Unprecedented Levels Of Rare Birds Draw Visitors To Scilly

The number of birdwatchers visiting the islands this year has increased significantly following unprecedented levels of rare bird sightings.

Local wildlife expert, Will Wagstaff says it’s been one of the best seasons he’s known, and it’s likely that thousands of people have visited over the traditional bird watching season, September to November, with around 300 to 350 people here at any one time.

And for many of those people, this is their first time back on the islands since the 1990s.

Will told us the best bird spotting years seem to occur in 12-year cycles.

1987 and 1999 both brought large numbers of rare birds to the islands and sure enough, this year has seen a bumper crop of sightings, especially species from the US East coast.

Will thinks this could be due to small, deep, fast-moving depressions that form around Newfoundland and blow the birds directly to Scilly within a couple of days although the reason for the 12 year pattern is a mystery.

The rest of the UK has seen a modest increase in sightings, but Scilly appears to have been the star location and, with news spreading fast in the ‘twitcher’ community, this has lead to high numbers of visitors hoping to spot a rarity.

St Mary’s-based birdwatcher and author, Bob Flood, agrees.

He told us that the rare birds at the end of September attracted hundreds of birders that otherwise would not have come.

But he added many came for just one day or a couple of nights.  Bobs says the October birder numbers may have been slightly up too.

The season has also been much longer, with good reports as early as spring and extending out to mid November.

A few hardy birdspotters were still turning up in December.

Will Wagstaff

Will says some of the best sightings have included a Northern Water Thrush, which has been spotted less than 10 times in the whole UK, and a Baltimore Oriole.

And the unusual birds aren’t restricted to those from the US, with recent sightings of a Glossy Ibis and a Wilson’s Snipe, both normally found in Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean.

Another anomaly this year has been that most sightings have occurred on St Mary’s rather than the off-islands.

While the numbers of birdwatchers hasn’t reached the levels that used to come here in the 1980’s and 90’s, Will says it has proved that Scilly is not “dead” as a birding location and many returning visitors have told him they prefer not having to push through the crowds to see the birds.