Monday, 30 March 2020

This blog post is in honour of Philip Ridsdale, a friend of mine from Sheffield who tragically passed away recently, long before his time. He visited Bardsey last summer and wrote an article about his time here. 

A link below will take you to his post on the Sorby Breck website. Even if you don’t know him, if you are into birds in Britain, it’s highly likely that you know someone who does. Hopefully, friends of Phil, as well as regulars to BBFO will enjoy reading his article.

Phil's Bardsey write-up here.


The news came in so fast that many of us hardly had time to even begin to process what was happening. Phil was announced missing just yesterday (28/03/20), soon after the announcement, a huge number of people and organisations spread their love and support all over social media platforms in an attempt to have him found. It was only hours later that a statement by South Yorkshire Police was released, stating that a body had been found that they believed to be that of Philip Ridsdale.

The news was seriously heart-shattering. Many of us, I’m sure, just stared in shock at our devices thinking that surely it was just a horrible dream, surely this can’t actually be happening… Phil was as kind as a person gets and I have spent the last 24 hours feeling hollow, confused and just so, so sad. He was sweet and giggly and supportive and knowledgeable and humble.

He was interested in all areas of natural history, be it fish, wildflowers, insects or birds. He loved his blackbirds as much as he loved his bluethroats, and he always took the time to answer any of my wildlife questions, despite the fact that he was likely to be getting questions from dozens of other people too. He liked birding in many areas in and around Sheffield, but it’s no secret that Phil had a love of Spurn Bird Observatory, by the sound of it for the people as much as the birds! Unfortunately, my plans to visit SBO with him last winter never panned out for one reason or another, as it would have been nice to see him in his element there.

He was in charge of a Facebook group called ‘European Bird Identification’, an inclusive group that’s main aim was to answer identification questions with friendly, helpful advice.
In Phil’s own words on the group’s guidelines: “Please be civil and considerate when commenting on people’s posts, some people are very new to birding and might not know some of the more common species which others will feel are very easily identified. We are all learning and have different levels of knowledge so try to be as helpful and explanatory as possible when responding.”
He was incredibly knowledgeable, on identification as well as the habits and movements of birds, but he was also as modest as they come. Since the news of his passing there has been an outpouring of love and adoration for him that has brought tears to my eyes all day. It’s amazing to see the number of lives he has touched, but when you’re as big-hearted as he was, it’s hardly that amazing, I suppose. It’s my hope that his family knows just how loved their Phil was by all who knew him.

You’re going to be missed, Phil. So, so much.

Sam Prettyman 29/03/2020

Phil (middle) with (from left to right) Emma Hughes, Steve Samworth,
Dean Rea and Amy Donnison. Making their way to Bardsey in July 2019

Sunday, 29 March 2020

An eye-wateringly cold and strong breeze from the North characterised most of today and it didn't really give up at all. Wind speeds peaked at around 35mph which totally foiled any plans to try and ring, for the second day in a row.

Birding conditions were made very difficult by the wind for two reasons: 1) it becomes increasingly hard to hold your binoculars steady as you gradually lose more feeling in your hands to the cold and 2) most birds are well-hunkered down in the cover and are not singing as they have been in recent days, understandably...

With a wind from the North, George headed to the North Hide in the hope that some seabirds may be passing reasonably close-in. On the way, the first lamb had been born in the North West Fields, there'll be lots more to come in the coming weeks!

lamb in the North West Fields

The session in the North Hide was reasonably productive - Manxies, Gannets and Auks gave good views and two more species made their way onto the year list: Mediterranean Gull and Grey Plover. Both of these species were good records as Mediterranean Gulls are scarce on the island in spring and only a handful of Grey Plovers are recorded annually.

 looking North-West from the North Hide

A walk down the West Coast produced small numbers of waders with Whimbrel being the highlight. Four Canada Geese on the narrows was a 'good' record - these are still scarce here on the island with only 55 records before this year, but with 18 records in the last three years. 

heading South down the West Coast towards Solfach

The afternoon was spent entering the recent days' ringing records into the BTO's Demography Online or 'DemOn' for short. It has been good for ringing since coming back onto the island, hopefully we will get a chance to open the nets again before March is over. 

The gorse is beginning to come into flower nicely, soon the mountainside
 will be ablaze with yellow

The ringed Black Redstart was seen in the Observatory garden in the afternoon and the Stock Dove was also still present in the Lowlands.

Late evening saw another Bardsey sunset give way to yet another beautifully clear night tonight which allowed brilliant views of both Venus and the crescent Moon.

sunset from the Observatory
another starry night on the island, though the growing moon is now starting to reduce 
the manxie numbers coming ashore.

