Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Sabine's Gull from yesterday returned to the Narrows today but took to feeding on the short grass with the Starlings. It proved remarkably approachable and crippling views and photos were had by all. It was feeding constantly, only breaking for the odd bath in a nearby rainwater pool or to take a few shrimpy things from the breakers in Henllwyn. Invertebrates also seemed to be the main target when up on the grass. It's extreme tameness (until yesterday it had probably never clapped eyes on a human), meant that it could be safely caught for ringing. A few wet feet later (and for some wet everything), and we were holding only the third ever Sabine's Gull to be ringed in the UK.

We realise that we're posting quite a lot of Sab's Gull pics, but we can't help it! We believe that this amazing first year is only the third to be ringed in the UK. One of the previous two was also on Bardsey, an adult back in 2004. In the hand we confirmed that the bird was a good weight with decent fat and muscle reserves. A full collection of biometrics were taken as so few people are lucky enough to handle this pelagic species. Lets hope this individual gives us a clue as to the provenance of our Sab's and where in the Southern Oceans they head. (c) Richard Brown

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The last few days have brought appalling weather to the island. Despite this many latest dates have been broken. The Sabine's Gull on Tuesday was pushed from it's podium of 'latest Sab's Gull' by a rather confiding juvenile which spent the afternoon feeding on the sea only metres from the shore. Two Pomarine Skuas on the 27th November beat the only other previous November record which occurred on the 1st in 1994. With 50mph gusts today and horizontal rain, it never crossed our minds that the highlight would be a diminutive warbler. But the third Pallas's Warbler of the year appeared in the Obs garden and fed happily on insects amongst the sheltered nettles and trees. This also takes gold place as the latest Pallas's Warbler on Bardsey, beating last years record of the 19th of November by ten days.

This little gem flitted around the lower vegetation in the Obs garden with little concern for the hideous weather above it. A true gymnast, it hovered under nettles, gracefully gleaning them of sheltering insects. You would be forgiven for thinking that it was a Hummingbird Hawkmoth as it hovered for long periods flashing its sulphur yellow rump. (c) Richard Brown

Sabine's Gulls are a species of the high Arctic with an almost circumpolar distribution. They are a long distance migrant wintering in the Southern Oceans. The gull was first discovered by Joseph Sabine who named it after his famous brother General Sir Edward Sabine. They first encountered the gull on an expedition in search of the infamous North-West Passage. The expedition was led by John Ross, the uncle of James Clark Ross who gives his name to another fantastic Arctic Gull, Ross's Gull. (c) Richard Brown

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A diverse Lighthouse attraction last night kept us up into the early hours. The highlights were a Short-eared Owl taking Redwing on the wing, up to seven Snipe, some giving snippets of song and another trapped, another Storm Petrel (usurping yesterday's bird as the third latest Bardsey record), a Woodcock and a smattering of winter thrushes. We used the gantry lights through the night and managed to avoid any fatalities. The grotty weather soon cleared this morning and we had a Great Northern Diver and a first-year Sabine's Gull out to the West. The Sabine's Gull is by far the latest Bardsey record; previous to today the latest record was one on the 8th November 1996.

Several Snipe continued to linger around the Island today. The trapped bird became the 86th species to be ringed this year. Ringing recoveries suggest that Snipe arrive to the UK from Northern and Eastern continental Europe before continuing their journey South along France and Iberia as winter progresses. Sadly the majority of birds recovered from the continent have been shot. (c) Richard Brown

It's not only birds that are attracted to the Lighthouse. These two Scarce Umber were also brought in, probably from the mainland. There is no reason that this common species shouldn't be a Bardsey breeder. However, as the females are flightless, presumably this species would only be present if a female, egg or larva had been introduced. (c) Richard Brown

Monday, November 21, 2011

It's said that Bardsey is home to 20,000 souls. There are a lot more being added at the moment. Death seems to be everywhere, and some of it is rather Pulp Fiction. In the land of the living a few finches and thrushes continue to trickle through and we've had up to six Chiffchaff, a Bullfinch and a Snow Bunting linger. Perhaps the most unusual record was a late Storm Petrel, although November records are more regular than we would have thought. 

