Saturday, October 29, 2011

Calm spell over. Cue 40mph South-westerlies and persistent drizzle. Nice. A quick trawl of the South End gorse this morning kicked up no migrants. It was pretty bleak. As the skies darkened we rushed to the narrows to take shelter in the Solfach hide, and luckily a group of gulls had gathered on the breaking waves to keep us entertained. While the majority were Herring Gulls and Black-headed Gulls, the odd glimpse of a Med Gull or two kept us searching for something better.

And from the back of the flock came fluttering this little beauty. The worlds smallest gull, a first-winter Little Gull. Not uncommon at this time of year, but fantastic to see so close in. It was performing well, with a medley of all of its characteristic moves. It yo-yo'd. It fluttered like a marsh tern. It pattered along the surface of the waves. It did it's species proud. (c) Richard Brown.

The gull flock was constantly in motion, recruiting new members as quickly as it was losing them. A handful of Kittiwakes were streaming by in the distance, in their usual focussed manner, but we were also treated to this juvenile which flew close in to the shore. (c) Richard Brown

And finally it was the turn of the Med Gull, the reason we'd watched the flock for so long (nothing at all to do with the heinous drizzle). Their scientific name literally translates as the Black-headed Fish Eagle, referring to it's adult summer plumage and presumably it's diet. It's commoner cousin to which we normally refer to as the Black-headed gull, has a rather unflattering translation, however, as the Laughing Stain-Head. (c) Richard Brown.

Little chance of any passerine action today, and with strong Southerly winds for the foreseeable future, our attention will be seawards yet again!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A rather blustery and showery few days has nonetheless provided some decent birding and a few additions to the Bardsey year list. The highlight was a stunning Pallas's Warbler which spent yesterday evening feeding on the hillside above Nant. The previous day had seen a reported Little Egret miraculously turn into only the second ever record of Spoonbill for the Island. We flushed a Long-eared Owl at Nant Withy which was also the first of the year. A lingering mass of Kittiwakes and Black-headed Gulls off the East continues to pull in other species including double figure counts of Mediterranean Gull and Common Gull and a couple of Sabine's Gulls. The three commoner species of Skua continue to harass the flock on and off through the day. Vis migging has been pretty good with reasonable thrush and finch passage, although we've only had a couple of Snow Buntings and Lapland Buntings to spice it up a bit. We continue to flush a few Short-eared Owls and Woodcocks through the day and a few Goldcrests, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps remain.

The third Pallas's Warbler in two years was also the third to find Nant Withy to its liking. Pallas was a German zoologist who has lent his name to a plethora of mega species including his Grasshopper Warbler, Reed Bunting, Fish Eagle and Sandgrouse. He discovered this fantastic seven-striped sprite on the Ingoda River, Siberia in 1811. (c) Richard Brown

The bill colouration, black primary tips and black secondary shafts all show this to be a first-year bird. Spoonbill is a sporadic breeder in the UK but this year again bred in Norfolk. Apparently all the youngsters were ringed so this is likely to be a wanderer from the Continent. The first Bardsey record was on the 5th July 1953 when a single bird circled with gulls over the South End; this bird also circled with gulls, but this time above Pen Cristin and the Narrows. (c) Richard Brown

A typical Bardsey view of Long-eared Owl. The finely barred tail and primary tips along with no white trailing edge to the secondaries makes identification straightforward even on a very brief view of a bird disappearing off up the mountain. (c) Richard Brown

Great Skuas have recently become the commoner of the skuas harassing gulls to the East. Geneticists have found surprising similarities in the DNA of Great and Pomarine Skuas, despite their obvious differences in appearance. Two possibilities for this were proposed by Furness and Hamer in 2003. Either the Great resulted as a hybrid of Pom and a large Southern Hemisphere species, presumably as a result of vagrancy to the Northern Hemisphere by the Southern species, or that Pom evolved from hybridisation between Great and one of the smaller Arctic species of skua. (c) Richard Brown

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Although conditions were perfect for an attraction last night, there was one thing missing. Birds. We set the alarm three times during the night to check the beams and the base of the tower, but only five Redwings and a Storm Petrel were on the move. The Stormy grounded and was trapped and roosted to keep it safe. As tonight draws closer it seems likely that few birds will again be present at the tower; we certainly wouldn't attempt to set off migrating in weather like this.

