Isles of Scilly

7 - 14 May 2005


Will Wagstaff
Phil Read
Saturday 7 May

Fair flying weather enabled us all to leave Penzance on time for our short helicopter trip to the Isles of Scilly. As usual we attended Will’s slide show in the evening which is an excellent overview of the islands and their wildlife.

Sunday 8 May

Our first morning was spent walking around the coastal path near to our base in Hugh Town to give everyone a gentle introduction to the islands.

Our first afternoon was spent on the “high seas” sailing around many of the small rocky islands and around the shores of Samson, Bryher and Tresco. We were looking out for birds roosting on the offshore rocks or feeding on the undisturbed beaches. Seabirds proved rather hard to find with only very brief views of Puffin. However various groups of waders were found including Whimbrel, Sanderling and a few Bar Tailed Godwit. A very smart Great Northern Diver in almost full summer plumage added to the variety.

Monday 9 May

Our pre-breakfast stroll to the Lower Moors nature trail was blessed with light winds and enabled us to hear and see both Reed and Sedge Warbler and compare their songs.

The day was spent on Tresco. We started by visiting some of the beautiful beaches in the search for waders and were rewarded with good views of Whimbrel, Sanderling, Dunlin and Turnstone.

The two pools were rather quieter than usual but we did see a female Pintail and a newly arrived Common Sandpiper.

The highlight of the morning was a Lesser White Toothed Shrew which allowed very close views along the Abbey Drive. This little rodent only occurs on the Scillies in Britain and is usually very elusive.

Most of the group visited the world famous Abbey Gardens during the afternoon. The few that remained in the field were rewarded with distant views of a fine male Marsh Harrier.

To complete a busy day we set sail after dinner on the Shearwater Special trip looking primarily for Puffins and Manx Shearwaters near the island of Annet. The Puffins performed particularly well, giving excellent views alongside the boat. Around fifty Manx Shearwater were seen as well as two Great Northern Diver, one resplendent in full summer plumage.

Tuesday 10 May

The island of St Agnes is always a delight to visit particularly when the sun shines as it did today. Migrants were few and far between but did include a small flock of five Tree Sparrows a very rare vagrant to the islands. Other migrants seen included Turtle Dove and Whitethroat.

Wednesday 11 May

The fine weather enabled us to enjoy Bryher at its best, particularly the spectacular views from the highest hills. Migrants were hard to find but did include five Turtle Doves and a few waders.

As usual we all groveled on the ground to admire one of Britain’s smallest and rarest flowers, the diminutive Dwarf Pansy.

Thursday 12 May.

Taking advantage of the continuing sunny, if rather cold and windy, weather we ventured to St Martin’s. Again the views from here are spectacular even if the strong wind did prevent us from lingering too long on the cliff tops. Highlight of the day were prolonged views of the male Marsh Harrier as it hunted over the neighboring island of Tean.

Friday 13 May

The weather deteriorated for our last day as we set off for a walk on St Mary’s. A Bar Tailed Godwit in full summer plumage was a fine sight on Porth Loo beach. Other waders included a few Dunlin and Turnstone. Unfortunately the strong winds and intermittent rain made passerine migrants hard to find.

Saturday 14 May

Despite the persistent rain and low cloud our helicopter left on time to return us safely back to the mainland at Penzance.


