Joint University Week - Easter 2020


This year Bardsey Lodge and Bird Observatory have teamed up with the West Midland Bird Club and are offering 14 Students a week on the the island during Easter half term.


BBFO is proud to be working alongside one of our founder organisations the WMBC, who have, as part of their objectives, an educational side to the club.

One of the aims of the club is to advance the education of the public in the knowledge, understanding and appreciation of wild birds and wild bird study, and promote the conservation of, and raise public and scientific awareness of wild birds and their habitat

Last Year the BTO and Martin Wills Wildlife Maintainance Trust sponsored the week (See a fantastic review of that week here) and we now have a new sponsor in WMBC to help get youngsters into conservation roles, either at Observatories or other organisations!


Members of Bangor University and Sam Prettyman (Assistant Warden - Centre)

This is a fantastic opportunity for any young birder, ringer or just general wildlife enthusiast, as it is a chance to help out at the Observatory and gain real hands-on experience at one of the UK's 20 bird observatories. You will discover what living at an Observatory is like, finding out what the day-to-day tasks are, like counting the migrant birds, being given the opportunity to handle and ring some of the birds trapped as part of our daily ringing. Seeing and helping with the Shearwater projects - helping staff trap and ring adult Manx Shearwaters as they return to the island to breed. Joining the Observatories professional staff in sea-watching sessions, being shown how to identify birds passing distantly over the waves. Helping empty the moth traps and record the contents, and contributing the the daily counts of birds on the island at the evening log call. 

There have been several attendees of our successful annual young birders' week in the autumn who have gone on to work either at Observatories, for the RSPB and also the BTO. It is an opportunity not to be missed if you are thinking of a career in conservation and/or especially Observatory work. 

The week was initially offered to a total of 14 students aged 18-25 from universities in Wales and the West Midlands and students from the West Midlands area studying elsewhere, but is now open to students from all Universities, and will be hosted on the island at the Bardsey Lodge and Bird Observatory. There will be a cost payable by the students of £50 per person as a Non-refundable deposit, with the rest of the week being funded by our generous sponsors (WMBC). There will be an additional charge of £15 for car parking for the week (per car). 

The dates for the trip run from 11th-18th April (Saturday to Saturday). This is a good time of year on the island, and we will be able to carry out a large range of activities on the island, which are outlined below. Accommodation will be provided with self catering facilities in the Bardsey Lodge

Anyone wishing to come on the week should contact Steve Stansfield, BBFO's Director of Operations to request a place and complete the application form hereEmail completed forms to warden@bbfo.org.uk

The week is expected to fill very quickly so get in touch soon!!!


Bardsey Lodge and Bird Observatory

Birding - There is a huge amount to write about in terms of the diversity of the island, which is summarised below, to give you an idea of what Bardsey has to offer. However, there are a few specific things related to the time of year that the trip will be taking place...

Mid-April is a great time of year for birding: on the one hand you have the movements of northward-bound migrants already in full swing, with species such as Willow Warblers, Swallows, White Wagtails, maybe the odd Redstart and Pied Flycatchers featuring; on the other hand, the movement of seabirds out to sea can also be rewarding, with some of the island's Manx Shearwaters counts being quite impressive.


