Bardsey NGB week 2017

This year Bardsey Lodge and Bird Observatory are once again offering Next Generation Birders a week on the the island for £158 (You can also apply for either the BTO/BOC Bird Observatories Grant or the BB grants to young birders to cover the costs of the trip up to £250 Max).

This is a fantastic opportunity for any young birder, ringer or just general wildlife enthusiast, as it is a chance to help out and gain experience at one of the UK's 19 bird observatories. The dates for the proposed trip run from 12th-19th August (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 I have outlined below. Booking form available here http://tinyurl.com/BBFO-NGB-2017-Booking-form

Bardsey Lodge and Bird Observatory

Birding- There is a huge amount to write about in terms of the diversity of the island, which I attempted to summarise last year in a blog post here on NGB. I have copied that post and pasted it below, to give you an idea of what Bardsey has to offer. However, I will also mention a few specific things related to the time of year that the trip will be taking place...

Mid August is a great time of year for birding: on the one hand you have the movements of southward-bound migrants already in full swing, with species such as Willow Warblers, Swallows, White Wagtails and Spotted Flycatchers featuring in their hundreds at times; on the other hand, the movement of seabirds out to sea can also be rewarding, with some of the year's largest Manx Shearwaters counts at this time of year, along with scarcer species like Arctic and Pomarine Skuas, Balearic and Sooty Shearwaters and the occasional Grey Phalarope.

The main feature, however, is likely to be that of passerines: scarce and rare species have a tendency to turn up in August, and in the last few years we have had arrivals of Icterine Warblers (three in 2016) and Melodious Warblers (four in 2016), whilst Wrynecks, Western Bonelli's Warbler and Ortolan Bunting are distinct possibilities. Good numbers of migrants often move through the island on their way south, and include species such as Common Redstarts, Whinchats, Yellow Wagtails, Pied Flycatchers, Tree Pipits, Cuckoos, Grasshopper Warblers and much more!

Western Bonelli's Warbler- on 31 August!

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:

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.

Swallow and wagtail roosts- mid August is the best time of year for trapping roosts of Swallows and wagtails, with sometimes hundreds of the former flocking into the island's reed beds at dusk. Providing calm weather, we will attempt to catch as many roosting birds as we can at dusk using tape lures and 60 foot mist nets.

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 August 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 August, many of the island's Manx Shearwaters will have chicks in the burrows, and most days there will be a trip to different areas to ring these fluffy juveniles. In addition, we may also go out at night to try and 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 August we may also be able to trap Bar-tailed Godwits, Knots, Sanderling or Redshank.

Storm Petrel Ringing- on calm nights during July and August, we will often set up a mist net at the North End, and play a loud tape lure to bring in Storm Petrels from the East Side. It is likely that we would try and catch some during the NGB week, provided the conditions are suitable.

Wryneck- trapped and ringed at the beginning of September 2014

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, and so any NGBs on the week are free to participate. mid August is a fantastic time of year, and species can include Convulvulus Hawkmoth, The Anomalous, Heath Rustics, Drinkers, Northern Eggars, Canaray-shouldered Thorn, Silver Ys and Brown-veined Wainscot, amongst hundreds of others.

Spectacle

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. NGB! 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,

- REMEMBER You can also apply for either the BTO/BOC Bird Observatories Grant or the BB grants to young birders to cover the costs of the trip up to £250 Max!

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

LINKS:

BBFO Sightings Blogs for...
- August 2012 Click here
- August 2013 Click here
- August 2014 Click here
- August 2015 Click here
- August 2016 Click here

Bardsey NGB trips

The NGB week in 2014 was a fantastic event, and some fantastic birds were seen, ringed and watched during the seven days. James Garside wrote a great round-up of the trip (SEE HERE), but here are some of the highlights...(please bear in mind that last year's trip was from late September to early October, and so do not expect Yellow-browed Warblers and Richard's Pipits!)

2015 saw another great NGB week, this time in August, with a good diversity of species both seen and ringed! A full summary can be read here.

2016 hosted an NGB week again in August which wasn't to be forgotten, with an incredible fall of Willow Warblers numbering over 300, which brought with them three Melodious Warblers and two Icterine Warblers. Not to mention the multiple Wrynecks seen and an Ortolan Bunting! For another great account of the week (SEE HERE).

2014 NGB trip

A cool phyllosc trio: Firecrest, Yellow-browed Warbler and Goldcrest

Barred Warbler trapped and ringed in the obs garden

This Hoopoe was present almost all week

The NGBs, except for Susan Jones (taking the picture)

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

Well…where to begin! I have always been interested in birds- I can remember keeping a list of the birds which visited my bird feeder in front of my kitchen window when I was about eight. After my 11th birthday, having been in secondary school for about a month, my parents took up the post of being the farming tenants on Bardsey Island, North Wales. We had visited the island many times before our move, staying as guests in the various houses, as well as at the obs. This move to Ynys Enlli just ensured that my interest in birds was never going to go away!
Since then I have been birding Bardsey Island every year- all year- alongside the staff of Bardsey Bird and Field Observatory, as well as taking images of a large percentage of them! Steve Stansfield has helped me hugely, and is currently my ringing trainer.
Bardsey Island (or Ynys Enlli in Welsh) 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

Hoopoes are fairly scarce on Bardsey, turning up once every few years

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, I guess 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? I will try my best to explain and outline some of the more precise details of birding Bardsey…

It has been suggested, particularly by Richard Else, 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 two Heligoland traps, 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. My own garden is the most southerly on the island, Ty Pellaf, 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 my own garden in the last few years.

I found this Pallas’s Warbler warbler as I was popping into the garden to pick an apple of one of the trees…it was later trapped in our 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 in the Autumn. 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 16, 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

Some practical info for those that are tempted enough to stay for a week or so this coming autumn (**warning**may contain hyperboles…):
-There are no bridges to the island, so you come by boat
-The weather is rough for much of the year, so there is no guarantee that you can get over
-There are no food shops, so bring food
-There are no pubs, so bring drink
-There is no phone reception, except for on the mountain
-The loos are outside, so bring warm PJs
-The Manxies are loud, so bring ear muffs
-The island is a working farm, so leave gates as you find them, or you’ll be shot

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