The Isles of Scilly have become the place to go for rare bird watching in Europe, with enthusiast twitchers travelling from far and wide to spot birds blown off course on the migrant routes every Autumn.
Bird watching on the Scillies is actually great all year round as the islands vary greatly in their habitats. Tresco is particularly diverse and boasts flora rich sand dunes systems behind some of the long and open beaches on the southern coast that transition to heath-land containing diverse lichens. A great example being the SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) around Pentle Bay on the south-east coast.
Just inland from Pentle Bay is the Great Pool, the largest freshwater lake on the Isles of Scilly as well as small but important wetlands and lush sub-tropical vegetation in and around the Tresco Abbey Gardens and nearby Abbey Woods.
Such diversity in habitat results in a large range of bird species available to spot in one walked bird watching session.
Clearly, one of the bigger draws to bird watchers in the Scillies is the variety of sea birds. Coastal cliffs are home to many species such as Guillemot, Fulmar, Razorbill, Puffins, Common Tern and, rarely for England, the Isles of Scilly are home to nesting pairs of Manx Shearwater.
Birding on the Islands
Of course the main colonies of seabird are found on uninhabited islands such as Menawethan, Daymark, Annet (off St Agnes) and Samson (near Tresco and Bryher) as well as the groups of smaller isles in the Northern Rocks (Norrad) and the Eastern Isles.
Uninhabited islands do also harbour nesting birds such as on St Martin’s, Bryher and, recently, St Agnes & Gugh after a successful project to remove Brown Rats.
St. Mary’s does not have nesting sea birds other than a few Herring Gull but is still a fantastic place to go explore for many other bird types.
Peak Bird Watching Season
Peak birding season is mid-October, a two who window when the chance of seeing a ‘mega’ (really rare spot) is at its highest, but a visit anytime between September and November will give you a great chance of seeing something new.
At the peak, thousands of bird watchers make the trek in the hope of finding a ‘lifer’, but you can avoid the big twitcher crowds by visiting the Scillies outside of that October peak giving more space in the hides and better accommodation options.
The downside is you miss the strength in numbers of bird watchers, which does help, hugely, with many more pairs of binoculars, scopes and mobile phones to communicate the rare finds.