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Isles of Scilly

Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava flavissima ©Nigel Blake Website

The Isles of Scilly, known locally as the Fortunate Isles, lie twenty-eight miles to the south-west of mainland Cornwall, acting as the first and last landfall for many migrant birds. Over the years Scilly has developed an enviable reputation as Europe's premier rarity locality, being a magnet for birds originating from all points of the compass. To date over 400 (411 by the current BOU list) species have been recorded: new species continue to be added - Spectacled Warbler in 2000 for instance. This total beats any other single site in Europe (as far as we are aware!)being made up primarily of vagrants.

The islands are accessed by sea or air - plane and helicopter - and have become a popular destination for autumn birders, polarised around the first two weeks in October. At times a thousand birders nearly outnumber the locals as they hunt for rarities among the small enclosed flower fields and tamarisk bushes. The scene is gelled by rapid information updates by CB radio and pagers throughout the day. No one should miss the birds! In the evening the local pubs bustle with field weary birders discussing the days highs and lows.

Each morning boats set out from St.Mary's for the off islands of Tresco, St.Agnes, St.Martin's and Bryher. The first two usually have a few birders staying on them, and Agnes has a resident birder, but the others still provide a challenge for the intrepid.

It's not just about October however. A visit to the islands at most times can be rewarding. The summer sees internationally important numbers of seabirds breeding on the islands, including Puffins, but most notably European Storm-petrel, with possibly as many as 17,000 on the archipelago. The problem is that even with so many birds they are nigh on impossible to see unless you are in a boat! In spring many species overshoot from the south with Woodchat Shrikes and Hoopoes being regular along with southern herons such as Night Heron and Little Bittern. Long hours of daylight, warm weather, blooming flowers and few birders can make this a particularly memorable time.

Contrary to popular belief there are opportunities to get away from the crowds and find your own birds at whatever season. Contact the local Tourist Information Centre on Scilly for a free brochure with all your holiday needs (TEL: 01720 424031) or tic@scilly.gov.uk

How to find out where the birds are…
Scilly is an impossible place to divide up in any coherent way. The whole archipelago is a glorious place to go birding! So, any birder - local or visiting - heads for the ISBG bird boards outside the back door of the Pilot's Gig restaurant. These boards carry all the information recorded for that and the previous day, specifying the birds and their approximate locations. It generally functions very well and everybody drops in to check on the latest info. People are very good at passing on news via mobiles and from pagers etc, and it all gets put on the boards, which is good news for all those of us without the technology! There is a similar, if less extensive, bird board outside St Agnes Post Office. The other reliable places for the latest bird news are, of course, the local pubs - home to many a tall tale in the evenings!


County Recorder

Will Wagstaff

42 Sally Port, St Mary's, TR21 0JE

01720 422212


Number of Species

Number of bird species: 436

County Bird - Common Nighthawk Chordeiles minor

Useful Reading

Best Birdwatching Sites in Cornwall & The Scilly Isles

by Sara McMahon and Nigel Hudson - Buckingham Press 2008

ISBN: 9780955033957

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Essential Guide to Birds of the Isles of Scilly

Bob L Flood, Nigel Hudson and Bryan Thomas 528 pages, 152 col plates, b/w illus.

ISBN: 9780955343025

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Isles of Scilly Bird & Natural History Review 2008

Isles of scilly Bird Group in Conjunctions with Swarovski - available direct from: Alan Hannington, Lyonnesse House, Lower Strand, Hugh Town, St Mary’s, IOS, TR21 0PS or contact Alan via e-mail at lyonnesse-scilly@tiscali.co.uk
ISBN: 14744937 See Fatbirder Review

Guides & Tour Operators

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Scillonian Pelagic Trips

Tour Operator

Warmed by the Gulf Stream, buffeted by the Atlantic, relying on sea and air links with the mainland, the unique Isles of Scilly are a world apart. Populated by a friendly community of just over 2000 islanders, sub-tropical Scilly has tranquillity and a quality of life long lost to less isolated places. Exotic plants and wild flowers, ancient cairns and crumbling castles, sparkling white sands by an azure sea - all just 28 miles from Land’s End in the south-west corner of the UK.

