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Friday 31 August 2018

30th Aug – A good variety of migrants, including a late(ish) Swift

Tony Taylor sums up Thursday 30th as "a pleasant day with birds on the move". His own sightings combined with those by Rebecca & Rich Taylor and Dean Jones included:

Two Whimbrels, a lone Swift (the last of the year?), 25 Sand Martins, 135 Swallows, 15 House Martins, 20 Willow Warblers, 5 Sedge Warblers, one Blackcap, 9 Whitethroats,  3 Goldcrests, 15 Spotted Flycatchers, 10 Wheatears, one Grey Wagtail, a flock of 7 alba wagtails including at least two White Wagtails, and 4 Tree Pipits. The remains of a Knot were found in South West Field.

During the night of 30th/31st the impressive total of 43 Manx Shearwaters (of which 36 were chicks) were caught at the Old Light colony, in spite of clear skies with a rising moon. Tony reports "lots of chicks out exercising wings".

Thursday 30 August 2018

29th Aug – A quieter day but more shearwaters ringed at night

There were fewer migrants around by day, with the more notable sightings comprising two Whimbrel and a Yellow Wagtail (Dean Jones), plus a Teal and several Sedge Warblers at Pondsbury (Rich & Rebecca Taylor).

During the night of 29th/30th the Manx Shearwater team ringed a further nine birds in the vicinity of Benjamin's Chair, including a chick from a burrow at Benjamin's Chair itself.

Wednesday 29 August 2018

28th Aug – Spotted Flycatcher influx

Tony Taylor, who arrived with reinforcements for shearwater ringing, reports a quiet crossing to the island, with a handful of Manx Shearwaters and two Storm Petrels about halfway across, though a Bonxie flew over the jetty as passengers disembarked.

Combined sightings for the day included: 3 Water Rails, a Sand Martin, 9 Swallows, a House Martin, 22 Willow Warblers, 8 Whitethroats, 2 Sedge Warblers and 24 Spotted Flycatchers. Rebecca Taylor writes: "The top of Millcombe, from the Blue Bung to St Helen's Field fence was hopping with Spot Flys and Willow Warblers, with several Whitethroats thrown in."

During the night of 28th/29th a further 13 Manx Shearwater chicks were ringed at the Old Light colony. Of 15 adults handled, seven were new birds and duly ringed, whilst eight were retraps, the oldest of these from 2012.

Tuesday 28 August 2018

26th & 27th Aug – Jack Snipe and a Storm Petrel with a French accent

Rich & Rebecca Taylor report that during a very wet, misty and rainy day on Sunday 26th they "mostly played Spot the Sea and, at times, Spot Brambles – from Little St John's!" However, they did manage to make it to Pondsbury, where they found a Sedge Warbler and a Jack Snipe – the latter an unusual record for late August. Other bits and bobs included a Dunlin heard over Castle Hill and five Teal, which settled briefly on Brick Field Pond before heading off in the direction of Pondsbury.

With a late improvement in the weather, they were able to ring 10 Manx Shearwater chicks on the night of 26th/27th.

Bank Holiday Monday, 27th, was another quiet day for birding, with the best of the bunch being single Teal, (Common) Snipe, Sedge Warbler and Willow Warbler at Pondsbury and a second Willow Warbler in St Helen's Field.

The night of 27th/28th saw them heading up north to trap Storm Petrels. They ringed six new birds and retrapped one that was ringed on Lundy last year. They also caught one bird that had probably been ringed elsewhere in Britain (to be confirmed) and, amazingly, one wearing a French ring!

Monday 27 August 2018

Pallid Swift – a new species for Lundy

Over the summer news broke via Twitter that the British Birds Rarities Committee (BBRC) has accepted the record of Pallid Swift on Lundy on 25th October 2016, representing not only the first for the island, but also the first accepted record for Devon.

Below are excerpts from the vivid accounts written by Justin Zantboer and Chris Baillie, along with one of Simon Slade's photos. Congratulations to all involved for their presence of mind and diligent observation; this is not an easy species to clinch!

