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This page is run by volunteer contributors as a source of news for everyone interested in the birds of Lundy, in the Bristol Channel, UK.
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See also the companion website The Birds of Lundy for comprehensive updates to the 2007 book of the same name.
Bird recording and ringing on Lundy are coordinated by the Lundy Field Society and general information about visiting the island can be found here.

Thursday, 3 September 2020

18th Aug to 3rd Sep – Stormy weather, spectacular wildlife

Lundy Warden Dean Woodfin Jones sums up a period during which the often turbulent – and distinctly un-summer-like – weather provided the backdrop to more remarkable records of birds, moths and marine invertebrates, including two 'firsts' for the island...

With the turn of the month, autumn has well and truly arrived on the island. Days are noticeably shorter, bird migration has picked up pace, a smorgasbord of fungal fruiting bodies is emerging across the island and the lush-green foliage in Millcombe has quickly browned and wilted due to the recent storms, and is at present cascading beautifully through the valley.

Wet and very windy has been the main theme of this period, which included two big, named storms, Ellen and Francis, which battered the island with gusts of up to 63mph on the 20th and 25th respectively. Unsurprisingly, the high winds created some spectacular swell here in the Channel, particularly during Storm Francis, which in turn prevented staying visitors from getting home for an extra three nights! Luckily, however, damage to infrastructure on the island was minimal, though Ellen and Francis both took with them a number of gates and fence posts, as well as some small sections of drystone wall and, very sadly, two of the big trees at the back of Millcombe Wood.

Storm Ellen picking up steam off North End, 20 Aug © Dean Jones

Storm Francis made seawatching difficult on the west coast, Dead Cow Point, 25 Aug © Dean Jones

Splash & Dash! MS Oldenburg had a tricky landing in NE winds on 29 Aug © Dean Jones

Strong northerly and north-easterly winds and the occasional shower or heavier downpour followed on after Francis up until the 29th (apart from a short-lived spell of peaceful and sunny weather on the afternoon and evening of the 26th). From the 30th, however, visitors were treated to three days of beautiful, settled, sunny and warm weather – conditions which also brought with them a wonderful and diverse little flutter of avian migrants. So, without furher ado, on to the birds…

The end of August, in particular, provided some spectacular sightings, some of which have been mentioned already in the superb notes by visiting ringers Tim Frayling, Bart Donato and Mark Worden. During five days spanning the 23rd to 28th, the team managed to catch and ring an excellent 123 Manx Shearwater (as well as eight other Lundy retraps) and a grand total of 30 Storm Petrels (plus 18 Lundy retraps and two controls – i.e. birds ringed elsewhere) on that spectacular evening on the 26th. We’ve now heard back from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) regarding those controls, the first being ringed on the island of Skokholm, Pembrokeshire on 17 Jul 2019, and the other at Annagh Head, Mayo, Ireland on 16 Aug 2014. Magic stuff gang – very well done!

The Manx Shearwater nestboxes were visited again on the 24th to see how many of this year’s breeding attempts have been successful. Here, five of the seven boxes which had incubating birds at the start of the season now have healthy young birds close to fledging – all of which are now sporting shiny new rings!

One of the shearwater chicks from the nestboxes near Old Light, 24 Aug © Dean Jones

In addition to our spectacular breeding shearwaters and petrels, the obvious star bird of the period was the young Bridled Tern (only the second record for Lundy and Devon, and the first of a live individual – if accepted by BBRC), closely followed by Lundy’s fifth Sabine’s Gull, both of which were present offshore from the Landing Bay on the 26th (see earlier blog post for further details).

Additional sightings of note within this period included a flurry of juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls around the island, with single birds noted on the 24th and 28th and two together sheltering from Storm Francis in the Landing Bay on the 25th. Furthermore, on another wet and wild morning, the first two Balearic Shearwaters of the year zoomed past Rat Island accompanied by 1,684 Manx Shearwater (in two hours of observations) on the 20th. Then, ending the month in spectacular fashion, the second Melodious Warbler of the year graced the Terrace willows briefly on the 31st.

The second Melodious Warbler of the autumn, Terrace, 31 Aug © Dean Jones

Other Lundy scarcities included two juvenile Mediterranean Gull and two Sandwich Tern off the North End on the 20th, as well as records of up to two Black-headed Gull on four dates. There has also been a nice variety of waders over the island recently, including a Greenshank over the Old Light Manx colony on the 24th, fly-over Green Sandpipers on the 31st and 2nd, two Common Sandpiper on the 26th, singles of Turnstone and Redshank on 1st, two Whimbrel, two Golden Plover and a single Ringed Plover on the 2nd, and small numbers of Snipe and Dunlin on a number of dates.

On the passerine front, the last week-and-a-bit has been magic for soundbound flycatchers, namely Spotted Flycatcher, which has been recorded on seven dates since the 20th (max 10 on the 24th and 1st) and Pied Flycatchers on four dates (max 10 scattered around the island on the 1st).