Trip Reports

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Trip Report Repository

CloudBirders was created by a group of Belgian world birding enthusiasts and went live on 21st of March 2013. They provide a large and growing database of birding trip reports, complemented with extensive search, voting and statistical features.

2007 [October] - Paul Heaton & Judith Smith


My 23rd autumn visit to Scilly began at the heliport on the morning of the 6th, greeting many old friends – there is a faithful band of devotees numbering perhaps 100-200 who return every year, so it’s great to meet up again, even though we are all getting older and greyer, and sticks are more in evidence! We soon had our CBs working and were tuning in to the latest news…

2008 [October] - Anser Birding


Isles of Scilly and Cornwall 16th to 20th October 2008…

2008 [October] - Philip Andrews


Lying 28 miles off Lands End, this beautiful archipelago of 150 islands (only 5 of which – St Marys, Tresco, St Martins, St Agnes and Bryher are inhabited) have for many years been viewed as the “mecca” for British birding. Since the 1960s the islands have produced a remarkable list of birds from both the East and particularly the West, including many UK firsts…

2010 [October] - Henry Cook


Arriving at Dan’s place in Falmouth late on the 1st of October after a dire journey down allowed us all a few hours quality kip before catching the Scillonian III ferry from Penzance the following morning. A fine drake Surf Scoter was present in Mounts Bay over towards Newlyn harbour and was picked out with scopes before embarking on the boat on the 2nd Oct….

2015 [October] - Christopher Hall


...We found a Greenshank in Porth Hellick and then with Pectoral Sandpiper and a bouncy Jack Snipe showing well on the pool at Higher Moors, we took it in turns to squeeze into the hide for a look through the scope at these two star waders. Moving north along Holy Vale, we found several Chiffchaffs and briefly saw a Yellow-browed Warbler. Returning to Hugh Town via Porthloo and Town Beaches we added Curlew and Turnstone to the list, with a Water Rail seen by lucky Iris from the hide at Lower Moors. Finally we found several Sandwich Terns in the bay off Porthcressa Beach, so not a bad list for a quiet day.

Places to Stay

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Carn Ithen - St Mary's


Situated in quiet Old Town, Carn Ithen has an enviable location less than 100 m from Old Town beach, Lower Moors nature trail and a few minutes stroll to the solitude of Old Town Church. Run by Danielle and Nigel Hudson (Recorder)

Isles of Scilly Tourist Board


This site, provided by the Isles of Scilly Tourist Board, the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company, Scotia Helicopters and the Tresco Estate, aims to offer essential information and a flavour of the Islands to anyone interested in visiting.

Scilly on line


All sorts of links to commercial sites including a where to stay section.


Isle of Scilly Bird Group


Contact the Membership Secretary: Danni M Hudson - Carn Ithen, Trench Lane, Old Town, St Mary's, Isles of Scilly TR21 0PA - Tel: 01720 422917 danni@carnithen.co.uk or the Secretary: Alan Hannington lyonnesse-scilly@tiscali.co.uk
Welcome to the web site of the Isles of Scilly Bird Group (ISBG). This site was launched in January 2001… …The Isles of Scilly are one of the best known birding locations in Britain. This was not always the case. The majority of birds recorded on the islands during the 1800s and early 1900s were those identified after being shot, the saying at the time being, What's hit is history, what's missed is mystery. Things began to change with the advent of the tourist industry and a growing interest in the birds that reached the islands. Improved binoculars and the arrival of portable telescopes meant that even distant birds could be identified. Although by no means the first person to write about the islands, Hilda Quick highlighted the variety of birds on the islands to a wider audience through her books and other writings. Living on St Agnes, she aroused a wide interest in the birdlife of the islands.

The Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust


The Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust conserves and protects the wildlife of the islands and the sea. We conserve or restore the landscape and archaeological sites, and provide public information through our Wildlife Trust Information Centre on St Mary’s Quay…

Other Links

Sennen Cove - Cornwall


Bird sightings from Sennen Cove & the Scillies.

Photographers & Artists

Joe Pender Wildlife Photography


I am a born and bred Scillonian and have been running a passenger boat in Scilly since 1992 when I took over from my Dad who had the Lily Of Laguna. I now have the Sapphire, which I had built in 2000, which is a 15.5m Kingfisher. Most of my Photos are taken on the pelagic trips I have been running for over 15 years I have become a proficient sea birder and photographer…