"Whilst counting migrants passing overhead during an indoor break, I noted a Swift descending rapidly from above Redwing and Chaffinch flocks. It was briefly holding its wings in a strong “V” as do Common Swifts in similar descent. It levelled out and I went outside to record what I assumed to be a very late Common Swift. I quickly realised it was not that species, discounted North American vagrants and realised it was a Pallid Swift. It was separately observed by other birders, who idependently reached the same identification, and Simon Slade’s photos support this. I observed it intermittently between c15.00 and c15.30." Chris Baillie

"Whilst ringing in Millcombe Valley with Ellie Zantboer at approximately 1500hrs, we were talking with James McCarthy who was on a day trip, when we noticed a swift overhead with House Martins! We were all hopeful that it was going to be something good but it was quite high and against the cloud, appeared to be dark! We all agreed though that it appeared to have broader and blunter wings and a more relaxed flight than would be expected of a Common Swift. It was obvious that we needed better views! It passed overhead a couple more times but again, we couldn’t see any plumage details. We were joined by Gavin Bennett and Rob Duncan but as time was pressing, James had to leave to catch the boat. We picked the swift up again some ten minutes later and this time, it made several passes, both level with and below us, at times only 30 metres away, enabling us to note some key features and identify it as a PALLID SWIFT! It spent about an hour over the Island and was seen well in good light around Millcombe Valley, sometimes flying close to the ground and the cliff faces as it fed. It was also seen well flying around the church, where I assumed that it was going to roost but then at about 1630hrs, the skies cleared and it disappeared and was unfortunately not seen again. However, during its stay, it was also seen well by Chris Baillie and his wife Carol, and by Simon Slade, who managed to get a photo which I have included with this submission. Both Chris and Simon identified it as a Pallid Swift before they had spoken to me and we were all more than happy with our verdict." Justin Zantboer

Pallid Swift, Lundy 25 Oct 2016 © Simon Slade

Description (from JZ's submission):
  • Underparts greyish brown, being paler than Common Swift, with pale edgings to many feathers on the breast, belly and flanks, giving the classic scaling effect. When seen close, the throat was noticeably much paler than the rest of the underparts but this feature was surprisingly difficult to see at even mid-range. The face and forehead was also paler, except for a darker eye patch, giving a slightly masked impression. The underwing showed much contrast when seen well, with the darker underwing coverts contrasting with the paler secondaries and the bases of the inner primaries. The outer primaries and the tips of the inner primaries appeared darker, creating a darker wedge, this again contrasting with the paler inner wing. Upperparts appeared mostly brownish, again paler than a Common Swift. The upperwing coverts were a few shades darker than the secondaries and inner primaries but the outer primaries were noticeable darker still so when seen against a darker background, there was a distinct contrast in the upperwing. The mantle was also darker, being a similar shade to the upperwing coverts but not quite as dark as the outer primaries so this also added to the contrasting effect. The rump appeared to be slightly paler than the mantle so with the contrast in the upperwing, gave the classic ‘saddled’ look.
  • Shape and size as Common Swift, with a short, forked tail and long, scythe-like wings. The wings appeared very slightly broader, heavier and blunter than Common Swift. It also appeared to have subtly heavier look about it than a Common Swift. When feeding, it flew with much more gliding than normally seen in a Common Swift, with slightly slower wingbeats and at a slightly slower speed. It gave the impression of being much more relaxed.

Sunday 26 August 2018

25th Aug – The class of 2018: ringing of shearwater chicks gets underway

Rich & Rebecca Taylor arrived on Lundy on Saturday 25th, hoping to ring as many Manx Shearwater chicks as possible over the next couple of weeks. The highlight of their crossing over was a dark-phase Arctic Skua about 10 minutes out from the island (see Martin Thorne's photo here). On land they recorded three Sand Martins, two Willow Warblers, two Blackcaps, a Spotted Flycatcher and two Pied Flycatchers. The night of 25th/26th was rather too bright to be ideal for shearwater ringing, but Rich & Rebecca nevertheless managed to find three chicks, so are off the mark already!

