Isles of Scilly

8 - 15 May 2004

Will Wagstaff
Phil Read

Programme and weather

Saturday 8 May

There were no weather hold ups so we all arrived by helicopter in good time on St Mary's.

As always the first evening was spent at Will's slide show which gave us a fine introduction to the wildlife of the islands.

Sunday 9 May

The fine weather allowed us to start our holiday with a "Seabird Special" cruise. This is an excellent way of getting a feel for the islands as we sailed close inshore along the coasts of Samson, Tresco, Tean and St Helens before venturing out into the open sea to pass Round Island and Men-a-vaur. Star bird of the inshore islands was a fine Brent Goose, an overwintering bird left behind by his travelling companions. We enjoyed excellent views of Razorbill and Guillemots on the rocks, but those keen to see Puffins would have to wait to later in the week.

The afternoon was spent exploring the nature trails of St Mary's near to Hugh Town. Apart from Swallows migrants were few and far between but gazing out to sea of Penninnis Head were had rather fleeting views of two Harbour Porpoises.

Monday 10 May

We enjoyed a fine day's weather as we explored the famous island of Tresco. The usual scattering of wildfowl around the Great Pool included a fine male Shoveler, unusual here at this time of year, and a few Tufted Duck and Pochard. The beaches held a few waders particularly migrating Whimbrel and a flock of 57 Sanderling containing many in full summer plumage.

The afternoon was spent enjoying the splendour of the world famous Abbey Gardens.

After dinner we ventured out onto the high seas again, this time for a "Shearwater Special" trip. The Manx Shearwaters duly obliged, being seen at close quarters from the boat, settling on the sea. A few Puffins showed well but the highlight for some were the eight Great Northern Diver seen during the trip, some in their splendid summer plumage.

Tuesday 11 May.

A day that started rather misty slowly improved and we were able to enjoy the delights of St Martin's. One of the least commercialised islands but with wonderful vistas and we were able to explore most of the island in the day. The star bird we had hoped to see was duly present. We enjoyed superb close views of a magnificent male Lapland Bunting in breeding plumage happily feeding on the heathland vegetation.

Summer-plumaged male Lapland Bunting, St Martin's, 11 May 2004
(Photo: Will Wagstaff)

Wednesday 12 May

This was rather a murky day as we explored further afield on St Mary's. The few migrants we recorded included three Turtle Dove, a singing Grasshopper Warbler and a few Wheatear.

The most unexpected bird was a Sparrowhawk at Porth Hellick. They do not breed here and are unusual migrants at this time of year.

After dinner we watched the local sport of Gig racing and marveled at the strength and stamina of the ladies participating.

Thursday 13 May

St Agnes is always a delight and we enjoyed strolling around in the pleasant weather. As usual the seaweed covered shores held a selection of waders, including Whimbrel and Turnstone. Swallows and House Martins continued to pass through all the time and some had brief views of a Turtle Dove by the Pool.

After lunch we set sail again, this time in search of a Scilly rarity. The lone Black Guillemot was soon sighted accompanying a local Common Guillemot. We then cruised around the shores of Annet enjoying excellent views of Puffin before heading out to the Western Rocks.

The boatman's efforts to get as near to the rocks as possible provided us with stunning views of Atlantic Grey Seals and over thirty Purple Sandpiper were a nice find.

Friday 14 May

The last day and one more island to visit. The main attraction of Bryher at this time of the year, apart from the magnificent views, are the Dwarf Pansies at one of their very few British sites. They are very tiny but we soon got our eyes accustomed to their appearance and as usual much grovelling around the ground followed trying to obtain a close view.

A few migrants were present including our first Spotted Flycatchers and a continual stream of Swallows and House Martins.

After dinner it was the turn of the men to display their Gig racing talents which we were able to see clearly in the glorious evening light.

Saturday 15 May

Saturday dawned foggy on the mainland but thankfully cleared during the morning and only delayed our departure by helicopter by about an hour.

Species Notes


Great Northern Diver: Eight seen from the boat during the "Shearwater Special" many in full summer plumage. One seen from the boat during the Annet cruise.

Fulmar: Seen most days offshore in small numbers. Excellent views at times from the boats.

Manx Shearwater: Seen well during the "Shearwater Special" including a flock of thirty-three on the water.

Gannet: Seen daily offshore around the islands in small numbers.

Cormorant: Recorded daily in small numbers.

Shag: Very common and visible breeding bird. Large fishing flocks of over a hundred birds.

Grey Heron: Three seen on rocks near Samson during the "Seabird Special". One on Tresco on 10th and one off Bryher on 14th.

Little Egret: One on shore at Porthcressa Bay on 9th.

Mute Swan: Apart from the usual birds on the Great Pool Tresco, one was on the pool on Bryher on 14th.

Canada Goose: Four resident birds on Tresco.

Brent Goose: One, of the pale-bellied race, was seen well from the boat near Samson during the "Seabird Safari".

Shelduck: Breeding birds seen around the islands in small numbers.

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

Mallard: Seen daily, often on the sea.

Shoveler: A fine male was a nice find on Tresco Great Pool.

