Last week I spent a fantastic few days on Bardsey Island along with 7 other NGBs (Next Generation Birders http://nextgenerationbirders.blogspot.co.uk/), where we stayed at the Bird Observatory, spending the week birding, ringing and exploring the stunning island.
From left to right, top then bottom: Bardsey warden Steve Stansfield, his son and baker of the 'Bardsey Cookies' Connor, assistant warden Mark, David Hunter, Aidan Branch, assistant warden Steffan, George Dunbar, Dan Rouse, me, Josie Hewitt, Emma Stansfield, 'Bardsey Ben' Porter, James 'Jammy' O'Neill, Ephraim Perfect and Rachel Porter.
Half of the group went over on Saturday 22nd, whilst the rest of us were still at Birdfair. George, Dan, Ephraim and David managed to see Black Guillemot (on the boat over), Balearic Shearwater, Black Tern and Roseate Tern before we arrived on Monday - all birds we failed to find for the rest of the week!
After meeting the others at the Observatory (Obs) we started birding, and soon we ticked off the usual suspects on the island, including; Chough, Gannet, Kittiwake, Lesser and Great Black-backed Gull, Linnet, Meadow Pipit, Stonechat, Swallow, Wheatear, Shag, Wren, Willow Warbler, Common Scoter, Curlew, Whimbrel and a Common Sandpiper. Every evening we gathered in the common room to help with log, when one of the Obs staff would input all of the days bird and other wildlife records into a laptop. We would then play cards and feast on Connor's cookies! Late on Monday night we ventured to the North end of the island in the dark in search of Manxie chicks, where we were able to see these amazing birds up close in the hand, and the ringers in the group got to ring a few. The Storm Petrel nets were also put up, the conditions weren't looking ideal but in the early hours of Tuesday morning whilst ringing Manxies we heard on the walky-talky that they'd managed to catch a Stormie, so we all got to see this stunning little bird in the hand, it was a lifer for me and most of the group. 4 birds were caught in the end; 3 un-ringed and 1 re-trap. It was truly magical to stand in the dark watching a Stormie in front of you with Manxies calling overhead, oh and there was a Little Owl calling in the distance too.
On Tuesday, amongst the usual stuff we had 3 Gadwall and a Teal fly North incredibly fast (good birds for Bardsey), and a Whitethroat, Grey Wagtail, Peregrine and a few Purple Sandpiper were seen throughout the day. Whilst sea-watching from the Obs, I got my best ever views of a Great Skua (well considering that my only previous views of Bonxies were a couple of small blobs on the horizon it wasn't a tough record to beat). But the best bird of the day, and perhaps the bird of the trip for some, was a Long-tailed Skua that flew South reasonably close in, it kindly flew at a leisurely pace allowing everyone present at the time to get onto the bird and get good views - the 3rd and final lifer of the trip for me.
On the beach at Solfach the ringers managed to catch this smart Redshank in the Heligoland trap:
Wednesday was a quiet day bird-wise, but I did see my 3rd ever Hummingbird Hawkmoth, and watched it for a few seconds as it hovered by a wall. Whilst sat on Solfach beach watching the others try (and fail) to catch Turnstones in the Heligoland trap I spotted a Razorbill resting on the sea, but that was all there was of interest that day. Thursday however turned out to be a fairly good sea-watching day in terms of waders... whilst sat at the observatory I spotted a mixed flock of waders flying South along the West coast, it wasn't hard to get the others onto it and soon Steve identified them as 9 Whimbrel, 8 Knot (first for the trip), 2 Bar-tailed Godwit (first for the trip) and a Grey Plover (the only one of the trip). In fact Grey Plover is a scarce bird on Bardsey, with only 3 records from 2013, and, if I remember correctly, my bird was only the second record for this year, so not a bad find! Ringed Plover, Redshank, Oystercatcher and Turnstone were the other waders seen on the island that day. In the afternoon we headed up the mountain slightly in search of Manxie chicks to ring, and even Ephraim, George and I, the non-ringers in the group, were able to ring them under the guidance of Steve, an A permit holder. It was a real privilege to be able to ring these adorable things, and I'm so choughed (see what I did there) to be able to say that the first bird I've ever ringed was a Manxie chick!
