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Sunday 31 January 2016

BTO Non-Estuarine Waterbird Survey (NEWS) on Lundy

25th–29th January: Chris Dee and Tim Davis carried out a complete survey of Lundy's intertidal area as part of the BTO's third national Non-Estuarine Waterbird Survey (NEWS). As well as waders and wildfowl, counts of seabirds, raptors, non-waterbirds (passerines and near-passerines) and mammals were required. Counts were done during the period three hours either side of low tide in eight designated sections: Castle Hill to Old Light, Old Light to Battery Point, Battery Point to The Pyramid, The Pyramid to St Mark's Stone, St Mark's Stone to North Light, North Light to Brazen Ward, Brazen Ward to the Terrace, and from there to Castle Hill.

Weather conditions, especially during the first three days, were challenging to say the least, the wind mostly from the SW quarter and never less than force 6 throughout. On 26th in particular, gusts up to force 9 and continuous driving rain shifted our focus to sections along the more sheltered East Side! Despite this, all eight sections were completed by the 28th. Safety first was ever the watchword, which meant that most counts were taken from vantage points with the wind behind us, looking down on and along the intertidal, mostly boulder-strewn small bays and beaches wherever possible. It was never easy, but it was fun and, by the end, very rewarding work, as much for the experience if not the birds, which were inevitably fewer than might have been expected given the prevailing conditions.

Chris scans the Landing Bay during a brief lull in the weather.
But it wasn't all blue skies & sunshine...

A summary of the intertidal area counts (including cliffs) follows, with the numbers of birds visible and identifiable on the water given in brackets:

Oystercatcher 20, mostly in pairs and unsurprisingly along the East Side
Shag 3 (5)
Guillemot 114 (49)
Lesser Black-backed Gull 32
Herring Gull 498 (138)
Great Black-backed Gull 71 (4)
Fulmar 79 (84)
Kittiwake 0 (286)

Also recorded during the survey were Peregrine (2), Sparrowhawk (1), Rock Pipit (13, all but one feeding on the clifftop areas along the West Side) and Grey Seal (8). Birds recorded at other times included one Cormorant, an estimated 1,500 Kittiwakes feeding or settled on the water over a wide area off the East Side on 28th (the only day with some sunshine and good visibility), and, by way of a reward for our efforts, a winter-plumaged Black-throated Diver close in off the East Side, also on the morning of 28th. Smaller landbirds were virtually non-existent all week, amounting to 2 Woodpigeons, 2 Blackbirds, single male and female Chaffinches, a max of 3 Robins, 4 Wrens, 1 Song Thrush and, rather amazingly, a Goldcrest. Higher counts included 80 Starlings, 52 Carrion Crows, 18 Mallards and, on Pondsbury, 9 Teal.

One surprising find given the time of year was a Dor Beetle happily rolling a Soay Sheep dung ball along a path on the West Side.

The industrious dor beetle was spoilt for choice...

Grateful thanks to the BTO and the Lundy Field Society for providing grant support to cover our travel and accommodation costs, and to Lundy Warden Beccy MacDonald for arranging our stay in the Lodge.