Common Pochard: Four on the Great Pool on 10th.

Tufted Duck: Two on the Great pool on 10th.

Marsh Harrier: An immature male was seen from the boat over Tean during the "Seabird Special".

Sparrowhawk: One on St Mary's on 12th was an unusual record for the time of year. This species is not resident on the islands.

Kestrel: The only sighting was one near St Mary's airfield on 12th.

Peregrine: One flew past the boat near Samson during the "Seabird Special".

Red-legged Partridge: Two, refugees from the introduced Tresco birds, were on St Martin's on 10th.

Pheasant: Fairly common introduced bird, particularly on Tresco.

(Golden Pheasant: Birds seen on Tresco were from the recently restocked population).

Moorhen: Seen in suitable habitat around the islands.

Coot: A few seen in suitable habitat.

Oystercatcher: Common, widespread, and very noisy, around the shores.

Ringed Plover: Breeding birds seen in small numbers on suitable beaches and on the heathland near the Daymark on St Martin's.

Whimbrel: Migrant birds recorded each day including a flock of fifteen during the "Seabird Special "cruise.

Curlew: A few seen on the rocks near Samson.

Greenshank: One on the Great Pool on 10th.

Turnstone: Small flocks recorded on the rocky shores on four days.

Common Snipe: One, late wintering bird, at Lower Moors on 9th.

Sanderling: Two seen from the boat on 9th. A flock of fifty-seven, many in summer plumage, were a fine sight on Tresco on 10th.

Dunlin: A few, maximum count four, seen on five days.

Purple Sandpiper: An excellent count of thirty three was obtained from the boat around the Western Rocks on 13th.

Herring Gull: Very common breeding bird.

Lesser Black-backed Gull: Common breeding bird.

Great Black-backed Gull: Seen daily.

Kittiwake: Recorded around the islands in small numbers on most days. Breeding birds seen on St Helen's.

Sandwich Tern: Two from the boat near Tresco on 9th. One from the Tresco shore on 10th.

Common Tern: Common breeding bird with approximately fifty seen during the "Seabird Special" boat trip.

Common Guillemot: Seen daily, including excellent close views from the boats on a number of occasions.

Razorbill: Seen daily, more commonly between the islands than Guillemot. Excellent close views of perched birds from the boats.

Black Guillemot: We enjoyed close views of a first summer plumaged bird swimming with a Common Guillemot near Annet on 13th. This is an extremely rare bird in Scilly with only a few previous records.

Puffin: Excellent prolonged views alongside the boat of up to five birds near Annet on two occasions.

Stock Dove: One on Tresco on 10th was the only sighting.

Wood Pigeon: Common resident.

Turtle Dove: Three, rather tired looking migrants, gave excellent views on St Mary's. One was seen fleetingly on St Agnes.

Collared Dove: Recorded daily.

Cuckoo: Heard most days. Seen well on St Martin's.

Common Swift: Seen on three days in very small numbers.

Sand Martin: Only sighting was one over the Great Pool on 10th.

Swallow: Noticeable passage of birds moving through the islands throughout the week.

House Martin: Migrant birds seen daily but in small numbers.

White Wagtail: One on Tresco on 10th and two on St Agnes on 13th.

Rock Pipit: Common and very visual breeding bird around the rocky shores.

Wren: Very common resident.

Dunnock: Very common resident.

Blackbird: Very common resident.

Song Thrush: Delightfully common and tame.

Robin: Seen, or heard, most days.

Common Stonechat: Common, and very visible, breeding bird.

Wheatear: Small numbers of migrants seen most days. Some of the birds appeared to be of the larger "Greenland" race.

Grasshopper Warbler: One heard reeling at Higher Moors on 12th.

Sedge Warbler: Heard and occasionally seen on four days.

Reed Warbler: Seen and heard on Tresco and St Mary's.

Willow Warbler: Singing around the islands in small numbers.

Common Chiffchaff: Heard around the islands every day.

Blackcap: Recorded on St Mary's and Tresco.

Common Whitethroat: One seen briefly on St Agnes on 13th.

Goldcrest: Heard on Tresco and St Mary's.

Spotted Flycatcher: Two migrants seen on Bryher on 14th.

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

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

Jackdaw: One, half the island population, seen on Tresco.

Carrion Crow: Common and widespread.

Hooded Crow: One, presumed pure bred, on Bryher on 14th.

Common Raven: One flying over Tean on 9th. One over St Martin's on 11th.

Common Starling: Common and widespread.

Lapland Bunting: The highlight of the trip for many. A superb male, resplendent in summer plumage gave excellent close views on St Martin's.

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

Greenfinch: Seen most days in small numbers.

Goldfinch: Seen daily.

Linnet: Very common and widespread.

House Sparrow: Still common and widespread.


Grey Seal

Harbour Porpoise

Brown Rat



Common Frog


Large White

Green veined White

Small Copper

Holly Blue

Common Blue


Red Admiral

Speckled Wood

As always I am indebted to Will for his excellent leadership and sharing his wealth of knowledge of the islands with us.

Phil Read

May 2004

© The Travelling Naturalist 2004