Other sightings today included: 52 Manx Shearwaters, four Kittiwakes, one Common Gull, four Gannets, four Curlews, 15 Goldcrests, 13 Chiffchaffs, one Blackcap, one Black Redstart, 16 Turnstones and 96 Oystercatchers.

No ringing today, unfortunately, due to high winds.

Saturday, 28 March 2020

Unfortunately, the wind picked up today which ruled out ringing as a possibility. It was also a northerly which brought the temperature down, it really was quite a biting wind. Looking northwards through binoculars had eyes streaming all over the show..! You didn't have to go far to see odd Bardsey birds though as a Great Tit could be seen from the kitchen window first thing in the morning!

A big tidy up has been going on around the obs in the last couple of days, which is a little odd as we're some of the only people in the UK not confined to our houses. Never-the-less the office and the ringing hut have been fully cleaned! Emma did the office and George and Sam did the ringing hut.

George sorting the ringing hut, while I [Sam] helpfully take photos

The ringing hut looking as good as it ever has

A tidy office!!

Some new birds for the year were had today, despite the conditions, these include Black-headed Gull and Grey Heron, maybe not the most inspiring of bird species, and many more of each will be had in the year to come, but we'll take them for now, they bring the year list to 76!

Four Black-headed Gulls flying past North End

Up at the Plantation, five Coal Tits and a Blue Tit were recorded, these are likely to be birds that have remained from yesterday. Very peculiar to hear and see these birds on Bardsey, but in the last couple of days we've become almost blasé about them. The movement of Coal Tits has been noticed on other Welsh sites, including islands such as Skokholm.

The Herring Gulls at the North End are busy building nests at the moment, we'll be out ringing the chicks come summertime! 

Herring Gull with a beak full of nest material at the North End

A lone male Shelduck also at North End looking a bit lost

Over the mountain, a pair of Peregrines could be seen, in this species the markings are the same between the sexes, but the females are significantly larger and it's usually easy to tell which is which from a distance when a pair is together. Hopefully, they will nest on the East Side this year as they do in most years and we'll have streaky plumaged juveniles flying over the Mountain.

Peregrine flying over the Mountain

Seeing as many of our usual guests can't make it to the island this year, we'll post a few landscape photos of familiar views around the island in a few blog posts. Here is the view from the track as you make your way to Cristin.

A familiar sight to many, the walk up to the 'obs'

As the day drew to a close, we were treated once again to one of those Bardsey sunsets that are all to easy to take for granted when living here. But viewing it from Solfach means that it sets just behind Carreg yr Henwy, which brings a nice change. 

Sunset from Solfach, with Carreg yr Henwy to the right of the image

We've been having amazingly clear nights since arriving back a week and a half ago, the moon was a beautiful crescent tonight. A double-edged sword of course, because the larger it gets over the coming days, the less the Manxies will be coming ashore each night!

Other sightings today include: 32 Oystercatchers, one Snipe (on Henllwyn!?), one Common Gull, one Stock Dove, one Collared Dove, seven Rock Pipits, three Black Redstarts, six Wheatears, 10 Chiffchaffs, 15 Goldcrests and two Starlings.

Unfortunately, no ringing took place today due to wind. 

Moths today: 12 Common Quakers, two Hebrew Characters, one Dark Swordgrass.

Friday, 27 March 2020

There was an eerily misty start to this morning which was then burnt off later on at about 8am. It was again a very calm day, however, the wind began to pick up late afternoon.

This morning, George headed up to Nant to open the mist nets there and Sam stayed at the Obs so that both ringing sites were operated. The misty start held promise that something may have dropped in overnight, so all fingers were crossed for something good!

On arriving at Nant, a Coal Tit could be heard singing - though relatively common on the mainland, these are unusual birds here, and rare in spring. Back at the Observatory, there were ten in total through the morning along with two Great Tits, two Blue Tits, one Bullfinch and five Bramblings, too. At Nant, the Coal Tit tally hit seven, five of which were caught, and a single Great Tit was present also. 

Coal Tit, there were 17 recorded today
Blue Tit, there were four recorded today

It seemed some of yesterday's Black Redstarts had departed but two stuck on at Nant and the bird which had been ringed at the Observatory was also still present. The two Hooded Crows were seen over Nant Plantation at the North End and Goldcrests were still present in reasonable numbers with 80 noted on the island.

Raptors also made their presence known with a Merlin and a Sparrowhawk at Nant, and in the early afternoon, once the ground had warmed up, there were three Common Buzzards soaring over the Observatory.