One of 10 Pied Flycatchers gracing the island on 1 Sep, this one in Millcombe © Dean Jones

Willow Warbler passage is now slowing to a trickle, though Blackcap numbers have started to pick up in the last week (max 14 on the 31st). We’ve also had a few more southbound Tree Pipits and Grey Wagtails over the past few days, as well as a number of firsts for the autumn including Goldcrest (28th), Yellow Wagtail (31st), White Wagtail (31st) and Song Thrush (2nd).

Finally, there’s been a small push of hirundines on the days of better weather, as well as the odd southbound Swift (max 17 on 1st Sep). Wheatear, Meadow Pipit, Chaffinch and Robin too have been gathering and moving through in small numbers.

Common birds such as Robin have also been on the move in small numbers, 2 Sep © Dean Jones

Lepidoptera highlights

Again, unsurprisingly due to the strong winds, butterfly sightings been rather few and far between, but since the storms have passed, 10 species have been recorded in small numbers, including a second generation of Small Copper, Small Heath and Common Blue as well as good numbers of Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell, a smattering of Painted Lady and a single Grayling on the 31st.

Moth-related highlights included a Hummingbird Hawkmoth in the Laundry Room on the 26th, a Nutmeg (Anarta trifolii) in the Millcombe Heath trap on the 31st – only the second record for the island and the first since 2011! Additionally, yet another new species for the island turned up in the Valley on the 24th – the SPECtacular Dark Spectacle (Abrostola triplasia)!

Dark Spectacle Abrostola triplasia, new for Lundy, 24 Aug © Dean Jones

Recent trapping efforts have also resulted in the first Copper Underwing and Frosted Orange of the year, as well as a small number of migrant moths such as Rusty-dot Pearl, Dark Sword Grass and good numbers of Silver Y.

Marine sightings

August was also a very exciting period for wildlife sightings beneath the waves and upon the low shore – the most notable of these being the mass arrival of thousands of breeding and moulting Spiny Spider Crabs (Maja squinado) in the Landing Bay!

The arrival was particularly evident just before Storm Ellen, when you literally could not see the seabed whilst snorkelling due to the mass aggregations of crabs jostling and clambering for the safest spot to moult and subsequently breed – once they’d freed themselves from their epiphyte-rich exoskeletons. Lundy marine expert Keith Hiscock, who was over at the start of this period and who has been visiting, monitoring and helping to protect Lundy waters for more than 40 years, said he’s never seen or heard of this spectacle occurring around Lundy before. This gathering was therefore quite a rare sight for the island! Fingers crossed the animals don’t wait another 40 years to provide staff and visitors with this superb underwater spectacle again.

Heaps of moulted Spider Crab exoskeletons washed up in the Landing Bay, 18 Aug © Dean Jones

This was the scene just below the Jetty, 18 Aug © Dean Jones

Another marine highlight, but one that is much more inconspicuous (and indeed slimier) than the Spider Crabs, was the discovery of a number of Celtic Sea Slugs (Onchidella celtica) in the Devil’s Kitchen by eagle-eyed Assistant Warden Rosie Ellis on the 21st. Although relatively common, albeit restricted in its distribution, in the South West, these superb little molluscs collectively constituted the first record for Lundy. Bravo Rosie!

Rosie Ellis holds a Celtic Sea Slug, 21 Aug © Keith Hiscock

A closer view of a Lundy marine 'first'! © Keith Hiscock

We’ve also seen an increase in the number of Atlantic Grey Seals around the island, with a grand total of 218 animals along the east coast on the 24th – the highest count of the year and the third highest count ever for the island (the all-time record standing at 239 animals in August 2011)! The reason for this arrival is of course to breed. So far, Team Seal (composed of volunteers Sophia Upton and Ben Hanson) has managed to find and collect data on 10 pups along the east coast, as well as to gather re-sighting information on two breeding adults from our photo identification project!

Lots of heavily pregnant female seals are getting ready to pup, South End, 28 Aug © Dean Jones

Early pups are already at the portly weaner stage, 31 Aug © Dean Jones

This is a particularly vulnerable time for our seal pups so we ask that anyone who is visiting the island and who sees a pup or any hauled-out animals to please keep your distance! For information on the best way to view seals safely and to learn about the impacts of disturbance on these beautiful marine mammals, click on the following link to the Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust's website: https://www.cornwallsealgroup.co.uk/2016/09/give-pups-space/

Unfortunately, cetacean sightings have been rather scarce of late, with just four Harbour Porpoise noted offshore from Rat Island on the 27th, and seven Common Dolphin and five Harbour Porpoise moving south past South West Point on the 31st.

Finally, after the strong north-east winds on the 29th, around 30 small aggregations of the Buoy Barnacle (Dosima fascicularis) were blown into the Landing Bay area on the 30th, alongside small numbers of the strange but very beautiful hydrozoan, the By-the-wind Sailor (Velella velella).

Let’s hope the rest of September proves just as – or even more – exciting; we'll let you know in due course!

Report composed of sightings from Zoë Barton, Bart Donato, Rosie Ellis, Tim Frayling, Ben Hanson, Keith Hiscock, Dean Jones, Sophia Upton, Sue and Alice Waterfield and Mark Worden.

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