Isles of Scilly

25 September – 2 October 2004

Will Wagstaff
Phil Read

Saturday 25 September
Fine weather enabled us to arrive on time by helicopter on St Mary’s. As usual our first evening was spent attending Will Wagstaff’s “Wildlife of the Isles of Scilly” slideshow. This gives us an excellent introduction to the natural history of the islands.

Sunday 26 September

Our first morning was spent around the beaches and nature trials near to our base in Hugh Town. In addition to a few common migrants Greenshank and Sanderling were the most interesting waders seen.
After lunch we went boating on our Seabird Special trip. Although the breeding seabirds had left there was plenty to see around the numerous rocks and islands we passed by. Amongst the many waders we found Whimbrel and Bar-tailed Godwit.

Monday 27 September
A pre-breakfast walk to the golf course was highly successful as we were able to watch the two Buff Breasted Sandpipers at close quarters.
The day was spent on Tresco and despite the drizzly weather we saw a variety of wildfowl and waders and rather distant and gloomy views of a Spotted Crake. In the afternoon the opportunity was taken to visit the world famous tropical gardens (and their brand new tearooms).

Tuesday 28 September
This is the sort of day Scilly in the autumn is all about. Visiting the beautiful island of St Agnes is always a pleasure but even more so when there are plenty of rare birds around. Our walk around the coast started well with a juvenile Little Stint and excellent views of Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler in the same Tree Mallow. A Rose-coloured Starling was a surprise find at Warner’s Cove although unfortunately not all the group were able to see the bird before it flew away.
Walking around the maritime heathland of Wingletang we found the hoped for Lapland Bunting and then it happened! News reached us of a Cream-coloured Courser flying over Wingletang, St Agnes. That was where we were! Where was the bird? The poor Lapland Bunting was rudely ignored, despite walking around at our feet whilst we scanned the skies in anticipation. And then it appeared, a vision of sandy brown and black, flying over in the distance before disappearing out of view. Regaining our composure we headed off in the direction of where we thought the bird had landed and we all then enjoyed prolonged views of this very charismatic bird strutting around in a cow field.
Our day was not over for, after a celebratory stop at the tearooms, we watched a Common Rosefinch feeding in a field of Corn Marigold.

Wednesday 29 September
A calm day enabled us to explore the relatively large island of St Martin’s. Migrants were few and far between but we all enjoyed close views of a delightful Snow Bunting. The highlight of the day for some was the Minke Whale we watched surface a number of times from our cliff top vantage point at the Daymark.

Thursday 30 September
A pre-breakfast walk to Peninnis rewarded us with a Short-toed Lark , feeding, and frequently hiding, in a furrowed bulb field.
The day was spent on Bryher in glorious weather, but migrants were very thin on the ground. A Lesser Whitethroat was a nice find as these are uncommon visitors to the islands.

Friday 31 September
The morning walk around St Mary’s was abandoned, after visiting a few of the archaeological sites, due to persistent rain. The weather brightened up during the afternoon and some took the opportunity to visit the Short-toed Lark again whilst others walked around the Garrison.



Northern Fulmar: 1 off Shipman Head, Bryher.

Northern Gannet: Seen daily offshore in small numbers.

Great Cormorant: Seen daily in small numbers.

Shag: Very common, often seen in large flocks. A very pale bird on rocks near Bryher was an interesting find.

Grey Heron: Seen daily around the islands with over 20 on the “Seabird Special”. This species does not breed on the islands.

Little Egret: The largest individual flock contained 14 birds but there were probably double that number around the islands altogether.

Mute Swan: As well as the usual breeding birds on Tresco, 3 were on Bryher and 4 flew over Hugh Town, St Mary’s on 30th.

Canada Goose:
6 on Tresco.

Wigeon: I on the Great Pool, Tresco on 27th.

Gadwall: Only seen on the Great Pool.

Teal: Only seen on the Great Pool.

Seen daily around the islands.

Northern Pintail:
3 on Tresco.

Northern Shoveler: 2 on the Great Pool.

I on the Great Pool.

Tufted Duck: 1 on the Great Pool.

Kestrel: Only 1 pair breeds on the islands so most birds seen were migrants. Up to 3 seen on most days.

Peregrine: 1 on Bryher was the only sighting. 1 pair breeds on the islands.

Pheasant: Commonly released for shooting on Tresco. A few seen on other islands.

Water Rail: 3 on Tresco on 27th. 2 on Lower Moors, St Mary’s on 29th.

Spotted Crake: 1 seen rather distantly, and in poor weather, on Tresco on 27th.

Moorhen: Common on Tresco and St Mary’s in suitable habitat.

Coot: Only seen on the Great Pool.

Oystercatcher: Common and widespread around the islands.

