Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Summer 2013 - August Part 1 - Bardsey Bird and Field Observatory

On the 3rd of August I was back on Bardsey. My first visit had been 2 months earlier on a university field course and I'd loved it so much, I asked to come back for 2 weeks volunteering. I wanted to get some work experience at an observatory, knowing it would be a totally different experience to working with RSPB, doing BTO surveys or doing ordinary ringing sessions.
For the first few days the weather was suitable for clearing new net rides at Nant, putting up the new nets and then having two early morning ringing sessions. Tuesday (6th) morning was the first full ringing session I’d done on the island, and a small fall of willow warblers provided plenty of mist net extraction practise and kept us busy for several hours. For a trainee ringer, this experience was invaluable and has greatly helped my progression towards gaining a C permit. Further valuable experience was gained when the assistant warden and I put up a 60ft mist net to try and catch Storm Petrels that evening. I hadn’t previously had many opportunities to recce a good mist netting site, and then put the net up, so this made for a highly entertaining hour or two! However, we did manage to successfully catch 2 storm petrels that night, under a phenomenally starry sky, full of shooting stars. Having experienced the extremely busy storm petrel ringing sessions on Nan Ron, I enjoyed the relaxed evening in which I could actually appreciate the beautiful little birds and the incredible stars!
Most afternoons during my stay were taken up with Manx Shearwater productivity surveys. I got to handle and ring many extremely cute Shearwater chicks, and these afternoons were full of laugher and memorable moments. Again, for a ringer, these sessions were brilliant for training because Manx Shearwater rings aren’t like most rings and require a lot more skill to put on correctly. This means that my bird handling abilities were tested and honed, and I feel a lot more confident handling birds of this size now. Any spare time, during day light hours, was taken up with sea watching, walking around the island to see what bird species were around, or entering the ringing records into IPMR (the ringing database). All of these activities helped better my bird identification skills and progressed my ringing training further. I intend to follow a career path that involves ornithological surveying and ringing so all these experiences were great for helping develop the skills needed for this.
The first week went by all too quickly and before I knew it, it was Saturday and we had to say goodbye to the people who had been in the Obs and welcome the new guests, with a lot of cleaning in between. On Sunday and Tuesday night, Steve, Mark and I headed out to catch some adult manxies as they came to their burrows. This was a fabulous experience and one I won’t forget in a hurry! The sound in the busy colonies was incredible and handling adults was a whole different ball game to chick ringing. The ground on Pen Cristin and in Nant valley was littered with adult manxies so I could just walk along, pick them up and ring them on the spot. Over the two evenings, several birds had to be reringed as their current rings were so old and warn that they were becoming hard to read. These birds were almost all older than me which was a sobering thought and made me appreciate how special these relatively small sea birds are. If you haven’t had the chance to experience a manx breeding colony at night, I highly recommend it!
The rest of the final week was filled with ringing, productivity surveys, net ride clearing and finishing off and “landscaping” the new heligoland. The building team had done a fantastic job, so all we needed to do was make it look attractive to the birds. By the end of the week, there was a new pond, new steps, some new vegetation to offer cover and the brand new self-catching box was up and running.

The Lighthouse
Manxie chick with the south end behind
Baby Manxie - nawwwwwww
Female Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta)
Dinner with a view!
Stunning sunset

These two weeks of volunteering were exceedingly good fun and gave me some excellent experiences that I hope to draw on in my future career. 

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