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  • David Campbell

Scilly season

The Isles of Scilly is one of my favourite British birding destinations. Actually, it's more than that. I've been visiting regularly for over a decade and now the islands feel like my home away from home. I'm a sucker for those charmingly quirky west country place names: Bryher, Porth Mellon, Salakee, Wingletang Down. I'm also fond of pristine beaches, gin-clear waters and a gentle pace of life. Add beautiful landscapes, welcoming people and good birding, and I honestly can't ask for more. This year's trip was my earliest autumn visit to Scilly and it ended up being one of the best.


My group and I enjoyed a lavish helping of American vagrants, the fare Scilly is most famous for. On our second day, we were lucky to be a sprint away from a Black-and-white Warbler when it was found on Tresco. Another day, on the island of St.Martin's, a bit of patience was rewarded with good views of its star bird of the moment: a Red-eyed Vireo. We missed a Swainson's Thrush on the main island of St.Mary's but caught up with it - or another - on Bryher. Once again, we were in the right place at the right time... news came through of an American Buff-bellied Pipit on the adjacent hill after most birders had caught the early boat back. After a quick hike to the top, there it was! Nearctic waders were represented by an American Golden Plover and two Pectoral Sandpipers.

A lucky encounter with an American Buff-bellied Pipit on Bryher

There were plenty of European goodies on offer too. One of the highlights was a particularly obliging Little Bunting, backed up by up-close views of Lapland Bunting and Snow Bunting. Yellow-browed Warblers are a staple of October on the Isles of Scilly and some days we reached double figures on our walking routes. The Garrison, a headland on St.Mary's celebrated for its military history, offered up a Red-breasted Flycatcher, and a quarry on the coast of St.Mary's was temporary home to a Eurasian Wryneck which we caught up with one evening. Watching a young Red-backed Shrike behind the Longstone cafe while we had cream tea was memorable. Common Crossbills and Eurasian Siskins regularly announced themselves overhead and we eventually managed good views of both settled. Tricky to see almost everywhere else, smashing views of a Jack Snipe out in the open was yet another reason we could only be on Scilly.

One can never tire of Yellow-browed Warblers...!
A friendly Little Bunting on Porth Hellick Down