The approachable Arctic Skua again visited Henllwyn. In 1701 the ornithologist Brand commented: "There is a fowl called the Scutiallan, of a black colour and as big as Wild Duck, which doth live upon the vomit and excrements of other fowls whom they pursue and having apprehended them, they cause them to vomit up what meat they have lately taken, not yet digested". (c) Richard Brown

This harbinger of stormy weather is straightforward to age, the white fringes to the coverts showing this to be a bird of the year. Commonly referred to as Mother Carey's Chickens, they were thought by some sailors to be the souls of dead seamen. Mother Carey was Davy Jones' wife and personifies the threatening sea; she was thought by some to be responsible for the storms that wrecked ships but her call for old sailors to return to the sea was irresistible. We're hoping for a Mother Carey's Goose next (Giant Petrel). (c) Richard Brown

Saturday, October 22, 2011

In what seems like the windiest autumn ever, staring into wind battered undergrowth is still failing to pay dividends; the only passerine of note was a Black Redstart. Sadly the Southerly wind doesn't really favour seawatching either; we spent a couple of hours yesterday and saw approximately 30 birds, although an Arctic Skua and a Black Guillemot broke the monotony.

With record numbers of Skuas passing this autumn, it was almost inevitable that one would stop and rest for a while. This smart adult Arctic Skua is heading southwards, although to where we can't be certain. Although some adults overwinter around the Sargasso Sea, and may even drift back North as far as the UK, the majority of birds cross the equator to spend their time around the Patagonian Shelf off Argentina or in the Benguela Current off South Africa. (c) Richard Brown

Friday, October 21, 2011

Yet another windy spell has seen the majority of attention again cast seawards. Although slow at times, there have been some good spells and we're now taking some species for granted that usually get a lot more attention. Pomarine Skuas in particular are passing in unprecedented numbers. Up until this year there had only been about 200 of these bulky skuas logged off Bardsey, whereas 55 have already been seen this October alone. Perhaps an abundance of rodents, muted as a reason for so many Short-eared Owls earlier in the week, has also benefited breeders in Northern Russia. However many adult birds are also passing so perhaps weather conditions are perfect for pushing birds inshore. On the subject of Skua food, two different Arctic Skuas were watched pursuing migrant Starlings across the Sound, one of which caught a Stag which was lucky to escape. Although they frequently take birds on the breeding grounds, a quick search has found no mention of passage birds taking other birds at sea.

Continuing on the subject of Arctic Skua food, we found two Lapland Buntings in the Northwest Fields yesterday. This is one of the species found in the pellets of Arctic Skuas at their breeding grounds in the Canadian Northwest Territories. A massive 81% of pellets examined contained passerine bones. (c) Richard Brown

Sunday, October 16, 2011

With the rest of the UK littered with good stuff we've spent the last couple of days trudging the island in search of Rufous-tailed RobinRed-flanked Bluetail, anything Isabelline or even a Red-breasted Flycatcher. By midday today none of these had appeared, so we decided that we'd settle for a Yellow-browed Warbler. But even that was too much to ask. It hasn't been all that grim though, we flushed five Short-eared Owls from the gorse this morning and there are at least another 19 on the island. The first Jack Snipe and Woodcock of the autumn flushed from below our feet in the badlands yesterday and two Little Grebes were in the bay, a rare species on Bardsey. Rich tells me I have to re-phrase that and say "It's a sad October day, when two Little Grebes are the best we can find". Two Bullfinch, three Great Tits, two Coal Tits, a Yellowhammer and a couple of Brambling were equally as exciting. Two skulky Wrynecks remain.

