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Thursday, 8 October 2020

1st to 7th Oct – White's Thrush the crowning glory of a rich and varied week

Dean Jones reviews the happenings of the last seven days on Lundy, which culminated in the finding of Lundy's second White's Thrush. Let's not waste any more time...
1st October

Moderate westerly winds in the morning picking up and shifting south-west around 14:00 – overcast for the most part – frequent drizzle and light showers by mid/late-afternoon.

The day's highlight came in the form of three Yellow-browed Warblers, two of which were trapped and ringed in Millcombe in the late morning, followed by another feeding in Quarter Wall Copse shortly after noon.
Yellow-browed Warbler, ringed 1 Oct © Justin Walker

Other sightings included a Merlin near Threequarter Wall, 105 Swallow, 16 House Martin, three Skylark, ten Blackcap, five Chiffchaff, a single Firecrest on the Terrace, 39 Goldcrest, eight Blackbird, 14 Robin, eight apiece of Stonechat and Dunnock, a Whinchat next to Quarters, 68 Meadow Pipit, a Grey Wagtail in Millcombe Pond, 17 Siskin, 13 Goldfinch, four Linnet, seven Chaffinch and a single fly-over Lesser Redpoll

A classic sound of autumn –  a territorial Robin ticking away in Millcombe, 1 Oct © Dean Jones
2nd October

Storm Alex makes himself known! A day of gale-force north-easterlies and near constant drizzle throughout. 
A choppy Landing Bay with strong north-easterly winds made for tricky sea-watching, 2 Oct © DeanJones
Unsurprisingly, not much of note due to the very wet and windy conditions. Sightings included 16 Gannet, a single Manx Shearwater and two Harbour Porpoise foraging offshore. Landbirds up top were few and far between, with only a handful of Goldcrest, Blackcap, Robin, Siskin, Goldfinch and a single Lesser Redpoll in Millcombe being logged.

3rd October

Another very windy day with winds peaking at 43mph from the north/north-east shortly after midday – conditions which unsurprisingly prevented the Oldenburg from sailing – a rather wet and drizzly morning, clearing up slightly by the afternoon, give or take a few brief showers.

Despite the wet start and strong winds, a good number and diversity of birds were moving through the island. This was particularly evident post-drizzle as Millcombe became alive with the tecking calls of Blackcap. Here, 80 birds were logged in the Valley alone and, coupled with a number of other scattered birds in the more windy areas of the island, an estimated total of around 100 birds were noted. Other highlights included a Snow Bunting foraging on the main track – a bird which stuck around for most of the day. The first two Ring Ouzel of the autumn were logged by Paul Holt on the Upper East Side Path in the afternoon. Goldfinch too were moving in good numbers, with 113 logged throughout the day, and lastly, four Greenfinch and a single Garden Warbler were seen in Millcombe in the afternoon.

Other birds logged included a Golden Plover over the Village, a Snipe in South West Field, two Water Rail in Millcombe, a Kestrel at Halfway Wall, three Woodpigeon, 61 Swallow, 23 House Martin, three Chiffchaff, 11 Goldcrest, six Blackbird, four Song Thrush, ten Robin, eight Stonechat, a single Wheatear, four Dunnock, 50 Meadow Pipit, the Millcombe Pond Grey Wagtail, ten Pied Wagtail, 17 Siskin, 82 Linnet, seven Chaffinch and three Lesser Redpoll.

4th October

Another driech old day with winds peaking at 54mph from the north-west – a near constant downpour throughout the morning and early afternoon, giving way to a light drizzle by 15:00.

Despite the less than ideal conditions, there were still some decent birds about for those brave enough to venture out into the storm.

Sightings included a first-winter Black-headed Gull over the Quarries, a single Manx Shearwater offshore, 16 Razorbill, 35 Kittiwake, three Lesser Black-backed Gull, a single Merlin, a Water Rail calling from Smelly Gully, three Woodpigeon, four House Martin, three Swallow, 37 Blackcap, five Chiffchaff, 18 Goldcrest, eight Blackbird, seven Robin, three Stonechat, two Pied Wagtail, the Grey Wagtail, five Chaffinch, 15 Goldfinch, a Lesser Redpoll and two apiece of Greenfinch, Linnet and Siskin.

