Friday, January 21, 2011

Bats. I think bats are AMAZING creatures. I've been fascinated by them for a long time, and over the past few years I've worked as a bat ecologist, surveying buildings and woodlands for evidence of bat activity. While standing at dusk for hours staring at one crack in a two-hundred year old oak tree may not appeal to everyone - it appeals to me. And as a bi-product I've had many a close encounter with unsuspecting avians. Namely Woodcock, Barn Owl and Tawny Owl. I once had a stare-off with a Barn Owl in a woodland in County Durham. The Barn Owl won.

Anyway, it has been long accepted that bats neither breed nor hibernate on Bardsey Island. But, it's full of fantastic bat sized crevices, caves, and bat food which Rich has previously posted photos of. There are ad-hoc records of bats every year on Bardsey. Last year, the best record was of a Lesser Horseshoe Bat, which rocked up on the staircase of one of the cottages on the Island. Lesser Horseshoe Bats are the craziest of all of the UK bat species, and since I've done all of my 'batting' in Northern England, and Lesser Horse-shoe bats are strictly a South/South-West species this was a very exciting event for me. Unfortunately, I was in a beer garden in Norwich when Rich rang me to inform me of his find.

Lesser Horseshoe Bat (c) Richard Brown

Unfortunately the bat was severely dehydrated and attempts by Rich to rehydrate it were in vain. Check out his unique horseshoe shaped face, which is an important part of this species echo-location equipment, and acts similarly to the facial disks of Barn Owls by helping it locate its prey.
This year, I will be spending time armed with my bat detector at dusk to find out which species of bat are around, and potentially tracing them back to their roost sites (they have to sleep somewhere!). I'll report what I find from mid April onwards.
We will be spending a lot of the summer monitoring breeding birds on Bardsey. 

An Oystercatcher nest. Roughly 90 pairs breed on Bardsey. Every year we monitor a random sample of nests to see how the population is doing (c) Richard Brown

In 2010 the number of seabirds returning to the breeding colonies was similar to 2009 but with an increase in the number of Razorbill, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Herring Gull, fewer Fulmar, and significantly fewer Kittiwake. Productivity was disappointing for most species with Kittiwakes suffering a bad year but Razorbills doing well. We'll be hoping for better in 2011. 

Young Kittiwakes were in very short supply in 2010 (c) Richard brown

Ringed Plover bred for the first time since 2004. Numbers of Shelduck and Mallard increased slightly but both species failed to fledge any young. The number of breeding Peregrine remained the same but productivity was the worst since 2000.

Two pairs of Ringed Plover, an irregular breeder on Bardsey, bred in 2010 (c) Richard Brown
We are specially licenced to access the nests of breeding Peregrine on the island. We use ropes to reach their nest ledges high on the east side cliffs (c) Richard Brown

The breeding passerines generally had a good year, both in terms of the number of pairs and productivity. The numbers of breeding Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Wren, Dunnock, Robin, Blackbird, Sedge Warbler, Chiffchaff and Chaffinch were all improved and House Martin and Whitethroat bred successfully for the first time in recent years. Sadly Stonechat numbers crashed in 2010 but the single pair was very productive. Linnet continued their long-term decline. Chough suffered their lowest productivity on record for a second successive year.  

Young Skylark aren't the prettiest but they're incredibly well camouflaged (c) Richard Brown

Thursday, January 20, 2011

We are planning to return to Bardsey at the end of February after a holiday in Costa Rica. But before then we thought we'd highlight some of the things we're looking forward to this coming season.

We're both qualified bird ringers and Bardsey is a perfect place for encountering a wide range of species.

There are few places in the country where Jack Snipe (top), Subalpine Warbler (middle) and Icterine Warbler (bottom) are all likely to be caught in a single season. In the past three years five Jack Snipe, three Subalps and three Ickies have been trapped and ringed (c) Richard Brown

We are also really interested in moths and will blog the highlights of the previous night's catch.

Small Elephant Hawkmoth (top) and Peach Blossom (bottom). Two of the 150 or so macro-moth species likely to be recorded (c) Richard Brown

Over 180 bird species are likely to be recorded next year. Rich will be spending a lot of time trying to take their photos.

Migrant Dunlin refueling on Solfach (c) Richard Brown
Bardsey is one of the best places to see Grasshopper warblers. After a lighthouse attraction there can be more than 200 skulking on the island with many singing in the spring (c) Richard Brown
Enigmatic migrants such as Whinchats can be encountered in good numbers (c) Richard Brown
Bardsey is probably the best place in Wales to encounter Turtle Doves (c) Richard Brown

Giselle will be on the island for a full season and will be making the most of Bardsey's amazing scenery.

Massive skies and Bardsey Lighthouse, beneath which we will be spending the year (c) Richard Brown

We will also be keeping an eye out for lots of other wildlife, island residents and migrants alike.

Red-veined Darter behind the LSA hut. A rare migrant to Bardsey (c) Richard Brown
The cave spider Meta menardi is common in the island's caves. Here the female protects her golf ball-sized egg sack (c) Richard Brown
Risso's Dolphin are regular in the waters around Bardsey. Photos of the unique scar patterns on the dorsal fins are catalogued and used to understand how big the population is. This is a mother and calf (c) Richard Brown

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Rich's favourite bird of October 2010 was probably his self-found Pallas's Warbler which was later caught at Nant. Having spent two autumns on Bardsey without one, it was no surprise when two came along within a couple of weeks of each other.

A good find in the apple tree next to Emyr's house. This species breeds in Asia and usually heads to South-east Asia to overwinter (c) Richard Brown
Giselle's favourite bird of November 2010 was probably her self-found Common Rosefinch, a first-year bird which took to using the feeders in the obs garden.

Common Rosefinch in Cristin garden (c) Richard Brown
We live in the LSA hut below Bardsey Lighthouse. The lighthouse was built by Trinity House in 1821. They splashed out £5470 12s 6d on the buildings and £2950 16s 7d for the lantern on top. 

The lantern on top is constantly moving on a bed of mercury. If it stopped it would probably start a fire (c) Richard Brown

The light character is five white flashes every 15 seconds. The light is 39m above the sea so it can be seen up to 26 nautical miles away.