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Tuesday 21 July 2020

9th to 19th Jul – Hazy, Crazy (anything but Lazy) Days of Summer...

Lundy Warden Dean Jones draws breath to round up news of a particularly hectic period of island life, wild and otherwise...

There is a lot of truth in the saying 'There’s never a dull day on Lundy’! Over the past eleven days we’ve welcomed the first day-trippers to the island from the 14th, carried out lots of socially distanced guided walks, doted on our most recent addition to the Lundy Pony family, undergone some firefighting training and facilitated a very special visit from the BBC – more on the latter in the next few weeks – and that’s even before we consider the heaps of interesting and exciting wildlife sightings that have been logged!

'Chantam Kittiwake III' – the latest recruit to the Lundy Pony gang – with her mother 'Annie', 18 Jul © Dean Jones

Playing with fire... The team undergoes firefighter training at Rocket Pole Pond, 15 Jul © Ash Garfoot

Following on from the last post, the weather has been much more pleasant, settled and summer-like throughout most of this period – give or take a few wet and misty spells on a few days. This was particularly so during Friday and Saturday past, where the winds dropped off to nothing, temperatures rose and the clouds dissipated, which allowed for some superb stargazing come the evening.

A glorious summer's day near the Devil's Slide, 10 Jul © Dean Jones

The clear nights have afforded some superb views of Comet NEOWISE © Ash Garfoot

As always during the summer months, it was the seabirds that stole the show over the last week and a bit. The island's Guillemots and Razorbills have near all but left us for another season, with only a few of either species hanging on along the west coast at present (only 64 Guillemots and a single Razorbill were on the cliffs between Jenny’s Cove and Aztec Bay on the 19th, following a count of 2,033 and 455 birds respectively on the 10th). Guillemot productivity studies have also finished for another year, with all of the St Mark’s Stone birds leaving the site by the 12th. Although the final results still need to be double-checked, 2020 seems to have been a great year for productivity, with at least 165 chicks managing to fledge from 217 breeding pairs – a record for this site!

One of just two Guillemot chicks remaining in the productivity plot on St Mark's Stone, 10 Jul © Dean Jones

Going, going... GONE! A very empty St Mark's Stone productivity plot, 12 Jul © Dean Jones

Perhaps the last close encounter of the season; our Razorbills will spend the rest of the year at sea,
10 Jul © Dean Jones

From one auk to another – a number of the island' s Puffins are still busy yo-yoing to and from Jenny’s Cove with bills full of sandeels for young chicks, though in much smaller numbers compared to the start of the month, now that most of the young have left their comfortable burrows for the high seas. Around the corner, most of our young Kittiwakes have been fattening up and strengthening wings in preparation for their maiden flights. The first took to the wing in Aztec Bay on the 19th. Unfortunately, we have lost another four nests and a heart-wrenching 12 chicks over the two productivity sites since the last blogpost, mostly due to either hungry Lesser Black-backed Gulls, competition with siblings and/or falling from crumbling and crowded nests. All fingers and toes are crossed for the remaining 106 chicks!

Some of the Kittiwake ledges in the Aztec Bay colony are getting rather crowded... 11 Jul © Dean Jones

Kittiwakes roosting on the slopes of Pyramid Rock, 15 Jul © Dean Jones

One of the ultimate highlights from each season is popping down to visit the Manx Shearwater nestboxes along the west coast (30 boxes in total). Visits are particularly exciting at this time of year as the first of the very fluffy chicks start to appear inside. The wardening team headed out on the 11th to see how many of the seven breeding attempts recorded in the boxes earlier in the year had made it through to the chick stage. Lucky for us, all seven boxes were still occupied and contained either a young chick or an adult bird still sat tight on a soon-to-hatch egg – exciting stuff!

One of the adorable Manx Shearwater chicks nestled in its box, 11 Jul © Dean Jones

The team managed a trip out to the North End for a spot of Storm Petrel ringing on the 16th. Here a total of 35 birds were caught through the night, 31 of which were new birds. Three were retraps (all birds ringed on Lundy on 23.08.19) and one control (a bird ringed elsewhere, details to follow in due course). The team also managed to catch several Manx Shearwater, so all-in-all a very productive and enjoyable night's ringing.

