Friday 1 November 2019

Isles of Scilly,19-26 October 2019

I spent a week on the Isles of Scilly from 19-26 October 2019 with David Campbell, Ian Jones, Magnus Andersson and Paul Goodman. We rented the same house high on a hill overlooking Hughtown on St Mary's. From the house we had a good view of both sides of the isthmus whatever the weather.

The Isles of Scilly are about 50km west of Lands End, here:

79980cde57046efe7835ab8246faefe9f0cdb0f2 cornwall and the isles of scilly

We were lucky enough to enjoy very good weather until the Friday, when a severe storm set in. 

Before Friday

On Friday
Until the storm, we were able to enjoy the delights of St Mary's, St Agnes, Tresco and St. Martins. Being islands, travel on foot is easy, as no island is more than four or five kilometres long.


At this time of year, birds are migrating. They stop off at the Isles of Scilly to rest, before continuing their journey South. In addition, some migrating birds from further afield may get blown a lot further than they bargained for. They end up way off course on the Isles of Scilly.

Here are a few rarities which we saw:

Lapland Bunting in a field with cattle

Spotted Crake - a normally elusive water bird. This one was quite confiding.

Red-throated Diver. In Penzance Harbour.

Blue Rock Thrush. I know it doesn't look blue in this photo.

Spotted Sandpiper - A vagrant from America.

Citrine Wagtail - Also in a field with cattle. They rely on the livestock to disturb insects, which the birds then eat.

Subalpine Warbler. This one is a juvenile and looks quite like a Lesser Whitethroat!

Yellow-browed Warbler. A vagrant from the Far East. At this time of year they are relatively common, with a few hundred records countrywide.
The migration attracts a good number of birdwatchers and twitchers. For those of you unfamiliar with the difference: 

A birdwatcher is someone who likes birds and usually visits somewhere for an afternoon or a day to see which birds are present, and what turns up during their stay.

A twitcher is a birdwatcher who usually has a pager, and gets news of rare birds reported around the country. If one appears that they have not seen before, they drop everything (if they can) and travel to wherever the bird is. Sometimes, they see it and sometimes not. If they see it, they can add it to their list. Twitchers aim to see as many birds as they can in their own country.

Going to the Isles of Scilly is a mixture of both birdwatching and twitching rare vagrants that happen to turn up there. Most twitches are, however, only a boat ride and a short walk away!

The night sky and the lack of light pollution.

The Isles of Scilly are quite isolated from the mainland. Light pollution is virtually non-existent. In consequence, on a clear night the stars are easily visible. The Milky Way, our galaxy, is visible to the naked eye. Through binoculars, literally thousands of stars are visible.

The Milky Way - taken last year on St. Mary's

Other Birds.

As well as the rarities, there are also many other common birds on Scilly. Here are some. Many will be familiar to UK readers. This hen harrier was flying along when it saw a female pheasant. This is what happened:

Hen harrier - "Aye, aye, what have we here?"

Whatever it has seen, it makes straight for it!

The pheasant realises it's in danger and makes a 'run' for it!

The Hen Harrier gives chase. He was ultimately unsuccessful. The pheasant got away!

Shortly after, the Hen Harrier is worried by a Raven. There's no peace if you're a raptor!

There were one or two unusual birds this time. This Blackbird has a white head!

Blackbird with white head

The dark bill on this blackbird indicates that it is from Scandinavia. Normally, the bill of the male Blackbird is orange - see photo above.

Here are three our our smallest birds.

This Wren, one of our most common birds, is enjoying a juicy slug!

The Firecrest (with the Goldcrest, our smallest bird) prefers mixed woodland.
The Goldcrest, being so small, is rather flighty and difficult to photograph. It prefers conifers, but is here in deciduous woodland.

Wheatears are fairly common on migration.  They often sit on the top of rocks.

Siskin. A lovely lemon bird. They sometimes come to bird feeders.

This Spotted Flycatcher was hunting from the roof of the Parsonage.
Starlings are underrated in my view. Close up, they are very attractive, with interesting markings.

Black Redstarts can often be seen perching on rocks, fences or buildings. They whisk their tails often, displaying their red undertail.

There is plenty of water in and around the Isles of Scilly. The shores, lakes and marshes are home to many aquatic species.  Here are a few.

Oystercatcher. Who knows if they actually catch oysters. They are one of our most easily recognisable birds.

Sanderling. A small wader, usually feeds by racing around in the surf as the water laps in and out. They are very active and mobile while feeding.
Snipe. Often hard to see with their excellent camouflage. They probe for small creatures in soft mud. This bird was seen at dusk in very poor light.
Water Rail. Even more skulking and elusive than the Snipe. This one also appeared well after sunset. Their call is like the squeal of a piglet.

Tresco is probably the second most visited island outside St. Mary's. It is an interesting place, with large lakes, an Abbey and a well laid out garden. It is home to red squirrels. 

After taking this photo, this red squirrel came so close that it was too near to photograph. I couldn't get my phone out quickly enough!

Here is one of our favourite birds. The ubiquitous Robin never fails to please. It's song is everywhere.

The Robin - our national bird.

Unlike last year, when the ferry was delayed for two days because of the weather, we managed to leave on the right day! The storm on Friday delayed it's departure from 15.30 until 17.00 to give the wind a chance to die down. Even so, the crossing was 'interesting', with quite a high swell and some exciting pitches and rolls. It didn't seem too bad while you were sitting down. It was when you got up to go to the bar or walk to another deck that the rolling of the ship made it really difficult to move about.

We arrived in Penzance at about 20:00, collected the car and were back home in our beds by about 02:45 on Sunday morning. Luckily, the clocks went back that night, so we had an extra hour of sleep! Aah!


  1. That was very interesting Phil, I love Scilly isles. I know the helicopter is coming back very soon so Tresco awaits me!!! Hope you are all keeping well ? Xxx

  2. Fab photos Phil, sounds like you had a great trip. I have wonderful memories of a holiday on Tresco when I was 10 years old. Might be time for another visit.

  3. Love the little Goldcrest. All the photos are wonderful! That sandpiper was likely trying to escape I may when my Italian citizenship finally comes through. :-)

  4. Some nice photos there Phil, especially the Yellow browed.

  5. Hi Phil. Steve here. We met yesterday at YBW Wandle. Very nice blogs on your trips. Some lovely shots. The Yellow-browed particularly nice and in a more picturesque location than the Wandle I'd imagine! Mostly the 500PF I think you said. See you soon.


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