Friday, 19 August 2016

Lundy Island

During the holidays I went to Lundy Island for two weeks with the hope of nesting and birding. The island is in the middle of the Bristol channel but despite this the weather usually goes around the island leaving it in nearly constant sunshine (as result the island was experiencing a drought). When it isn't in sunshine it covered by a thick fog. However if you're at the top the central lighthouse you get a great view over the low cloud line and see Devon.

The lighthouse surrounded by low clouds 

View from the lighthouse

Also the location of the island means its a perfect spot for migrating birds and has had its fair share of rarities including; Booted Warblers, Icterine Warblers, Common Rosefinches, Blyth's Reed Warblers, Red-Flanked Bluetails, Rubbell's Warbler, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Western Bonelli's Warbler, Paddyfield Warbler, Citrine Wagtail, Little Bunting and Spotted Crake. All of these have been ringed on the island and have been seen more than once over the years. Here is a complete list of the birds ringed on the island - - the majority of which seem to be very rare.

And thanks to the small size of the island (3x0.5 miles) and the fact there are only a few areas of scrub and cover, birding isn't to difficult as the areas are constrained to only small confined areas. The top of the island is a mixture of acidic bog, heath and grassland grazed by Soay sheep. This means the majority of the species are farmland birds including Meadow pipit, Skylark and Wheatear.

Meadow Pipit feeding young at the nest. The young will be reasonably large as its carrying large food 

However the coasts hold a very different array of species. On the west coast there are steep cliffs due to the constant battering from weather and ocean currents providing perfect habitats for Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills, Gulls and Peregrines. The west coast on the other hand is more sheltered and as a result is less step and the majority of it is covered in a thick coat of Bracken or grasses. This means the species here are similar to that on the top of the island as there are still tones of insects, plus Peregrines, nesting Manx Shearwaters and lower down near the water, where it is steep and rocky, Gulls.

Since we did so much I will focus on the highlights of the holiday, starting with the day I spent nesting. Since I was was missing out on looking for nests at home I took the opportunity to look for some species that I otherwise rarely search for. The main two species I focused on were Meadow Pipit and Skylark. Before I started I had been watching for adults carrying food during the days before so I had a ruff idea of where some pairs were. The first was a Skylark which took about an hour of watching the adults to find. This was more easy than usual as the young were at feather short (1/3 out) so the adults were bringing in large food so easier to watch. The last two were Meadow Pipit which were a lot harder. If they saw you within 20m of the nest they would go nowhere near it and alarm so every time we tried to get near and hide it would see us and we would have to go back wait and start again. This meant it took about 3 hours to find these two nests which were about 10m apart.

Skylark nest with 4 young with feathers short

Meadow Pipit nest with three young with feather short

The next highlight was thanks to a tip off from one of the staff on the island who gave us a good spot to watch the Manx shearwaters come into the burrows at night to feed their young. We went out at midnight and whole island was alive with the 'gohstly' call of the adults. Overall there are now over 3000 paris nesting on the island so we were surrounded by them. The cliff that we watched them go to had around 200-300 on. The best bit was watching them land and struggle to the nests as they don't so much land as they do crash land due to there long legs. as it got later though we had ann unexpected surprise as they started to crash closer and closer to us until they were landing right next to us. At that point we went back to the village.

The nesting habitat of the Manx Shearwater is this less steep cliff face covered by small rock boulders from previous rock falls and also covered by Bracken and Grass. The majority appeared to nest in rabbit burrows or even in deep natural holes between the large boulders.

During the last week we spent most days walking up the west or east coast. This gave us the opportunity to look of the Puffins on the west coast. With most of the adults already migrating the only ones left were the juveniles in flocks on the water. 

Fulmar adult with chick

Younger Puffins left by older adults and soon to be migrating 

On the East coast the main things we looked for were Grey seals and Peregrines. There was one particular spot near near the north end of the island that had a pair of peregrines feeding a juvenile on a outcrop near the path which gave a brilliant view of it. This area was also great for the seals with groups up to fifty, mostly made up of young ones from this year making them very curious and keen to get a closer look if you you were swimming.

This juvenile peregrine was on this post every day for the two weeks we were there.

On the penultimate day before we left I spent the morning down in one of the small valley were the majority of the low scrubland was. This was mostly bramble and Blackthorn and provided a perfect habitat for Warblers and general birds you would expect on the mainland. The main warbler was willow warbler which seem to have brilliant breeding success rates every year and so in every bush there were about 10 so hundreds in the area 4 acre area. One bird that was a bit more rare was a Juvenile cuckoo that had bee reared on the island by Meadow Pipits.

Afterwards there was an extremely tame Fallow Deer just outside the house which spent every night around the village and seemed to have been cut off from the other groups.

At the end of the final day we spent the evening watching the sun go down over the sea.

The final highlight was on the return ferry to the mainland and was lessened by the fact we were leaving. The journey was very calm and only a few minutes in there were already loads of Manx Shearwaters flying around the boat and a few large flocks on the water. Further into the journey there were large flocks of Fulmars, Gannets and other gulls indicating large shoals of fish. On the back of these shoals were several schools of Common Dolphins, which were performing brilliantly with lots of jumps and coming right up to the boat.

