Day 1: Saturday - Penzance to Isles of Scilly
We meet by the harbour at Penzance to take the Scillonian III ferry for the islands. We sail southwest, passing the West Penwith coastline, and the Longships and Wolf Rock lighthouses. Sea-watching from the rear of the ship can be productive with Gannets, Fulmars, Storm Petrels, auk species, Great and Arctic Skuas all likely. There’s also the chance of a rarer skua, Leach’s Petrel or Grey Phalarope and five species of Shearwater (Manx, Balearic, Sooty, Cory’s and Great) are all possible. Cetaceans such as Harbour Porpoise, Common and Bottlenose Dolphins may be seen, or even a late Basking Shark or the bizarre Sunfish. After docking, we cover the short distance to our accommodation in Hugh Town. After lunch we’ll begin to explore this the largest of the islands, perhaps taking the circuits around the Garrison or Penninis headlands. If there are existing rarities on offer we’ll make a ‘bee-line’ for them but we’ll be keen to seek out our own birds too. We’ll retire to our hotel for the evening and for those who are keen head out to the Scillonian club for the birders log to make our plans for the next day. This takes place daily in October and there are some rather fine local ales and ciders too!
Day 2: Sunday – St Agnes
The southernmost of the populated isles and the location of the islands' Bird Observatory in the 50’s and 60’s, this small island can lay claim to a number of British firsts. We’ll take the inter-island boat across ‘the roads’ heading straight for any interesting birds already present once we land. At just one mile across, it is one of the smaller islands and we’ll be able to cover a great deal of it during our day trip. The Parsonage, Chapel Fields, Perglis Beach, Wingletang and Castella Downs are all well known sites and with plenty of time on our hands we’ll explore at leisure. The climate here is almost Mediterranean (even in October) and the flower fields, sheltered by hedgerows make a great refuge for migrants and scarcities. At low tide the Gugh Bar may be accessed and the plantation here has held many a Red-eyed Vireo over the years.
Day 3: Monday – Tresco
Tresco is a larger island, and benefits from two main water bodies, the Great and Abbey Pools. Both attract wildfowl and other water-birds while the surrounding trees and cover can be particularly good for passerines and are often good for Red-breasted Flycatchers. The fields and hedgerows at Borough Farm are famous for rarities and there are several bays worthy of birding time too. There may be the option to visit the world famous Abbey gardens, home to over 20,000 exotic plants and if time allows venture to the north end of the island to admire its two ruined castles.
Day 4: Tuesday – St Mary’s
A day-off from boat travel, and a full days birding on the main island. Anywhere can attract a rarity, with sites such as Porthhellick, Lower Moors and the Holy Vale all part of birding legend. The former two are wetland sites and can be particularly good for waders, while Spotted Crakes are recorded annually. There’s great cover too, any bush or tree on Scilly ought to be checked and there are some great trails and walks we can take. The beaches and bays at Old Town and Portloo are just as good and we’ll check the golf course and airport field for Snow and Lapland Buntings in among the Wheatears. If time allows or a rarity is found we’ll explore some of the farther reaches of the island up on the north or west coast. The fields at Telegraph and Pelistry can be good for pipits, with Richard’s, Red-throated and Olive-backed recorded annually and a number of species of Shrike have been found in the hedgerows here over the years.
If weather conditions allow there may be the opportunity to join a pelagic trip at some stage. These can be superb, with fantastic close views of sea-birds, many of them rare, and sometimes even Blue Sharks! If a sailing is available your guide may offer it as an optional extra (additional cost) as part of our St Mary’s day.
Day 5: Wednesday – Bryher
Lying to the west of Tresco and about half its size, Bryher is a great place to explore. It is home to some fantastic bays with vast potential while Samson Hill and Shipman Head often hold lingering Dotterel, Buff-breasted Sandpipers, Short-toed Lark, Snow and Lapland Buntings at this time of year. It’s a peaceful place and looking in tamarisks and palm trees while standing on white, sandy beaches is rather unique and can feel like birding overseas! The island has hosted a number of Nearctic vagrants in the last few years including Buff-bellied Pipit, Blackpoll Warbler and Solitary Sandpiper to name but a few - we’ll be sure of a great day out.
Day 6: Thursday – St Martin’s
Often neglected by birders in Scilly’s early days, nowadays its potential has truly been realised and it lays claim to some great birding. Cream Coloured Courser and Snowy Owl feature in the recent highlights and just like the other islands, anything is possible. Its gardens and network of fields and hedgerows are great for migrants and Wryneck, Little Bunting, Olive-backed Pipit, Yellow-browed, Barred and Melodious Warbler are among the regularly recorded scarcities.
Day 7: Friday – St Mary’s
On our final full day will be spent on St Mary’s perhaps ‘mopping up’ anything we’ve missed or exploring a new corner of the island.
Day 8: Satuday - St Mary's & departure
It may be our final day but with our afternoon sailing not leaving until 3pm, we’ll still have plenty of time for (optional) birding, or time at leisure to explore Hugh Town. There’ll be a final opportunity for sea-watching on the ferry home too before we arrive and finish in Penzance having completed what promises to be a bird-filled and enjoyable week.