5th October

Strong north/north-westerly winds continue – a dry start followed by drizzle and the odd sunny spell after 10:00.

The title of star birds today goes to a flock of 25 Barnacle Geese which were seen flying low to the water by Hope Simpson and Rosie Ellis at North End. This is the first record of this species on Lundy since 2002 and the joint highest count for the island following a flock of 25 birds on 3rd November 1968! Bravo Hope and Rosie!

Fifteen of the 25 Barnacle Geese that flew past the North End, 5 Oct © Rosie Ellis
Other high points included two Blue Tits in the Ugly/St Helen’s Copse area – the first to be seen on the island since 2015! A Great Northern Diver was seen in flight offshore from the Landing Bay in the afternoon, and a total of six Black-headed Gulls were logged throughout the day – four adults offshore and two first-winter birds on the Jetty/Tillage Field.

A first-winter Black-headed Gull on the Jetty, 5 Oct © Dean Jones...

...however it's not often you see Black-headed Gulls on top of the island like this, here in the Tillage Field, 5 Oct © Dean Jones
In addition, a first-winter Common Gull was also present offshore from the Landing Bay briefly in the afternoon, a Snow Bunting was again on the High Street track (probably the same bird from 3rd Oct), two Firecrest were on the Terrace and good numbers of both Goldcrest (40) and Stonechat (17) were recorded by Paul Holt along the east coast.
Snow Bunting, High Street Field, 5 Oct © Dean Jones
Other birds noted were one each of Fulmar and Manx Shearwater, 17 Gannet, 35 Kittiwake, four Lesser Black-backed Gull, two fly-over Golden Plover, 15 Oystercatcher, two Water Rail in Millcombe, two Woodpigeon, a Sparrowhawk, a handful of both Swallow and House Martin, 20 Blackcap, 10 Chiffchaff, eight Blackbird, three Song Thrush, one Redwing, ten Robin, three Wheatear, 57 Meadow Pipit, the Millcombe Grey Wagtail, 24 Chaffinch, 41 Linnet, 25 Siskin and two each of Greenfinch and Lesser Redpoll.

Most of the Swallows were either resting close to or even on the ground, evidently
knackered from the relentless rain and winds, Millcombe, 5 Oct © Dean Jones

Non-avian sightings included a grand total of 191 Atlantic Grey Seals along the east coast, a count which included two new white-coat pups! This brings the total number of white-coats this year to a record-breaking 45! – and we’re still only in the first week of October. A huge thank you to Volunteer Assistant Wardens Ben Hanson and Sophia Upton for all their expert seal spotting and hard work this year.
It's that time of year again when lots of seal pups turn up in the Landing Bay to seek shelter from the storms, 5 Oct © Dean Jones

6th October

Overcast for most of the day other than a beautiful but brief sunny spell in the afternoon – gale-force westerlies throughout.

Highlights included a very showy and vocal Red-breasted Flycatcher – a bird which was expertly found by Paul and Jackie Holt in Quarter Wall Copse shortly after 15:30. Here the bird favoured a single Alder low down in the copse which allowed some superb and prolonged views for the rest of the afternoon. Additionally, Paul also found a Yellow-browed Warbler in Millcombe in the late morning – the eighth record so far this autumn!
Red-breasted Flycatcher, Quarter Wall Copse – the bird performed superbly, allowing
clear prolonged views during the afternoon, 6 Oct © Dean Jones

Other birds logged on this beautiful but windy autumnal day were, two Manx Shearwater, 17 Gannet, 39 Kittiwake, singles of Merlin and Sparrowhawk, three Woodpigeon, 15 Swallow, eight House Martin, 28 Goldcrest, five Blackcap, 12 Blackbird, 10 Robin, two Greenfinch, 22 Siskin and a single Lesser Redpoll.

7th October

Moderate westerly winds first thing, slacking off by the mid-morning – beautiful sunshine and near clear skies up until afternoon – some light rain in the evening.