Cream-coloured Courser: The undoubted highlight of the trip. We were in the right place at the right time, on St Agnes on 28th, to be some of the first observers of this very rare vagrant to Britain. After fleeting flights views we all enjoyed prolonged views of the elegant wader strutting around a cow field.
(This was the first ever record for the Isles of Scilly, the first in Britain for 20 years and obviously the first in Britain for the Travelling Naturalist).
PS: At time of writing, 22 October, this long lost soul is still delighting visitors on the Golf Course on St Mary’s.)

Ringed Plover: Over 20 seen during the “Seabird Special”. A few seen other days.

Black-tailed Godwit: 1 on the Great Pool on 27th.

Bar-tailed Godwit: 2 seen during the “Seabird Special”. 1 on Tesco on 27th.

Whimbrel: 3 seen during the “Seabird Special”.

Curlew: Over 100 counted from the boat during the “Seabird Special”.

Redshank: Seen on Tresco and St Agnes.

Greenshank: As usual most birds were seen on Tresco. 1 on Bryher and small numbers on St Mary’s.

Turnstone: Seen daily around the rocky coast in small numbers.

Common Snipe: 1 on Lower Moors on 26th, 3 there on 29th.

Sanderling: Surprisingly scarce. A group of 4 frequented the PorthLoo area all week.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper: 2 of these attractive waders from North America allowed us typically close views on the Golf Course on 27th.

Little Stint: 1 juvenile on St Agnes on 28th.

Dunlin: 1 on Tresco on 27th.

Herring Gull: Very common breeding bird.

Lesser Black-backed Gull: Seen daily in small numbers.

Great Black-backed Gull: Common gull around the islands.

Mediterranean Gull: A bird in first winter plumage was seen from the boat on the way to St Martin’s on 29th.

Black-headed Gull: Recorded daily.

1 on 26th, 1 on 30th.

Sandwich Tern: At least 4 birds seen during the “Seabird Special”. Up to 4 seen most other days.

Wood Pigeon: Recorded daily.

Collared Dove: Recorded daily.

Short-toed Lark: An adult was seen on Peninnis, St Mary’s on Sept 3rd and Oct 1st.

Swallow: Seen daily.

House Martin:
Only sighting was 2 on 26th.

White Wagtail: Migrant birds seen in small numbers on most days.

Pied Wagtail: 2 by the Abbey Pool on 27th.

Meadow Pipit: Recorded daily in small numbers.

Rock Pipit: Seen daily in suitabale habitat.

Wren: Abundant and very vocal.

Dunnock: Very common.

Blackbird: Very common and approachable.

Song Thrush:
Still abundant and delightfully tame.

Robin: Recorded daily.

Common Redstart: 1 on Tresco on 27th. 1 on Peninnis on Oct 1st.

Whinchat: 2 on St Martin’s on 29th. 2 on Bryher on 30th.

Stonechat: Relatively common and widespread around the islands.

Wheatear: Small numbers of migrants seen most days.

Sedge Warbler: 1 on Lower Moors on 29th.

Willow Warbler: Only a few seen during the week. At least 3 on St Agnes on 28th.

Chiffchaff: Seen daily in small numbers.

Blackcap: 2 on St Agnes on 28th.

Garden Warbler: 1 on St Marin’s on 29th.

Lesser Whitethroat: 1 on Bryher on 30th.

Goldcrest: Migrant birds seen daily.

Great Tit:
Seen daily.

Blue Tit: Seen daily.

Magpie: The 1, and only, was seen in its usual haunt on St Martin’s.

Jackdaw: The 2, and only, were seen on Bryher.

Hooded Crow: 1, apparently pure bred, and 2 hybrids were seen on Bryher.

Carrion Crow: Common.

Raven: 2 on St Agnes on 28th. 1 on St Martin’s on 29th. There is 1 resident pair on the islands.

Rose-coloured Starling: We were fortunate enough to find this bird on St Agnes on 28th. Unfortunately the bird flew away before all the group managed to see it.

Starling: Common.

Lapland Bunting: 1 was watched at close quarters on Wingletang, St Agnes on 28th.

Snow Bunting: We all enjoyed excellent views of this delightful bird on St Martin’s on 29th.

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

Greenfinch: Seen in small numbers on most days.

Goldfinch: Seen daily.

Linnet: Common.

Common Rosefinch:
A juvenile was seen on St Agnes on 28th feeding in a field of Corn Marigolds.

House Sparrow:
Still widespread and common on the islands.


Grey Seal
Brown Rat
Minke Whale
(We observed this creature from the cliff top vantage point of the Daymark on St Martin’s. Although rather distant it surfaced a number of times allowing most of the group to obtain reasonable views.)


Large White
Small White
Small Copper
Common Blue
Red Admiral
Painted Lady
Small Tortoiseshell
Speckled Wood

My thanks, as always, to Will for his excellent leadership and sharing his vast knowledge of the islands with us.
My thanks to the group for their good company.

Phil Read
October 2004.

© The Travelling Naturalist 2004