Desperate to find something good, we traversed the mountain-side, hopping our way through dense patches of gorse. Rich flushed an interesting lepid that turned out to be just a Small Copper. (c) Giselle Eagle

In an attempt to cheer a borderline depressed Rich up, I've turned to 'The Law of Averages' which clearly states that the scattering of scarce and rare birds on the mainland will even out and as a result we will get a chance to bask in some of its avian glory. Wikipedia has just informed me, however, that the 'law' usually reflects bad statistics or wishful thinking. My attempt therefore has failed. So if you're reading this and you are any of the species mentioned in the opening paragraph of this post, please drop in sometime (very soon).

An unprecedented influx of at least 24 Short-eared Owls was never going to please everybody. We're not alone either, with several sites across the country logging impressive numbers including 18 at Portland Bill and an amazing 50 in off the sea at Titchwell. A Scandinavian origin seems likely for a lot of these birds, so why so many? Studies have shown that, in Finland and Sweden, Short-eared Owl productivity increases significantly with increases in the abundance of Field Vole and Sibling Vole. So presumably it's been a good year for the little critters. (c) Richard Brown

Friday, October 14, 2011

It's been a busy couple of weeks or so but the internet has been misbehaving, so sorry for the lack of updates. Until yesterday all the attention has been at sea, with strong West and Southwest winds producing fine seawatching and a day of Northwesterlies providing some of the best seawatching since the 100+ Sooty Shearwater day a bit back. Totals for this week have included 11 Balearic Shearwater, 12 Leach's Petrel, 1 Whooper Swan, 3 Grey Phalarope, 54 Arctic Skua, 29 Pomarine Skua, 39 Bonxie, 1 Long-tailed Skua, 15 Sabine's Gull, 7 Little Gull, 60 Mediterranean Gull, 189 Arctic Tern, and 5 Black Tern. But yesterday attention turned inland with the belated news that a Barred Warbler had been trapped and ringed at Nant. Happily it was relocated and showed well for the remainder of the day. Up to three Wryneck are also present and a Whinchat and Common Redpoll have passed through. Vis mig has been steady away with the first Redwings, Fieldfares, Ring Ouzels, Brambling and Snow Buntings of the autumn along with three-figure counts of Meadow Pipit, Skylark and the commoner finches. Rich found the first Barn Owl of the autumn and whilst trying to catch it the first Short-eared Owl of the autumn passed overhead. But with so much going on elsewhere in the country it still doesn't feel that we've got properly started yet.

This, the largest Sylvia warbler, has a rather unique plumage for the genus meaning that, despite sometimes being quite an illusive species, it is quite distinctive even on short views. They have no close relatives in the genus meaning that in evolutionary terms they probably stem from a rather ancient split. The dull eye, unmarked underparts and broad borders to the tertials suggest that this is a first-year bird. (c) Richard Brown

The first Barn Owl of the autumn toured a rather murky island whilst the first Short-eared departed over the sea and southwards. (c) Richard Brown

Giselle got in on the Wryneck action by finding this rather obliging bird near the farm. Typically Rich didn't have his camera so this is digiscoped. These smart little birds were historically tied to pieces of string and spun around for a while. This was apparently to cause a strayed lover to return. Quite how such activities proved attractive is a bit of a mystery. (c) Richard Brown

Monday, October 3, 2011

A small ticking bunting, which toured the island yesterday, has won the award for most frustrating bird of the year. It was never seen on the deck but sometimes associated with a Reed Bunting, at which point the obvious smaller size was apparent. The call, a sharp, sometimes almost mechanical 'tsik', was all that we got on the bird which was almost certainly probably likely to be a Little Bunting. Single observer Wryneck and Yellow-browed Warbler wanted to be the most frustrating birds of the year, but they weren't. Much more obliging have been three or four Vestals and a Crimson Speckled, the latter a new addition to the island lepidoptera list. A Clouded Yellow was the first for several years.

A spell of calm weather meant we could open the mist nets at Nant. One hour and one Goldcrest later we decided to shut the nets, but not before taking out a Pied Flycatcher. The distinctive white notch on the tip of the central tertial (caused by a broad tip on the outer web and narrow tip on the inner web) means that this is a bird of the year (adult birds have an even and narrow white tip to their central tertial). It's on its first migration to it's wintering grounds south of the Sahara. (c) Richard Brown