Monday, April 30, 2012

It’s been over three weeks since we returned to Bardsey. In that time we have had a few decent days of birding but, as with the rest of the country, a lot of things seem to be in low numbers. The persistent Northerly wind hasn’t been very favourable for spring passage, although many birds have still battled through the headwind, including a Chiffchaff caught by Giselle which had been ringed at Portland six days previously. Phyllosc numbers have been good at times with 221 Willow Warblers on the 21st and 55 Chiffchaffs on the 2nd being the highest counts so far, but the totals for April are well down on average. Blackcap numbers have also been impressive with 160 on the 20th being the busiest day. Four male Redstarts and two drabber females, along with a male and female Pied Flycatcher, have passed through and a couple of Whinchats have been in the lowlands. Up to three Cuckoos, including two singing males, have lingered and a few Ring Ouzels have chacked along the mountain. The number of Grasshopper Warblers, Goldcrests and Whitethroats has been very disappointing, with only three of the latter so far recorded. Overhead, the first few Swifts of the year have occurred this week and three attempted to roost on the ringing hut this evening. Tree Pipit numbers reached five today, but the first Yellow Wagtail of the spring is yet to pass over. Two Snow Buntings have moved through, the second of which was a stunning male in nearly full breeding colours. Wader passage has been steady with single figure counts of Common Sandpiper, single figure counts of Ringed Plover, including a couple of diminutive tundrae birds, and up to 68 Whimbrels. Any east in the wind and sea passage gets rather minimal, however a few Great Northern Divers, Red-throated Divers and a Little Gull have passed. By far the scarcest bird of the period has been a Woodlark which spent the afternoon near the Chapel.

The first spring Woodlark since 2004 spent the afternoon of the 8th in the muddy field by the Chapel. (c) Richard Brown

This is the smartest Snow Bunting we’ve found in the last five springs; however we sometimes don’t even get a spring record so it’s probably not saying much. The latest spring departure date for Bardsey is the 22 June, recorded in 1970. If we found this stunning male then, the bill would be black and the brown feathering over the central crown would have worn to white. (c) Richard Brown

This, the first of this seasons' Redstarts, was only present for a few minutes before it headed off up the mountain. Since then two males have lingered around the Plantation and today a male was sheltering from the wind in the rocks below the South End hide (c) Richard Brown

Wheatear passage has increased significantly this week with 403 on the 28th the maximum count. The majority of the birds are of the Greenland form leucorhoa, and are probably getting ready for a mammoth non-stop journey across open ocean. If they are breeding in North East Canada then they will cover roughly 1500 miles! Thanks to Birding World for that gem. (c) Richard Brown

The 29th was pretty much a wash out with heavy rain for the majority of the day. But the pools that it created are proving rather popular with the waders, particularly this Dunlin which was happily dunking its head in to remove the grubs from the turf below. (c) Richard Brown

A couple of male Cuckoos have been singing around Nant for the last few days. Their role in the UK will be a brief one as they have none of the parental responsibilities of most other birds. Their goal will be the female that has also lingered for the last few days. She has been seen up on the mountain bothering the Meadow Pipits but whether she is parasitising broods or just intimidating the locals is so far unclear. There have been only two confirmed breeding records since 1970. (c) Richard Brown

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Rich was lucky enough to be spending much of his time on the coast of Dog Island. The thousands of seabirds lining the coast were amazing, but it was always worth looking down into the turquoise sea where Green Turtles were often feeding in the bays and coves. Sea turtles spend most of their lives submerged, usually spending four or five minutes feeding before surfacing for only a couple of seconds. However they can also rest or sleep underwater for much longer, even for several hours, but only if activity is kept to a minimum. (c) Richard Brown
Getting rid of the Black Rats was really going to benefit the Sooty Terns, as mentioned below. But there were lots of other species that would benefit from the eradication. One of the targets was Audubon's Shearwater, a burrow nester like our own Manx Shearwater and therefore really vulnerable to predators such as rats. The Manx Shearwaters on Bardsey thrive because there are none of the rats which heavily impact on colonies elsewhere. Although they had never been recorded on Dog, a few Audubon's Shearwaters were nesting on nearby islands. It was thus hoped that they would soon colonise a rat free island when we'd done our job.

It was a massive surprise for us all when Rich stumbled across two pairs already nesting! Two streaks of crap led him to two cracks in a rock face, each containing an incubating adult. One of the nests also contained the remains of a hatched egg, suggesting that the bird was on a small chick. Unlike our Manx Shearwater, Audubon's are not thought to undertake a lengthy migration, but rather remain in the waters of the western Atlantic. The short-winged, long-tailed silhouette is obvious in this photo, as are the marked undertail coverts and relatively short, thin bill. (c) Richard Brown

It is not just birds that will benefit from the eradication. The Anguilla Bank Anole will also benefit hugely. These smart little anoles are endemic to the Caribbean Lesser Antilles. The brightly coloured dewlap is used both in courtship and when trying to ward off predators. It doesn't always work however. Following the link will bring up a photo of an anole failing spectacularly to startle a predator! (c) Richard Brown

One of the main predators of the Bank Anole is the American Kestrel. They don't hunt in the same way as our Kestrels, but rather perch until they spot their prey before flying directly at it. This bird is a female, lacking the blue-grey wing of the male. Females tend to winter in more open areas than the males, the preferred habitat for this species. The likely explanation is that the larger females arrive in prime areas first and then exclude any males which appear later. (c) Richard Brown

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Well, it's been well over two months since we last posted. We apologise for our absence but we've been out on Dog Island, an uninhabited rocky paradise 13km Northwest of Anguilla in the Northeastern Caribbean. As part of a ten man team, our goal was to rid the island of invasive Black Rats, which would in turn improve seabird productivity along with benefiting all other aspects of island ecology including native plants and five species of native reptile. The work was hard, but we were constantly surrounded by amazing wildlife which made every minute fantastic. We're back on Bardsey now, trying to find time to sort through several thousand photographs; we'll post some of the better ones here. We'll start with a few of the breeding seabirds...

The most abundant of the breeding seabirds was the Sooty Tern; there are roughly 110,000 pairs. But we didn't actually see any until the last few days of the eradication. We did however hear them as they would come inshore under the cover of darkness, many hundreds of them giving their distinctive 'wide-a-wake' calls. Come the morning, all that would be left were heads and wings deposited by the resident Peregrines. These were very popular with the Ground Lizards. The removal of the rats will really benefit the Sooty Terns as the rats take eggs and small young. The eradication was timed so as to result in minimal disturbance to the terns, hence we were there prior to their breeding season. (c) Richard Brown

Perhaps the most impressive site on Dog was the colony of approximately 300 pairs of Magnificent Frigatebird which dominated the East End of the island. It was necessary to get close to the birds to ensure that all areas of the island received sufficient poison to successfully eradicate the Black Rats. But the frigatebirds weren't always too keen on this and occasionally gave Rich a belt on the back of his head. But for the majority of the time they were busy belting other things, particularly Masked Boobies, Brown Boobies and Red-billed Tropicbirds, all of which would regurgitate food if pressed sufficiently hard. (c) Richard Brown

A Brown Booby being pressed sufficiently hard. (c) Richard Brown