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Wednesday 24 February 2021

15th to 24th Feb – Early spring meets soggy winter

Here's the latest from our man on the spot, Warden Dean Woodfin Jones...
The last week and a bit has been a breezy one, with the winds picking up from the south-west come the evening of the 15th – conditions which have pretty much continued for most of this period other than a few glorious days over the weekend. Luckily it has been a reasonably dry period throughout, though the island did receive a prolonged spell of heavy rain spanning the afternoon of the 19th to the afternoon of the 20th, at which point the clouds parted, the winds dropped to a light SW breeze and temperatures rose to a more comfortable 12°C – conditions which spurred on the first proper movement of Meadow Pipits (42) of the spring, the first Grey Wagtail to fly overhead, and a trickle of other migrants, including Stonechat, Pied Wagtail and Goldfinch. Sunday the 22nd was similar, with more beautiful early spring weather and a further movement of Meadow Pipits (47) and Skylarks (43) throughout the morning. Then, just as the migrants were getting going, the winds again picked up to gale force on the 23rd and into the 24th, peaking at gusts of 57mph from the south-west.

Early spring met winter in a soggy South West Field, with a Rock Pipit (left) and Meadow Pipit, 21 Feb © Dean Jones

One of the many Skylarks logged on 22 Feb, this one in Brick Field © Dean Jones
Rare gulls once again stole the show, with a second-winter Yellow-legged Gull on Ackland's Moor on the 20th topping the bill for this period. Other star larids included a stunning adult Little Gull foraging behind Rat Island on the 15th and a ‘Northern’ argentatus Herring Gull sheltering from the gales in Lower Lighthouse Field on the 20th. 

Second-winter Yellow-legged Gull (upper centre) with nearby Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls, 20 Feb © Dean Jones

Northern Herring Gull, Lower Lighthouse Field, 20 Feb © Dean Jones
The three Lapland Buntings which arrived on 4th Feb are still hanging on in High Street Field, joined briefly on the 18th by two more birds on their way north (total five birds on this date). The Snow Bunting has still been making use of Old Light track on some days, and the first two Reed Buntings of the year dropped into Quarter Wall on the 17th.
The original trio of Lapland Buntings in High Street Field on 16 Feb…

…were joined by two more on the 18th, but they only stayed briefly © Dean Jones
It has been such a privilege to spend the month with these beautiful buntings © Dean Jones

Snow Bunting, Old Light track, 18 Feb © Dean Jones
Offshore there has also been a small but noticeable passage of Gannets and gulls, the latter mainly Herring Gulls and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, including a number of Lundy breeders which were seen defending breeding territories along the east coast on the 21st and 22nd. A decent flock of 733 Kittiwakes was noted offshore at the start of the period, but they quickly disappeared as the winds picked up, resulting in just a handful of birds being logged since the 19th. Guillemot and Fulmar have again been visiting their ledges periodically, and 252 Razorbills were rafting just offshore from their breeding ledges along South West Point on the beautiful, calm morning of the 22nd.

Other birds of note were up to nine Red-throated Divers on five dates, the Great Northern Diver either in the Landing Bay or offshore from the Terrace, 24 Teal on Pondsbury on the 21st, up to three Water Rail most days, a single Golden Plover on the 20th, 15 Snipe on Ackland's Moor on the evening of the 18th, singles of Woodcock on 19th and 21st, a first-winter Common Gull in Barton Field on the 21st and two Woodpigeon in Millcombe on the 19th.
Woodpigeons hiding from the rain, Millcombe, 19 Feb © Dean Jones
The long-staying Coal Tit and Firecrest are still going strong between Millcombe and Quarter Wall Copse, the Firecrest treating the Warden to a few verses of song from the Millcombe pines on the 21st.
The long-staying Coal Tit – you can still make out the yellow flush to the bird's cheeks,
which suggest that it could be of Irish origin (race hibernicus) © Dean Jones
Up to two Redwing, 11 Blackbird and eight Song Thrush (four of which were in song in Millcombe and St Helen's on the 22nd) were logged throughout, a single Linnet flew over the Village on the 22nd, and the first Goldcrest of the year was calling away in Quarter Wall Copse on the 16th.