Hoopoe


  • The main feature, however, is likely to be that of passerines: scarce and rare species have a tendency to turn up in April, and in the last few years we have had Subalpine Warbler, Hoopoe, Osprey and Wryneck. Good numbers of migrants often move through the island on their way south, and include species such as Common Redstarts, Yellow Wagtails, Pied Flycatchers, Tree Pipits, Cuckoos, Grasshopper Warblers and much more! You will be able to join the staff in small groups who will help you understand the importance of recording birds and help with your ID skills, showing you how they find, identify and count all the birds on the island each day!
  • Ringing- ringing is a strong feature at any bird observatory, and Bardsey is no exception. During the week we will attempt to undertake a wide variety of ringing methods, and target a range of species. Ringing on Bardsey is hugely weather dependent, and so any of the following activities may be restricted if the weather is windy or wet: one to one tuition is given to anyone interested in taking part in ringing.
  • Mist-netting- provided conditions are calm, we would usually open up the nine mist nets around the Bird Observatory garden on a morning, and usually keep them open until midday. If there are movements of migrants through the island, then we can catch over 100 birds here on a good morning.
  • Heligoland trapping- besides the island's fixed Heligoland trap at Cristin, which will be run throughout the day, we also have a small portable trap, which we set up on the beach to catch and colour ring Rock Pipits, as well as the odd wagtail. Mid-April is a very good time of year for this activity, and so it is very likely that we will be using this during the week.
  • Manx Shearwaters- by the middle of April, many of the island's 25,000 pairs of Manx Shearwaters have returned to the island and we will go out at night to trap and ring many of the adult birds.
  • Wader lamping/dazzling- provided the moon phase is appropriate and there are waders around to catch, we will probably try lamping around the beaches and wetlands at night to trap any species which are present. Typically we catch Dunlins, Ringed Plovers and Whimbrels, although at the middle of April we may also be able to trap Bar-tailed Godwits or Redshank.
Wryneck
  • Moth trapping- moth trapping is carried out at various locations around the island throughout the year, mostly using small actinic Heath Traps, but also a Robinson trap situated at Cristin. We check the traps every morning between 9 and 10 am
Spectacle

Other events

In addition to the above activities that will be carried out during the week, we will also be holding a few events. At some point during the week we shall attempt a Bird Race, either splitting up into groups or just going outright BBFO VS. STUDENTS! The race will simply be which team can see the most species in 24 hours. One night there will be a Quiz held at the Obs, which will comprise questions on identification, bird facts, sound recordings and more! Talks will also be held at the observatory on some nights, one of which will be Steve Stansfield's talk on the wildlife and birds of Bardsey, but there may also be trip reports and other interesting talks.

**How can you apply for this trip?**

- Email Steve Stansfield at warden@bbfo.org.uk and let him know you wish to book a place, 

There are only 14 places on this week and some have already been booked, so get your names down soon..........

If you aren't already convinced to come, then take a look at this section below about the broader wildlife and birding that can be found on Bardsey...

Bardsey Island is situated about 2km off the tip of the Lleyn Peninsula, in North Wales. The island is roughly 1.5kmx3km, with a perimeter of about 7km. Bardsey is at a strategic interception point for migrants crossing the Irish Sea and Cardigan Bay, as well as birds flying southward ready to cross these bodies of water in the Autumn. The result is that ‘falls’ of common migrants, and visible migration over the island, can be fantastic. It is not uncommon to have  numbers of over 600 Willow Warblers on the island during the migration period; last May, for example, a total of 310 Sedge Warblers, 200 Whitethroats and 100 Blackcaps were grounded on the island on the 17th of May.

An aerial view of Cafn, where the boats come in and out, 
with Bardsey Mountain in the background

The view of the tip of the Lleyn Peninsula, from the top of Bardsey Mountain

Ok, so enough of the common stuff…what of the rarities and scarcities? In a familiar fashion to the rest of the UK’s Bird Observatories, Bardsey has amassed a respectable list of rarities since BBFO’s founding in 1953. Some of the slightly rarer encounters on the island have included the first Summer Tanager (1957) and Yellow Warbler (1964) to be recorded in Britain. The list of American vagrants stands tall: American Bittern, Sora, Kildeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Grey-cheeked Thrush, American Robin, Song Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Red-eyed Vireo, Common Yellowthroat, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, White-throated Sparrows and Blackpoll Warbler have all been recorded.

This White-throated Sparrow was found at Nant, shortly before a 
Greenish Warbler was heard singing in the same area

From the opposite direction, Bardsey has played host to Black-winged Stilt, Lanceolated Warbler, River Warbler, Booted Warbler, Blyth’s Reed Warbler, Eyebrowed Thrush, Thrush Nightingale, Red-flanked Bluetail, Isabelline Wheatear, Black-eared Wheatear, Collared Flycatcher, Blyth’s Pipit, Pine Bunting, Rock Bunting and Yellow-breasted Bunting.

