Isles of Scilly

6 to 13 MAY 2000

Phil Read , Will Wagstaff


To appreciate these magical islands to the full you need to be able to see them. Sadly we were denied that privilege by persistent haze and at times thick sea fog. However we explored as much as we could and we all enjoyed the flowers, which were at their best at this time of year, and of course the birds.


Saturday 6 May.

Fine weather enabled us all to arrive on time at St Mary's. As usual our first evening was spent attending Will Wagstaff's slide show, an interesting introduction to the islands wildlife.

Sunday 7 May. Calm wind. Hazy. Max temp. 15 C.

Our first day was spent exploring the nature trails and paths around Hugh Town. Porth Loo beach held an interesting variety of waders including Whimbrel and a flock of

Sanderling, many in summer plumage. Migrants were generally scarce but we saved the best birds of the day to last with a fine summer plumaged Golden Plover keeping a Dotterel company on the airfield and an elusive Black Redstart nearby.

Monday 8 May. Very light NE'ly wind. Hazy. Max temp. 15 C.

An early morning walk produced a singing Grasshopper Warbler near the dump but not the Golden Oriole we were looking for.

We set sail for Tresco on a fine but hazy day. Again migrants were scarce but we had good views of a very smart adult Scaup on the Great Pool and explored the famous Abbey Gardens, looking at their best, during the afternoon.

A warm, calm evening enabled us all to enjoy the "Shearwater Cruise"'. The shearwaters duly obliged with some close views but perhaps the highlight was 8 Great Northern Divers although none were in full summer plumage.

Tuesday 9 May. Very light NE'ly wind. Fog. Max temp. 15 C.

Thundery rain prevented an early morning walk and thick fog marred our enjoyment of St Agnes, normally most peoples favourite island. However we all appreciated close views of a perched Red Rumped Swallow although views of an Ortolan Bunting were very fleeting for most.

Wednesday 10 May. Light NE'ly wind. Hazy. Max temp. 16 C.

Those who attended the pre-breakfast stroll around the Garrison were rewarded with Purple and Common Sandpipers on the rocks. One of the highlights of the week is the "Seabird Special" and this year was no exception. Seabirds can been seen so much closer from a boat and during our cruise around the rocks and islands we all enjoyed Puffins, Guillemots and Razorbills alongside the boat as well as Ravens and Grey Seals. Waders on the shores of Tresco included Bar Tailed Godwits and Sanderling in summer plumage.

Landing on Bryer for the afternoon gave us the opportunity to study at close quarters two of the rarest, and smallest, plants on Scilly, the Dwarf Pansy and Orange Birdsfoot.

Evening entertainment was provided by the Ladies Gig Race and we were impressed how such slight young ladies could be so strong.

Thursday 11 May. Moderate NE'ly wind. Rain in morning. Max temp. 14 C.

Highlight of the pre-breakfast stroll was a fine summer plumaged Golden Plover on the Golf Course. Our decision to visit St Martin's looked misguided in the morning rain but thankfully the weather dried up, if not brightened up, in the afternoon, and the visibility was just about good enough to appreciate some of the views from this attractive island. The birding highlight was rather brief as a Montagu's Harrier passed by rather swiftly and distantly.

Friday 12 May. Light SE'ly wind. Cloudy. Max temp. 13 C.

We returned to Tresco to explore the areas we hadn't previously seen. A Little Grebe on the Abbey Pool was a surprise but again we were frustrated by only brief views of the Montagu's Harrier.

Whilst most spent the evening watching the men's Gig Race, Phil and his trusty companion Richard enjoyed an evening stroll to Porthellick Pool where they watched a pair of very handsome Garganey. The return walk at dusk was enlivened by listening to singing Grasshopper Warbler at two sites along the way.

Saturday 13 May. Light to moderate SE'ly. Fog.

An extremely frustrating day, most of which was spent at the heliport waiting for the fog to clear. Eventually hopes of flying were abandoned and we were transferred to the Scillonian for an evening cruise back to Penzance. Seabirds were surprisingly scarce, a few Manx Shearwater near Penzance being the highlight.



Great Northern Diver: 8, including a flock of 6, on Shearwater Cruise on 8th. 1 between St Martin's and St Mary's on 11th.