Undoubtedly the day's star bird came in the form of a very unexpected White’s Thrush in upper Millcombe around 07:45. Here's an account of the morning:

As the sun rose and the light improved, I set off towards the Ugly with my scope to get a brief morning’s sea-watch in before my day of Warden-related duties beckoned. I had just passed Government House and on towards the north end of the tree nursery when I noticed a small, loose gathering of Blackbirds in and around the scrub at the top of the Valley. There had obviously been a small arrival of thrushes overnight so I was on high alert for other species like Redwing, Song Thrush and, if lucky, the first Fieldfare of the autumn.

It was then, as I slowly pottered down the wooded path towards the Ugly, that I noticed a large, pale thrush shoot up from an area of thick, berried brambles onto a branch of a Turkey Oak in front of me. As I raised my binoculars my first but brief impression was that I had found a young Mistle Thrush due to the bird’s size. Quickly though, I noticed the bird's jizz was different to that of any Mistle Thrush I had seen – the bird looking taller, more elongated and longer-billed. Then, through the dim light of the canopy, my eyes adjusted to see the bird's bold scaling pattern on its underparts and its strong white eye-ring. My heart started racing! I quickly reached for my camera to try to get some shots but before I could, the bird took flight up the valley, and in doing so displayed its beautiful black and white striped underwing. My legs turned to jelly!

Noting where the bird had flown to, I ran quickly up to the path immediately above and parallel to the one I was on, and advanced to the area delicately so not to disturb the bird. As I approached a large area of brambles and gorse, the bird suddenly appeared on the path in front of me. It was here that I managed to see the bird's features clearly, but I only managed one awful record shot (below) before the bird crept nervously into the scrub and out of sight. As you can see from the photo, the bird's back was a golden grey-brown and entirely boldly scaled, similar to its underside but with finer scaling on the back of the neck and head. Its wings were tinged a richer buff-brown colour, while its primary coverts and tips to its flight feathers were a much darker brown/black.

Record shot of the White's Thrush in upper Millcombe – hopefully the bird
will show itself again to allow for some better photos! 7 Oct © Dean Jones

The bird then flew out of the scrub and down the wooded slope – and luckily was seen by a number of other birders in the Valley at this time. After that it appeared to fly into an area of thick scrub at the top of the Valley and remained there out of sight – the last time the bird was seen (08:30). White's Thrush is known to be very shy, hiding away in dense vegetation for prolonged periods of time. Hopefully, it’s still lurking out there somewhere and will show itself again for all the other visiting birders on the island who missed it. Only time will tell!
If accepted, this will be the second record of White’s Thrush following a first-year male, also in Millcombe, on 15th Oct 1952, a bird which lingered until 8th Nov.

Additional highlights from today – other than the White’s – included two Barnacle Geese on Pondsbury in the afternoon (Shaun Barnes) and into the early evening, two Lapland Bunting logged just north of the west side of Halfway Wall (Paul Holt), a Reed Bunting (the second of the autumn) present in Millcombe first thing, and a Firecrest seen and heard moving through in bracken below the Ugly shortly before noon.

Barnacle Geese in the evening rain, Pondsbury, 7 Oct © Dean Jones
Other birds noted were an immature Cormorant low over the Village, two Woodpigeon, 150 Swallow, four House Martin, 14 Blackcap, two Chiffchaff, 26 Goldcrest, 110 Meadow Pipit, a White Wagtail in Barton Field, two Grey Wagtail, 17 Skylark passing south over the Village in the morning, six Wheatear, 10 Robin, four Stonechat, 11 Dunnock, 20 Blackbird, three Song Thrush, 14 Chaffinch, 70 Goldfinch, 43 Linnet, one Greenfinch, ten Siskin and a Lesser Redpoll.

Report composed of sightings from Shaun Barnes, Chris Dee, Darren Dowding, Ken Ebsworthy, Rosie Ellis, Paul & Jackie Holt, Dean Jones, Bob & Fi Medland, Hope Simpson, Sophia Upton and Justin Walker.

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