Sunday, 17 July 2016

30 Days Wild | Day 14 - botany-tastic

Today was rather grey and somewhat drizzly to begin with, so I decided to do some botanising around the lighthouse and south end of the island (where crucially much of the grass is grazed very short so I could avoid getting soggy shoes – a problem from previous days). I found lots of nice stuff, some that I was already familiar with and some that was new to me. I’m going to make this a general botany-themed post with lots of photos of plants I found on both today’s lighthouse walk and throughout the week. Hope I got all the IDs correct!

The school and Bird Observatory in the misty murk.
The south end.
The lighthouse.
Spring Squill (Scilla verna).
Thrift (Armeria maritima) with a Green-veined White (Pieris napi).
Brackish Water-crowfoot (Ranunculus baudotii) and Ivy-leaved Water-crowfoot (Ranunculus hederaceus).
Navelwort (Umbilicus rupestris).
Lesser Swine-cress (Coronopus didymus).
Adder's-tongue fern (Ophioglossum vulgatum).
A centaury, but I'm not sure which.
Thrift (Armeria maritima).
English Stonecrop (Sedum anglicum).
Eyebright (Euphrasia agg.).
Allseed (Radiola linoides).
Lesser Spearwort (Ranunculus flammula).
Wild Thyme (Thymus polytrichus).
Brookweed (Samolus valerandi).
Common Milkwort (Polygala vulgaris).
Eyebright (Euphrasia agg.).
Sheep's-bit (Jasione montana) with Golden Hair Lichen (Teloschistes flavicans).
Rock Sea-spurrey (Spergularia rupicola).

Sand Spurrey (Spergularia rubra).

Common Milkwort (Polygala vulgaris).
Common Spotted-orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii).

Thrift (Armeria maritima).
Heath Speedwell (Veronica officinalis).
Bog Pimpernel (Anagallis tenella).

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

30 Days Wild | Day 13 - meeting the Manxies and Stormies

Today’s wild encounter actually took place last night, but as it was after midnight, I’m counting it for day 13! Since we arrived, most of us (including both people staying in the Observatory and also in the other houses on the island) had been excitedly waiting to find out when the Observatory ‘Meet the Manxies’ event would be happening. It needed as dark a night as possible, preferably fairly calm and dry. Last night the conditions were perfect and we all met in the Observatory shop at 23:30 for an introductory talk about Manx Shearwaters from Steve, the warden. After that we walked down to Nant Valley where Mark and Sian had already made a start on ringing Manx Shearwaters and also playing Storm Petrel calls through a massive speaker to try and lure these tiny sea wanderers into the mist net they’d set up on the cliffs.

Sunset from the Observatory while we waited to meet the Manxies and Stormies.
As we walked down to Nant the air was full of the weird sound of Manx Shearwater calls – I’d never heard anything like it before. Steve had told us that their surveying indicated that there were probably around 21,000 pairs of Manx Shearwaters nesting on Bardsey this year – they are everywhere! In the daytime you don’t see anything of them on the island though – just thousands and thousands of burrows in the walls, earth embankments, cliffs and basically any non-horizontal bit of ground. The Manx Shearwaters only come to land at night so as to avoid predators, and they come to their nest burrows where they swap over with their mate to take their turn at incubating their single egg.

I was looking forward to seeing the Manx Shearwaters, but I was MEGA EXCITED at the prospect of hopefully seeing some Storm Petrels! I’d never seen one before but had wanted to for a long time. They also nest on Bardsey but only in very small numbers. When we arrived at Nant Valley quite a few Storm Petrels had already been caught and were bagged up waiting for us to see them. I knew they were going to be small but even so I was surprised by how tiny they were – smaller than a Swallow and obviously VERY cute! Steve showed us how they were ringed, then released. Because their legs are set so far back on their bodies, they are pretty rubbish at moving around on land (being highly adapted to a pelagic lifestyle – they only come to land to breed), so to release them Steve held them out on the palm of his hand and gently wafted them up and down to encourage them to take off. Some were more amenable to this than others! Some only managed to flutter a few metres before landing on the ground again, some flew straight back into us and others managed to fly off back to the sea on their first attempt. Steve and the other staff assured us this was quite normal! It was important to make sure that they all made it back off the island, as apart from anything else, if they were left wandering about on the ground you could easily stand on one by accident without realising – so the wardens made sure that all the Storm Petrels were able to fly off again. It was hard to believe that these tiny and seemingly quite inept birds were mighty enough to survive most of their lives on the open ocean, but that’s just what they do! We all had a sniff of the distinctive aroma of Storm Petrel, and I was allowed to release one from my hand :o) Because they will just sit on the ground or crawl about slowly, it was quite easy to get nice photos of them.

