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Monday 27 January 2020

Why a Lundy Christmas is for birders too

Iceland Gull leads festive fun

The festive season (23rd Dec to 3rd Jan) may not be the obvious time for birders on Lundy but once again the draw of Christmas and New Year in the Tavern brought avian rewards too, with Great Northern Diver, an unseasonal Manx Shearwater and a spanking Iceland Gull.

Great Northern Diver © Philip Lymbery

A Lundy vagrant, the Iceland Gull was located early afternoon on Boxing Day preening and feeding with Herring Gulls just north of Old Light. A large pale-headed gull with pearly white wing tips and faded coffee-stain barring on the body made for a first winter bird. This was surely the one originally found a few days earlier (23rd Dec) by warden, Dean Jones. Only to be expected when the island is blessed with a great birder for a warden. And that very much set the tone of trip: trailing in the wake of Dean.

First-winter Iceland Gull (bottom), Ackland's Moor, 26th Dec © Philip Lymbery

Another trip highlight was a single Manx Shearwater that swapped waters off South America for winter waves around Lundy. Seeing the bird was the culmination of several day’s effort. The previous day had been bright and calm. Some 500-600 Kittiwakes were in a feeding frenzy, forming dense flocks off the southeast coast. Two dozen Gannets were sliding low between them, taking the occasional plunge-dive. Although distant specks flashing in the sun, it made for a dramatic sight. There was still an afterglow of activity early next morning (31st Dec) with about a hundred Kittiwakes and 38 Gannets battling against brisk onshore easterlies. They were now much closer to Lundy’s coast. In the midst of all the action was that distinct shearwater shape so familiar here in warmer seasons, I watched the bird bank and glide, showing the contrasting white and dark plumage of a ‘Manxie’. I was delighted. Yes, I’ve seen thousands of them here before, all in more expected seasons. But this one was not only notable for the time of year, but because I’d also caught up with another bird seen by keen-eyed Dean.

Amongst other notables on this trip were at least two Great Northern Divers, with both adult and juvenile birds seen daily off the Landing Bay. On one occasion, I watched an adult bird catch a crab and shake the legs off. I didn’t see the crab’s body get eaten but I know the diver at least gave it a good go. Other birds around the bay included a single Shag daily along with Oystercatcher, whose numbers peaked at a dozen on 2nd Jan.

Oystercatcher, Landing Bay © Philip Lymbery

Elsewhere on the island, a Golden Plover headed north over Millcombe (31st Dec), and peak counts of 19 Teal and 17 Snipe (26th) were seen at Pondsbury. Winter thrushes were in short supply, with a single Redwing (25th & 26th Dec) and the odd apologetic Song Thrush. Pipits were almost exclusively represented by Rock Pipits, with a peak count of 35 (28th Dec). About a hundred Guillemots clung to the cliffs in Jenny’s Cove, a distant echo of the thousands that cluster there on spring days but good to see nonetheless. At least two Water Rail could be heard squealing the place down in Millcombe, whilst leafless bushes meant skulking residents were easy to see; I had 8 Dunnocks hopping around together in a single view. Other birds in the notebook included up to 6 Peregrines, a male Kestrel (28th Dec), 10 Skylark (30th), up to 4 Stonechat, and a lone female Goldcrest (25th and 30th).

Teal coming in at Pondsbury © Philip Lymbery
Peregrine over Pondsbury © Philip Lymbery
Skylark © Philip Lymbery
Female Stonechat on the upper East Side © Philip Lymbery

Okay, so bird-wise there was to be no repeat of the pre-Christmas purple patch in 2016. I remember top twitcher, Lee Evans, asking incredulously why we were going to Lundy in December! We answered within an hour or so by finding a Lundy vagrant (Red-necked Grebe), a Black Redstart and a national rarity in the island’s first over-wintering Red throated Pipit. But then that was before Dean.

Yet, that sense of anticipation was very much still there. That feeling of never quite knowing what to expect. Early starts and long hikes driven by past glories and dreams of what might yet be.

Sunrise on Christmas Day © Philip Lymbery

And then there’s the unique festive experience on Lundy. A first-rate Christmas lunch (thanks, head chef Dave) with friends and fellow enthusiasts in surely the best of pubs. And a New Year’s party to remember with pin-striped gangsters, long-legged bunny girls and white-faced silent movie stars. Amongst all the ‘Roaring Twenties’ mayhem was someone dressed as a stag in celebration of nearly a century on Lundy for the island’s Sika deer.

Sika deer © Philip Lymbery
Old Light under an approaching cold front © Philip Lymbery

So, another trip comes to an end at a time of year when the island is stripped back to basics with bare rock amongst thin vegetation. Yet, there’s more than enough for the camera to capture. Plenty of ground to cover and habitat to explore. And there’s that ever-present feeling of never quite knowing what you’ll find next. It’s that sense of anticipation on this magical isle that keeps us searching for that increasingly elusive sight: one not already seen by Dean.