Common Buzzard over Cristin

Other sightings today included: 9 Blackbirds, 29 Redwings, 10 Chiffchaffs, 8 Redpolls, 12 Siskins, 6 Bramblings, 26 Chaffinches and 2 Robins.

Ringing totals today (Re-traps in brackets): Goldcrest 42(5), Chiffchaff 2(1), Wren 1(1), Robin 1, Blackcap 2, Coal Tit 6(1), Great Tit 3(1), Redwing 1, Goldfinch 0(1), Blue Tit 1, Lesser Redpoll 1, Chaffinch 1. Total: 61 birds of 11 species. 

Moths today: Common Quaker 8, Dark Sword Grass 2, Hebrew Character 4, Early Thorn 2, Red Chestnut 3, Blossom Underwing 1.
Early Thorn
Blossom Underwing

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Today was the calmest day yet, there was a slight wind coming in from the east but it was barely noticeable, and in the early morning there was a mist coming in off the sea. With this in mind, the assistant wardens woke up at 04:00 and trudged down into the Wetlands in order to open up the Snipe nets that had been put up the yesterday. Unfortunately, today we had no luck, but a Merlin frustratingly, narrowly missed one of the nets! 10 Common Snipes were seen along with one Jack Snipe, however.

After the disappointment caused by the lack of Snipes, the nets were opened at Cristin at 06:00 and it turned out to be a good day for it, to kick off the action was a Black Redstart and a Redwing in the first net rounds! Admittedly, we have been quietly hoping we'd catch a Black Redstart since the first one was seen at Cristin two days ago.

Throughout the day at least six were seen including three at Nant, one at Carreg and two around Cristin

 Three Black Redstarts were at Nant, with two at Cristin 

Chiffchaffs were also in good numbers today, they could be heard calling in every wooded area around the island. There weren't many Willow Warblers with them today though, just 10 were recorded today down from 15 yesterday, one was caught at Cristin. 

 Up to 88 Chiffchaffs were seen during the day

Goldcrests saw their highest day total of the year by far today, 42 were recorded yesterday which was the highest day count until today when 195 were recorded. At Cristin, 37 were caught and more were present, but a count at Nant yielded 110 individuals, we hope to be ringing there tomorrow morning.

 There were a good number of Goldcrests at Nant with a total of 195 seen across the island

 Jackdaw at Nant, five were recorded in total today

 A good number of thrushes were seen today, with at least 28 Redwings logged
along with ten Fieldfares

The Stock Dove is still present at Nant

All in all, a pretty nice day on Bardsey. Besides the Black Redstarts, another nice scarcity was Hooded Crow, of which two were seen on the Narrows, and another couple of nice birds came in the form of a Great Tit (these are about annual here) and a Firecrest on the Mountain.

Other sightings today include: one Sparrowhawk, one Buzzard, one Peregrine, two Curlews, one Little Owl, 124 Meadow Pipits, one White Wagtail, one Robin, five Wheatears, one Mistle Thrush, three Siskins and 70 Linnets.

Ringing totals today (re-traps in brackets): Goldcrest 35 (2), Chiffchaff 6, Willow Warbler 1, Wren 1 (1), one Black Redstart, Goldfinch 2, Siskin 3, Chaffinch 1, Blackbird (1) Total: 54 birds of 9 species.

Moths today: 11 Common Quaker, two Red Chestnuts, one Angle Shades,  two Dark Swordgrass, one Herald and three Hebrew Characters.

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Today was the calmest day since we arrived with only a very slight breeze from the South. These are ideal conditions for migrants to be able to make their way to Bardsey, so we all had our fingers crossed for a good day!

As in recent days, it was clear that there had been another arrival of birds as Phylloscopus warblers were already fly-catching on the lawn at Cristin before the sun had even come up. Nets were opened both in the Obs garden and in the Plantation at Nant as the benign weather conditions are ideal for ringing.

There was a lot of movement around the garden with 50 Chiffchaffs, 20 Goldcrests, 10 Blackcaps, 10 Willow Warblers and yesterday's Black Redstart still present and foraging on the Obs Track. At Nant, the story was much the same with fewer Chiffchaffs; however, a new Black Redstart had turned up at Ty Capel - very nice to have another one of these gorgeous birds on the island, the second of the day.

Willow Warbler

Gareth Roberts, the farmer on the island, messaged to let us know he also had a Black Redstart in his garden at Ty Pellaf - the third of the day! We then received a message from Mari Huws, one of the Island Trust wardens, to tell us she had seen a Hooded Crow on the West Coast, a new addition to the year list!