This gruesome Stormy is the third latest Bardsey record following birds on the 26th November 1959 and the 24th November 2006. Surprisingly Storm Petrels have been recorded in ten Novembers since Bardsey records began, all of which have been attracted to the Lighthouse. The reason that the head has been skinned, presumably by Field Mice, is uncertain. Birds at the base of the tower usually go unmolested by the rodents and Rich picked this bird up in heavy rain at 3am so the little critters didn't have too long to perform their ghastly act. Perhaps it was the strong scent of the petrel which attracted the mice? (c) Richard Brown

This juvenile female Sparrowhawk was found dead in the lowlands. Puncture wounds and a torn neck suggest that it came off second best in an argument with another bird, possibly a Peregrine. It is unlikely to be related to the juvenile male pictured below as young birds tend to disperse in different directions, a good way of avoiding inbreeding in birds which tend not to disperse very far. This bird was massive compared to the ringed male, indeed the Sparrowhawk shows a greater difference between the weights of males and females than any other raptor in the world. The average weight of a male in winter is around 150g, compared to a whopping 290g for a female. Two possible reasons for such a large difference are that sexes can specialise in different prey items and thus avoid competition when occupying relatively small territories, or that a larger female is better equipped to store food whilst incubating (and will therefore breed more successfully). (c) Richard Brown

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Although a Goldeneye, a Little Auk, a probable Water Pipit and a Snow Bunting have all been noted in the last few days, there is generally a quiet feeling to the island at the moment, as if things are keeping their heads down. With at least three Sparrowhawks working the island it's no surprise really. When trying to catch the Sparrowhawks we've had multiple near misses, with birds bouncing out of mist nets and escaping from the Heligoland. We were starting to think that this species would not be ringed in 2011, despite its status as a common migrant and with 105 ringed previously on Bardsey. Luckily however, Giselle managed to catch a juvenile male in the Heligoland Trap today, as it flew in hot pursuit of a tail-less Blackbird. The Blackbird got away.

Sparrowhawks did not breed on Bardsey this year, so where did this bird come from? British Sparrowhawks are sedentary and most juveniles settle in an area after a short dispersal which is typically completed within four weeks of independence. Territorial Sparrowhawks have varying sizes of foraging range depending on factors such as season, sex and age. A study in Scotland found a juvenile female in winter would range up to 7km from its roost site. In comparison an adult male in early spring could range as little as 10 hectares. Northern European Sparrowhawks are however migratory. Ringing recoveries show that most winter visitors to Britain come from Norway and Denmark. A passage of these continental birds is observed annually on the East Coast but ringing recoveries have also occurred on the West and in Ireland. It is thought that the majority are birds heading to wintering grounds on the nearby continent. So a wandering resident or a Norwegian migrant? Now it has a ring we might at least find out where it's going and how long it stays here munching Blackbirds. (c) Richard Brown

Thursday, November 17, 2011

It's cold, windy and there isn't much about. But on Bardsey there's always something interesting to look at...

Either the second or third Satellite to be found on the Island. The name presumably comes from the marks on the forewing which resemble two satellites orbiting a bigger sphere. But the amazing thing about this smart winter Noctuid is the larva. The larvae feed during the night and hide during the day between leaves they spin together. When they are young they have a typical caterpillar diet of leaves. However as they get larger they develop more carnivorous tendencies and start to take the larvae of other species! (c) Richard Brown

Up to three Merlins, three Sparrowhawks and four Peregrines are hunting over Bardsey at the moment, along with an occasional Short-eared Owl or three. It's no surprise that we are encountering the corpses of plenty of thrushes and starlings along with a Redshank. These feathers were most of what remained of a corpse at the North End of the Island. A fair distance from typical habitat, this Water Rail had probably only just arrived to Bardsey when it met its demise. (c) Richard Brown

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

We wish to start with a congratulations to Dave Boyle on Skomer who, with the addition of his self-found Desert Wheatear yesterday, is now winning the Autumn Birdrace. Dave was also victorious last year with a Bobolink and Red-flanked Bluetail, both firsts for Skomer, taking him to an easy victory. This year is much closer but with only a couple of weeks left we need a bird or two. Sadly for us there is very little around and nothing different. The highlight of today was a photogenic Chough

A record eight pairs of Chough nested on Bardsey this year. Sadly breeding productivity was bad for a third successive year. We need a way to increase productivity. One option would be to introduce a colony of Lesser Kestrels. In Northern Spain Choughs preferentially nest near Lesser K colonies as the diminutive falcons are better at detecting predators and are more vigorous in their defence of an area. Blanco and Tella found that only 16% of nests failed when near Kestrels, compared with a 65% failure when no Lesser Ks were present. The Chough has appeared on the stamps of several countries, although why it appeared on one from the Gambia, where the species does not occur, is unclear. (c) Richard Brown

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The short November days mean we're out and about for both sunrise and sunset. There have been some pretty spectacular skies of late, and I (Giselle) have been armed with the little camera. Expect more of the following over the next few weeks!

