Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Richard's Pipit found on Tuesday afternoon appeared to have departed by the time we arrived. But the following morning we flushed a large pipit which, although silent, was probably the same bird. We eventually relocated it on the South End later in the morning before finding another, or the same, on the North End in the afternoon. Both the times we connected with the bird(s), they were particularly nervous and flushed from long range, disappearing with the distinctive shreep. The Corncrake remained around the plantation, but also proved camera-shy. A Pied Flycatcher and a couple of Tree Pipits this morning were the only noteworthy changes to recent days.

Although this photo is heavily cropped, and a bit crap, there is still enough to confirm the bird as a Richard's Pipit. The pale lores, heavy bill, long tail and mantle pattern all support the identification, even though the median coverts, hind claw and breast pattern cannot be seen well enough. The Richard in question was Monsieur Richard of Luneville, a French naturalist and collector. However it was Jean Pierre Vieillot, himself a French ornithologist, who described the bird and named it after the Lunevillian. It seems that Vieillot was a bit of a birding legend; he was an early proponent of the study of live birds (rather than shooting anything that moved) and he was one of the first to realise that the juveniles and females that were being claimed by contemporaries as different species, were in fact one and the same. (c) Richard Brown

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Another busy few days have passed since the Ruff time we had last week. We were joined by the guys from the Dyfi Osprey Project and had a fantastic time, but very few birds. They left knowing that the weather forecast looked promising for birds and insisted that we made no mention here of what appeared after their departure. No mention of the Corncrake that turned up today near the Plantation for example. Or the Leach's Petrel attracted to the lighthouse the day before. Sadly there has been little else to tease them about, with a solitary Ruff probably being the best of the rest. A few Whinchats, Yellow Wagtails and Wheatears have provided a bit of entertainment photo-wise and the commoner waders remain approachable around the Narrows.

Up to five Bar-tailed Godwit have visited Solfach recently, but two approachable birds have found this area particularly to their liking and have now been present for five days. These elegant waders are more diminutive than their Black-tailed cousins, but this is not always the case. As you head eastwards from Western Europe towards South East Asia and Australasia, the average size of Black-tailed Godwits decreases. At the same time the average size of Bar-tails increases. So if we lived in Vietnam we'd be talking about the more diminutive Black-tails. Linnaeus first described the Bar-wit in 1758 from a specimen taken in Lapland, hence the specific name lapponica. (c) Richard Brown

A trickle of Whinchats have passed through in the last few weeks. Back in 1954 the Germans Schmidt and Hantge colour-ringed Whinchats on their breeding grounds (the Whinchat's breeding grounds, not the German's). They found that 6.5% of nestlings, 47% of adult males and 27% of adult females, return to the same areas the following spring. (c) Richard Brown

A few of the Wheatears are also proving rather approachable. This one preferred cow pats for perching before dropping into the grass and cocking a head to listen for a meal. As for Whinchat, breeding site fidelity is very high among established breeders, but in Wheatears first-timers may range more widely when looking for a territory. (c) Richard Brown

The 34th Leach's Petrel to be ringed on Bardsey and the 76th species we've ringed this year. The whiter fringes to the coverts show that this pelagic wanderer hatched this year. (c) Richard Brown

The South End pair of Chough have taken to spending a lot of time on the top window of the Lighthouse tower. It must be annoying not being able to groom the feathers around your own head and neck so these two were spending a fair bit of time tending to each other's grooming needs. Such allopreening apparently helps to maintain the pair bond. The more cynical may believe that keeping a successful partner in good fettle means that they wont have to go to the trouble of finding a new one if they get diseased. (c) Richard Brown