Little Grebe: 1 on Abbey Pool, Tresco on 12th was an unexpected sight.

Fulmar: Recorded most days in small numbers. Breeding birds seen on Annet.

Manx Shearwater: Excellent views during Shearwater Cruise on 8th including a flock of 41 resting on the sea.

Gannet: Very close views from the boats on a few occasions.

Cormorant: Seen daily around the islands. Close views of breeding birds on Mincarlo.

Shag: Abundant around the islands with feeding flocks of over 300.

Grey Heron: Single birds seen on 4 days.

Mute Swan: Recorded on Porthelllick pool, St Mary's and Great Pool Tresco where there were a pair with 8 cygnets.

Canada Goose: 4 adults on Tresco including a pair with 3 young.

Shelduck: Recorded around the islands in small numbers.

Gadwall: Present on St Mary's and Tresco in small numbers.

Garganey: A pair on Porthellick Pool on evening of 12th.

Scaup: A fine adult male on The Great Pool on 8th was an interesting record.

Montagu's Harrier: A female gave frustratingly fleeting views on St Martin's on 11th and Tresco on 12th.

Kestrel: 1 flew over St Mary's airfield at dusk on 12th.

Peregrine: Fleeting views of 1 near Annet during Shearwater Cruise.

Red Legged Partridge: Introduced birds seen on Tresco and Bryer.

Pheasant: Common on Tresco. Introduced birds also seen on Bryer and St Mary's.

Golden Pheasant: 1 of the small introduced population heard on Tresco.

Moorhen: Recorded on St Mary's and Tresco.

Coot: Common on St Mary's and Tresco. 1 on St Agnes on 9th.

Oystercatcher: Common and vocal around the shores.

Golden Plover: Singles of the northern "altifrons" race in full summer plumage were on St Mary's airfield on 7th and golf course on 11th.

Grey Plover: Summer plumaged birds were seen on St Agnes on 9th and Bryer on 10th. A winter plumage bird was on St Martin's on 11th.

Ringed Plover: Recorded in small numbers around the islands.

Dotterel: A dull plumaged bird, presumably a male, was on St Mary's airfield on 7th.

Bar Tailed Godwit: 4 seen on Tresco during the "Seabird Special" on 10th. 1 with Whimbrel flock on St Martin's on 11th.

Whimbrel: Migrant birds recorded each day. Largest flocks were 14 on St Martin's on 11th and 8 on Samson on 10th.

Curlew: Only records were singles on Tresco on 10th and 12th.

Redshank: 1 on St Agnes on 9th.

Greenshank: Singles recorded on Tresco, St Agnes and St Martin's.

Common Sandpiper: 1 on the Garrison during the morning walk on 10th.

Turnstone: Recorded daily in small numbers. Many birds in full summer plumage.

Sanderling: Migrant flocks of up to 20 birds around the islands. Many birds in summer plumage.

Purple Sandpiper: 1 by St Mary's quay on 9th. 3 on Garrison on 10th.

Dunlin: Migrant flocks seen around the islands. Highest count 50 on Tresco during "Seabird Special".

Great Black Backed Gull: Common breeding bird.

Herring Gull: Very common breeding bird.

Lesser Black Backed Gull: Very common breeding bird.

Black Headed Gull: Recorded daily in small numbers. Highest count 11 on Abbey Pool on 8th.

Kittiwake: Small numbers seen from the boats. We viewed the breeding colony on Tresco from close quarters on 12th.

Sandwich Tern: Up to 2 birds seen on three days around Tresco.

Common Tern: Common around the islands with some birds breeding.

Guillemot: Excellent views during the "Seabird Special".

Razorbill: Commoner between the islands than the previous species. Again excellent views during the "Seabird Special".

Puffin: 2 seen during the "Shearwater Cruise" on 8th. At least 6 seen at close quarters during the "Seabird Special".

Stock Dove: Only sighting was a flock of 8 during an evening walk on St Mary's on 12th.

Wood Pigeon: Recorded daily.

Collared Dove: Recorded daily.

Turtle Dove: 2 on St Agnes on 9th.

Cuckoo: Heard, and occasionally seen, daily around the islands.