The calm before the stormies... Sunset from North Light, 16 Jul © Zoë Barton

One of the 35 Storm Petrels caught at North End on the night of 16 Jul © Dean Jones

Finally on the seabrd front, more and more Shag chicks are making their way to the low shore, and the Fulmar productivity plot at Gannets’ Rock is quickly filling up with portly chicks (12 present so far, as of the 19th).

We might have to change the name of Gannets' Rock to Fulmar Rock! © Dean Jones

In other breeding-bird news... sadly, due to the poor weather prior to this period (which made finding and catching food very tricky for a lot of our breeding landbirds) our four beloved Spotted Flycatcher chicks were found dead in their nest on the 10th, not the best way to start off the morning's census.

Happily, not all the island's nestlings were affected in the same way. Highlights included a second pair of Blackcaps feeding young in the Walled Gardens on the 9th, and the Chiffchaff pair that have been holding territory in lower Millcombe this summer were seen feeding a single fledgling on the 14th. A number of Blackbirds, Stonechats and Dunnocks have also been seen feeding recently fledged young throughout this period and our Kestrel chicks are still going strong and have been exploring various parts of the island since fledging.

Waiting for Mum & Dad... a Blackcap chick eager for another beakful of invertebrates, 9 Jul © Dean Jones

In addition to all the wonderful breeding bird action as of late (minus our Spot Flys), Lundy has also been treated to a small flurry of southbound migrants this past week or so. These included small numbers of Swift on four dates – with a peak count of 46 birds on the 11th – as well as the first Willow Warblers of the autumn, where up to 12 birds have been logged in Millcombe and along the east coast each day since the 14th. Furthermore, a number of Grey Heron have also arrived on the island, with a single bird turning up in Barton Field on the 10th, followed by three past St Mark’s Stone on the 12th and single birds at Pondsbury on the 13th, 14th and 15th. A Curlew flew over the Airfield on the afternoon of the 16th and finally, a juvenile Cuckoo spent most of the afternoon dodging angry Meadow Pipits below the Ugly on the 15th.

Grey Herons off St Mark's Stone, 12 Jul © Dean Jones

Juvenile Cuckoo below the Ugly, 15 Jul © Dean Jones

Non-avian highlights

In contrast to all the bird action, it has been a rather quiet period for butterflies and day-flying moths despite all the warm summer weather. Highlights included the first Gatekeeper and Comma butterflies of the year along the east coast and in Middle Park respectively.

The moth trap has been relatively quiet too but we have managed to record a few more 'firsts for the year' like Dark Fruit-tree Tortrix, Lackey, Common Footman, Fan-foot and Buff Arches. Additionally, a second generation of Early Thorns are now on the wing and a migrant Diamond-back Moth turned up in the Millcombe Heath trap on the 16th.

Buff Arches Habrosyne pyritoides – a highlight of recent moth-trapping efforts, 16 Jul © Dean Jones

Despite numerous searches – and attempts to attract adults in with a pheromone lure – the team haven’t managed to find any adult Lunar Hornet Moths post-discovery of a number of empty larval cases on 7th July (see previous blogpost). Maybe next summer!

Looking out to sea, visitors and staff have been treated to some superb cetacean action over the past few days. Chris and Sharron Blackmore from the Lundy Field Society have been over to carry out their annual seawatch surveys from Castle Parade. They managed to find a number of small pods of Common Dolphin on the 11th and 12th as well as up to six Harbour Porpoise each day – a superb effort, bravo! We also received news from the Oldenburg on the 11th that a big pod of over 100 Common Dolphin were foraging and playing around the bow of the ship, to the delight of many on board, about an hour out from Bideford. Following on from this, islanders Sue and Alice Waterfield saw numerous pods off the west coast on the 12th, adding up to around 100 individuals – surely the same animals that had been seen from the ship a day earlier. Other marine wildlife included six Aequorea forskalea jellyfish washed up in the Landing Bay on the 15th.

Report composed of sightings from Zoë Barton, Chris and Sharron Blackmore, Jamie Dunning, Rosie Ellis, Dean Jones, Mike Jones, Alan & Sandra Rowland, Emily Trapnell and Michael Williams.

