good bird of the day. All too quickly though it was time to bid a sad farewell to the Moore family and head back to Kent.
The next week saw me birding around Kent - views of Wryneck and Spotted Crake at Grove Ferry, I dipped on a Western Bonelli's Warbler at St Margaret's, a Red-backed Shrike showed nicely at the Isle of Sheppey, and enjoyed Hobbies hawking dragonflies over Elmley. It was also great to witness visible migration at Dungeness - the bushes were alive with Lesser Whitethroats, Sedge, Willow and Reed Warblers, Chiff Chaffs and Swallows chattering and gathering on power lines getting 'match fit' for their big journey south to Africa.
I'm sure my sister regretted lending me her car, a fact I pushed to the back of my mind as I went on a day trip to Norfolk and then a day trip to mid-Wales! Gigrin Farm was well worth the big drive (from Kent) to visit the famous Red Kite Feeding and Rehabilitation Centre to witness these awesome raptors at close quarters. The light was terrible for photography but to watch 200 kites was a fantastic experience.
With a few more mates to see and birds to get I saddled up my sister's trusty Rav4 to cross the border into Essex and see Howard Vaughan at Rainham Marshes. There was one lone Greenfinch on the feeders at Rainham, a bird that is very common in my Stewart Island garden and used to be common in my Mum's garden in Kent. The Greenfinch is having a very rough ride in the UK and its decline is apparently due to an infectious disease called Trichomonosis.
Back to Kent for my last day of birding (for a while!) I met my mate, Essex birder Pete Marchant at Oare Marshes. Once the fog had cleared we had great views of Black Tern, Little Stint, and Spotted Redshank and tucked among the huge flock of Black-tailed Godwit were good numbers of Golden Plover.
As the plane taxied towards the departure runway at Heathrow I tallied up my trip list which stands at 148 species. I looked across the aisle and thought about starting a new list ... famous kiwis seen on a plane? There was John Afoa of All Blacks fame, now playing for Munster. We had a chat, what a nice guy but I didn't envy his size as we folded ourselves into economy seats!