Thursday, 8 June 2017

Ringing on Bardsey (Spring)

It’s an incredible privilege to be able to undertake ringing activities on Bardsey. The miscellaneous and versatile habitats that the island offers means a rich diversity of birds can be caught and ringed, which leads to some interesting results and recoveries. The concept of ringing is quite simple, each bird has a unique ring size which matches its tarsus width, each ring then also holds its own matchless number. This means if the bird is recaptured elsewhere the ring can be read, and corresponded with its original capture and data. This has aided many studies to be able to understand longevity of birds, their migration, population trends and much more!

As I’m writing this article I have ringed 960 birds of 40 species on Bardsey this Spring. Outside of a Bird Observatory like Bardsey these sorts of figures would be incredibly difficult to match, especially for a trainee such as myself. I have experienced a dramatic learning curve during this time, where I find myself learning new features and aspects of ringing every day! Personally, what I find most fascinating about ringing and processing birds, is the opportunity to study them up close. Trying to age a bird can mean having to look very closely at its tail, greater coverts, iris etc. which opens a whole new world of understanding bird plumage.

The last few months have been amazing to say the least! March began rather slowly with only the first few trickles of migrants making their way through the island, mostly concerning Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus Collybita and Goldcrests Regulus regulus with 22 and 15 ringed respectively. A few other stragglers also hit the nets, with the first Blackcap of the year arriving near the end of the month and Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs and Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis adding to the diversity.

Willow Warblers Phylloscopus trochilus are often the most numerous bird ringed on Bardsey annually, this largely being due to the incredible falls we experience each year around the mid-spring period in April and later in August. This spring’s peak count was an astounding 691 logged on a single day! Therefore, my most numerous bird ringed were Willow Warblers Phylloscopus trochilus with 276 ringed, followed by 78 Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita and 77 Blackcaps Sylvia atricapilla! Mixed in with the Phylloscopus warblers and Blackcaps Sylvia atricapilla were also the occasional scarcer migrant, Grasshopper Warbler Locustella naevia, Sedge Warbler Acrocephalus schoenobaenus, Whitethroat Sylvia communis, Garden Warbler Sylvia borin, Common Redpoll Carduelis flammea flammea or Lesser Redpoll Carduelis flammea cabaret. However, the most notable bird was a Pallas’s Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus found in the nets in the morning of 18th April which was only the seventh to be ringed on Bardsey this decade!

From left to right, top to bottom, Goldcrest, Lesser Redpolls, Woodpigeon, Grasshopper Warbler, Chiffchaff, Common Redpoll, Chiffchaff and Pallas's Warbler

In May sheer numbers were substituted for diversity, with Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus, Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros, Grasshopper Warbler Locustella naevia, Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca, Garden Warbler Sylvia borin, Wood Warbler Phylloscopus sibilatrix, Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata and Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca all appearing on the months ringing list. This was combined with over 100 Willow Warblers Phylloscopus trochilus, 30 Blackcaps Sylvia atricapilla, 54 Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita and a good selection of other species. The scarcer migrants appeared to be the results of a small push of migrants in early May, the later part instead was predominantly spent ringing various chicks during the day followed by Manx Shearwaters Puffinus puffinus in the evening. Which has raised my Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus totals to just under 200 birds! The most surprising results were however concerning the four Lesser Whitethroats Sylvia curruca ringed this month, with the usual annual mean being closer to 2.87!

From left to right, top to bottom, Wood Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher, Black Redstart, Lesser Whitethroat, Redstart, male and female Sparrowhawk

I look forward to the coming months, and am very much intrigued to see what I’m going to learn next. Hopefully I’ll be able to achieve my goal of ringing 2000 birds in a year!

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Life on Bardsey

I began my position as Assistant Warden on Bardsey on 13th March this year, so far it’s been a none stop rollercoaster of learning and birds! Following an eventful winter, I returned, with the wardening team (Steve, his family and Liam), to Bardsey. Though winds were calmer than they had been previously the crossing was still partly choppy, but spirits were high with the prospect of what the coming season was to bring. Crossing the sound into the waters around Bardsey, the Mountain loomed above us to our right, before we turned into Cafn. Having brought our luggage up to the observatory, we set about tidying and cleaning Cristin for the next few weeks.

Ty Pellaf and the South End viewed from Pen Cristin


Fulmar long-exposure

The first couple of weeks saw a routine build up, were the morning would be spent covering our census routes, be it the South or North End, and the manual labour would be left for the afternoon. On arrival on 13th the first Spring migrants were already on the move, with Mark having already recorded Swallow Hirundo rustica, Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis and Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe that day! We had come over just in time, to see the build-up of migration. The next few weeks were slow, but held their highlights with migrants such as Meadow Pipits Anthus pratensis reaching peak counts of 373 birds!


Skylarks in flight
Meadow Pipit chart

Followed by the occasional bird of interest, Great Northern Diver Gavia immer, Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator, Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros or Ring Ouzel Turdus torquatus, not to mention a Merlin Falco columbarius which had become near semi-resident on the South End. The end of March however, brought the first scarce bird of the year, in the form of a Glaucous Gull Larus hyperboreus, which flew through the Lowlands of the Island before landing on the Narrows and feeding with the Lesser Black-backed Larus fuscus and Herring Gulls Larus argentatus.