Common Dolphin

Compass jellyfish

 Very close up Gannet

Manx Shearwater


Just before we reached Ilfracombe about 2 miles from the coats there was a large flock of what I think are Common Scoters

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Bird Box Frenzy!

Before October I started making Bird boxes for garden birds and raptors to add to my Nest recording in the summer for the BTO's Nest record Scheme. If like me you are a young birder, I would really recommend taking part in this. It's a brilliant way to interact with nature, to learn about the behaviour of birds and their nesting behaviour and to help the BTO learn more about the patterns of brood size, nest success. Also with temperatures rising causing mismatches between birds nesting and the abundance of food the timings of nests are becoming crucial to discover what affect global warming may be having on birds nesting.

Having made nearly 100 Passerine bird boxes and 5 raptor boxes I started putting them up around January . I started by putting up 20 in the nearest site on the top of Folly hill (a 2 minute cycle ride away). The main target species are Great tits, Blue tits and with a chance of Coal tits and if I'm really lucky, Nuthatches. For the Blue tits and Great tits I put the Bird boxes in the normal sites on trees around 4m up with a bit of cover or foliage near by. For the Coal tits I tried to put them in denser coniferous areas with slightly more vegetation in front and higher up. There's also several Robin nest boxes that instead of encouraging Robins got a Spotted Flycatcher nesting in one last year which will hopefully nest again this year.

The next site is a small area that I've been lightly managing and putting bird feeders up. I've put 8 boxes there all for Blue tits and Great tits. I've also been placing them around my village for House Sparrows which will be my main interest. There are several flocks of around 50 that move around 5 or 6 main areas of hedgerow that they're going in. To encourage them in, the boxes are in groups of at least 5.

The final site is the largest in Nuneham Courtney near Oxford where I'm putting 40, again for the same target species as the Folly. There are several types of habitat including, coppice, Arboretum plantation, oak and native woodland, coniferous wood and a Lime Wood. I'm also putting up 4 Tawny Owl boxes, a Little Owl box and eventually a Barn Owl box. I really can't wait to see if they are used so I can monitor them for the Nest Record Scheme and maybe ask my ringing trainer to come round and ring.

Through the spring and summer I'll check the ones near me and in my village every weekend along with open nests, and the ones near Oxford every week to a fortnight. every time I'll note the building, incubation or young stage of the nests. Hopefully I can get my Ringing trainer to come over to ring the Spotted Flycatchers and any interesting bird box nests like Nuthatches. Along with them there are the raptor boxes for the owls but also Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Red Kite and Kestrel open nests to monitor and maybe ring.

Saturday, 8 August 2015


It was a rather early start if me and my parents wanted to get to Minsmere and still have a decent amount of time around the reserve. We left at 6:45 and arrived at 10:00. We first looked for the elusive Turtle Dove but sadly with no success. We then headed to Bittern hide where we had a quick glimpse of a Kingfisher, Marsh Harrier and Bearded tits. We then headed down to Island mere Hide where we had no success other than the occasional 'Ping' from a bearded tit group. On the way back to the visitor centre though we had a close encounter with a group of recently fledged Sedge Warblers. 

Sedge warblers

We then decided to have a rather early lunch whilst we watched the Sand Martins flying over our heads and diving into their nests. However the speed of them meant I didn't get any good pictures. We then bumped into David Walsh, a really nice birder who I have been in contact with for a few months. It was really good to go round with him and talk, (and find out that my Dad knew his grandfather). We were very lucky to have David with us and it helped when we got to the first hide (East hide). Within second he had spotted all the main species including, Spotted Redshank (one in jet black summer plumage), Redshank, Ruff, Dunlin and Ringed Plover. David also spotted several Common Sandpipers and two Green Sandpipers meaning he could show me the difference.

Spotted redshank (in summer plumage)

Spotted redshank

Green Sandpiper



We then headed along the beach to the next hide hoping to see the Little Gulls. But half way along David had a scan of the sea and I got a bit of a surprise when he let me have a look through his very good scope and saw three COMMON SCOTER!!! We then went to the hide where we got a reasonable view of around 60 Little Gulls and a few Common Tern. When we came out of the hide we got a nice view of a Grayling butterfly.

Little Gulls

On the way to the next hides we stopped to look at a  Little egret and Common Sandpiper just past the Sluice where my Dad got a bit confused about the common names of birds and how they 'aren't in the same family'. Then on the way to the final two hides an even better view of the the Little gulls and an unusually amazing view of a Cetti's Warbler. In the penultimate hide (west) there was again good view of a Ruff and 5 Knot in partial Summer plumage. David was also able to show me the difference between Spotted Redshank and Common Redshank as they were feeding together. This was really helpful and by the time we got out of the hide I was more or less confident that I could tell the difference between them. We ended the day with a visit to the Cafe and shop. Overall a really good day birding and it was very nice to finally meet David and walk round the reserve with him.

 Spotted Redshank (Winter Plumage)