Swift: Seen from 9th in small numbers. Noticeable increase on 12th.

Sand Martin: Only sighting was 12 over Porthellick Pool on the evening of 12th.

Swallow: Common with passage noticed most days.

Red Rumped Swallow: We all enjoyed excellent views, including perched at close quarters, of this rare migrant on St Agnes on 9th.

House Martin: Recorded daily but only in small numbers.

Meadow Pipit: 2 on St Mary's on 7th. 1 on St Agnes on 9th.

Rock Pipit: A common breeding bird around the rocky coasts.

Wren: Abundant and very vocal.

Dunnock: Very common.

Blackbird: Very common.

Song Thrush: Abundant, very vocal and delightfully tame.

Robin: Recorded daily.

Black Redstart: A female was seen on Giants Castle on 7th.

Stonechat: Common and widespread breeding bird.

Wheatear: Small numbers of migrant birds observed on most days.

Grasshopper Warbler: 1 heard singing near St Mary's dump on 8th and 12th. Another heard near the airport on the evening of 12th.

Sedge Warbler: Recorded in suitable habitat on St Mary's and Tresco. 1 on St Agnes on 9th.

Reed Warbler: 1 seen well on Tresco on 12th. Also heard on St Mary's.

Blackcap: Single birds heard on 3 days.

Whitethroat: 1 heard on Bryer on 10th. 1 seen well during early morning walk on St Mary's on 11th.

Willow Warbler: Widespread and vocal in small numbers.

Chiff chaff: Commonly heard around the islands.

Goldcrest: Heard on Tresco and St Mary's.

Spotted Flycatcher: 1 near Borough Farm, Tresco on 12th.

Pied Flycatcher: Only sighting was a female on St Agnes 9th.

Great Tit: Common on St Mary's and Tresco.

Blue Tit: Only seen on St Mary's and Tresco.

Jackdaw: Very few left on the islands. 1 on Tresco on 8th, 2 on 12th.

Carrion Crow: Widespread in small numbers.

Raven: 2 possibly 3 on Men-a-vaur on 10th. 1 on Tresco on 12th.

Starling: Common and widespread.

Ortolan Bunting: Disappointingly fleeting views of 1 on St Agnes on 9th.

Chaffinch: Only recorded on St Mary's and Tresco.

Greenfinch: Widespread and fairly common.

Goldfinch: Widespread and fairly common.

Linnet: Very common and widespread.

House Sparrow: Common breeding bird.