During the morning's ringing session at the Observatory, a Robin was caught which had already been ringed. On closer inspection, it was noted that it was wearing a ring branded with "Zool Museum. Denmark". The ring number was recorded and will be sent off to the BTO, we should then get the details of when and where exactly the bird was ringed, very exciting.

'Continental' Robin

The evening saw both Sam and George head down to the Wetlands to set a net to try and catch Snipe in the early morning tomorrow. After that, a quick walk around the Narrows in the last of the day's light produced only a few Redshanks and Oystercatchers in Solfach.

The nights recently have been very dark and starry, this is ideal for Manx Shearwaters to come ashore and they are beginning to do so in increasingly large numbers.

looking North at Cristin

Other sightings today included: one Jack Snipe, nine Common Snipes, one Curlew, 111 Meadow Pipits, two Robins, five Stonechats, seven Blackbirds, 16 Blackcaps, 106 Chiffchaffs, 15 Willow Warblers and 42 Goldcrests.

Ringing Totals: Chiffchaff 23, Goldcrest 12, Willow Warbler 7, Blackcap 9, Chaffinch 4(1), Goldfinch 2, Dunnock 1(2), Wren 1, Robin 0(1). Total 59 birds of 9 species. 

A cold and clear night meant the moth traps produced only one Common Quaker.

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

It was a bit breezier today, but the wind was still coming from the South giving warmer weather than it could have otherwise been. The sky was slightly overcast with some sunlight getting through the thin layer of cloud bringing the temperature to 9˚C. One of the first things to be heard in the morning was a singing Willow Warbler in the garden, the first of the year, with what we hope will be many more to come! After a quick look and listen around the garden, it appeared that there were three of them in total.

What was also immediately noticeable was an increase in Chiffchaffs, we had the year high count of 84 today. Seeing them feeding on the grass is a good sign that they are new arrivals, and this is exactly what we could see on the lawn at Cristin early in the morning.

Chiffchaff at Cristin, usually arboreal, but migrants often drop 
onto the ground to feed when they arrive

A walk through the Wetlands didn't produce as many Common Snipes as previous days, just three were recorded, but that was made up for by the two Jack Snipes that were recorded in the same area. Other waders seen today were the year's first Whimbrels, at least two were seen on the Narrows and South End, one was colour-ringed, ringed on Bardsey as a first-year (ringing age code '3') in 2016.

Not exactly the greatest photo ever taken, but it does show the colour-ring
combination of this Whimbrel, at least.

What's more, a year high count of 15 Purple Sandpipers was had on the rocks just south of Solfach, these birds like a rocky coastline to forage on, a habitat that Bardsey has in good supply. They are a winter visitor to Britain (generally speaking, with occasional exceptions) and will be heading off to breed in more northern countries, perhaps Iceland, Greenland or Norway.

Three of the 15 Purple Sandpipers scattered amongst the rocks today

Besides Willow Warbler and Whimbrel, another addition the island year list was Common Gull, six were recorded today flying south along West Coast. An expected addition, but an addition to the list none-the-less.

Common Gull from today

Last year on Bardsey, Rock Pipits were ringed and had darvic rings put on their legs too. This is so they can be identified as individuals without the need to recapture them. Several have since been resighted and so far, at least five of the juveniles ringed in late summer 2019 have survived their first winter. Hopefully, they'll keep getting re-sighted for quite a few years to come. Some Rock Pipits have been known to live to almost a decade thanks to colour-ringing schemes.

Some of the re-sighted Rock Pipits from around Bardsey so far this year

Perhaps the highlight(s) of the day came in the afternoon when two Firecrests were caught, one at Nant and one in the garden at Cristin. These were both young birds born last year, but are still a cracker when viewed up close, the bronzy colour on the shoulder area is an example of what can be fully appreciated when in the hand. Three Firecrests have now been ringed on Bardsey this year, not bad considering we only arrived last Wednesday! Unlike Goldcrests, both males and females have orange in their crowns, females just have less of it, but it can sometimes be tricky to judge the sex even with this knowledge. In these examples, the top photo is a female and the bottom photo is a male.

 Female Firecrest caught at Nant

Male Firecrest caught at Cristin

Whilst George was ringing at Nant, he had the year's first Swallow feeding for a minute over the plantation before flying south. An early record for the species, hopefully there will be over 20 pairs breeding on the island this summer.

Finally, to bring a great day to a close was a Black Redstart that flew past George just as he had nipped outside. Another addition to the year list and always a great bird to see.

