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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.

Tuesday, 20 October 2020

13th to 17th Oct – White-tailed Eagle returns to Lundy after 140 years

Tuesday 13th October
 
Windy throughout, initially from NW, gradually veering more northerly during the day and even a touch of ENE by dusk. Heavy showers in the morning – though many missing the island – becoming more isolated by midday and more or less dry during the afternoon, though more shower clouds around at dusk giving some spectacular light effects.
 
Dramatic evening light looking towards Tibbetts Hill from near Pondsbury, 13 Oct © Tim Jones
 
Visible migration over Millcombe first thing was significantly reduced compared to the morning of 12th, with just 36 Redwing, no Fieldfare at all, and small numbers of passage Meadow Pipit, Chaffinch, Goldfinch and Siskin. The yellowish potential hibernicus Coal Tit was again in Millcombe, whilst the valley also held a few Blackbird, Song Thrush, Blackcap and Chiffchaff, but there had been an overnight noticeable clearout of many migrants.
 
It was therefore a considerable relief that some 20 birders who arrived on a day-trip, hoping to see the White's Thrush, eventually succeeded in doing so (at least for the most part) when the bird eventually revealed itself once more in Millcombe Wood, though views were frustratingly brief.
 
Logged totals for the day included two Cormorant, a female Sparrowhawk, five Water Rail (all calling in various parts of Millcombe), a Golden Plover, seven Snipe, three Merlin, eight Skylark, 30 Swallow, six House Martin, four Chiffchaff, 13 Blackcap, eight Goldcrest, 136 Starling, 14 Blackbird, a lone Fieldfare, three Song Thrush, 36 Redwing, six Stonechat, a Grey Wagtail, 14 alba wagtail, 70 Meadow Pipit, 21 Chaffinch, a Greenfinch, 70 Goldfinch, 20 Siskin and 60 Linnet.

Grey Wagtail, Millcombe Pond © Dean Jones
 
Nocturnal migration recording during the night of 12th/13th from two locations (outside the Barn, and in the south-facing lee of Millcombe perimeter wall between Government House and Blue Bung) yielded 29 Redwing calls, a single Fieldfare call, four Snipe calls and – notably for Lundy – seven Common Scoter calls (recorded from next to the Barn at 23:12hrs).
 
Finally, Nik Ward has provided a summary of his ringing totals for the week 7–13 October:

Swallow 134, Blackcap 61, Goldcrest 48, Goldfinch 20, Siskin 16, Chiffchaff 12, House Martin 9, Blackbird 6, Chaffinch 5, Redwing 4, Song Thrush 4, Wren 4, Yellow-browed Warbler 3, Robin 2, Lesser Redpoll 2, and singles of Garden Warbler, Stonechat, Dunnock, Grey Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, Greenfinch – and of course the White's Thrush! Total 337 birds of 22 species, with the highest catch, of 88 new birds, being made on 9th.

Wednesday 14th October

Broken cloud with a stiff NE breeze first thing. Sunny skies for much of the day but the wind increased, making it feel quite raw except in the lee of the West Side and a few other favoured spots.
 
A superb day filled with migrants! Redwing were already calling over the Village before first light and from 07.25 to 09.10hrs there was a steady arrival of birds, some dropping into the valley for a rest before continuing their journeys, others passing right overhead and on towards the mainland. With them were flocks of Chaffinch, a Mistle Thrush, five Song Thrush, six Fieldfare, a few Blackbirds plummeting in from height, 14 Meadow Pipits, two or three Grey Wagtail, five alba wagtail, two Lesser Redpoll and 15 Linnet. A highlight at 08:45hrs was a loose flock of nine Crossbill heading south. Many of the thrushes and most of the Chaffinches appeared to arrive from the west and we speculated that they had found themselves out over the Celtic Sea at daybreak and were now reorientating back towards the mainland.
 
Merlins were cashing in on the abundance of prey, hunting from dawn to dusk, and we again estimated at least three for the day. One was seen leaving the island high to the SE, heading for Hartland but we also noticed one targeting flocks of passage Starlings out over the sea. Starlings themselves were a real feature of the day, with a notable influx resulting in groups scattered across the island.
 
