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