Black Redstart in the dying daylight

Steve and George viewing it in slippers and sliders

Other Sightings today include: one Gannet, one Buzzard, one Merlin, 103 Oystercatchers, one Woodcock (01:00), seven Curlews, 23 Turnstones, six Redshanks, 194 Meadow Pipits, two Robins, 11 Stonechats, 11 Redwings (including three early AM), one Blackcap (first of the year), 84 Chiffchaffs, 15 Choughs, 11 Goldfinches and one Linnet.

Ringing totals today: Chiffchaff 15, Firecrest 2, Blackcap 1, Goldcrest 2, Chaffinch (1)

No moth trapping took place today

Monday, 23 March 2020

Today was relatively calm with a slight breeze from the South, bringing with it the chance of some more migrants.

There were five Chiffchaffs flycatching on the Obs Garden lawn when the Assistant Wardens got up - a sure sign that some birds had arrived during the night.

Chiffchaff in Cristin Garden. 

The warm, sunny morning had also prompted what seemed like every Meadow Pipit on Bardsey to start singing! As well as Meadow Pipits, Stonechats, Linnets and Goldfinches had also joined in, making for a nice dawn chorus. A male Kestrel was present in the Lowlands - this is the first for the year and a good record as not many are recorded in spring.

male Linnet along the West Coast.

After lunch, the Assistant Wardens headed up to Nant Plantation at the North end of the island, to put up the mist nets at the ringing site. The Stock Dove was present here as were a reasonable number of Chiffchaffs - 15. A quick seawatch once the nets were up produced the first Puffins of the year and a Collared Dove was seen on the way back to the Obs - another new bird for the year. 

George furling a net at Nant.

Later that evening, at around 11pm, Sam and George headed out to try and catch the first Manx Shearwaters of the year. These birds have been heard calling for the last few nights as they arrive back on Bardsey to breed after spending their winter in South America. 

Manx Shearwater.

While on the way to the West Coast, a Woodcock was flushed from the Lowlands, another new bird for the year! A total of 13 Manxies were handled - 6 of which were new, and the rest retraps. One of the retrap Manxies had been ringed on 2nd May 1999 as an adult and hadn't been handled since, making this bird atleast 25 years old; it is thought that after fledging, Manxies stay at sea for four years before returning to land to breed. 

George ringing a Manxie on the West Coast. 

Manx Shearwaters have slim, streamlined legs to make pushing them through water less energy-intensive. A normal round ring would add resistance when swimming, so they are shaped elliptically to reduce drag in the water. 

Other sightings today include: five Shelducks, 16 Mallards, one Sparrowhawk, ten Snipes, four Curlews, eight Redshanks, 187 Herring Gulls, 38 Razorbills, one Stock Dove, one Collared Dove, 2 Little Owls, four Wheatears, one Song Thrush, 52 Chiffchaffs, 24 Goldcrests, one Blue Tit, 14 Goldfinches and 28 Linnets.

Ringing totals: Manx Shearwater 6(7)

Sunday, 22 March 2020

The wind let off slightly this morning, dropping to 17mph gusts from the south-east which brought some warmth with them. The sun also came out and it was a particularly nice day to be on the island.

Bardsey, as viewed from Cristin, the building on the left is the old schoolhouse

A high count of Snipes was had in the Wetlands during the morning bird census, 28 were flushed from the rushes along with four Jack Snipes.

Jack Snipe caught in the Wetlands

a Common Snipe flushed from the Wetlands

More Wheatears were recorded today, George had three along the West Coast, two appeared to have formed a pair which is quite fast, but they were seen entering a nest site together. 20 or so pairs will form around Bardsey in a given season, usually nesting in the loose stone walls. In a few weeks 'Greenland' Wheatears will start passing through, these are slightly larger and more buff-coloured underneath. 

Northern Wheatears, male on the left, female on the right

A White Wagtail was seen today, the first of the year feeding at Ty Pellaf, these are the nominate subspecies of Motacilla alba, with Pied Wagtails being another.

male White Wagtail

Goldcrests more than doubled in numbers today, 38 were recorded increasing from 17 yesterday. The vast majority of these were in the Plantation's Sitka spruce. 

a male Goldcrest in the Plantation

In the evening we had a games night with some friends of BBFO over Facetime, this is because the staff are currently isolating from the rest of the island due to the risk of us bringing Covid-19 to the island.

Virtual game night, practising social distancing

Unfortunately, it was not possible to do any ringing today due to the wind speed.

Moths today: one Hebrew Character, three Common Quakers and one Agonopterix heracliana