Monday, September 19, 2011

Yesterday Rich made a bit of a twat of himself. Seawatching over the last few days had been productive, albeit slow at times, with the 23rd Bardsey record of Tufted Duck, three Eider, the first Red-breasted Merganser and Grey Phalarope of the year, a trickle of Leach's Petrels, Balearic Shearwaters and Sabine's Gulls, reasonable numbers of the commoner two Skuas and a smattering of Black Terns. But yesterday we'd had little more than a few Mediterranean Gulls to show for our morning's efforts. Heavy showers through the night and early morning must have downed something, perhaps some of the plethora of Buff-breasted Sandpipers that are everywhere, including on nearby Anglesey. So it was with Buff-breasts on the mind that we set out to check the wind battered South Tip. And there it was! As we came out from behind the Lighthouse and scanned the tip, a distant wader could be seen on the deck near the South Hide. Rich swang his scope off his shoulder and struggled to keep it still in the wind. Buff underparts, short billed and it was away, instantly swept south where it joined another three. Back to bins and all four were the same size and with white underwings. The expected dark crescents couldn't be seen but the birds were distant, struggling away westwards in the wind and the bins were bouncing. We radioed the news of four possible Buff-breasts as we watched the birds disappear around the Lighthouse and towards the Narrows. We gave chase and got a visual on them as they disappeared behind a hump near Solfach. But they'd landed. We crept along a wall and popped our heads over. Bollocks! Three Golden Plover were stood alert. It didn't make sense, where was the original bird? Why had it been the same size as a Goldie? It was there, on the edge of the group, and it was a bloody Ruff. Others arrived just in time to witness the giant balls up. So the moral of the story? Don't go expecting rares when the ordinary are much more likely? Definitely. Suppress all birds until you've got an ID? No way, it's far better to occasionally look a twat but get people on potentially good birds. And who wants to be the git who says, 'yeah, I had them five minutes ago' when someone picks up a flock of four Buff-breasts sat in a field.

Having spent the day doing paperwork and fuming about what a knob he'd been, the weather improved and Rich eventually returned to the South End. The Ruff was now with five Golden Plover. The similar size of the two birds suggests that the Ruff is a male, the female Reeves being much smaller, potentially 45% shorter in length were the two measured bill to tail. This was approximately the 70th record for Bardsey and the first since 2008. (c) Richard Brown

Had the upperparts been seen when we first saw the Ruff in flight the distinctive white uppertail coverts would have given its true identity away. The group of five Golden Plover had increased to eight by the end of the day. (c) Richard Brown

A Hummingbird Hawkmoth found hiding near Cristin was the first of the autumn. (c) Richard Brown

Friday, September 16, 2011

The wind finally abated, albeit briefly, and allowed for the first Risso's Dolphin monitoring trip of the year to head out on calm seas. The aim was to photograph as many dorsal fins as possible to help with an ongoing photo-monitoring project. Because Risso's are usually an offshore species, virtually nothing is known about their population structure or movements. We are lucky enough to have good numbers off the Island at this time of year but exactly why they are here is uncertain; many young pups and juveniles have been seen over the years suggesting that the area may be an important nursery ground. Learning about site fidelity and trying to calculate how many individuals are using the area is vital to successful conservation and so photo-monitoring has been conducted since the 1990s to try and recognise individuals.

Although it was dorsal fins we were really after, the chance to photograph these amazing creatures leaping out of the water couldn't be missed! Adult Risso's reach up to 4m in length so they can make quite a splash. (c) Richard Brown

Risso's are relatively easy to identify as individuals as their dorsals accumulate scars and notches as they age. The dolphins are very social animals and it is thought that it is the animals themselves which mark each other during social interactions. Perhaps their prey also inflicts some of the marks. It is by recognising individuals that we will learn more about these amazing creatures. For instance two adults seen in 1997 were seen together again in 2006 and in 2009 an animal photographed in the English Channel was a perfect match for one photographed from here in 2006. (c) Richard Brown

We watched over 20 animals for a couple of hours, but it felt more like a couple of minutes. The dolphins were probably feeding and journeying for most of the time we were with them but sometimes it felt like they were just taking a look to see what we were up to. (c) Richard Brown

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

As with the rest of the country, the island has been battered by south and westerly winds which averaged in excess of 56mph for a while yesterday. It's rubbish for finding skulky migrants in the gorse bushes but fantastic for sea-watching. Although frustrating at times, with birds disappearing into massive troughs never to be seen again, sea passage has been mega. The last couple of days have produced 12 Sooty Shearwaters, 10 Balearics, the first three Leach's Petrels of the year, three Pomarine Skuas, 10 Arctic Skuas, three Long-tailed Skuas, 18 Bonxies and two Sabine's Gulls. A good tern passage has included 188 Common Tern, 275 Sandwich Tern and a few Arctics. By far the biggest spectacle was yesterday's passage of Manxies where up to 15,400/hour were recorded past the North Hide.