That evening all the NGBs, Obs staff and birding visitors to the island gathered in Steve's house for the bird quiz, we split into two teams, with an even distribution of experienced birders and NGBs. It was great fun, with questions about rare birds, identifying and ageing birds (I was useless in this section as I'm not a ringer!) and some general bird-related questions. And it was very close between the teams, with my team only just winning.
Friday was the day of the bird race between the NGBs and the rest of the birders on the island, which included Steve, Mark and Steffan (the warden and assistant wardens) and Kevin and Jeff (two birding visitors to the island). The race technically started at midnight, when we were all still in Steve's house after the quiz, and it ended at 7:30pm for log. In the morning the NGB team split into pairs and we spread out across the island, with Josie and I staying at the Obs to sea-watch. Unfortunately whenever I spotted anything interesting-looking out at sea I had to alert 'the enemy' so that it could be identified. I can spot things whilst sea-watching but I sure can't identify the more interesting things! Sea-watching is something I'm extremely inexperienced in, so I learnt a heck of a lot that week about identifying birds out to sea, and getting people on the birds as quickly as possible. That day I managed to find a Pomarine Skua (the only one of the trip) and a Golden Plover (also the only one of the trip), but unfortunately these went on the lists of the other team as well. On a walk down to the South End with David after lunch, I found the only Sand Martin seen that day, so that was a bird we got on our NGB day list and 'the enemy' didn't. However, when back in log that evening, we totted up the birds seen and the NGBs got 59... but the Obs staff got 60, so close. Actually it could be argued (and we did) that the Obs staff cheated, as they went to the East Side (where we weren't allowed to go because it's too dangerous) and played a Stormie tape into a Stormie burrow that only they knew was there, and they heard the bird call back and ticked it - cheats! Also, during the day a couple of Barn Owl feathers were found near Nant Plantation, so after log Jammy and Ben went out to find the owl, and they were successful (albeit just a 3 second view), but that couldn't be included in our bird race total as it was after 7:30, so technically I think we can say that the NGBs won!
Throughout the week some other great wildlife was seen, including plenty of Grey Seals, Risso's Dolphins (lifer), Slow Worm (lifer), a Migrant Hawker dragonfly and a few butterflies including Graylings and a freshly emerged Painted Lady. There was moth trapping some nights too, with the catches including some nice moths like Northern Eggar, Canary-shouldered Thorn and Yellow-tails, and on our last morning (Saturday) a lovely female Convolvulus Hawkmoth was found in the Heligoland trap. It was also Jammy's birthday on Saturday, so the Convolvulus Hawk was a great birthday present for him as a keen moth-er!
On Saturday afternoon we got the boat back to the mainland (after leaving Jammy on the island for another week!) and saw some close Manxies and a Guillemot on the water. Here are a few other photos from the week:
From Monday to Saturday NGBs saw 94 species, thrashing the NGBs who were on Skokholm Island at the same time by 10, and from Saturday to Saturday NGBs and the Obs staff saw exactly 100 species. I managed to get 3 lifers and 19 year ticks:
I had a fantastic week, and it was great to go birding with other young people. A huge thanks to Steve, Emma, Mark and Steffan at the Obs for such a great trip, and Connor for the delicious cookies and fudge, I can't wait to go back!
A huge thanks also goes to Nick Moran and the BTO for the Young Bird Observatory Volunteer Fund that I was granted, making it possible to go on this great trip!
The other NGBs' Twitter and blogs:
I'm Sorrel, a young birder and wildlife artist based in the East Midlands - this is my blog all about my birding and wildlife adventures.