A walk along the West Side to just north of Threequarter Wall revealed continuing overhead movement of passage finches, whilst thrushes were feeding in places sheltered from the wind – e.g. a loose flock of Redwing, Fieldfare, two Mistle Thrush, a Blackbird and a Ring Ouzel, just south of Halfway Wall stile at Jenny's Cove. Bizarrely, a Long-tailed Tit was seen and heard on the nearby sidelands, perched on bracken, then flying south towards the Earthquake! Almost as unusal in terms of location were a Yellow-browed Warbler that spent the day in the lee of the main track wall close to Tillage/Brick Field pig-sty and another that was feeding – together with a small group of Goldcrest and and one or two Chiffchaff – on the sunny, sheltered edge of St Helen's Field, protected by the wall running along the start of the Upper East Side Path and hopping about on the grazed turf picking off insects almost invisible to the human eye.
 
Small Copper basking in the lee of the west sidelands, Jenny's Cove, 14 Oct © Tim Davis
 
There was no sign of the White's Thrush, in spite of the patient vigil mounted by visiting birder Nick Moss, who kept Millcombe Wood under close surveillance throughout the day. Logged totals for the most numerous migrants included 500 Chaffinch, 400 Redwing, 350 Starling, 120 Meadow Pipit and 80 for both Linnet & Goldfinch.

Thursday 15th October

Dry all day. Partly cloudy skies with lengthy sunny spells – especially in the morning; rather cloudier for a time in the afternoon. A stiff ENE wind, force 4–5, gusting 6, but easing back to a more pleasant force 3 by the late afternoon.
 
One of the day's most noticeable features was by far the biggest Blackbird arrival of the autumn so far, with 70 estimated in Millcombe, and a further 20 elsewhere, giving a logged total of 90, though there were probably significantly more. Early-morning monitoring of visible migration over Millcombe brought at least four Ring Ouzel, four Brambling, two Crossbill, two Hawfinch and a calling Reed Bunting among more common species, the most numerous being Redwing (230 logged for the day), Fieldfare (130), Starling (500) and Chaffinch (180).
 
Tim Davis & James Diamond 'vis mig' from upper Millcombe, 15 Oct © Tim Jones

Fieldfare & Redwing, Barton Field, 15 Oct © Dean Jones

Other notable records included a first-winter male Wigeon (along with two Teal) on Barton Pond, a male and female Great Spotted Woodpecker (together at one point) in Millcombe, at least 30 Blackcap and a single Garden Warbler feeding on blackberries and elder berries in Millcombe, and a Firecrest initially in the pines above Millcombe House, then feeding with Goldcrests and Chiffchaffs on the edge of St Helen's Field.
 
Wigeon, Barton Pond, 15 Oct © Dean Jones

Up to five Coal Tits were seen during the day; the potential hibernicus was trapped in Millcombe during the afternoon (see photos below) at the same time as a standard white-cheeked individual was present in the valley, whilst one was in bracken at St Helen's Combe and two were together in the willows along the Lower East Side Path just south of Quarry Beach. There were also three Yellow-browed Warblers – one in Quarter Wall Copse and two in the Terrace willows. Birds of prey comprised a female Sparrowhawk, three Kestrel, two Merlin and four Peregrine.

The potential hibernicus Coal Tit in the hand, 15 Oct © Tim Jones

Its underparts showed a distinct yellow wash and cinnamon flanks, 15 Oct © Tim Jones
 
Nick Moss's stoic White's Thrush stakeout was finally rewarded by brief views of the bird in Millcombe Wood at around 08.20. Congratulations Nick!

A large flock of gulls gathered off the Landing Bay in the afternoon included at least 250 Herring Gull, 11 Mediterranean Gull, ten Lesser Black-backed Gull, seven Kittiwake and three Common Gull, counted by James Diamond from the deck of the departing MS Oldenburg.

During the evening, Dean Jones and Jamie Dunning explored some of the farm fields by torchlight, locating two Jack Snipe (one of which they were able to capture and ring in Tillage Field) and some 15 Common Snipe.

Jack Snipe, Tillage Field, evening of 15 Oct © Dean Jones

Friday 16th October

Another dry day – though it remained stubbornly overcast for most of daylight hours – with a moderate and chilling E wind throughout.