Great Northern Diver: One seen from the boat during the “Seabird Special” and two, one in fine summer plumage, seen from the boat during the “Shearwater Special” trip.
Fulmar: Recorded offshore most days in small numbers. Seen at close quarters during the boat trips.
Manx Shearwater: At least fifty seen lingering offshore from the boat during our “Shearwater Special “ trip.
Gannet: Seen daily offshore in small numbers.
Cormorant: Seen daily around the islands. Excellent views of breeding birds on Mincarlo during the “Seabird Special” trip.
Shag: Much commoner than the previous species. Often seen in large feeding flocks.
Grey Heron: Occasional sightings of one or two birds on St Mary’s.
Mute Swan: As well as the usual breeding birds on Tresco there was one on Bryher on 11th.
Canada Goose: Four by the Great pool on Tresco.
Shelduck: Seen daily around the islands in small numbers. Shelduck breed around the sandy shores.
Gadwall: Present on St Mary’s, Tresco and St Agnes in small numbers.
Seen daily often on the sea around the rocky coasts.
Pintail: One female on the Abbey pool on Tresco.
Marsh Harrier: A male was seen distantly by a few of the group from Tresco on 9th. We then all enjoyed prolonged views of the same bird hunting over Tean during our trip to St Martin’s on 12th.
Common Buzzard: We enjoyed excellent views of a rather tatty bird on Tresco. This species’s significant increase in numbers on the mainland has been reflected on Scilly in recent years with an ever increasing number of records. (This was the first Common Buzzard seen by a Travelling Naturalist group on the Scillies).
Kestrel: Only sightings were one on St Mary’s on 8th and probably two on Tresco on 9th.
Red Legged Partridge: Introduced birds, (which Will says we’re not allowed to count), seen on Tresco.
Pheasant: Common on Tresco. Introduced birds also seen on St Mary’s and Bryher.
Moorhen: Seen daily in suitable habitat.
Recorded on Tresco and St Mary’s in suitable habitat.
Oystercatcher: Widespread and very vocal bird around the islands.
Ringed Plover: Recorded in small numbers with a few breeding birds on the shorelines.
Bar tailed Godwit: Three seen during the “Seabird Special”. Three on the beach on St Martins and one, in full summer plumage, at Porthloo on 13th.
Whimbrel: Small groups of migrant birds seen daily. Eighteen recorded during the “Seabird Special”.
Curlew: Over forty seen at high tide roost during the “Seabird Special”.
Greenshank: One on Lower Moors, St Mary’s during the pre-breakfast walk on 12th.
Common Sandpiper: One distantly on Tresco and one at much closer quarters on St Agnes.
Turnstone: Seen on a few occasions in small groups on the rocky shores. Some of the birds resplendent in their fine summer plumage.
Common Snipe: Excellent close views of a single bird from the hides at Lower Moors.
Sanderling: A few migrant flocks seen. Around eighty recorded at high tide roost from the boat during the “Seabird Special”.
Dunlin: A few migrant birds seen during the week. The highest count was ten on Tresco on 9th.
Herring Gull: Very common and widespread breeding gull.
Lesser Black-backed Gull: Common breeding bird.
Great Black-backed Gull: Seen daily. Breeds on the islands.
Black-headed Gull: Only sightings were one on Tresco and four on Porthcressa Beach. This gull does not breed on the islands.
Kittiwake: Seen around the islands daily, particularly during the boat trips.
Sandwich Tern: One flew past the boat on 8th.
Common Tern: Over twenty seen on the offshore rocks during the “Seabird Special”. Seen daily from the boats.
Common Guillemot: Only seen in small numbers but close views obtained from the boats at times.
Razorbill: Far commoner than the previous species between the islands. Seen well from the boats.
Puffin: Approximately nineteen, with many alongside the boat, during the “Shearwater Special” trip.
Wood Pigeon: Seen daily.
Turtle Dove: It’s always a pleasure to see this rapidly declining summer visitor to Britain. There were two on St Agnes on 10th and five on Bryher on 11th.
Collared Dove:
Recorded daily.
Cuckoo: Heard daily and seen at close quarters on a few occasions.
Swift: Highest count was at least six on 9th.
Sand Martin:
A few seen on four days.
Swallow: Noticeable passage on most days.
House Martin:
Seen daily in small numbers.
Yellow Wagtail: One briefly in flight on Tresco.
White Wagtail: Only sighting was one on Tresco.
Meadow Pipit:
Only sighting was one briefly on St Agnes.
Rock Pipit: Common around the rocky shores.
Wren: Extremely common and vocal.
Dunnock: Very common.
Blackbird: Very common.
Song Thrush: The tameness of this common bird on the islands is always a delight.
Robin: Seen daily in small numbers.
Relatively common breeding bird.
Wheatear: Small numbers of migrant birds seen most days. Highest daily count around ten.
Grasshopper Warbler: One heard briefly and distantly on St Agnes.
Sedge Warbler:
Heard and seen well during our pre-breakfast walks to Lower Moors.
Reed Warbler: Heard and seen swell during our pre-breakfast walks to Lower Moors.
Willow Warbler:
Heard most days in small numbers.
Chiffchaff: Heard daily in small numbers.
Single birds seen on three days.
Common Whitethroat: Only sighting was one on St Agnes.
Goldcrest: Heard and seen briefly on Tresco.
Great Tit:
Common particularly on St Mary’s and Tresco.
Blue Tit: Seen on St Mary’s and Tresco.
Jackdaw: One, half the total islands’ population, seen on Tresco.
Carrion Crow: Seen daily.
Raven: Four seen from the boat during the “Seabird Special” trip. One over St Martin’s on 12th.
Starling: Common and widespread.
Seen daily on St Mary’s. Also seen on Tresco.
Greenfinch: Seen most days in small numbers.
Goldfinch: Seen daily.
Linnet: Widespread and common.
House Sparrow:
Common breeding bird.
Tree Sparrow: The surprise of the trip. Five birds, eventually seen well feeding on the ground, on St Agnes on 10th. This species is a vagrant to Scilly, this being only the second record in the last ten years. (Another Isles of Scilly first for a Travelling Naturalist group).

Lesser White Toothed Shrew:
We were very lucky to see a “live version” of this diminutive mammal. Normally the only signs of them are decaying corpses by the side of the path. Scilly is the only British site for this continental species.
Grey Seal
Brown Rat

Large White
Small White
Green Veined White
Small Copper
Holly Blue
Red Admiral
Small Tortoiseshell
Speckled Wood

Blue Tailed Damselfly:
This is the only damselfly to regularly occur on the Scillies.

One was found on a table in the Tresco Abbey tea rooms. Two species, Smooth and Prickly, occur on Tresco. We were unable to identify this creature specifically due to its young age and diminutive size.

As always I thank Will for his expert leadership and encyclopedic knowledge.
Although scarce birds were few and far between I hope all the group enjoyed seeing these magical islands at their best in such clear and bright conditions.

Phil Read June 2005.

© The Travelling Naturalist 2005