Saturday 25 August 2018

11th to 24th Aug – The first 'fall' of autumn migration

The following comprehensive roundup of recent sightings, covering the period 11 to 24 August, has been compiled by Lundy Warden Dean Jones:

Not much has changed here weather-wise since my last post. Strong westerly winds and prolonged bouts of mist have dominated this period, meaning that most of the birding attention had been focused on the sea rather than within the mobile soggy clag that had been cloaking the island's plateau. Things were looking great for a potential Lundy seabird rarity but unfortunately these seawatch sessions all ended in a bit of an anti-climax, as despite the effort made, the island was only rewarded with a small number of passing Manx Shearwater, Fulmar, Kittiwake and Gannet throughout (unlike other areas in the UK during this period) as well as good numbers of Harbour Porpoise on some days foraging close to the island.

There was one morning however, Thursday 23rd, that stood out from the rest, following an evening of clear skies coupled with sporadic rainfall and a light NW breeze. These conditions provided the island with a fantastic fall of migrants come daybreak, particularly Willow Warbler, Whitethroat and Spotted Flycatcher, which were all grounded in decent numbers. It’s mornings like this that all birders yearn for, possibly even more so for island birders, marooned on their little rocks unable to jaunt down the road or over to the next county to follow news of a decent twitch!

Highlights of the period include:
  • The first of the Fulmar chicks have now fledged from the island leaving all but a few reluctant birds hanging on in a few areas. The highest count of the period involved 56 birds on 23rd, most of which were sheltering together on the water just off from North East Point.
  • Storm Petrel: 2 seen from MS Oldenburg during the crossing on 11th.
  • Cormorant: A lone bird was seen perched on Gull Rock on 17th.
  • Shag: 108 on 13th (all juvenile birds resting on the Landing Bay beach), 132 on 14th, and 138 on 19th were the highest counts of the period.
  • Grey Heron: A lone bird was seen flying low over the Village on 20th and another on 21st (more than likely the same bird).
  • Water Rail: 2 on 20th, 21st & 24th, calling loudly from Quarters Pond and Smelly Gully. 3 on  23rd (one calling from Quarters Pond and 2 calling to each other in Smelly Gully).
  • Common Sandpiper: 1 calling from below the Ugly on 24th.
  • Pomarine Skua: 1 spotted by MarineLife surveyors from MS Oldenburg on 11th.
  • Woodpigeon: 2 or 3 recorded most days from the Millcombe/Quarter Wall Copse areas. A small arrival of 10 birds on 23rd.
  • Kestrel: 2 on 13th, 19th & 23rd and singles on 12th, 14th and 21st. 
  • Peregrine: Only 1 record submitted for this period of a bird hunting Wheatears in South West Field on 23rd.
  • Goldcrest: 5 on 20th were the first of the autumn, followed by 4 on 21st, 1 on 23rd and 4 on  24th.
  • White Wagtail: The first of the autumn was an adult male bird feeding in Barton Field on  23rd.
  • Tree Pipit: 3 on 13th, singles on 17th, 20th & 24th, 7 over on 21st and 2 on 23rd (all seen/heard over Millcombe/the Village). 
  • Stonechat: Successful breeding confirmed with a pair of birds feeding chicks just North of St Helen's Copse. 
  • Sand Martin: A single bird was quartering in Millcombe on the afternoon of 23rd.
  • Swallow: The first obvious south-bound passage was recorded on 21st with 10 birds heading south past Lamentor.
  • Cuckoo: A single bird was present in and around the Terrace on 19th.
  • Chiffchaff: 1 or 2 birds recorded most days. Highest count of the period was 4 birds on 23rd.
  • Willow Warbler: Between 1 and 14 birds have been recorded most days. Highest count of the period by far was 128 on that magical migrant morning (23rd).
  • Blackcap: Between 1 and 3 birds recorded most days.
  • Garden Warbler: 3 on 23rd were the first of the autumn.
  • Whitethroat: 1 on 21st and 9 on 23rd (Millcombe & Lower East Path).
  • Sedge Warbler: Singles on 21st, 22nd & 23rd, all from the Millcombe area.
  • Song Thrush: A very noisy youngster was calling from the top of Smelly Gully on 19th.
  • Spotted Flycatcher: The first of the autumn was at Quarter Wall on 13th, closely followed by a second on 14th along the Terrace, 2 on 19th in Millcombe and 14 on 24th – Millcombe/Lower East Path/Quarries.
  • Pied Flycatcher: One on 13th and 14th (possibly the same bird), busily catching bugs at the top of Smelly Gully.
  • Wheatear: Small numbers recorded on most days. Highest count was 14 on 23rd.
  • Some lovely mixed finch flocks are still flittering around the island. These gatherings have been predominantly composed of Linnet (highest count 78 birds on 17th) along with small numbers of Goldfinch (highest count 25 on 14th).
Willow Warbler, Millcombe, 13th August © Dean Jones

