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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

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