Grey Seal

Brown Rat



Large White

Small White

Green Veined White

Small Copper

Holly Blue

Red Admiral

Meadow Brown

Speckled Wood

Royal Fern Osmunda regalis
Fennel Foeniculum vulgare
Bracken Pteridium aquilinum
Wild Angelica Angelica sylvestris
Common Polypody Polypodium
vulgare Hogweed Heracleum sphondyllium
Monterey Pine Pinus radiata
Wild Carrot Daucus carota
Lodge Pole Pine Pinus contorta
Rock Samphire Crithmum maritimum
Monterey Cypress Cupressus macroocarpa
Portland Spurge E. portlandica
Creeping Buttercup Ranunculus repens
Wood Spurge E. amygdaloides
Bulbous Buttercup R. bulbosus
Japanese Knotweed Polygonum cuspidatum
Prickly fruited Buttercup R. muricatus
Sheep's Sorrel Rumex acetosella
Lesser Celandine R. ficaria
Common Sorrel R. acetosa
Yellow horned Poppy Glaucium flavum
Pelitory of the Wall Parietaria diffusa
Common Ramping Fumitory F. muralis
Common Nettle Urtica dioica
Sea Radish Raphanus maritimus
Common Elm Ulmus procera
Sea Kale Crambe maritima
Fig Ficus carica
Shepherd's Purse Capsella bursa-pastoris
Oak Quercus rober
Common Scurvy Grass Cochlearia officinalis
Grey Sallow Salix cinerea
Danish Scurvy Grass C.danica
Rhododendron Rhododendron ponticum
Common Watercress Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum
Ling Calluna vulgaris
Heath Dog Violet Viola canina
Bell Heather Erica cinerea
Dwarf Pansy V. kitaibeliana
Thrift Armeria maritima
Heath Milkwort Polygala serpyllifolia
Primrose Primula vulgaris Pittosporum crassifolium
Scarlet Pimpernel Anagallis arvensis
Tamarisk Tamarix gallica
Greater Pimpernel Vinca major
African Tamarisk T.africana
Changing Scorpion Grass Mysotis discolor
Sea Campion Silene maritima
Tree Echium Echium sp.
English Catchfly S. gallica
Sea Bindweed Calystegia soldanella
Red Campion S. dioica
Foxglove Digitalis purpurea
Mouse-ear chickweed Ceastium holosteoides
Gerrmander Speedwell Veronica chamaedrys
Sandwort Honkenya peploides
Hedge Veronica Hebe x franciscana
Rock Sea Spurry Spergularia rupicola
Lousewort Pedicularis sylvatica
Spring Beauty Montia perfoliata
Bear's Breeches Acanthus mollis
Hottentot Fig Carpobrutus edulis
Ground Ivy Glechoma hederacea
Sea Beet Beta vulgaris ssp. maritima
Woodsage Teucrium scorodonia
Tree Mallow Lavatera arborea
Plaintain sp. Plantago sp.
Cut-leaved Cranesbill Geranium dissectum
Field Madder Sherardia arvensis
Dove's Foot Cranesbill G. molle
Cleavers Galium aparine
Common Storksbill Erodium cicutarium
Coprosma Coprosma repens
Wall Oxalis Oxalis megalorrhiza
Elder Sambucus nigra
Pink Oxalis O. articulata
Honeysuckle Lonicera pericylmenum
Bermuda Buttercup O. pers-caprae
Red Valerian Centranthus ruber
Sycamore Acer psuedo-platanus
Groundsel Senecio vulgaris
Euonymus Euonymus japonicus
German Ivy S. mikanoides
Tree Lupin Lupinus arboreus
Winter Heliotrope Petasites fragans
Common Gorse Ilex europaeus
Brachyglottis Brachyglottis repanda
Broom Sarothamnus scoparius
Mexican Fleabane Erigeron mucronatus
Spotted Medick Medicago arabica
Daisy Bellis perennis
Red Clover Trifolium pratense
Olearia Olearia traversii Subterranean Clover T.subterraneum
Sweet Chamomile Chamaemelum nobile
White Clover T. repens
Yarrow Achillea millefolium
Hop Trefoil T. campestre
Scentless Mayweed T. maritimum
Common Birdsfoot Trefoil Lotus corniculatus
Corn Marigold Chrysanthemum segetum
Greater Birdsfoot Trefoil L.uliginosus
Common Dandelion Taraxacum officinale
Common Birdsfoot Ornithopus perspusillus
New Zealand Flax Phormium tenax
Orange Birdsfoot O. pinnatus
Vernal Squill Scilla verna
Hairy Tare Vicia hirsuta
Bluebell Endymion non-scriptus
Common Vetch V. sativa
Spanish Bluebell E. hispanicus
Blackberry Rubrus fruticosus
Babbington's Leek Allium babbingtonii
Silverweed Potentilla anserina
Rosy Garlic A. roseum
Tormentil P.erecta
Three Cornered Leek A. triquetrum
Hawthorn Crataegus monogyna
Blue Lily Agapanthus praecox
English Stonecrop Sedum anglicum
Stinking Iris Iris foetidissima
Wall Pennywort Umbellicus rupestris
Yellow Flag I. pseudacorus
Aeonium sp.
Montbtretia Croccosmia x crocosmiflora
Escallonia Escallonia micrantha
Whistling Jacks Gladiolus byzantinus
Ivy Hedera helix
Wild Arum Arum italicum
Marsh Pennywort Hydrocotyle vulgaris
Reed Phragmites communis
Sea Holly Eryngium maritimum
Marram Ammophila areneria
Alexanders Smyrnium olusatrum
Hemlock Water Dropwort Oenanthe crocata

As always thanks to Will for his excellent leadership and wealth of knowledge about all aspects of the islands. I thank the group for their good company and for making the best of the rather frustrating weather.
Phil Read
May 2000

© The Travelling Naturalist 2000