Non-avian highlights:

A total of 5 Convolvulus Hawkmoths have been recorded on the island since the night of the 11th. The first of these spectacular beasts was seen nectaring from flowers outside Paradise Row on what was a rather wet and windy night. This was then followed by two feeding together in the same place the following evening and another at the Tavern, which flew into Ash Garfoot, the barman, giving him one heck of a fright! Ten days later (22nd) another of these monster moths turned up again in the Tavern, beingh caught and released by Ash after a few quick photos.
Convolvulus Hawkmoth, Marisco Tavern, 21st August © Ash Garfoot

Moth trapping continued as usual; highlights included one specimen of the very odd looking Pale Prominent, a Tawny Speckled Pug, along with the first Small Phoenix, Frosted Orange and Copper Underwing of the year.

A Migrant Hawker dragonfly was also recorded on the 23rd narrowly escaping the beak of a hungry Spotted Flycatcher.

Finally, from the cliff-tops to the sea... During the night of 21st a small select band of brave Lundy staff headed down to the jetty for a late-night swim (at 22:00 hrs) after rumours of bioluminescent algae putting on a show the night before near Brazen Ward. The team were treated to a spell-binding aquatic light display as the waters of the bay were thick with these remarkable little glowing  organisms. As Zoë Barton put it, “It was like swimming through the Milky Way”; definitely a contender for the best night yet on Lundy 2018!

Report composed of sightings from: Zoë Barton, Jenny Clark, Esther Fritzel-Armitage, Maggie Gamble, Ash Garfoot, Joshua Harris, Amanda Jones, Dean Woodfin Jones, Katherine MacKinnon & Emily Trapnell.

Saturday 18 August 2018

Lundy Warden rings a Jay...

...on the mainland! Lundy Warden Dean Jones, on his way back from a week's holiday with his partner Zoë Barton from their native Northern Ireland, stopped off at the North Devon home of Lundy bird recorders Tim Jones and Tim Davis. Whilst there, regular Lundy visitor and bird ringer Chris Dee put up mist-nets and, amongst several garden species, caught a female Jay and a juvenile Marsh Tit. A very happy Dean, currently training for a general bird-ringing licence, ringed both. 

Dean Jones with a female Jay © Tim Davis

On the subject of ringed birds, more specifically colour-ringed birds, on 27th July, whilst waiting to take part in a Snorkel Safari in the Landing Bay, Tim Davis noticed that one of two Oystercatchers that flew in to land on the rocky intertidal area was wearing colour-rings, a plain yellow ring over a blue ring engraved in white with an alpha-numeric code, sadly unreadable through binoculars at the distance involved. Subsequently it turned out to be the first sighting from Lundy or North Devon of one of 150 Oystercatchers colour-ringed as part of an Exe Estuary Oystercatcher Project.

