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Thursday 31 December 2020

A Happy New Year to all Lundy birders

No doubt we will all be glad to see the back of 2020, but there's no doubt that it was another remarkable year for birds on Lundy, whether resident and migrant breeders, those stopping off to rest and feed up, or others just passing through. While Killdeer and Sora Rail were new species for the island (both still subject to acceptance by the British Birds Rarities Committee), others such as the long-staying White's Thrush and the island's first White-tailed Eagle in 140 years brought much excitement and regularly kept Lundy at the forefront of online news on BirdGuides and Rare Bird Alert.

Now begins the annual task of writing up the birding year for publication in the Lundy Field Society Annual Report and the Devon Bird Report. To everyone who filled in record sheets and handed them to Warden Dean Jones for inclusion in the LFS logbook, or emailed records and photos to the island's bird recorders, Tim Jones and Tim Davis, a huge thank you. 

May 2021 bring better times for all of us – and many more wonderful birding days on Lundy.

Martin Thorne captured this Lundy sunset behind Old Light during his recent week-long stay on the island.
Storm Petrels
Ever wondered where Lundy's growing number of breeding 'Stormies' go to gather food for their young? A four-year tracking study by Mark Bolton of breeding Storm Petrels in the UK's largest colony on Shetland has shown some intriguing results: rather than flying west to forage at the edge of the continental shelf, where boat surveys in past decades recorded high concentrations, birds were keeping to shallower waters to the south-east, though covering unexpectedly long distances, with feeding trips (of up to three days) averaging 159km from the colony. There's a nice non-technical summary here: https://community.rspb.org.uk/ourwork/b/biodiversity/posts/gps-tracking-reveals-new-insights-into-the-foraging-areas-of-the-atlantic-s-smallest seabird

Wouldn't it be amazing to find out where 'our' Stormies from the North Light colony go to feed? Surveys of Manx Shearwaters using data-loggers over a five-year period (2008-2012) and conducted by a team from the Zoology Department of Oxford University revealed the differing between-year foraging behaviour of Lundy's nesting shearwaters. Hopefully it won't be too long before we know more about the movements of their diminutive cousins.

Tuesday 22 December 2020

Additions for 7th to 14th Dec – A serendipitous ‘first’ for Lundy: not one but THREE Great White Egrets!

This post includes additional records from Martin Thorne for the period 7th to 14th Dec and should be read together with the previous post, from Dean Jones, covering sightings for 4th to 19th Dec.
On discovering that the Radio Room was available for a week following a cancellation, Martin Thorne grabbed the opportunity for a pre-Christmas break on the island. Here’s his summary, including an encounter with not one but three Great White Egrets – a new species for Lundy’s burgeoning bird list!

“My week started with a skua harassing Kittiwakes off the Landing Bay on 7th. It looked very much like a juvenile Herring Gull but had the distinctive raised wings of a skua but with no noticeable wing barring – a shame I didn't have my 25x100 binoculars handy as I feel certain it was a Pomarine (certainly the most likely skua species to occur in SW waters this late in the year – eds). The following day a Mediterranean Gull off the Jetty was showing an interest in a Grey Mullet dying of a severe infestation of gill parasites (see photo). Later on I saw a Yellow-browed Warbler feeding around the gateway opposite the Shop. On Wednesday a white-winged gull flew over the Airfield, possibly a Glaucous though it looked rather small. Looking through the gulls again on Thursday, I picked out one or more adult Yellow-legged Gulls. On Saturday there were two immature Glaucous Gulls, one white, one very brown (see photo). I would say from the markings on its head the latter was the same bird that turned up on Monkstone Beach, Pembrokeshire, due north of Lundy, on 14th Dec (see https://pembsbirds.blogspot.com/). The same day I made it up to the North End. It was very quiet bird-wise, with six Snipe around Pondsbury and just three Gannets off North End. On Sunday I noted well in excess of 450 gulls, split into roughly four flocks.
First-winter Mediterranean Gull off the Jetty, 8th Dec © Martin Thorne

An immature Glaucous Gull stands out among a gull flock...

... and also in flight, 12th Dec © Martin Thorne
On most days there were two or more Black Redstarts, four Stonechats and a Chiffchaff in Millcombe, a single Great Northern Diver off the East Side, and a Woodcock in and around St John's Valley at dusk. Standing outside the Radio Room at one point, a stone bounced off the roof and hit the ground hard. On closer inspection I realised it was a gastrolith, or gizzard stone, consisting of a piece of tarmac – no doubt purged by some high flying gull. 

Black Redstart © Martin Thorne
Chiffchaff, Millcombe © Martin Thorne
Undoubtedly the high point of my stay came on 8th when, from below the South Light, I saw what I first thought were three Cattle Egrets approaching from the west. As they loomed into view I became aware of their much larger size, brilliant white plumage, dark legs, yellow bill and rather heron-like cranked neck posture – three Great White Egrets (which I later learned from the two Tims were new for Lundy!). Without stopping, they headed away east toward the mainland. Oh, and I mustn’t forget also two speedy Teal at dusk!
The first Great White Egrets to be recorded in Lundy's rich ornithological history fly in from the west past South End...

