Day 1: Friday 26 April 2024- Penzance to the Isles of Scilly
We meet in the morning at Penzance harbour to take the 'Scillonian III' ferry for the islands. Passing the West Penwith coastline, Longships and Wolf Rock lighthouses, sea-watching from the rear of the ship can be good with Gannet, Fulmar, Shag, Kittiwake, Manx Shearwater, auks, terns and skuas likely. Cetaceans such as Harbour Porpoise, Common and Bottlenose Dolphins may be seen, along with recently arrived Basking Shark. After docking at St Mary’s, the largest of the Scilly Isles we begin to explore, perhaps with a look around the Garrison or Peninnis headlands, or into Lower Moors for wildfowl, waders, Water Rail and Kingfisher. The Scillies are famed for attracting rarities at any time of year, and while we plan to birdwatch at a more leisurely pace than our …for birders… Autumn tour, we won't shy away from opportunities to see attractive Mediterranean overshoots such as Hoopoe, Golden Oriole, Night Heron or Woodchat Shrike if known to be present.
Day 2: Saturday 27 April – Tresco and the Abbey Gardens
Tresco is the second largest island and benefits from two main water bodies, the Great and Abbey Pools. Both attract wildfowl and other wetland birds, while the surrounding trees and moorland can be good for passerines. As part of our day here, we include a visit to the world-famous Abbey Gardens. The seventeen acre site, established by the island's nineteenth century owner Augustus Smith, is now home to over 20,000 exotic plants, many of which will be beginning to bloom at the time of our visit due to the mild climate. The fantastic Valhalla Museum features figureheads from nineteenth century merchant sailing vessels and early steamships wrecked around the treacherous coast. There will be time for birding too, some of the longest and finest beaches are on Tresco and waders present might include Sanderling, Dunlin, Turnstone, Greenshank and Whimbrel plus feeding Little Egret and Mediterranean Gull. If time allows, we venture to Castle Down at the north of the island where Merlin and Peregrine may be hunting, and Golden Plover, Wheatear, Stonechat, pipits and wagtails may be found on moorland between two ruined castles.
Day 3: Sunday 28 April – St Agnes
The southernmost of the populated isles and location of the former Bird Observatory, a third of St Agnes is designated as ‘Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)’. A great place to explore for birds, contributing a number of British 'firsts', we enjoy a pleasant amble around the island which is small enough to be covered on a day trip. Forests of yellow Gorse on Wingletang and Castella Downs are a sight to behold and many a Hoopoe or Wryneck has been found here over the years, while Periglis and Porth Killier beaches can be good for waders, wagtails and Rock Pipit. The Scillonian climate is much like the Mediterranean, and the network of flower fields, each shielded by Pittosporum hedgerows are a great refuge for migrant birds. At low tide the island of Gugh may be accessed by a sandbar tombolo and we may consider a walk here, though ensuring we have enough time to sample the local St Agnes Ice Cream!
Day 4: Monday 29 April – Annet boat trip and St Mary's
In the morning we take a boat trip to Annet, a small unpopulated island supporting a breeding colony of Puffin. Recently cleared of rats, the island's seabird population has flourished and Manx Shearwater and Storm Petrel have both returned to breed (though the latter do not arrive until May). Sandwich and Common Tern also breed and often draw the attention of passing Arctic Skua, and we should see Grey Seal and perhaps cetaceans too.
Later we explore St Mary’s in more detail, perhaps stretching our legs with a walk along the coastal path to the Old Town and beyond to Porth Hellick. The freshwater lagoon attracts many birds, passing wildfowl including Garganey and waders such as Snipe, Greenshank, Common, Green and Wood Sandpiper plus Kingfisher, all possible from the hides. Taking the trail through the ancient, twisted trees at Holy Vale echoes of a fairy tale and though not the easiest place to birdwatch, warblers, Spotted and Pied Flycatcher are likely while scarce Golden Oriole are regularly drawn here. A pleasant afternoon exploring the main island at a relaxed pace.
Day 5: Tuesday 30 April – St Martin’s
Often neglected by birders in Scilly’s early days, more recently its potential has truly been realised and St Martin's lays claim to some great birding. St Martin's has a traditional feel as we walk beside row after row of flower fields, some flourishing and others neglected. We search for migrant birds, also enjoying the local Song Thrushes, Blackbirds, Robins and Dunnocks, which are incredibly tame and can hop virtually over a visitors foot! Offering more great beaches, superb island culture and fantastic views all around, we will certainly have a great day out.
Day 6: Wednesday 1 May – Bryher
Lying to the west of Tresco and about half its size, Bryher is another wonderful place to explore. Good for birdwatching, the island is special for its botany with designated ‘SSSI’ status protecting its rare, range restricted plants and flowers in some areas. During our visit we hope to find Orange Bird's-foot Trefoil, nationally scarce Hairy Bird's-foot Trefoil (though traditionally flowering later) and Dwarf Pansy – the latter a true Isles of Scilly speciality. Commoner wildflowers including Tormentil, Heath Bedstraw, English Stonecrop, Thrift, Buck’s-horn Plantain and Spring Squill bring colour and in warm weather, migrant Painted Lady and other butterflies all contribute to a varied day.
Day 7: Thursday 2 May - St Mary's and departure
Our final day but with an afternoon sailing, we have time for birding or to explore the shops and museum within Hugh Town. On the ferry back to Penzance comes a final opportunity for sea-watching, expecting to arrive at the harbour early-evening where the holiday ends.