Monday 15 February 2021

1st to 14th Feb – Gales, ice, glorious winter weather, and the stirrings of springtime song

Lundy Warden Dean Jones wraps up the first half of February for us.
After a chilly start on 1st February, the island warmed slightly on the onset of some stiff SW gales, with temperatures rising to a tropical 10°C come the 3rd. From here until the morning of the 5th, the island was then graced with some glorious winter weather, particularly on the 4th where sunshine and light winds spurred on a number of wintering Song Thrushes to start singing in Millcombe (will this be the year we see them breed on the island again?), the first of the South End Ravens to start collecting nest material, and the Conservation Team to venture down the west coast slopes to install some new Manx Shearwater nestboxes before the frost arrived. 
A Song Thrush between verses in Millcombe, 4 Feb © Dean Jones

Rosie and Matt with one of the newly installed Manx Shearwater nestboxes, 5 Feb © Dean Jones
Like everywhere else in country, temperatures then plummeted to just above freezing as the winds switched to the east. These easterlies then picked up to force ‘hold on to your hats’ (gusting 48mph), resulting in even colder conditions, with the island weather station recording wind-chill temperatures of -8°C. Brief flurries of snow and hail then followed intermittently, the ground froze solid and all the puddles and ponds froze over, including half of Pondsbury. This resulted in the island equivalent of Dancing on Ice, as the Teal and Mallard skated comically over the icy fringes to reach areas of open water. On the 14th the winds raged on but from a more southerly direction, bringing with it a warm front which changed the snow flurries into heavy rain. 
The Lundy weather station provided some great advice during the stormy weather!    
Ackland's Moor marsh freezing over, 9 Feb © Dean Jones

Quarter Wall Pond covered in ice, 10 Feb © Dean Jones

Birding highlights for this period included a first-winter Little Gull foraging within the Kittiwake flocks offshore from the Landing Bay on the 5th – the second winter running this rare Lundy gull has graced the waters off the east coast following a first-winter and an adult bird last year (the 8th and 9th Lundy records).

Other star birds were three Lapland Buntings together in High Street Field on the 4th, and still with us on the 14th. After a prolonged absence, the Old Light Snow Bunting reappeared next to the track on the 2nd and has been present most days since. In addition, the handsome male Black Redstart from earlier in the year made a comeback at Benjamin’s Chair on the 8th.

Star birds – one of the three Lapland Buntings in High Street Field, 7 Feb © Dean Jones

Snow Bunting, Old Light Track, 11 Feb © Dean Jones

Male Black Redstart, Tent Field, 8 Feb © Dean Jones
Up to five Red-throated Divers were offshore up until the 5th (at which point the easterlies moved them on elsewhere), as were the odd Mediterranean Gull (two adults on the 4th), Common Gull (single adults on 3rd and 5th) and flocks of up to 500 Kittiwake. Shags too have also started to arrive in greater numbers, particularly from the 2nd, with a raft of 33 birds on 10th (41 in all that day) and numbers slowly increasing thereafter – that is, on the days I’ve managed to get the scope up in the winds!

The cliffs along the west coast have continued to be visited by numerous Guillemots, particularly on the 4th when 1,110 birds were together in Jenny’s Cove. This date also saw the first returning Razorbills to their cliff-side haunts in Jenny’s, albeit only three birds in the south end of the cove.
Cold, windy but beautiful – a pin-sharp view of Old Light from the west coast path, 7 Feb © Dean Jones

The start of February was blessed with some stunning winter weather and seabird-covered
cliffs on the west coast, 4 Feb © Dean Jones

Guillemot's jostling for space in Jenny's Cove, 4 Feb © Dean Jones
Other sightings of note included 26 Teal on Pondsbury on 10th, one of the highest counts ever for the island, up to two Lapwings on four dates from the 10th, and a single Golden Plover on Ackland's Moor on the 4th and two on 13th. Half-a-dozen Snipe were using the edges of frozen puddles near Pondsbury on some days and up to two Water Rails were in Millcombe most days (one of which has been showing well in Millcombe Pond). A single Woodpigeon was noted in Millcombe on the 10th, some good numbers of Skylark have been using the in-fields most days (max 44 on the 12th), a Pied Wagtail flew over the Farm on the 5th, the possible hibernicus Coal Tit and the Firecrest have lingered on in Millcombe, singles of Linnet and Goldfinch were noted on the 3rd and 12th respectively, and a smattering of Meadow Pipits, Song Thrush, Redwing and Stonechat were logged throughout. 

