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Isles of Scilly for birders

An exciting birding tour of the Isles of Scilly - visiting St Mary's, Bryher, Tresco, St Martin's and St Agnes!

2024 Dates
  • 05 Oct - 12 Oct 2024
Duration8 Days
2024 Price
£1995 pp
£245 single supplement. Deposit £400
2025 Dates
  • 11 Oct - 18 Oct 2025
Duration8 Days
2025 Price
Price TBC
Max Group Size7 per guide

Steeped in birding folklore, the Isles of Scilly are one of the ‘must visit’ places in the UK. Shallow waters, golden sands and a climate often more akin to the Mediterranean, it’s a fabulous place to be when birds are on the move. The Scillies are in prime position to receive migrants heading south and also storm driven vagrants from all directions. Birders visiting the islands since the 70’s have been responsible for finding a number of ‘British firsts’ particularly those of Nearctic origin. We’ll be especially flexible and our daily activities will depend largely on up to date bird news. We’ll do our best to follow up on sightings as and when they happen but at the same time we’ll select a different island to explore daily so as to see as much of the Scillies as possible during your holiday. Our guides are experienced here, and will select the best time to visit St Mary’s, St Agnes, Tresco, St Martin’s and Bryher. Our itinerary will not be fixed and we may not visit the islands in the order listed but here’s a summary of what to expect from your holiday.

The birdwatching can be fantastic and with a roll call of such ‘megas’ from recent October including Blyth’s Pipit, Dusky Thrush, Caspian Stonechat, Pallid Swift, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Red-flanked Bluetail, multiple Red Eyed Vireos, Eastern Yellow Wagtail, Sora, American Herring Gull, Caspian Tern plus Britain’s second Pale-legged/Sakhalin Leaf Warbler we’ll be hoping for something special on our next trip. Prevailing weather dictates which rare/scarce birds arrive, no one year is the same. Solitary Sandpiper, Cream-coloured Courser, Snowy Owl, Wryneck, Little Bunting, Richard’s, Red-throated, Olive-backed and  Buff-bellied Pipit, Yellow-browed, Blackpoll, Barred and Melodious Warbler are among the regularly recorded scarcities.

General birding will expect us to encounter up to 100 species of a wide variety from seabirds, to migrating waders, wildfowl and gulls. We’ll see plenty of passerines and land-birds on their way south plus regular scarcities. It’s a holiday where truly anything is possible!

This is one of our 'for birders' holidays, click here to see more!

Day 1: Saturday - Penzance to Isles of Scilly
We meet in the morning (approx. 08:00) 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 4.30pm, 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 in the early evening, having completed what promises to be a bird-filled and enjoyable week.

Please note: all itineraries are given as a guide only. Actual holiday content may vary according to the judgement of your guide, and elements beyond our control (eg weather).

Expect a wide variation in weather conditions. The Isles of Scilly can be wet and windy, however we may also expect some warm weather. Sunshine, rain and strong winds are all possible, and you will probably experience a bit of everything. Please bring walking boots or shoes, weatherproof clothing and a small rucksack.

Our hotel is located close to the pier for access to other islands.

We are often on our feet for most of the day on this holiday. We take things at a slow pace, though will cover many miles of walking on road and through fields or across sandy beaches each day. Our excursions are usually on good trails, though rare birds are often found in inconvenient locations, involving several gates and stiles to be climbed or long walks in exposed locations, often peering down gullies and into ditches. 

Please note there is no vehicle on this tour so a reasonable level of fitness is essential.

What's included in your 'ISLES OF SCILLY for birders' holiday price

• Seven nights comfortable en-suite hotel accommodation on St Mary’s. Guests are never expected to share. All rooms are en-suite. Full details with your joining pack.
• Full breakfast and dinner from Saturday evening til Saturday morning, packed lunch daily.
• All ferries and other boat trips.
• Guidance from a professional Group Leader.

What's not included in your 'ISLES OF SCILLY for birders' holiday price

• Travel to/from Penzance. Please note, this holiday involves an early start from Penzance day 1, and returns to Penzance at approx 18:00 on the final day. We can provide details of hotel/guest house accommodation in Penzance if you wish to book to stay the night before/after the holiday.
• Insurance, drinks and other items of a personal nature.

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Why choose Heatherlea for your birding and wildlife holiday?

Heatherlea is one of Britain's leading wildlife holiday operators. In 2019 we celebrate our 29th Anniversary with more choice than ever, both in Scotland and overseas. Relax and enjoy yourself, as we do all the planning! Above all, we make it our business to show key wildlife to you. Our fully inclusive guided holidays concentrate on the real experience, and we take time to ensure that each of our guests enjoys everything we do.

  • We have been organising birding and wildlife holidays for 30 seasons, and have a highly experienced and capable office team. We also offer a telephone and email service outside normal office hours.
  • We are a small company, run BY birders FOR birders. Come and see!
  • Heatherlea are Mainland Scotland’s FIRST ‘5-Star Wildlife Experience!’ This is the highest available grading, classified as ‘exceptional’ by visitScotland.
  • Heatherlea hold full Tour Operator Insurance for your added protection.
  • Heatherlea is a limited company, registered in Scotland. We are also registered to pay VAT, which is included in your holiday price as quoted on this page.
  • Once your holiday is confirmed in writing by us, we promise not to surcharge the price for any reason.

About Heatherlea Holidays

Contact Information

The Mountview Hotel, Nethybridge,
PH25 3EB Scotland

T: +44(0)1479 821248