A few Bardsey specialities have emerged in recent years (well, certainly in the context of Wales, at any rate…): Subalpine Warblers have been recorded more than annually since 2007, amounting to a total of 12 birds seen in the last seven years; a pair even tried breeding in the obs garden in 2010, when a singing male of the eastern race was accompanied by a female, and both were seen carrying nesting material! Similarly, Melodious Warblers have been recorded annually since 2006, with over 17 records including a total of six birds in Autumn 2010 alone. Paddyfield Warbler has now been seen three times on the island since 2008, accounting for 75% of Welsh records!


Western Subalpine Warblers have been seen as many times as Eastern on here!

Melodious Warblers have been recorded over 110 times since 1953

So, you probably want to know a bit more about actually birding the island; what habitats are there? What are the best places for birding? What has turned up where? Where is visible migration at its most overpowering? 

It has been suggested,  that the island’s hot spots for migrants and rarities are contained within a ‘golden triangle’. The points of this triangle are made up largely by the only significant areas of dense vegetation on Bardsey.

The golden triangle concept…comprising Nant, The Withies and 
The Observatory garden at each corner

The Observatory

Cristin, which comprises the buildings and garden of Bardsey Bird and Field Observatory, is the first ‘point’ of this triangle: the garden consists of a single large Sycamore, surrounded by a scattering of mature damson bushes. The garden is the main hub of the island’s ringing activities, and is the only site on the island with Heligoland traps. The BBFO garden alone has a rather impressive list of over 250 species, including Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Eyebrowed Thrush, Bonelli’s Warbler and Sardinian Warbler.

An aerial view of The Observatory (foreground), with the Heligoland trap, 
and surrounding garden

A ground-level panoramic shot of the obs and garden


The Withies

The second point of the golden triangle is The Withies: this is made up of three willow beds, which are situated in the lowland area of the island. These three withy beds (Ty Pellaf Withy, Cristin Withy and Plas Withy) are excellent for luring species that prefer damper habitats, such as Sedge Warblers and Grasshopper Warblers, and are also a good place for large numbers of warblers moving through the island in spring and autumn. Apart from being the best place on the island to find Golden Orioles during spring migration, the withies have hosted Paddyfield Warbler, regular Icterine Warblers, Subalpine Warblers and Rustic Bunting in the last few years.


A shot of two of the withy beds, with Bardsey Lighthouse in the background


Nant

The final point of this triangle is ‘Nant’: this is a much larger area than the previous two locations, and is largely made up of an old, mature pine Plantation, flanked on the northern side by a newer plantation of native broad-leaved species. Aside these areas of cover, there are a handful of small withy beds, and an agglomeration of small walled gardens. Due to the shelter that these vegetated areas provide, it is often the favoured haunt for a large number of migrants, and usually turns up the largest percentage of scarce visitors during the year. Recent finds in this area have included Western Bonelli’s Warbler (2012), Paddyfield Warbler (2013), two Pallas’s Warblers (2010), six Red-breasted Flycatchers and a White-throated Sparrow (2010).


Aerial views of Nant, showing the old and new Plantations, 
as well as some of the smaller gardens

Firecrest

Aside these key areas, there is a multitude of habitats and under-watched sites that can be equally good…

The gardens

There are 11 small walled gardens around the island, all of which bear plenty of cover to conceal passing migrants. Tŷ Pellaf garden, and is perhaps the best site on the island to find Yellow-browed Warblers in the Autumn. Pallas’s Warbler, Greenish Warbler, Subalpine Warbler, Common Rosefinch and Hawfinch have all paid a visit to the wind-battered Apple Trees that line the edges of the garden in the last few years.

Ben found this Pallas’s Warbler as he was popping into 
the garden to pick an apple of one of the trees…it was later trapped in the Poly tunnel


The Mountain

Bardsey Mountain rises a little over 160 metres above sea level; the western side of this small lump is covered in heath and gorse, and is largely underwatched. The mountainside has been the predominate site for almost all Wrynecks in recent Autumns, and has been an excellent place to find Subalpine Warblers in recent years. The East Side of the mountain is made up of precipitous grassy slopes, combined with rocky outcrops and scree slopes. The lower reaches of this steep side is home to the island’s breeding populations of Razorbills, Guillemots, Puffins, Peregrine Falcons and several Choughs.