...and head on eastwards towards the mainland, 8th Dec © Martin Thorne

Teal zooming along at dusk over Brick Field Pond, 8th Dec © Martin Thorne
Non-avian sightings included a superb stag Sika Deer in Middle Park, and a Grey Seal emerging from kelp and various bits of 'human' waste along the East Side."
Stag Sika Deer, Middle Park © Martin Thorne

A Grey Seal noses its way to the surface through kelp and various bits of plastic and nylon cord © Martin Thorne
Congratulations Martin on your serendipitous ‘first’ for Lundy, and nicely captured on camera for posterity!

Saturday 19 December 2020

4th to 19th Dec – Partridge in Pear Tree usurped by Glaucous Gull in Tillage Field

The Marisco Tavern is now draped in decorative garlands and sparkly tinsel, twinkling fairy lights illuminate the window of the General Stores, and more and more Christmas packages, ready for wrapping, are arriving on the bi-weekly helicopter service. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas on Lundy!
Other than mass festive decorating, Lundy staff have been keeping very busy with lots of other bits this period, including socially distanced training for the island's Coastguard and Fire Service teams, fixing leaky windows and repairing drystone walls, lots of digging to facilitate new drains around the Village, and cracking on with end-of-season reports and reviewing applications for next year’s volunteer positions.
Regarding the latter – if there are any bird brains out there who would like to contribute to the island's seabird, seal and migratory bird studies – we are now looking for a number of long-term volunteers to come and spend some time with us on the island during the 2021 season! If this is something you might be interested in, please pop over to the Lundy Landmark website to find out more:
2018 Volunteer Assistant Warden Caitlin surveying Kittiwakes in Aztec Bay © Dean Jones
Weather-wise, it has been a wet and windy affair – as you’d expect from the month of December. In fact, the island is now sodden due to several days of heavy rain, which has resulted in lots of puddles and pools forming in various spots, as well as the return of the temporary Ackland’s Moor Marsh which is currently filling up nicely, to the joy of the visiting gulls.

Ackland's Moor Marsh returns! © Dean Jones
With the late sunrises, early sunsets and heavy cloud cover, particularly in the mornings, it’s been a rather gloomy period but again, like the autumn, we have been spoiled with one or two beautiful 'red sky' mornings warning us of an approaching chill and foul weather to come.
Shepherd's Warning... December sunrise © Dean Jones
Unsurprisingly, being mid-December, the birding has been rather quiet on the island. Saying that though, there have been a few smashing birds to keep us going until the spring. Highlights included a juvenile Glaucous Gull roosting in various in-fields throughout the day of the 11th – a bird that allowed some superb views, particularly in Tillage Field in the afternoon.

What a beast! What a bill! Juvenile Glaucous Gull, Tillage Field, 12 Dec © Dean Jones
Other highlights included a stunning Purple Sandpiper which was photographed by visitor Jonny Morgan up on top of the island along the west on the 11th, a lone Snow Bunting sheltering from the strong winds on the Main Track by Quarter Wall on the 6th, two late Manx Shearwater were foraging offshore along the east on the 11th and 16th, as well as the odd Mediterranean and Common Gull on the 7th. Finally, a Great Northern Diver was in the Landing Bay on the 17th and a single Firecrest and the lingering Coal Tit were seen and heard off and on in Millcombe at the start of the period.
Purple Sandpiper, West Side, 11 Dec © Jonny Morgan

Snow Bunting, Quarter Wall, 6 Dec © Dean Jones
With Christmas just around the corner, I would like to take this opportunity to say a massive 'thank you' to everyone who managed to visit and support Lundy this year and of course, all those who submitted any wildlife sightings whilst on the island. Thank you all so much! I hope everyone has enjoyed reading the blog this year as much as I’ve enjoyed writing parts of it (a huge thank you to Tim Davis and Tim Jones for managing the site). It really has been a stupendous year for Lundy birds with ever-increasing seabird numbers, some stonking rarities like Killdeer, Bridled Tern, Sora Rail, White-tailed Eagle and White’s Thrush and of course, like always, all the amazing birders, bird ringers, researchers and general wildlife enthusiasts who managed to get over to the island this year!

The Conservation Team wishes you all a festive, love-filled Christmas and a very Happy New Year. Hope to see you all on the island during 2021!

All the very best,

Dean Woodfin Jones

We'd like to send our own festive greetings to all readers of the blog – we know that there are a lot of you out there! We'd especially like to thank Dean for his heroic efforts in keeping up the flow of bird and other wildlife news from Lundy throughout the trials and tribulations of 2020, enabling all of us to share in the reassuringly familiar rhythms of nature's calendar on our favourite island, even when we haven't been able to visit in person. Merry Christmas and all the best for a happy, healthy, peaceful and bird-filled year ahead.