On 4th February this year, a catch of 190 Oystercatchers took place at Dawlish Warren National Nature Reserve. 150 of them were fitted with colour-rings on the right leg, as in the photo below, with a metal BTO ring on the left leg. If you see one of these birds, on Lundy or elsewhere, please note information on date, time, location (as precisely as possible with a grid reference) and its behaviour (feeding or roosting, in a flock or on its own). Details of sightings should be sent to: exeoystercatchers@gmail.com

For more information about the project visit: www.dawlishwarren.co.uk/oystercatchers.html


Saturday 11 August 2018

7th Jul to 10th Aug – a much-delayed report from another busy stint on the island

With the onset of the school holidays, things have been all go on the island. By mid-July Lundy receives an additional Wednesday sailing which transports an extra day’s worth of visitors to the island every week until the end of August. Despite the increased numbers of guests (nearly every boat since the middle of July has been close to full) the island has a rather eerie stillness about it now that most of the seabirds have left us for another season. Young Kittiwakes, gulls, Shag and auks have fledged from their natal sites, leaving only a scattering of very portly Fulmar chicks perched on turf-covered ledges, along with their tubenose cousins hidden away from sight in their burrows and rock crevices.

Weather-wise, Lundy is starting to feel a bit more Lundy like (misty and windy) and now emits an early autumnal feel. We have also had a number of much-needed rainy days in this period which has transformed the straw-coloured meadows and lawns back to a healthy emerald glow in parts. Beasties like the Dor Beetle have also reappeared along the well-trodden paths after a rather prolonged absence, most definitely due to the drought like conditions that the island was subjected to this summer.

The birding highlight of the period has to be the beautiful though rather tatty looking female Marsh Harrier that has been seen periodically through this stint, right up until 8th August at least. That’s at least 32 days she has been quartering the island, probably feeding on the plentiful passerine fledglings which are still haphazardly flittering their way around the island.

Female Marsh Harrier, 8th July © Josh Harris

The other highlight came from a brief seawatch on 26th July from the North Lighthouse where a beautiful and rather early Balearic Shearwater was seen resting and feeding in and around the minimal swell and raucous rafts of departing auks.

Other sightings of note from the period:

Manx Shearwater: A brief seawatch from the Ugly on the morning of 10th August produced 514 birds past Rat Island in just under an hour of observations.
Storm Petrel: On the evening of 6th July whilst out with Helen Booker and her team from the RSPB, we caught sight of ~20 Stormies under torch beam at the North End. An additional five days of Stormy monitoring was carried out from 5th–10th July. A short report will be produced in due time to highlight the team’s finds. The only other sighting of the charismatic little seabird came from MS Oldenburg on 28th July when a bird was seen foraging off SE Point, 10 minutes after departure from the Jetty.
Shag: Numerous young birds have started to arrive/loiter around the island now. The first fledgling birds to brave the inky deep were recorded on 9th July near Long Roost. A short trip on Obsession II along the east coast produced 205 birds, the highest count of the period.

Shags, Landing Bay, 10th August © Dean Jones

Teal: 2 females and 3 immatures were seen on Pondsbury 24th July.
Grey Heron: Observations of up to three birds were recorded most days between 14th & 27th July. These amazing Ardea were seen pretty much everywhere on the island at times, e.g. over the Village, Tibbetts, the Castle, Pondsbury, Tillage Field, eating newly fledged Mallard ducklings in Barton Field and Mirror Carp in Rocket Pole Pond within this stint.

