Thursday, 6 November 2014

NGB Bardsey Island Bird Observatory week

On the morning of the 27th September, NGB chairman; Matt Bruce drove along the north Wales coast, collecting NGB's as he went. First Josie Hewitt and Liam Curson, then myself (James Garside) and Susan Jones. We were travelling down the Lleyn peninsula by eight, bobbing over the sound by nine and hurrying up to the obs a short while later.
Steve Stansfield (the head warden) introduced us to the other obs staff; Steffan and Mark the assistant wardens; and the volunteers - 'Icky' Steve, Mike and of course, 'Bardsey' Ben Porter (also NGB).
After a few short introductory talks and a quick bit of unpacking, we headed into the obs garden in the hope of seeing the Barred Warbler which had been present there for a while. As we waited, we saw a large warbler fly into the heligoland trap, where it was soon caught by Steve. It was the Barred Warbler, and we all enjoyed seeing it in the hand - a lifer for some of us and a great start to the week!

Steve even allowed me to release the bird which was a great moment!

We had a quick bite to eat, before Steve and his wife Emma lead us on a walk around the north of the island. We saw some good species like Purple Sandpiper and Whimbrel (a lifer for Josie), and it was good to get to know each other a bit better.
We ate our evening meal watching jumping Risso's Dolphins against an impressive sunset!
After the evening log, Steve gave an excellent talk about island, and the birds that had been seen there in the past, which really got us fired up for the next days birding!
But the first day wasn't over yet! We headed out into the dark with Ben and Steve in the hope of ringing a few young Manx Shearwater. After a while we found a few and everybody was able to have a go at ringing one under Steve's supervision!

The second day of our visit started well, when Steve got onto a pair of Balearic Shearwaters, shortly after dawn, and myself and Liam were able to get onto them. A short while later the walky-talkies crackled into life. 'Icky' Steve had found a Hoopoe on the south of the island at Pen Cristin!
There was no sign of the others, so me and Liam hurried south with Mark. However, after a few hundred meters, news came through that the bird was flying over the mountain! Looking up, we could see the bird, but we could also make out three juvenile Peregrines close behind! We watched in awe as the bird evaded several close encounters with the powerful raptors, before disappearing into the clouds, high over the mountain! Not the way we had expected to see our first British Hoopoe!
Fortunately Matt, Josie, Susan and Ben had all headed north where Josie had relocated the bird and they had all had good views of it at Nant! Eventually everybody got good views of the bird there, although it was quite flighty and elusive throughout.

The day finished well, when Mark found a Firecrest in the Withies, and after a good evening meal,  we were able to see it in the fading light!
That evening, Steve gave another excellent talk, this time about the family holiday the Stansfields had had in Spain, and the birds they had seen there.
Monday the 29th September dawned clear and calm, and everybody was out birding or ringing around the island. Mike and myself headed down to the Withies to do some ringing, and had a very good morning. By  far the highlight, was when a Yellow-Browed Warbler dropped into one of the nets in Cristin Withy. We popped it in a bird bag and carried it up to the obs, where it was ringed by Josie! At the obs, they had already caught a Goldcrest and a Firecrest, and we were able to have all three birds in the hand together - a memorable moment!

Susan ringed the Firecrest too, which was a lifer for her! After they had been ringed we released the birds into the obs garden, where they were later seen feeding actively in a sycamore. We spent a quiet afternoon birding around the obs and up to Nant, where a Little Owl was the only notable bird.
That evening, Steve gave his third and final talk, this time about his time at Falsterbo, and the work of the Bird Observatories Council.
Tuesday and Wednesday were both a little quieter on the birding front, but we did have good views of a Merlin and several leucorhoa Wheatears on the south end. Me, Liam and Steffan saw a Balearic Shearwater very well from the south hide on Wednesday morning, followed by a Lesser Whitethroat and a Whinchat. The Hoopoe was seen on both days, though never well. We had a good time anyway relaxing in the obs, stuffing our faces with Conors amazing cookies and enjoying some casual seawatching. We also had a walk up the mountain and enjoyed some cracking views!
Ben gave an excellent talk in the evening, about his time ringing and birding in Kenya, and included some great photos of plenty of exotic species!
The male voice choir group 'Only Men Aloud' were also staying on the island, filming a piece for TV. They kindly cooked a meal for us, and performed a short concert in the chapel, which was appreciated by all.

Thursday the 2nd October was the day of the bird race! NGB's vs the obs Staff! As the visitors, we were the clear underdogs, but were determined to have a really good go at it. The rules were simple; a species could be counted as long as at least two members of the team had seen or heard it.
At dawn, Matt, Susan and Josie headed north along the mountainside towards Nant. Myself and Liam headed down through the lowlands and the wetlands to the withies. We picked up on good numbers of the commoner species straight away, and Liams keen ears picked out a group of Siskin amongst the abundant Grey Wagtails streaming over. We flushed a Snipe from the wetlands before heading  north past the reed bed where we heard a Reed Bunting. A Yellow Wagtail flew north calling and Skylarks were passing over in good numbers too. Around the north of the island we picked up some common seabirds and also had a Mediterranean Gull offshore. A couple of Peregrines were over the mountain, and a couple of Sandwich Terns passed by offshore. After breakfast we headed to the south end where we met the rest of the team.

We birded the area together, picking up some of the standard species in the narrows; Redshank, Turnstone and Oystercatcher. We also watched three Wheatear arriving on Solfach. Things started to slow up around lunchtime, and we learnt that the obs staff had had several species including the Hoopoe that we had yet to see. They did also, let slip that they had seen a Pied Flycatcher in Cristin Withy, so we headed down there to have a look. It showed well after a short wait, allowing for some decent photos.

Myself and Liam headed to Pen Cristin to try and find the Hoopoe, whilst Josie and Matt headed north, to see what else they could find before dinner. As we headed up the hill, Liam and I heard a Little Owl calling. We continued a few paces, when the Hoopoe flushed up from in front of us. We crawled up the hill to where the bird had landed, and eventually had stunning (though very brief) views of the bird! I managed a few shots which fortunately came out quite well!

We caught up with the others at the obs. They told us the good news that they had had a couple of new species for the day. We spent the evening seawatching from the obs, and added a Great Skua to the list to round things off.
Steve and Emma cooked chilli, and we spent a great evening with everybody on the island. After the log later, we discovered that we had lost the bird race by just a six species. We didn't mind too much, as we had had another great day anyway! Steve had put together a quiz, and we had fun competing against the obs staff once again!
That night, Ben managed to catch some Moorhen and we had a go at ringing them which was quite an experience!
Our last full day was spent seawatching in promising conditions, but with little reward. The total of five Arctic Skua for the day was the only notable count.
The journey home was quiet too, though Matt, Josie, Liam and Susan did have fantastic views of the Grey Phalarope at Morfa Madryn!

We'd all enjoyed a cracking week with some great people!

-James Garside
James is a 19 year old Zoology student at Swansea University. He enjoys regularly birding the University Birdwatch Challenge area (a competition the Swansea team won last year), and he occasionally twitches rares further afield. He's spent most of his life birding in Britain and hopes to do more birding abroad in the near future.

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