Skylarks have gathered in good numbers in High Street Field throughout the first half of February © Dean Jones
Non-avian highlights included a pod of c.50 Common Dolphins offshore from Old Light on the 4th – a gathering which included four very small calves – and up to four Harbour Porpoises offshore from the Landing Bay on two dates.

The strong easterlies frustrated all attempts to get a cargo sailing across, 12 Feb © Dean Jones

Monday 1 February 2021

20th to 31st Jan – Breaks in the weather reveal tentative hints of spring

Lundy Warden Dean Woodfin Jones writes:
Driech would be the word to describe the majority of this period, as the island has received what seemed to be a near constant deluge of rain, drizzle, fog and mist since the 19th, totalling 108.9mm (= just over 4¼ inches) in fact, which has transformed Lundy into something akin to a blanket bog. The island has also been hit by some burly westerly/southerly winds since the 19th, particularly so on the 21st (max gusts 50mph) and the 28th (60mph in the morning). Thankfully there were a few calmer and drier days between the deluges, including one really glorious (but chilly and frosty) winter’s day on the 23rd – conditions which provoked the first of the Blackbirds in Millcombe to burst into song, Rock Pipits to start their parachute displays at South Light, and a pair of Starlings to begin transporting nest material into the eaves of the General Stores. Then, after another brief respite on the 29th, the winds shifted to the east and picked up to force 9/10 by the morning of the 30th, bringing more rain, periods of thick mist and nippier temperatures.
Looking NE over Pondsbury on a glorious winter's day, 23 Jan © Dean Jones

All shepherds are hereby duly warned! Sunrise on 25 Jan © Dean Jones

The easterly gale gathers steam... 30 Jan © Dean Jones

Birding highlights from this period included the continuation of good numbers of Kittiwakes offshore along the east until the 25th, with the highest count of 2,090 on the 23rd, including a handful on old nests at Threequarter Wall Buttress.

The same lovely winter’s day (23rd) also produced two adult Mediterranean Gulls and a single Common Gull offshore along the east, together with a stonking sub-adult argentatus Herring Gull resting on the water off Miller’s Cake. Fulmars and Guillemots too were on breeding ledges in good numbers, with 62 and 1,320 birds, respectively, between Jenny’s Cove and St Mark's Stone.
Looking north from a Guillemot-filled St Mark's Stone, 23 Jan © Dean Jones

Guillemots back on their breeding ledges, Jenny's Cove, 23 Jan © Dean Jones

Further highlights included up to eight Red-throated Divers offshore on days where the visibility was good enough to allow for a bit of seawatching (the count of eight being on 25th). A Great Northern Diver was offshore from White Beach on 29th, and the male Snow Bunting remained on the island until the 22nd at least. Additionally, small numbers of Skylarks have been moving through (max 22 on the 23rd), as well as Lesser Black-backed Gulls, with 22 roosting next to the water tanks on the 29th. A Black Redstart was bobbing around Benjamin’s Chair on the 21st and the first Linnet of the year dropped into Barton Field on the same date.
Black Redstart, Benjamin's Chair, 21 Jan © Dean Jones
Other sightings of note included 18 Teal together on Pondsbury on the 23rd (the highest count so far this winter), a Water Rail calling from Millcombe most days, singles of Golden Plover on the 24th and 29th, four Lapwing sheltering from the strong westerlies in South West Field on 20th, a single Woodcock flushed from the Secret Garden (lower Millcombe) on the 29th, up to 24 Snipe foraging in the in-fields during the evening, and up to 349 Herring Gulls throughout the day. Finally, the Coal Tit and Firecrest have continued to kick about Millcombe, along with a smattering of Song Thrush, Redwing and Chaffinch.
Herring Gulls foraging for sheep feed, High St Field, 25 Jan © Dean Jones

Some of the 18 Teal and seven Mallard enjoying the morning sunshine at Pondsbury, 23 Jan © Dean Jones
A female Peregrine takes a rest near Halfway Wall, 23 Jan © Dean Jones