Storm Petrel.

Storm Petrel.

Storm Petrel.

Storm Petrel.
While all this was going on, the wardens were also busily catching and ringing Manx Shearwaters. These didn’t require a net or lure to catch them, as they all fly in at night to visit their burrows and spend quite a bit of time just sitting around on the grass, so the wardens can just lean down and grab them off the floor! We all had to be careful where we stood as there were Shearwaters everywhere, dotted around on the slopes and all along the tops of the earth embankment walls that criss-cross the island. Steve showed us how the rings have to be bent into a special shape to fit around the Manx Shearwaters’ legs, as their leg bones are not cylindrical but are elliptical in cross section to reduce drag when they are swimming through the water. Some of the Manx Shearwaters were a bit more feisty than the gentle Storm Petrels, with much larger beaks that could give a nasty nip! Before we knew it, over two hours had passed and it was definitely bedtime. We walked back up the valley to the track, passing many more Manx Shearwaters along the way, and made our way back to the Observatory with the Shearwaters flying overhead and their constant calling in our ears.

Manx Shearwater.
Manx Shearwater.
Manx Shearwater.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

30 Days Wild | Day 12 - Shelducklings!

Today started very damp, drizzly and foggy with terrible visibility. I decided to investigate the hide at Solfach as I would be able to sit indoors to avoid the wet, and also because Alison (who was also staying at the Observatory) had told me you could often see Shelducks and their chicks from here. I spotted the Shelducks and their six cute fluffy ducklings straight away! Also present was a small flock of Turnstones and a pair of Mallards. By lunchtime the weather had started to improve, and when I headed back out after lunch the sun was out. I went back to the hide to get some photos of the Shelduck family and alas there were now only five ducklings! The culprit may have been a Great Black-backed Gull which suddenly appeared on the scene, perching on a rock which the Shelduck family was swimming past. It was interesting to watch their behaviour – under the predatory glare of the gull the female Shelduck led her ducklings across the bay, while the male brought up the rear with many watchful glances back at the gull. Suddenly the gull took off and swooped at the Shelducks; all the chicks dived and both adults flew up at the gull, haranguing it back to its rock. After that attempt the Shelduck family made it safely across the bay to the other side. I really hope the rest of the chicks make it but it’s tough for a small fluffy Shelduckling when there are Great Black-backed Gulls around (not to mention lots of seals) who regard you as nothing more than a tasty snack!

The beach at Solfach.

The beach at Solfach.
The Shelduck family.

The Shelduck family, safely away from the Great Black-backed Gull.

A few more HDR scenes from today!

View towards the mountain (HDR).
I liked the sky so much I took two photos of pretty much the same view (HDR).

Looking down to the south end (HDR).
I really liked this Manx Shearwater-embellished door! (HDR).
The mainland, from the mountain (HDR).
Looking down at Bardsey from the mountain (HDR).
Coming back down from the north end of the mountain (HDR).

Friday, 8 July 2016

30 Days Wild | Day 11 - arriving on Bardsey

Bardsey time! Jan from the B&B very kindly dropped me and my massive luggage (containing all my food for the coming week) off at Cwrt Farm, where all the luggage was loaded onto a trailer to be driven down to the boat at Porth Meudwy. This left me and a couple of other people to enjoy a very pleasant walk down to the beach unencumbered by luggage – excellent service! The crossing was great – the sea very calm – and we saw loads of seabirds; Puffins, Razorbills, Guillemots, Kittiwakes, Fulmars, Shags and Gannets. Once on the island, our luggage was again transported for us to the Bird Observatory so that we could enjoy our walk up there from the harbour. We were welcomed to the observatory with tea and lots of introductory information by Steve, Emma, Mark, Steffan and Connor. There were only two other people staying at the Observatory until Monday (when more people were arriving) which was quite nice – we didn’t have to worry about taking up lots of space in the fridge!

Bardsey Bird Observatory - our home for the coming week :o) (HDR)
Bardsey Bird Observatory.
A warm (or cool?) welcome for us on the fridge!
In the afternoon I went for a first exploratory walk around the island. It was brilliant and I saw so much lovely wildlife! However the highlight of my first day was the Choughs; these had been one of the birds I’d been looking forward to seeing most of all, as I’d only ever seen Chough once before, on the west coast of Ireland when I was 11. They are very common on Bardsey, and I saw my first pair of the week flying overhead when I was eating lunch outside the Observatory. I soon saw and heard many more, including this pair near the lighthouse who sat together for a long time ‘cheowing’ at each other.


Chough Chough.
Here are a few more scenes from my first day on Bardsey:

The beach (HDR).

View looking north from the south end of the island (HDR).

Looking down from the Observatory (HDR).