Wrynecks occur annually on Bardsey, between August and mid-October, 
and favour the mountainside between Cristin and Nant

Short-eared Owls are also best found during the day, 
hiding amongst the swathes of bracken on the mountainside

An aerial view of Bardsey Mountain, with the steep east side in the foreground, 
and the South End visible beyond the ridge


The Narrows

This is a relatively small area of land, the narrowest point on the island, connecting the South End with the rest of Bardsey. The low height and scattered rocky beaches mean that this is virtually the only place that waders and wildfowl will turn up. Solfach, on the western side of The Narrows, is often awash with large piles of rotting sea kelp, which in turn attract reasonable numbers of migrant waders. During the winter, the kelp also provides nourishment for the 45-odd wintering Choughs.

A panaromic taken from Solfach (on The Narrows), looking back to Bardsey Mountain


The South End

The South End is a low and exposed belt of land, home to the Bardsey Lighthouse. On calm drizzly nights during spring and autumn, the rotating beams can attract hundreds of unwary migrants, many of which are then brimming out of every bush the following day. However, the recent switch from the rotating prisms to a flashing LED light means that the chances of any attractions are virtually non-existent: gone are the days when you could trudge around the lighthouse compound, kicking up 30 or so Grasshopper Warblers, and then counting some of the 200 Willow Warbler that made landfall in the surrounding gorse. However, all is not lost for this area of land: it is one of the best places to witness autumn ‘vis-mig’. It is best here as birds funnel down to the tip to cross the Irish Sea. Hundreds of Meadow Pipits, hirundines and finches can be seen flying southward on calm days in the autumn, and the occasional Richard’s Pipit may also tag along. The seas of thrift, rough grassland and squill have attracted Dotterels, Short-toed Lark and Quail in recent years, as well as hosting the island’s only Kildeer.

The view of the south end from the southerly tip, looking back along the island


Seawatching

In recent years, seawatching has really taken off as the predominate form of birding on windy days. The large increase in seawatching efforts is at least partly to do with the discovery that this activity can take place from the benches immediately in front of Cristin. From this seawatching deck, there is an excellent view of about 180 degrees of the Irish Sea, as well as part of the Bardsey Sound. The sea is about 0.8 km away from the front of the obs, but the more elevated position means that observations include a much further fetch of the sea. Anything from Long-tailed Skuas and Sabine’s Gulls, to the rarer Great Shearwater (2012, 2016), Fea’s Petrel (2013) and Black-browed Albatross (2016) have been picked up from this amazing site, and the kettle is never too far away. For the more intrepid, and for those who appreciate being at slightly closer quarters to the passing seabirds, there are two hides situated on the wind-swept corners of the island: one is above the sea cliffs at the southern tip of the South End, whilst another is at a lower elevation, at the most north-westerly point of the island. From the latter of these hides, you can get good views of Sooty Shearwaters, Balearic Shearwaters, Leach’s Storm Petrels, four types of Skuas and much more. This sort of passage is often most prominent after a very strong westerly or north-westerly gale, which encourages southward-bound pelagic species to conglomerate on the eastern side of the Irish Sea.

Considering the large breeding population of Manx Shearwaters on the island, daytime passage is often quite meagre: it is rare to have many more than 10, 000 passing by, and that is on a very good day


Seascapes with Kittiwakes


Breeding birds

As many will no doubt be aware, the island is home to some 25,000 pairs of Manx Shearwaters, which frequent the extinct Rabbit burrows as their nesting sites. There are nine pairs of Choughs breeding most years, and two pairs of Peregrines coexist within close proximity on the eastern slopes of the mountain. The diversity of habitats encourages a good number of common species to breed, such as Meadow Pipits, Stonechats, Linnets, Sedge Warblers, Wrens and Oystercatchers. Breeding species such as Lapwing, Corncrake, Corn Bunting and Jackdaw are all extinct on the island now, although newcomers have included Ringed Plovers, Willow Warblers, Little Owls and a pair of Long-eared Owls in the late 1990s.

There are about nine pairs of Choughs nesting on the island, 
with an over-wintering flock reaching 50 at times

Two pairs of Peregrines nest on the eastern slopes


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