NEW! Isles of Scilly in Spring

Birds, wildlife and island culture in stunning surroundings akin to the Mediterranean!

  • 23 Apr - 29 Apr 2021
Duration7 Days
Max Group Size7 per guide
2021 Price
£1795 pp
£160 single supplement. Deposit £200

The Scillies are without doubt one of the most stunning and idyllic parts of the United Kingdom, a ‘must visit’ location boasting a diverse range of wildlife opportunities. Lying 28 miles south-west of Land’s End, with its shallow waters and a climate more akin to the Mediterranean it’s a fabulous place for birdwatching as migrants move north. On this spring itinerary, we stay on the largest Island, St Mary’s, visiting the four other inhabited islands on daily excursions. On Tresco, entry to the world-famous Abbey Gardens is included, Bryher and St Martin’s are quieter places offering superb birdwatching potential while the views out over the reefs from tiny St Agnes are spectacular and it is also the site of the former bird observatory. Our guides are experienced here, and a flexible approach as we explore on foot allows us to make the most of each island within the archipelago.

During a special boat trip to a sixth island, uninhabited Annet, Puffins will be a highlight, as these enchanting birds settle down for their breeding season, with other seabirds, seals and perhaps cetaceans also featuring. Northbound migrants can be varied, and in the right conditions large numbers of birds can make landfall resulting in exciting birdwatching. Famed for rare and scarce vagrants the possibilities are endless and attractive overshoots such as Hoopoe, Wryneck, Woodchat Shrike and Red-rumped Swallow are regularly recorded each spring. The trip will run at a relaxed pace, with time to enjoy the scenery (and an Ice Cream or Pasty too) and the beauty of each island as well as its wildlife.

Day 1: Friday 23 April - 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, bizarre Sunfish or even Atlantic Bluefin Tuna. After docking at St Mary’s, the largest of the Scilly Isles, we check into our excellent hotel on Hugh Town beach, enjoy a 'pasty lunch' and begin to explore. Circuits around the Garrison or Penninis headlands are early possibilities or into Lower Moors for wildfowl, waders and perhaps Water Rail or 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 24 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 land birds. 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 25 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 Porthkillier beaches can be good for waders, wagtails and Rock Pipit. The Scillonian climate is quite 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 26 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, Common and Arctic 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 Porthellick. 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. Though a tricky 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 27 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 28 April – Bryher
Lying to the west of Tresco and about half its size, Bryher is 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 Small Adder's Tongue, Orange Bird's-foot Trefoil, if lucky the 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 29 April - 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.

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 and you will probably experience a bit of everything, however we can expect some warm weather at this time of year. 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 desirable species are often found in inconvenient locations, involving several gates and stiles to be climbed or lengthy walks in exposed locations. 

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 in spring' holiday price

  • Six 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 Friday evening until Thursday morning, packed lunch daily.
  • All ferries and boat trips around the islands.
  • Guidance from a professional Group Leader.

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

  • Travel to/from Penzance. Please note, this holiday involves an early start from Penzance, and returns at approx 18:00 on the final day. We can provide details of hotel/guest house accommodation in Penzance if you wish to stay 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.

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Contact Information

The Mountview Hotel, Nethybridge,
PH25 3EB Scotland

T: 01479 821248