Thursday 9 July 2020

1st to 8th Jul – Lundy re-opens and wildlife rises to the occasion

Lundy Warden Dean Woodfin Jones reports on a remarkable period in the island's social and natural history...

The paths have been cleared, properties cleaned, sanitiser deployed and the boat set up to ensure social distancing guidelines are met – after a strange few months on the island due to the Covid-19 outbreak, Lundy is once again open for business – hooray!!!

Strong westerly winds have been the dominant weather feature as of late, with gusts of up to 46mph on a number of days since the evening of the 2nd.

Heavy swell crashing into Aztec Bay on the west coast, 6 Jul © Dean Jones

Jenny's Cove bearing the brunt of the stormy weather, 6 Jul © Dean Jones

Luckily for us, however, the wind dropped just enough to get the ship over to deliver the first two groups of staying visitors from the 4th.

MS Oldenburg carrying happy visitors  – and a foredeck full of sheep! 7 Jul © Dean Jones

The strong Atlantic-born winds have in turn given rise to some huge swell and rolling waves along the west coast at times – a superb sight for those sure-footed individuals brave enough to venture out that way but troublesome for unlucky breeding seabirds positioned low down on the cliffs. This has been particularly evident with our Kittiwakes, another three nests having succumbed to the sea in the Threequarter Wall Bay colony, one of which was a re-build, complete with young chick from a prior wash out – our seabirds really do have it tough at times! Despite this, a total of 118 chicks are currently huddled within 86 guano-coated nests on either side of St Mark’s Stone – some growing very quickly, meaning that they should be ready for fledging in little over a week or so.

Some of our Kittiwakes are not far off fledging, Jenny's Cove, 1 Jul © Dean Jones

The winds have also brought some superb flocks and rafts of Manx Shearwaters along the east coast on a number of evenings – particularly on the 7th when three big rafts composed of 4,000+ birds put on a spectacular show throughout the course of the evening.

Other avian highlights include the first Pufflings of the year, bravely venturing out of their burrows for a bit of exercise on the 1st.

The first 'Puffling' of the year outside its burrow, Jenny's Cove, 1 Jul © Dean Jones

A total of 405 Puffins were counted between Jenny's Cove & St Mark's Stone on 1 Jul © Dean Jones

Fulmar chicks are also starting to appear around the island, with the first being spotted in Jenny’s Cove on the 6th. The Guillemot ledges are quickly emptying now that their breeding season is coming to a close; just where does the time go?! In fact, most of the sub-sections which make up the study area at St Mark’s Stone are now devoid of squeaking jumplings (only eight chicks left from the 218 pairs that attempted to breed in the plot this year). On a similar note, colour-ringed Skomer-born Guillemot 'red 0114', has managed to successfully raise and fledge a chick this season. Fingers crossed, all being well, we will see the parent bird back on the same ledge again next season.

The last-remaining Guillemot chicks at St Mark's Stone, 6 Jul © Dean Jones

Not all the chicks make it out to sea – Great Black-backs also have hungry mouths to feed... © Dean Jones

Continuing on the breeding-bird front, elsewhere on the island the first Peregrine fledglings took to the wind as of the 1st and are now creating havoc with a number of adult birds along the east coast. The island's Swallows have also fledged young over the weekend – the first of which were from the Church porch on the 4th, and our beloved Spotted Flycatchers are now whizzing around Millcombe Valley catching insects for four tiny nestlings as of the 6th.

One of the Swallow brood raised in the Church porch, sheltering in Millcombe, 4 Jul © Dean Jones

Last – but by no means least! – the Kestrel pair that have been holding territory along the east coast this year managed to successfully raise two gorgeous young chicks, both of which fledged from their eyrie on the 6th. This is a particularly notable breeding record for Lundy as the last confirmed successful attempt for this species was back in 2005!

Fresh from the nest – one of the two Kestrel chicks, 6 Jul © Dean Jones

Our 'autumn' Linnet flocks have continued to grow – this male part of a flock of 30 on 1 Jul © Dean Jones

Non-avian highlights: Unfortunately, on the moth front, with the wind being so strong and evenings so wet, the trap has been kept under cover for the past few weeks. In spite of this hiatus, we have still managed to find three new species for the island – all of which were found on the same mature willow tree on the east coast! The first of these came in the form of the minute and expertly camouflaged micromoth Batrachedra praeangusta on the 5th. The next day, another species associated with mature willows, Anacampsis populella, was photographed resting among the smorgasbord of epiphytes which also make this tree their home.

