Sunday, 27 October 2013

Summer 2013 - September Part 2 - Birthday and Bardsey (again)

So after my week at home, it was time to move on again. On the 10th I went back to Bangor to drop all my stuff back at uni, and then it was straight to Chris' for his birthday. We spent the next 3 days ringing, lamping, walking, recceing, celebrating the birthday and I caught up on some uni work, and then it was back to Bangor on the 13th to get ready for Bardsey.

Earlier in the summer I had won some funding from the BTO to volunteer at Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory. Unfortunately, the arrangements for this placement fell through, and so Steve Stansfield invited me back to Bardsey so I could keep the funding. This would be the 4th week of the summer I'd spent on the island so I felt a lot more prepared for the visit this time. I shopped for the week, so I didn't have to deplete the island stores, bought only the necessary clothing and extra equipment (I bought far too much on the previous trip)and even had time to take orders from the islanders of things they wanted.
I would be the only person staying in the observatory for this week so it was a very different experience to the last time I was there. I was put straight to work as soon as I landed on the island. We took the delivery for the shop up to the obs and spent the majority of the afternoon sorting and unpacking the boxes and stocking the shop. It felt nice to be back with the other staff and we a good few laughs during the day.

The weather itself was not great - well, not great for mist netting anyway. The seawatching was fantastic! From the moment I landed on the island, all sorts of exciting sea birds were passing along the coast. I've never really done any seawatching before so I couldn't believe the kind of introduction I was getting to it. Great (Stercorarius skua), Arctic (Stercorarius parasiticus), Pomarine (Stercorarius pomarinus) and Long-tailed Skuas (Stercorcarius longicaudus), Red-throated (Gavia stellata) and Great northern divers (Gavia immer), Manx (Puffinus puffinus), Sooty (Puffinus griseus) and Belearic Shearwaters (Puffinus mauretanicus), and several petrel and tern species, were streaming past the west coast throughout Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. It took me a while to get to grips with identifying these species, but with the careful instruction of the staff members, I was soon able to pick up and identify the majority of these species. It'll be a while before I'm confident enough to call them without help though.
The undisputed highlight of my time seawatching came at ~17:50 on Sunday afternoon. Most of us were sitting on the terrace at the Obs and scanning the sea beyond the west coast. Suddenly Steve (sitting next to me) began to shake and shout "Fea's petrel!!". I have to admit, being fairly new to serious birding, a novice sea bird watcher and a British breeding bird specialist, I hadn't even heard of this species before. Following Steve's breathless instructions, I quickly got onto the bird and it was immediately obvious it wasn't one of the petrels/shearwaters I'd been watching all day. It's back was slatey grey and its flight pattern was erratic and crazy compared to the other species in this Family. I only watched it for 5 or 6 seconds before it disappeared behind the chimneys of the house in front of the Obs, and I failed to pick it up again. I feel incredibly lucky to have seen a Fea's petrel (Pterodroma feae) as I now appreciate how rare they are. I know many of my birding friends want to strangle me for having been so lucky!

Big waves roll in at the North hide

Wrapped up warm for a spot of dawn seawatching

Once the winds abated mid-week, it was possible to get out and about and see what passage migrants had been blown onto the island. We had good numbers of Goldcrests (Regulus regulus), Pied (Motacilla alba) and Grey (Motacilla cinerea) wagtails, snipe (Gallinago gallinago), and various species of warbler (Chiffchaff, Willow and Blackcap).
Wednesday turned out to be the best day of the week! Icky Steve found a Melodious Warbler (Hippolais polyglotta) at Nant and as Steve Stansfield went up to confirm the ID, he flushed a Common Rosefinch (Carpodacus erythrinus) that was feeding in the field near by. Both of these were lifers for me and made for a very exciting afternoons worth of bird watching. Also, whilst opening some mist nets at Nant, Ben and I flushed a Barn Owl (Tyto alba) from a tree 4ft in front of us. It almost bounced off Ben's head as it flew off into the plantation. All in all it was a very adrenaline fuelled few hours and one that has really opened my eyes to the world of scarcities/rarities. I've still got a long way to go before I'll be confident to call in these kinds of rarities on my own, but just being exposed to them and discussing ID features is greatly helping my ability to identify them confidently.

The Common Rosefinch - Caught on Friday

The rest of the week went by all too quickly and before I knew it, it was time to say goodbye to everyone (for the last time this summer) and head on to the next stage of my university studies.

Mynydd Enlli covered in cloud as I left.

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