Glaucous Gull
It wasn’t really until the 7th April that things really began to heat up. When a combination of the right winds and low lying mist dropped a significant number of birds on to the island. Willow Warblers Phylloscopus trochilus were spread across most of the island with at least 120 recorded along with 81 Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita, 25 Goldcrests Regulus regulus, 16 Blackcaps Sylvia atricapilla and the years first three Grasshooper Warblers Locustella naevia! This resulted in over 100 birds being ringed at Cristin for the first time in 2017!


Little Owl

This broke down the barrier for more migrants to start streaming through, there was a slow trickle of Wheatears Oenanthe oenanthe, Tree Pipits Anthus trivialis, Blackcaps Sylvia atricapilla, Grasshopper Warblers Locustella naevia, Lesser Redpolls Carduellis flammea cabaret and many other common migrants. A Mealy Redpoll Carduellis flammea flammea found in the nets at Cristin was a personal highlight of the early weeks of April, since the species had somehow managed to allude me since I started birding!

With migration in full swing, it was just a matter of time before something rare appeared, but it definitely wasn’t what we expected. On 18th a Pallas’s Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus hit the nets at Cristin, and was duly ringed and processed, although this represented the 21st record for the island, it was the first to be recorded in Spring! With all the previous records falling in-between October and December. Another fantasic day of migration was recorded on 19th and 20th with good numbers and diversity of birds arriving on the island. Waders on Solfach had now increased to an impressive two Ringed Plovers Charadrius hiaticula, a Golden Plover Pluvialis apricaria, a Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola, a Sanderling Calidris alba, a Dunlin Calidris alpina, a Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica, 45 Whimbrels Numenius phaeopusand four Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos along with the usual Turnstones Arenaria interpres and Oystercatchers Haematopus ostralegus!



Hirundines had started to move as well with 51 Sand Martins Riparia riparia, 144 Swallows Hirundo rustica and 20 House Martins Delichon urbicum logged on 19th and nine Sand Martins Riparia riparia, 216 Swallows Hirundo rustica and 36 House Martins Delichon urbicum recorded on 20th. Highlight on the 19th however, went to a cracking male Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus, and 20th was the huge fall of over 691 Willow Warblers Phylloscopus trochilus!!! Needless to say, over 100 birds were ringed with ease.

Displaying Wheatear


Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler chart

Things settled down partly following a fantastic run of migrants, but a good assortment of birds were still passing through allowing for pleasant birding. This was interspersed with the occasional highlight, such as Goshawk Accipiter gentilis, Short-eared Owl Asio flammeus and Ring Ouzels Turdus torquatus. However, it wasn’t over yet, April still had a final hurray, once again a favourable wind and low-lying fog grounded an incredible mixture of birds, though no migrant reached triple figures the diversity made more than up for it. Highlight was a vibrant Wood Warbler Phylloscopus sibilatrix, but a supporting cast of eight Pied Flycatchers Ficedula hypoleuca, 96 Willow Warblers Phylloscopus trochilus, 33 Blackcaps Sylvia atricapilla, 13 Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus Collybita, six Sedge Warblers Acrocephalus schoenobaenus, four Whitethroats Sylvia communis, three Garden Warblers Sylvia borin, three Grasshopper Warblers Locustella naevia, two Lesser Whitethroats Sylvia curruca, a Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus and six Redstarts Phoenicurus phoenicurus were much appreciated!

male Redstart


Ring Ouzel

May began well, as April ended. A highlight for me was a Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula flying north along the West Coast, quite the island rarity with somewhere around 30 previous records! However, a Long-eared Owl Asio otus was probably the more conventional bird to get excited about. More ringing highlights on 2nd with Wood Warbler Phylloscopus sibilatrix, multiple Spotted Flycatchers Muscicapa striata and a Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca caught at Cristin. The less said about 3rd the better, my morning census resulted in a bird which was almost certainly a Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus bombing towards the mountainside, silhouetted by the bright and low sun. More gripping however, was when one was spotted in the Withies a mere few hours later!

Golden Oriole

Luckily, redemption came on 5th when Liam found a Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus as it flew over the garden which continued to give good flight views throughout the rest of the day, efforts to trap the bird however were fruitless.


 Spotted Flycatcher

 Spotted Flycatcher

Early on 7th reports came in of a Pallas’s Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus at Ty Nesaf, just a few minutes from the observatory. Following initial views the bird was said to have a ring, the obvious conclusion we all drew was, it was the same bird I had ringed a few weeks prior. However, following brilliant views in Nant Withy later in the day, Steve and I were able to piece the ring number together using our photos. Which resulted in an astounding discovery that this bird had infact been ringed elsewhere! A few calls later and we knew that this bird had been ringed at Spurn Bird Observatory on 11th October 2016! 

Pallas's Warbler

What an awesome recovery, this means that this bird had successfully wintered somewhere, I hypothesis perhaps in Portugal or Spain, before doing the natural thing and back tracking its steps north and passing through Bardsey! Things quietened down after this, with a scattering of Pied Flycatchers Ficedula hypoleuca, Spotted Flycatchers Muscicapa striata, Redstarts Phoenicurus phoenicurus, variuous ‘Flava’ Wagtails and Tree Pipits Anthus trivialis the only migrants of interest.


 Shag defending nest


 Razorbill close-up


However, a monstrous number of Hirundines made their way through the island daily. A Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio, found by Ben on his first day back, was the only highlight nearing the end of the month. It was at this point surveys and censuses began occupying most of my time.

Hirundine chart




Manx Shearwater

More blogposts to follow, discussing some of my duties as Assistant Warden on Bardsey.