Sunday, September 30, 2012

We've been away from Bardsey for the past week. It was inevitable that we were going to miss a bird or two; it was the last week of September after all. At the start of the week it seemed as though we might get lucky; howling winds and persistent rain kept attention focused on a rather quiet sea. But with so much having arrived on the East Coast, and with the winds dropping, it was only a matter of time before Bardsey would collect another Welsh Rare. It came in the form of a rather brief but obliging Little Bunting, the first since 2005 and only the 13th for Bardsey. The following day saw a skulking Locustella which was probably smaller than a Grasshopper Warbler. We had only been back on the Island for an hour when a Barred Warbler was located near the Chapel. It was clearly on a mission and soon flew over the assembled crowd and off up the mountain.

So why leave such a fantastic place in the last week of September? Well there would have to be a pretty good reason. And there was. The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales were looking to appoint a new Warden for Skokholm. We are very pleased to announce that they have appointed two. From the start of January we will be the Skokholm Island Wardens! Skokholm is home to approximately 20% of Europe’s breeding Storm Petrels and 15% of the world population of Manx Shearwaters. The seabird assemblage is of international importance. Throw in a few Nationally Scarce species of Lepidoptera and plants, a spectacular landscape of old red sandstone, Skokholm’s reputation as a migration hotspot and it is no surprise how excited we are. It hasn’t really sunk in yet. Skokholm was also Britain’s first Bird Observatory, started by Ronald Lockley in 1933. It is a real honour to be able to follow in the footsteps of such a pioneering naturalist. We would like to extend a massive thank you to everyone who has helped and supported us on Bardsey, and to all the guests who have become good friends over the years. We will of course be hoping to see you all on Skokholm in the future.

We are very excited about having a final autumn on Bardsey and hope to go out with a bang (well a nice selection of rares anyway).  

The Barred Warbler which greeted us back on Bardsey. There seems to be a moult contrast in the greater coverts of both wings. This, coupled with the limited barring to the underparts and the broad pale edges to the tertials and secondaries, suggest a bird of the year. (c) Richard Brown

Although our trip to Pembrokeshire this week was on business, there was a bit of time to go birding. The Wryneck on Skomer is a long-stayer and is frequenting the same bushes where I saw many a Wryneck during my time as Assistant there. The Glossy Ibis is right outside the Marloes Mere YHA where we were staying. This bird has been back and forth to Ireland a couple of times during its stay. It has also visited Skokholm (we can only hope that it continues to do so next year)! But these movements are tiny compared to what it's capable of - recently observations of a ringed bird revealed a movement of 600km in a single day. (c) Richard Brown

Sunday, September 23, 2012

It's been a week of seawatching with little in the way of island-based excitement. Nine Red-throated Divers, three Black-throated Divers, two Great Northern Divers, 17 Sooty Shearwaters, seven Balearic Shearwaters, 29 Leach's Petrel, ten Pomarine Skuas, 68 Arctic Skuas, three Long-tailed Skuas, 56 Great Skuas, two Mediterranean Gulls, a Little Gull, a Sabine's Gull, a smattering of commoner terns and a Black Guillemot have all joined the commoner birds passing by. A big shearwater and a small shearwater both got the pulses racing for two lucky (or unlucky) observers, but we sadly didn't connect. Giselle's Melodious Warbler showed amazingly well and when re-trapped was found to have put on 20% of its body weight. It stayed a couple more days before departing on the clear night of the 18th. A brief flyover Hobby brightened our day on the 20th and yesterday morning a large pipit became yet another bird that got away. Silent as it flew over Rich and the South Tip, it was in the company of Goldfinch. The Goldfinches returned from the sea, but no sign of the pipit. The most intergalactic event of the period is documented here: but the chances of anything coming from Mars are a million-to-one. About the same chances of finding a BB rare on the South End.

With nearly 30 Leach's Petrels recorded at sea, it was no surprise when Rich found this little fella at the bottom of the Lighthouse during a passing squall. William Elford Leach was an expert in crustaceans and molluscs but also spiders, mammals and birds. He purchased a petrel such as the one above for the British Museum for the princely sum of £5 15s in 1819, and a year later Coenraad Temminck, of Stint and Lark fame, named it after Leach. Leach also purchased a Great Auk and its egg at the same time. This is the third Leach's Petrel we've caught at the Lighthouse in three years. (c) Richard Brown

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Northwesterly winds promised a bit of action at sea, but they never really delivered. One lucky observer had a distant Sabine's Gull and a couple of Black Guillemots whilst the rest of us only managed a couple of Black Terns and a few of the commoner skuas. The highlight has been Giselle's Melodious Warbler which continues to delight all comers in the Observatory garden. When she first trapped it the fat and muscle scores for the bird were a lightweight 0/0. The fat is the bird's primary energy reserve and is quickly gained and lost by migrating passerines. The muscle score is a measure of the size of the pectoral muscles whose proteins are used as fuel by migrants. So the Melodious had basically used up all of its fat reserves and wasted its pectoral muscles to get here. But since it has been gorging itself on flies in the back garden and will soon be ready for the off - hopefully in the right direction this time.

Of the ten Melodious Warblers reported in the UK since the 1st of August, we have recorded two of them. Only St. Mary's has managed the same. (c) Richard Brown

The bird is very active, constantly on the look out for insects. Its head is always darting around to spot the next victim. It then either flies at the insect and grabs it or, as in the bottom photo, slowly sticks its neck out before striking out gecko-fashion with a quick lunge. The quickest way to find the bird in the Obs garden is to listen out for the snap of its bill, a sound much louder than that made by the Phylloscs. (c) Richard Brown

An Icterine Warbler (on the 26th August last year) and Chiffchaff also making the most of large flies. (c) Richard Brown

Most of the Manx Shearwaters are now fledging. Youngsters that haven't made it out to sea or back down a burrow are easy pickings for the Great Black-backed Gulls and Crows. (c) Richard Brown

Friday, September 7, 2012

It has been very quiet bird-wise since our last post. So quiet in fact that we've spent a fair bit of time bothering undergrowth in an attempt to improve our chances of catching birds when they do arrive. The new plantation at Nant has held some pretty decent birds in the last year or so, ranging from a Corncrake to a Western Bonelli's Warbler. But the vegetation had grown taller than the nets and there was a big section of impenetrable woodland which has no doubt held several BB Rarities during the course of the year so far. So we pollarded the trees and stuck in a new 50 foot net ride through the middle. Subsequently there has still been virtually nothing in the way of grounded migrants, although one day saw over 5000 Swallows pass North and many Grey Wagtails have gone over (using an old water bottle off a bike we also created a constant drip of water next to one of the nets to try and lure a Grey Wagtail or two down - but it's yet to work). Anyway, the first reward for all our efforts came today. We had only caught about five birds when Giselle extracted the third Melodious Warbler of the year from our new net ride. Despite the area having been well birded, the first we knew about it was when Giselle found it hanging there - what else must have skulked through this dense patch of scrub?

This neat first year arrived on a good day for Hippos. On Bardsey since 1958, the seventh of September has seen seven previous Melodious Warblers and three Icterine Warblers recorded. So eight of 113 Melodious Warblers have occurred on this date. (c) Richard Brown

Several Hummingbird Hawkmoths have been in the gardens along with numerous Silver Ys. Three Migrant Hawkers have also passed through. (c) Richard Brown