Philip & Helen Lymbery
4th January 2020

Saturday 25 January 2020

18th to 25th Jan – divers and gulls to the fore

As the last of the lashings and downpours of Storm Brendan passed overhead, a long-awaited prolonged spell of high pressure followed, giving way to some beautiful, dry, settled yet chilly weather for pretty much the entirety of this period – much like the rest of the UK. With this, Lundy now emanates an early springlike feel with numerous Skylarks displaying daily from the 17th and the haunting calls of passing divers bellowing across a glass-like sea.

Highlights from this period include a Black-throated Diver rafting along the east coast on the 23rd. Good numbers of Red-throated Diver too have been busy feeding off the east coast  most days, with a peak count of 28 birds on the 25th. Two Great Northern Diver have also been noted on four dates within this period from both the Landing Bay area and just offshore from Quarry Beach.

Seawatching from the Terrace on the afternoon of the 19th revealed a smashing first-winter Little Gull foraging upon a glass-like sea-state. This bird then lingered on for a second day, being sighted just offshore from the Landing Bay again on the 20th. Other than this little beauty, there have also been a number of other scarce Lundy gulls offshore, including good numbers of Common Gull (peak count 32 on the 24th), Mediterranean Gull (peak 8 on the 24th), two adult Black-headed Gull on the 19th amongst good numbers of Kittiwake on some days (peak count 706 on the 24th).

One of 8 Mediterranean Gulls off the East Side, 24th Jan © Dean Jones

Other highlights include two Snow Bunting over the Terrace on the 25th and the first Reed Bunting of the year calling loudly from a gorse bush near the Old Hospital on the 19th.

Seabirds have also been periodically visiting the cliffs throughout this period, with 228 Fulmar on ledges around the island and 1,277 Guillemot counted from cliff faces in Jenny’s Cove, St Mark’s Stone and Aztec Bay on the 18th.

Other sightings of note include 16 Teal on Pondsbury on the 18th, singles of Water Rail in Millcombe, a Woodcock flushed near Quarter Wall on 18th and from Millcombe on the 20th, up to five Snipe on days in the Pondsbury area, two Woodpigeon in Millcombe on a number of days, singles of Kestrel on the 18th and 24th,  a murder of 57 Carrion Crow on the Church Tower on the 19th, a small arrival of 20 Skylark on the 18th (there are at least eight territorial males displaying around the island now), a peak count of 39 Rock Pipit on the 18th, the Millcombe Chiffchaff, up to two Goldcrest, singles of Song Thrush and a smattering of Goldfinch, Chaffinch and Stonechat most days.

St Helen's in the evening winter light © Dean Jones
Reed Bunting on the Old Hospital, 19th Jan © Dean Jones
A murder of Carrion Crows on the church tower, 19th Jan © Dean Jones
A frozen pond on a frosty morning © Dean Jones

Wednesday 15 January 2020

A New Decade of Lundy Birding – December 23rd 2019 to January 14th 2020

Calm before the storm: Storm Brendan picking up pace, 13th Jan © Dean Jones

Happy New Year Lundy Bird Blog readers!

Highlights from the past three weeks include the re-appearance of the first winter Iceland Gull on December 26th, spotted by Philip Lymbery next to Ackland's Moor Marsh. Another first winter bird (perhaps the same bird again), was also seen flying past the North Lighthouse on the December 31st.

Red-throated Divers have now turned up along the east coast albeit in much smaller numbers than the past two winters with singles on the 5th, 6th, two birds on the 10th and three on the 8th.

One of the most surprising observations of this period had to be the continued presence of a Manx Shearwater offshore on the east coast in December. Here a bird, probably the same seen on December 22nd was observed foraging between the swell on both December 29th and again on the December 31st (Dean Jones & Philip Lymbery).

Good numbers of Gannet, Guillemot and Razorbill have also been seen offshore throughout, as has a Cormorant on January 2nd, a Great Northern Diver most days in its favoured spot NE of Rat Island, singles of Harbour Porpoise on days and a delightful pod of ten Common Dolphin on the 10th – which included a small calf. Kittiwakes too have been present in decent numbers pretty much every day (max 518 on Jan 13th) feeding on the odd floating morsel and chasing small shoals of bait fish accompanied by good numbers of Great Black-backed Gulls, up to four Common Gulls and six Mediterranean Gulls on days.

Great Northern Diver in Landing Bay, 29th Dec © Dean Jones
Other sightings of note include a count of 19 Teal on Ponsbury on December 26th, up to two Water Rail which have been hiding out in Smelly Gully and the stream next to Millcombe, a Golden Plover on December 31st, 17 Snipe on the 26th, two Woodpigeon most days, up to five Skylark feeding together in Tillage Field, a Chiffchaff on the January 10th (collybita), up to two Goldcrest, one of which was in full song in upper Millcombe on January 3rd, a Black Redstart on the Camping Field gate on January 10th, up to two Stonechat most days, a Pied Wagtail on January 5th, small numbers of Blackbird (12), Song Thrush (3), Goldfinch (3) and Chaffinch (6) along with singles of Redwing on a number of days within the period.

Report composed of sightings from Rosie Ellis, Dean Jones and Philip Lymbery.