Experiencing nature’s variety is as good as a rest!

Wilson’s storm petrel (Oceanites oceanicus)

Wilson’s storm petrel (Oceanites oceanicus). - Credit: Agami Photo Agency (Shutterstock)

This summer my daughter landed a last-minute job working on the Isles of Scilly. For her it was a much-needed adventure, breaking the ennui of a ‘stay at home’ year and offering distraction from the nervous wait for A-Level results.

It also galvanised my wife and I into action, working out how we could visit her last minute on the Isles of Scilly – an exciting holiday opportunity and a chance to see our daughter after her rapid departure from the nest!

We succeeded in our last-minute quest and spent a wonderful week in rare sunshine amidst a paradise of islands, blue-green sea and sub-tropical flora.

Catching up with our daughter in her hours off we were otherwise free to explore the islands with plenty of time for my wife to indulge her love of painting and for me, of course, to discover the islands’ wildlife.

A country track on Bryher, Isles of Scilly, Cornwall.

A country track on Bryher, Isles of Scilly, Cornwall. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

This I did, enjoying the increasing number of migrant waders arriving on the coast – common and green sandpipers and one morning the rarer wood sandpiper along with whimbrel and ringed plovers.

House sparrows were everywhere, as if the clock had been turned back to days when these little birds were not in sharp decline. What was perhaps more noticeable though was the absence of many birds so familiar on the mainland – magpies don’t seem to have discovered Scilly yet!

The wildlife highlight of my trip was an evening spent on one of the pelagic trips aboard an open-topped boat that took me and a group of other enthusiasts out to sea. Seven miles south of the islands the engines were switched off and we rocked silently in the middle of the sea and watched to see what might appear.

Most Read

We’d already spotted dolphins and the bizarre ocean sunfish on the journey out but now fish oil was poured onto the water, and everyone waited with bated breath, hoping it would act as the scent-magnet it was intended to be.

Toward Ruin Beach and The Blockhouse, east coast of Tresco, Isles of Scilly.

Toward Ruin Beach and The Blockhouse, east coast of Tresco, Isles of Scilly. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Suddenly a shout went up, “Petrel!” and sure enough a little black seabird sporting a white rump fluttered past the stern of the boat. This is what we’d all come to see: a Wilson’s storm-petrel, a tiny seabird that is rarely seen from land, breeding in the Southern Hemisphere but visiting the North Atlantic from June to October.

The pelagic boat trips from the Isles of Scilly are one of the only ways to connect with this ocean-going bird and for me it was the very first time. The whole trip – five hours in all – had a magical feel to it: partly due to one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever witnessed but also because, in leaving the land so far behind, we had entered another world of marine life – of dolphins and fish, of petrels, gannets and shearwaters.

Birds like the storm-petrels make the sea their home and only come to land when it is time to breed and only then in a burrow under the cover of darkness.

We would never consider doing a boat trip in rough seas with stormy winds and big waves and yet it is these conditions that shearwaters and petrels revel in – the wind giving lift as they cut across the waves like a torrent and feed on the churnings of the sea.

The seascape with the excitement of rare seabirds coming close to our boat to investigate could not have been further from the solid land I stepped back onto. Of course, it was reassuring to be back on dry land, but I realised just how exhilarating and refreshing the trip had been.

It is said ‘change is as good as a rest’ and the immersion into that ‘other-world’ of the ocean – a literal sea-change – has left me re-energised and refreshed even several weeks on.

Back in the garden and out on my usual walks another ‘sea-change’ is at work: Autumn. It’s as big a change as any but I don’t need to take a boat to witness it! Already birds are moving over my garden and the changing season is in evidence on my walks. Each new encounter reinvigorates and means that autumn is something I look forward to rather than bemoan.