Grey Heron, Barton Field, 26th July © Dean Jones

Buzzard: 2 birds were seen flying over Pondsbury on 22nd July and a lone bird on the 31st (no supporting info).
Water Rail: A very noisy bird has been calling from Quarters Pond on 10 dates within this period.
Whimbrel: 2 calling over Rat Island on 18th.
Curlew: 3 over the Village area on 26th.
Turnstone: 2 on 24th along the South End (seen from kayak).
Common Sandpiper: Recorded on five dates through this period, with 5 birds perched behind the Sentinels in the Landing Bay on 20th being the highest count of the period.
Puffin: Recorded on most days throughout July with 250 on 27th being the highest count. Last record for this species was on 4th August.
Black-headed Gull: 1 adult was seen foraging off Rat Island on 22nd and another on 25th from the North End, accompanied by a juvenile bird.
Common Gull: 1 juvenile was observed in the Landing Bay on 23rd and another over the Hen & Chickens on 25th.
Cuckoo: A single bird was seen flying over Millcombe by the RSPB team as they made their way to the Oldenburg on 10th July. Single rufous type birds were also recorded every day from 19th to 26th July (possibly the same bird) from varying locations on the island.
Swift: Small numbers recorded on five days in the period, max of 4 on 18th.
Kestrel: Recorded on most days throughout this period with 3 on 25th (two juvs and an adult male).
Merlin: 2 birds were seen together just north of Mousehole & Trap on 2nd August, the first of the autumn.
Peregrine: Very few records submitted for this species. The sparse records mostly involved single birds, though there was a count of 3 on 25th July.
Sand Martin: The first two birds of the autumn were recorded on 31st July near Pondsbury.
Swallow: Small numbers recorded most days; 9 on 23rd July 23rd the highest count of the period.
Chiffchaff: Recorded on 11 dates with the highest count being 6 on 25th July. One bird was in full song in St Helens Copse on 20th July.
Willow Warbler: Small numbers of birds have been moving through the island since 19th July. A super early autumn fall of birds was recorded on 25th with a total of 117 birds recorded – mostly from the Millcombe area, some of which were in song.
Blackcap: Recorded on 11 days within this period, of which the highest count was 3 on 9th August. Successful breeding has been confirmed this year with at least one chick being fed by his/her mother in the Secret Garden on 17th July.
Whitethroat: singles on 31st July & 9th August.
Sedge Warbler: Singles on 30th & 31st July and 9th August.
Song Thrush: A juvenile bird was seen in Millcombe on 23rd July.
Pied Flycatcher: Singles on 8th & 10th August, both within the Millcombe area.
Robin: Elusive at times. Successful breeding recorded from two pairs in Millcombe – first fledglings seen on 24th July.
Stonechat: Recorded on nine dates. Highest count was 3 birds chasing one another near Castle Copse on 22nd July.
Pied Wagtail: 3 on 15th & 22nd July and 9th August were the highest counts of the period.
Meadow Pipit: 79 on 25th July was the highest count of the period.
Chaffinch: Recorded on six days; all records involved 1 or 2 birds.
Goldfinch: Some recently fledged young (see photo below) were observed in Millcombe on 10th August. Highest count from this period was 15 birds on 25th July.
Linnet: 99 on 25th July was the highest count; nice post breeding flocks have now started to form around the island.

Juvenile Goldfinch, Millcombe, 9th August © Dean Jones

Non-avian highlights:

Moth trapping has continued on days of appropriate weather. Highlights include the first Scarce and Rosy Footman of the year. Beauties like Common Emerald, Purple Thorn, Swallowtails and Twenty Plume Moths have also been recorded, along with some nice numbers of species like Dark Arches (62 on the evening of 18th July), Crescent Dart (49 on 18th July) and Lesser Yellow Underwing (25 on 20th July). Other invertebrate highlights include a lone Emperor Dragonfly on Quarter Wall Pond on 10th July, Migrant Hawkers on 24th & 26th July and no less than 346 Common Blue Damselflies and 60 Blue-tailed Damselflies on 24th July, all of which were counted by Tim Davis around the vicinity of Pondsbury.

Report composed of sightings from: Tim Davis, Chris & Sharron Blackmore, J Wilson, Warren Shipman, Joshua Harris, Ian Laird, Helen Booker, Toby Taylor, Andrea Ayres, Mark Bolton, Susannah Bolton, Dean Jones and Zoë Barton.