Friday morning's sunrise from the South end was a moody one. The sun didn't really make it out of the clouds... (c) Giselle Eagle

 ...until it was time to set. This photo was taken on the same day at 4pm from the Obs, just before a very heavy downpour! (c) Giselle Eagle
Continuing strong winds from the southeast did little to spoil a beautiful sunny day. The highlight was three Whooper Swans which we watched come in from the west and battle past the Lighthouse tower. A Red-breasted Merganser did pretty much the same thing. As the year progresses we again start thinking about phenology, and there have been a few interesting records of late. The Wheatear we had on the 6th was only two days earlier than the latest ever record (a bird regrowing the primaries of one wing which Rich found on the mountain in 2009). The three Willow Warblers on the 4th were only a single day earlier than the latest ever (on the 5th November 2000). An exhausted Garden Warbler at the farm yesterday was still a fair bit earlier than one on the 21st November 1969. Today we flushed a Ring Ouzel from the plantation but the record departure date set last year is the 21st.

Two of the three Whooper Swans that passed the Lighthouse. Although a few pairs breed in the UK, it is very probable that these birds are of Icelandic origin. X-rays taken by WWT when the swans are trapped for ringing show that around 13% contain shotgun pellets, suggesting that illegal shooting is still a problem for these fantastic birds. (c) Richard Brown

Friday, November 11, 2011

Horrendous rain and strong South-easterlies would put most people off heading out. To be honest it stopped us for a while and Rich seawatched out of the window. With only a couple of Mediterranean Gulls and a few hundred Black-headed Gulls and Kittiwakes in the first hour, we didn't expect much from the day. Fully waterproofed up we headed out. A Short-eared Owl flushed from the South End Gorse was as wet as we were. The weather eased as we crossed the Narrows and our attention turned to the larger gulls which were roosting above Solfach. Nine Lesser Black-backed Gulls was an increase on recent numbers but the wished for white-winged gull was nowhere to be seen. Until Rich turned and found that it was flying past us at close range. A brute of a first-year Glaucous Gull swept along the coast and off out to the South.This was the 20th record for the Island.

 The Glaucous Gull is a scarce winter visitor to the UK with up to 500 records annually. More than 80% of these records are of first-years, as was this bird. Three separate subspecies are spread in a near circumpolar distribution, but the majority of British records probably come from the migratory East Greenland population and to a lesser extent Iceland and Russia. (c) Richard Brown

First-year Glaucous and Iceland Gulls have very similar plumage and are best separated on size, structure and bill pattern. This first-year Iceland Gull was in Scarborough Harbour on the 18th of January this year and will serve as a comparison. In the Iceland Gull the broader black tip of the bill fades into the paler base, the pink of which is much more 'bubblegum' in Glaucous. The Glauc looks like its bill has been dipped in black paint. In the Glauc the black covers a smaller percentage of the bill and the bill is long in Glauc, more than half the length of the head, whereas Icelands look much more dainty, weaker and less hooked, almost Common Gull-like. The Iceland Gull has a smaller, more dome-shaped head and shorter neck. When viewed alongside Herring Gulls the Glauc looked brutish whereas the Iceland was a smaller bird. However a big size difference between the largest of males and slimmest of females of each species means caution is necessary. (c) Richard Brown

Of the five bernicla Brent Geese that have been frequenting the Narrows, only two youngsters remain. This messy eater has already journeyed from Russia or West Siberia to spend the winter in North-west Europe. (c) Richard Brown

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A calm spell, certainly by this autumn's standards, saw the Red-breasted Flycatcher remain for a second day before departing under a Milkyway filled sky, perhaps towards India and Bangladesh where it should have been heading. A cracking male Hen Harrier swept over the Island, remarkably only the second of the year. Black Redstarts are now a daily sight and vis migging has been pretty good, particularly the number of Fieldfare. Other conspicuous arrivals have been several Woodcocks, Water Rails and Short-eared Owls. At sea a few Pomarine Skuas and Mediterranean Gulls continue to linger offshore and up to five Brent Geese are visiting the Narrows.