Tim & Tim

Here are just a few of the birding highlights from the last 12 months...
A total of three Golden Oriole graced the island this spring © Dean Jones
As did this beautiful female Rustic Bunting, Millcombe, 10 May © Dean Jones

It was a fantastic year for Storm Petrel ringing at North End, here on 16 Jul © Dean Jones

Sora, 12 Sep – one of the more unorthodox of Lundy's many 'firsts' © Dean Jones

The long-staying White's Thrush was ringed on 9 Oct © Dean Jones

Lundy's first White-tailed Eagle for 140 years graced the island on 16 Oct © Tim Jones

Friday 4 December 2020

23 Nov to 3 Dec – A flurry of Siberian Chiffchaffs and a very late Swallow

After a breezy and chilly day on the 23rd, the rest of the month of November was blessed with some very pleasant and tranquil weather for most, accompanied by a number of truly awe-inspiring sunrises and sunsets and, of course, a small trickle of migrants. Despite the sunny and clear days, the winter woollies have finally been hoaked out of storage as the temperature dropped throughout this period – with wind chill it’s felt close to 0°C some mornings and evenings – particularly on 1st December when the wind picked up to a stiff northerly throughout the afternoon. It has also been a relatively dry period with only a few squalls and spells of drizzle to top up the puddles and pools up on the plateau.
One of the many glorious sunrises over the Village this November, 24th Nov © Dean Jones

Avian highlights from the week included the female Goosander for her second day on Rocket Pole Pond – but there was no sign of her on the 24th – as well as a small flurry of Siberian Chiffchaffs on the 26th (four birds) across the island, and another vocal bird in Millcombe on 1st December. Furthermore, Black Redstarts are still moving through, with single birds on three dates and two together on the 25th up on the Marisco Tavern roof. Another star bird of the period was a stunning Great Northern Diver which spent three days scoffing various flatfish and rays close into the Landing Bay from the 25th.
Out at sea – due to the glorious, still conditions, seabirds have been feeding much further offshore throughout the majority of this period which made identifying any of the birds to species very difficult other than the more conspicuous adult Great Black-backed Gulls and Gannets (max 22 of the latter on the 30th). Currently there seems to be lots of food available for these birds offshore, particularly along the east coast, with some large concentrated gulls flocks on a number of dates, as well as a small pod of six Common Dolphin on the 25th and singles of Harbour Porpoise in the Southern Races on the 26th & 27th. Scarce gulls logged on days when birds were foraging much closer to shore include up to ten Common Gulls on three dates and a small number of adult Mediterranean Gulls (max six on the 27th).  

The calm before the Siberian Chiffchaff invasion, 26 Nov © Dean Jones

 One of the four Siberian Chiffchaffs, Millcombe, 26 Nov © Dean Jones
Up top, Common Snipe have been heard on a number of evenings flying over the Village. A search of the in-fields on the 1st revealed a decent count of 11 individuals, which would have been but a small proportion of birds around the island on this date. Woodcock too are still arriving and making use of the in-fields during the night, with three individuals sighted on the 1st and two on the 3rd. Other waders included singles of Golden Plover over on Village on the 30th and 1st, as well as the odd Oystercatcher calling from the east sidelands on a number of dates.
In Millcombe, up to three Water Rail have been screaming from the undergrowth most days and the Woodpigeon – which has been in the valley since 5th November – remained on the island until the 27th at least. Another bird which lingered was the male Sparrowhawk, seen daily in the valley up until the 28th – generally with an angry Carrion Crow or two in tow. Other raptors have included up to two female Peregrines on a number of dates, a single Kestrel on the 24th and a female/immature Merlin hunting Starlings in lower Lighthouse Field on the 28th and 29th.
The Millcombe Woodpigeon foraging in a clump of Lundy Cabbage, 25 Nov © Dean Jones
A portly Lundy Robin – one of the many island residents enjoying the beautiful late autumn weather, 28 Nov © Dean Jones
Passerines of note during the period were the long-staying hibernicus type Coal Tit – a bird which has been with us since 15th October. Additionally, there have been a few late Swallows – the most recent of which was on 30th November in lower Millcombe.
Other birds logged included single Blackcaps on the 26th and 30th, up to five Chiffchaffs (excluding the Siberian birds) on eight dates – among them a very pale and vocal abietinus type bird in Rüppell’s Quarry on the 26th. At least one Firecrest is still managing to find enough food in Millcombe each day, and small numbers of Goldcrest, Stonechat and Meadow Pipit have been trickling through the island, in addition to singles of Pied Wagtail (26th) and Grey Wagtail (30th).
More typical late November/early December migrant passerines like Blackbird, Song Thrush, Redwing and Fieldfare are also moving through in decent numbers on top of small numbers of Chaffinch (max 76 birds on the 26th), Goldfinch (max 11 on the 1st), singles of Siskin on the 26th, 30th and 1st, and up to six Linnet on three dates.
Report by Lundy Warden Dean Jones.
Sunset behind Old Light, 25 Nov © Dean Jones