This Grey Heron also passed the North Hide this morning. With days of strong westerlies, an abundance of yank waders reaching the Southwest and the first Nearctic passerine of the year reaching Scilly, it seemed prudent to check for chestnut thighs and carpels. It doesn't have any. (c) Richard Brown

Little in the way of passerine migrants have appeared from the wind battered undergrowth but a few Spotted Flycatchers are still moving through. Aging is straightforward at this time of year with the pale thorns to the greater coverts and the buffish fringes to the tertials and uppertail coverts all indicating a bird of the year. The plumage is also very fresh whereas an adult would now be heavily abraded (they don't moult until they reach their wintering grounds). (c) Richard Brown

The strong winds and moonlit nights have resulted in little in the way of lighthouse attractions. These two unlucky Sanderlings were found side by side under the light but, along with two Grasshopper Warblers and a Sedge Warbler, they have been the only birds attracted for at least a week. (c) Richard Brown

Giselle showing how hard it is to stand up, never mind bird, in a Force 10 wind. (c) Richard Brown

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Strong west and southwesterly winds have made for exciting, but occasionally frustrating, birding in the last few days. The wind battered bushes are clearly holding migrants, but seeing them is far from easy. A Melodious Warbler today showed for one lucky observer and a probable Barred Warbler yesterday gave everyone the slip. Of course attention has focused mainly on sea passage which has been fantastic. Over 100 Sooty Shearwaters have passed by today along with a Great Shearwater (which we somehow dipped), a Sabine's Gull, 15 Balearic Shearwaters, 26 Bonxies, 18 Arctic Skuas, 2 Long-tailed Skuas, a Pom, a couple of Black Terns and Little Gulls and three figure counts of Fulmar, Gannet and Manx Shearwater.

Photographing the Sooties seemed a little ambitious but a few have passed close enough to the hide. Sooty Shearwaters are truly amazing birds which complete a life-cycle not dissimilar to a reverse Manxie. They depart their breeding grounds in the Falkland Islands from March to May and head north up the Americas to reach the Sub-Arctic for June and July. They cross from West to East and return down the Eastern Atlantic to reach their breeding grounds in November. This in itself is over 9000 miles but tracking experiments with the New Zealand population have shown that birds may actually travel up to 74,000km a year, averaging more than 500km a day! (c) Richard Brown

Surprisingly few Manxies are being attracted to the lighthouse at the moment. Those that have are predominantly fledgling juveniles. Many still show remnants of the down which has kept them warm when below ground, although this is more obvious on some than others. Young Manx Shearwaters have the potential to reach South America in just a couple of weeks and moribund birds there have sometimes still shown patches of down. (c) Richard Brown

Saturday, September 3, 2011

We want to start with an apology to the hundreds of people that have visited expecting to hear about the Western Bonelli's Warbler found last Thursday. Sadly the unpredictability of our satellite internet has let us down for the last week or so. But we are now up and running again, and it's been a pretty decent week.

The seventh Bonelli's Warbler for Bardsey was identified as Western in the field by its disyllabic call. In the hand several features support this identification. The browny olive tones to the upperparts are warmer than would be expected of Eastern and the axillaries and underwing coverts were a brighter yellow. The wing was 63.5mm in length, average for Western but the shortest recorded for Eastern. The second primary fell between the sixth and seventh in length, this more rounded wing again being more typical of Western Bonelli's. The fresh plumage shows this to be a bird of the year. (c) Richard Brown

Perhaps the indistinct supercilium of Bonelli's Warbler is overemphasised sometimes as a field characteristic; the super on this bird often appeared quite prominent in the field, much more so than in the hand. The lime green feather fringes were also less obvious in the field but the strikingly white underparts instantly stood this bird out as something different. The rump colour was also surprising in that it matched the mantle, indeed it was only the tops of the uppertail coverts that showed the typical yellowish colouring. (c) Richard Brown

The best of the rest came in the form of a long staying, although sometimes elusive, Wryneck and the ringed Icterine Warbler lurking around Cristin Withy. See below for a video which explains the reasoning behind the Wryneck name. (c) Richard Brown

The scarcer common passerine migrants have also been well represented in the last few days with Tree Pipits, Whinchat, Garden and Reed Warblers, Pied Flycatcher and Redstart (above) all being recorded. (c) Richard Brown

This Knot was one of several scarcer waders to join the large numbers of Turnstone and Redshank feeding on Solfach. Common Sandpiper, Sanderling, Dunlin and Bar-tailed Godwit have also occured. (c) Richard Brown