The 235 Fieldfare recorded on the 7th was the most Bardsey has seen since 500 were logged on the 9th October 2004 (this is a tiny fraction of the Britain and Ireland overwintering population which is estimated at 1000000 individuals!). We managed to trap four of these cracking thrushes as a party of about 20 dropped into the Obs Garden. This was pretty good going as only 170 have been trapped here since 1953. We have now ringed 84 species this year. The broad tail and uniform greater coverts show this to be an adult bird and the blackness of the tail and broad flame-shaped black centers to the crown feathers suggest a male. (c) Richard Brown

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

As usual, apologies for the lack of Blog action. The internet has been down for what seems like forever. So we will continue now (with fingers crossed) to tell you about a day last week. It was a normal November day but as we walked the Narrows Rich said he could smell it in the air that there was going to be a good bird. Vis mig was good, and we decided to open some nets at Nant while playing a Finch-Medley, to entice some Brambling down. I (Giselle) went up to Nant to start opening nets while Rich went to check the rail traps that we'd set on our morning census. I was stood at the Plantation contemplating the weather, when KABOOMA, in dropped a Red-breasted Flycatcher onto a branch less than a metre away! It was trilling like a wren, and fly-catching in front of my very eyes. The bird was trapped and ringed before spending the rest of the day in the same area. Three Willow Warblers, all looking rather acredula-like, were also on the Island.

This is the first island record since June 2007 when one appeared briefly in Plas Withy. Luckily, this bird was rather more confiding (or hungry), spending the afternoon feeding along the south edge of the Plantation. (c) Richard Brown.

The yellowish-buff wing-bar, formed by the tips to the greater coverts, and the buff tips to the tertials show this is a bird of the year. Adults have uniform grey-brown wing coverts. (c) Richard Brown

There have been approximately 73 previous records of Red-breasted Flycatcher on the island which have lingered for 116 'bird-days'. Two bird-days have been in May, 11 in June, 27 in September, 74 in October and two in November. The two previous November birds both occurred on the 2nd of the month, so this was the latest record for the Island. With such a late bird the possibility of Taiga Flycatcher was always going to be an option but unfortunately we quickly ruled this out based on the bird's warm underparts, pale lower mandible and upper tail covert colour (Taiga's are colder below, have dark bills and show jet black upper tail coverts which are blacker than the tail). (c) Richard Brown.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A rather wet and blustery few days have been brightened up by an extremely confiding Pallas's Warbler touring the gardens around the farm. The bird went missing for a while yesterday and was eventually located trapped in one of the polytunnels at the farm. Rich rescued it and Gis took the opportunity to ring it. The bird only had minimal fat reserves, as might be expected after the extremely windy weather had restricted it to feeding on the ground behind garden walls and hedges. Yesterday was the first calm day for a while and as a result plenty of birds took it as an opportunity to make a move. A minimum of 2800 Starling made spectacular patterns above the South End whilst 59 Skylark, 46 Jackdaw, a Rook, a Hooded Crow, 220 Chaffinch, seven Brambling, 57 Greenfinch, two Siskin, eight Goldfinch, 33 Linnet, seven Redpoll and three Reed Bunting passed overhead. Today we've found a couple of Black Redstarts.

This stunning little sprite was dubbed Phylloscopus proregulus by Pallas. Phylloscopus translates literally as 'leaf-seeker' and proregulus as 'close to regulus'. The regulus in question is the Goldcrest and there are several similarities between the two species, particularly in terms of size (wing lengths and weights both overlap and there is a bias towards males being fractionally larger in both). The two species are also similar in their active behaviour, constantly flitting around branches and leaves, peering into each bend in the foliage and deftly picking out the inverts. (c) Richard Brown

In the hand the wing measured 52.5mm and the tail 38mm, both indicative of a male but so close to the overlap range with females that it's best not to sex it on size alone. It weighed 5.7g (to put that into perspective a 10p piece ways 6.5g!). (c) Richard Brown

Both of today's Black Redstarts were in typical habitat, lurking in and around derelict sheds and rubbish piles. A scarce breeder in the UK, their numbers increased markedly around London after the war when bombsites and derelict building provided perfect habitat. Ringing recoveries have shown that the majority of our passage birds are of a Western European origin and on their way to wintering grounds further South, although some birds arriving now may also overwinter in the UK. Indeed one individual overwintered on Bardsey in 2009-2010. (c) Richard Brown