The first couple of hours of daylight once again saw some good visible and audible passage over Millcombe, with Blackbird featuring prominently for the second day. It was a treat to watch the characteristic 'sculling' flight of individuals and loose groups flying high over the valley, occasionally dropping almost vertically and disappearing straight into the scrub. Redwing, Fieldfare, Starling and Chaffinch were once again the most numerous species, along with smaller numbers of Meadow Pipit, Goldfinch, Linnet and Siskin. Highlights included a handful of Greenfinch, a Brambling, three Ring Ouzels (including a stunning adult, perched unusually confidingly in blackthorn scrub) and a Firecrest feeding in the spruce trees near the Ugly. However, the biggest surprise of the morning was a Woodlark calling in flight as it headed south.

A female Firecrest (perhaps the same as the bird seen earlier) was trapped and ringed in the Secret Garden and a beautiful Yellow-browed Warbler was feeding in the tree tops outside Bramble Villa before flying up St John's Valley, where it zipped around at high speed in the bracken and gorse, first on the side of Castle Hill, then below Big St John's. The male Great Spotted Woodpecker was still present, knocking seven bells out of one of the sparrow nestboxes in Millcombe Wood – in fact the very same nestbox that a long-staying female Great Spot used for roosting during autumn 2018! (See this blog post for 16 & 17 November 2018.)
 
Dean Jones & Jamie Dunning ringing in Millcombe, 16 Oct © Tim Jones

This beautiful Firecrest was among the birds caught, 16 Oct © Tim Jones

Mid-morning Tim Davis & Tim Jones set off from the Village intending to walk to North Light for lunch. They had already been delighted to see and hear a Lapland Bunting in High Street Field when, approaching the wall that runs from the water tanks towards the Airfield, they were treated to the mind-boggling sight of a juvenile White-tailed Eagle flying north at speed – no more than 30m away and low enough to be able to see the bird's upperparts – hotly pursued by two corvids, which they at first took to be Carrion Crows as they looked so small next to the eagle, but which were actually Ravens! In less than a minute the huge raptor had disappeared over a ridge towards the western end of Quarter Wall, leaving its two observers literally shaking and slack-jawed. The Tims made a quick call to alert Lundy Warden Dean Jones. Then, aware that a satellite-tagged White-tailed Eagle from the Isle of Wight reintroduction programme had been seen in the Padstow area the previous day, they phoned the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation, which is spearheading the reintroduction (together with Forestry England). They got through to Roy himself – who worked on Lundy as a teenage seasonal volunteer at the then Lundy Bird Observatory in the late 1950s. Amazingly, Roy was able to confirm that the 'Cornish eagle' was still in Cornwall, having been seen in the Penzance area earlier in the morning. The Lundy bird was a second individual, which had also been roaming the South West in recent days. He would send further details once he had received tracking data in the evening.
 
The eagle leaves its incredulous observers behind, Ackland's Moor, 16 Oct © Tim Jones

With no further sign of the eagle, the Tims continued north, deciding to go via the Terrace. On the way, they met Assistant Warden Rosie Ellis and Ranger Matt Stritch working on the fenceline near Quarry Cottages, whilst Dean Jones was already on the Terrace, having spent time up on the plateau frantically (but fruitlessly) scanning for a 'flying barn door'! Continuing on, the Tims had just passed VC Quarry, when looking up at two dog-fighting Kestrels, Tim D saw a much bigger, more distant raptor – the White-tailed Eagle soaring high from the direction of Tibbetts Hill and out over Halfway Wall Bay! With a combination of running, shouting and jumping like a demented jack-in-the-box, Tim J managed to draw Dean's attention and he sprinted the several hundred metres at Olympic pace. Rob & Kathryn Joules also arrived, curious about all the commotion, and all five observers were then treated to prolonged views of the eagle as it soared east towards the North Devon mainland, then drifted back towards the island, eventually being almost directly overhead, just off the East Side, though very high up and best watched by lying flat on the ground and looking straight up! Through a combination of a dodgy phone signal and more running, Dean managed to get his colleagues Rosie and Matt onto the eagle, before it suddenly gathered pace and headed off south-east back to the mainland, being lost to binocular view more or less directly in line with Hartland Point Lighthouse at 13:08hrs.