Batrachedra praeangusta – a new moth species for Lundy! 5 Jul © Dean Jones

But the undoubted mothing highlight from this period came when photographing the second of the two 'micros' described above. Whilst waiting for one to settle, a cluster of weird-looking protrusions from the base of the old tree caught my eye. After closer inspection I realised I had found six larval cases belonging to the Lunar Hornet Moth!

Another first! One of the six Lunar Hornet Moth (Sesia bembeciformis) larval cases found on 7 Jul © Dean Jones

Although I haven't yet managed to find any adult moths at the site yet (I will keep a close eye over the next few weeks), this is still a fantastic and novel discovery for Lundy. Furthermore, upon closer inspection of the tree I managed to find dozens of other empty holes where the moths have erupted from their cases in the past, suggesting that this species has been resident on Lundy for quite some time but unseen to all until now. Exciting stuff!

The rain held off on a few evenings which allowed for some spectacular, seabird-filled sunsets! 2 Jul © Dean Jones

Wednesday 1 July 2020

22nd to 30th Jun – Breeding Kittiwakes continue to decline but better news for auks & landbirds

The end of lockdown is nigh! It has been all hands to the pump this week to get the island ready for its grand re-opening on the 4th of July. All the island staff have now come off furlough and have been busily cleaning properties, strimming paths and working through documentation and equipment to keep everyone safe during their visits to the island. Despite the lengthy 'to do' list, daily monitoring and recording has continued as usual, as summarised below by Lundy Warden Dean Jones.

There's a bench in there somewhere! Lots of strimming of paths & seating areas to be done
in Millcombe in time for reopening on Saturday 4th July... © Dean Jones

Weather-wise, this week has been a tale of two halves. To begin with, the island was graced with some glorious summer weather, complete with high temperatures (up to 25°C at times) and a light easterly breeze for most. Come Saturday 27th, however, the winds picked up to a strong SW gale (it’s been gusting at speeds of 43mph pretty much since last Friday afternoon), bringing with it periods of heavy rain and light squalls – conditions which mostly lingered until the evening of the 29th.

Despite the wind and rain, the seabirds are still ticking along with their busy breeding season; in fact some species like our Guillemots are actually nearing the end of their time on the island. On the St Mark’s Stone productivity plot, most of the brave Guillemot chicks have now made the jump, leaving all but a few breeding pairs with young chicks or late/unfertile eggs. The same goes for the Razorbills, with most of the obvious pairs in Jenny’s Cove and Aztec Bay now escorting young birds on the high seas rather than on or near the island.

Guillemot chicks getting ready to jump from the breeding ledges on St Mark's Stone, 23 Jun © Dean Jones

Kittiwakes too are still keeping busy with nearly all of the 105 nests in the productivity plots now containing young chicks. On 24th, the wardening team managed to get around the island on the Warden's RHIB to take photographs and count Kittiwake nests along the west coast. Despite there being a bit of swell, the team managed to count and photograph all the colonies between Jenny’s Cove and Threequarter Wall. Results show that there have been reductions in the number of nests in each of the colonies this year – 308 apparently occupied nests in total were counted, 41 fewer nests than in 2019. The greatest reductions have actually been from within the productivity plots (the Jenny’s Cove colonies were only down one nest ), particularly at Threequarter Wall Buttress where there are only 18 active nests at present, 11 down on the 2019 totals and a staggering 94-nest reduction over the last ten years. It’s obviously been a tough year for these birds with already an overall drop in the number of breeding pairs at the start of the year, followed by quite a few lost nests during the breeding season, due mainly to three prolonged periods of strong westerly winds.

