Birdwatching - The Isles of Scilly

By . Last updated

The Isles of Scilly, an archipelago lying some twenty eight miles south-west of Land's End, is famous for being Europe's top location for rare and migrant birds. With just five inhabited and around fifty uninhabited islands, the islands offer birds (and visiting humans) rare sanctuary from the spoils of modern life, as well as the first and last landfall for thousands of miles. Upwards of four hundred different species have been recorded on the islands, more than any other single site in Europe.

Castle Vean - St Agnes, Isles of Scilly
St Agnes, Isles of Scilly

Autumn is the busiest time for birds and birdwatchers, with predictable scarcities including Wryneck, Bluethroat, Pectoral Sandpiper, Common Rosefinch, Ortolan, Snow and Lapland Bunting, Jack Snipe, Rose-Coloured Starling and Spotted Crake (to name but a few), while past rarities include Red-Eyed Vireo, Rose-Breasted Grosbeak, Yellow-Billed Cuckoo, Blackpoll Warbler, Upland Sandpiper, American Golden Plover, Dusky, Pallas and Radde's Warblers, Red-Throated and Olive-Backed Pipits and Eyebrowed Thrush.

Spring (which arrives ridiculously early) gives an opportunity to see many migrants who overshoot from the south, such as Woodchat Shrikes, Hoopoes and rare Herons including Night Heron, Purple Heron and Little Bittern.
Seabirds include internationally important colonies of breeding Puffins, Guillemots and Razorbill as well as the elusive European Storm Petrel.

The islands offer a variety of habitats, from the lush tropical gardens and lakes of Tresco, to the sweeping sandy beaches of St Martins to the rugged and windswept St Agnes (the most westerly and exposed of all the islands). Birdwatching boat trips leave regularly from St Mary's to visit Annet (an uninhabited island that doubles as a bird sanctuary and is famous for its breeding Puffins) and other popular breeding and feeding grounds for seabirds.

The islands are accessible by boat from Penzance or by plane from St Just, Newquay, Bristol and Exeter. Many small companies offer specialised birdwatching tours. Locally, information and recent sightings are posted on blackboards by the Isles of Scilly Birdwatching Group. Accommodation is available on all the inhabited islands but it is essential to book well in advance.