Heading out east over Halfway Wall Bay at about 12:35 hrs © Dean Jones

Soaring high above the Terrace... © Tim Jones

...the eagle eventually turned for the mainland © Tim Jones
 
Roy Dennis emailed the next day, attaching the map below (reproduced with kind permission) and confirming that eagle G471, released in August this year, had left the mainland to fly out to Lundy at 10:20hrs, roughly 35 minutes before it was first seen by the Tims. It flew out north of the island before returning to rest for a time near North Light – where it was seen by one of the Trinity House team currently working on the lighthouse as it flew below him; what a sight that must have been!
 
Satellite track of White-tailed Eagle G471 on its day-trip on 16 Oct © Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation

This hugely exciting record comes some 140 years after the last known White-tailed Eagle to have occurred on Lundy was shot in about 1880. Also a juvenile bird, its stuffed and mounted skin is held in the collection of Ilfracombe Museum. Writing in The Birds of Lundy in 2007, the Tims had commented that "...there is a glimmer of hope that White-tailed Eagles may one day return to Lundy". How privileged they felt to bear witness to that day. Let's hope that the reintroduction programme, still in its early days, means that these magnificent birds will, before too many more years have passed, become a regular sight around the island once again.

The day still held one or two surprises – though not quite comparable with the excitement of the eagle – with a female Common Scoter on the sea off North Light, and what was highly likely to be a second Woodlark calling over the Terrace at 13.20hrs (Dean Jones), then seen and heard well on the west sidelands just north of Halfway Wall at 16.30hrs (Tim Davis & Tim Jones). Other notable sightings included the Wigeon, still at Barton Pond, the possible hibernicus Coal Tit in Millcombe, and another Firecrest in the Quarries.
 
Fruiting body of Golden Spindles Clavulinopsis fusiformis South West Field, 16 Oct © Tim Jones

Saturday 17th October

Broken cloud first thing gave a fiery orange sunrise casting an ethereal light over Millcombe and the Village. From mid-morning, blue skies and sunshine made it feel very warm in shelter away from the still chilly E wind that backed more SE during the afternoon.

Another stunning sunrise, 17 Oct © Tim Jones

An ethereal orange light was cast over Millcombe, 17 Oct © Tim Jones
 
Unsurprisingly, a much quieter day. Visible migration was noticeably much reduced, with tens rather than hundreds of thrushes, though there were still good numbers of Chaffinch passing through – about 300 between 07:30 and 08:45hrs. Incongruously interspersed with the arriving winter migrants were a group of seven House Martin, whilst six Swallow were in the same binocular view as a flock of Fieldfare at 07:35hrs!

The male Great Spotted Woodpecker was still in Millcombe and the Wigeon flew into the small pond in St Helen's Field. There were two Coal Tit (including the possible hibernicus) in Millcombe. A Yellow-browed Warbler showed well as it fed amongst ivy flowers near Government House Pond at lunchtime, and a Curlew was calling in flight over the Landing Bay. Dean Jones patiently sifted through the large feeding flock of gulls off the East Side, coming up with totals of 500 Herring Gull, 75 Common Gull, 30 Great Black-backed Gull, 23 Mediterranean Gull, 20 Kittiwake, two Black-headed Gull, 30 Gannet and a Bottlenose Dolphin!
 
Three birders came over on a day-trip for the White's Thrush (not seen since the morning of 15th).  Unfortunately, two of them engaged in unacceptable behaviour tantamount to harassment of the bird, including persistently playing tape lures, even after having been asked by the Warden to stop. You (and Lundy) know who you are. On a more positive note, the thrush was retrapped during routine mist-netting by Rob Duncan during the evening. It was found to be in good health and to have put on significant additional fat reserves since first being caught on 8th October.

Observations by Alison & Nick Blinston, Martin Bond, Tim Davis, James Diamond, Jamie Dunning, Rosie Ellis, Dean Jones, Tim Jones, Nick Moss, Matt Stritch, Nik Ward and Bill, Jennie & Michael Williams.

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