Lundy all at sea! Team Kittiwake's view from the Warden's RHIB, looking north off Threequarter Wall buttress,
24 Jun © Dean Jones

Some of the Kittiwake chicks are growing up fast! Aztec Bay, 23 Jun © Dean Jones

On a more upbeat note, to cheer ourselves up from a rather worrying Kittiwake survey and to relieve ourselves from the effects of the baking sun, the members of Team Kittiwake treated themselves to a short snorkel session along the east coast to cool down. As soon as we got in the water we were joined by six very inquisitive Puffins that swam directly over to us to check out our weird-looking head-gear and colourful flippers. The birds then spent a few minutes diving and swimming around us underwater less than a metre away – incredible stuff! What a huge and unexpected privilege it is was to get this sneaky peak into the underwater lives of these incredible seabirds.

Seeing Puffins close up underwater was definitely
a highlight of the week, 24 Jun © Dean Jones

Other breeding bird news includes a pair of Spotted Flycatchers currently incubating four eggs in an old Swallow nest in Millcombe. ‘Spot Flys’ are a rather scarce breeder on Lundy, with only one confirmed record of breeding since 1997 – a pair that were seen feeding recently fledged young in Quarter Wall Copse in 2017. Although there have been several potentially territorial pairs recorded during the summer months since then, none was confirmed as having bred, so this year's nest is a very welcome find. All being well, in three or four weeks, we will be seeing some healthy young birds feeding-up for their maiden journey to coastal West Africa.

One half of the Spotted Flycatcher pair nesting in Millcombe, 28 Jun © Dean Jones

This period also saw the first Blackcap fledglings of the year, on 24th, when three recently fledged birds were heard and seen calling to their parents for grub in upper Millcombe. This species has only recently gained breeding status here on Lundy; in fact these young birds will make up the fourth known record of successful breeding on the island – the first of which was as recently as 2016.

Blackcap fledgling in Millcombe, 24 Jun © Dean Jones

The east coast Whitethroats have also successfully fledged young chicks, all of which have now disappeared into the bracken-rich slopes of the East Side. The annual post-breeding flocks of young Linnets have started to form too, further up the island, with up to 17 juveniles present at Halfway Wall on a number of dates. Additionally there have been lots of other birds cracking on with their second broods, including Pied Wagtails – one pair of which has made a cosy wee nest in one of the compost bins on the island  – Dunnocks and Blackbirds to name but a few, as well as Starlings, which should see their second broods fledge shortly. The Church porch Swallow nest is now full to bursting with four young chicks huddled together, all of which should take to the wing in the next day or two.

Juvenile Chaffinch snoozing in the warm sunshine at the start of the week, Paradise Row, 23 Jun © Dean Jones

Unsurprisingly, being late June, migrants have been thin on the ground. We did however have a few good days of Swift passage during the fair weather, with a peak count of 62 birds on the 24th. Other migrants of note included up to two Collared Doves on a number of dates and the male Willow Warbler still singing his wee heart out on a daily basis in Millcombe.

With the warm and settled weather at the start of the week, the island saw some decent numbers and variety of Lepidoptera too. This included the first Ringlet butterfly and Five-spot Burnet moth of the year on the 24th, up to two Hummingbird Hawk-moths on three dates, as well as small numbers of Grayling, Small Tortoiseshell, Painted Lady, Common Blue, Large White and Red Admiral butterflies. Meadow Brown numbers are also growing, with a peak of 123 in Millcombe and along the east coast on the 24th.

We also had a productive few nights' moth trapping before the foul weather hit, a total of 403 moths of 80 species being caught over three nights between the 22nd and 26th. Highlights included three new species for the island! A Cream Wave and the micro-moths Eucosma campoliliana and Anarsia spartiella, as well as the first Small Magpie, Small Blood-vein, Brussels Lace, Common Emerald and Swallow-tailed Moth of the year.

Eucosma campoliliana – a new micro-moth for Lundy, 23 Jun © Dean Jones
Anarsia spartiella was also new for the island! 23 Jun © Dean Jones

In addition, the traps also contained a small numbers of migrant species, such as Dark Sword-grass, Silver Y and L-album Wainscot most nights, as well as nationally rare/scarce moths, among them  Devonshire Wainscot, Barrett’s Marbled Coronet and the micro-moth Nothris congressariella.

Other wildlife sightings of note included singles of Emperor Dragonfly at Quarter Wall Pond and a pod of 12 Common Dolphins feeding close in to St Mark’s Stone on the 26th.