The festive season (23rd Dec to 3rd Jan) may not be the obvious time for birders on Lundy but once again the draw of Christmas and New Year in the Tavern brought avian rewards too, with Great Northern Diver, an unseasonal Manx Shearwater and a spanking Iceland Gull.
|Great Northern Diver © Philip Lymbery|
A Lundy vagrant, the Iceland Gull was located early afternoon on Boxing Day preening and feeding with Herring Gulls just north of Old Light. A large pale-headed gull with pearly white wing tips and faded coffee-stain barring on the body made for a first winter bird. This was surely the one originally found a few days earlier (23rd Dec) by warden, Dean Jones. Only to be expected when the island is blessed with a great birder for a warden. And that very much set the tone of trip: trailing in the wake of Dean.
|First-winter Iceland Gull (bottom), Ackland's Moor, 26th Dec © Philip Lymbery|
Another trip highlight was a single Manx Shearwater that swapped waters off South America for winter waves around Lundy. Seeing the bird was the culmination of several day’s effort. The previous day had been bright and calm. Some 500-600 Kittiwakes were in a feeding frenzy, forming dense flocks off the southeast coast. Two dozen Gannets were sliding low between them, taking the occasional plunge-dive. Although distant specks flashing in the sun, it made for a dramatic sight. There was still an afterglow of activity early next morning (31st Dec) with about a hundred Kittiwakes and 38 Gannets battling against brisk onshore easterlies. They were now much closer to Lundy’s coast. In the midst of all the action was that distinct shearwater shape so familiar here in warmer seasons, I watched the bird bank and glide, showing the contrasting white and dark plumage of a ‘Manxie’. I was delighted. Yes, I’ve seen thousands of them here before, all in more expected seasons. But this one was not only notable for the time of year, but because I’d also caught up with another bird seen by keen-eyed Dean.
Amongst other notables on this trip were at least two Great Northern Divers, with both adult and juvenile birds seen daily off the Landing Bay. On one occasion, I watched an adult bird catch a crab and shake the legs off. I didn’t see the crab’s body get eaten but I know the diver at least gave it a good go. Other birds around the bay included a single Shag daily along with Oystercatcher, whose numbers peaked at a dozen on 2nd Jan.
|Oystercatcher, Landing Bay © Philip Lymbery|
Elsewhere on the island, a Golden Plover headed north over Millcombe (31st Dec), and peak counts of 19 Teal and 17 Snipe (26th) were seen at Pondsbury. Winter thrushes were in short supply, with a single Redwing (25th & 26th Dec) and the odd apologetic Song Thrush. Pipits were almost exclusively represented by Rock Pipits, with a peak count of 35 (28th Dec). About a hundred Guillemots clung to the cliffs in Jenny’s Cove, a distant echo of the thousands that cluster there on spring days but good to see nonetheless. At least two Water Rail could be heard squealing the place down in Millcombe, whilst leafless bushes meant skulking residents were easy to see; I had 8 Dunnocks hopping around together in a single view. Other birds in the notebook included up to 6 Peregrines, a male Kestrel (28th Dec), 10 Skylark (30th), up to 4 Stonechat, and a lone female Goldcrest (25th and 30th).
|Teal coming in at Pondsbury © Philip Lymbery|
|Peregrine over Pondsbury © Philip Lymbery|
|Skylark © Philip Lymbery|
|Female Stonechat on the upper East Side © Philip Lymbery|
Okay, so bird-wise there was to be no repeat of the pre-Christmas purple patch in 2016. I remember top twitcher, Lee Evans, asking incredulously why we were going to Lundy in December! We answered within an hour or so by finding a Lundy vagrant (Red-necked Grebe), a Black Redstart and a national rarity in the island’s first over-wintering Red throated Pipit. But then that was before Dean.
Yet, that sense of anticipation was very much still there. That feeling of never quite knowing what to expect. Early starts and long hikes driven by past glories and dreams of what might yet be.
|Sunrise on Christmas Day © Philip Lymbery|
And then there’s the unique festive experience on Lundy. A first-rate Christmas lunch (thanks, head chef Dave) with friends and fellow enthusiasts in surely the best of pubs. And a New Year’s party to remember with pin-striped gangsters, long-legged bunny girls and white-faced silent movie stars. Amongst all the ‘Roaring Twenties’ mayhem was someone dressed as a stag in celebration of nearly a century on Lundy for the island’s Sika deer.
|Sika deer © Philip Lymbery|
|Old Light under an approaching cold front © Philip Lymbery|
So, another trip comes to an end at a time of year when the island is stripped back to basics with bare rock amongst thin vegetation. Yet, there’s more than enough for the camera to capture. Plenty of ground to cover and habitat to explore. And there’s that ever-present feeling of never quite knowing what you’ll find next. It’s that sense of anticipation on this magical isle that keeps us searching for that increasingly elusive sight: one not already seen by Dean.
Philip & Helen Lymbery
4th January 2020